Monday, March 20, 2017

May Day Strikes, Actions & Stayaways---Will This Be A Mass Politicized Movement Or A DIY Protest?

Calls for mass strikes or job actions in the United States on May 1 are multiplying and getting louder.

The most publicized calls have come from the Service Employees International Union's United Service Workers West (SEIU USWW) in California, a major union which covers janitors, security officers, airport staff and others. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Rural Community Workers Alliance, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, Black Lives Matter, native sovereignty rights groups, and the organizations Voces de La Frontera and Movimiento Cosecha have all said that they will support a strike or job actions on May 1. It is possible that thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of workers not represented by unions will join May Day actions in California. The Seattle Education Association and UAW 4121---academic student employees at the University of Washington---have also passed resolutions supporting a May Day strike. A Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE--AFSCME) strike resolution reads as follows:


WHEREAS the Trump administration has wasted no time in fulfilling Trump’s bigoted campaign promises by attacking immigrants, refugees, and Muslims with travel bans and ICE raids; and
WHEREAS millions of youth and working people across the nation have vigorously protested the President’s policies, with the Women’s March on the first day of his presidency being the largest demonstrations in U.S. history; and
WHEREAS unions, a prime target of the right wing, face the real threat of union-busting Right to Work (for less) legislation, which has had a hearing in the Washington State legislature and is being considered by a Republican controlled U.S. Congress, and public sector unions could soon see a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would decimate their collective bargaining rights; and
WHEREAS the right wing agenda has long included breaking unions, gutting the social safety net, privatizing public education, eviscerating environmental laws, deregulating banking and other industries, militarizing the police, waging endless war, and weakening civil rights protections, and Trump’s Cabinet appointees indicate that they plan to follow this reactionary agenda; and
WHEREAS national immigrant rights organizations are calling for “A Day Without an Immigrant” national actions on May 1st, 2017; and
WHEREAS history has shown that strikes have been the most effective weapon in labor’s arsenal, and motions supporting a general strike on May Day, the international workers’ holiday, have been passed by the Seattle Education Association and UAW 4121, which represents academic student employees at the University of Washington;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) Local 304 support the movement for a general strike on May 1st, 2017, and urge its state and national affiliates, WFSE and AFSCME, to work with other unions, low-paid workers, and community groups to organize a strike that is national in scope; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the demands of the general strike will be:
Stop Trump’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, and refugees;
Defend unions – stop Right to Work laws, repeal the Taft Hartley Act;
Equality for all – fight discrimination against women, workers of color, and LGBT people, and support women’s equality by demanding equal pay for equal work, full reproductive rights, and free childcare;
Jobs for all through rebuilding the infrastructure and public jobs programs;
Defeat attempts to destroy the social safety net, including subsidized healthcare; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that this resolution be shared widely with unions, central labor councils, and the community in order to help build widespread support for a general strike on May Day.
Passed at the general membership meeting of WFSE 304 on February 23rd, 2017.

No one thought last year at this time that mass strikes merited much discussion, much less planning. The Movement For Black Lives Platform, the Sanders movement, the spontaneous outpouring after the elections, the womens' march, the immigrant community strike and the airport actions, March 8 and Standing Rock have moved people forward and given people a feel for what mass action looks like. Most of these efforts have drawn criticism, but we can see that they are creating a path forward. If there is a valid outstanding criticism at all, it is that the movements have a spontaneous character to them, excepting The Movement For Black Lives Platform, and that there is a lack of unity.

I have my doubts about SEIU USWW and organizations in their orbit. It is not clear to me that the call for strikes and mass job actions comes from the union's rank and file or that the autonomy and militancy of the workers will be fully respected by the union. There is much talk of the risks involved but little public talk of building the aid and defense mechanisms needed to carry out strikes and job actions and move to the next steps. I am concerned that either a deliberately poorly organized effort will be taken later as a failure or that large organizations, effectively NGOs, will block real participation from the grassroots. I suspect that SEIU is again trying to get ahead of social movements and position itself to negotiate on our behalf. But nothing is inevitable, and it would be stupid to project division now. It could happen that May Day actions shake the foundations of the establishment and the opposition and force realignments and changes, or that these actions help carry us into a new and more decisive situation.

The movement needs to be bigger than any one organization and needs its own means of rallying workers and defending them and moving forward---getting there should be our focus. Our role is to be organizers and agitators and responsible leaders, not be critics.

A sample resolution which can be used by any organization with editing is circulating and reads as follows:

Whereas, from spontaneous mass demonstrations in many cities on election night, to the airport occupations, to an unprecedented national uprising of more than 4 million people on inauguration weekend…from the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ protests in mid-February, to the marches on International Women’s Day…many millions of working people are emphatically rejecting the racist ultra-right agenda – building up to a nationwide Day of Mass Actions, Strikes, Walkouts and Stayaways on May 1st, International Workers Day; and

Whereas, from coast to coast, immigrant workers – threatened with a new wave of ICE raids, detentions, deportations and family separations – are organizing for a massive day of protest on May Day. The rest of labor needs to be there with them, rejecting Trump’s deliberate attempt to sow divisions in the working class and get us fighting each other. Citywide coalitions in New York, San Francisco (Bay Resistance), Los Angeles and across the country, are calling for a general strike, organizing May Day marches, conducting know-your-rights training, and preparing to defend immigrant workers from ICE attack or employer retaliation. The California Labor Federation has participated in these trainings; and

Whereas, in 2006 the immigrant community and allies massively took to the streets in a May Day general strike of more than 3 million nationally, to defeat the unjust Sensenbrenner bill and show the importance of immigrant labor to the economy; and

Whereas, May Day actions by both organized and unorganized workers [not just immigrant labor] – as well as military veterans, youth and students, prisoners, even small shopkeepers – can build the resistance to attacks on labor, on immigrants and refugees, on trans people and the rights of women. It can help to build public opposition to police or ICE terror in Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. And it can build working-class unity, and stop the slide into authoritarianism. Already various states are moving to criminalize dissent and protest.

Therefore be it resolved, that [name of organization] encourages participation in a Global Day of Mass Actions, Strikes, Walkouts and Stayaways on May 1, 2017 – to defeat the right-wing agenda…to stop the growing attacks on immigrants, refugees, Muslims, trans people and prisoners, as well as stepped-up repression of Black, Brown and Indigenous communities…to oppose moves toward a police state…to oppose expansion of the military budget and the bipartisan drive toward war…to oppose ‘Right to Work’ laws, and the attempt to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, civil rights, civil liberties, and all the gains that working people have won over the last 80 years.
No work—No school—No shopping on Monday, May 1, 2017! Shut it down!

I would add that impeachment be considered as a demand. Please adapt and use this resolution here in Oregon.

We learned much from the recent immigrant community strike and the womens' March 8 mobilizations. Some means must be found to sustain people who cannot afford to fully participate and to defend people who face retaliation. And it is not that people taking part in strikes have no rights, but that the right to engage in collective action at work is a bit complicated and takes some preparation and planning; this information needs to circulate. We may have to go through this a few times before we really get it, but recent experience should have taught us something.

Here in Oregon we will have a large protest at the State Capitol on May Day. That protest, led by Causa, should be at the center of everyone's activism between now and May 1. I suspect that a strong national protest wave will carry along many efforts like the one here, lessening our fears and giving us strength.

The harmful debate about "striking being for privileged people" should be laid to rest. Socialist-feminist Cinzia Arruzza stated it well when she said:

The claim that striking is for privileged people is obviously absurd, terribly patronizing, and moreover anti-historical. But what is interesting in it is the appropriation of typical liberal discourse about privilege and white-guilt in the service of an anti-labor and anti-union attack... It makes invisible the fact that if workers have unions or labor rights it is because they faced risks and fought hard to have them. Moreover, this claim also makes invisible the fact that migrant women and women of color have historically faced serious risks in order to struggle for their rights, and have no need of patronizing lectures about what they can do or cannot do. As far as HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton--ed.) feminist supporters are concerned, Maureen Shaw, in her piece attacking the women’s strike, basically suggested that a better form of action for these women would be to call their Democratic representatives. This says it all about what the concerns behind this ‘strike for privileged women’ discourse really are.

What remains for us to struggle with are the real fears present in immigrant communities and the problems which come with strikes and job actions and stayaways. We can't approach these problems coldly or with the expectation that winning over large numbers of people to action on May 1 translates into militancy. It may be that mass actions take place because we make a strong effort at providing security and go into this with a high degree of self-discipline. This is not a moment to be flippant or nihilistic.

Whether the mass movement succeeds or fails on May Day---and we need to think very clearly about what success and failure mean in this moment---the tasks before us remain building a united front and unitary political organizations and leading revolutionary political parties under the leadership of people of color, women, workers, LGBTQIA+ people and other oppressed core social forces. Mass May Day actions by their very nature require a big and open tent and non-sectarian and non-dogmatic approaches and horizontal organizing.

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