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Workers Got Fed Up. Bosses Got Scared. This Is How the Big Quit Happened. – Mother Jones


Workers Got Fed Up. Bosses Got Scared. This Is How the Big Quit Happened. – Mother Jones

In our January + February 2022 cover story, we attempted to answer a simple question: What the hell happened to labor since the pandemic began? It wasn’t one thing. But this package—through a series of worker stories as told in their own voices, interviews with experts, and dissections of media narratives—attempts to make sense of the moment. You can find the full package here. 

A few weeks after the end of World War II, New York City came to a standstill. Thousands of elevators hung without operators, doors stood without doormen, and buildings languished without repairmen. Business districts closed down; the Garment District emptied out. Almost all deliveries other than the mail stopped coming into Manhattan. America’s commercial center was shuttered. “Make yourselves comfortable,” one union officer publicly warned. It wasn’t a government shutdown; it was a strike—one that started with the elevator operators, doormen, and maintenance workers, and spread to other unionists across the city. (“Fur workers do not want any scabs to run elevators in fur buildings,” declared one sympathy striker.)

Workers are “creating this sort of collective bargaining situation”—united by “a year of examining our life, and whether we think we’re being treated fairly, and whether we think we’re doing what we want to do.”


While their collective action was monumental, it was also somewhat routine. After the war, these kinds of strikes were de rigueur: In 1946, 4.6 million people—nearly 10 percent of the American workforce—took to the picket line. General strikes rocked entire communities across the country, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Oakland, California, to Rochester, New York. “It was after the war and I think we needed to get our share,” one Oakland striker later explained. “Industry had sure made theirs during the war.”

Many of the country’s major waves of strikes have occurred like this, as postscripts to shattering events of the 20th century—in 1919, 1934, 1946. Each catastrophe redefined our sense of “normalcy.” It left workers wondering why they had to…

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