Let me tell you something real: Organize. Unionize. Your workplace. Now. This is the absolute best set of economic conditions you could have to help you to do it. IT WILL ONLY GET HARDER FROM HERE. ACT NOW.
The United States is currently at the tail end of a decade-long period of virtually nonstop economic growth following the bottom of the great recession after the 2008 financial crisis. Unemployment is essentially as low as it goes. The stock market is still high. Wages are rising. The holiday season is coming. Employers everywhere are forced to compete more and more to secure the labor that they need.
This is called leverage. Your leverage. You can use it, or you can just sit there and do nothing and watch it go away.
Please read this story. It describes how a group of Somali immigrants in Minnesota organized to win meaningful concessions from their employer. And who is their employer? Amazon. Perhaps the most powerful corporation in America, and one that has never been cracked by a union. Yet this group of workers—immigrants, helped by a worker center but without a union, using basic tools of communication and organization and protests—forced the company to come to the negotiating table and improve their working conditions. What did they have going for them, besides simple solidarity? As one researcher tells the New York Times, “Because there is such a density in that work force, at this stage in the game, Amazon would have a very difficult time replacing that many workers, particularly at this peak season.”
That is called leverage. Structural leverage. Every labor campaign is an act of building leverage for you, the workers—but that act will be harder or easier depending on the broader economic conditions that your employer is facing. When unemployment is high, it is easier for employers to tell employees to fuck off, because you are more easily replaced. When business is slow, employees have less leverage. When the overall economy is bad, employees have less leverage, because the threat of losing their jobs looms larger.
But when unemployment is low, and the economy is still strong, and the holiday rush is on? That is when you have the very best leverage of all. That is when you and your colleagues can organize and make demands and your company has to listen to you whether they like it or not because they need you. They need you to do the work. And they know that it will be a pain in the ass to replace you, because unemployment is low and the labor market is tight. They can bitch and moan about your demands, but they can’t just brush you off. The deck is stacked in your favor.
This state of affairs will not last forever. It may not even last much longer. The stock market has lately been exhibiting the sort of schizophrenic up-and-down behavior that can signal an approaching decline. Many wise people think a recession is coming in the next year or two. It is almost impossible for unemployment to go any lower. It will go higher. That will ease the pressure on employers. That will make extracting concessions from them harder than it is today.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Here is something you can be thankful about: It is the best possible time to organize your coworkers. It is overwhelmingly likely that we will not be able to say that next Thanksgiving. The opportunity is here, now, today. The good news is that if you form a union now, when it’s as easy as it will get, you will have a union already in place when times get tough. That is the ideal setup. It is infinitely better to unionize when the economy is in your favor than when the economy is in your boss’s favor. So do it. I know you have thought about it. I know you have complained about things at work. I know you have imagined how things could change for the better. I am here to tell you: They can. All you need to do is organize. All you need to do is unionize. And if you don’t do it now, it is very possible that you will spend the next decade saying “we should have done it then.
Be smart. Do something for your coworkers. Do something for equality. Do something for yourself. Start organizing now, now, now. Get what is yours before the winds of fate start blowing the wrong way.