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Jeremy Brecher and Occupy: Towards a 21st Century General Strike

Resistance Is Fertile imageThree weeks ago at our Coordinating Committee meeting, we had yet another brief discussion of the dynamics of our situation: putting out the call for observance of International Workers’ Day, in whichever way the working people of Denver see fit and will manage. That same day, Jeremy Brecher, who has done a lot of writing on labor and social movements over the years, published “Occupy May Day: Not Your Usual General Strike” based on his talk addressed to Occupy University, Zuccotti Park, in which he delves into the back-story and brings us up to date.

Looking at periods of mass strike (not necessarily general strike) from 1877 through 1970, he writes

Such periods of mass strike present what Rosa Luxemburg called “A perpetually moving and changing sea of phenomena.” Each is unique in its events and its unfolding. But they are all marked by an expanding challenge to established authority, a widening solidarity among different groups of working people, and a growing assertion by workers of control over their own activity.

In periods of mass strike working people become increasingly aware of themselves as a group with a common situation, common problems, and common opponents. They organize themselves in a great variety of ways. They become aware of their capacity to act collectively. They become aware of their potential power. And they opt to act collectively.

Curiously, after that Coordinating Committee meeting, Andrea and I (David H) had dinner with Ric Urrutia, who unwittingly echoed Brecher. Ric explained why the Central Americans that Andrea had worked with at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles had always been “on board” in terms of active grassroots participation in their local union, in contrast with non-immigrant workers who viewed the union as a sort of utility, with a bill (dues) that came once a month, but not a collective. Ric, who often visited El Salvador, which he had left as a young boy, said that people involved in the lead-up to the civil war of the 1980s were genuinely politicized, engaged in their world. Those Salvadorans who came to the U.S. wouldn’t have set that participatory approach aside; to be involved in one’s union was only natural. And, after all, as members of a union, they expected “to act collectively.”

Continuing, Brecher spoke to a point that Ric raised in the February 25 consulta that our Committee held, i.e., how the calling for a general strike doesn’t cause it to occur. And Brecher essentially summarizes the approach we were taking in our Committee early on when we discussed “what victory would look like” on May 2, 2012.

However much it may chagrin organizers and radicals, it is not possible to call or instigate a mass strike. It is something that must gestate in workplaces and communities (now including virtual communities). But it is possible to nurture and influence the emergence of mass strikes through discussion and above all through exemplary action. Provoking discussion and showing the possibilities of collective action is what Occupy Wall Street has done so well. That is what its May Day action can potentially do.

Brecher then outlines particular possibilities, calling May Day a “teachable moment.” He discusses the dynamic between Occupy and traditional unions, especially in the context of calls for a general strike. He concludes by recalling the millennia during which May Day was a celebration of nature—a nature on the precipice in 2012.

Definitely worth reading. Read the entire article here.

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