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General Strike

Started by GREGORYABUTLER, March 12, 2011, 04:39:47 am

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Pro capitalist union leaders are flat out terrified of general strikes because of their revolutionary implications. Unlike routine economic strikes of relatively small groups of workers, divided by workplace or craft and often as not split up among several unions, a general strike (especially those over political issues) has the workers as a class challenging the capitalist class over who should rule.

As a practical matter, general strikes that last any significant amount of time involve workers having to set up their own parallel government, to deal with public safety and the sale/donation of food and other essential consumer goods. That challenges the elitist concept (presented as an article of faith in all societies ruled by an exploiting class) that only the elite are fit to rule and that the masses are a stupid rabble who need to be controlled by the upper classes and their state.

To pro capitalist trade union leaders who have devoted a life's work to serving as arbiters and middlemen between the bosses and the workers, the very idea that the workers can rule fundamentally challenges their social role as a sort of diplomatic corps of the working class, bargaining the terms and conditions of our exploitation with the bosses.

That's true even in countries where the trade unions are nominally led by socialists (England, Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Greece, Israel) and even in countries where the labor leaders are, supposedly, communists (France, Italy, Japan, South Africa, India, the Philippines)

This is especially true in a place like America, where the trade unions are openly pro capitalist, politically dominated by a bourgeois party (the Democrats) and where much of the trade union leadership is openly racist (America's trade unions were the last institution in this country to abandon Jim Crow segregation - my union, the Carpenters, didn't fully desegregate IN NEW YORK CITY until the early 1970′s - and the union leadership had to be dragged kicking and screaming into integration by an armed Black workers protest movement called the Coalition!) and in thrall to organized crime syndicates (with the unions in construction, trucking, school bus services and longshore work at the waterfront particularly infested by gangsters).

It's not an accident that we haven't had a national general strike in this country since the Great Upheaval of 1877 (which predated the present labor leadership).

In the 20th century, there were only five citywide general strikes, only two of which were union sanctioned.

The Seattle general strike of 1919 emerged around a shipyard workers strike - it was sanctioned by the local American Federation of Labor central labor council, who, once finding themselves having seized control of the city from the local bourgeoisie (just two years after the October Revolution in Russia) quickly got scared, called off the strike and gave the city back to the bosses with the underlying demands of the shipyard workers left unresolved.

Three of them happened more or less simultaneously in July 1934.

The Toledo general strike emerged around a socialist-led auto parts workers strike at a company called Auto Lite, became a general strike despite the local American Federation of Labor's central labor council and was called off relatively quickly by it's socialist leaders

The Minneapolis general strike began in support of a truck drivers strike led by Trotskyists who'd been elected into the leadership of a dying Teamsters Union local and revived it with a mass organizing campaign. It became a general strike more or less spontaneously when workers from other trades rose up to defend the truck drivers from attacks on the union by Minnesota's nominally socialist but objectively pro capitalist Farmer Labor Party state government. The Trotskyists actually worked very hard to end the general strike and never allowed it to become an officially sanctioned walkout, because they were terrified of its revolutionary implications (and their dogmatic belief that "we're not in a revolutionary situation right now" actually prevented them from leading a workers' revolt that could have led to such a situation!)

The San Francisco general strike, the last union sanctioned general strike in this country, grew up around a West Coast-wide strike of merchant sailors and longshoremen. The local AF of L Central Labor Council, many of whose delegates were communists, called a general strike after the San Francisco Police murdered two protestors at a strike rally. However, once they found themselves, like the Seattle CLC 18 years earlier, having seized a city from the capitalist class and, like the Minneapolis Teamsters Union's Trotskyist leaders, found themselves at the head of a working class insurrection with strong revolutionary implications, they hastily called off the strike, even though the sailor's and longshoremen's strike raged on.

The last citywide general strike in this country was the Oakland general strike of 1946. It broke out spontaneously in December 1946, in solidarity with a retail clerk's strike at two downtown department stores. Almost immediately, the left wing leaders of the Congress of Industrial Organization's Oakland Industrial Union Council and the right wing leaders of the AF of L's Oakland Central Labor Council made moves to end the strike (with the communist leaders of the International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Unions taking the lead in fighting to end the strike). Within three days, the strike was over, even though the underlying retail clerk's strike had not been settled.

The only strikes in any way comparable to general strikes in scope in this country since 1946 were the two big immigrant workers nationwide mobilizations of 2006 - the Great American Boycott of March 2006 and la Gran Marcha on May Day 2006, both of which involved in excess of 4 million workers refusing to report to work for the day.

The AFL-CIO leadership had nothing to do with either one of those mobilizations (they were led by coalitions of immigrants rights groups, workers centers, liberal Catholic priests and Spanish-language radio DJs) - also, the leadership of that movement got uncomfortable with leading such a militant mass movement, so they demobilized it into the dead end of supporting the Democratic Party. They helped lay the foundation for the movement that got Barack Obama elected president in 2008 (and, of course, he turned around and unleashed the biggest campaign of mass deportation of immigrant workers since the Eisenhower Administration in the 1950′s!)

It's because our unions have this rotten pro capitalist leadership that we've gotten into this fix in the first place - the American labor leadership's consistent refusal to fight over the past 33 years of one sided class war (beginning with the Democratic Party administration of Jimmy Carter's attacks on the trucking, airline and coal miners unions in 1978) have led us to a place where Governor Walker's attacks on the state workers unions in Wisconsin were even possible.

The bottom line is, if a general strike is to happen in Wisconsin, it is highly unlikely that the Wisconsin AFL-CIO will lead it. If they are forced to by the workers (and I hope they are) they will struggle aggressively and with great energy to end it as quickly as possible, on the boss' terms.

The conclusion we can draw from this is that it is long past time for American revolutionaries to start building an alternative leadership to the present labor movement. The AFL-CIO leadership, in all of its groveling bootlicking to the Democrats, subordination to Corporate America (and the racism and gangster domination of vast sections of the unions) have shown their utter incapacity to lead American workers. If left in charge of American labor, they will wreck the unions in this country sooner rather than later and within the decade we could see the death of the trade unions if present trends continue.

Bottom line is, we have to act now, before it's too late - or we'll just have to pick up the pieces later, once the AFL-CIO leadership has destroyed the US labor movement.