General Strike Toolkit

What is a General Strike? Read our Call here.

We shouldn’t have to pay for the cost of living our lives. The world is facing the largest economic down-turn since the Great Depression. Those deemed “inessential” are reduced to a precarious dependency on those who govern them. For the “essential” workers still on the job, every shift is another health risk taken to stay afloat: afraid to go to work, scared to lose one’s job. 

THIS TOOLKIT is a step-by-step guide with links to organizational tools and online resources to help you build collective power within your communities and leverage it against those who exploit your dependency on the economy. Its goal is to empower you with a practical understanding of your situation so that you can overcome the obstacles you face at work or out of work.

And of course, we’re happy to walk you through it. Just call the hotline. Not feeling verbal? Share your work experiences, difficulties, and testimony using one of the questionnaires below:

First steps toward self-organization…

For Workers

Are you in a union? (If not, skip to 2) Much of what is listed below applies to non-unionized workers since unions entail additional limits to the self-organization of rank and file workers. 

  1. Many unions are either unwilling to stand up for their workers, water down rank and file demands until they’re palatable to management, or even side with management when real conflicts arise.
  2. The disorientation of our times and the legitimacy of the rank and file in “essential” work has created unique opportunities for pushing unions from within to unlikely places (like a call for a general strike) or for leaping ahead of them by organizing outside of their structures.

Talk to who you trust about what matters to them. You probably know who you can talk to at work without gossip making its way to management. You’ve probably already begun. 

  1. If there’s something that makes you afraid or upset at work, you’re almost never alone: someone else feels the same way you do, but they may be afraid to be the first to speak up. Start the conversation, keep it going, and make it grow. Bonds of personal trust and care are the foundation of all that follows.  

Stay out of management’s earshot. You’ll have a much harder time organizing your workplace if you don’t work there. Expand the conversation. Shifts, cliques, positions, along with race and gender all make it harder to form solidarities at work.

  1. However, the coronavirus has created a problem that cuts across all of the usual schisms, which means that those who take initiative will find that they already have the numbers they need. Encourage co-workers to expand the conversation at the edges of these divisions. Who hasn’t been reached? The more differences you can include, the fewer will be left for management to exploit. 

Circulate an innocuous petition. For larger work-forces, it can help to get a temperature check by circulating a petition that simply asks management to support the health of workers in vague and innocuous terms. Or you can ask for small things, like hand sanitizer stations near work spaces and entrances.

  1. However, the real value of the petition is to generate a contact list of concerned co-workers quickly so that conversations can happen on a larger scale away from the workplace. 

Start a Job Journal. From IWW: “[Note] positive and negative comments from supervisors and managers. Keep notes from meetings, schedule changes, etc. Make sure you note when, where, why, etc. Save company memos and pay stubs, ANYTHING that you think will help your case if you must use a government agency to fight the boss.”

Download a Signal or Telegram app, and join the  U.S. Rent Strike / General Strike Telegram Thread for updates.

  1. Set up your own group texting thread to arrange your first meeting. If people don’t feel comfortable sharing space, you can opt for online video chat with Zoom or Jitsi or plan to meet somewhere with adequate room for physical distancing.

Host a meet and greet. Act as a host a facilitate the conversation for people to get to know each other.

  1. Get a baseline of the various communication styles and observe people’s fears and triggers.
  2. Introduce yourself and open the floor for others to do the same.
  3. Set a time limit for the meeting and arrange to meet again very soon to keep working.
  4. Your one goal here is to brainstorm goals and outcomes while keeping things positive.
  5. Try to get as many voices to contribute as possible by practicing “Step up/step back.” 

Form an organizing committee. Not everyone will have the same enthusiasm or ability to organize. Talk among those who show the most initiative about forming a group to keep a list of tasks and an agreed-upon way of distributing them.

  1. Make sure that each task agreed upon at a meeting has someone to “bottom-line” it. No one should have too much on their plate and make sure that everyone knows that it’s okay to ask for help.
  2. Ensure that people on the committee are in constant communication with other co-workers about the problems that matter to them.

Encourage friends, family, or your supporters to form a support committee. There are many things people can do to support your and your fellow workers.

  1. Organize a strike fund. Organizing your workplace can be as risky as it is essential. Start a crowd-funded safety-net for you and your co-workers.
  2. Get your community to picket your workplace to help you shut it down from the outside. You may fear getting fired for walking off or going on strike without an official union to back you up, but that doesn’t mean that you have no leverage over your employer.
  3. Start a media campaign. A support committee can do banner drops, flyer, start a social media campaign, and circulate petitions to widen your base of support.
  4. A rent strike committee is virtually or a prisoner support committee is virtually already a labor support committee. Reach out to people on rent strike, people who can’t pay their bills, people who have loved ones in jail, prison, or a detention center.

Determine a goal and plan an action. This can range widely. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Initiate a union drive.
  2. Organize a strike. These vary from the low-key sick-out strike to the more escalatory walk-off strikes, sit-down strikes, and pickets that actually block bodily and vehicular access to the workplace
  3. Caravan demonstrations are being used to connect with those locked up and vulnerable to COVID-19 inside of carceral spaces, to interrupt the press conferences of politicians, and to form blockades to support Amazon workers walking off the job. Ask friends, family, and supporters to plan a caravan action to boost your immunity to boss retaliation. Write up a press release and invite the media, however, keep it off social media if possible to avoid unnecessary police presence.  
  4. Take over your workplace and turn it into a communal mutual aid hub. 
  5. Organize a workers’ pay day by distributing the cash fruits of labor directly to workers
  6. Organize a no-pay day with people you know outside of your workplace by giving the company’s goods and services directly to your community. This could involve grocery cashiers letting customers bag food without charge (to avoid handling COVID-19 contaminated cash) or it could involve bus operators letting riders enter the back without pay to allow for maximum social distancing. 

Engage your outside. No matter what you decide to do, encourage everyone to reach out to their networks to enlist supporters to help.

  1. Flyer your neighborhood to ask if others are in your situation. Perhaps it makes sense to form a neighborhood workers’ council that includes workers from across multiple workplaces and trades.
  2. Start your own local telegram channel or start your own hotline using Google Voice or Dialpad.
  3. Connect with mutual aid networks and rent strikers.
  4. We know that any serious strike will pit us against the police, so reach out now to collaborate with prison abolition groups who have extensive experience in fighting police repression to build solidarity.
  5. Small gestures can go a long way. Sew masks for front-line workers. Share your stimulus check with undocumented families who do not qualify for aid under the CARES Act. Contribute to solidarity funds for hard hit industries. Check on your neighbors.

A note on digital meetings: Digital meetings present a new form of speaking to each other.

  1. Create a few guidelines to prevent people from interrupting each other.
  2. As a facilitator, ask people to mute their microphones when they are not speaking, and explore the additional functions like ‘hand raising’.
  3. After doing this a few times, you will witness a different pace in how people typically communicate — a conscientious slowing down. Jitsi and Zoom are popular apps.
  4. If you must use Zoom, however, please review the security issues with Zoom and Harden Your Zoom Settings to Protect Your Privacy and Avoid Trolls.

A note on organizing in these times: Fear is a strong emotion. It cripples us into thinking we don’t have the answers. It stops us from acting collectively because we don’t make ourselves vulnerable to the moment and each other long enough to move past it. Collectivity and community can bring us power in a moment when we feel most alone. Being open and patient in these times is what will bring us together and build the networks of support we need for the long road ahead. Take a deep breath, and keep going.Scroll below for external links and resources.

For the Unemployed

Reconnect by maximizing the number of connections between where you live and where you used to work.

  1. Are you in need of help with any basic necessities, including keeping your housing? Are there any mutual aid networks or tenants unions near you? 
    1. People are already getting organized through mutual aid networks, autonomous tenants unions, and rent strike committees to defend their homes and access resources while building a new world through new connections to other people.
    2. Check in on your former co-workers and see if you share a common need that can be met together.
    3. Whether you envision yourself having left your old job for good or awaiting a return to “normal,” building power now can provide immediate benefits and potentially allow you to hit the ground running when you return to work and need to organize for the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Form a network and talk openly about your needs. 

  1. Suggestion: Have you talked to your former co-workers to see how they’re doing? People who used to go to your gym, the people you’d hang out with on the corner, see at the café or bar? Are there family members or people at your place of worship you can reach out to?

Download a Signal or Telegram app, and start a group chat to organize yourselves.

  1. Are you on group chats or threads where people are talking to each other about what they need and pooling resources/info?

Brainstorm projects and actions that can solve the problems of social isolation and the dangers of poverty together.

  1. FOOD: Have you considered starting a Free Grocery Hub? 
    1. There’s currently an abundance of fresh fruit and veggies in the U.S. and no one to pay for it, so farmers and distributors are literally throwing thousands of tons of food away. 
      1. Come up with a name for your group and reach out to nearby farmers, local distribution warehouses, and grocery stores to ask if they do food donations. 
      2. In some cases, you will be asked if you’re a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, but usually this is just a formality and rarely if ever do people look you up. 
      3. However, if this is a project you would like to commit yourself to in the long-term, consider starting the process of founding a not-for-profit or a Food Not Bombs group.
    2. Do you know anyone with skills in gardening or farming? Maybe you can start a community garden with donated unused lawn-space or in empty plots of land in your area.   
      1. You could start a petition to seek out land gifts from local governments that may otherwise go to private use. 
      2. Or, form a gardener’s cooperative with the aim of establishing a land-trust to collectivize the use of land for growing food. 
  2. SHELTER: Have you considered forming a housing defense committee? These have taken many forms
    1. Tenants’ unions address the needs of renters and tend to organize tenants who share a single landlord. They can thus range from a single building organizing collectively against an individual building owner to thousands of tenants living in buildings owned by a massive real-estate corporation/developer. 
    2. Tenants’ organizations often organize on the basis of neighborhoods or entire towns/cities. 
    3. Unemployed Councils (popular during the Great Depression) organize the unemployed and the working poor, who are sometimes called “under-employed” since their wages or hours are not enough to make a living. 
      1. These councils do many of the same things that tenant’s unions and organizations do, but they have historically also had political goals of changing policy through mass demonstrations and building solidarity across divisions amongst the poor. 
      2. Sometimes, these take the more limited form of industry-specific Workers’ Councils. In NYC, The Restaurant Workers’ Council/Consejo de los Trabajadores de Restaurantes formed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and to begin organizing workers in the food service sector to unionize.
  3. OTHER: What other ways of sourcing food and defending homes can you think of?
    1. Small gestures can go a long way. Sew masks for front-line workers. Share your stimulus check with undocumented families who do not qualify for aid under the CARES Act. Contribute to solidarity funds for hard hit industries. Check on your neighbors.

Host a meet and greet. Group threads can be exhausting and sometimes things happen more quickly “live.” Set up an online video chat with Zoom or Jitsi or plan to meet somewhere with adequate room for physical distancing.

  1. Act as a host and facilitate the conversation for people to get to know each other. Get a baseline of the various communication styles and observe people’s fears and triggers.
  2. Introduce yourself and open the floor for others to do the same.
  3. Set a time limit for the meeting and arrange to meet again very soon to keep working.
  4. Your one goal here is to brainstorm goals and outcomes while keeping things positive.
  5. Try to get as many voices to contribute as possible by practicing “Step up/step back.”

Keep going! Don’t stop at the limits of your network!   

  1. Once you’re connected to others and you’re getting organized, consider actions that can help publicize what you’re doing so as to set an example to others and help spread empowering solutions.
    1. Caravan demonstrations are being used to connect with those locked up and vulnerable to COVID-19 inside of carceral spaces, to interrupt the press conferences of politicians, and to form blockades to support Amazon workers walking off the job.
      1. Pick a target, whether it’s a wealthy developer threatening to evict tenants, a city hall, food banks with lines out the door, or a workplace where people are striking.
      2. Write up a press release and invite the media, however, keep it off social media if possible to avoid unnecessary police presence.
    2. Offer to help workers you know take over their workplace and turn it into a communal mutual aid hub. 
    3. Build relations with workers in corporate grocery stores and transit services and organize a no-pay day in which workers help redistribute the company’s products to the community.
      1. This could involve grocery cashiers letting Unemployed Council members bag food without charge (to avoid handling COVID-19 contaminated cash) or it could involve bus operators letting riders enter the back without pay to allow for maximum social distancing.  

Engage your outside. No matter what you decide to do, encourage everyone to reach out to their networks to enlist supporters to help. 

  1. Flyer your neighborhood to ask if others are in your situation. 
  2. If you’re ambitious, you can start your own local Telegram channel or your own local hotline using Google Voice or Dialpad
  3. Lastly, we don’t know where things are going. Movements that have refused the status quo have historically come into conflict with the forces tasked with its preservation. Prisoner support groups like the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and abolitionist groups have networks, experience, and resources for supporting people who have been locked up for going against the interests of the rich and the powerful.

A note on digital meetings: Digital meetings present a new form of speaking to each other. 

  1. Create a few guidelines to prevent people from interrupting each other.
  2. As a facilitator, ask people to mute their microphones when they are not speaking, and explore the additional functions like ‘hand raising’.
  3. After doing this a few times, you will witness a different pace in how people typically communicate — a conscientious slowing down. 
  4. Jitsi and Zoom are popular apps. If you must use Zoom, however, please review the security issues with Zoom and Harden Your Zoom Settings to Protect Your Privacy and Avoid Trolls.

A note on organizing in these times: Fear is a strong emotion. It cripples us into thinking we don’t have the answers. It stops us from acting collectively because we don’t make ourselves vulnerable to the moment and each other long enough to move past it. Collectivity and community can bring us power in a moment when we feel most alone. Being open and patient in these times is what will bring us together and build the networks of support we need for the long road ahead. Take a deep breath, and keep going.Scroll below for external links and resources.

The CARES Act

Finally, if you are not undocumented, you maybe eligible for support and protection from the recently passed CARES Act. This may not only help you to stay afloat, but may enable you to undertake strike actions during the COVID-19 pandemic that you wouldn’t otherwise. It provides for paid sick and family leave to most workers (including many state employees), expanded Unemployment Insurance benefits (including for those who quit their jobs due to COVID-19 safety concerns), and support for gig workers and freelancers. Again, undocumented workers are currently excluded from its coverage, despite being essential persons. Visit Labor Notes’ helpful FAQ for a complete run-down of the CARES Act’s provisions for workers and the unemployed.