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While they are common in Europe, most of us have never seen a big political strike in our lifetimes, until now.

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The strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona represent a big step up for the American working class. Newspersons are treating the phenomena as something angry teachers are doing, but it is much more than that. It’s a giant step upward for  American workers.

What Is a Political Strike?

Almost all we know about strikes in America since 1947 is limited to actions against a single employer. The austerity oppressing American workers since 1980 has not been met with the kind of united class action we commonly see in Europe. The French railway workers, for example, are just about shutting down the nation right now, and it’s not so they can get a raise. It’s a political strike against government! So are the school employees’ actions in the United States!

If we organized for it, we could be conducting concerted action everywhere to get an increase in the minimum wage. The “Fight for Fifteen” could be a political strike, and I believe that, sooner rather than later, it will be.

It’s Not Just Teachers

Teacher aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and all kinds of school employees are doing picket duty. They are joined by students, parents, and the public at large. School administrators, in many cases, are helping by shutting down the schools so that strikers can make up the pay they’re losing with extra school days in the summer. Many politicians and high-profile personalities such as sports figures are on our side. Just about every progressive person is spreading the word on social media.

The demands are not limited to teacher raises. The strikers are demanding an end to the steady starvation of public education and full funding for everything the students need.

It’s Not Just Unions

In fact, I’m not even sure that the unions are directly involved. If one looks at the web site for the Oklahoma Education Association or the Oklahoma American Federation of Teachers, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Both of their Facebook Pages have some good photos, but very little to show that the biggest unions are backing the strike. I have a theory about that.

One of the leaders from West Virginia told me that their strike was “wildcat.” It means that the official unions did not call it and did not officially support it. It also means that the official unions were not legally nor financially responsible for it. My theory is that America’s unions are so constrained, so hogtied, that they dare not push the legal limits with such an action. I’m guessing that all the strikes today are “wildcat.”

I don’t exactly blame them. Unions represent their members and that’s all, no more no less. If they go out on a limb, they may be risking their entire existence. They could be fined every cent they have and then some. Officers could be put in jail. It would not be the first time that the government has punished organized workers. Would that be the responsible thing for a union that represents all its members?

CHEERS to the AFL-CIO Labor Federation

The American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations is not a labor union. It is a federation and consequently has a different legal and political situation. In my opinion, the present AFL-CIO leadership is far in advance of most of their constituent unions. That’s why I emphasize that all progressives should be working with them.

President Rich Trumka has given the national AFL-CIO position on teacher strikes: “When working people dutifully play by the rules and still can’t get ahead, they’re going to upend those rules. That’s exactly what’s happening today. Teachers, from West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona, are fighting to overturn a rigged system that has left them behind for decades. They’re inspiring a resurgence of collective action among all working people who are hungry for real change to improve our lives. The 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO are proud to stand with all those marching to secure a brighter future for our teachers, students and families”

The only part of Trumka’s statement I disagree with is where he said it was “teachers.” Teachers may be spearheading it, but we are witnessing a giant working class process. Conditions, meaning low unemployment and high discontent, are ripe for it to spread throughout the nation.

–Gene Lantz

I discuss these things on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. From the “events” tab, you can see the last two programs. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

 

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.