Most Americans are probably unfamiliar with the union known as the Industrial Workers of the World (also called the Wobblies). However, the Wobblies have been around since 1905 and, although the IWW has declined significantly since its 100,000-member peak in 1923, it has been getting some notoriety of late trying to unionize Starbucks and Jimmie John’s.
As a union, the IWW is a well-known union known for its class-based radicalism. In fact, the Preamble to the IWW’s Constitution pretty much sums up just how radical the IWW is:
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.
Historically, the IWW has always supported the concept of the general strike—all workers uniting to shut down commerce. In 1919, the IWW and other Leftists were successful in holding Seattle hostage to a general strike. Since then, while there have been industry-wide strikes in the U.S.—the 1959 Great Steel Strike and various UAW strikes in the auto industry as examples—there have not been general strikes across all industries.
Now, however, the IWW is using the Battle of Wisconsin as a rallying cry for a general strike:
Walker still won’t budge from his position on this issue. It will take something bigger from the unions, and from the working-class as a whole: a general strike.A general strike will show Walker that millions of people are willing to fight his agenda
A General Strike: The Ultimate Tool of Change
If enough of us act together, we’ll see some serious changes, and quick. That’s the “general” part of a general strike. We’re all divided up by race, religion, gender, and political affiliation. In a general strike, people come together in large numbers across those divisions and unite around our struggles as workers. If enough of us stand together and stop work, Walker’s bill will be defeated – even if it passes! If enough of us are united, WE can decide the outcome.
Who should participate and how
A general strike against Walker would begin the process of rebuilding a strong labor movement in the United States. Since the U.S. plays such an important role in the global economy and world political system, this could also invigorate workers’ struggles around the planet. To make it happen will require participation from many people across industries, across unions, and across the country.
The South Central Federation of Labor, a federation of over 97 labor organizations representing 45,000 workers, has endorsed to educate and prepare for a general strike. If your local is part of a different federation or district council, contact their Executive Board and your members and start your preparations for a strike immediately.
What exactly is a general strike? A general strike is a strike involving workers across multiple trades or industries that involves enough workers to cause serious economic disruption.
In essence, a general strike is the complete and total shutdown of the economy. A general strike can last for a day, a week, or longer depending on the severity of the crisis, the resolve of the strikers, and the extent of public solidarity. During the strike, large numbers of workers in many industries (excluding employees of crucial services, such as emergency/medical) will stop working and no money or labor is exchanged. All decisions regarding the length of the strike, the groups of workers who continue working, and demands of the strikers are decided by a strike committee.
Although protests in Wisconsin seem to be growing stale, the drama continues unabated. After last week’s call for a general strike by the South Central Federation of Labor if Walker’s plan passes, it will be interesting to see whether or not the unions will make a run at it. More interesting, however, will be the public’s reaction.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776