Activism

Momentum Grows for a General Strike: Will Various Groups Come Together?

As demonstrations multiply, some say it's time to withhold labor.

Photo Credit: RabbitHolePhoto / Shutterstock, Inc.

In the roughly three weeks since Donald Trump took office, he has swiftly delivered on his proto-fascist campaign pledges, unleashing a flurry of executive orders and ushering in a cabinet populated with white supremacists. Yet each move has been met with popular resistance on a stunning scale. Trump’s inauguration was greeted with massive protests in Washington, D.C., and across the country. The following day saw millions around the world take to the streets under the banner of the Women’s March. And when Trump implemented a ban on both refugees and holders of visas and green cards from seven Muslim-majority countries, thousands flocked to airports across the country to demand the immediate release of people detained.

In cities, towns and rural areas, communities are training to defend their neighbors from immigration raids, a form of preparation that proved necessary this week in Arizona, when Guadalupe García de Rayos was torn from her family and deported to Mexico. Public workers are resisting the Trump administration’s gag orders, with National Park Service employees among others declaring they will “not be silenced.” There are numerous calls for boycotts, work stoppages and large-scale campaigns of non-cooperation amid the groundswell, with some nodding toward South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle with the cry of “become ungovernable.”

AlterNet spoke with some of the organizers behind the multiple calls for mass strikes to learn more about how this tactic factors into the growing resistance movement.

May 1: A Day Without Immigrants

Movimiento Cosecha, or Harvest Movement, plans to go on the offensive under the Trump administration by organizing a week-long migrant strike of five to eight million workers. Led by undocumented people and immigrants, including veteran Dreamers, Cosecha will build toward this larger goal with a one-day strike on May 1, also known as May Day or International Workers’ Day.

“On May Day, Movimiento Cosecha will be having its first of many boycotts and strikes under the theme of Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes [a day without immigrants], which resonates with immigrant communities across the country,” Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, an organizer with Cosecha, told AlterNet. “We are encouraging allies and the American public to stand with immigrants across the country by not going to work, not buying any products and not going to school. In order for strikes and boycotts to be effective, they have to also be disruptive and visible to the public.”

This weekend, hundreds of immigrant workers and youth will gather in Boston for a three-day national assembly to plan migrant-led boycotts and work stoppages. Since going public a year and a half ago, the movement has organized mass trainings in dozens of cities across the country, and they vow they will pick up the pace now that the Trump administration is in the White House. Their structure is all volunteer-based and decentralized, and their goals are simple: to launch a campaign of “massive civil resistance and non-cooperation to show this country it depends on us” in order to win the “permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants.”

“Now more than ever, it is important for the immigrant rights movement to have an offensive strategy,” said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a spokesperson for Movimiento Cosecha. “While it is important to focus on protecting undocumented families like mine from deportation and protecting our victories such as DACA, our movement cannot win unless we show the American public that this country depends on immigrant labor to function. We are switching the conversation from, 'Are immigrants wanted?' to 'Are immigrants needed?' We cannot live like this anymore and the immigrant community is ready to show this country what would happen without us.”

In a statement emailed to AlterNet, the organization declared, “Through boycotts and strikes, Cosecha seeks to demonstrate to the American public that this country cannot operate without its workforce, which is primarily composed of immigrants and poor people. If we choose mass non-cooperation—by not going to work, not buying products and not going to school—then we believe we can generate enough leverage to win permanent protection, dignity and respect for all immigrants in the country regardless [of] who is president.”

Cosecha looks to the example of May 1, 2006, when immigrants across the United States staged a coordinated walkout, called A Day Without Immigrants, to protest hardline anti-immigrant laws. Rodriguez underscored, “We're not going to win with a one-day strike. In order for our contributions and labor to be felt, we need to be able to sustain a strike for a longer period of time.” For that reason, the organization sees a series of smaller strikes as part of the building process.

“We are officially launching strike season,” said Rodriguez, adding, “We support other calls for noncooperation with the system. The reason why people are intuitively moving toward boycotts and strikes is they have no faith the government can give us what we want. Under Obama, it was clear we weren’t able to achieve what we wanted. Now that Trump is president, that is crystal-clear to everyone.”

March 8: International Strike Against Male Violence and in Defense of Reproductive Rights

“In our view, it is not enough to oppose Trump and his aggressively misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and racist policies,” a coalition of feminist scholars and activists declared in a joint op-ed published February 6. “We also need to target the ongoing neoliberal attack on social provision and labor rights.”

Toward this end, the coalition is calling for an “international strike against male violence and in defense of reproductive rights” on March 8. They write, “The idea is to mobilize women, including trans women, and all who support them in an international day of struggle—a day of striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions.”

“These actions are aimed at making visible the needs and aspirations of those whom lean-in feminism ignored: women in the formal labor market, women working in the sphere of social reproduction and care, and unemployed and precarious working women,” continues the group WHO?, which includes Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh.

Organizer Tithi Bhattacharya is also a longtime activist for Palestinian justice and a professor of South Asian History, and the director of Global Studies at Purdue University. She told AlterNet that the initiative already has support from some in the labor movement, including the Chicago Teachers Union, as well as human rights organizations such as the Palestinian right of return organization, Al-Awda.

While this call looks to build on the momentum of the January 21 Women’s Marches and collaborate with all interested in waging a strike, it is a distinct effort. Bhattacharya said organizers are hoping to work cooperatively with all others pursuing strikes, among them the organizers of the Women’s March, who published the following tweet from their official Twitter account (no date has been declared):

Yet another political formation is calling for a strike on February 17, coalescing around the demand that senators and congressional representatives “Actively oppose any governmental language or action that violates any tenet of our Constitution.”

The March 8 effort, which is still in the planning phase, looks to numerous other recent mobilizations for inspiration, including the Poland women’s strike against a sweeping anti-abortion law. In their joint statement, the feminists declare that they “take inspiration from the Argentinian coalition Ni Una Menos," stating:

"Violence against women, as they define it, has many facets: it is domestic violence, but also the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state; the violence of discriminatory policies against lesbian, trans and queer women; the violence of state criminalization of migratory movements; the violence of mass incarceration; and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.”

“This March 8 strike is about the women whose voices, histories and impact in society has been most left out of the three decades of neoliberalism,” said Bhattacharya. “I’m talking about working women, women of color, Muslim and transgender women in this country.”

“We do not want to see March 8 as a one-off action,” she continued. “We want to see March 8 as the beginning of coalition building. It's going to be a long four years. We need to think about what we are we seeking to replace this current regime with."

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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