Heading for general strikes?
When I hear the words “general strike,” it’s music to my ears.
This is an event where everyone in a city or country decide they’ve had enough of being exploited and they want a fairer shake from their government, their employer or prevailing economic system. Often general strikes have been made in support of a group of workers who are being abused by a company.
The general strike sees workers, students and regular citizens stop their normal routines. They don't go to work, don't patronize businesses, don't to school. The system comes to a halt for that day, or days.
A general strike can send a powerful message to the powers that be that the people are really serious, and they’re willing to make major sacrifices to bring about greater political fairness and wider economic rights.
Huge general strikes took place in Egypt earlier this year, which led to the ouster of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. General strikes have also rocked Spain and Greece, where millions of people chafe under the brutal austerity demands of governments and corporate elites.
The U.S. --- where some historic general strikes took place back in the turbulent 1930s --- has not seen much in recent years.
But things are changing now, as the Occupy Wall Street movement sweeps the country.
On Wednesday, Occupy Oakland plans a general strike aimed at shutting down the Bay Area city.
Members of the Oakland movement are furious over their treatment by city authorities. Police evicted them from their encampment at a plaza near City Hall last week and 85 people were arrested. Then when the group tried to retake the plaza, police beat them back using stun grenades and tear gas. During the melee, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, Scott Olsen, was hit in the head by a tear gas canister, leaving him seriously injured.
News of the injury created a wave of anger among the protesters and Olsen has become a rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide.
The movement, which began with an occupation near Wall Street in New York City in September, is aimed at fighting economic inequality and corporate greed. Occupiers say there's something wrong with a system that allows the top 1 percent of income earners to enjoy so much wealth and power while everyone else --- the 99 percent --- struggle with unemployment, declining incomes and escalating costs.
"Occupy" protests have sprung up at 200 locations around the country.
Of the general strike, organizer Cat Brooks said, “We mean nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, we shut the city down.”
He added, “The only thing they seem to care about is money and they don’t understand that it’s our money they need. We don’t don’t need them, they need us.”
It’s not clear how successful the Oakland strike will be, which was hastily organized.
Protests will be held Wednesday at banks and corporations that refuse to shut down. Protesters will then march to the Port of Oakland to try to shut down the night shift.
It’s interesting to note that one of the most famous general strikes in U.S. history took place in 1934 in San Francisco, when thousands of both union and non-union workers walked off their jobs to show support for striking longshoremen and protest violence by police.
Even if the Oakland action is not totally successful, I think a spark has been lit, and there’s likely to be more general strikes in other areas and possibly a nationwide general strike down the road.
Let’s hope so.