Occupy May Day: Not Your Usual General Strike

March 29th, 2012

Based on a talk by Jeremy Brecher to Occupy University, Zuccotti Park – Published on ZNet, by Jeremy Brecher, March 27, 2012.

Last December, Occupy Los Angeles proposed a General Strike on May 1 “for migrant rights, jobs for all, a moratorium on foreclosures, and peace – and to recognize housing, education and health care as human rights.” The idea has spread through the Occupy movement. Occupy Wall Street in New York recently expressed solidarity with the proposal and called for “a day without the 99%, general strike, and more!” with “no work, no school, no housework, no shopping, take the streets!”  Reactions are ranging from enthusiastic support to outraged skepticism. What form might such an action take, and what if anything might it achieve?

General Strikes and Mass Strikes: … //  

… What Occupy May Day Could Achieve:

The Occupy May Day event is first of all a great chance for 99% to show itself, see itself, and express itself – to represent itself to itself and to others. The kinds of plans that are being made by OWS in New York, with a wide variety of ways in which people are being invited to participate, can encourage multiple levels of sympathy, response, connection, and mobilization among the 99%. The result can be a percolation of the ideas OWS has been promoting through workplaces, communities, and other milieus.

May Day can provide a teachable moment. It is an opportunity for millions of people to contemplate the power that arises from collectively withdrawing cooperation and consent. It can propagate the idea of self-organization, for example through general assemblies. If it truly draws together a wide range of working people, ranging from the most impoverished to professionals, from urban to suburban to rural, and including African Americans, Latinos, whites, and immigrants, it can embody the ability of the 99% to act as a group. It can demonstrate the idea of solidarity, for example by the movement as a whole supporting the needs of some particular groups. And because May Day is a global working class holiday which will be celebrated all over the world, it can reveal a rarely seen vision of a global working class of which we are as individuals and as members of diverse groups are part.

Given these possibilities, what would constitute success for May Day?  Here are some examples of desirable outcomes:

  • Reveal that there is a 99% movement that is far wider than the subset of its members who can confront the police and sleep in downtown parks.
  • Encourage a large number of people who have not done so before to identify with and participate in some way with the “99% movement.”
  • Project core issues of the 99% — like the list above from Occupy LA –into the public arena.
  • Raise issues that are crucial for the future of the 99% — notably the climate crisis and the destruction of the Earth’s environment – that have not yet been recognized as part of the Occupy critique of financial institutions and corporate capitalism.
  • Evoke self-organization in workplaces, for example general assemblies among workmates, on the job if possible, in the parking lot or another venue if not.
  • Create a self-awareness of the global 99% — possible because May Day is celebrated globally.

Unions and May Day: … //

… We are today in the midst of an unrecognized global mass strike – witness the mass upheavals reported in the news almost daily from countries around the world. Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street represent the first stirrings of American workers to join this global movement. May Day 2012 will be a global event, and it presents an opportunity to create a new self-awareness of the global 99% and its ability to act collectively.

While the Occupy movement has focused on the issues of economic injustice, it is increasingly addressing another issue that is central to the well being of the 99% — indeed of all people – nationally and globally. In January a resolution passed by consensus at the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly stated, “We are at a dangerous tipping point in history. The destruction of our planet and climate change are almost at a point of no return.”

While climate denialism is still rife in the US, the rest of the world recognizes the existential threat of catastrophic climate change and the necessity of converting the world’s economy to a climate-safe basis. The labor movement in the rest of the world is committed to the economic transformation necessary to save the Earth’s climate. That transformation can be the core of an emerging global program to create a secure economic and environmental future for all by putting the world’s people to work transforming the world’s economy to a low-pollution, climate-friendly, sustainable basis.

May Day has been an international labor holiday for more than a century. But for millennia it has been a day for the celebration of nature. This May Day can be an opportunity to draw the two together to represent the common global interest in creating work for all reconstructing the global economy to protect rather than destroy the Earth. (full text).

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