Covid reshaped the global labour market – these strikes are just the start

Between ageing populations, shifting attitudes and challenges to capitalist beliefs, workers have unprecedented power

James Meadway

As strikes and labour disputes surge around the world, we appear to be at the beginning of a period in which the balance of power in workplaces and labour markets swings in favour of workers, having long been skewed against them.

Covid-19 has been a catalyst for this. Capital internationalised dramatically from the end of the 1970s to the late 2000s, with global trade and flows of capital growing hugely quicker than the economy as a whole. The number of labour disputes globally dropped over the same period and industrial disputes became more localised, with little correlation between the number of strikes in any two countries, and very limited international coordination of any kind.

Then came the pandemic. Its initial impact was as an immensely disturbing force to the formal structures of globalisation – the movement of goods and, more fundamentally, people were hit by lockdowns, supply chain disruptions, travel restrictions and so on.

But there has been a flipside to this impact: a profound and global medical crisis. We were all affected by the same novel virus. Our personal experiences will have varied, and our governments worked in different ways, but the biological shock was shared…..