Occupy Wall Street plans day of action, calls it a general strike

by Laura Clawson

Here we go again: Occupy Wall Street, I love much of what you do, but you don’t call a general strike unless you have some reason to believe—like, say, months of organizing and a ton of people committed—that people will actually stay out of work in response to your call. But no, Occupy Wall Street is calling for a general strike on May 1.

New York City’s unions aren’t on board even to the extent they’d be legally allowed to be. Their answer, even those most supportive of Occupy during the fall, is a pretty flat no—or would be if they’d been consulted about it. But at least some Occupy organizers say that doesn’t matter:

“Frankly there’s not enough union people in this country anyway, so even if you made every union person strike, you still couldn’t have everyone not working,” said Jeff Smith, an organizer since the beginning of Occupy.

That’s true. But who, in your plan, is going to go on strike if the people who are organized and maybe have some experience going on strike aren’t going to do so? Do they have a large (and since we’re talking about New York City here, it would have to be very large) constituency of non-union workers ready to walk off the job? A substantial proportion of the area’s unemployed people ready to take to the streets and make themselves heard? The answer, of course, is that it’s not really a general strike and many of the Occupiers know it:

Occupiers began describing the action as a “general strike” only after some internal debate, with some participants warning that the planned action won’t in fact live up to that disruptive expectation. The strike, referred to as “May Day,” is expected to be the movement’s largest action since the large-scale protests that caused such a stir in New York last fall.Indeed, some Occupy organizers are starting to change the language in order to avoid the kind of anti-climax they’ve experienced in the past during multiple protests that didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped[.]

So it’s a day of action, right? That can encompass all sorts of really effective and exciting organizing and it is no insult to observe that it’s not the same thing as a general strike. But claiming you’re doing something with a specific meaning and not organizing to actually do it, not even reaching out to the people who have experience at the closest thing to what you’re claiming to be planning, does a disservice to the concept of the general strike and to the Occupy movement. And once you start calling any old day of action a “general strike,” you’re conceding that you’ve given up on the idea of a real general strike being possible.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011. This post originally appeared on the Daily Kos Labor page.

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4 Responses

  1. To begin with, a general strike calls for the 11 million members of organized labor to go on strike.
    They have not been asked, and they have not been given a vote. I support Occupy. However, this kind of call is naive at best. I have worked in labor for over 40 years. Getting people to go on strike is a difficult task. It takes lots of organizing.
    So, Occupy proposes that all those working in labor stop what they are doing and concentrate on building a general strike.
    Lets see. What happened to labor in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee in the last year? I think labor has its hands full. And the people calling for a general strike are romantics who have read one too many IWW pamphlets.
    Yes, there is a need for bold action.
    However, unless you have worked in labor for awhile and paid your dues, I don’t think OWS has much responsibility calling for a General Strike. They will be seen as foolish.

    For a discussion on the relationships between parts of labor and Occupy, see the Occupy tab above.

    I am willing to go on strike with those people who have been with me on strikes in the last decade.

    Duane Campbell

    • I support Occupying May Day, a day to celebrate the global worker class with festive and imaginative marches, festivals, etc. I always took part in Mayday actions wherever I happened to be from Geneva to Stockholm to Marseilles to San Salvador.

      Give workers and their families something meaningful and interesting to join, stage colorful and creative actions against corporations, and maybe we can build a culture of resistance. But a dour call to stay home and call it a general strike is simply misdirected and bound to fail.

  2. [...] Occupy Wall Street plans day of action, calls it a general strike (talkingunion.wordpress.com) [...]

  3. [...] Occupy Wall Street plans day of action, calls it a general strike (talkingunion.wordpress.com) [...]

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