Is it Time for a General Strike?

Seattle Worker asked Kait Murphy, chair of the IWW Organizing Department Board, Greater Chicago IWW organizing committee co-chair, and contract administrator for the Dill Pickle Workers Union. 

SW: With May Day coming up, a lot of people are putting out calls for a “general strike.” Is that effective?

Unfortunately, simply making proclamations on the internet does not typically lead to workplace organizing. I reached out to the “October Strike” steering team last year to try and talk strategy, bringing along a few SEIU staffers I happen to know, and we had a call that went absolutely nowhere because folks did not want to hear that workplace organizing is hard, and often slow, work. Their ideas relied primarily on creating an attractive website and social media accounts, posting graphics that would get peoples’ attention, and gaining the endorsements of labor unions. Of course, none of those things actually build worker power, and the last item is pretty much an impossible ask. 

SW: What’s the quickest way to build for a general strike?

I don’t believe that there is a quick, as in, from a few months to a year, method for this. The way that general strikes work is that unions build up a high density in specific industrial sector and face conditions that make a strike authorization vote a no-brainer. I believe that in order for a general strike to happen now, people in the United States need to get wise to the fact that the National Labor Relations Board is in place to stifle battles in the class war such as general strikes, or even regular strikes and single-occurrence direct actions. Folks need to move towards a more Wobbly idea of unionism that emphasizes shop floor relationship-building and militant direct action, and de-emphasizes the legalistic approach and reliance on parties that chase a bottom line (service unions, politicians, and the like). In my view, most unions do not have a financial interest in making militant labor organizing happen among the working class in a general sense, so it will be majorly uphill for any lone actor who sets out with the end goal of “organize a general strike.”

SW: What’s one thing that we can do right now?

I think that folks should engage as fully as they can in the OT101 model of solidarity unionism, focusing on building organizing committees where they work and helping others to do the same. I really believe that the only way we will see widespread labor action in our lifetimes is by forging real relationships with folks, sharing knowledge, and training as many people up as possible to be confident operating outside of the established labor relations status quo.

Does the Law Protect Workers?

Seattle Worker asked Marianne Garneau, the editor of and a member of the IWW Education Department Board. 

What legal protections do workers have from the U.S. Department of Labor? What can they get in trouble from? Does it vary by industry? What if there’s a non-traditional work environment?

The best answers and really the universal advice for organizing are to be found in our very hard-earned training program, which distilled some 20 years of organizing lessons. You map out the workplace. You collect contact information. You have one-on-one conversations. Eventually, you map out an issue and intelligently formulate a campaign around that issue, etc. (I am leaving out the 102 which is about building scalable and sustainable long-term structures for any size workplace.)

Not only do I think the important lessons are to be found there, but I think that getting any more granular with things like a legal context or peculiarities of a profession or employment situation is actually counterproductive. It convinces you that there is something unique about a particular work situation that overrides the general lessons we otherwise know about building worker power. And then you might unintentionally turn around and transmit that to the workers.

I say this as someone who has organized in a multitude of different contexts (for profit, not for profit, regular employees, so-called independent contractors or freelancers, private companies, publicly traded companies, large employers, small employers, private employers, public employers, Canada, the United States, etc.) I’ve organized with the IWW and I’ve organized with mainstream unions. Some of my opinions about organizing have evolved fairly significantly over time. But the more I organize, the more convinced I am that the IWW approach, with its forsaking of labor law and concentration on building direct power in the workplace wielded by workers, is the only thing that is actually effective.

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