General Strike: Where OWS Needs to Go

Article by Stuart Bramhall.


As I mention in my two prior blogs, the OWS movement will leave a legacy of accomplishments — mainly related to consciousness raising and movement building – even if the actual occupations shut down tomorrow. There is still lots of furious debate over #OccupyWallStreet’s long term goals, which roughly center around the dismantling of the corporate state, the establishment of an alternative, non-corporate economy, and the development of an independent media that reflects the interests and concerns of the 99% of us who aren’t millionaires and billionaires. Yet we are unlikely to see major policy or infrastructure changes until our new movement hits the 1% where it really hurts — in their pocketbook. Prior to Tuesday’s violent police attack on Occupy Oakland, I had the sense that the authorities were quite comfortable with thousands of us camping out in city parks every night — so long as we weren’t interfering with business as usual.

Time for a General Strike

This is where #OccupyWallStreet differs significantly from the major uprisings in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, where mass demonstrations were accompanied by general strikes that shut down economic activity. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down. In the US, we would be talking about illegal wild cat strikes. Both Taft Hartley and no-strike clauses some unions have agreed to make it a criminal offense to strike unless defined processes are followed.

Clearly Occupy Oakland, which retook Oscar Grant Plaza on Wednesday (seehttp://www.occupyoakland.org/2011/10/general-strike-mass-day-of-action/), is mindful of the current general strike in Greece, as well the importance of industrial action during the Arab Spring. They have called for a general strike in Oakland on November 2nd (no one to attend school or work).  I think they have a good chance of persuading a good chunk of the city to stay home. The police riot that closed off downtown Oakland on Tuesday did not go unnoticed by a large African American community with long history of being brutalized by Oakland cops. Workers World (see http://www.workers.org/2011/us/cops_attack_1103/ ) suggests that it was no accident that the first OWS occupations to be targeted with police violence were those with a substantial African American population (Oakland, Chicago, and Atlanta). Popular protest has a tendency to be contagious, especially in communities with a history of grievance-based uprisings and a 48% youth unemployment rate.

Why It May Be Easier to Get Non-union Workers to Strike

Oakland-ILWU, which endorsed Occupy Oakland on October 22nd and called on other unions to block their eviction from Oscar Grant Plaza, may well stage a one day sympathy strike. The longshoreman’s union is historically one of the more militant and has a history of wild cat strikes. However this may be one of those instances where low unionization rates among African Americans may work in our favor. Calling on unionized workers to engage in an illegal strike is a big ask. It would likely incur strong opposition from union leaders, who would be the ones facing prosecution.

It’s also possible to disrupt business as usual by targeting banks and other businesses with well-organized consumer boycotts and direct action, such as sit-ins and blockades or with a combination of tactics. In announcing their November 2nd General Strike, Occupy Oakland has warned Oakland banks and corporations that it will march on them if they remain open.

Call for a National General Strike on November 28th

If next Wednesday’s general strike is even partially successful, I expect a few other cities to follow suit. The real test will be the response to Citizens for a Legitimate Government’s call for a national general strike on November 28, after the Super Committee announces the austerity cuts American people will be subjected to (see http://www.opednews.com/populum/http://www.opednews.com/populum/linkframe.php?linkid=140223).

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1 reply »

  1. It’ll never work. The Greeks, like a lot of none Germanic Europeans, have a fine tradition of refusing their Labour; Americans don’t. Particularly Americans looking at an official unemployment rate of 10% (and an unofficial one of 25%). Dissident movements must be careful not to demonstrate their weakness by making over ambitious demands. Oakland “mess with the boss day” aimed at passive resistance might have been a better idea. A bit like National “Steal something from work day”.

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