Project Censored’s top 10 stories show old patterns alive and well

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click to enlarge ANSON STEVENS-BOLLEN
Anson Stevens-Bollen

3. Historic Wave of Wildcat Strikes for Workers’ Rights

After millions of people were designated ‘essential workers’ when the U.S. went into lockdown in March 2020, thousands of wildcat strikes erupted to challenge dangerous working conditions and chronic low wages, exacerbated by refusal to protect against COVID-19 and cutting or sharply increasing the cost of medical insurance, for those who had it. A further strike surge was driven by “Black and Brown workers using digital technologies to organize collective actions as a way to press some of the demands for racial justice raised by Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protestors,” Project Censored noted. The nation’s fourth busiest port, Charleston, S.C., shut down during George Floyd’s funeral on June 9, for example.

At the labor news website Payday Report, Mike Elk created a continuously updated COVID-19 Strike Wave Interactive Map, which had identified “1,100 wildcat strikes as of March 24, 2021, many of which the corporate media have chosen to ignore,” according to Project Censored, including “more than 600 strikes or work stoppages by workers in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement,” in June 2020 alone, according to Elk.

“While local and regional newspapers and broadcast news outlets have reported on particular local actions, corporate news coverage has failed to report the strike wave as a wave, at no time connecting the dots of all the individual, seemingly isolated work stoppages and walkouts to create a picture of the overarching trend,” Project Censored reported.

The sole exception where there was national coverage was in August 2020 when highly-paid baseball and basketball pro athletes walked out in violation of their contracts to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by Wisconsin police. The coverage ended quickly once they returned a few days later.

Wildcat strikes occur when workers simply stop working, often in response to a specific incident, such as employer actions putting lives at risk by skimping on protective gear or attempting to cut workers’ healthcare. The situation was exacerbated by the Donald Trump administration’s failure to issue mandates requiring specific safety measures, as reported by Michael Sainato at the Guardian.

Examples covered by Elk that Project Censored cited include:

• In Santa Rosa, California, 700 healthcare workers went on strike because their hospital lacked sufficient personal protective equipment to keep employees safe, and management warned employees that their insurance fees would be doubled if they wanted continued coverage for their families.

• In St. Joseph, Missouri, 120 sheet metal workers went on strike due to management’s repeated attempts to cut their healthcare benefits during the pandemic.

• In May 2020, workers at 50 McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and other fast food establishments throughout Florida staged a day-long strike for higher pay and better protective equipment.

• In April 2021, employees at Chicago-area Peet’s Coffee & Tea locations staged a coordinated work stoppage along with the Fight for $15 campaign to demand workplace protections and quarantine pay.

Furthermore, Elk noted that the 600 strikes in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement “is likely a severe underestimation as many non-union Black and Brown workers are now calling out en masse to attend Black Lives Matter protests without it ever being reported in the press or on social media.”

Elk also noted that “[M]any black workers interviewed by Payday Report say that, once again, white labor leaders are failing to understand non-traditional organizing that has developed from viral social media movements…. Instagram automation and similar automation on Facebook and Twitter help to build a huge following for grassroots movements, so something that had no following a month ago can suddenly go viral and reach millions of people within hours or even minutes.”

That threat empowers even solitary individual workers, Tulsa-based Black filmmaker and activist Marq Lewis told Elk:

He says he personally knows of multiple examples of black workers in Tulsa approaching their bosses without the support of a union and winning changes in their workplace.

“A lot of people may say this is not a strike, well, you tell that to these workers now who are getting their grievances heard,” Lewis says.

That’s the censored story within the story within the story.

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