By Chaumtoli Huq
Union membership in the private sector has declined. Thus, many people who may have grown up in non-union households do not know what it is like to strike or to have a family member who is on strike.
I believe that most people are well meaning and want to do the right thing, but they may need some help with ideas. Inspired by the thousands of Marriott hotel workers who are on strike across the country, I began to tweet information about their strike to show support.
I created this list of ways people can support workers on the picket line and one thing not to do. It is by no means an exhaustive list and it isn’t anything that any organizer would not know, but I think pulling them together in one place helps folks who want to be good labor allies
I am a professor of Labor Law at a public university in New York where I am a proud member of Professional Staff Congress-CUNY and a daughter of a retired union member. I personally benefited from unions as a child, including receiving a scholarship to college. Now as a parent, I have access to benefits that allow me to provide for my family.
Even those of us who are not in a union should all care about labor rights. As Meagan Day and Bhaskar Sunkara persuasively write in their New York Times op-ed, “Collective bargaining affects pay standards across entire industries, meaning even nonunion workers benefit. Unions also secure legislation that protects all workers, from workplace safety guidelines to a guaranteed weekend. And they reduce gender and racial wage gaps across industries, which contributes to broader equality in society.”
Here are some things you can do to support organized labor:
1. Share Information. Share information about the strike with your friends and inform them of the issues that workers are striking for. You can obtain this information from the union’s website. The decision to strike is not easy and when workers make that decision, it is because there are some real issues they care about. Learn about them and ask them about it.
2. Honk. If you drive by a picket line, tap on your horn, give athumbs up. A friendly beep shows support and encourages workers who may have been walking on the line since the early morning. My first strike was as a legal services lawyer and member of LSSA 2320. It was December 2003 and I was pregnant with my first son. It was hard, but we were fighting for health care for me and my future son. It can be hard to stand there all day. Honks and other words of encouragement can lift the spirits.
3. Walk With Workers. Attend a rally or walk with workers on the picket line. Find out when and where they are striking and join them for an hour during your break. Martin Luther King Jr. knew the power of walking together.
4. Music. Play some motivating, pro-labor music like “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton, “Working Girl” by Cher and “Get Up 10” by Cardi B.
5. Sign and Pledge. Sign their petition and pledge your support.
6. Social Media. Follow the union’s hashtags and like, tweet, retweet and share links on your favorite platform in support of the strike.
7. Provide Child or Elder Care. Many workers need to take care of their kids and older loved ones while on strike. Help arrange collective caregiving.
8. Bring Food. Help feed the people on the picket line or bring snacks, coffee, lunch or dinner to the union’s office. Donate groceries for striking families.
9. Fundraise. If workers are on strike, that means they are not earning money. Even if there is a strike fund it does not cover all costs. Raise money and help workers remain on strike. Make it fun. Be creative.
10. Most of all — Do not cross the picket line. Even if you do not support their cause, try to find an alternative way to seek services. Ask the union if they can usually provide alternative services. It is demoralizing to see people walk by you when you are on the street fighting for basic benefits or to be treated with respect.
Chaumtoli Huq is a labor law professor at CUNY Law and the founder and editor of Law@theMargins. The original version of this piece appears on lawatthemargins.com