Survey Shows Broad Public Support For Worker Strikes

Workers at companies like Kellogg’s, Nabisco and John Deere have hit the picket lines in recent weeks hoping to get a better deal from their employers. A new survey suggests the public by and large supports them.

The AFL-CIO labor federation commissioned the progressive pollster Data for Progress to take the public’s temperature on the strikes that have made headlines this summer and fall. The online survey of nearly 1,300 likely voters asked if they “approve or disapprove of employees going on strike in support of better wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

Seventy-four percent of respondents either strongly approved or somewhat approved of the strikes, while just 20% strongly disapproved or somewhat disapproved of them. Six percent did not have an opinion. (See the full results.)

Not surprisingly, the backing of strikers was strongest among Democrats, 87% of whom approved of the walkouts. But support was still robust among independents and even Republicans, with 72% and 60% approval, respectively.

The backing also crossed age groups, although respondents under 45 were more likely to voice strong approval than those above 45. Respondents who identified as Black overwhelmingly said they supported the strikes, with 85% approval, compared to 72% of respondents who identified as white.

“Voters of all ages, backgrounds and political parties agree: working people can and should join together to win a better deal and a better life,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said through a spokesperson. “Every union member on a picket line today is stronger knowing the American people have their back.”

Ethan Winter, senior analyst at Data for Progress, said the survey results on strikes seemed to dovetail with Gallup’s polling on union favorability, which this year hit its highest level since 1965. As people warm to unions and collective bargaining, it is no surprise they support striking workers, he said.

“I think across many dimensions the pandemic has really put workers’ rights at the forefront of public consciousness,” Winter told HuffPost. “The fact that we now see a bipartisan majority of voters who are backing workersagitating for better pay, benefits and working conditions, I think it’s reflective of the sea change the coronavirus pandemic has brought about.”

John Deere workers on the picket line in Iowa. (Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images)
John Deere workers on the picket line in Iowa. (Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images)

The recent strikes and strike threats have given rise to the hashtag #Striketober, as a growing number of workers, buoyed by a tighter-than-expected labor market, use their leverage to try to improve wages, benefits and safety. Although each strike has its own particular reasons, many of them share common themes, like workers’ demand for more family time, or the company’s desire to institute “two-tier” work systems, giving new hires lesser pay and benefits.

Sixty thousand film and television workers recently passed a strike authorization by an overwhelming margin, although their union soon reached a tentative contract deal that has taken a Hollywood work stoppage off the table for the time being. A strike in the film industry would be the largest private sector strike in the U.S. in 14 years.

Meanwhile, more than 30,000 health care workers at Kaiser Permanente have authorized strikes largely over the employer’s proposal for a two-tier system. Approving a strike authorization does not necessarily mean workers will walk out, but it gives union leadership the leeway to declare a strike if they see fit.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the number of workers involved in large work stoppages of 1,000 people or more this year has already surpassed the total of 27,000 workers from the pandemic year of 2020, which was among the lowest in modern times.

But the number of striking workers is still small by historical standards. Following World War II, somewhere between 1 million and 2 million workers went on strike in a typical year. That was at a time when roughly a third of the U.S. workforce belonged to unions, compared with about 11% now.

This story has been updated with comment from Shuler.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.