This article develops strategic ideas and points of unity developed by some comrades in the San Francisco Bay Area, approaching the public sector crisis from a class struggle perspective.
“The non-symbolic nature of the S.F. State strike was likewise reflected in the tactics, which carefully avoided the usual ritual seizure of buildings and planned confrontations with police. Instead of “living the revolution” inside an occupied building for a brief apocalyptic period culminating in a Big Bust… the TWLF [Third World Liberation Front] opted for a “protracted struggle,” closing the campus and keeping it shut down not by simply impairing normal campus activity, but by making it totally impossible.”
—James McEvoy & Abraham Miller, “On Strike…Shut It Down” in Black Power & Student Rebellion: Conflict on the American Campus (1969)
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
—George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense
Suggested Points of Unity Towards Action on March 4th
On March 4th we hope to use the high points of the 60s and 70s revolts as points of departure so that we do not start from scratch and repeat their historical mistakes. There has been too much criticism of the building occupations last November and December and not enough discussion of how we can take their militancy and push our next actions even further, hopefully beyond the campus to draw in other working class people affected by the crisis. Some proposals even ignore the strikes and occupations that have occurred so far and suggest “going slow” and refocusing our efforts on the politicians in Sacramento through lobbying, petitions, letter writing campaigns, vigils and symbolic marches. We find this caution to be based on an obsession with top-down leadership that distrusts the imagination and potential for radical action from below by ordinary students and workers. The following points attempt to visualize how a statewide general strike on March 4th would unleash the creativity of the mass of the participants.
Universities, schools, public buildings, workplaces, and offices should be occupied at the start of the movement to serve as bases of operations.
While we are advocating a strike, occupied space can serve as a place for assemblies for maintaining and defending the strike, as well as coordinating its extension beyond the campus to other public sector workers, and hopefully to private sector workers, the homeless and everyone in the working class. If we are to follow the example of Oaxaca, Mexico in 2006 and Greece last winter, attempts should be made to take over TV and radio stations. The occupations and campus shutdowns must be defended through mass action and control of physical space and expropriated equipment.
Only a general strike has the power to achieve our most basic goal, which is the defensive demand to stop the cuts to education and public services.
We should be operating by the principle “Everyone needs to be out on strike” and “Statewide problems demand statewide solutions.” Student occupations and strikes should not be seen as ends in themselves, but as a way of creating a basis for others to act. When strikes spread off the campuses to public sector workers, the class nature of the struggle will draw in others to help prevent the strikes from being defeated in isolation. Class consciousness will also draw in private sector workers, the unemployed and homeless, all united around the slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Control and maintenance of the action should remain in the hands of the strikers and occupiers themselves.
We must refuse delegating decisions and control beyond the autonomy of those involved; we must push for the active participation of the greatest number. Issues and concerns of the strike should be debated and decided by all the strikers. Those engaged in various support and solidarity activities should meet regularly for collective discussion of the significance of their work and its political basis; these meetings should be used for reports to all the strikers of the work of the smaller groups, such as task-oriented action committees, for political discussion of the strike, and invitations to participate in specific actions, etc. Each site, whether school, public building or workplace, should have its own strike coordinating committee, like the city-wide committees we now have to plan for March 4th. Committee members should be elected by the strikers, subject to instant recall, with new elections every few days–as long as the strike continues. City or regional coordinating councils should represent the elected strike committees for the purpose of information exchange over a wider area. This type of structure will prevent the emergence of a strike bureaucracy, which destroys the collective energy of the strike. The mass participatory nature of our actions will show the emptiness of parliamentary democracy, the way it mediates our power away from us, and how it alienates decision making into a hierarchy with power over us. As the Situationist International said, “You can’t fight alienation by alienated means.”
The goals and demands of the strike should be made universal.
Different groups should be encouraged to join the strike to press for their own demands. For example, working class users of public transit should be able to advocate for a “social strike” of the public transit system (meaning the system continues to operate, but drivers and station agents refuse to collect fares) when fares are raised, as BART and San Francisco’s Muni are currently planning to do. If immigrants continue to feel threatened, as they did with the Sensenbrenner Act in 2006, they should be supported in solidarity should they organize another general strike. With the continued escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we could imagine that longshore and port workers would call a strike in support of student demands and against these imperialist wars much like they did when they shut down 29 ports on the West Coast on May Day 2008.
This is merely an approximation of what we might do to be prepared for an indefinite strike on March 4th. All too often, the day of action comes and no forethought had been given to organizing ways to maintain the strike and to find means of spreading it further. Our greatest strength is going to be our militant imagination and willingness to reach out to other workers to show them it is in their class interest to not only support our strike, but to join it in solidarity.