What is #M1GS?
Worldwide, May 1st is traditionally a ‘Workers’ day – a day of Labor Solidarity, and a public holiday. It’s a day to celebrate and march in support of im/migrant rights. In protest against the corruption of the worldwide marketplace, which has led to illegal foreclosures, mass unemployment, low wages, high taxes and a penalization of all those who do not own the ‘99%’ of the world’s resources, and in solidarity with the im/migrant movements of May 1st, we decided to declare May 1st, 2012 a People’s General Strike. Instead of calling upon unionized Labor to make a specific demand (illegal under Taft-Hartley), we are calling upon the people of the world to take this day away from school and the workplace, so that their absence makes their displeasure with this corrupt system be known.
Most Occupy May Day advocates understand that a conventional general strike is not in the cards. What they are advocating instead is a day in which members of the “99%” take whatever actions they can to withdraw from participation in the normal workings of the economic system -- by not working if that is an option, but also by not shopping, not banking, and not engaging in other “normal” everyday activities, and by joining demonstrations, marches, disruptions, occupations, and other mass actions.
This is the pattern that was followed by the Oakland General Strike last November. Those who wanted to and could – a small minority – didn’t go to work. There was mass participation in rallies, marches, educational, and artistic events and a free lunch for all. At the end of the day a march, combined with some walkouts, closed the Port of Oakland. The mostly peaceful “general strike,” in contrast to later violent Oakland confrontations, won wide participation and support.
“It won’t happen,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and one of the first labor leaders to embrace the Occupy movement. “They are not working with the unions in a serious way yet; nor are the unions working with them in a serious way. And it is the wrong strategy.”
“I think the concept is a great one but the reality is very tough,” said Arthur Cheliotes, the President of Local 1180, Communications Workers of America and a stalwart of the New York left.
The United States hasn’t seen a general strike — generally thought of as a moment when workers in a region or metropolitan area, across industries, walk off the job in class solidarity — since 1946, when an estimated 130,000 workers stopped working in Oakland. Other countries with different laws for organized labor – France is a famous example – experience general strikes more frequently, and theirs can be crippling to large public systems like transportation.
Here, however, the 1947 Taft-Hartley act, which sets the conditions between labor and management, protected some labor actions but outlawed general strikes, and make national Occupy calls for a May 1 general strike a very heavy lift.
“We’re public sector workers—we take a day off for a general strike and we’re fined two days’ pay,” said Cheliotes. “I don’t think my members are inclined to engage in that process.”
Even Transit Workers Union Local 100, the New York City subway union with a tradition of being one of the most radical mainstream unions in the country, won’t take a side.
“I don’t think we’d take a position on that,” said Cheska Tolentino, a TWU Local 100 organizer in New York, whose union is still paying the price for a 2005 strike courts ruled illegal.