Even though American law and politics remain rigged to discourage organized labor, militancy among workers is more intense than it has been in decades. One factor may be the tight labor markets created by the unexpectedly rapid reopening of the economy. Another may be the effect of bipartisan praise during the lockdowns of “essential workers” who had previously been absent from public discourse. While manufacturing can be offshored by firms seeking to evade unionization, infrastructure can’t be moved—a fact that explains the recent willingness of the railroads and UPS to avert strikes by negotiations.
Labor militancy is a useful reminder of the importance of direct, extra-political action by ordinary people whom the political system usually ignores. The three forms of direct action are the strike by workers, the boycott by consumers, and civil disobedience by citizens. These are the weapons of the weak. All should be used only in emergencies, when the redress of grievances through electoral politics or other means has failed. Unfortunately, in the nature of things, such redress is bound to fail frequently.
In the theory of democracy taught to American schoolchildren in civics classes, a popular majority instructs politicians what policies to carry out through the mechanism of free and fair elections. In reality, all societies are oligarchies, governed by an elite that is a numerical minority of the population; one-man rule is as much a myth as rule of the many.