Yesterday, Occupy Oakland approved a motion for a general strike, to be called for November 2.
I’m curious to see where this goes. General strikes have always had trouble gaining traction in American history. The most successful was in Seattle in 1919 and it only lasted a few days. The last general strike was also in Oakland, in 1946. I have little no doubt that knowledge of Oakland’s radical past helped influence this decision; the same public history exhibit at Occupy Oakland that mentioned the absurd myth of the Chinese peacefully living in America for hundreds of years before Columbus also taught about the 1946 general strike.
In these cases, the general strike was a work-based action, called by radical unionists who had spent years organizing people. So it’s obviously a very different scenario than Occupy Oakland. I think a very important factor in its success will be the response of Bay Area and national labor organizations. Labor and OWS have approached each other with wary caution, with OWS rightfully worried about being co-opted by the AFL-CIO. If labor actively supports the general strike, it could go a long ways in building important trust between the two groups. The legality of such a measure in union contracts is not often clear. Taft-Hartley outlawed sympathy strikes. On the other hand, it may be in the interests of unions to challenge Taft-Hartley and force the capitalists to show their hand in their drive to crush labor and take America back to the Gilded Age.
If labor doesn’t take the general strike seriously, I think it leads to 2 problems. The first is that the protestors alone cannot create an effective general strike because they are not working, in a traditional sense of the word. They are protesting on October 27 and they will be protesting on November 2. The second is that it would undermine any faith that labor is going to back the movement in a serious way.
I guess I’m a bit skeptical about the general strike because I’m not sure anyone knows what it will accomplish. But OWS has surprised people for a month now. I certainly see no downside to this strategy and I encourage organized labor in the Bay Area to take next Tuesday off and join the protestors.