Schooled by Strikes? The Effects of Large-Scale Labor Unrest on Mass Attitudes toward the Labor Movement
By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Suresh Naidu and Adam Reich, Columbia University
Strikes are a central tool of organized labor, yet existing research has focused on the economic consequences of strikes, rather than their political effects. We examine how labor actions by teachers, a well-organized group of public sector workers, affect mass attitudes about the strikes and interest in the labor movement more generally. Our context involves large-scale teacher strikes and walkouts in six states in 2018. Using an original survey in the affected states, we study the causal effect of strike exposure among parents whose children’s ages place them in or out of school. Firsthand strike exposure increased parents’ support for the teachers and for the labor movement, as well as parents’ interest in labor action (though not necessarily through traditional unions). Our results highlight the importance of strikes as a political strategy for unions: not only can they build stronger public support for the striking workers but they can also inspire greater interest in further labor action among other workers.