The longest and costliest strike in the history of the steel industry hit the United States economy in 1959. Across the nation, the steel industry banked its furnaces, turned off the vital flow of steel, and many of the nation's auto plants closed down in a few months with their supply of steel used up.
Gone are the good old days of strikes bringing down entire industries that force intervention from the president of the United States.
"I'm not going to try to assess any blame," President Dwight D. Eisenhower assured during the strike. "But I'm getting sick and tired of the apparent impasse in the settlement of this matter, and I think, so are the American people."
President Eisenhower ordered the 500,000 striking steel workers back to work–and the workers ultimately saw their demands met.
At one time, unions were a force to be reckoned with. Take for instance, the UPS teamster strike of 1997. About 185,000 UPS workers represented by the Teamsters Union walked out on the company–but it did lead to the strikers having their demands met.
"Why am I on strike?" asked one striking teamster. "It's for my future for my son and my family. That's why I'm here. I want a better job, a full-time job. Something that he can look forward to."
But unions these days no longer have the man power, or political clout, they once did. In 1973, a quarter of all waged and salary workers in the U.S. were members of a union. By 2012, that number had plummeted to 11.2 percent.
The transformation from manufacturing to a largely service sector-based economy has weakened big unions. And so today, workers are finding fewer and fewer opportunities to organize.
The fast food pay strikes that started last year in New York provide a great example. Those strikes have not resulted in any significant pay gains for workers.
But a new form of organized laborÂ is making a difference in addressing the needs of workers–especially Latino and immigrant laborers–who work in jobs that are typically not unionized, like construction.
Cristina TzintzÃºn is the Workers Defense Project executive director. She joins The Takeaway to discuss her success in organizing workers in a new kind of union.
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