"There seems to be something of a simmering strike wave in the country," said Frances Fox Piven, professor of sociology and political science at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center and author of many books, including Poor Peoples' Movements.
The one-day strikes held by the fast-food workers, like the recent wave of strikes at Walmarts around the country, are something different from a traditional strike (though we've seen those in recent months too, most dramatically with the Chicago Teachers Union). The one-day strike, organized to disrupt business but not to shut it down, Piven noted, isn't about winning. It's about identifying the group, about respect, about demonstrating to other workers that they can take action, but not exposing the workers to the risk of prolonged loss of the income they have little of already.
"They're organizing and advocating for low-wage workers in ways that are not in an established New Deal framework," Ruth Milkman, sociologist of labor at the CUNY Graduate Center, and at the Joseph F. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, explained. The difficulties of running a traditional National Labor Relations Board election are well-known now.
"That system has become so dysfunctional, increasingly people are looking for alternatives," Milkman continued. "Structurally it makes sense given the rollback of New Deal reforms that we've seen, the growth of inequality, the extreme immiseration."
Like organizers before the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, the organizers working with low-wage workers these days focus on issues beyond just those of the workplace; it's worth noting that this campaign began with NYCC organizers working on housing issues. Connecting labor and community issues is a hallmark of NYCC's work, and campaigns like this one, like the organizing of grocery store workers, child care providers, car wash workers, is the legacy of its founder, Jon Kest, who passed away this week of cancer on the eve of the workers' rally. Greg Basta of NYCC said, "Seeing this campaign come to fruition was what really was keeping him fighting."