Wage slaves unite: General Strike!

Green JObs Protest

We used to celebrate workers, and be a productive society. Now we vilify workers, and create no jobs.

Choosing to celebrate workers in September instead of on May 1st as the rest of the world does has long been a sign of how uncomfortable we exceptional Americans have been about defining ourselves as “labor.” Most of us would rather think of ourselves as junior members of the same middle class that includes Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

This year, it’s become especially ironic that we’ll be observing Labor Day. Or perhaps the better word is anachronistic. In fact, I’m surprised there isn’t a movement afoot to change Labor Day to National Employers Day, or Job Gratitude Day. I’ll expect the US Chamber of Commerce to get right on that as part of their union busting — uh, sorry — job-creation agenda.

Not only are today’s jobs and wages flat, or disappearing, but yesterday’s workers are berated by the chattering class as a worthless mob of losers whose only real contribution to America was to cost the companies they worked for too much and force them, oh so reluctantly, to move their factories to China.

Workers, schmerkers, they’re all shirkers!

We hold no love for our workers in the US anymore.

After a strident and unstinting half-century campaign by the corporate elite and their GOP minions to sully the reputation of unions, US labor unions have been all but wiped out in the States. Oh sure, there’s a few. Writers in Hollywood. Actors. Some police.Teachers. But they’re constantly harassed by CEO types, FOX News talking heads and anti-worker politicians for allegedly being the cause of everything from factories closing to pension plans hobbling state budgets.

Or, they say that unions are just inherently corrupt.

OK, we all know about Jimmy Hoffa (except that we still don’t know where he is). But unions have really cleaned up their act in the last twenty years. So let’s not forget about babies and bathwater.

And hey, our government has a history of corruption, too, mostly when bought off by business interests. Right now the revolving door between political lobbyists and elected officials is moving at a dizzying rate. Yet, Enron, AIG and Lehman Brothers certainly haven’t resulted in bringing back the days of the limited corporate charter.

Why is it that workers then, the backbone on which truly productive output depends, get the short end of the stick both on earnings and reputation? And why do they take it?

Self-loathing is a full time job

There’s a self-hatred among America’s workers that may not be visible at first glance, but is certainly there.

Some say the rise of social conservatism, and anti-gay religious sentiment divided the worker against himself, causing many socially conservative factory workers to side with Republicans, traditionally labor’s foe. Predictably, the GOP did nothing to advance the worker’s interests, but at least made him feel he had an identity as “not one of those.” And “those” here would be coddlers of queers, uppity women or pushy foreigners who wanted to take all “our” jobs.

As the unions were broken up starting in the seventies — partly by free trade agreements that forced American workers to compete with Chinese making 10 cents an hour — at their moment of greatest peril, workers failed to unite. Instead, they continued to let themselves be led astray by corporate media that meant them nothing but ill, splitting labor into Fox News fans vs MSNBC viewers.

You may not have had a job, but by gum you had a Ford 4 x 4 and an American flag pin on your lapel and for a good long while that was good enough. The rise of the social-values voter over the labor voter on the concrete issues that affected their lives was complete.

Era of lopsided government

And while this may have left people feeling they had an identity amidst the shifting tides, that they could at least rant against their own interests on the new channels of the Web once that came along, it also threw the political balance so woefully off in this country that there’s been no effective, unified counterweight to corporate hegemony since then. Now we’ve got the far right, the middle right, and the right-of-center as the playing field on which all major decisions for this country are made.

Even President Obama, the man of hope and change, has made generous concessions to Big Business even as he takes their drubbings for not doing more. Should we have expected less from a man as trapped by corporate money politics as anyone out there? Can a broken system really offer hope?

But all of this puts the American worker in a pretty tough position. He’s told that if he organizes with his fellow man he’s a closet Socialist. No, he’s not likely to be a Bolshevik or a Castro sympathizer, but deep in the myths surrounding the nature of organized labor this disturbing negativity persists. Jobless and isolated then becomes preferable to seeing what one has in common with rafts of other workers equally marginalized under the out-of-balance corporate plutocracy ruling the nation.

Holding the reins of power and influence both in and out of government, the plutocrats don’t fear a worker uprising, so confident are they that they’ve reduced us all to the sidelines in work, civic and media life. Workers who rise up, speak out and demand change under law and in cultural perception are considered radical, rather than merely doing what any self-respecting person throughout the history of broad political engagement has ever done: vocally press for rights and fairness.

So working Americans need to stop blaming ourselves to start with.

“Who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold”

For workers to now see that we have something in common with all the other unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, under-benefited, under-served and underrepresented in this country, the first step is to reject the notion that the worker descended to such an abject place because of his own laziness or stupidity.

We need to stop believing that the rich are rich because they are more naturally good or are somehow favored by God. Remembering how half of them have got rich in recent years, especially the bankers, ought to put the old myth that wealth=virtue to rest.

But it’s not just the crime-committing, bailout-dependent rich who gained an unfair advantage over—and undeserved admiration from—we the lowly workers.

Corporate bosses are also the legislating class, or what might be called the ruling class, and through money and influence in politics, they write laws that favor themselves. This practice has lead to hugely wealthy corporations paying little or nothing in taxes while their political puppets tour the country and rail on TV about welfare moms, the unemployed and immigrants, suggesting that millionaires are taxed enough and that it’s really the poor, the working and middle classes that need to pay more.

The gap between rich and poor hasn’t grown because hundreds of millions of us are lazy, worthless, unambitious and just not clever enough to have made it to the big time. The gap has grown because of unfair legal advantages that make the rich richer while leaving the rest of us holding the bag.

We’re now supposed to feel guilty for using any public or government project, from our local schools to our roads to unemployment checks in times of need. We’re even supposed to feel bad for calling in FEMA when hurricanes level our communities. Never mind that the practices of Big Business are accelerating the changes that make storms worse today. It’s all about externalities, chump!

As long as we fail to see what most of have in common with one another, as long as we continue to buy the GOP line that we don’t deserve to enjoy a commonwealth of government services and a commonwealth of preserved natural resources fairly treated and distributed, as long as we accept the premise that if we don’t have what we want it’s our own fat, stupid lazy faults, and as long as we let ourselves be pitted against each other on wedge social issues, we’ll continue to pursue individualized niche issues, often ones that can’t be solved by government. In that scenario, we’ll fail to unite on what really matters — fairness in this country for the largest number of people rather than unfair rule by the few, the proud, the elite.

Are we ready for a general strike?

A general strike could help accomplish our unity.

Heaven knows enough of us are out of work that we could afford to sit in for a while, if we weren’t ashamed to stand up for ourselves.

But as long as we refuse to #StandUpFightBack we’re going to get the shorter and shorter end of the stick on everything from hydrofracking and tar sands to job creation and lifestyles. And we’ll be the inheritors and creators of a wholly imbalanced political system in which no counterweight on the left is present to hold the corporate right wing to account.

We are worthy. We are deserving. We are creative. And what we are fighting for is necessary for ourselves and for our planet. Ordinary workers everywhere, from assembly lines to offices need to see what we have in common as workers. And like looking through the eyes of a CEO, we need to make that the bottom line.

This Labor Day, forget the sales, forget the rare day off as a time to catch up on all you’re behind in. Forget that you don’t have a job but are laboring twice as hard for half as much. Observe the holiday instead. Recall that once upon a time Labor was a force in this country. It can be so again, on new terms for new times. But only if we UNITE!

— Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    A General Strike is certainly a worthwhile tactic to employ in the Class War currently expanding across the globe, and in some other nations where wages of the still employed have dropped to below subsistence levels General Strikes aren’t that difficult to organize, in fact they often occur spontaneously in such a situation.

    The problem here in the FSofA with trying to organize up a General Strike is that the 84% or so of people still employed (using Shadow Stats U-6 number of 16% UE as a rough current estimate) remain in desperate FEAR of joining the folks who have already fallen off the economic cliff. If you still HAVE a job, going on Strike is not generally a good recipe for keeping your job, particularly since as Ronald Rayguns demonstrated in the 80s with the Air Traffic Controllers, TPTB are willing to wholesale replace an entire workforce with lower paid workers if they become to Uppity and too demanding.

    Willfully going out on Strike means first off you are not going to be eligible for UE Bennies. More than half the working individuals and families in the FSofA who make under the median national average of around $70K (that is with both parents working usually these days, and even then you are doing pretty well) have less than $2000 in savings, which means if you go out on strike you are likely to be tapped out inside of two months, at least if you are still paying your mortgage. If you are a renter, its even worse since chances are you’ll be evicted if you do not pay the rent, whereas if you don’t pay your mortgage given the MERS fiasco you probably can remain in your McMansion for a good couple of years these days before you might face the Sheriff pitching your furniture onto the front lawn.

    Back in the 80s during my stint as a Clinical Chemist in a NYC Hospital, I was a member of 1199, the Union of Health & Hospital Workers. We went out on a Strike which lasted about 4 months as I recall, during which time I used my Credit Cards to keep paying the bills. I survived the Strike, my marriage did not. The finaincial difficulties which ensued made remaining married an economic impossibility. Still, that was a better situation then than anyone NOW who went on strike would face down. Honestly, who in their right mind who currently had one of the few decent middle class paying jobs now would risk that by striking? If you were an IT Programmer, the Corporation would simply use this as an excuse to outsource to Programmers in India. About the only wokers who might have some leverage here would be say Sanitation workers and Power Company workers who cannot be outsourced to cheaper labor abroad, but even they can be replaced in the short term by Army and National Guard, and then wholesale replaced at a lower wage just like the Air Controllers were.

    In reality here, a General Strike isn’t going to come about as a result of employed workers willfully not going into work, but rather it will evolve organically as more and more workers are laid off from their jobs. When enough of them are (and I suspect we are getting quite close to Critical Mass here), essential services will begin to break down, and as the UE Social Welfare system becomes tapped out here you’ll begin to see mass movements of the Unemployed, essentially the same thing as a mass movement of Strikers. The economic system is shutting down of its own accord, it doesn’t take a strike to shut it down now.

    Anyone who goes on strike now has to be prepared psychologically and in real physical terms to be able to exist for a protracted period without access to steady income, and of course remarkably few people are prepared for that in either way. Most people will not willfully jeopardize their family’s security by striking, so about the only people now who will strike in the near future are probably Teachers because the Unions are still pretty organized and the situation inside the Public Schools is becoming increasingly untenable. Even there though, they will likely acquiesce to give backs on Pensions and Bennies and Wage Cuts before a full on National Teachers Strike becomes possible.

    As it appears now from the lockup in the credit markets and interbank lending, we are set up for the next downleg in the spin down which will substantially increase the number of UE people, essentially for all intents and purposes putting them “on strike”. A reorganization or “revolution” of the current system will come here in due time because of forces no longer under the control of anyone; simply the outcomes of mathematical law. I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out on strike right now, chances are you’ll be UE soon enough anyhow, and the longer you can keep your head above water to Prep Up, the better your chances are when you finally do get the Axe. If you are not yet off the financial cliff, Prep Up now best you can by saving some cash, putting some long lasting foodstuffs in the larder and developing means to survive with as little money as possible. There a numerous paradigms to follow for living which require very little money, but they all require some practice and planning and an understanding of how to “game” the system in your favor. I’ll write about some of them here at a later date.


  2. Auntiegrav says

    Good work, Lindsay!
    The rich get richer because everyone else buys their stuff and works for them.
    Perhaps Labor Day should be coordinated with Buy Nothing Day.

  3. Jerico says

    Nice Posts,

    I have been thinking about and talking to a few people about a National Strike Day. The natural day would be the day after May day or the day after Labor day ( I mean, Chamber of Commerce day). The above posts lay out the heart of the matter.

    I would like to add to the point about preparation. In the kind of political and economic situation which is developing we should all try to get as much food, water, fuel etc as we can, even without the consideration of a National Strike. Each one of us, within our given financial and location limits should do what we can to plan ahead. There are many books on these subjects but I will suggest three. The first is Surviving The Economic Collapse by Fernando “Ferfal” Aguirre. STEC is based on Ferfal’s personal experience on having lived in Argentina during their economic collapse in 2001. It has good info on topics such as currency, food, fuel, transportation, gear, self defense, shelter and other useful subjects. Ferfal’s book is simply the best primmer on the subject that I have seen for the average person. I don’t think it was written with the Transition movement or a National Strike in mind but it is still excellent prep information.

    The second book is Chris Martenson’s Crash Course. It covers Economy, Energy, Environment and Exponentials. This book explains that growth is not sustainable in the way we’ve known it over our lives. Crash Course is an extremely good analysis of where we’ve been and where we are going. Chris finishes his book with a What Should I Do section. There is also a dvd by the same name (Crash Course). Chris has a website at http://www.chrismartenson.com The website has sections on food, water etc.

    The third book is The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins. I’m sure most folks reading this blog will already be familiar with the Handbook but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Handbook has valuable info on how to live a more sustainable life at the local level.

    A second issue which hasn’t been mentioned yet can be applied to either a National Strike scenario or to a collapse scenario. That is the problem of communication. Given the recent so called Arab Spring movements we saw the problem of communication between the groups trying to establish democracy. There has already been shut, at least one shutdown of cell phone service in the US when people were protesting. The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) shutdown is the example. There is an article in PCWorld titled Get Internet Access When Your Government Shuts It Down. Also the BBC News had an article in their technology section from January 31 2011 called Old technology finds role in Egyptian protests.

    I’m sure there is plenty of other info on these subjects available but this is my 2 cents worth.

    I might add, that without prompting from me I have heard several people, over the last few months, make statements to the effect that there is going to be trouble between the rich and the rest the way things are going. I’ve never heard much talk, in a general way, on this subject before just recently. What they’re talking about, but is verboten to speak of in the US, is of course Class War. From my view, we the working class, have already had class war declared on us. Most just don’t know it yet.

    I realize that I’ve included together several topics that aren’t usually seen together, but in this case they fit together.

    • says

      I didn’t read his book, but I followed Ferfal’s blog for quite some time, which was quite an interesting Play-by-play account of the Argetinian Collapse. There are lessons to be learned from that for sure, but nevertheless a Global Monetary System Collapse is a much different animal than a local currency collapse such as Argentina experienced (or Zimbabwe, Weimar et al).

      In a local currency collapse, world trade is still functioning, and there are functioning currencies out there which can fund a Black Market. So people in Argentina, like Ferfal, who had access to foreign held accounts denominated in Dollars or Euros were still able to procure necessary items ont he Black Market, dangerous as that generally was.

      Projecting out for a Global Monetary System collapse where all the major fiat currencies fail is much more problematic. International trade will come to a complete standstill as shipping companies are unable to get letters of credit from the TBTF Banks, which will of course finally fail. The only way it continues is if Governments nationalize these Banks and then come to bilateral agreements on trade, however the acrimony involved here between the creditor and debtor nations will make it exceedingly difficult for such agreements to be engineered.

      Without at least a functioning Black Market, the situation in most places will be quite a bit more dire than Argentina faced. I suspect that here in the FSofA the food production, transportation and distribution system will all be Nationalized and some sort of Ration Coupon will be issued in addition to the rapidly disappearing Dollars. Similarly, you’ll likely see Nationalization of the Energy companies and a consolidation of the Fascist State around a now unified Corporate/Government structure.

      This structure is likely to be highly repressive on a Political level and will eventually fall apart, however its part of the transition to more local economies. There is simply no way in the near term that a nation organized up around central banking and centrally controlled industrial production of food can instantaneously convert to a distributed model of local production. This conversion is likely to take decade at least, whereas the monetary system collapse is likely to take at most a few weeks once the avalanche really gets rolling.

      The intervening transition period has to be filled somehow, with the general choices being Fascism, Communism or Anarchy. Explicit Fascism seems the most likely transitionary choice here, since we are already well on our way to this type of political organization. A descent into Anarchy is possible also, but seems unlikely as long as the Military has access to fuel, which they are likely to have for a few more years.

      In any event, I think the scenario here will be quite different from Argentina, and I’m not certain many of the strategies Ferfal employed will work. Of course, its still better to Prep Up as best you can than simply sit on your hands as the world you knew comes crashing down around you. SOMEBODIES are going to make it through the Zero Point, and the better you prep, the better your chances to be one of those Somebodies.

      One thing to remember: When Da Goobermint offers to relocate you via Amtrak to Texas with the promise of Work building Windmills for the new WPA, DON’T GET ON THAT TRAIN! They didn’t build a Human Waste Reprocessing Facility in San Antonio for just what goes down the toilet.


  4. Surly 1 says

    Terrific article and thread.

    Since the Agents of State Propaganda have demonized the words “labor” and “strike” as somehow anti-American, I wonder if even working class people could be convinced to “strike.” The days of massed action may have passed. Given that the state controls both the propaganda mills and all the means of coercive force, perhaps a more effective stratagem is to become “refuseniks.” Plan, move, prep up, but otherwise refuse to play their materialist consumer game. When you must buy, buy local. If every one of us were to behave in this way it would put more stress on the plutocrats’ creaking economic growth machine than if we all took a day off to wave banners.
    Just sayin’.

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