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Here’s the reason behind the current surge in union support.

More than 65,000 teachers in Québec may continue their strike until Christmas if a resolution is not reached, as indicated by their union on Sunday. This cautionary statement emerges amidst widespread labor unrest in the province, with nearly 570,000 workers simultaneously on strike last week.

These collective actions follow the recent “summer of strikes,” which witnessed various labor actions, including the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes, the United Auto Workers’ strike, and several Starbucks strikes. In Canada, port workers in British Columbia, employees of Ontario’s public broadcaster, and city workers in Saint John also participated in strikes.

The surge in strikes appears to be linked to the record-high support for workers’ unions. According to a recent Gallup poll, 71% of Americans express support for labor unions — the highest rate since 1965. A recent Angus Reid survey reveals that three out of five Canadians believe unions have had a positive impact on workers.

The elevated support is attributed to worsening working conditions, wages falling behind inflation, and the growing use of artificial intelligence across various industries, according to some analyses.

Nonetheless, this is just a fraction of the overall scenario. What holds more significance than these conditions is how workers perceive them. The upsurge in union backing might be better elucidated by the broader trend of people acknowledging their own disadvantages and responding with negative emotions to these setbacks.

The role of perception Research underscores that recognizing one’s disadvantage, combined with an emotional reaction, typically anger, is a crucial determinant in participating in collective actions such as protests, strikes, or joining a union. This holds true even when considering objective indicators of disadvantage, such as social class, income, and education.

Regarding support for unions specifically, a 1991 study discovered that people’s sentiments regarding their perceived social status held more sway in predicting union support than their actual social standing, determined by factors like income, education, and class. In essence, people’s perceptions played a decisive role in shaping union support.

This viewpoint also clarifies why support for unions hasn’t increased during periods of deteriorating working conditions. In the years following the 2008 recession, numerous labor challenges emerged, including widespread unemployment, decreasing household incomes, and a rise in temporary and precarious employment.

Despite these challenges, union support among Americans reached a historical low during that period. While there are no specific statistics for the Canadian context, evidence suggests that unions were equally unpopular in Canada after the Great Recession.

Role of the COVID-19 Pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic significantly influenced how we perceive our lives. Recent studies indicate that people are now more cognizant of the inequalities present in our societies and are more inclined to take action compared to the pre-COVID era.

An awareness of the unjust systems influencing our behaviors has been identified as a prerequisite for the anger that fuels collective action. Essentially, the more we recognize injustice, the more likely we are to engage in collective action.

The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with several union strikes that underscore this pattern. For instance, the 2020 Dominion grocery store workers’ strikes in Newfoundland were propelled by a growing awareness of the disparities between top executives, who earned millions during the pandemic, and front-line workers who saw minimal to no wage increases.

Despite this divide widening over the years, the pandemic exacerbated it. Union statements during the strikes underscored that the challenges faced by workers were brought to light by the pandemic rather than being a direct result of it.

The pandemic has contributed to creating an environment where workers are more prone to feeling disadvantaged and angry. Until there is a shift in public perception and awareness of inequality, an increase in strikes and other forms of collective action is likely.

What Employers Should Do Employers play a pivotal role in this scenario. To prevent collective action by their workers, they should demonstrate support by addressing their needs. Concerns such as work-life balance, mental health support, and diversity and inclusion are paramount for employees.

When employees’ needs are addressed, they are less likely to perceive disadvantages in the workplace and harbor resentment. A recent study revealed that employees who believed they were fairly compensated for positive workplace behaviors, such as cooperating with others and coming in early, felt less resentment toward those they considered more advantaged.

Effective communication with workers, fostering participative leadership, and promoting cooperation among workers have also been proven to reduce feelings of anger arising from negative workplace comparisons.

These approaches are effective because they encourage constructive solutions to employee issues. Ultimately, the connection between people’s perceptions of their own lives and their support for unions underscores the importance of employers taking their employees’ needs into account.



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