In 1945 and 1946, corporations like General Motors and U.S. Steel returned to the bargaining table after over four million workers, most of them unionized, went on strike. But today’s labor actions take place in a different economic landscape, where service industry jobs outnumber manufacturingas the country’s lead source of employment.

Retail, food service and warehouse workers don’t expect long-term employment. For example, Amazon had a pre-pandemic turnover rate of over 150 percent a year. These employers are also the least likely to offer pensions. Unions that drove the postwar strike wave have much lower membership rolls today, and haven’t succeeded in organizing the service sectors where workers are now protesting. Today, union membership stands at below 11 percent for all U.S. workers. Only 1.2 percent of food service workers are union members.

While small groups of unionized workers in traditional manufacturing jobs, like those at John Deere, have won demands in new contracts, the outcome for non-unionized service workers at Amazon and Starbucks is less certain.

HARRISON TREMARELLO, an intern at Retro Report, produced and edited the video accompanying this article. He is a video and multimedia reporting student in the journalism and political science programs at Northwestern. This article first appeared in Retro Report’s free weekly newsletter. Subscribe and receive lessons from history in your mailbox. Follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.