By Tom Crofton
The Commoner Call (4/24/17)
In the spirit of non-violent change, workers of all-colored-collars are remembering they have the power to make statements by denying their services for a day. May 1st has always been a day to remember the sacrifices of those who went before us to fight for better working conditions, pay, and benefits.
Events are being planned to go beyond immediate worker issues to confront the anti-labor, anti-woman, anti-immigrant policies of the Trump/Pence regime.
The labor movement in America has its dark and light sides, both of which will explored in the Commoner Call over the coming months. The deadly, painful struggles of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s led to a New Deal agreement that collective bargaining was not only a right but important for the wellbeing of society, and that poverty in old age was not acceptable. Along with all of the other attacks to disassemble the New Deal, destroying unions has been a rallying cry for the those who wish to concentrate wealth every possible way. Unions themselves are very much to blame for their predicament, having created a fractured hierarchy of entities that fight each other as much as work together.
A rebirth appears to be spawning, especially among those most left behind by the middle class trade unions, among the service workers who need change the most. The Fight for $15 is one example.
Additionally, some professional unions are fighting for system change (the nurses for single payer health care) and for better conditions for their clients (teachers) that go beyond wages and benefits. As a part of this series feedback and further discussion is welcome. along with writing pieces for the Commoner Call, email discussion this and all other topics of relevance is available at BuildWI@googlegroups.com. To be invited to join email email@example.com
In the meantime, here is some labor news you won’t see in the mainstream…
Momentum Builds for May Day Strikes
By Jonathan Rosenblum
Labor Note (4/23/17)
Shop steward Tomas Mejia sensed something was different when 600 janitors streamed into the Los Angeles union hall February 16—far more than for a regular membership meeting. Chanting “Huelga! Huelga!” (“Strike! Strike!”), they voted unanimously to strike on May Day.
This won’t be a strike against their employers. The janitors of SEIU United Service Workers West felt driven, Mejia says, “to strike with the community” against the raids, threats, and immigrant-bashing hate speech that the Trump administration has unleashed.
“The president is attacking our community,” said Mejia, a member of his union’s executive board. “Immigrants have helped form this country, we’ve contributed to its beauty, but the president is attacking us as criminal.”
A March meeting organized by the county labor council and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant brought together immigrant community leaders and representatives from two dozen Seattle-area unions—including Laborers, Teamsters, Boeing Machinists, stagehands, hotel workers, and city and county workers—to plan a May Day of mass resistance. Participants acknowledged the need for creativity rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
A week later, the labor council committed its support for an immigrant-led May Day march, in a resolution urging unions “to consider all forms of action on May 1, 2017, whether striking, walking out, taking sick days, extended lunch hours, exercising rights of conscience, organizing demonstrations or teach-ins, or any other acts of collective expression that builds solidarity across communities.”
Labor Council head Nicole Grant described May Day as just the beginning of a “summer of resistance,” showing that working people can and will respond to Trump’s attacks with disruptive action. “We won’t take down this president in one day,” added Sawant. “But on May Day we are taking our resistance to another level.”
Climate justice activists are also folding into the May Day movement. In Washington state, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are calling for an “Earth Day to May Day Action Week,” blending Earth Day April 22 and a “March for Science” into a full week of workshops and protests culminating in a big May 1 mobilization.
A Facebook page has been set up to coordinate efforts HERE.
A General Strike Is Both Possible & Necessary
By Erik Forman
The Jacobin (2/17/17)
Calls for general strikes began as soon as Trump was elected. They surfaced first on the traditional platforms of the labor left, and slowly crept toward the center, arriving eventually even in the Washington Post and Cosmopolitan.
For the radical left, this has been baffling — usually, the term “general strike” was only discussed on the fringe of the Left and labor movement. What could this mean, and what could it become?
So far, most commentators on the Left have been dismissive of calls for a general strike. This is the wrong orientation. A general strike is possible, but far from inevitable. The Left must do everything it can to make the move toward strike action successful.
The Moment and the Movement
To understand of the surge in interest in the general strike and its political potential, we have to understand what the term means to the millions of people who are likely hearing it for the first time in the pages of the corporate press or on a Facebook feed filled with anti-Trump messaging.
The call for a general strike has appeared because millions of people have lost faith in the political system. With a revanchist, reactionary, anti-democratic regime in power and moving fast, it’s clear to millions of people that disruptive mass protest — throwing sand in the gears of everything, as Frances Fox Piven advocates — is the only option left.
In the current social conditions, we’re not calling for a mass strike– the mass strike is calling us.
Three calls for general strikes have been made: a call for a national general strike today, one on March 8 for a Women’s Strike, and a May 1 call for an immigrant worker strike (after the smaller but very inspiring “Day Without an Immigrant” protests yesterday). Whether these calls will gain traction is hard to predict, but clearly thinking through of what is happening can take out some of the guesswork in our planning.
The calls for a general strike that are proliferating across the Internet are best understood as a move toward what Rosa Luxemburg once theorized as a “mass strike.” From her position in the revolutionary socialist movement in Germany, she wrote,
“…the mass strike is not artificially “made,” not “decided” at random, not “propagated”… it is a historical phenomenon which, at a given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability. It is not, therefore, by abstract speculations on the possibility or impossibility, the utility or the injuriousness of the mass strike, but only by an examination of those factors and social conditions out of which the mass strike grows in the present phase of the class struggle… that the problem can be grasped or even discussed.”
Radicals often cite Luxemburg to argue that you can’t just conjure up a general strike. This is true. But they miss a more important point. In the current social conditions, we’re not calling for a mass strike– the mass strike is calling us.
The present moment is defined by a perfect storm of forces for escalating social conflict…
(Erik Forman is an educator and labor activist in New York City.)
Editor’s Note: Tom Crofton, twice candidate for the state assembly, Richland County County Board memberr, activist and retired union carpenter will be doing a weekly column on labor news. The working title right now is ‘Worker Notes’. If you have suggestions or labor events you’d like to promote, contact us. – Mark L. Taylor)