The New World
October 20, 2019 1:49 AM   Subscribe

"One way that mass strikes, and even things that look a lot like general strikes, have happened in recent memory is basically a mass wildcat. People get upset and walk off the job, i.e. they vote with their feet. Some union officials may become de facto leaders and be put in a position to negotiate terms (provided the leadership did not oppose the strike action and lose legitimacy in the eyes of the strikers)". A Blueprint toward a general Strike . What is a general strike?
posted by The Whelk (14 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
This is what it's going to take, people. We have to lose our fear of it.
posted by ocschwar at 8:32 AM on October 20, 2019 [13 favorites]

I had entirely forgotten the push for a general strike in Wisconsin 2011, so I went looking for background info and found this thorough report by two IWW organizers on the "General Strike that Didn't Happen".
Sixty-five years after the last ‘official’ general strike, of Oakland workers in 1946 (though only five years after immigrant workers had organized themselves to halt work coast-to-coast on May 1 2006), here was a local union federation that had the gall to endorse a general strike. Yet despite the criticisms of the AFL-CIO and Democratic party machinery, who accused the SCFL delegates of acting too hastily by calling for a general strike outside of their authority, the SCFL delegates knew that they did not have the authority to call for a general strike. What they did was nothing more, though nothing less, than to endorse and, in a limited way,prepare for a general strike.
This seems to get to some of the inherent limitations in trying to harness existing union structures.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:11 AM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Most of what I know about labor organizations comes from reading Loomis' posts about This Day in Labor History so I'm no expert, but I have the impression that general strikes are basically inconceivable in the US, and will remain so until (maybe very suddenly) they aren't. I'm not seeing the theory of change in OP's links.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 9:28 AM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Jane McAlevey's books and talks on union organizing have really influenced me on how to think about strikes. Who are the "organic leaders," the one nurse in the ward who everyone else defers to, etc. McAlevey talks about 100% strikes and how to do "structure tests" to figure out if workers are ready for a mass strike. "In my experience, most workers don't want to get involved in the beginning. Most workers would like to have someone else fix their problems."

McAlevey* talks about how hard it is, and that it takes countless conversations with people who oppose you, disagree with you. That it is way different from mobilizing, where you turn out the people who already are with you.

Thinking about how to make the idea of this kind of mass strike possible, I've turned to historical examples.

I have been reading about (and teaching about) the 1933 California Farmworkers Strikes. Over 47,000 farmworkers, from cherry pickers to cotton pickers participated, primarily via the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union. Multi-lingual, multi-racial organizing, from Santa Clara to San Diego. At the start of August 1933 the prevailing wage was 16.5 cents an hour, and by the end of the month, the workers got 25 cents an hour, per linked article. I am astounded at how they organized state-wide strikes in the middle of the Great Depression. If I think about the logistical challenges the union organizers faced, dispersed agricultural camps, state-sanctioned vigilante violence and state violence, I am full on flabbergasted. At the same time, I begin to understand what the necessary conditions might be. Mutual aid. Federal relief to provide a floor where food aid could be gained so no one would starve.

*By excitedly looking for more talks, I found this talk for the centennial of Winnipeg's 1919 General Strike and then got excited about learning more about that strike.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:45 AM on October 20, 2019 [12 favorites]

Like, how does this not make any kind of mass strike more possible? More imaginable? From Bronfenbrenner's 1990 article on California Farmworkers’ Strikes of 1933.
twenty-nine CAWIU delegates assembled at the union's first district convention on August 5 to engage in a serious round of self- criticism and to plan for the critical late-summer fruit harvests. A detailed organizing strategy was developed including commitment to build a strong integrated union apparatus throughout the state's important agricultural centers; more aggressive organizing of women and children; "boring from within" established unions to form contacts with dissident elements and win the organizations over to the CAWIU; and building alliances with unemployed agricultural workers.

CAWIU organizers left the convention to immediately embark upon a rapid succession of ambitious and mostly successful strikes. The late-summer harvest campaign began on August 7 and 8 with strikes involving 1,000 Mexican and Filipino sugar beet workers in Ventura County and 400 tomato pickers near San Diego. By August 14, pear pickers around San Jose and peach pickers near Tulare had joined the fray, with still other strikes soon spreading throughout the fruit growing districts of six San Joaquin Valley counties. With the exception of the Oxnard Sugar Beet Strike, almost all of these strikes resulted in significant wage victories for the union. Early in August the average farmworker wage in California had been approximately sixteen and a half cents an hour. By the end of the month the general agricultural wage was firmly established at twenty-five cents an hour.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:49 AM on October 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

There’s a very easy 21st century way to strike anonymously now:

Buy used & local. Limit what you buy to what you truly need.

This would be terribly effective at shutting our economy down — so much so it would be like collectively shooting ourselves in the head, depending on one’s position in our service economy.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 11:25 AM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

There’s a very easy 21st century way to strike anonymously now:

Buy ...

You're talking about boycotts. Strikes a different thing, though a number of unions, such as the UFW, have coordinated both tactics to good effect at times in the past.
posted by eviemath at 12:00 PM on October 20, 2019 [10 favorites]

I daydream sometimes that a general strike is finally achieved with a smartphone app endorsed by a celebrity
posted by captain afab at 12:36 PM on October 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

There’s a very easy 21st century way to strike anonymously now

Isn't an anonymous action at counter purposes to the intents of a strike? A strike is about showing inarguable collective power of labor United. Any business can always spin a vague loss caused by a boycott by not reporting it or saying it has a different cause. A boycott also immediately frames this as a buyer seller relationship, while completely ignoring the power (and impact) of when labor refuses to work. The idea isn't to cause short term loss (or at least not solely), but rather to advertise the power of unionized labor.
posted by codacorolla at 1:19 PM on October 20, 2019 [10 favorites]

Has anyone here participated in one before? What was it like?
posted by Selena777 at 1:42 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Catalonia has created a new kind of online activism. Everyone should pay attention
posted by adamvasco at 3:01 PM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm on my forth GM strike. Not a striker, I wish but I've talked to alot of folks and delivered stuff, hang for a few, get the latest. Honk. Looks like it worked because nothing says get back to work, please, then acouple billion in lost production. The new warehouse is larger then any Amazon warehouse, with about 1000 tractor trailers and some 80 odd bays. Now the workers are gonna be on OT for weeks which means I'll be busier and the boss can stop chomping because of lost revenue but you DO NOT oppose the UAW if in Flint conducting bit-niz.
Fucking try us.

more possible? More imaginable? From Bronfenbrenner's 1990 article on California Farmworkers’ Strikes of 1933.

Yes. Nice take and links and only a few times on mefi have I read something linked on in support of a thesis, historically. Seminal work, great example before alot of industrial unions solidified.
posted by clavdivs at 3:19 PM on October 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

Has anyone here participated in one before? What was it like?

A general strike? No. A strike? Yes.

The thing about a strike is that everyone on strike has to find alternate ways to meet their basic needs in the absence of a pay check, because of course one generally does not get paid by one's employer while one is on strike and not providing labor in exchange for wages. Established unions have strike funds and provide strike pay to workers who do their part in assisting the strike action - walking the picket line, staffing the strike headquarters office, food prep, making signs for the picketers, etc. A general strike shuts down a significant proportion/all of the local capitalist economic activity, however. So the striking working class needs to organize basically a whole alternate economy for the duration of the general strike. It's certainly feasible - it's been done before, and people basically have to do the same thing during natural disasters and similar emergencies. It's definitely an extra obstacle to organizing a general strike versus a targeted strike by one specific union group against their specific employer.

At the same time, however, that is precisely one of the major positive outcomes and sources of power in a general strike - it gives people an actual, lived experience of an alternative to capitalism, which opens up the imagination to more possibilities; the coordination and work needed for such a project strengthen's working people's sense of their own power and capabilities as; and the cooperation and community- or solidarity-building necessary to carry off a general strike has historically had really significant positive impacts on the lives of participants and their families. In my own experience, the strike I was involved in brought folks within my union together socially in ways that also resulted in positive professional outcomes after we returned to work. But if you read the accounts of folks who have been involved with general strikes, it was often a fairly transformative experience for them.

One of the interesting things about general strikes that occurred in various places in North America in the past that I've read about is that they required strong solidarity among workers and their community in order to get enough momentum to occur. And that required a shared set of working class values - around having each other's backs, and cooperating on the big project despite other differences, for example. But lots of general strikes, as well as some of the larger and more successful industrial strikes in North American labor history, involved communities made of up immigrants from a range of countries who didn't necessarily all have a common language even, or they involved cross-racial coalitions of white and Black folks. Strikers didn't necessarily share much beyond the value of working class solidarity. I think that one of the modern day obstacles to organizing a general strike is that capitalism has had more time to atomize people and to break down that trust that our community will step up to support us, and that we can work together to take care of each other. Instead, more and more lower-middle and working class folks seem to be buying into the upper middle class and upper class value system of personal financial savings as one's safety net, rather than community as safety net. Shared community meals are definitely a good way to push back on that, though!
posted by eviemath at 4:55 PM on October 20, 2019 [19 favorites]

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