One hundred coordinated work stoppages are expected to take place across the United States on Friday, Feb. 17. The strikes, planned through a loose federation of labor groups and individual activists organized under the banner Strike4Democracy, are the latest salvo of grassroots activism opposing President Trump’s agenda.
According to a press release provided to The Indypendent, the Strike4Democracy’s immediate demands are as follows:
● STOP the authoritarian assault on our fundamental, constitutional rights, the very principles that have truly made America great;
● STOP attacking and victimizing women, Muslims, immigrants, racial and ethnic groups, the LGBTQ+ community, working families, journalists, and all who offer criticisms of the Administration’s policies, including the U.S. judicial branch;
● REALIZE that America’s true strength lies in the values of inclusively not exclusivity.
The strikes will come on the heels of the Women’s March, countywide protests at airports against Trump’s travel ban, a mass civil disobedience against deportations in Arizona, a Yemini bodega strike in New York City, and two “Day Without Latinos” protests in Wisconsin.
The Strike4Democracy walkouts are part of a push to go beyond demonstrations and confront the Trump administration along economic lines. Organizers hope the strikes on Friday will encourage more job actions, particularly on International Women’s Day, March 8, when a national women’s strike is slated to take place.
“Everyone is searching for various ways, for the widest range of ways to resist,” novelist Francine Prose told The Indypendent. Prose penned an op-ed on January 30 in the U.K. Guardian, calling for a national general strike, “a day,” she wrote, “on which we truly make our economic and political power felt, a day when we make it clear: how many of us there are, how strong and committed we are, how much we can accomplish.”
Organizers of Friday’s walkouts, as well as those behind the Women’s Day protests, have each labeled their days of action a general strike, a term that has been met with some resistance for lacking realism.
“Calling for a general strike now bears no relation to what mass strikes have meant in the past,” Alex Gourevitch, an assistant professor in political science at Brown University, wrote on Feb. 3 for the blog Current Moment. “The flight from reality shows up in activists’ blasé attitude to history and their very distant relationship to the working class.”
There has never been a nationwide general strike or a gender-wide strike, for that matter, in the United States. With just 11 percent of the U.S. workforce unionized, down from 20 percent a quarter century ago, calls for a general strike today are more aspirational than practical but organizers of the upcoming strike wave are banking that praxis will catch up to aspiration. They have reason to be hopeful. Two hundred thousand attendees were expected at the Women’s March in Washington, more than twice that number arrived. Turnout for the march exceeded expectations around the country, as well.
“We’re starting to see new forms of struggle emerging and new ways of conceiving of these struggles,” Kate Doyle Griffiths, an organizer for the Women’s Strike and an adjunct at CUNY’s Hunter and Marymount Colleges, told The Indy. “I hope that people who are organizing in their workplaces will take this call as a time to do a shop floor action, to walk out of work, to help build their networks in their workplaces.” People who aren’t already engaged in workplace organizing can use the strike as an opportunity to start, Griffiths added.
Jeremy Brecher, a journalist and author of the labor history Strike!, believes there’s power in simply beginning to raise the specter of a national walkout.
“The idea of a general strike shows, ‘Oh yeah, well of course if everybody stops working, obviously they would have a tremendous power to determine what's going on in society,’” Brecher told The Indy. “Discussion of it and projecting it as an idea, even if it's not an immediately realizable strategy,” is a crucial step to making a general strike a reality.
Brecher describes organizing efforts underway now as an attempt at performing exemplary actions, i.e. “relatively small groups of people deciding that they're going to do something and doing it in a way that gives other people the idea, ‘Hey, we could do that, too.’”
What is perhaps most striking about these general strike calls is that they are not coming from traditional unions, from pre-existing organizations or even specific movements other than what might be broadly defined as The Resistance. Many of those involved are veterans of past social movements — Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline — many others are not. The word “spontaneous” is a controversial one when it comes to describing the roots of mass dissent, but with the little advanced planning this month in New York a taxi strike broke out at JFK International Airport and a thousand bodega owners shut their doors for a day in response to Trump’s Muslim ban.
It is not unsurprising that traditional labor unions are absent from strike plans currently underway. The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, also known as Taft-Hartley for the senators who introduced it, forbids political or sympathy strikes. It also requires unions provide employers advanced notice before walking out.
According to Brecher, “One of the directions that American workers are going to have to explore” if they want to flex their political power beyond the confines of Taft-Hartley is a strategy long championed by anarchist groups, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It entails creating informal unions that act as unions structurally but refuse to sign contracts, so as to avoid the ensuing legal restrictions.
“You can already see it in unions in right-to-work states where union rights are severely restricted; in a lot of experiments with unions that are not certified under the National Labor Relations Board procedures,” said Brecher. “And you definitely are seeing it with the Fight For 15 in a way that's quite reminiscent of the IWW . I know in some of the Fight For 15 organizing efforts, in Chicago in particular, they actually have informal unions, working within fast-food enterprises and other low wage employers.”
The informal union strategy might be even more pertinent in the years ahead, as Congress flirts with national right to work legislation.
Strike4Democracy organizers are already seeing their efforts snowball. Beyond the Women’s Strike, more job actions are being planned for May Day.
“Once you have people in motion it is hard to contain them,” said Griffiths. “And once you have ideas floating around like the general strike, like women organizing together — they’re not easy to hold in place. They tend to build their own momentum. A year ago I wouldn’t have thought this was a very practical thing to do, but things are different now.”