Tag Archives: strikes

Movie Review: “Peterloo,” Written and Directed by Mike Leigh, 2 hours 23 minutes

How strikes were ended

The new British historical epic was released in Dallas on April 19. I imagine they would like to hope it would run until August 16, the 200th anniversary of the slaughter of hopeful worker activists around Manchester. The run time will almost certainly be disappointing, because movies with a solid political message seldom last longer than one week in our town.

My movie buddy and I went to see it because we knew that the writer/director was capable of saying very good things about working families. Nearly all movies are about the affluent or the artistic. We were certainly not disappointed with “Peterloo!”

Another great thing about Leigh is his ability to develop women characters. Even though history only names the men who organized the effort and the men who did the murdering, women must have been very important in the struggle for British reforms. They show up well in “Peterloo.”

Moviegoers who have no interest in improving the condition of humanity are probably going to think that this film is a tad too long, covers too many characters, and includes too many speeches. Those of us who want to learn from history in order to make a better future, a large group that almost certainly includes Mike Leigh, think it was too short.

In 1819, a reform movement was sweeping through the miserable lives of British manufacturing workers. The heroes in this story are the weavers, men and women, in Manchester. The setting alone is fascinating, because Frederich Engels, lifelong collaborator of Karl Marx, wrote his important literary work, “The Condition of the Working Class in England,” about these very Manchester families.

Leigh did not stint on spending for this film. Every frame rings with authenticity. The one or two short scenes of the great mechanical looms in the textile mill must have cost a small fortune. Every set, every costume, every sallow-complexioned worker, convinces us that we are actually watching what happened in that great historical worker upheaval.

Know your constituency

As a lesson in strategies, Peterloo is superb! Leigh establishes exactly what the workers must have been thinking in 1819, and he goes over every painful question they had to answer as they prepared to go on strike and carry out a massive demonstration involving over 60,000 people.

Every moviegoer already knows how successful they are going to be, as history doesn’t say “Peterloo” without saying “massacre.” Discerning activists will be watching to see what might have been done differently so that the workers might have found success. We also watch to see how we can refine our efforts today.

As the lower tactical level, it would be hard to fault the weavers. They did a wonderful job of convincing tens of thousands of exploited people to come together.

Know your enemies

But at the higher strategic level, they made a tragic mistake that all of us must learn and apply to today’s thinking: they were so caught up in their efforts to organize and unify themselves that they did not give proper consideration to their enemy. Class struggle isn’t one sided. There is another class on the other side, fighting against us, and they cannot be ignored. Most important, they cannot be underestimated.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to help striking workers.


The Fort Worth Symphony Musicians are on strike. A couple of the leaders were on my radio show, then I went over to Ft Worth for their rally, march, and picket last evening. I was so proud of them for their courage!

The number of important labor strikes diminished after Reagan was elected in 1980, and has almost disappeared today. They are all tangled up with government supervision and extremely difficult to carry off.

Withholding Our Labor Is Our Weapon

The truth is, all we have is our labor, and almost the only real economic power we have is to withhold our labor. That doesn’t always mean striking. It might mean some kind of slowdown or “work to rule.” it might mean a sickout or “blue flu” day.

There are laws closely regulating what you can and can’t do on any kind of concerted action. That’s because our enemies, the bosses and their government lackeys, already know that withholding our labor is about all we can do — and they intend to limit it as much as they can!

Despite everything, we can still win strikes. Our slogan is “One Day Longer!

Boycotts, too, are Highly Regulated

The same is true of boycotts, which are much less effective weapons, but we can use them because  workers are also consumers.

We Have One Greater Power

Solidarity is our greatest strength. The Musicians Union might not be able to shut down the city of Fort Worth because they don’t occupy a vital economic center. But they could hit the economy hard if they had enough friends and allies. Suppose the taxi and bus drivers committed to helping, for example!

With enough friends and allies, labor could apply all kinds of economic pressures. Further, by pooling our financial resources to make sure strikers’ families keep eating, we could make a strike last indefinitely. The Musicians, by the way, have already thought of that. They have an on-line donation site.

If we were really pulling together. workers could win everything we want. That has to be the goal. The isolated strikes of today, like the musicians in Fort Worth, are good practice for us all!

–Gene Lantz

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Around the nation, people are celebrating the 2016 Verizon strike. I don’t usually celebrate until the affected members have voted on the contract offer, but there are important lessons to be learned here. Americans can use strikes to win, not just a little bit but everything!

Here’s what “Gawker” had to say on its web site about Verizon:

“Strikes have always worked. Strikes still work. Pro-business forces like to deride unions as socialist parasites, but strikes are, in a sense, one of the purest free market actions that workers can take: the refusal to sell

verizon strikers

The public is asked to join in — and they should!

labor at a price that is deemed too low. This has the effect of raising the price of labor. Though “Economics 101″ idiots like to pretend that the free market will always magically produce the perfect wage for every job, the reality is that working people-people with less money-are always at a disadvantage when it comes to asserting the leverage necessary to raise their own wages, because they can’t afford to stop working and lose a paycheck. This is the biggest hurdle that strikes have to clear. It’s hard for working people to leave work, demanding better wages and working conditions. It’s a gamble. But it tends to pay off.

‘As much as workers need wages, businesses need labor even more. The free market has not raised your wages in decades. The government has not raised your wages in decades. You need to raise your own wages. Organize. Then strike. It’s always good to be reminded that it works.”

Working People Have Few Weapons

The ability to withhold our labor, either through strikes or slowdowns, is the strongest thing we can do. Nearly every tactic in our arsenal is just a way to lead up to a strike or a slowdown. We need to think seriously about how we can use our main power.

Do Strikes “Still Work?”

A lot of people might disagree that “strikes still work.” If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics on strikes, you can see that strike activity dropped tremendously in 1982, and there have been fewer than 100 big strikes in the entire nation in the years since then. In 2015, there were only 12. In 2009, when the recession was at its worst, there were only 5! In 1952, there were 470!

What Happened in 1982?

Reagan happened in 1982. The spokesperson for General Electric and corporate America in general dragged out an obscure court ruling, NLRB v. Mackay Radio, that cut away most of our legal right to strike in America. He used it to “permanently replace” the Flight Controllers. Unions have to think long and hard about conducting an economic strike now, because the company can hire scabs and keep them permanently.

The Reagan presidency signaled the end of any hope of labor-management partnership, even though many labor leaders clung to their illusions. Government was clearly on the side of business, and both of them were against American workers!

Why Bring It Up?

There are more than one kind of strike. I don’t mean the legal difference between an “economic” strike and an “unfair labor practices” strike. I mean that there are strikes against companies and there are strikes against governments.

Strikes Against Governments?

The idea of a political strike to change government policy is well known in Europe, and it used to be known here in America. The great worldwide strike of May 1, 1886, is celebrated all over the planet, and it was centered here, in Chicago! It was a political strike to get government to set an 8-hour day. The “student moratoriums” and the “Chicano Moratorium” of the 1960s were political strikes.

We usually treat the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as part of our illustrious union history. But they weren’t exactly unionists. They were revolutionaries.

The IWW intended to organize all workers, or at least a large enough percentage of workers, to be able to shut the entire nation down. They weren’t planning it so they could get a raise or a 10-minute coffee break. They intended to overcome capitalism and institute socialism in America. If only the workers had known about it, they might have won; but the bosses found out, too.

Economic and Political Strikes Both Deserve Our Support

In a way, every little strike action in America is a dress rehearsal for something much more profound. The Communications Workers at Verizon asked for, and got, a lot of public support and participation. The Wal-Mart workers strain to get everybody’s help, as do other groups from time to time.

Participating in a strike for better wages and participating in a strike for government change — both — are good training for everyone. They result in a better organized, better informed, more capable, stronger progressive movement.

Let’s Daydream Together about Political Strikes

Suppose someone was able to unite the progressive Americans who really want fundamental change. Suppose they had the technical know-how and the access to internet servers to organize us by the millions. That’s not as crazy as it sounds. Bernie Sanders just did it this year!

Suppose those millions agreed on some fundamental demand. It might be raising the minimum wage to $15/hour. It might be cutting working hours. It might be saving the planet. Anyway, suppose they came to agree on something.

Then suppose they set a date, for example May 1, 2017. Then suppose they said that date would begin a “virtual” strike. Nobody would actually stop working, but people would declare their willingness to participate. We’d learn from that, every time we did it.

Eventually, suppose somebody examined the data from the “virtual” tactic, found it very good, and then actually called for a do-or-die nationwide political strike until the goal had been met. You see where I’m going with this?

–Gene Lantz