The moment there was news last night that Republicans had moved to violate democracy and move legislation that would strip workers have collective bargaining rights one step closer to being signed into law talk of a general strike began to spread. It had been an undercurrent since Gov. Scott Walker began his assault, but it had never been serious. Now, the union leaders, organizers, workers and citizens of Wisconsin are confronted with the reality that they have a choice to make: Will they take action and strike in the coming days especially if what happened was deemed to be in compliance with the rule of law?
The Wisconsin 14, the Democratic state senators who fled the state to stall the legislation, were on The Ed Show. They were each talking about the people of this country needing to change the face of leaders at the ballot box. They were talking up the need to recall Scott Walker. All of this makes sense, but it does not immediately address what has happened. Calls to organize for elections and a recall effort do not fully take advantage of the people power that has swelled over the past weeks.
Anger at Gov. Walker's push to strip unions of rights has pushed workers to further consider their role in democracy. Unions have always organized protests, especially symbolic actions, to make political statements. But, these protests have disrupted the narrative of the pro-privatization free market agenda the Koch Bros, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, the Heritage Foundation, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Enterprise Institute have been working to advance with the support of a number of politicians for years.
The practicality of a general strike may seem nonexistent at first, but at this moment there are many states with governors and political leaders that have mounted agendas of austerity. The agendas force teachers, police, firefighters, public employees and others to further shoulder the burden of revitalizing an economy that may or may not be in a recession. They pit private workers against public workers and force public employees to justify why they get pensions and benefits and those in the private sector do not. And, they seek to alter state contracts and funding for workers in states in spite of the fact that Wall Street has bonuses it could have been forced to give back after the bailouts so America's economy could get back on track.
The late academic and revolutionary scholar on people power, Howard Zinn, wrote about a Seattle general strike organized by the IWW in February 1919. In "Self Help in Hard Times," a chapter from A People's History of the United States, he describes how workers were on strike for five days and brought the city to a halt. Zinn describes:
The city now stopped functioning, except for activities organized by the strikers to provide essential needs. Firemen agreed to stay on the job. Laundry workers handled only hospital laundry. Vehicles authorized to move carried signs "Exempted by the General Strike Committee." Thirty-five neighborhood milk stations were set up. Every day thirty thousand meals were prepared in large kitchens, then transported to halls all over the city and served cafeteria style, with strikers paying twenty-five cents a meal, the general public thirty-five cents. People were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of the beef stew, spaghetti, bread, and coffee.
Reading Zinn's description might make one think of Cairo or Tahrir Square. It might make one think of Ian's Pizza, which has been helping to keep demonstrators from going hungry.
Zinn writes on the backlash and then quotes the mayor of Seattle's explanation of how the strike frightened the establishment:
The so-called sympathetic Seattle strike was an attempted revolution. That there was no violence does not alter the fact. .. . The intent, openly and covertly announced, was for the overthrow of the industrial system; here first, then everywhere. .. . True, there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings. Revolution, I repeat, doesn't need violence. The general strike, as practiced in Seattle, is of itself the weapon of revolution, all the more dangerous because quiet. To succeed, it must suspend everything; stop the entire life stream of a community. . .. That is to say, it puts the government out of operation. And that is all there is to revolt-no matter how achieved.
Additionally, Zinn quotes a writer for The Nation, who find a "most extraordinary phenomenon" is going on at the "present time." He writes about an "unprecedented revolt of the rank and file":
The most extraordinary phenomenon of the present time ... is the unprecedented revolt of the rank and file...
In Russia it has dethroned the Czar.... In Korea and India and Egypt and Ireland it keeps up an unyielding resistance to political tyranny. In England it brought about the railway strike, against the judgement of the men's own executives. In Seattle and San Francisco it has resulted in the stevedores' recent refusal to handle arms or supplies destined for the overthrow of the Soviet Government. In one district of Illinois it manifested itself in a resolution of striking miners, unanimously requesting their state executive "to go to Hell". In Pittsburgh, according to Mr. Gompers, it compelled the reluctant American Federation officers to call the steel strike, lest the control pass into the hands of the I.W.W.'s and other "radicals". In New York, it brought about the longshoremen's strike and kept the men out in defiance of union officials, and caused the upheaval in the printing trade, which the international officers, even though the employers worked hand in glove with them, were completely unable to control.
The common man .. . losing faith in the old leadership, has experienced a new access of self- confidence, or at least a new recklessness, a readiness to take chances on his own account . .. authority cannot any longer be imposed from above; it comes automatically from below. [emphasis added]
It is hard to read that and not think of what is happening in the Middle East and much of Africa. The rank and file of the world are demonstrating they have had enough of family monarchy, cronyism, state repression, economic injustice, etc.
The people of Wisconsin have created an opening. It is not unlike the opening the Jan25 Revolution movement created for the people of Egypt. In fact, inspiration has been drawn from Egypt.
Their action has raised the possibility of significantly challenging the weakening of unions in America. It has created a likelihood that people begin to channel their rage into meaningful resistance that focuses attention on Wall Street or agents that caused the financial collapse in 2008. It has created this specter of hope that the people may begin to free themselves from believing propaganda blaming teachers and public sector workers. Americans might begin to take seriously this class war.
The Madison Movement makes it possible to challenge the austerity or privatization agenda being forced upon the lower and middle classes of this country. The possibility of challenging power will increase if the people participate in a general strike. A general strike has the potential to put fear in the hearts and minds of the owners and rulers of this country, as they have are convinced there will be only minor disruptions to their plans to further corrupt American society.