Fall approaches, and like clockwork whispers begin to circle round tick-tock that someone is planning a general strike. The details can be found here.
The question is, can a general strike really work in this historical moment?
Currently the media has been spinning the narrative of the past year into one whose primary actants will ultimately be gain of function research on the one hand, and mob reactions to vaccine passports on the other. This should not cause a serious observers to forget that in the moment, the spontaneous reaction of the world to the Covid-19 complex was the strike.
2020 was the highest watermark for strike actions in generations. If it will not be called the year of the pandemic, then it must be called the year of the strikes. Staring down the realities of Covid-19, realities which elites initially refused to address as more than a crisis to be mined for profit and policy pushing, workers across the world went on strike to save their lives, their families and the wider economy.
The strikes at Amazon, the record setting general strike in India, the wildcat strikes at Chrysler, longshoreman shutting down ports from Montreal to Marseille, rental strikes, prison strikes, academic and healthcare strikes; 2020 proved that the strike was only resting, and is still the go to tool for the people’s defense in times of crises. But the strike must be made into an offensive weapon if it is going to become one of the driving phenomenon of the history of the 21st century. It must become general, global and planned.
As of today, the whispered general strike is still some 80 days out. This is simply not enough time to organize an effective general strike through the unions. However, 80 days is still plenty of time to make the strike into a planned one, and what the left needs to lean in 2021 more than anything, more than how to organize, is how to plan.
So far, the so called plan of the October strike consists of six objectives, and two methods.
- A 25% corporate tax rate
- Free Healthcare for all
- 12 weeks paid paternity and maternity leave
- A $20 minimum wage
- A 4 day work week
- Stricter Environmental Regulations on Corporations
- Abstain from going in to work starting October 15th
- Do not participate in economic activity starting October 15th
This is a plan to lose. And it will lose even within the remarkable advantages that historical conditions of 2021 lend to the use of these two methods. The problem is in the demands. Its is not that any one of these would be impossible to. Nor is it that they lack broad appeal. It is that there are far too many.
Just when it seems closest to grasping the historical moment, the left always seems to fail in its memory. Yes, global capitalism is uniquely vulnerable to work and consumption stoppages at this time, but that does not mean we can forget the past. The after its crises at the beginning of the last century, Labour was put on its back, and there it still lays with Capital’s boot on its windpipe. 2020 has proved the latter’s position to be utterly hubristic, but labour must still draw its breath before it resumes the fight. It need only to draw its breath. It must draw one breath.
Meanwhile, some supposedly on the left would direct it to win the whole battle with a knock out blow, simultaneous to its battle to win back the oxygen to its brain.
The attitude which is betrayed in seeking to force through all these initiatives at once is a lack of committal to the cause, an over eagerness paired with lack of belief. It is prematurely ejaculatory. Those directors, supposedly on the left, justify their lack of a stance by saying they need vagary and multitasking in order to draw enough people to make the action general. This is only half the story. A cacophony of demands is beneficial to the them precisely because it brings in a wide audience and it guarantees a murky, pyrrhic victory at the absolute best. In other words attentions are grabbed and no requirement to deliver on promises is seriously expected.
The strike on October 15th , or the successful strike that follows it, must be reduced to a single demand.
But again, why?
Because attentions spans have been eroded to near waste in the age of 7 minute reads and 3 minute videos. Confidence in any revolutionary action has been eroded beyond that.
The historical purpose of the October 15th General strike, if it has one, will be to demonstrate with absolute clarity that something, anything can be accomplished. It will be to take the first willful step on that path out of Capitalist Realism, out of the end of history, which Covid-19 has placed us on so unwillingly.
To succeed, it must be crystal clear to everyone by November what the results of the general strike have been. If this is not possible then there will be no confidence in the next action, and this is not possible with a wide sweeping and ill defined set of demands.
There must be a signal in the stock market as rapid and as clear as occurred at the start of the pandemic, and the signal must invariably read “Because we haven’t implemented X reform”. Over the first two weeks of the crash in February, the market lost some 13% of its value. If a few of the most critical unions can bring their industries to a halt, along with a significant drop in total consumption, it is possible similar signals can be achieved, making governments act accordingly. A few weeks of this is all that is all that is needed.
In his book Planning Armageddon, Historian of the US Naval academy, Nicholas A. Lambert proved that in preparing for a war with Germany in the 1910s the British had developed a plan for Economic warfare which was distinct material warfare. The British had planned to use their dominant position in the global economy to exploit inherent weaknesses in then novel parts of the German economy, just-in time-shipping, derivatives-trading, global trade, you get the point. The Brits believed, and rightly so, that placing purely economic pressure on Germany could cause an economic collapse and a short war, thus avoiding either a lengthy material blockade or the commitment of troops to the continent. This strategy was employed by the British at the start of the war to great effect, but was limited within days and halted all together after only two weeks because the damage the policy was doing to the world economy hurt British industrialists and financiers, who bent the government’s arm. The point is that the global economy is an existential threat to the entire ruling class and that with enough determined pressure, it can be turned against them.
A strike which takes up the strategy of economic and not material class warfare can succeed, and succeed quickly. The advent of direct stimulus payments last year is clear prof that governments are willing to implement singular and novel solutions to singular and novel crises.
So can the left transform this unprecedented wave of organic labor action into a singular crises? Yes, but will it? I take solace in the fact that no matter what, the people will be out on the streets this fall. My worry, is to where that energy will be directed if the left cannot put its house in order by then.