Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Labor Standing With (A Safe Distance From) Occupy Oakland

Labor continues to assert that it is standing with the Occupy movement. They have even thrown their support behind the November 2 General Strike, sort of. The Alameda Labor Council and the California Labor Federation are encouraging members to participate in noon-time work site actions and a 5 pm mobilization, according to the UFO-CIA Blog. Additionally, the Peralta teachers union and the ILWU have publicly stated they won't call for a strike on November 2, according to the Atlantic Wire.

In other words: no General Strike, no work stoppage, and no risk.

Many workers are entitled to duty-free lunches and can picket, march, meet, or rally during their lunches without risk of retaliatory actions. Workers whose day officially ends at 5:00 should likewise be able to participate without reprisals, theoretically.

However, none of this makes a General Strike, which requires the majority of businesses to be shut down completely, and can only happen if the majority of workers refuse to do any work at all.

So Why So Much Theoretical Solidarity, And So Little Actual Solidarity?
It is illegal for unions to join in solidarity strikes under the Taft-Hartley Act, which was enacted after America's last great General Strike, which occurred coincidentally in Oakland, in 1946. Officially supporting the General Strike could result in millions of dollars in fines and legal expenses to the unions. 

However, even before Taft-Hartley, trade unions were serving as Capital’s occupation police, helping the bosses to keep the rabble in line by resisting, weakening and limiting strikes and job actions and through compromises with the bosses that water down contract protections, benefits and pay. Leaders of the big unions typically earn six-figure salaries, but only so long as they and their members remain subservient to the bosses. It is a relationship that keeps the workers working and earning, even if at a perpetually declining rate. As long as the workers are working, and especially if they are doing it more efficiently and productivity is increasing, the corporate bosses are happy and will reaffirm their compact with the labor bosses.

General Strikes place this relationship at risk. General Strikes have the potential to radicalize workers. Historically, General Strikes have empowered and emboldened workers to increase their demands. When workers recognize their power through a General Strike, especially one opposed or unsupported by their union leadership, they may move toward dumping the union bosses off their backs.

What remains to be seen is whether workers will ignore their wimpy union leaders and engage in a wildcat General Strike or, if they do not, how this will affect the Occupy Movement. By calling for a General Strike, the movement hoped to send a strong message to the police and the ruling elite that they are powerful. They are, after all, the 99% and, therefore, the larger army—much, much larger army.

If the 99% wanted to, they could shut down the entire capitalist system, dismantle the class relations that exist, redistribute the wealth, and create a new system free of wages, bosses, landlords, capital accumulation, speculation, and elite power.

By threatening a General Strike, they laid their cards on the table: "This is who we are and what we are capable of doing." However, if a General Strike does not occur or is not effective, they send the message that they are disorganized, weak and do not really have the support of the 99%, at least not in action. Without the actions to back up the demands (or non-demands), the ruling elite, the 1%, the politicians, bosses and police, will likely  continue to ignore, ridicule, arrest and/or dismantle the Occupation encampments.

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