What is a General Strike?
STRIKE means ATTACK. And taking our labor capacity away from those who profit from it – by way of walk-offs, sick-outs, and picket-lines – is just one strike tactic among many. We must include those whose work is essential to our immediate survival, along with the potential of everyone deemed “inessential” to strike against those who hold power over our lives. Workplace occupations and take-overs, rent-strikes, and auto-reductions – all must be included alongside work-refusals.
Whatever the means employed, a general strike shuts down the economy and invents a new way of meeting our needs together as a society. It does not primarily aim to stop all goods from flowing and all essential services from being undertaken – its purpose is not to prevent ourselves from meeting our needs. Just the opposite: a general strike stops the economy’s subordination of our needs to profit. It is a strike wave that has spread so far that money is no longer the dominant medium of our connections to each other. Thus it breaks apart all of the ways we are coerced into unhappy lives by our need for money.
A strike may be called general when we no longer have to be able to pay to be healed or fed and when we no longer heal and feed others for money. A general strike becomes a revolution when its interruption of the economy’s hold on our activity is made irreversible.
The Wave has Begun
We heed and echo the call for a general strike. Yet a general strike does not happen all at once in response to a singular call. It starts little by little. A walk-off here, a sick-out there. As news of each small action ripples out and circulates, workers everywhere clock-in with a different sense of their power. A strike by sanitation workers in Pittsburgh is answered by wildcat Teamsters in Memphis. Walk-offs at Amazon warehouses spread to those controlled by Wal-mart. Each ripple echoes and amplifies the one preceding it until the strikes seem to be coming from everywhere and forms a strike wave.
A decisive moment comes: workers begin to think about their position in the economy strategically. National conference calls that were confined to transit workers yesterday now host logistics workers readying to strike again at Amazon. No longer organized by trade or sector, workers flex a newfound strategic intelligence about how attack across them all for maximum impact. The wave begins to flow across the entirety of the economy. Workers begin shutting down everything unnecessary to the immediate needs of workers and their families.
And soon enough, another threshold is crossed: the things that none of us can do without – food, electricity, communications – are taken over by workers with the aid of their allies. We stop begging the government for relief and start giving it to our communities. What is money compared to free bread, water, energy? We occupy and defend facilities, reroute goods to mutual aid hubs, and invent new forms of organization to problem-solve on the fly.
As a point-person on comms for your neighborhood’s mutual aid hub, you’re awoken one morning by a call. It’s a council of ex-restaurant workers. You say you never heard of them. The voice on the other end tells you that’s because they formed last night after word spread about the water treatment workers. “What about them?,” you ask. “Didn’t you hear? They’re occupying the city’s treatment plants. We wanna organize their kitchens.” Your blown-mind struggles to get through some vetting questions before hanging up and texting them the link to the food request form for strikers. Finally, you sink your head back down into your pillow. As your body drifts back asleep, an uncanny memory floats across your mind: it was only three weeks ago that you were bagging groceries in your home-made mask, still being hounded by merciless debt collectors on your defaulted student loans.
Just as our COVID-19 world seemed to appear overnight, a general strike is a whirlwind that outpaces any one of us. What appeared as the necessary order of the world will suddenly be up for grabs as things that seemed impossible yesterday will spread faster than the virus that brought us to this point. You don’t need anyone’s permission to get organized and it’s pointless to listen to those telling us to wait patiently for good change to come. All you need is a goal and the means to get there. We’re here for the new world. Are you?