These past years of the covid pandemic have brought into sharp focus that those who provide the most essential labour for society’s functioning are often those who are most exploited in their workplaces.
As we entered lockdown the phrase ‘key worker’ was on every politician’s lips: the people whose essential labour would keep the country’s heart beating whilst they put themselves at the greatest risk of exposure to the virus.
That ‘key workers’ who are critical to sustaining society daily are often paid miserable wages and worked to breaking point is a disgrace.
Rectifying this, and improving working conditions for all is dependent not on the good grace of the boss but the organised action and solidarity of working people taking action.
Celebration and inspiration
Today is May Day, which since 1889 has stood as a moment of collective celebration and commemoration for the workers of the world and the many achievements of labour movements.
On this day then, we should keep in mind both the rampant exploitation many face in their places of work together with the tremendous and transformative power workers have when they organise to fight for dignity.
When workers empower themselves and take collective action to improve their conditions, great social achievements emerge from the NHS and workplace rights to the 2-day weekend.
As we look ahead to the coming decade, it is clear that rebuilding a powerful labour movement will be essential to tackle our greatest challenges from the cost of living crisis to the climate crisis.
Though these are grim times politically, we can draw inspiration from vibrant progressive political movements and worker victories.
On Black Friday last year, we saw a powerful coalition of trade unions and the climate movement come together in coordinated action to demand Amazon stop its exploitation of both its workers and the environment.
A few weeks back across the pond, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) achieved a historic victory winning the first ever union election in a US Amazon distribution centre.
Sharon Graham’s brilliant grassroots powered victory has brought a militant, worker-oriented strategy and a commitment to building popular, working class power to the heart of the UK’s largest trade union.
If we keep our eyes peeled and our ears sharp these moments of worker action, opportunities for inspiration and solidarity, become ever more salient.
Some recommended resources
You should also check out the brilliant folks over at Strike Map UK who are mapping workers taking action across the UK.
If you want to keep up with news of trade union activity, worker actions and employment relations in the UK we recommend following journalist and organiser Emiliano Mellino on Twitter and subscribing to his substack The Week in Work.
If you want to get to grips with how we go about rebuilding a powerful labour movement and winning transformative change in our communities then Jane McAlevey’s ‘No Shortcuts: Organising for Power in the New Gilded Age” is a must read.