The United States may be on the verge of the first general strikes in over 60 years and the first state-wide general strike ever. The state government in Wisconsin has outlawed public unions at all levels, eliminating all forms of collective bargaining for public workers who number 300,000 in the state. The South Central Labor Federation had previously voted to endorse a general strike if the governor signed the bill, which he is expected to do tomorrow (Friday, March 11), if he has not already done so. The law gives the Governor the power to declare a state of emergency and fire all striking public workers, so it practically dares the workers to strike. Already there are reports that local unions have urged their workers to go to Madison and not report for work tomorrow, including a widely publicized call by a fire-fighter’s union president. The Capitol is encircled by fire trucks, their sirens blaring. An emergency meeting of union leaders was called to discuss a general strike. The Teachers Union, however, is urging members to show up for work.
While the Republican-controlled legislature rushed the bill through, the Capitol building in Madison was besieged by tens of thousands of protestors, who forced them way past state troopers to once again occupy the Capitol. Dozens physically blocked the Assembly chamber, but were forcibly removed by state police. I do not know for sure whether protestors are still occupying the Capitol, but that now is secondary to the question of the general strike.
High school students in Madison are organizing a Nationwide Student Walkout for 2 PM tomorrow, one hour before the normal end of the school day.
In the United States general strikes and political strikes of all kinds are illegal, but of course enforcement depends on who wins. The situation if potentially explosive, because the unions, whose membership is now mostly in the public sector, are facing extinction if they fail to fight. A similar bill is about to pass in Ohio and another is being considered in Indiana. In both Wisconsin and Indiana, the bills were delayed for three weeks by Democratic legislators fleeing the state to deny a quorum, but in Wisconsin the Republicans decided to bend the rules to pass the bill anyway. During this time, massive protests have been growing in Madison, including a recent march with more than 100,000 participants.
If a general strike breaks out in Wisconsin, it is quite possible it will spread to other states. The AFL-CIO had called, prior to the Wisconsin bill becoming law, for a national workplace day of action for April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King during a labor struggle.
The union leadership is clearly split with many calling for a general strike and others calling for restraint and battling the laws with referendums (which can overturn them by popular vote) or recall elections of legislators. The rank and file may of course simply walk out, leaving the officials to catch up.
In NJ we are hoping to try to help organize the immigrant workers into the movement. As Luxemburg emphasized the success of a mass strike movement depends on the mobilization of the unorganized majority, and the immigrant workers are the most volatile part of the majority. On May 1, 2006 two million immigrants struck to defend their rights, the largest single strike in US history. If there are emergency support meetings we hope to introduce the idea of offensive demands, including the demand for a massive public works program, which is being raised widely, and for legalization for all.
The small ILN group here in NJ held a class/discussion on the mass strike process Feb.27 in Newark. We hope to post a video of part of this discussion in English and Spanish online soon.