Is this a general strike? and Negotiating communication channels

No, but I’ve heard the question asked. Just because people aren’t going to work doesn’t mean they are on strike.

Occupy attempted to pull of general strikes, and the big Occupy day in Oakland in 2011 did close about 30% of businesses, but it wasn’t really “general” although it was a strike in the sense of an organized withdrawal of labor by the working class, along with a lot of demonstrations of solidarity and actual celebrations, music, free food, street art, lots of very creative stuff and a few broken bank windows. Here’s a friend of ours, Sierra, doing ASL interpretation for speakers.

Criticisms of Occupy mainly were that there was no specific list of demands, the way a labor strike would send forward a set of demands that said, “Here’s what the boss has to do in order for us to go back to work. When you do this we’ll go back to work.” Occupy didn’t do that and the leaders resisted trying to do that. What Occupy really was was a coming-out party for the 99%, the creation of a new collective identity that was a positive identity, something that people could be proud of — in opposition and contrast to the 1%, who are still — 9 years later! an eon in popular culture – referred to with contempt. “He’s a one-percenter,” people will say, dismissing someone. “Trump and his one-percenters friends,” for example.

So Occupy, although it was general, in the sense of national and international, and it sometimes meant people didn’t go to work, was not a strike much less a general strike.

What’s happening now is not a strike because people are losing their jobs, not temporarily withdrawing their labor. Businesses are laying off workers, many are closing, some permanently as their supply chains and customer bases disappear, people are applying for unemployment benefits (and supposedly are getting them). It’s like the difference between falling and flying. In a strike, the workers get power by clamping down and taking back the thing that they possess that makes the wheels of the economy turn: work. In a strike, workers have the power to give and take and they are demonstrating that power by exercising it, in case the employer may have accidentally forgotten. But in this thing, this corona virus pandemic, the value of their work has gone to zero and the job just doesn’t exist any more — they’re falling.

But we are coming up with some demands, interestingly. The Bernie people and the various organizations that have grown up in the last decade and especially since the 2016 election, Our Revolution, the Indivisibles, Move On, and the organization that I’m a part of, Democratic Socialists of America or DSA, to say nothing of Ocasio-Cortez and The Squad and their allies — have a bunch of actual demands, like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All that could fill the void — and in fact are, as people start to blink and sit up and look around, after being knocked down flat on our backs and talk about it. Those are big, national-level demands. Locally, people are asking, “What have we gained that we want to keep? What behaviors and practices are now forbidden or hard to do or collapsing, and we want them to stay that way — and what can take their place? And how will we support the workers who earned a living doing that work, and how can they transition to the new world?”

Now that I can hear the birds singing, what can I do to keep it that way?

Communication channels

Our online book discussion group of about 11-13 people (we’re reading Red States Revolt by Eric Blanc, about the 2018-19 wave of teacher strikes in Republican states) is having intense negotiations about what channel of communication to use. The options are telephone (with voice-to-voice, simultaneous contact, including a voice mail asynchronous feature if someone has cleared out their mailbox or has set it up); WhatsApp group; Whatsapp individual messages; contact group and reply-all function on email; individual emails; regular message/Chat functions…. and all of this is in order to set up and hold ZOOM meetings, which might in turn be recorded and then…emailed? Shared somehow? And I think there’s a Facebook page out there. And also a googlegroup with google drives and google sheets.

The use of these varies by age, generation, and tech skill. The intensity of the negotiation, in which everyone is trying to be polite and not mention the age of some participants or the stupidity of some of the tools, is rich.

Last night a glitch in entering a family ZOOM meeting led to an alternative proposed by some of the younger participants, to instead join a game called Houseparty which required me to get my phone, find my AppleID, put on my glasses, download a new app and install it (signing in, using password, allowing the use of all my contacts — or not – for the software — I could see it happening –etc) in order to play a really fun game in which you guessed what city the Brooklyn Bridge is in and imitated a hawk in a kind of charade. The fun was that there were lots of faces on the screen and everyone was being silly.

And then this morning our son called me to tell me that a photo I had posted on Facebook showing what it is like to sit in the front yard to eat breakfast in the sun also seemed to show that our car was parked in a way that hovered in the air and defied physics. Correcting this took 2 phone calls and re-sending a picture that clarified what was goign on.

My point being here about the negotiations going on over channels of communication. This is NOTHING compared to trying to establish homeschooling nationally on line.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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