There has been a feeling in the air since 2020 that I imagine only happens a couple times in a generation. It's the feeling that not only was something worldshaking happening, but it was happening at the hands of the people. For us, in our time, this was a combination of factors: the George Floyd uprisings across the country in protest of ongoing police brutality; the pandemic shifting priorities, dissolving jobs, and moving others; and the presence of a genuine fascist in the White House. That feeling, while cooled considerably, has not entirely left the people.
Today, rather than examining how a strike might affect you–meaning you can't eat a certain thing or buy a certain product for a while–we're going to talk about a general strike like the positive movement that it can be. I think it's important to address the possibility of a general strike no matter where you fall on the political spectrum (but you had better fall on the side of the strikers, otherwise what are you doing here?). We should anticipate the possibility of such a movement so that, yes, we can prepare for its impacts on our lives, but more importantly so that we can either participate in it or help sustain it.
Strikes v. General Strikes
If you haven't thought about the labor movement since the pandemic started, perhaps because it's been somewhat incidental to labor movements and rather was borne out of spontaneous and complete burnout, now's the time to pay attention. Real, organized strikes have been springing up in the wake of the general COVID malaise, and these strikes, and the "Great Resignation," are a powerful tool for the people. I think the media has been coloring it a little too rosily, but a lot of folks are taking this opportunity to move upwards, take risks, and tell their current boss just how they feel.
Beyond the COVID-induced pangs, there have been real, labor-organized strikes that I hope you've been aware of. In the past year, Kellogg, Frito-Lay, and Kroger (King Soopers) employees have all gone on strike, and won. John Deere employees went on strike last year as well, and while their battle was protracted and complicated, they came out on top, too. These are companies–less John Deere, probably–that we can help put the pinch on when their workers go on strike. It behooves us to help for literally every reason: not just because it's the right thing to do, but because when companies like Kellogg bring in scabs (workers hired in to cross the picket line), you wind up with this:
As you can imagine, a strike creates chaos. It creates a lot of reason for the government, law enforcement, and private companies to try and, well, do a violence. It's also inherently difficult for the striking population, as it requires that they don't earn their wages, which could mean, potentially, that everything from the food on their table to the table itself is at risk. Historically, labor movements were met with quite a bit of violent resistance; you only have to look to the Mine Wars (yes, really) to see what lengths companies and our own government will go to in order to suppress a movement. While strikes in the present are met with much less violence than in the past, there is no shortage of danger, and I think we're poised for a historical repeat if a movement were to get large enough today. On the picket line, or at home, strikers could be met with police, strike-breakers hired by the company, or–in this age of open fascism, regular civilians who think a decent wage is communism.
A general strike, however, is bigger by several orders of magnitude. Rather than employees of a single brand or a portion of construction workers in a single city going on strike–meaning they stop working and encourage others not to participate in their brand or industry–a general strike is when a population ceases all economic activity. In a general strike we don't work, we don't buy goods, we don't go to school, and we don't pay bills. This could be in a community, in an industry, or across a nation, but there is no economic participation in the chosen sect of society.
We Should All Engage in a General Strike
There are broad calls for general strikes across social media, and none have gotten a lot of attention (looking at you, Striketober). But, eventually, one may gain traction (the one I'm currently eyeing is, appropriately, on May Day this year). Regardless of when or how a general strike comes about, it behooves us all to engage in this strike however we can. The pandemic made it clear that we're the people that make the economy move, no matter what anyone else may try to tell us. If we can do what COVID-19 did for labor, in an organized fashion? Even if the strike doesn't come about in your industry, the ripples of a general strike can reach across the economy and benefit everyone.
I want to be clear that I don't blame anyone for not being able to participate in a strike–whether your monetary position is too precarious, you can't risk losing your insurance, etc.–but if you're able, any kind of contribution is going to help the movement gain traction, and a general strike is an exponential sort of beast; it has the potential to be the start of a dismantling of capitalism (more on that sort of thing later, maybe). Whether or not you're able to actively strike or participate in a support role, there are a lot of things you can do to contribute to a movement:
- Organize your workplace. Even if you don't strike, yourselves, unionizing is a huge step toward better pay and conditions. (And should you all decide to walk out without a union, it sends a message too.)
- Lay down your arms when it comes to political affiliations. A general strike is about class solidarity, not complete ideological unity. Divisiveness will slow the roll, and here perfect is very much the enemy of good.
- Mutual aid. If you are not directly participating in the strike (or if you are and are in a good position), share your resources. Donate food, donate time. There will no doubt be funds you can donate to for a general strike, and you can no doubt contribute to individuals you know, if you prefer. There will be a great need for prepared food on the front lines, for childcare, medical care. You can contribute in these ways even if you're not out picketing.
- Be on the line. Much like protests of the last couple years, bodies will be needed to block off roads, businesses, and to support others. Of particular use will be white people, so that we can help keep inevitable conflict with police and strike-breakers from focusing on people of color.
- Be positive. Should the day come for a general strike, it should be a cause for celebration despite its raison d'etre. A general strike is a huge movement, and it requires a lot of time and energy. We should be invigorated by this movement rather than burdened by what brought it about. My wife dreamt of a parade during a general strike, and that seems perfect, to me.
It's entirely possible–it's probable, even–that the Mayday strike I'm looking at doesn't turn into anything. But I don't think anyone is going to forget how the pandemic felt, how often it was made clear by our leaders that the lives of the general public are meaningless, that our labor is the only thing they find worthwhile. This pandemic is going to leave its mark across generations, and since we know the government and businesses aren't going to change without pressure, it means that the only inevitable thing is that pressure.