A wildcat strike is one that occurs with little notice or legal support. Wildcat strikes are often organized and executed in violation of a no-strike clause in a collective bargaining agreement and in defiance of both the employer and union leadership. Non-union workplaces wildcat strike by striking without formally certifying or affiliating with a union. According to some, the revitalization of a new labor movement will require a degree of worker organizing that is not dependent on union staff and resources. Instead, spontaneous job actions, like wildcat strikes, may be the necessary shot in the arm to increase union organizing success stories.

The Longshoremen at the New York and New Jersey ports launched a classic wildcat strike in January catching the Port Authority, the Shipping Association, and their own International totally unaware. The strike cost the businesses that rely on the ports hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few short hours. The following week, Uber drivers began a 24-hour work stoppage and staged a rally outside of the company’s local headquarters. Drivers struck in protest of a 15% reduction in Uber’s fares. The strikers are not demanding union recognition, just a rollback of the price decrease. Also in 2016, Detroit schoolteachers staged a wildcat sickout over the supposedly bad physical conditions of the school buildings.

The U.S. labor movement has historically grown in incredibly short and intense periods of activity and then slowly declined in the interim periods. Many successful organizing drives begin as wildcat strikes that were unplanned or even opposed by union leadership. When conditions were right, union leaders swooped in to take charge of the actions and cut peace deals that usually included recognizing the union as the exclusive bargaining representative of the striking employees.