General Strike. This isn’t the name of another Confederate General, who’s statue we have to take down or graffito-tag with the word ‘FUCKWIT RACIST’! General Strikes are a massive tactic employed by the labor movement when the bosses don’t negotiate and delegitimize unions. It’s when Unions and workers from every industry and line of employment stand together to ensure that equal human rights are achieved for everyone! It’s the ultimate demonstration of solidarity among the working class and the scares the hell out of the oligarchs.
In the age of the Quarantine, we’ve seen over 1000 strikes in America since March 2020, according to PayDay Report! These include Wildcat Strikes – which are when employees walk off their jobs, and not when workers pretend to a jaguar from the Amazon as some of us thought they were – Sick outs, solidarity protest with the Black Lives Matter movement, rent strikes and various other coordinated actions! On May Day we saw actions in 48 states which was the launching pad to get us to a General Strike, that included striking against corporations and much much more.
Employees of GE demonstrated to stop building jet engines and shift their efforts to make protective equipment like ventilators and masks for the healthcare industry. The bosses at GE clutched their pearls and demanded the workers stop being Communist. Don’t forget folks that logic and intelligence shackles your freedom, but the bosses shackling you to do repetitive tasks for little to no pay is what a soaring bald eagle feels like! Liberty is only achieved when you do what you’re told and lick all of the boots! The more boots you lick the more liberty points you get and the closer you get to becoming a bald eagle, which is the American Dream!
In Pittsburgh & New Orleans Sanitation workers went on strike to get hazard pay, paid sick leave and protective equipment like masks and gloves. Their reasoning was simple, they have to pick up the literal trash of people during a pandemic and that’s a necessary but dangerous job, so they deserve to be protected and paid right. And they even said they want to do the job. It’s not like the strike started with them screaming “We shall no longer pick up after your half eaten hot pockets and used condoms! We demand that we get the Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor from Iron Man 3, which was the film where he made the most amount of Iron Men!”
Also fellas, learn to dispose of condoms the right way. Wrap that shit up in a 2-3 tissues so nothing’s leaking! We’re an evolved species, we should start acting like it! Like Jesus said “Wrap it before you tap it, but also wrap the wrap after!” That was right after he for sure banged Mary Magdalene.
The Democratic Mayor of Pittsburgh said virtually nothing while not giving into the workers demands. In New Orleans the workers were fired and replaced by prisoners to do the work and paid them pennies on the dollar. The Mayor’s response was “Listen…the economy” and he drop the mic and made a prisoner recycle it!
Most of these strikes were not covered by Mainstream, Corporate Media. And if these strikes are covered by the corporate media it’s met with confusion and rage. “Why would someone not want to work for living!? I mean these bosses are making them cover their own healthcare and equipment, paying them virtually nothing, have strict corporate rules that gives budding dictators new ideas, ban organizing, which all kinda makes the word ‘work’ sound like a joke! BUT what could they possibly complain about when their work is making some trust-fund kid even richer?! These workers are just being selfish for not giving into the greed to the uber-rich!”
The strikers are not asking over the top demands. They’re asking for basic human rights. On May Day, the demands of the collective strike effort was asking for better consideration of employee health & safety, livable wages, protective gear, and deep cleaning of facilities. But the CEOs of these corporations look at this like it’s the some act of pure insanity!
The strikers say: “We want healthcare!”
The CEOs respond: “That’s the moon! You’re basically asking for the moon!”
The strikers say: “We’d like a livable wage that can help us keep up with rising rents, cost of food and water!”
The CEOs respond: “Now you’re just asking for the rings of Saturn itself! What do you think I’m made of money!?”
The strikers say: “I mean kinda yeah. You just made like $24 billion, which is kinda like replacing your molecules with cash. We’d also like corporate transparency!”
The CEOs respond: Now you’re just asking for Pluto to be a planet and I can’t change the laws of the universe, for I am but one man or woman, because greed knows no gender! Very progressive this greed!”
The Republicans have called Striking workers “lazy” and have basically come out said human rights don’t belong in the workplace, just like women. People have the right to work and that’s about it. It’s the legislative equivalent of “you time to lean, then you got time to clean!” Human Rights apparently also don’t belong in the streets either and neither do women. They belong in your mind. According to Republicans, human rights are a made up, intangible concept that’s very much open to interpretation. Now everyone please open your bibles…
The Democrats on the other hand placated to the working class. They called them “essential workers”. They threw up banners that said “Heroes work here!” On a legislative level they failed as they declined Medicare For All, ignored a Universal Basic Income and then went on vacation. They did pass increased unemployment for little bit and offered a payment of $1200. But a ton of people fell through the cracks and didn’t receive either. Like sex workers, who don’t qualify for any of the benefits because of a morality clause in the bailout bill and the “prurient sexual nature” of their job. But wait, the banks the got bailed out after Congresspeople Deep Throated the Wall Street Bull’s balls, isn’t that “prurient sexual nature”? And I don’t think they had the bull’s consent.
But it’s cool you guys, because the Democrats did approve a $1.32 million display of American Exceptionalism by flying fighter jets in honor of healthcare workers…sorry healthcare heroes! Heroes don’t need to get paid as much because they’re doing it for the love of the game! You think Spider-Man’s cashing a check? No! He’s working 3 other jobs so he can be passionate about saving lives! As my friend Eleanor Goldfield points out “sex sells, but war pays” [Cover] Who doesn’t get hot and bothered when we see an ad with a bossomy lady riding a bomb! Buy that bomb because your boner demands it!
But remember that lady sees nothing from the bomb sales because she’s a godless whore! America is a Christian Nation, where the sanctity – emphasis on titty – of life is valued! Look we in America cherish life by running an economy on creating weapons that regulate that life by murdering a lot of it!
This is what happens when you run an economy on War and fuel it with anti-intellectualism and Nationalistic Pride. $1.32 million could’ve paid for 66 ventilators, over a million masks or an additional 1100 people could’ve received $1200. When legislation declines worker safety and rights you have engaged deeply with Disaster Capitalism and that’s why a nationwide General strikes are absolutely necessary.
Strikes and the labor movement were on a decline in the second half of the 20th century, but in the last few years the power of labor has been growing. In 2018, we saw more strikes happen than in the last 3 decades. Teachers went on wildcat strikes for better pay all across the country in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, in what was known as the “Red State Revolt”. Which I’m pretty sure was an attempt to propagandize these strikes but just made sound super badass! This led to a bunch of solidarity strikes with hotel workers and even healthcare workers!
All the way back in 2006, on May 1st Latino activists fought back against a harsh immigration bill with “A Day Without Immigrants”, which led to tens of thousands of immigrant workers not showing up to work which then caused Tyson and Cargill foods to shut down. Many suburbanites were left without their frozen meals and had to the unthinkable…cook for themselves! The streets were flooded with white folks wandering around in yoga pants holding a frying pan, lost, confused and asking for a ‘Consuela’.
So what is it going to take make a General Strike happen in our society. One of the first things to have utilize the power of strong established labor unions. But since unions have lost power in the last few decades, it falls down to labor activists, mutual aids, the Democratic Socialist movements and we the people. Unions are too used to loosing and will bend to the will the bosses because of lack of morale. BUT we can bring up the morale in the rank & file with people that deliver & prepare food, take care of medicine, have conflict resolution, use art for positive & educational means, trust in collection and allocation of money. This all revolves around the people trusting & caring for each other.
Mix this with ‘broad class anger’ and the stage set for a General Strike. Right now, with the BLM protests and the lack of any health, safety or economic measure from the those in the establishment or donor class the class anger is here to stay. The working class are pretty much saying “We’re here, we’re mad and we will burn this shit down if you’re not willing to listen and get the fuck out of our way!”
The next step is to permeate the public with the idea of the General Strike. Talking about strikes and what they are consistently so people know the truth instead of what corporate media propagandizes them to be. Networks like CNN, MSNBC & Fox News perpetuate anti-Strike propaganda because that means the owners of the network will lose money to the make up person that makes Rachel Maddow look less clinically insane.
The other challenge involves bridging the divides between the ranks. There is divide between white collar, blue collar, middle or lower class. This exists in the way we treat each other. Classism exists in America based on the type of job we have. Think about it, we don’t treat the fast food employee the same as the civil engineer.
Every time I’ve stepped into a McDonalds’ – which for me is 3 times and those all the regrets I have in my life, and I’ve had Crystal Pepsi on purpose – I always hear someone screaming at the kid behind the counter. “How fucking hard is it to make a goddam burger!” But we don’t do that civil engineer that has to design bridges. We don’t yell “How hard is it to prop up the infrastructure of a growing economy!”
We’re divided in the levels of the jobs too. Entry level, managers, senior manager, project manager, whatever the fuck that is? Managers are part of the working class. The story of Henry Frick proves that. Andrew Carnegie put Henry Frick in charge of the Homestead Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. Frick was the face of slashed wages and worker turmoil, despite him following Carnegie’s orders. When a giant wooden fence went up around the mill they nicknamed it Fort Frick, not Fort Carnegie. Frick also hired the Pinkertons to attack to the striking workers.
Carnegie used his position of power to coerce the Governor to call the National Guard into Homestead, but Frick was the face of it. By the end when the Guard attacked the strikers and the townspeople, it was seen as an attack by Frick, who was the manager of the Mill. Publicly Carnegie was pro-Union but behind the scenes he wanted them all killed. Frick is seen as such a terrible person that we use his name as a child’s substitute curse word. Frick instead fuck!
I’m not defending Frick, but I am saying that the man should’ve sided with the strikers because Andrew Carnegie sold him out. And Carnegie was delusional to his wealth, that on his death bed he said he wishes his friend Henry Frick was there. Frick responded by saying “Tell Mr. Carnegie I’ll see him soon enough…in Hell…where we are both going”.
Some Union leaders fear that the General Strike would only fuel Trump’s campaign and the focus should on his immorality. But that statement is looking at a tiny part of a universal calamity. That’s like finding out you have cancer, but you really want to remove this wart on your finger. Organizers want to use the power of the courts to push back against Trump. So if workers are ordered to go back to work before this crisis is over, Unions can take to the courts as a health & safety issue.
Chris Smalls did this with Amazon and was fired for it. Chris Smalls led a strike when Amazon executives told his warehouse workers to keep working after there was an employee that tested positive for COVID-19. They deliberately put the lives of their employees, their families AND THEIR CUSTOMERS in danger. After firing Smalls, Amazon spun the narrative claiming it was he who had a health & safety violation. Amazon used the tight defense of “I’m rubber & you glue, what you say bounces off me and sticks to you” defense. The courts mostly on the side with the corporations, so this doesn’t particularly move us forward.
General Strikes have shaped and defined America at this very core. According to W.E.B. Dubois Black Slaves freed themselves by using the tactic of a General Strike. The way Dubois saw it was that slaves were just exploited workers who were in the constant struggle not just to control the means of production but also the means to themselves! So in order to achieve this goal, they took up arms against their masters, escaped the plantation and disrupted the global production of cotton from the South.
Dubois also claims that the Union was able to clinch their victory because of these slave rebellion as General Strikes. The uprisings in the farms and escaped slaves that became Union Soldiers turned the tide of the war. “They wanted to stop the economy of the plantation system and to do that they left the plantations”. This is a huge statement! This basically says that the General Strike is a way to collapse the Capitalist economy to create and revolutionize a new economy. The first major General Strike in American history was created by Black Slaves who created their own freedom. They used the General Strike to become a Bald Eagle soaring through the sky absorbing Liberty for All!
Throughout history there have been various different examples of General Strikes that have benefitted the working class. One of the most famous of these strikes not taught in schools is the Seattle General Strike of 1919. This was happening at a time when Eugene Debs & the Socialist Party of America and the International Workers of the World were gaining a lot more traction. America had seen the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia as a threat to the Freedoms bestowed upon by Jesus in Eagle form.
But even within the Unions themselves there was a lot of differences of opinion. The American Federation of Labor was a lot more conservative and almost exclusively white and male. They were sausage fest of Unions that always yelled “No Homo” at the end of their meetings. The International Workers of the World were building a more diverse coalition of workers. They were like the Avengers of the Labor Movement, assembling to take down the ultimate grand threat to the working class, Capitalism!
The Seattle General Strike begins with World War 1.Younger folks had flocked to places like Seattle to help build ships and armaments. The Federal Government had frozen wages to help the war effort. But they promised these workers that they would get raises after the war. When those raises didn’t show up, the Union wanted to negotiate and the managers ignored them, 35,000 Shipyard workers immediately went on strike. The rest of the city immediately joined the strike in Solidarity.
While the Unions & members of the IWW were organizing this General Strike, the city’s newspapers, which had ties to rich, printed stories about how the General Strikes are UnAmerican! But the Socialists had their own paper and Anna Louise Strong penned an op-ed that kinda set the world on fire!
The organizers had set the Strike to ensure that no-one would show up to work in February of 1919. Democratic Mayor Ole Hanson grew more and more paranoid and fearful and decided to deputize citizens and college kids! If you needed any proof of the rich & powerful using the working class as cannon fodder it’s in the constant use of children as a deputized police force to stop the advancement of human rights. He called in the National Guard and set up machine guns and had Army Trucks all around the city. The Strike hadn’t even started yet. If this was happening today, they’d probably say the army trucks were driven by AntiFa and the anarchists that had co-opted the trucks to incite violence.
Not one striker was violent. When the day came, 65,000 workers just didn’t show up to work. The city was silent. Rumors started spreading around that Ole Hanson had been murdered. My guess is that Ole Hanson started this rumor to incite violence and blame it on the strikers. Once people started to get restless, the organizers tapped into their ranks and had unarmed Vets maintain order.
The organizers set up kitchens in various parts of town to feed the families. They delivered milk to homes, oil to hospitals, collected the trash and for the 5 days this strike went on the Guardsmen that were stationed in Seattle said they had never seen a city run with more order & peace. Almost like if you give the people their basic needs and actually take care of them, there won’t be any reasons for citizens to steal and hurt each other. In 5 days in one city we were able to go from Capitalist primates slinging poo at each other for more cash to a more evolved species that was doing our parts to make our community vibrant and more meaningful.
When Ole Hanson couldn’t get the strikers to be violent he started arresting organizers and ensuring the workers wouldn’t get the resources they need. He started threatening martial law on the people. The strike ended. Seattle General Strike of 1919 provided mixed results. Shipping industry never came back to it’s glory. But it scared employers and created a different sense of what was possible. Ole Hanson became a hero because American loves its paranoid strong men who use fear as morality.
The bosses feared what the Seattle General Strike had proven. As Dana Frank, a labor history professor at University of California in Santa Cruz points out “It didn’t just show union power to the employers, but it showed that working people could run the city themselves.” It asks the question of why do we need Congress or politicians or legislators if we the people can provide what we need ourselves! Working people had power in indirect ways.
Following this strike, Seattle’s most wealthy and largest employers founded the Associated Industries of Seattle, which was a conglomerate of bosses from the Waterfront, Metalwork, Trades and building companies. Their main goal was ensure Unions were squashed. It’s the anti-Union…Union. They’re like the Thanos of labor. They want to wipe out half the life and profit off the other half.
They claimed they were protecting themselves against “Working class tyranny”. [Cover] And we really need to stop oppressing rich! We’re out there marchin’ and saying things “We want human rights!” But have we stopped and thought about that rich person’s super yatch? Where will they pop champagne on the asses of the hos? On a regular yatch? How are they going to get a private helicopter with a personal prostitute if they have to pay a living a wage!?
The Associated Industries also employed spies to try to bring the Unions down from the inside. There were personal papers that were release from 2 major employers that hired these spies to disrupt Union action. This would involve having the cops called on IWW headquarters and break up any demonstrations. Basically America’s James Bond was the Uncle Tom of the Labor Movement trying to keep poor people poorer and suckling at the teets of power.
They also hired the Pinkertons and other Detective agencies to follow members around. Then they created their own Unions and used that as a way to prohibit immigrants from being hired and demonize unions even further. These are the rich billionaires we fawn over in our society. Racist, Xenophobes that want you to suffer for their wealth.
As a major American city was attacking it’s working class with spies, thugs and the military, Canada was in the midst of its own General Strike. In 1919 Canada was suffering through a post War recession just like most of the world. Pay was down, but cost of living was going up, you know how a logical economy is supposed to work. Canadian workers were having problems with Union recognition so they were talking about a “One Big Union” like the International Workers of the World.
When managers wouldn’t negotiate with Metal & Trade unions they called for a strike. In May of 1919, 30,000 workers from police, the fire department, garment workers, utilities and more walked off the job to strike in solidarity with their working class brothers and sisters. A Citizen Committee of 1000 people formed to stop the strike. So that was a 1000 nays to 30,000 yays. The fact the government ignores so many voices is proof that Democracy isn’t real.
The Citizen Committee used as much xenophobia, racism and fear as they could. They got the papers to print that the strikers were alien scum. And the government sided the vocal minority and threatened to fire the federal employees and deport British Immigrants. They used the classic defense abusive partners use. “You want to see crazy?! Oh I can show you crazy!” And they eat the head of a bat. And you’re like where’d you get a bat from? Did you just have a bat on you this whole time?! What is happening? That was the Canadian government.
On June 17th, 10 strike leaders were arrested. On June 21st the rank & file organized a peaceful march which was met with police brutality by the Mounted Police, which is just a fancy way of saying Horse Cops. Now it does sound like the cops are going to joust the protesters but it was much worse. The cops fired shots, the crowd turned violent, overturned a streetcar, 2 strikers were killed and 30 were injured. The incident is now famously known as Bloody Saturday. The Canadian government set up a memorial for the streetcar instead of the people.
7 out of the 10 strike leaders were charged with conspiracy to topple the government and the other 3 that were released called to end the strike. They didn’t want to see any more bloodshed. These strike leaders in the late 1920s wound up in the Canadian government and eventually it led to Canadian workers receiving collective bargaining rights, 30 years after the General Strike.
Back in the states, 1934 was another big year for General Strikes. 65,000 textile workers walked off the job starting in North Carolina.
1934 saw Taxi Strikes, Trucking Strikes, Warehouse strikes all across the country. In Toledo, workers from the Auto plants led a strike. Radical socialists were voted into leadership of the Unions because the people wanted to see radical change instead of platitudes from rich people. Under the leadership of one of these radicals, the strike took in the unemployed of Toledo that would normally be hired as scabs to replace workers. They did this with the help of the rank & file working to feed, protect and house the unemployed with their mutual aid!
Now that the Auto companies had lost their way to replace employees, the National Guard was sent in and strike leaders were arrested. So, much like Winnipeg, the rank & file organized a march. The guardsmen threatened the Strikers, who refused to budge, so they opened fire on the strikers. The strikers fought back and at the end when the bosses and the government saw that workers won’t back down, they recognized the Unions, increased wages and rehired the workers.
San Francisco became a war-zone as Longshoreman went on strike and garnered the support of every Union in the city. Because of the state of the economy, the longshoreman didn’t have steady work. They’d all go down to the docks and wait to be picked by the foreman. This led to bribery and was described as a slave market. All of a sudden all the white people were like “Holy shit is this what we’ve been doing to black and brown folks?!”
Once the strike began, 100,000 workers had walked off the job and it was peaceful. So to instigate the National Guard was sent into protect law & order, by blowing up a piece of the city. New Deal advocate Hugh Johnson and even Union Leaders were condemning the General Strike, but the rank & file wouldn’t budge. By the end of the strike, the longshoreman didn’t get what they wanted because the military force had unfortunately won.
Minneapolis was a different story. In 1934 the Minneapolis Teamsters led a strike of Truck Drivers and delivery men. They got very organized and used military tactics to push against the government agitators.
And because they were able to take care of each other, the cops attacked every last one them. The first fatality was a man named Henry Ness. His funeral had 40,000 people in attendance and public opinion of was FOR the teamsters and their demands. So instead of listening to the public, the National Guard gets called in and labor leaders are arrested and put into camps. Once that happened, I think everyone realized “Oh this is a bad look. I feel like these camps are going get bad wrap one day!” The teamsters won their demands of better pay and work conditions.
I’d like to point that this is the use of military force in American streets over the right to protest and strike against inequality. It’s been done before and it was validated by Democrats and Republicans alike. This is another point of proof that the removal of Trump is basically meaningless without the removal of a corrupt, war-mongering duopoly that’s ready to murder it’s own citizens asking for human rights! Authoritarianism has been in America long before 2016.
After all the Strikes of 1934, the Wagner Act was signed in 1935 that legislatively gave collective bargaining rights to workers! After World War 2, there was fear that organized labor would grow even stronger so Senator Taft of Ohio & Senator Hartley of New Jersey put forth a piece of legislation to undo the Wagner Act. Proving without a doubt that nothing good has come out of New Jersey!
The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act ensured that unions would lose their powers. They limited strikes and unions couldn’t donate to political campaigns, but corporations can. If a strike was determined to be a health risk then the strike is illegal and unions would be criminally fined! Unions can only be put into place when a majority is struck in the workplace. This gave corporations an opportunity to push anti-Union propaganda, a practice still in place today!
In 1959 the bill was refined to include that unions would be voted for and the votes of strikebreakers would have to be counted. Bills like these depowered, defunded and demoralized Unions. It took an entire generation of workers and made them believe that giving their rights over their bosses would make them richer in the end. We have yet to see this play out that way. The Republicans used these bills to effectively canceled Unions, which makes Republicans the originators of cancel culture!
This isn’t to say we can’t win. We’ve won before and we can do it again. We can use the power of labor yet again to regain a more equal workplace. We repeat the steps of the General Strike and keep an eye out for the propaganda. We have shown time and time again that we the people can be more organized than the government itself. So let’s get more organized!
Republican President Abraham Lincoln is quoted to say “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.” In every instance both the bosses and the government claim Capital is far more valuable the labor produced by worker. In every instance there is more people who see it for what it is. If we want a better society, then the next step is a General Strike.
Krish Mohan is a socially conscious, Indian standup comedian and writer who regularly tours the country. He performs at small theaters, bars, comedy clubs, colleges, DIY and house venues. With his quirky attitude, charming personality, and intelligent humor, Krish captivates and engages audiences of all backgrounds, tackling hot button topics like race, religion, war, immigration, while adding an optimistic, philosophical & sociological twist!