General Strike: Because Wisconsin Needs More than a Recall

As the old phrase states: Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.  These are indeed extraordinary times in Wisconsin.  The Budget Repair Bill that was passed by Governor Scott Walker and State Republicans will strip public employees of the right to collectively bargain and threaten the very existence of unions in the state.

Despite the severity of these measures, Democrats and sections of the Trade Union leadership have chosen to pour resources and direct energy into a campaign to recall Walker and other Republicans.  Easy call, since the Democrats seem sure to cash-in on Republican overreach and win any recall election.  Yet, a recall falls short of the extraordinary measure quotient – workers are ready to move now in Wisconsin and a general strike is the best tactic to respond to Walker’s assault on democratic rights.

Stripping workers of collective bargaining rights rolls back the historical clock to a time when there was no legal guarantee of getting a union contract.  At the turn of the 20th century, American Employers denied, repressed and ignored claims pressed forward by workers.  The question was one of force – could working people force their bosses to concede to demands for justice or would the bosses be able to exert more power?

And the critical weapon in this struggle was the strike.  Well before the now famous Sit Down Strikes that led to the organizing of the car plants in Michigan, workers carried out mass strikes.  The greatest tool in their possession was the general strike.  The best example of the power of such a total shut down of labor came in Seattle in 1919.

Here, shipyard workers made a strike to defend the gains in pay and benefits they had made during World War I.  At first, the strike was limited to the shipyard workers.  But then, more than 110 other unions realized that their fate was dependent on the victory of the shipyard workers.  They struck, the city was shut down and for five glorious days the city of Seattle was run by the General Strike Committee.

Though the business friendly national labor leadership bent to the will of the bosses and forced the strike to end, the point was made clear.  Not only could labor strike back against attempts to take back gains, but working people held the capacity to run society themselves.  Those who created the wealth were also able to administer it.

While Wisconsin 2011 is quite a different place from Seattle 1919, Walker and the Republicans seem intent to roll back the clock.  Working people might take a cue from them and reach back for a weapon that can be used defensively and offensively – the general strike.

An argument must be won before this can be accomplished.  Focusing solely on the Recall Walker and the Republicans campaign will take energy away from the effort to organize a militant response from working people.  The old Democratic Party line of “wait for the next election” just won’t do anymore, even if that next election comes sooner rather than later.  The time for waiting is over – the very existence of unions is on the line here.

Wisconsin can draw on a long history of socialist and other radical organizing and become the place where a new left-wing movement for the 21st century is born.  The time to act is now!

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. ACT I said on March 11th, 2011 at 1:05pm #

    Billy Wharton is correct in asserting that “Wisconsin Needs More Than a Recall.” But to call for a general strike is tacitly to assume that the situation that we humans are in at present is basically similar to that of a hundred years ago. The fact of the matter, however, is that our current situation is rather different: today, ecocatastrophe stares us in the face (among other problems).
    Not only is our situation today different from that of 100 years ago; those who view our various problems today from an overall perspective have concluded that the ultimate source of virtually all of our problems is The Discrepancy—an “event” whose origins trace back to theAgricultural Revolution (which began c. 10,000 years ago).
    Prior to that Revolution humans had a way of life that accorded with their biological characteristics (because there had occurred a co-development of the two), but since that time ways of life have been changing without a comparable change in human biology—so that a Discrepancy has developed, and continually grown in magnitude, between the way of life for which we had become “designed” and the ways of life we have been forced to live. Sociobiologist David P. Barash has referred to this phenomenon using the terms “tortoise” and “hare.”
    What, specifically, must be done to reduce, if not eliminate, this Discrepancy? Rather than offer any sort of “blueprint” here, let me state instead that we need people (a) to recognize the fact of this Discrepancy, (b) grapple with the question of how it can be reduced, if not eliminated, (c) share their ideas with others, and then (d) act on those ideas. (By the way, I am certainly not advocating return to a gatherer-hunter way of life!)
    James Lovelock has predicted that our species will be virtually extinct by 2100 CE, and he may be right. And he will surely be right if we continue to drean up, and then act on, mere band-aid solutions (such as general strikes) to the manifold problems that face us.

  2. Don Hawkins said on March 11th, 2011 at 1:54pm #

    ACT I correct and it look’s like one more summer then another will bring change the Earth and will be clear so will it be just more doublethink or maybe double up on the doublethink? Best to start now and think of it as kind of a war as the darkside is relentless and all have a few things in common money and how to get more, orange chicken, they all read how to win friends and influence people but as we see in Wisconsin are now adding a few new chapters, Atlas Shrugged there bible nothing new under the Sun there worst enemy is knowledge the truth and anyone who dares call them bullshit artists although I like punk’s bullshit punk’s while fast talking flag waving at least for now until yes they add another chapter to there book of bullshit. ACT 1 that was well put and it has to start soon.

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 11th, 2011 at 3:18pm #

    Communities tend to be guided less than individuals by conscience and a sense of responsibility. How much misery does this fact cause mankind! It is the source of wars and every kind of oppression, which fill the earth with pain, sighs and bitterness. (Albert Einstein, 1934)

    1934 and if he could see the communities/gangs today maybe watch Fox New’s…………………..

  4. Vic Anderson said on March 11th, 2011 at 6:35pm #

    C’mon, People, Get TOGETHER. Wisconsin Cheese(heads) and Florida Crackers: GRATE Scotts! Since it’s also hardball season; General Steeerike ‘Em OUT!! And you know Your SOCIAL SECURITY’S next; so Why WAIT, CATFOODIATE ‘Em ALL NOW, with a Cat FOODFIGHT of Cataclysmic proportions against the FATCAT$ … The PU$ILLANIMOU$ PU$$YFOODER$!

  5. Charlie said on March 12th, 2011 at 1:28am #

    Let me say first that the good people of Wisconsin have the government they richly and thoroughly deserve. The majority of voters put the right-wingers in office, and I suspect that a fair number of the people most harmed by Walker and his cohorts voted for him. One of the inexplicable (but perversely admirable) characteristics of the right-wingers is their ability to convince the working classes that the Republicans are their friend. Moreover, the Dems would not have been booted out of office if they had accomplished anything of merit–instead, Dems across the nation, Wisconsin included, have mostly aligned themselves with the wealthy overlords, financial elites, and corporate masters who serve as America’s real rulers.

    That said, I would also suggest that a general strike and a recall should be handled with great caution. Most general strikes in the US have been against corporations, not governments. Strikers need to realize that governments have, and will use, powers not available to corporations. Governments have an arsenal of legislative, political, financial, and even military measures that can be turned against strikers; and Walker has shown no reluctance to fight dirty. A strike needs to be carried out with a full recognition of the retaliatory measures that might be employed.

    In addition, a strike against a government becomes a strike against the people who put it in power. The strikers become soldiers in a much larger cultural war, and the opposition will feel threatened, angry, and ready for battle. Walker may even be able to portray himself as a victim of that conflict. In such a battle, reactionary voters may run even farther to the right.

    Similarly, a recall is risky business. The Dems, hoping to capitalize on the public anger of the moment, need to pause and remember that Walker will be backed by the same voters, corporate donors, and power brokers who put him in office. Can the Dems realistically believe that those titanic forces will roll over and let him be pulled from office?

    Despite the dangers of a recall or a strike, I strongly agree that a general strike may be the best course of action right now. At the risk of sounding like Bush, I’ll say that Walker has drawn a deep line in the sand. Strikers need to cross that line, erase it, and show some guts in the face of the staggering arrogance, political brutality, and thuggery of Walker and his minions. The stakes are high. If Wisconsin is lost to the far right, economic serfdom may spread across much of the nation at an alarming speed.

  6. Don Hawkins said on March 12th, 2011 at 3:16am #

    Spread across much of the nation at an alarming speed the far right a secret these people will fold like a house of card’s on a windy day as to make a long story short there heart just isn’t in it rather hard to do with illusion of knowledge run the light the light is gaining on us hurry talk faster a tea party rally where’s the busses call my lawyer wait I am a lawyer.

  7. Don Hawkins said on March 12th, 2011 at 3:57am #

    To anybody in Japan a message my name is Don Hawkins and I live in South Georgia the United States where I live we can grow corn, soy beans, wheat, blueberries, peaches, cotton, hay and it does appear that we will be able to do that where others places and not just the United States but many places on Earth will not. I will help you as best I can if you wish to move and give it a try the name of the town I live in is Alma, George the United States and again my name is Donald Hawkins and I will help you as best I can if you wish to move. I have a bait shop and my Son is a farmer and my wife can’s among other thing’s if you call please English as I don’t speak your language but willing to learn.

  8. Don Hawkins said on March 12th, 2011 at 4:01am #

    Sorry about that that’s Alma, Georgia sometimes my spelling doesn’t keep up with my thinking.

  9. Don Hawkins said on March 12th, 2011 at 12:39pm #

    In 2010 we had Russia, China, Pakistan, the Amazon and yes those were the big ones many littler ones that are now adding up. A substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

    True or real; not imaginary, not imaginary or illusory