Last summer, there was a call for a Mass Strike in social media circles on October 15, 2021. There is again a proposition in circulation among social media platforms for a May Day 2022 strike. The desperation felt by those who engage in social media driven cries for a Mass Strike is real—the belief that such an action would bring any substantial or effective change in our daily living conditions, however, is pure ideological fantasy.
I understand the urge to call for mass action. It is easy to see that the United States is having a moment when it comes to labor and class consciousness. Many of us have been pushed left as a result of the tumultuous Trump presidency and the adjacent growth of the fascist far-right in our country. Many more of us have continued our leftward march as we were forced to grapple with the reality of the political alignment of the United States Democratic Party in the 2020 elections—a party that differs from the abusively profit-driven, people-damning conservative opposition in name only. All of us, however, have felt the strangling hands of capital accumulation close around our throats as our country’s pandemic response has served only to preserve the wealth and well-being of the possessing class.
With the onset of Covid-19’s spread in the United States, business owners and politicians worked in tandem to feign interest in the well-being of the working class through popular emergency measures such as “hazard pay” wage increases, limited hours of operation at brick and mortar store fronts and fulfillment centers, a vast roll-out of “work from home” programs, and emergency economic relief funding issued to citizens across the county. Once it was established that the novel Coronavirus was going to be around for a while, these emergency measures were quickly and blatantly repealed to leave the working class to fend for themselves amidst the chaos of a locked-down and panic-stricken world. As a class we were forced to see the reality of our treatment as workers. Wealthy business owners could have afforded to pay a livable wage and grant us a modicum of comfortable working conditions all along—they simply chose not to.
Given the wholesale wake-up call for the working classes, a collective cry for action is not only understandable, it is hopeful. Mass action is required to change the political landscape currently keeping workers pressed firmly under the thumb of capital. However, I feel I must be very straightforward here: a Mass Strike as has been proposed in online communities and pushed around the social media landscape is not the action that is needed now.
Let’s consider the effectiveness and real time ramifications of the last popularly recognized proposal for a Mass Strike that was generated online: October 15, 2021. I recall discourse over this proposed strike circulating for weeks and being excitedly talked about in leftist forums; there was even some attention paid by established media. I heard a few coworkers in my place of work mention the “October 15 Mass Strike” to each other. I saw people working hard to create and distribute propaganda for what was to be a mass improvised day of striking, of calling out of work, of slowing the sales of these huge companies that profit off of our labor… and that was where it ended. October 15 came and went, and nothing materialized out of all of the discussion that circulated through social media of the October 15 Mass Strike.
On the other hand, we saw monumental workplace organizational action happening with Nabisco, Kellogs, John Deere, Amazon, and others in the same month. Why did workers in these companies see successful agitation contributing to material improvements in their lives such as higher pay, increased 401k contributions, and established and recognized labor unions while the “October 15 Mass Strike” flopped? To put it simply: a strike is not an individual’s improvised choice to call out of work for a day.
The workers in these companies succeeded because they had organized themselves prior to their strikes. Material support in the form of trade union strike funds, active engagement from employees with supporting strike committees, and agreed upon sets of demands were essential to the success of these striking workers. An unorganized strike is irresponsible and poses the risk of workers losing wages and employment. A strike demands meticulous organization prior to the action itself. Ideological and abstract calls to action without organizational support already in place serve only to demoralize and disillusion the workers, and to cheapen the idea of a mass strike so severely that mass struggle seems unattainable and unimportant.
How is a General Strike successfully organized? Through working class collaboration and a unified front of workers against the possessing class. Organization cannot stop merely at a store level, a regional level, or a district level, but must continue on to the level of the entirety of the class itself. A General Strike is not a venture to be made individually. A General Strike is a conscious, collective action that must be organized and executed by a majority of workers and can only be declared from within the mass organization of the working class.
The urge to do something is not wrong. We must do something now while our collective experience can no longer deny the inequality and exploitation we face as workers in a crumbling capitalist system. The easy choice is to blow off steam through ineffective and individual expressions of a middle finger to our bosses and the wealthy. Calling out of work for a day only to return to a workplace utterly unchanged the day after does nothing for the advancement of the working class. We must not, however, accept the path of least resistance when tens of millions of workers in our country live in poverty. We cannot afford houses. We cannot afford families. We cannot afford healthcare, dental care, or life saving medicine. We cannot afford to simply rest when our work is done because it is never done. We must pursue the harder choice that leads to lasting change: we must organize. A single-day improvised volunteer strike is not enough. We must lay the groundwork of a mass workers organization through forming and maintaining strong labor unions and a strong spirit of camaraderie and solidarity with the working people of the world. We must threaten the status-quo by posing the question: Who holds power? A well organized working class, represented by labor unions and worker’s councils, can call for and execute a successful General Strike that serves as a tool of class struggle to take decisive steps towards controlling the political and economic conditions under which we labor.
A general strike is a moment of revolutionary combat. So, indeed, the task is the organization of the working class. Without that organization the call for general strike is worse than meaningless, it’s a pre-ordained failure
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