Monday, March 21, 2011

The General Strike

The Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, in response to the predicament of workers in Wisconsin and in other places where the working class is under attack, have prepared a pamphlet that argues for a general strike and is a guide for organizing one.

General strikes, where everybody walks out, not just one union but everybody, are probably the most effective tool workers have. They are certainly the most powerful. The have been used with great effect in the US and elsewhere.

In fact -- although you surely won't hear it reported on Fox News or probably even MSNBC -- it was a general strike by Egyptian trade unions, in the final days of the struggle to topple Egyptian ruler Hosnai Mubarak, that finally led to Mubarak's downfall. As explained in Socialist Alternative:

The demand to bring down Mubarak united a vast array of social forces that cut across class lines – the urban poor, students, small business owners, middle class intellectuals as well as workers. In the initial period of the mass protests workers did not play a distinctive role as workers, in part because the regime had ordered the shutting down of industry. Workers were on the streets as “citizens” rather than as strikers.

But once the regime had ordered the re-opening of industry workers went back to work and promptly went on strike. It was these strikes that played an important role in tipping the balance against Mubarak in the last three or four days of the revolution. And with Mubarak’s downfall there was no letting up. All the repressed grievances and indignities of three decades of dictatorship exploded in workplaces across the country.

 Although it was rare to see it in the US press, the role Labor played in Egypt was even recognized by none other than the investment web site The Street.

But unless you read very widely, you probably haven't heard about it, and for a couple of good reasons. First is that the US media itself didn't know about it. US media outlets are hard pressed to report anything beyond a set of basic tenants that are fed them by the government and the ruling elite, who are their primary sources of information. Reporters just don't know countries like Egypt. In fact almost no one reporting on the Arab World even speaks Arabic. Not even at the New York Times. The other reason is simply ideological. The corporations that control the media in the US have a vested interest in downplaying anything that might give anyone in the docile, largely uninformed US working class any ideas for how they might use their inherent power in their interests, instead of in the interests of the ruling class, as the tea baggers are doing.

Even The Nation magazine, which has strayed far from its radical roots, has allowed a General Strike to be mentioned in its pages by associate editor Peter Rothberg. But as you can see from Rothberg's post, the idea is gaining currency, as economic hard times drag on and as workers start to realize they really are under attack by Capital and its conservative handmaidens in government.

Two of the most famous US general strikes were the Seattle General Strike of 1919, and the San Francisco General strike of 1934. The strike in Seattle was led by the IWW, or the Wobblies as they are often referred to, who were very strong in the western states then, particularly in the mining industry. In San Francisco, the Longshoreman's Union played a decisive role. But in both instances, instrumental to the success of the strikes was the fact that they had broad backing among all workers and the communities at large.

No comments:

Post a Comment