Natasha Lennard reports: For some months now, the allure of the general strike has quietly persisted in the Occupy movement. In recent weeks, calls for a nationwide general strike on May 1 have grown louder; more than two months in advance of the date, a deluge of propaganda – posters, banner drops and short online videos – portends a May Day that promises to up the Occupy ante.
The Arab Spring was galvanized by general strikes in Tunisia and Egypt, while in Greece general strikes regularly rupture business-as-usual and bring thousands onto the streets. In headier conceptions, the general strike – a withdrawal from and an attack on capitalism – is the most radical act of defiance available. Little wonder, then, that a general strike was attempted in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 2. The call for a nationwide general strike, originated in Occupy Los Angeles, has gleaned support from Occupy groups around the United States, with the help of a Twitter hashtag (#M1GS) and a Facebook event that has more than 12,000 promised attendees.
For a movement seeking new directions and escalations, the general strike is historically resonant and attractively bold. But can it work in the United States? And, if so, how?
As with most things Occupy, it’s unclear. Many different notions about a general strike and organizing for May Day are developing through autonomous working groups and alliances that are building between labor organizers and immigrant rights groups. It was, after all, a mass boycott against U.S. businesses by immigrant workers (both legal and illegal) on May 1, 2006 — dubbed “A day without an immigrant” — that revitalized May Day in the United States. Indeed, the specific language agreed to in the Occupy New York general assembly to endorse a general strike nods to this immigrant justice work. It reads:
“May Day 2012 : Occupy Wall Street stands in solidarity with the calls for a day without the 99 percent, a general strike and more!! On May Day, wherever you are, we are calling for: No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping, No Banking. Take the Streets!”
The sentences were painstakingly crafted over weeks of meetings by an OWS general strike planning group composed of contentious bedfellows including traditional labor activists, insurrectionary anarchists, immigrant justice workers and every permutation and cross-over in between. Disagreement raged about whether the language of general strike would alienate or put at risk unionized and immigrant workers (another reason for the inclusion of “a day without the 99 percent”). Make no mistake: Calling for a general strike in the United States carries profound risks.