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Could Worker Activism End the Government Shutdown?


Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson is calling for a general strike of airline workers to shut down the industry until the government reopens.

Our calling is now. There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding right now for our 800,000 federal sector sisters and brothers who are either locked out of work or forced to come to work without pay due to the government shutdown.

These are real people who are facing real consequences of being dragged into the longest shutdown in history. No money to pay for rent, for childcare, or a tank of gas to get to work. The federal worker stretching insulin through the night and wondering if she will wake up in the morning. The transportation security officer in her third trimester with no certainty for her unborn child. The corrections officer who tried to take his own life because he saw no other way out. The air traffic controller who whispered to his union leader, “I just don’t know how long I can hang on.”

The situation is changing rapidly. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoints closing. Many more will follow. Safety inspectors and federal cybersecurity staff are on furlough, not working. The layers of safety and security that keep us safe are not in place due to the shutdown.

I have a growing concern for our members’ safety and security.

In addition, it is likely days – no more than a week – until the aviation system begins to unravel and massive flight cancelations ensue. When that happens, private jets won’t take off either, and no one will get to Atlanta for the Superbowl.

At best, our members will lose work, at worst ..

As I have said many times in recent days, safety and security is non-negotiable.

The TSA was created for the same reason my friends’ names, along with 3000 others, are engraved in bronze at the 9/11 memorial in New York.

If they can’t do their job, I can’t do mine. Dr. King said, “their destiny is tied up with our destiny. We cannot walk alone.”

Federal workers here tonight – Stand Up.

Flight Attendants and aviation workers – Stand Up.

Nurses who count on the medicine we deliver on our planes – Stand Up.

Everyone who flew to this conference – Stand Up.

Anyone who believes it is a crime to make people work without pay – Stand Up.

Federal workers, We’ve got your back!

Now listen to me… We can end this Shutdown together.

Federal sector unions have their hands full caring for the 800,000 federal workers who are at the tip of the spear. Some would say the answer is for them to walk off the job. I say, “what are you willing to do? Their destiny IS tied up with our destiny – and they don’t even have time to ask us for help. Don’t wait for an invitation. Get engaged, join or plan a rally, get on a picket line, organize sit-ins at lawmakers’ offices.

Almost a million workers are locked out or being forced to work without pay. Others are going to work when our workspace is increasingly unsafe. What is the Labor Movement waiting for?

Go back with the Fierce Urgency of NOW to talk with your Locals and International unions about all workers joining together – To End this Shutdown with a General Strike.

We can do this. Together. Si se puede. Every gender, race, culture, and creed. The American Labor Movement. We have the power.

And to all Americans – We’ve Got Your Back!

We can debate whether this is feasible or a good idea or whatever. But this is an absolutely remarkable statement coming from a union president. Union leaders tend to be fairly conservative in act, if not in thought, because of the downsides of radical actions that they know all too well. Usually, these kinds of calls come from union militants who claim the leadership are a bunch of sellouts, or from radicals outside the labor movement without any real connection to workers. I have little doubt that Nelson would say this if conversations between the relevant unions have not been leaning in this direction to some degree.

Were this to happen, well, I don’t know what the result would be. Right now, basically everyone but hard-core Trumpers blame Trump for the racist border wall and the shutdown. There’s a ton of sympathy for the workers who aren’t getting paid. No one should have to work without pay. I think everyone believes that. Yes, this strike would be illegal. But, no, I don’t believe that there would be any reason to believe that these workers would be fired, a la the air traffic controllers in 1981. The reasons to think that is that the government has absolutely zero backup plan on what to do if workers walked out, whereas they had planned for an eventual PATCO strike for years. Moreover, this would be much larger than PATCO. That union was a single small union that often angered its fellow airline unions by not consulting them on any of their militant actions, meaning that their own members were often put out of work or seriously inconvenienced. This is an entirely different deal.

So, yeah, this is pretty interesting!

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