On General Strike

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

In NightProwlKitty’s essay Ground, Heather writes:

My immediate thought and what i got from that diary was that even if a person had only small opportunities to have an impact on the revenue stream like canceling the cable, but that move was part of a whole big movement under ONE umbrella framed as a general strike, which also absorbed the people making the big moves, and the people already impacted severely by the way things are, then there would be some eyes popping open.

Wikipedia:

A general strike is a strike action by a critical mass of the labour force in a city, region, or country. While a general strike can be for political goals, economic goals, or both, it tends to gain its momentum from the ideological or class sympathies of the participants. It is also characterized by participation of workers in a multitude of workplaces, and tends to involve entire communities. The general strike has waxed and waned in popularity since the mid-19th century, and has characterized many historically important strikes.

… The classic general strike, by contrast, involves also workers (and members of the working-class) who have no direct stake in the outcome of the strike. For example, in the San Francisco General Strike of 1934, both union and non-union workers struck for four days to protest the police and employers’ tactics that had killed two picketers and in support of the longshoremen’s and seamen’s demands …

Some in the labour movement hope to mount a “peaceful revolution” by organizing enough strikers to completely paralyse the state and corporate apparatus. With this goal achieved, the workers would be able to re-organize society along radically different lines.

Since we are political people, I think it most helpful to go with the syndicalist use Wikipedia quoted in the paragraph directly above.

(Syndicalism, for those not familiar with the term, was a strong tendency in American labor circa 1905 and in the European labor movement, which envisioned a society democratically run by the working class with the source of power being control of the factories and production in general, differing from communism in that it did not cede control to a central government.  The Port Huron Statement, 1962, posed a variation of syndicalism in which universities and communities and other institutions were added as self-governing entities.)

Yes, there have been local general strikes, but on Docudharma, I believe we are prescribing for the national arena.  There have been important strikes that have drawn in other sectors in support, also local in impact, but I am not discussing those.

Wikipedia notes, that in France, 1968, the “prolonged strike involved eleven million workers for two weeks in a row, and its impact was such that almost caused the collapse of the de Gaulle government.”  However, it failed to bring down the de Gaulle government, and, in any event, doing so in a parliamentary system falls far short of the radical re-ordering of society envisioned by our revolutionary forebears.

And as Inky99 correctly notes that a general strike “ain’t “revolution.”

I don’t think general strike on a local level is an option.  Once it was, but at this point, any local general strike would be met with the full wrath of the increasingly fascistic powers-that-be.  All its forces.  But a general strike on a national level would entail shutting down transportation.  It would entail control of communications.  It would impact distribution of electricity and food.  American society 2010 is qualitatively more complex than France 1968.  In San Francisco 1934 you could pull off a general strike and not immediately threaten the survival of the city itself.  To pull off a general strike, you would have to be in a position to run society, provide essential services, etc., lest you cause the death of millions.  You would have to be well organized.  While spontaneous actions at the grassroots would be part of it, there would have to be an organizing body.  That’s the precipice we stand over.

And if you’re in a position to do that, why would you want to stop at any blasted reforms?  If the power were in your hands, why would you give it back to those who would kill the organizing body?  Do you think the teabaggers wouldn’t be sent into the streets to restore order?  At the point of a successful national general strike, people would stand on the precipice of power as well as disaster.

There has to be some relationship between demands and measures taken.  You don’t go nuclear over minor reforms.  The disconnect would make it incoherent to its potential participants.

I think it is important to stick with the traditional understanding of general strike because otherwise it leads to confusion.  Heather’s formulation above could easily be attacked as fuzzy and incoherent.

And yet I think, just strip out the term general strike, IT IS AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION.

It addresses:

How can individuals have an impact when our supposed leaders are hopelessly compromised?

What would a movement look like under modern conditions, where traditional demonstrations have been rendered ineffective by their having become ritualized?

There is an implication that individual action can “bubble up” to the national level, without it having to “trickle down” from the top.

This and other comments raise the relationship between actions and demands (program), as opposed to some comments calling for dramatic actions, and other comments demanding this and that and the other, but with no dynamic connection.

Inky99 seems to think that I have equated revolution with general strike.  I do not.  Rather, I note the relationship that has historically existed between revolution and general strike.  I think there are stirrings on Docudharma and elsewhere toward radical transformation of society, rather than patch this and band-aid that.  I am less concerned about the possible imprecision of formulation than I am moved by the underlying impulse.  Thus I use the term codeword.

It’s not something to put down, it’s something to build on.

34 comments

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    • Inky99 on January 10, 2010 at 9:38 pm


    On the one hand, I consider calls for a general strike dangerous and unrealistic, at least in any foreseeable future.  On the other hand, when someone calls for a general strike, I think it has become something of a code word — whether intentionally or not — for revolution.

    I’m glad you’re explaining yourself further with this essay.

    Or did you change your views?   I don’t know, it’s an honest question here.

    It seems to me that the only way to get anything done is through force, and by that I mean peaceful force.

    We got unions through force.   People had to be willing to take a chance, to actually risk something, to get unions.   Nobody today seems to be willing to risk anything.    Heck, over at DK, people won’t even risk their “TU status” to take a stand.  That’s considered “gasp!” reckless and dangerous!!    

    Sad state of affairs.

    I would rather plan a general strike than to see one happen spontaneously because of the issues you mention.    Unions have “strike funds” for their strikes, for instance.  I mean, we all strike, we all go hungry, right?   Unless we’ve planned for it.  

    My whole thing is about the JFK quote about we need to make sure we don’t have an inevitable revolution.   The powers that be seemed determined to produce one.  Maybe so they can crack down, I don’t know.   But they risk losing their heads.   So it doesn’t really make much sense.

    They get us trapped you know, with these things called “credit scores” and our mortgages and all of that stuff.  Nobody wants to risk losing those things.  Which is really pretty ridiculous if you think about it.

  1. … Heather to be saying was that the general strike would target our financial system, not our transportation system.

    I.e., taking money out of banks, not paying credit card bills, that kind of thing.  Now that could be more accurately labeled a boycott, but I’m not going to quibble over semantics here.

    What would be the danger to folks in doing that?  I know everything is interconnected these days, but I’m not seeing a general strike in the sense of a work walk-out in what Heather said.

    What Heather said that is indeed a rock to build on is that it’s already happening — there is a huge group of the citizenry that is disenfranchised to the point where they are doing individually what we ought to be doing collectively.

    As far as my own stance, I think I am alone in this, and that’s fine, but I am willing to do anything from general strike to revolution if the underlying motivation is something that resonates with my values.

    What I see here is a lot of folks wanting to change but not a lot of agreement on either why or how or forming a bond based upon shared values rather than our own feelings, emotions, that kind of thing.

    One thing I noticed over at the orange was the replacement of values and principles by feelings and emotions – that facts and principles were somehow malleable depending upon one’s “opinion.”

    Well this is a real mess of a comment.  Still finding my own ground here, heh.

  2. Check out my essay here.

      General strikes were popular and well-used all around the world after the end of WWI.

  3. would be a nationwide, repeated work stoppage, accompanied by displays of solidarity, spontaneous marches, etcetera.

    Add to that a general move to paralyze Washington DC with peaceful strike activities, but not transportation or attempting to stop life essential services.

    My idea is the goal would be to do it over and over again for set amounts of time, not interminably until demands are met, but again and again and again until demands are met.

    Also, I wholly agree that before that happens, machinery would need to be put into place.  One such piece of machinery would be to economically punish any acts of reprisal.

    Demands should be relatively simple and broad based.  If I were doing it, I would posit specific legislation to be passed to accede to seven main demands.

    1.  Bring order and accountability to the financial system and Wall Street.  To the extent that lawbreakers exist, those people should be immediately arrested and charged.  Reregulation of the financial system and Wall Street should also be demanded, with specific legislation — possibly the resurrection of a tougher Glass Steagall Act.

    2.  Measures passed to restore the Middle Class — I would posit a broad based and wide ranging Middle Class Restoration Act, which would include the EFCA, far tougher regulations on credit card and mortgage companies, and relief for homeowners and renters, and measures to ease unemployment.  Immediate relief from medical bankruptcy as adjudicated by a court of law will be provided.

    3. Rule of Law Restoration Act.  This would repeal the Patriot Act, demand criminal accountability for those authorizing or committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during either the Bush or Obama administrations, and explicitly revoke the executive power grabs of the last decade, including the Telecom Immunity.

    4.  Civil Rights Affirmation Act — This would repeal DADT and DOMA and enact an inclusive ENDA bill.

    5.  Federal Election Financing and Government Accountability Restoration Amendment — all donations to political parties, candidates for Congress and the President of the United States by any non-human entity would be banned.  In addition, individual donations would be set at a predetermined limit to be evaluated and ratified by Congress on a decadal basis.  Accepting funding from any non-human non-governmental entity for the purpose of electioneering would be banned, and be a felony criminal act subject to prosecution.  This would not be a law but would instead be a constitutional amendment (see further).

    6.  Constitutional Convention – Delegates shall be assembled in the prescribed manner by the states to convene a constitutional convention focusing on a reformation of national governmental accountability to the citizens of the United States.  Congress shall cease resisting the state driven demands of the past to do this and shall facilitate such a convention with all deliberate speed.

    7.  Health Care as a Human Right and a matter of National Security Act – the general health and welfare of all persons   under the jurisdiction of the United States would be placed under the rubric of National Security.  Failure by appropriate medical agencies to provide sensible adequate health care to any person for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease and curing practically curable diseases and maladies would be deemed an offense not against the person but against the People of the United States as a whole.  Excessive profiteering from such provided medical services would be deemed felonies by all individuals participating in such profiteering — of any level.

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