Should the call for a general strike be nationwide, or for Wisconsin alone?
HWRS has joined with others who have called for a general strike in response to the attacks on unionized public workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Some others who consider themselves socialists (e.g., David H., in a Facebook discussion) have asserted, however, that the call for a nationwide strike today is ultra-left, and reminiscent of the IWW, which has forever been calling for a general strike as the answer to all things. “Why not just call for socialism?” these folks ask. After all, we base the call for the nationwide general strike on objective necessity, and, as they correctly point out, socialism is the objective necessity - so why not?
The Marxist method is to advocate, agitate and propagandize for actions and demands that are commanded by the objective conditions, and not to limit ourselves or the working class to what appears to be “objectively possible” in this moment given the limitations of the subjective consciousness of the masses. The dialectic teaches us that change is the basic law of the universe, and that consciousness itself is subject to this law. As consciousness is mutable, our intention is to insert into the changing consciousness of the masses the keys that can open remove the padlocks restricting their subjective understanding.
Limited actions, dependence on the courts, elections and the assertion that we need to “share the pain” by accepting concessionary deals are used by the labor fakers to keep the consciousness of the working class tied to the middle class American dream. But what Wall Street knows and the labor fakers do not, is that capitalism can no longer deliver that so-called dream. That dream today is a nightmare. Witness the theme of the recent solidarity rallies for Wisconsin , such as the one held in San Francisco on February 28. They were sponsored by Move-On.org in conjunction with the local labor councils, and the theme they chose was "save the middle class American dream." The entrenched bureaucracy is running from the term working class, just as they run from the general strike (witness the failure of a resolution in support of a general strike at the San Francisco Labor Council). Instead, they keep trying to sell us their “share the pain” strategy, all the while promoting fear in order to keep us in the Democrats’ pocket and thereby prevent the emergence of independent working class political action. Such independent action, may take a variety of forms as the class struggle deepens, such as a formation of a fighting workers/labor party, the formation of mass popular/working class assemblies, and/or the emergence of a consciously revolutionary workers, party.
In contrast to the Saturday Move-on.org rally, we also attended the support rally (two weeks ago) in Oakland at the State Building . There, Jack Heyman of the ILWU called for a general strike, and within moments all 300 participants were chanting "general strike ... general strike!" The sentiment would be the same at the other rallies if the platform were open and a speaker could address the workers with that message. But the other major support rallies we know about were conducted by the Democrats and their friendly union leaders who run from the idea of any strike let alone a general strike.
The class struggle draws the masses into motion, looking for both strategic and tactical answers to the historic situation. Our strategy is class independence and self-activity, and our tactics must reveal a road to a resolution of the crisis in favor of the working class’s historic interest the consolidation of power into its collective hands and the formation of a workers’ state; otherwise, they are mere sloganeering. Tactics may change from day to day, and we may retreat or advance, dependent on the fighting spirit of the masses and the relationship of forces. Today, the tactic of general strike is being put on the agenda by the objective conditions. The subjective factor in history (a self-aware working class) needs to consider how to use this tactic successfully. This requires discussion of making such a strike indefinite and nationwide.
Our task is to exploit the cracks in consciousness
The consciousness of the working class in America is changing under the pressure of deteriorating material conditions. Old prejudices and illusions in the American dream are daily being crushed under the weight of unfulfilled expectations. In Wisconsin , Ohio , Idaho , Indiana , and across the nation, the public workers have been pushed up against a wall and have become today’s front line in the attack by the corporate elite and ideological capitalist politicians to crush the unions - public and private alike. The outcome of this struggle is decisive for the entire working class. Either the workers' movement will prevail, and based on this victory a sense of revitalization will swell the ranks of labor with a new spirit to turn the tide, or the capitalists will be victorious, and will take their campaign from state to state and pick the unions to the bone, crushing the working class. For big capital, this is a nationwide attack; for the working class, the response must be nationwide as well.
Workers are starting to question the efficacy of the strategy and tactics of the current crop of labor fakers. As workers find that their dependence on the Democrats, even coupled with their endless daily protests, candle light vigils and pajama parties in the Capitol Rotunda, have not produced the desired results, they will be looking for working solutions. For example, today (3/10/11) we read that the President of the Madison fire fighters advocates for a General Strike.
Washington has nothing to offer. The congress is in deadlock, and this august body of capitalist politicians itself threatens to shut down the government! They call it a deadlock; we call it a lockout! In Wisconsin , Walker threatens mass firing of public workers, and today his party has skirted even a semblance of democracy to pass the anti-union bill.
The general strike is our answer; with it we fight for control of the work and the workplace, as the bosses have shown they are no longer capable either of administering the work process, or of guaranteeing the product - which, in the case of public work, is providing services (education, health & safety, roads, transit, home care etc.) to the people. WE DO THE WORK!
Advocacy for a general strike, today, exposes the incapability of the existing union leaderships to guide the working class to victory. The call for the general strike puts them on notice that we know they do not have a strategy or tactics that can resolve the crisis in the interest of the working class. Our strategy is to take every step with the masses toward greater and greater self expression of the historic interest of the working class. The tactics we use must rely on workers' self organization, united front action, and international workers solidarity needed to win. The emergence of a general strike poses the question of which class should run society: the capitalists or the workers. As the crisis becomes more acute and it becomes apparent that capital can not resolve the crisis, it is the job of revolutionary socialists to patiently explain how only a workers’ government can create an economy that meets the peoples needs.
All the hurdles in the way need to be consciously considered by mass assemblies of workers and popular forums, run on the principles of workers’ democracy. The task at hand is to convene and turn solidarity actions into popular/worker/labor assemblies that meet everywhere to plan and prepare for a nationwide general strike. Local assemblies should delegate strike committees of the activists in the ranks to go to all worksites to organize meetings, help establish rank-and-file committees, caucuses, and networks, and enlist support for the strike to build locally and regionally before setting the date for the big one. Our strategy is workers' self-activity and solidarity! Such organizational developments are the very foundational organizations needed for the formation of a workers, government that can administer the economy in the common interests of the masses. We know there can be no local victory in Wisconsin - we are all in this together - it will take all of us to win!
By counterposing traditional working class methods of struggle to the labor fakers’ class collaboration with the Democratic party, we expose them for what they are, while creating an opening for a revival of rank and file militancy and democracy. At this moment, following the massive working class upsurge in North Africa, workers are watching and are more open than in decades to the only real power tool we have - our ability to withhold labor power.
But the workers have been held back by generations of entrenched traitorous class collaborationist leaders. Every time a worker mentions strike, these labor fakers and bureaucrats think, “how do I get out of this”… or they whisper back, “Taft Hartley” or call the union lawyers in to tell the workers what we can’t do! But what they offer - reliance on the Democrats and dependence on courts, lobbying and immediately offering concessions - is not working. They have not even managed to accomplish passage of the Employee Free Choice Act - yet another broken campaign promise by the Democrats. Meanwhile, workers are going into their third year of furloughs in California , foreclosures continue, unemployment is unabated and we are hurting!
As objective conditions change, the logical conclusion of masses of workers’ inner balance sheets will scream out that we need to build class solidarity, defeat anti-labor roadblocks like Taft Hartley through strike action, drive out the entrenched labor fakers and build a independent working class party prepared to fight for a workers’ government.
The conditions are ripe for a regional general strike to spread
The call for a general strike in Wisconsin is agitation, as it is (or can be put) on the agenda today as a response to a direct attack. The battle is heightened right now and either will escalate to full blown strike action or will be put back to sleep by these very same Democratic trade union leaders who promise they are willing to sell the members out on wages, health care and pension contributions. If the situation escalates to the level of a general strike in Wisconsin , two things are sure: 1) the masses will not be content to accept the concessions their sell-out leaders are peddling today; and 2) if the strike is not indefinite, and does not spread across state lines, the Wisconsin workers will be isolated and defeated.
With Michigan, Indiana , Ohio , and Idaho facing similar attacks; Rhode Island sending out pink slips to 2000 teachers; Detroit closing half its schools; and a ballot measure in California being concocted to scrap public workers' unions - this issue is not provincial. Continuing unemployment, cuts to home heating subsidies by the Obama administration, and rising gas prices at the pump all hurt working people and their families, while oil profits go through the roof. These conditions drive commuting workers, the unemployed, and working and poor families with subsidized heat into the camp of labor and the general strike. The movement for the general strike will by necessity address all these issues - or it will fail to build the solidarity and make the organizational advances the working class needs to win!
Even in states where capital hasn’t yet attacked the workers, it is only a matter of time, unless the spread of this new round of government union-busting is prevented by an immense strike wave and/or a successful popular uprising. A loss in Wisconsin , Indiana and Ohio today would be a crushing defeat, equivalent to PATCO, for the American working class. Considering the proportion of black workers and women in the public service sector, this will result in a disproportionate and devastating economic impact on them, and on the sectors of the working class community that are dependent on their income. A crushing defeat for the American worker will further consolidate the rule of the right, while distancing us from the international workers' movement, which today looks with great hope at the American worker waking up in Wisconsin . Across the planet, workers know that to remove the jackboot of imperialism from their neck, the American workers must arrest the rule of Wall Street and the big finance capital.
Confronting old limitations and roadblocks
The path to victory in Wisconsin is via general strike, but we must not shortchange the workers by ignoring what it will take to win. It must be explained that in order to win, ties to the Democrats and the entrenched labor fakers need to be broken. A new militant rank and file leadership committed to class struggle methods and class independence must be forged, and must fight for and win leadership. Without ousting the bureaucracy and reclaiming the unions as democratic unions run by the most militant workers, the general strike will not happen! These are the major political and organizational lessons the rank and file needs to digest and act upon before it can successfully launch and implement the general strike.
The natural alliance between public and private sector workers, the unemployed, the students, and the recipients of social services must become the backbone of the strike. The entire working class and other oppressed people need to come together into popular assemblies to discuss developing strategy and tactics and, in turn, take action. In these mobilizations and assemblies, we must explain the role of the labor tops and what to do to replace them, as well as the role of the Democrats and how to break from them. In this forum, we will argue that a strike needs to be indefinite and must spread to the other states or risk being isolated and defeated. In the event that the Wisconsin workers advance toward launching a general strike, they must be shown by solidarity actions that they are not alone, that they are fighting for all workers rights.
To link the entire working class we will argue that a counterattack is in order. We fight against concessions, and to extend jobs with union benefits for all. Those states where public workers have no union rights should be targeted and organized by the revitalized union movement. We demand that the bosses be made to pay for the crisis of capitalism. We will demand 30 hours work for 40 hours pay to end unemployment! We demand implementation of a sliding scale of wages and prices. We will demand the nationalization of finance capital and the major industries, without indemnification and that they be administered under workers’ control and self management. Strike committees and picket lines will need to be transformed into the armed self defense committees of the working class and its initiatives.
Police and right wing citizens committees historically (Seattle 1919, Minneapolis 1934, S.F. 1934, Egypt 2011) mobilize violent attacks on the general strikes. We will warn the workers that the police are not workers, that their roll is “to protect and serve” capitalist control; we must not be fooled by their feigned alliance with workers demonstrations because as class struggle deepens they will be put to the work of crushing the general strike. For individuals or groups of police to support the workers movement they must arrest their officers and put their arms under the control of the workers popular organizations. In Egypt the workers sacked the police stations and seized their arms.
We must also explain that the general strike is not a panacea, it is a tactic. It does not lead directly to workers' socialist revolution; indeed, without revolutionary leadership it can lead to defeat. We have seen limited general strikes used across Europe last year as a pressure relief valve to allow the working class to blow off steam. There we have seen the Social Democrats and Communists refuse to coordinate the strikes Europe-wide, and we have seen them limit their duration and the workers’ militancy. So we know the general strike, if led by class collaborationists, can lead to defeat, demobilization, and demoralization. Our job is to take these lessons to the class: point clearly at the roadblocks, and prepare the class to confront, go around, over or through them. Every step toward a general strike advances the class consciousness of the American worker. Lessons from the process itself will spread, and be the basis for the working class taking power in its own name.
The struggle is one for the consciousness of the working class. We are at an “ah hah!” moment, where workers can break from the stranglehold of bourgeois consciousness offered by the “friends of labor” and their stooges in the labor movement. As Leninists, we do not refrain from explaining what is needed in its entire nuance. Rather, we utilize the method of the 1850 Address to the Workingmen’s International, the method of the first five years of the Communist International, and the Transitional Program of the Fourth International. One crucial lesson is that a revolutionary workers' party is needed for the class to be victorious. But the absence of such a party in the United States today is no excuse to stand down; the struggle to build for a general strike, as it emerges, demands that the struggle for a revolutionary party be taken into the heat of the confrontation. It is out of these battles that the party will be built; and it will be the contributions of a revolutionary party that will guide the class to victory. To refrain from explaining the need for a general strike to be launched in Wisconsin , and to become indefinite and nationwide, would be to abandon the class to those elements (the Democrats and their fake socialist friends) who insist it is impossible and/or will fail.
HWRS Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism