Posts Tagged ‘wild cat strike’
by stuartbramhall in Global south, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
I encounter many long time activists in a quandary how to relate to #OccupyWallStreet. A vibrant, growing mass movement involving thousands of activists is always far more interesting and exciting than the ongoing drudgery (fundraising, event organizing, education and outreach, etc) of keeping existing grassroots organizations going. There is a strong temptation to abandon current organizing commitments to join the groundswell created by the OWS movement. While this might be the right move for some activists, it’s vitally important that others use their existing roles in union, peace and justice and environmental networks to bolster and support the anti-greed movement.
All Our Single Issues Have the Same Root Cause
There are strong strategic arguments for all unions and single issue peace and justice and environmental groups to get on board, in some way, with #OccupyWallStreet. All the corporate and government abuses our single issue groups are fighting have the same root cause – namely the corporate takeover of government. Yet many of us find it difficult to address the corporate tie-in from our single issue silos. Moreover there is already evidence that the current civil unrest in all major American cities is beginning to impact disastrous US policies in the Middle East.
How Do We Best Support OWS?
On the other hand, I question the value of long time union, antiwar, pro-democracy, peace and justice, homeless, sustainability and immigrants rights activists abandoning our existing commitments to camp out in the park. It makes more strategic sense to use our influence in the grassroots networks we have built up over decades to support and collaborate with #OccupyWallStreet. In this way we can provide inroads for younger, more militant OWS activists to sectors of society they might otherwise find difficult to access.
In my view, where existing union and community groups can best support the OWS movement is by providing logistical, material and tactical support as it expands into the productive sector. OWS can only exert real pressure on government, banks and other multinational corporations by disrupting business as usual – with corporate-targeted sit-ins, consumer boycotts, wild cat strikes or a combination of all three. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down.
Many older activists, especially in the Open Source, sustainability and local democracy movements have already made significant gains in undermining corporate rule. The sustainability movement, for example, is responsible for an explosion of community-based alternatives to corporate controlled food, energy, transportation, education, health care and money. Equally impressive are the hundreds of communities in the local democracy movement which have passed ordinances restricting the right of corporations to build new hog farms, spread sewage sludge and deplete aquifers with bottled water operations.
Appealing to a Broad Base of Supporters
For their part, #OccupyWallStreet has already been remarkably effective in networking with existing groups. Good examples include the participation of OWS members in a march supporting Communication of American workers in their dispute with Verizon, an anti-eviction action OWS helped homeless advocates organize in Brooklyn, and the strong backing #OccupyWallStreet has received from organized labor. I attribute OWS coalition building success to their insistence on a broad inclusive vision (i.e. refusing to make specific demands). This enables them appeal to the widest possible base of potential supporters. I can’t count the number of large coalitions I have joined in the last thirty years that were scattered to the winds the moment we decided to formulate concrete demands. The last one was the 9-11 Coalition Seattle activists formed in September 2001 to protest the impending US war in Afghanistan. Over the five weeks we spent arguing over specific demands, our numbers shrank from one hundred plus to fifteen.
The November 2 general strike called by Occupy Oakland was the first test of OWS’s fragile coalition with labor. In a period of high unemployment, persuading unionists who still have work to put their own jobs on the line is no mean feat. While Occupy Oakland was unsuccessful in shutting the city itself down, a wild cat strike by Oakland longshoremen succeeded in closing down the Port of Oakland (http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/occupy-oakland-succeeds-in-shutting-down-port-4499879).
To be continued, with a discussion of the effect of OWS on foreign policy.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
(This is the final of three blogs assessing the achievements of #OccupyWallStreet)
As I mention in my two prior blogs, the OWS movement will leave a legacy of accomplishments — mainly related to consciousness raising and movement building – even if the actual occupations shut down tomorrow. There is still lots of furious debate over #OccupyWallStreet’s long term goals, which roughly center around the dismantling of the corporate state, the establishment of an alternative, non-corporate economy, and the development of an independent media that reflects the interests and concerns of the 99% of us who aren’t millionaires and billionaires. Yet we are unlikely to see major policy or infrastructure changes until our new movement hits the 1% where it really hurts — in their pocketbook. Prior to Tuesday’s violent police attack on Occupy Oakland, I had the sense that the authorities were quite comfortable with thousands of us camping out in city parks every night — so long as we weren’t interfering with business as usual.
Time for a General Strike
This is where #OccupyWallStreet differs significantly from the major uprisings in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, where mass demonstrations were accompanied by general strikes that shut down economic activity. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down. In the US, we would be talking about illegal wild cat strikes. Both Taft Hartley and no-strike clauses some unions have agreed to make it a criminal offense to strike unless defined processes are followed.
Clearly Occupy Oakland, which retook Oscar Grant Plaza on Wednesday (see http://www.occupyoakland.org/2011/10/general-strike-mass-day-of-action/), is mindful of the current general strike in Greece, as well the importance of industrial action during the Arab Spring. They have called for a general strike in Oakland on November 2nd (no one to attend school or work). I think they have a good chance of persuading a good chunk of the city to stay home. The police riot that closed off downtown Oakland on Tuesday did not go unnoticed by a large African American community with long history of being brutalized by Oakland cops. Workers World (see http://www.workers.org/2011/us/cops_attack_1103/ ) suggests that it was no accident that the first OWS occupations to be targeted with police violence were those with a substantial African American population (Oakland, Chicago, and Atlanta). Popular protest has a tendency to be contagious, especially in communities with a history of grievance-based uprisings and a 48% youth unemployment rate.
Why It May Be Easier to Get Non-union Workers to Strike
Oakland-ILWU, which endorsed Occupy Oakland on October 22nd and called on other unions to block their eviction from Oscar Grant Plaza, may well stage a one day sympathy strike. The longshoreman’s union is historically one of the more militant and has a history of wild cat strikes. However this may be one of those instances where low unionization rates among African Americans may work in our favor. Calling on unionized workers to engage in an illegal strike is a big ask. It would likely incur strong opposition from union leaders, who would be the ones facing prosecution.
It’s also possible to disrupt business as usual by targeting banks and other businesses with well-organized consumer boycotts and direct action, such as sit-ins and blockades or with a combination of tactics. In announcing their November 2nd General Strike, Occupy Oakland has warned Oakland banks and corporations that it will march on them if they remain open.
Call for a National General Strike on November 28th
If next Wednesday’s general strike is even partially successful, I expect a few other cities to follow suit. The real test will be the response to Citizens for a Legitimate Government’s call for a national general strike on November 28, after the Super Committee announces the austerity cuts American people will be subjected to (see http://www.opednews.com/populum/http://www.opednews.com/populum/linkframe.php?linkid=140223).
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
In my view, the failure of the Obama administration and Congress to prevent Republican states from stripping workers of all union protections – as well as their threats to repeal Medicare, Medicaid and Social – leave American workers no choice but to follow the example of their Egyptian brothers and form their own (illegal) unions. Relying on a pro-corporate federal government to address labor rights is never going to work. It’s time for the rank and file to reclaim the freedom to have mass pickets, slowdowns and wildcat and sit down strikes in response to management misbehavior, as they did in the 1930s. Historically these are the only tactics that have won real gains for unions and workers.
The Strength of European Unions
Surprisingly the US doesn’t have the lowest rate of union membership in the industrialized world. It would seem the ineffectiveness of American unions isn’t based on low membership, but on negative public opinion and the paralyzing effect of the Taft Hartley Act – which makes US unions de facto government unions.
At present the rate of union membership in the industrialized world is determined by two main factors: the size of the public sector work force (which tends to have high unionization rates everywhere) and the percent of the private sector represented by small business (as opposed to corporations), which tend to be extremely hard to unionize. Finland (at 74%) and Sweden (at 71%) have the highest rates of unionization owing to their large public sectors. Italy and Canada (both at 30%) and the UK (at 27%) have fairly high rates, as they still have large public sectors. Germany, where both the manufacturing and public sector are strong, is 27% unionized. Greece, despite its large public sector, has a relatively low rate of unionization (23%) as 93% of its private sector consists of businesses with fewer than 20 employees. (See http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations/Across-Europe/Trade-Unions2, http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/labour/labour_relations/info_analysis/union_membership/2010/pdf/unionmembership2010.pdf and http://www.fedee.com/tradeunions.html)
Because of recent general strikes in Spain and France, I was very surprised to see the small percentage of their workforce that is unionized. The US at 11.9% falls between Spain, at 16% and France, at 8%. European Union analysts attribute labor’s organizing success in Spain and France (and Greece) to the high public regard unions enjoy in both countries. The result is that most non-union workers will strike in solidarity with a general strike called by major unions.
Following the Egyptian Example
So long as American workers follow the dictates of the Taft Hartley Act, I see no hope of building a union movement strong enough to resist Wall Street and government efforts to reduce the US to a third world sweatshop. Trade unionists in New Zealand find it laughable that US workers have to get permission from the federal government (the National Labor Relations Board) to form a union. In their view that’s hardly different from having a government-run union, like they do in Egypt and other Middle East countries.
They believe, as I do, that American workers are doomed if they continue to rely on the strategy of begging the trade union bureaucracy to beg the Democratic Party to repeal the Taft Hartley Act. Even the AFL-CIO breakaway United to Win Federation fails to mention repealing the Taft Hartley Act in their demands. As Dr Bernard points out in her interview (http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?Itemid=74&id=31&jumival=3548&option=com_content&task=view), the increasingly pro-corporate Democrats have had ample opportunity (during numerous periods where they controlled both Congress and the White House) to repeal the Taft Hartley Act and have resisted doing so.
Facebook and Social Networking Aren’t the Answer
I recently checked out the “Repeal the Taft Hartley Act” Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Repeal-the-Taft-Hartley-Act/123394871061984 It has a grand total of five members (including me). The corporate-controlled media want us to believe Facebook and Twitter produced the revolution in Egypt, when in reality it resulted from years of sustained organizing by Egypt’s (illegal) union movement (see “Egypt’s Invisible Labor Movement” at http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/02/23/egypts-invisible-labor-movement/).