Several local labor councils are starting to plan for a general strike if Rochester-Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, which is the local AFL-CIO labor council, and has spread across the nation over the last week. We saw the impact of Sara Nelson’s call for a general strike to end the government shutdown. It was tremendously effective! The moment a few air traffic controllers decided to not show up, Trump and McConnell caved because it affected their ability to fly around the nation. Even if Trump does go into the dark night, the courts attack on democracy may require more direct action. Stephen Greenhouse has an article on this and I talked to him about it.
The Rochester move spurred discussion and debate of a possible general strike in union after union, even though some labor leaders see it as a drastic, hard-to-pull-off action. “The idea has gotten a lot more legs than I ever thought it would,” Maloney told the Guardian. “Our democracy is in jeopardy of a wannabe dictator. It’s time to be counted and do whatever it takes to remove him from office if he attempts to retain power against the will of the American people.”
Maloney acknowledged that a general strike would be an extraordinary measure. “In drastic times, you need drastic measures,” he said.
The Rochester federation’s resolution states: “The extreme risk currently posed to the historic institutions of democracy in our nation may require more widespread and vigorous resistance than at any time in recent history.”
Maloney said that in a 22 October call with labor leaders, Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s president, stressed that until 3 November, unions should overwhelmingly focus on maximizing voter turnout for Biden. After that, Trumka said, unions can focus on what to do if Trump resists a peaceful transition.
The AFL-CIO’s executive council, approved a resolution on October 19 saying: “Democracies are not, in the last analysis, protected by judges or lawyers, reporters or publishers. The survival of democracy depends on the determination of working people to defend it. And America’s labor movement is indeed determined to defend our democratic republic.”
There’s always a lot of talk of a general strike on the left. But it’s mostly a syndicalist fantasy that “the workers” are going to rise up, which is disconnected from the fact that “the workers” are your racist uncle and jerk co-workers who you don’t like. if a general strike ever is actually going to occur, it’s going to come straight from the leaders of the labor movement.
Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island and author of A History of America in Ten Strikes, said: “So much of the conversation on the left about general strikes in this country is kind of a romanticized, people are going to rise up.” But Loomis added: “If there is ever any general strike in this country, it’s probably going to come out of the established labor movement. The only group capable of running the thing is the established labor movement.” If there is a general strike, union leaders say, they hope college students, Blacks Lives Matter activists, women’s and environmental groups and many others will join in.
And here’s the thing–if Trump tries to steal the election after clearly losing or if the courts seek to overturn democracy, there are going to be a lot of pissed off people in the streets. But the only organization that has the capacity to organize people into something more than one-off protests is the labor movement. Organized labor urging the nation to shut down–and then shutting it down themselves–would quite likely be effective. Even though there are conservative unions who wouldn’t support this, simply shutting down the airlines and the schools and the government offices and some of the factories would be an unprecedented action. And if all these non-union workers decided to participate in that general strike too, the stakes really get raised when rank and file Google and Facebook and Microsoft workers go protest instead of going to work.
The labor movement has its weakness, Lord knows, but there’s no one else who can pull this off. That they are even seriously talking about it is a huge step in the right direction. And expect there to be follow-up if needed.