On the possibility of calling a general strike

Original article, titled The General Strike and the “Communist Party” by Ted Grant (originally published in Militant (July 1971)) via the Ted Grant archives:

The possibility and the problems of a general strike are coming up for discussion among advanced militants in the trade union movement all over the country. Even ordinary trade unionists not particularly active in the trade union and Labour movement, in response to the economic and political situation, are raising the question in their factories and workplaces, and union branches. Resolutions are coming before union conferences.

We’ve all heard that those who do not pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it. This is one of those times where it is a good idea to go back and look at similar calls for general strikes and what problems were seen as being part of said possible actions. Ted Grant was the theoretical leader of the Militant Marxist movement in England which took on Margaret Thatcher.

For Marxists to call for a general strike, in the air, so to speak, would be light-minded and irresponsible. With the present weakness of the Marxist tendency and the present attitude of the working class as a whole, the problems posed by the “slogan of [a] general strike” largely resolve themselves into the need to educate the advanced militants to what issues would be posed by a general strike and the role of the leadership, the need for the policies, methods and leadership of Marxism to solve the problems facing the toilers.

I don’t know how many Marxists there actually are in the US, so I’m not sure that it would be a Marxist call for a general strike we would be following. I have seen hints of a possible call for such a strike at some of the blogs I frequent. This is Grant’s view as to what is needed if such a call were to go out.

Marxists do not play with slogans of a “general strike”. A general strike poses the problem of power either of the workers or the bosses. If the situation is not ripe for the taking over of the monopolies as the C.P. argues, how can it be ripe for a general strike?

A general strike must have an aim, more than just shaking the system up (although a 24 hour warning strike, as Grant points out, may be able to do that). How will the general strike be organized? How will we be sure there will be solidarity that such a strike would be supported by those outside of the cadre calling for the strike? Are the masses aware of the problems such a strike would serve up for them in terms of economic losses? Don’t get me wrong, a general strike may well be effective if organized properly. But a general strike that does not succeed through apathy of the masses is worse than no general strike at all.

I suggest you read Grant’s article and consider the possibilities and problems of calling a general strike. For more information about the 1968 uprisings, you may want to go here and here for audio, and here, here and here for articles.  A call for a general strike is a call for revolution:  Such a revolution, to succeed, needs to be organized.

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  1. …For Reason in revolt now thunders….

  2. And I’m all for several of these.  A general strike, which connotes striking until the government comes to an end, just isn’t feasible imo, given how things are in the US.

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