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Some Objections To Occupy May 1st

category north america / mexico | miscellaneous | opinion / analysis author Tuesday April 24, 2012 03:06author by Juan Conatz Report this post to the editors

A short list of objections to the May 1st general strike effort within the Occupy movement and some responses to them.

May 1st
May 1st

From http://libcom.org/blog/some-objections-occupy-may-1st-2...42012

By now you’ve probably heard about how in various cities http://occupywallst.org/article/may-day/. The call seemed to originate from a number of different circles, although the most influential circle seems to have been a group of people involved in http://anewworldinourhearts.net/ and/or the IWW. Their influence can be seen in how widely the call was circulated, in http://occupymay1st.org/ for Occupy May 1st, and in some the http://libcom.org/gallery/may-1st-2012-posters-graphics they put out.

Regardless of the source of the call, it has been taken up in a variety of ways by Occupy groups in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, Denver, Long Beach, Detroit, and Oklahoma City, among other places. The media has been reporting on it and it’s probably fair to say that this could be the biggest May Day since http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_United_States_immigra...tests.

As the call has spread around and become something inseparable from Occupy as a movement, there have been a number of objections or concerns about a May 1st general strike. Some of them even come from people in the IWW or those in the radical left who we would presume would be on board. Here is my attempt to quickly address some of the most common ones.

“A general strike is irresponsible and will make people lose sympathy with Occupy.”

This comes more from the perspective that movements are about publicity and a battle of positions, primarily though the mainstream media. I don’t want to lessen the role that media plays in affecting our movements and efforts, but this shouldn’t be a main consideration of what we do or how we do it. The media is composed of mostly large businesses that are tied to numerable other large businesses and rely on them for their existence. It is largely a reflection of the interests of the rich or politicians, and it very rarely will be in favor of groups or actions which undermine this. Look at much of the coverage of Occupy; a lot of it is neutral or even positive up to a point where Occupy calls into question the pillars of our society, then the typical associations with violence, “Communism” or “hippies” are trotted out to delegitimize what the movement says. Let us also not forget how they ignored us until the police viciously attacked us in New York.

“Organized labor was not/is not being consulted.”

In a number of cities our friends in Occupy are talking with the larger mainstream unions and there is some level of participation, even if unofficial, between the two. But let’s not forget that the mainstream unions are tied up in labor law and contracts that were specifically developed to prevent such a linking between them and social movements and dish out major consequences (including massive fines and jail time) for exceeding the restrictions put upon them.

Unions also are on the decline and have been for a while. Only a small amount of the American workforce are in unions, and many workers (especially younger ones) have had almost no experiences with them. This makes ties to the rank and file much more difficult and can result in only having ties with staff and officers, who are not necessarily the people you want to be in contact with when it comes to mobilizing the membership to take part in such a thing as a May 1st general strike.

“May Day is for immigrants/Occupy is co-opting May Day”

Anything that Occupy as a movement turns its eye towards has received words of skepticism and territorial claims by individuals and groups who have been involved in specific issues prior to Occupy's emergence. At first, radical left activists looked at Occupy as encroaching their turf. The people attending the occupations were unfamiliar, not in their social circles. In places like Oakland, as the encampment moved towards worker issues, some union leaders and groups close to unions glared suspiciously at some erosion on their monopoly of 'worker issues'. http://newsone.com/1950365/how-occupy-wall-street-co-op...arch/ in regard to race have been expressed around the Trayvon Martin case. We see this also with May 1st and immigration.

May Day or May 1st is, strictly defined, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Workers'_Day. A day in which martyred Chicago anarchist labor organizers are remembered. A day in which the old workers movements have flexed their muscle in a demonstration of numbers and power. But it has also been a day for dystopian 'socialist' regimes to display to the world their weaponry. In the early 70s, http://libcom.org/library/ending-war-inventing-movement...-1971. And yes, in recent years, in the United States, its been a day centered around the rights of immigrants.

However, whether using the rhetoric of the 99% against the 1% or the traditional language of working class vs. the ruling class, the participants in both the Occupy movement and the immigration rights movement are linked. Neither one 'owns' May Day. The additional involvement of other movements with May Day is something to be welcomed.

“It’s not going to be a ‘real’ general strike”

Some like to say or imply that a “real” general strike is something which unions call for, and then people strike, in the formal definition of the word. Sometimes, general strikes http://libcom.org/history/seattle-general-strike-1919. Other times they start with other, more unofficial action or wildcat strikes that spread. On May Day 2006, for instance, millions of people just called in sick. Those who say May 1st won’t be a “real” general strike, are probably right. What will happen will most likely resemble http://libcom.org/library/oakland-general-strike-days-d...after. Personally, I don’t think what it’s called matters much.

Remember that the reason that the term general strike is even in the vocabulary of U.S. social movements again is because of http://libcom.org/library/general-strike-didnt-happen-r...onsin. It was an important concept and we did a lot of admirable work towards this concept, but as someone who was there, I don’t think the strategy we engaged in (working through official union decision-making structures) was a realistic way to push for a general strike. However, I think that if we succeeded that it would a “real” general strike and the possibility did exist.

We also don’t really know what a U.S. general strike in 2012 will look like. The last time an official one happened here was 1946. The workforce and society in general have changed drastically since then. Our workplaces are more fragmented. Solidarity and worker combativeness isn't something that can be assumed as a given anymore. The forms of resistance that we take will often look different from past struggles. http://libcom.org/history/articles/us-rail-strikes-1877 didn't look the same as those in the 1930s/1940s, why would one today look like ones from 70 years ago?

“What about May 2nd?”

This is a good point. What about the day after? The week after? The month after? It is up to the participants of Occupy May 1st to make sure this May Day is something much more than a mere mobilization of people to protest, but the opening shot in a new era of Occupy where we take on issues relevant to our daily life. Work, unemployment, immigration, and housing aren’t just some vague issues that are mentioned within the context of the upcoming elections, but are very real experiences that make up, for better or worse, who we are. They are also things we have the most power to change or even (if we wish) to eliminate as problems. As people who wish for a new world, we should welcome the opportunity to place organizing back into the context of our lived experiences.

A version of this will appear in the May 2012 issue of the Industrial Worker

author by Occupy Venice - Occupy Movement publication date Tue Apr 24, 2012 17:12Report this post to the editors

A little May Day history

In the 1800s, working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Jack London's The Iron Heel. Anyone who was a striker or believed to be part of the strike was hounded by the police who often beat them on sight, arresting them and ransacking their homes.

On May 3rd 1886, workers rallied met near the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant that locked them out for wanting to form a union. Despite calls by August Spies (Labor Activist) for the workers to remain calm, gunfire erupted as police fired on the crowd. Outraged by this act of police violence, strikers distributed fliers calling for a rally the following day at Haymarket Square. The meeting was peaceful, but the mood became confrontational when the police tried to disperse the crowd. Then an unknown individual threw a bomb into the crowd and the police drew their weapons and fired into the panicking crowd. According to newspaper accounts, policemen fired their revolvers for a full two minutes.

Eight of the speakers for the Haymarket Square were wrongly arrested – four were executed by hanging. The prosecutors introduced evidence now known to be fabricated. According to witnesses, in the moments before the men were hanged, August Spies (movement leader & labor activist) shouted, "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!"

The time has come that their silence is more powerful than the voices of those who strangle us today.

Related Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/352109424838524/
 
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