From Occupation to the General Strike

A member of Workers Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist group based in North America, writes about why a general strike should be considered by the #Occupy movement.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on October 22, 2011

With several months of preparation and one month of action, Occupy Wall Street has accomplished what years of conventional activism has failed to do–spark a populist political awakening against the ruling class. The 99ers have captured the imagination of regular Americans from every background and point of view, unified by a general disgust with the upper 1% who have run our economic, political and social areas of life into the ground. The defiant occupation of public space in the heart of the capitalist system has not only inspired us, but challenged our sense of complacency in the age of crisis.

Some of us will remember a similar awakening in August 2005 when Cindy Sheehan and a handful of visionaries formed Camp Casey, another occupation outside the Texas ranch of George W. Bush, named for her son killed in combat during his tour of duty in Iraq. The story was picked-up by the alternative press with little mention in the mainstream, until it could ignore it no longer, due to the widespread support Sheehan and the occupants received. Solidarity demonstrations and encampments were organized internationally, and the previously dead antiwar movement found new life at the height of the dark Bush years.

But we should also remember the way that our antiwar energy was channeled by groups like MoveOn into lobbying and legislative action for the same Democrats who generally supported or tolerated America’s occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack Obama was one of the many politicians who rode the wave of antiwar discontent into congress, and later, the White House. But what has our Democratic government gotten us? Instead of a necessary radical reform of the economy, the same inequalities were reinforced with bailouts of the country’s richest corporations and banks. American combat and occupation overseas has shifted, but continued. The 99% have suffered dearly, now more than in all the years that Bush ruled, all in the name of preserving an economic and social order–capitalism!–that the 1% is dead set on continuing … unless we make life more difficult for them.

Sites of occupation should be defended from the police with the smartest tactics we can think of, which are generally nonviolent, but occupation is not an end unto itself. The police get their marching orders from the political machines of our city governments, which are owned by the 1%. If we want to fight to win, we need to use the spaces we’ve occupied to organize a real movement of the 99%, with a strategy that puts our most powerful weapon to use: our ability to stop working and cooperating until we get what we need. Only when we hurt the bottom-line of the 1% will we win. The General Strike is what our sisters and brothers around the world are using today to fend off the very same offensive that the 1% is waging on us. Why should we aim for anything less?

A lack of membership in an organized labor union is no reason to stay unorganized. The spaces of participatory discussion we’ve created through occupation can and should continue in our places of work and in our neighborhoods, especially as the weather worsens. Occupiers can give our movement new energy by calling for the 99% to prepare for a General Strike against social inequality. Preparation will require months of agitation and logistical discussions, which can happen in both occupied spaces as well as the more familiar ones.

When we make the call, thousands will flock to our occupations with excitement as word of a new and inspiring form of participatory action spreads. There, we can move forward to bring the movement to every workplace and neighborhood in the country. Even if a date is never set, simply putting the General Strike on the table will move us forward and “strike” fear into the heart of the 1%. At this moment in history, only demanding the impossible is a reasonable course of action. Indeed, “be reasonable!” is usually the demand put forward by people who want to keep things the way they are.

Originally posted: October 16, 2011 at ideas + action