Category Archives: Strikes

Why the Seattle General Strike of 1919 should inspire a new generation of labor activists

Source: Steven C. Beda, The Conversation, February 6, 2019

It shut down a major U.S. city, inspired a rock opera, led to decades of labor unrest and provoked fears Russian Bolsheviks were trying to overthrow American capitalism. It was the Seattle General Strike of 1919, which began on Feb. 6 and lasted just five days.

By many measures, the strike was a failure. It didn’t achieve the higher wages that the 35,000 shipyard workers who first walked off their jobs sought – even after 25,000 other union members joined the strike in solidarity. Altogether, striking workers represented about half of the workforce and almost a fifth of Seattle’s 315,000 residents.

Usually, as a historian of the American labor movement, I have the unfortunate job of telling difficult stories about the decline of unions. However, in my view, the story of this particular strike is surprisingly hopeful for the future of labor.

And I believe it holds lessons for today’s labor activists – whether they’re striking teachers in West Virginia or Arizona, mental health workers in California or Google activists in offices across the world….

Seattle General Strike: Labor’s Most Spectacular Revolt

Source: Cal Winslow, Labor Notes, February 6, 2019

On February 6, 1919, Seattle’s workers struck—all of them. In doing so they took control of the city.

The strike was in support of 35,000 shipyard workers, then in conflict with the city’s shipyard owners and the federal government’s U.S. Shipping Board, which was still enforcing wartime wage agreements.

The strike rendered the authorities virtually powerless. There was indeed no power that could challenge the workers. There were soldiers in the city, and many more at nearby Camp Lewis, not to mention thousands of newly enlisted, armed deputies—but to unleash these on a peaceful city? The regular police were reduced to onlookers; the generals hesitated.

Seattle’s Central Labor Council, representing 110 unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), called the strike. The CLC’s Union Record reported 65,000 union members on strike—a general strike, the first and only of its kind in the U.S. Perhaps as many as 100,000 people participated…..

Everything You Need to Know About General Strikes

Source: Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue, No Class, January 24, 2019

The word strike seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Workers across the world have been striking to protest poor working conditions, to speak out against sexual harassment, and to jumpstart stalled union negotiations. And as we just saw with the Los Angeles teachers’ successful large-scale strike, which spanned six school days, strikers have been winning. Despite the shot of energy that organized strikes have injected into the labor movement, many people aren’t content with run-of-the-mill work stoppages, or even with more militant wildcat strikes…..

….. So what does it all mean? How is a general strike different from a planned, industry-specific work stoppage; why are people interested in the idea now; and what would one look like in 2019? …..

Red State Strikes and the Roots of Teacher Militancy

Source: Jon Shelton, LAWCHA: The Labor and Working-Class History Association Newsletter, 2018

…. These strikes were among the most important victories in the US in recent history, a clear victory for communities decimated by years of Republican-led austerity. Further, the cross-district teacher strikes this past spring seemed especially shocking because of the right’s decades-long characterization of teacher unions as inimical to the interests of the nation’s children, there has actually been labor peace among teachers and school districts going back 30 years now. The strike wave surprised many observers, particularly since they took place in conservative, “right-to-work” states where public employee strikes are illegal. Yet this new era of teacher unionism builds on a long history of teacher militancy. ….

America’s Teachers Are Furious

Source: Alia Wong, The Atlantic, January 22, 2019

From West Virginia to Los Angeles, educators are ushering in a new era of labor activism.

Related:
Political payback for the statewide teacher walkout?
Source: Andrea Eger, Tulsa World, January 22, 2019

Slew of newly filed bills aim to punish, limit future protests.

After LA’s Strike, “Nothing Will Be the Same”
AN INTERVIEW WITH ARLENE INOUYE
Source: Eric Blanc, Jacobin, January 23, 2019

The Los Angeles teachers’ strike was big, it was united, and now it’s victorious. We interview UTLA chief negotiator Arlene Inouye about how the strike turned the tables on the billionaire privatizers.

Los Angeles Teachers Strike for Higher Wages and Smaller Classes
Source: Christopher Palmeri, Bloomberg Businessweek, January 18, 2019

The district has lost enrollment to declining birthrates, rising housing costs, and charter schools.

Lessons from Teachers on How to Strike and Win

Source: John McGough, Labor Notes, October 15, 2018

Teachers across the country this year are breathing new life into the strike—galvanizing members and winning gains.

These strikes are fueled by rank-and-file anger. Many were coordinated not from above by the official union leadership but by networks of activists. The size of the mobilizations and level of organization have caught many by surprise.

The teachers have put the strike—labor’s most powerful weapon—back in our playbook. They’re showing what can be done when workers unite, organize creatively, and take to the streets.

Teachers have wiped away some of the stigma attached to strikes and shown how a strike can be built by rank-and-file members. Here are a few lessons: …..

Related:
Teacher Strike Wave: By the Numbers
Source: Jasmine Kerrissey, Labor Notes, October 4, 2018

In the Pacific Northwest, the First Paraeducator-Led Strike of the Teacher Uprising

Source: Dan DiMaggio, Labor Notes, November 16, 2018

Paraeducators in Port Angeles, Washington, are on strike. In this year’s wave of teacher strikes, it’s the first one led by paraeducators.

Teachers have refused to cross their picket lines, shutting down the district’s schools Thursday and Friday.

The 115 paradeucators in this small coastal city, just across the water from Canada, assist with everything from reading lessons to recess. Paraeducators play an essential role in today’s schools, offering extra attention and care to students who need it—especially those with disabilities…..

What’s Behind the Teachers’ Strikes: The Labor-Movement Dynamic of Teacher Insurgencies

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Dollars and Sense, no. 336, May/June 2018

As we watch—rapt—the unexpected teacher insurgencies in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and Colorado, we’re also grasping for understanding: Why is this stunning revolt occurring where unions are weak, where labor rights are thin, and where popular politics are considered to be on the right? To understand the insurgency, we need to look at economics, and at political economy specifically. But we especially need a labor-movement analysis.

A labor-movement analysis starts by understanding the political and economic conditions that shape the objective conditions of a particular group of workers (or labor market) at a given moment—prevailing wages, benefits, work processes, structures of employment, stability of work, market forces in the sector, etc. Then we look at how workers respond to those material factors and conditions: how they understand their interests, how they see their own power (or lack of it), how they understand the interests of the employers and what influences them, and how they develop tactics, strategies, and institutions to bring their power to bear against the power of employers. Finally, the self-directed activity of workers (including their ideas, ideologies, methods of organization, decision-making, and what actions they take) can be embedded in the larger context of other sectors of workers, other social movements, and historical labor movements. Such an analysis can help us interpret the teacher strike wave and, perhaps, gain insights that can help us rebuild capable, fighting unions….