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Facebook has a number of events calling for a general strike on May 1, 2017.

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I have no idea whether or not it will “succeed,” but it ought to, and, sooner or later, it must!

What Is It?

A general strike, also known as a political strike, is a labor action that is not limited to a single employer. Instead, it takes in a geographic area. The great Seattle general strike shut down Seattle. There was a general strike in Houston 1946, according to the book, “Rainbow at Midnight.” The 1886 strike for the 8-hour day was worldwide.

The idea is to add economic struggle to our usual progressive arsenal of voting, lobbying, and protesting. A general strike asks that we don’t go to work unless our demands are met.

Recently, we saw “A Day Without an Immigrant” and “A Day Without a Woman” show some limited success throughout the United States. It is very hard to assess how many people actually missed work, because they are likely to keep it secret. Also, no clear demands were put forward and it was never clear exactly who was organizing. We do know that a lot of students took the day off and a few small businesses shut down.

In my opinion, both of these operations were worthwhile because, for the first time since 1946, Americans are seriously discussing the idea of nationwide participation in economic struggle. If you read this far, that’s a victory!

What Could Happen?

“A strike is an incipient revolution”

–Big Bill Haywood, head of the Industrial Workers of the World

It is possible to achieve great goals if participation levels are high enough in a political strike. We see successes in Europe from time to time. Brazilians just struck March 17 over cuts in their government pensions. They shut down Sao Paulo!

What Should Happen On May 1, 2017?

“It is not sufficient to fight, comrades, it is also necessary to win!”

–Leon Trotsky, organizer of the Red Army

Pursuing the economic struggle is not only exigent but necessary. Ultimately, the corporations in power have no concern for democracy. They’ve already eroded American democracy considerably and will do their best to destroy it completely. That’s why we have to learn to use economic struggle.

Organizers who want a successful general strike on May 1, 2017, need to come together on demands and strategies. Legislation guaranteeing a national minimum wage of $15/hours would be a good target demand. If Congress should pass such legislation and the President were to sign it into law, the May 1 general strike should be called off. If not, organizers should make certain that employers feel the consequences.

A good strategy would be to organize “flying pickets” on May 1. In advance, sign-making parties could be set up that would help develop and train volunteers. A rendezvous point and some picketing targets could be discussed. On May 1, organizers would gather at the  rendezvous point and send carloads of picketers to selected low-paying enterprises such as fast-food restaurants. The more the better, but even a small turnout at a limited number of targets might have a measurable effect.

What WILL Happen on May 1, 2017?

We’ll see!

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.

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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.

March 8, 2017, could be gigantic!

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Good strategies and tactics only come from understanding the situation we’re in. If one overestimates people’s willingness to take action, one tends to try things that can’t be done and make other “ultraleft” errors. If we underestimate people, we end up settling for petty reforms when we could get bigger changes.

For most of my political life, I’ve tended to think people would do a lot more than they actually did. I thought, for example, that voters would really turn out to defeat the Orange Menace last November.

Afterward, when individuals and small groups began to call for militant political action, I fell on the timid side of evaluation. I never imagined that the January 21 marches and rallies would be the biggest in American history, but they were.

Now, to my surprise, I’m seeing some actual results from calls for a “general strike.” Even in my town, some small businesses shut down and a lot of students — of all ages — stayed out of school on February 16. For my entire political life, and all of almost everybody else’s, the call for a “general strike” was just a foolish dream of ultralefts and knee-jerk activists who weren’t even interested in whether it would work or not.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day

Now, calls for a general strike are beginning to get some traction. People are discussing the idea and beginning to talk about what it would take to be successful. I imagine that some people are looking at the general strikes in American history. The years 1877, 1886, and 1919 would be good ones to look at, but general strikes occurred in limited geographical areas right up to the big government attacks on workers that began in 1946. None were effective since then that I know of, until February 16, 2017.

To really make a difference, a general strike needs to be organized. Leadership needs to agree on the demands. They need to make those demands clearly understood, and they need to call off the action if the demands are met. It is hardly fair, and certainly not smart to ask people to make sacrifices without knowing what they are fighting for.

Leadership also needs to figure out how the strike should be conducted and how people’s needs can be met during the action. I have always loved reading about the successful strike in Seattle in 1919 where Rob Rosenthal wrote this poem:

“Nothing moves in the city,

Without our say-so

Let the bosses curse,

Let the papers cry

This morning

I saw it happen, with these ancient eyes of mine

Without our say-so

Nothing moves but the tide!”

March 8 is Coming. Look Out!

As I understand it, the February 16 activities were largely organized on social media. A lot of people didn’t know about “A Day Without An Immigrant,” but a significant number of the ones who knew about it went ahead and participated. That’s the times we live in.

As I understand it, the leaders that organized the biggest demonstrations in American history on January 21 have called for actions on March 8 — International Women’s Day. If “A Day Without  A Woman” goes anything like “A Day Without An Immigrant” –given that more people will know about it, that the leadership has already made itself credible and somewhat seasoned, and that there are more women in America than immigrants — a general strike on March 8 could be the most important political event in America since World War II.

That is, if I understand the times.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on the “Workers Beat” talk show ever Saturday at 9AM. 89.3fm in Dallas and http://knon.org everywhere. If you’re interested in what I really think, click here.

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

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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.

On the day after the election, small groups of demonstrators hit the streets in a number of American cities. I just got a request that I join a call for a general strike — a national work stoppage — on Inaugural Day. I call this kind of non-thinking acting-out “knee jerk activism.” It’s more traditionally called “ultra-leftism” and has been correctly labeled, “the infantile disorder.”

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We had a tremendous general strike in 1877

Union activists are used to hearing people call “strike!” when they have no idea whether or not the tactic would work. A lot of them don’t care. If a union called a strike every time some hothead wanted one, we’d get a lot of people fired for nothing. When my union ran a successful 15-month “work to rule” contract fight, there were people calling “strike” instead of doing the hard work of a long struggle. The three of them that I knew personally were all promoted to foreman immediately after the union won. They were company stooges, as it turned out. The company knew that the union might win the long battle, but we would almost certainly have lost a strike.

If you’re reading along in Facebook, you’ve seen lots of responses to the Trump election victory, and nearly all of them are way less than helpful. Some are silly, and some are outright dangerous!

First, Figure Out What Happened

Nearly all the pollsters were wrong about the election results. The best single explanation I’ve seen was in a “letter to editor” in today’s Dallas newspaper. A guy named, I think, Roland Young wrote that when the pollsters called, “We lied!” Some of Trump’s voters may have been too ashamed to confess.

But the best explanation of the pollsters’ failure is that their approaches are based on previous history, and the 2016 presidential race was, to state it modestly, unique.

Are Americans Mostly Chauvinists?

Elections are the best evidence we have of the national character. If the Electoral College puts Donald Trump in office, does that mean we’re mostly chauvinists like him? Actually, more than half the electorate voted against him, and only 56% of all eligible voters went to the polls at all. The ones that went voted for marijuana and higher minimum wages by much better margins than they voted for Trump.

Everyone who voted for Trump did not do so because they wanted to express their chauvinism. They surely didn’t vote for him because they think his far-flung ideas are actually going to solve America’s problems.

What They Wanted Was Change

I think it is fair to say that they voted for change. We see this in the unions all the time. Members who haven’t taken the time to investigate the candidates in union elections will nevertheless vote to “throw the bums out” against whoever is in office. Next election, you can’t find anyone who admits they voted for the incumbents and it’s “throw the bums out” again. After a lifetime in the public eye, and because of the outright duplicity of the national Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton was a perfect target for that kind of sentiment.

People voted for Trump over Clinton for the same reason that they had voted, in 2008, for Obama over Clinton. Change.

People voted for Donald Trump because they are dissatisfied with life in America and they don’t know what else to do about it.

I don’t exactly blame them. I’m dissatisfied too, but I know what to do about it.

Educate and Organize the Working People

Media pundits are blaming “white blue-collar workers” for electing Donald Trump. His voters were probably Anglos all right, but they didn’t represent the working class. The working class is the solution, not the problem. The progressive leadership of the AFL-CIO is head and shoulders above any Democratic or Republican Party politician. For now, it’s better to follow them than Bernie Sanders, too.

If we’re willing to do the long hard work of educating and organizing America’s workers, we could win elections. We could win strikes, even general strikes!

But it will take some work.

–Gene Lantz

Click here if you want to know what I really think!