Tuesday, February 7, 2017

National Strike

There are calls for a national strike on Friday, February 17 - less than two weeks from today.  I am writing today to encourage you to take place in that strike, even if you support Donald Trump.

Why do I advocate such a position?  It seems sort of crazy, right?

I do so for the simple reason that we, the people of this country, need to prove to ourselves that we can do it.  That we can stand in solidarity with each other for one day and pull the plug on the daily routine, as a demonstration of our collective strength.

The "why" is less about what we oppose than about our willingness to stand together, to make a personal sacrifice for our collective goodwill.

Labor has been on the retreat since the late 1970s, and in full-speed retreat since the 1980s.  The might of the worker, whosoever the worker may be, skilled or unskilled, has been radically diminished.  Union membership is way down, and even more critically than the decline of traditional unions in manufacturing, the new service occupations that have come to dominate employment in the past four decades have not been unionized.  As such, they do not enjoy the benefits and clout of the previous generation of middle-class jobs.

I'm a legal secretary.  The lack of union organization in my field makes me uniquely disposable.  At the same time: I'm a skilled worker.  My fellow secretaries are skilled workers.  Sure, I can be easily replaced.  But we can't all be easily replaced.  A prolonged strike of the majority of legal secretaries in this country would greatly cripple the legal profession.  However - legal secretaries aren't organized, to my knowledge (if I'm wrong, please fill me in, and fill in every legal secretary I work with).  So if one of us raises a stink, the stink-raiser can be canned pretty quickly.

Organized labor has been battered so badly that workers are in some ways back to square one, where they were in the 19th century.  Regardless of what we do for a living, we are disposable.  This is true even of some very skilled workers (lawyers come to mind).  If we want to get serious about Making America Great Again, by which I mean restoring the comfortable working-class standard of living of the 1940s through the 1970s, we need to get serious about restoring labor power.

And labor will not regain power without flexing its muscles, period.

Think of February 17 as a test run.  Let's say hardly anyone shows up for the strike, but a few people do.  This shows that a strike is possible.  Now let's say a follow-up strike is planned for May 1.  More people, having seen February 17 pulled off, will show up for the May 1 strike.  Ok!  Now that strike gets some coverage, hopefully television coverage.  Now a strike is planned for later in the year.  Each time, the strike gets bigger and bigger, until finally, you have a true national strike.

This is an action where Trump supporters and Trump opponents can actually shake hands and find common ground.  We are all trying to pay our bills.  Isn't that what the Trump victory was mostly about?  People are fed up about our crummy jobs.  This is true whether or not you think transgendered folks should be allowed to use public restrooms.  We should all be able to stand together collectively and say to our bosses: adios for now.

Such an action isn't selfish or childish; it is flexing our muscles.

I am very disheartened by this Jacobin article which essentially states that the time is not ripe for a strike.  I am a Jacobin subscriber and I generally feel their writing is of a high quality, insightful and thought-provoking.  This article raises some valid points, but in essence, I feel the crux of the article is that we should all be too afraid to strike, that we should wait forever for some mythic conditions to exist before we strike.

The article spends a lot of time talking about the severe repercussions for those who strike.  The threat of violence is a bit 19th century, but the threat of being fired, of losing the job you rely on to support yourself and perhaps your family, is quite substantial.  I do not make light of that, and I certainly sympathize with anyone who feels they cannot afford to strike.

However, I take considerable exception to these two penultimate paragraphs:

Moreover, even moderately effective general strikes don’t emerge, willy-nilly, like miraculous interventions into national life. They are intensifications and radicalizations of already existing patterns of resistance by the working class. This demand for a general strike looks less like that intensification and more like an attempt to leapfrog all the hard, long-term political work that goes before.

At least some of those arguing for the general strike seem to sense that there is an element of bad faith here. For instance, Francine Prose added the qualification, which I have seen repeated in a number of places, that only those “who can do so without being fired” should go on strike. This must be the first time someone called for a general strike but exempted most of the working class.

"They are intensifications and radicalizations of already existing patterns of resistance by the working class."  Like what?  Like writing articles for Jacobin, or blogging?  What existing patterns of resistance are you talking about?  The whole point of the February 17th strike is to establish a new pattern of resistance.  Truly!

And hey -- if the entire working class cannot strike, then no one should?  That's absurd on the face of it.  The entire working class of this country has been utterly cowed by the destruction of labor power over the course of 40 or so years.  To expect the entire working class to strike at once is totally disconnected from reality.

To make the statement that a strike should not take place unless the entire working class takes part in the strike is akin to saying that a candidate should not run for the candidacy of their Party in a Presidential election unless they can compete in all the states.  Maybe a baseball team should not try to get to the world series unless they can win all 162 games in the regular season.  It's ridiculous.

We are not living in a textbook about revolution.  We are living in the here and now.  The time for waiting and waiting and waiting for optimal conditions should come to a close.

I encourage everyone who values their own labor to strike on February 17th.

No comments:

Post a Comment