'Occupy Congress'? May Day general strike?

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Jan 9 2012 22:15
'Occupy Congress'? May Day general strike?

Does anybody know about this January 17th Occupy Congress thing? It is billed as a "Celebration of American Liberty".

Occupy Congress press release wrote:
This grassroots assembly of nationwide occupations will be a peaceful and non-violent demonstration against our corrupted political system, aiming to further the movement’s success at shifting the political discourse towards real issues that matter to the people of America. Organizers invite all to take part in a National General Assembly to be held at Capitol Hill to show the tainted institution what real democracy looks like.

All occupations are encouraged to bring a Petition for Redress of Grievances from their respective camps and communities. Though our grievances are many, the common theme that runs through them will be amplified on the steps of Capitol Hill: corporations, special interests and money from the autocratic elite has created a government that is unable to govern for the people. We will be joined by those who agree with this from across the political spectrum. Those who can’t join us will Occupy Congress’ phone lines and email boxes, making sure their representatives hear their voice.

There doesn't seem to be any links from the OWS website to this event. It also seems to fly in the face of the general anti-electoralism of Occupy seen thus far. Does anyone know if this is an organic split from the young movement or an attempt by the usual suspects (union bureaucrats, NGOs, progressive orgs, etc.) to channel discontent into the graveyard of the Democratic party? Is this already the national equivalent of Scott Walker-Recall Syndrome?

Also, I wonder what people thing about the call for a national general strike on May Day? It seems pretty farfetched, but folks here in NYC are already having preliminary meetings about it.

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Jan 9 2012 22:28

This message came out of Occupy Los Angeles (and other surrounding Occupies), and the L.A./Long Beach port troqueros, on Saturday, January 7th:

Quote:
Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Long Beach, Occupy Riverside and Occupy the Hood, building on the "Occupy the Ports - A Day without Goldman Sachs!" action on December 12, have all issued calls for and started building towards a General Strike on May 1, 2012.

At a meeting of the General Strike Preparation Committee of Occupy LA today, with representation from Occupy Long Beach, Pasadena and Riverside as well as Occupy the Hood, consensus was reached to call for the formation of a broad, deep and larger coalition for a General Strike, first meeting to be held on Sunday, January 22 at 2:00 PM, location to be announced, around the following provisional program:

FOR IM/MIGRANT RIGHTS
FOR ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND LABOR RIGHTS
FOR PEACE WITH JUSTICE
FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES AND AN END TO THE POLICE STATE
FOR HOUSING, EDUCATION, AND HEALTH CARE AS HUMAN RIGHTS
FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUITY

A General Strike, Boycott and Day of Action on May 1, 2012, the anniversary of the historic general strike for the 8-hour day in Chicago IL in 1886.

We are seeking to unite with immigrant communities resisting oppression, organized and unorganized labor, the unemployed, prisoners, unwaged workers, students, and the rest of the 99%.

The next sub-committee meetings of the Occupy LA general strike preparation committee (including media, labor, student and community outreach, research and resources) will take place Tuesday, January 10 at 7:30 PM at Corazon del Pueblo, 2003 E. First St., East L.A. 90033 (at Cummings, just east of the I-5). Check us out on-line at www.occupymay1st.org, by email at occupymay1st@gmail.com, or call 323-250-MAY1.

Rolling actions are being planned for the coming months, including participation in the Martin Luther King Day parade on Monday, January 16, and an "Occupy the Corporations" action on February 29 [based on a call from Occupy Portland focusing on ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, which spread prison privatization, Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070, and attacks on collective bargaining)] which will take up an action by Occupy Riverside and Warehouse Workers United aimed at non-union warehouses of Walmart in the Inland Empire area.

We invite you to get involved and make this struggle and manifestation of the collective power of working people your own!

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Jan 9 2012 22:41

The Occupy Congress thing I have no idea about, but I imagine its coming from some of the same folks that were behind the widely rejected 99% Declaration. Maybe not same people, but same political perspective aka liberals who are trying to make sure Occupy has some type of electoral effect similar to how the tea party did/does.

On a May 1st general strike....this is coming from a couple different circles. There is a Facebook event that was created for OCCUPY MAY DAY - GENERAL STRIKE and this made by a user account called Occupy General Strike. I have no idea who is behind this account. It could be someone loosely associated with the IWW/CSAC groups, could be someone in one of the socialist groups, or could be one of the many unaffliated leftists that were inspired by Winsconsin that have coaleced in groups such as CALL FOR GENERAL STRIKE.

Then there's the call the came from Miami Autonomy & Solidarity that was circulated to the other CSAC groups, sympathetic folks involved in Occupy and some IWW branches.

As far as I know, LA, Boston, Minneapolis (possibly others?) have endorsed a general strike or mass 'no school, no work' day of action on May 1st.

ps - I totally made that first pic you posted

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Jan 9 2012 22:42

Thanks Hiero, I'll follow suit. This came to me from through the OWS Labor Outreach Committee list-serve as part of a week long seminar being held by organizers:

Quote:
On The General Strike

A discussion and open work space for a General Strike, and how it could be deployed - what are our historical and political conceptions of the strike, how do they relate to our present contexts, and what forms of communication and solidarity are necessary to see the strike we want to see.

Some questions:
-- Who calls for the strike, who strikes, what do we do during the strike, and is there an AFTER the strike?
-- What activities do we expect to precede this call, and what do we expect to follow?

During the Wisconsin protests in the Spring of 2011 the threat of the General Strike re-entered popular consciousness, but it existed, as in George Sorel's work, only as myth, the spectre of a proletariat unrealized. Following the occupation of Zuccotti Park on September 17th, which was for many the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement, murmurs of this myth began to rise again.

On October 8th Nikolas Kozloff wrote an opinion piece for Al Jazeera English, "What chance a general strike in Manhattan?" Thus far, the answer has been none.

But we saw Occupy Oakland call for a General Strike for November 2nd, followed by Occupy Dallas' call for November 30th. We have recently seen many calling for May 1st, 2012 Mayday, to be America's first national General Strike. Rosa Luxemburg distinguished between the demonstrative and fighting general strike. W.E.B. Du Bois suggested America's first general strike was carried out by former slaves who refused to continue working on plantations, leading to civil war. Can we have a general strike which is not instrumentalized, but is a political act, a step towards definitive refusal of the state of things? We would like to not just create a space for general open discussion, but also a space to work together toward existing plans to carry out or experiment with strikes.

tastybrain
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Jan 9 2012 22:47

I have no idea what "occupy congress" is all about, I agree that it will probably be bullshit.

The call for a general strike on May Day is pretty far-fetched but on the other hand it already seems to have generated a fair amount of support. There are definitely meetings in LA and elsewhere on the West Coast planning for this and I know there is a committee building for the strike in Boston. With five months to plan and build, in combination with the usual May Day actions, this might be fairly big.

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Jan 9 2012 22:54

Juan,

Yeah I remember how that declaration went over like a lead balloon. I think that was well before the repression of the encampments and the beginning of the horrible sideshow of election season, so maybe a shift towards liberal bs will have more traction now? A lot of non-political people I've spoken with (family, coworkers, etc.) seem to think that Occupy is 'over' because the tents are down and they 'got their point across'.

At least out here, though, there is a quiet flurry of activity, planning and analysis coming from a bunch of different places; shit that doesn't have the spectacular quality of occupying public space, but which is potentially a lot more interesting - rank-and-file organizing, unemployment organizing, housing 'repossessions', etc. It's for this reason that I'm mildly optimistic about this spring.

Juan Conatz wrote:
ps - I totally made that first pic you posted

Haha! Nice work...

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Jan 9 2012 23:00
tastybrain wrote:
The call for a general strike on May Day is pretty far-fetched but on the other hand it already seems to have generated a fair amount of support. There are definitely meetings in LA and elsewhere on the West Coast planning for this and I know there is a committee building for the strike in Boston. With five months to plan and build, in combination with the usual May Day actions, this might be fairly big.

Well, I think that's why avoiding the term 'general strike' might be a wise thing, although I have mixed feelings on it. It's a pretty nebulous term that means many different things to many different people. Not sure how useful it is.

tastybrain
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Jan 9 2012 23:20
Juan Conatz wrote:
tastybrain wrote:
The call for a general strike on May Day is pretty far-fetched but on the other hand it already seems to have generated a fair amount of support. There are definitely meetings in LA and elsewhere on the West Coast planning for this and I know there is a committee building for the strike in Boston. With five months to plan and build, in combination with the usual May Day actions, this might be fairly big.

Well, I think that's why avoiding the term 'general strike' might be a wise thing, although I have mixed feelings on it. It's a pretty nebulous term that means many different things to many different people. Not sure how useful it is.

What do you think the downside is to using the term (besides getting our hopes up)? I'm not particularly wedded to it, but "day of action" doesn't have quite the same ring to it...

An Affirming Flame
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Jan 9 2012 23:21

From what I've seen, the "Occupy Congress" thing has been pushed and organized by SEIU and Van Jones, though it has gotten some participation from the more reform minded and less skeptical among the movement. It's a blatant attempt at co-opting the occupy meme and channeling its energies to the Democratic Party.

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Jan 9 2012 23:49
tastybrain wrote:

What do you think the downside is to using the term (besides getting our hopes up)? I'm not particularly wedded to it, but "day of action" doesn't have quite the same ring to it...

Well, I think because it's a vague term that isn't really defined in the U.S. The strength of this is that we can define it, and it some ways Occupy Oakland did exactly that. But I think using the term instantly creates problematic modes of organizing that are tough to deal with right now. What I mean by that is that the term general strike, more often than not, means the following things to a lot of people.

-Collaboration with union leadership
-Going through official union decision making bodies
-Needing some impossible critical mass (75%-100%)
-You get various sects (whether socialist, platformist or liberal) coming down on you saying it isn't really a general strike.

This was certainly true in Madison, and I can see this bubbling up in Minneapolis, and probably other places.

Really, this is kind of getting into something I've been meaning to write about for a while now. Like, what is a 'general strike' and how has it been defined differently by various leftists, communists and anarchists. How it's actually happened in the States, how it actually plays out in Europe and Latin America, etc.

A 'no school, no work' day of action doesn't sound as sexy, but it's pretty clear what that is, and in any case, the only thing that could be seen as a national general strike here in recent years would be 2006, which did not use the term general strike, despite it being pretty much exactly that.

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Jan 10 2012 00:11
An Affirming Flame wrote:
From what I've seen, the "Occupy Congress" thing has been pushed and organized by SEIU and Van Jones, though it has gotten some participation from the more reform minded and less skeptical among the movement. It's a blatant attempt at co-opting the occupy meme and channeling its energies to the Democratic Party.

I have no doubt that those scum up top at SEIU (the same scum that hijacked the n17 rally with their peace marshals and soundsystems) could have a hand in this and Van Jones' American Dream Movement is certainly capable of this sort of thing. Though a quick glance at both of their websites doesn't reveal any connection to January 17th in DC. I'm not saying you're wrong, but can you provide links that show they are pushing and organizing this?

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Jan 10 2012 00:34
Juan Conatz wrote:
tastybrain wrote:

What do you think the downside is to using the term (besides getting our hopes up)? I'm not particularly wedded to it, but "day of action" doesn't have quite the same ring to it...

Well, I think because it's a vague term that isn't really defined in the U.S. The strength of this is that we can define it, and it some ways Occupy Oakland did exactly that. But I think using the term instantly creates problematic modes of organizing that are tough to deal with right now. What I mean by that is that the term general strike, more often than not, means the following things to a lot of people.

-Collaboration with union leadership
-Going through official union decision making bodies
-Needing some impossible critical mass (75%-100%)
-You get various sects (whether socialist, platformist or liberal) coming down on you saying it isn't really a general strike.

This was certainly true in Madison, and I can see this bubbling up in Minneapolis, and probably other places.

Really, this is kind of getting into something I've been meaning to write about for a while now. Like, what is a 'general strike' and how has it been defined differently by various leftists, communists and anarchists. How it's actually happened in the States, how it actually plays out in Europe and Latin America, etc.

A 'no school, no work' day of action doesn't sound as sexy, but it's pretty clear what that is, and in any case, the only thing that could be seen as a national general strike here in recent years would be 2006, which did not use the term general strike, despite it being pretty much exactly that.

I'm actually surprised by how meaningless the term 'general strike' is for most people in the US. I am a labor educator and practically none of my apprentice students have any idea that such a tactic has ever existed or could happen. Likewise, a militant friend was at a big union rally last month talking to some rank-and-filers who were pumped up over the possibility of a strike. They said to my friend something to the effect of, "You know what would be dope, if, like, all all the workers in the city went on strike, but AT THE SAME TIME!" My friend just replied, "Yeah, that's a great idea!"

Anyways, those are just anecdotes. Juan in Madison or Hieronymous in the Bay Area are the two people around this board who have been closest to what could be called a 'general strike' or even a call for a 'general strike' in the US. Still, in my experience the baggage is mostly held by leftists of some stripe or another who have already made up their mind (as Juan pointed out) about what that kind of action means and what it is supposed to look like.

But semantics aside, I think that, yeah, five months is a lot of time to organize for something that approximates a mass disruption of various spheres like education, public sector workers, distribution, finance, etc. Activisty-types are having dozens of meetings all over this city about 'what to do next'. I can't help but be sympathetic to a general strike call, even if I think it will be difficult to organize and its actual content may be way different than we would want or imagine.

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Jan 10 2012 05:30

Juan that'd be awesome if you wrote something on this. I'd be especially keen to see you talk about those ideas then use that as a basis to talk about what went down in Madison.

You may have read it already but here's from a Ralph Chaplin pamphlet, " Much of the misconception results from an erroneous or limited conception as to what a General Strike is and what it is supposed to do. The General Strike, as its name implies, must be a revolutionary or class strike instead of a strike for amelioration of conditions. It must be designed to abolish private ownership of the means of life and to supplant it with social ownership." http://www.iww.org/en/content/general-strike-page-5

Elsewhere in the pamphlet he says that for the IWW the general strike means workers occupying their jobs.

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Jan 10 2012 16:26

What about the name "General Strike" implies that it must be a revolutionary or class strike, rather than a strike for amelioration of conditions? Is an "amelioration strike" not a class strike? Who decides when a strike is "revolutionary", and when it is just for amelioration of conditions? On what basis do they decide that, and when?

Does Chaplin's definition describe apply to any real-world examples of what people have called general strikes? Or is he just cutting off the feet to fit the body in the coffin?

Chaplin's definition is idealist at best. The IWW was at its most interesting in the 1930s, when Chaplin wrote this, and certainly publishing cheap pamphlets on the power of workers to halt industry is in line with that, but his definition is only a hair above that of Sorel's, and in fact shares a lot of the same problematic assumptions.

Speaking of which, I can't believe someone positively referenced Sorel in a serious political statement. Or that terms like "instrumentalized" get bandied about without any explanation. This is a perfect marker of how far class politics have sunk in the last 30 years...

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Jan 10 2012 17:11
Quote:
I'm not saying you're wrong, but can you provide links that show they are pushing and organizing this?

Sure, here's some info from Greg Sargent, back in November when Occupy Congress was first kicking off. He interviewed Mary Kay Henry (president of SEIU) for the article.

Next up: `Occupy Congress’

Quote:
Can the energy unleashed by the movement be leveraged behind a concrete political agenda and push for change that will constitute a meaningful challenge to the inequality and excessive Wall Street influence highlighted by the protests?

A coalition of labor and progressive groups is about to unveil its answer to that question. Get ready for “Occupy Congress.”

The coalition — which includes unions like SEIU and CWA and groups like the Center for Community Change — is currently working on a plan to bus thousands of protesters from across the country to Washington, where they will congregate around the Capitol from December 5-9, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry tells me in an interview.

And more info here: Here’s what attempted co-option of OWS looks like

Though yeah, I haven't found anything that says Van Jones or his group have been organizing this. He's been pushing that kind of effort generally and once tried to anoint himself the "spokesperson" of Occupy on CNN, but I'm not sure whether his group has been directly involved in Occupy Congress.

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Jan 10 2012 18:43

[never mind]

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Jan 10 2012 19:01

Oliver, Juan said he thought the term "general strike" was a vague term and that he wanted to write something about the various things the term means to various people. I posted what the term meant to Chaplin. You disagree. Fair enough. That supports Juan's point, that the term means a variety of different things to different people. Chaplin said that that was true in his day too, people meant a number of things by the term, and he laid out what he thought the term mean. Laying out the diversity of views of the term today and historically could, I think, help enrich conversations about what we might want to try to make the term mean, and whether or not to encourage or discourage its use. That's why I posted the Chaplin quote.

I just want to add, Chaplin's use of the term is basically the same as Haywood's in 1911 (I can find the link for you if you want, he said that a general strike had never happened in the US and he described it as basically the same idea that Chaplin did). Lucy Parsons talked about the general strike in the same way in her speech at the IWW founding convention in 1905. I suspect that there was always a range of views about what the term "general strike meant" within the IWW as well. I've not bothered to look and see what else the term meant to IWW members in the past. From what I've read, the use of the word here was the main use made by the IWW in its early days. If you've read stuff that suggests otherwise, great, I'd like to know so I can read it.

Beyond, it sounds like you have opinions on what you think the term means and why it should mean that, but I'm not sure, it's hard to tell what you mean, you mostly posted a lot of rhetorical questions. If you do have views on this I'd like to hear them, and if you have other things you think are worth reading that talk about how different people have defined a general strike, I'd like to know what they are. Also you saying "has Chaplin's use of the term ever corresponded to what people in the world have called a general strike?" doesn't strike me as a very good argument. I can imagine an identical point being made about the words "revolution" and "communism" along the lines of "these people talk about revolution but look at what has actually happened in the things people have called revolutions and look at actual communism, therefore these people are using that word wrong." I don't find that illuminating.

Finally, Sorel, have you read his writing on the general strike? If so, what in it do you disagree with?