Archive

Tag Archives: economic struggle

In our lifetimes, we have never seen the American people as ready to fight as they are right now. Case in point: the January 21st demonstrations put more protesters on the streets than ever in American history.

wom-012117 (4)

Is It Enough?

At the same time that our potential strength is growing, the challenges are growing, too. The far right, the dark money people, the Koch brothers, all of the worst of America’s ruling rich, are far stronger than ever. They were bad enough when they were just the crazies in the John Birch society  the Tea Party and Ku Klux Klan, but now they hold state power!

Does it seem likely that these merciless and unscrupulous power mongers are going to be “touched” by our sentiments? Will they have a “change of heart” after they hear our arguments at Town Hall meetings? Does anyone think they will give up state power just because people carried signs?

What About the Next Elections?

If everything were the way it used to be, or the way it usually is, the Democrats could expect to win big in the 2018 mid-term elections. There is a lot of enthusiasm for fighting the Republicans, thanks to the Republicans. Also, the party in power normally loses in mid-term elections. A lot of our leaders, thinking things are the way they used to be, or the way things usually are, are focusing entirely on the next elections. We’ll warm up in the local elections that occur between now and then, and then we’ll be “really ready” in November, 2018.

American Democracy Is On the Wane

We should fight in the local elections at hand. We should get ready for the 2018 mid-terms. We should continue building giant protests. We shouldn’t concede anything. But is it enough? Even if we think it’s enough, can we be sure?

Consider that the level of democracy that we enjoyed just a few years ago is being eroded away. When Bill Clinton was President, for example, we thought our voting rights were secure. Not only that,  we more or less expected to continue expanding American democracy just as we had more or less consistently since 1776. We’ve seen big money take over our elections with the blessings of the Supreme Court. We’ve seen a President appointed by the same court. We’ve seen the near-sacred Voting Rights Act gutted. We’ve seen unfair redistricting and myriad voter suppression laws become common. Just recently!

Maybe we have enough democracy left to assert ourselves in 2018 and put America back on the path to freedom. I hope so, but I’d like to have something stronger just to make sure.

What Else Is There?

Here in the United States, we know almost nothing about the kinds of economic struggles that are common in other parts of the world. The only truly successful economic boycott we know of was the United Farm Workers’ fight against grape growers. We’ve never seen a successful political strike in our lifetimes. Union organization has almost stopped completely in America due to the combined hostility of bosses and governments.

Those are the things we have to learn if we want to win.

To go on strike basically means to stop working until some particular demand is met.

strikelondon

Since Trump was elected, I have received two calls for a general strike. One was for January 21, the other is pending, February 17.  No exact demands accompanied on either one. I think it’s dangerous business, but must be considered.

What Is a Strike?

The word comes from British sailors who would “strike sails” and refuse to take their ships to sea. A “general strike” in a given area means that everybody, not just one particular organization or category of people, stops working until their demands are met. General strikes may not be over economic issues, but political.

Since the U.S. government moved against the union movement in 1947, the only union strikes we have seen were limited to one union, the few other unions legally able and willing to participate, and whatever community support a local union could get. Usually since 1947, American union locals have faced their employers virtually alone.

Prior to 1947, in fact in 1946 in Houston, there were general strikes in America. Probably the most dramatic and best-remembered was the strike for the 8-hour day, worldwide, May 1, 1886. Like most general strikes with potential for change, it was met with armed violence from the employers and their government.

We hear of general strikes in other countries from time to time. Over there, unions are involved but it is unlikely, given their legal situation, that organized labor would call any  general strike in America today. That doesn’t mean somebody else couldn’t!

Strikes Are Part of Economic Struggle

A strike is not the only form of economic struggle, as differentiated from armed struggle or electoral struggle. Any kind of refusal to cooperate with the employers’ system of production fits the description. Workers might, for example, try a “slowdown.” Lately, union leaders call it “work to rule” and ask employees to do only what they are required to do legally and by contract, nothing more. In modern strikes, especially since Reagan, people sometimes lose their jobs. With slowdowns, there’s less risk of job loss. But a slowdown is a harder to organize and carry out.

Economic boycotts are economic struggles. The United Farm Workers carried out an effective one in the early 1970s against grape growers. Economic boycotts, like general strikes are very easily called by some unthinking hothead, but extremely difficult to carry out.

The employers and the government may be counted on to team up quickly against any kind of economic struggle by workers.

Who Wins? Who Loses?

According to the employers, workers always lose every strike. Even if the strike has short duration, the workers at minimum have to go some time without income. The strain on families and friendships is terrific. Nowadays, when many workers are carrying heavy loads of debt, the thought of a strike, even for a few days, terrifies everybody.

According to the workers, we win pretty much every strike. Even if our demands weren’t met, we feel that we’ve stood up for our dignity and for the dignity of all working people.

But putting points of view aside, the actual winner of a strike is generally the side that holds out one day longer than the other side. “One Day Longer” makes a good workers’ slogan and is the title of one of my songs.

“Winning” for us means getting whatever we wanted. “Winning” for the bosses means getting whatever they wanted plus the ability to take retaliatory action against every worker that crossed them.

A Strike Is Serious Business

A successful strike is one that grew out of careful analysis of the situation and had good planning and strong leadership. A good example was the three-month strike recently carried out by the Fort Worth Symphony Musicians. Somebody needs to write a book about that one.

Calling a strike without careful analysis, good planning and strong leadership is irresponsible and likely to get lose and get people fired. It isn’t much better than calling “fire” in a crowded movie theater.

But We Need Economic Struggle, and We Need It Now

I can only think of one thing worse right now than an irresponsible call for economic struggle — and that is no call for economic struggle.

Every American who is not a fool knows we need to resist the attacks underway. Economic struggle is, right now, our best option.

Don’t Go Off Half-Cocked

We need careful study and careful planning to win any economic struggle. Fortunately, we have the ability to do that thanks to modern communications. We could, for example, call for a “virtual strike” over a certain demand and for a certain day. We could make our preparations virtually. We could sign up the people willing to participate and, afterward, evaluate the results. Then we could call another one and see how it goes.

Study up, think it through, and share your thoughts.

–Gene Lantz

I talk about these things on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 Central Time every Saturday. 89.3FM in Dallas. If you want to know what I really think, click here.