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EDITORIAL: High-income employees, your solidarity is needed

While striking is considered a valuable tool in the fight against big corporations, many workers who benefit from it most cannot afford to do so.
Photo by WikimediaWhile striking is considered a valuable tool in the fight against big corporations, many workers who benefit from it most cannot afford to do so.

If you follow the sports world, you probably know about the NBA's brief strike a couple weeks ago, which was in response to the brutal shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. 

“The NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks set off an unprecedented collective action in U.S. sports when they refused to take the court for their playoff game Wednesday in response to the shooting of Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha,” according to Yahoo! News.

Striking — the refusal to labor for an employer — is an oftentimes effective way to force a business, government or other large institution to pay attention to the demands of its lower level employees. In this case, the NBA striked for Blake.

But the walkout was over very quickly. Within days, the players began playing again. The strike had its problems — there was no list of demands from the NBA strikers and it happened abruptly with no action plan — and should be a lesson to everyone who wants to partake in collective action.

Not everyone can engage in a strike. NBA players are, generally, extraordinarily well paid members of society. They do not have to worry about feeding their families or missing rent if they take a few days off of work. 

On the other hand, millions of Americans are teetering on the brink of poverty. As a result, they cannot simply walk out of their jobs in response to low pay, poor benefits or abysmal working conditions. 

“Millions of middle-class Americans are just one missed paycheck away from poverty, with 4 of 10 considered ‘liquid-asset poor,’ or without enough money socked away to cope with even a sudden disruption in income,” according to CBS News.

In that sense, striking itself is an act of modest privilege, which puts us in a sticky spot as a society. Those who stand to benefit from collective action often are those least able to partake in it. What can be done to solve this paradox? 

The solution is a simple one, but tough to implement: Upper-middle class and middle class workers who can afford to strike on behalf of their lower income colleagues must do so. Whether they withhold their work due to racial, economic or other injustices, it is the social responsibility of these modestly privileged workers to fight for their low-income peers.

Take the case of Bon Appétit, a culinary magazine. After it surfaced that employees of color were not being compensated fairly for their work, while white employees were.  "Many called for the publication’s top editor, Adam Rapoport, to resign. He did so days later, after a photo of him in a racist Halloween costume resurfaced online. His assistant, Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, a Black woman, also said he treated her like 'the help,'" according to The Washington Post.

Many staff members, including editor Molly Baz, who was adequately compensated, took a stand by refusing to contribute their labor.

“On Friday, senior food editor Baz announced in an Instagram post that she would no longer appear on Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel out of solidarity with her colleagues: ’I sincerely hope for the sake of a brand and a group of people I deeply love, that a diverse and inclusive video program is coming,’ she wrote on Instagram,” according to The Washington Post article.

But this is simply one example. Higher-income workers at large firms such as Amazon, Walmart and Nike, all of whom have disparaged their low-level employees in some form, whether fiscally or racially or both, can follow that example and withhold their services until genuine change infiltrated their place of work.

In addition, higher-income employees are harder to quell, legally speaking. Many strikes are broken through backhanded legal tactics against the strikers, but when those strikers have more disposable income, it becomes harder to out-finance their cause and end the movement. Walmart, for example, uses union busting tactics against its workers all the time. 

It is not as if an upper-middle or middle class employee striking is a completely selfless act either. People making $100,000 yearly are still far closer in class status to their low-income colleagues than they are to the millionaires who employ them, and strikes benefit their rights and protections as workers as well. 

If the NBA protests taught us anything, it is not just the power of collective action, but also how collective action can go wrong. Those privileged enough to strike or threaten a strike must do so, and they must do so with a concrete action plan backing their cause. Strikes also must last for a long enough time to bleed businesses out, which requires planning and solidarity. 

For those of us watching these labor movements unfold, you can contribute by boycotting the products of oppressive companies and supporting the right of workers to assemble. Additionally, you can contribute to strike funds so that lower income workers are given mobility to strike. After all, it may be you facing corporate oppression one day — if you are not already.

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The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.