A General Strike.. in my Country? 5 Myths of the May Day “General Strike”.

1. The May Day General Strike is Substitutionist and Ultra Left Opportunism.

For those unfamiliar with “Substitutionism”, the gist of it is the believe that a radically organized minority can act in the name of the working class rather than rely on the self – activity of the working class. “Ultra – Left” refers to the tendency of “a hardened political theory that rejects strategies aimed at involving the greatest number of workers, students and community members in the fight to win their rights and improve their conditions in favor of the actions taken by a self-selected minority of activists”[1]. As though you have rights in the first place… But I Digress, I remember back in late November 2011 in a radically organized caucus right before we organized the D12 shutdown of the ports those comrades in the Bolshevik tradition as ardent proponents of our actions as “Substitutionist” and “Ultra Left”. I remember a comrade from the IWW dispelling such myths and those childish comrades walking out of the meeting. I remember the ISO attacking the Oakland Anarchists and the Seattle Libertarians for such similar mentalities, for their criticism of Occupy’s Liberal tendencies. Once again against the victories we’ve made, against the momentum and experience we’ve gained these Bolshevik – Communists of all different traditions are attacking us with the rhetoric of “Substitutionism” and “Ultra Leftism”.

D12 was a response to the escalation of class war . We can not see what happened at Longview as an isolated instance, but as a small piece on a larger continuum of strides against the oppressed. Longshoreman or not, it affects us all. The unresisted victory of the Bourgeois at the Port like its victory at Wisconsin would mean an invigoration  of its forces on all fronts against us. So on D12 we shutdown the ports for the workers who could not strike because the unions were to cowardice, because they want labor peace, not class war. We shutdown the ports because as a class this affects us all. We did so not as a closed organization, but as an open organization. We provided the space for which Longshoreman could get involved and they did. Against their Union and Boss they provided us with the means to shutdown the ports. Not only this, they brought us pizza on the day of the shutdown and stood on the picketline. This was not a Substitutionist action and to the thousands which stood on the picketline with us, I say it was not a minority.

D12 Portland, Oregon

A reality check is needed: the vast majority of the working class is not Unionized. The ISO and sympathizers with this myth have a strange fetish for organized labor as somehow the vanguard of the modern proletariat. If anything has been proven in the last decade it is that the last vestiges of AFL – CIO, SEIU or any trade union are incapable of organizing nor generalizing the dissent of the masses. The failure of unions to catalyze a General Strike in Wisconsin is the perfect example of this.  The continuous concessions, retreats and losses on the part of Union movement has welded the most pathetic example of organized labor for a first-world country in the world. We can not leave it up to the Unions to make the Strike we need.

The point of this General Strike is to provide a space by which people can assemble and strike without operating in the legal and limiting forms of the Union. The point is to provide a space for which precarious and casualized workers who are not unionized can Strike. The point is to call out the entire working class: the unemployed, the housewife, the student, the service sector worker AND the Union worker. The point is to make the Occupy Movement the General Workers Union for the entire Proletariat. The “One Big Industrial Union” for our time.

We are not “Ultra Left”. Our hardened rejection of unions is for the fact they are both a minority in the face of a much larger working class, that they are typically reactionary and that they are largely irrelevant to the Student, the Unemployed, the Precarious or Casualized worker which makes up the much larger face of the Proletarian class then the Union movement.

What does the ISO and similar Bolshevik camps want? They say against Ultra Leftism they want the masses. But we want the masses too.  However we want the most revolutionary sections of the working class. They are the vanguard[2]; they will lead the rest of the dispossessed to victory. We don’t want them for the existing Unions or for any party, we want them to think and act autonomously, to become their own masters. That’s Anarchism actualized. You will neither find the masses in the Unions, nor the most revolutionary sections of the working class. We want to organize the vast majority of the dispossessed who are unorganized. Not beat the dead horse of the Union movement.

2. A General Strike is called by a Union

Not Always. The Great Upheaval of 1877 which started as a Wildcat Strike turned into a Nationwide Wildcat Mass Strike shutting down the railroads and enveloping cities into insurrection and insurgency. May 68 in France became a Nationwide Wildcat General strike calling on more than 10 million workers and many million students and unemployed into the streets for more than two weeks against the State, Unions and against all Political Parties which would co – opt its struggle. If anything the most memorable and inspirational strikes have been from Working Class Autonomy outside the Trade Union movement, not from it.

3.The May Day Strike will Accomplish Nothing

Even if the May Day Strike turns to nothing but mass marches, the fact that Occupy has interjected even the word of General Strike back into the everyday lives of the working class is an accomplishment. This is marked by the fact that since the first interjection of General Strike and Occupy into mass media has been from Wisconsin struggle last spring has lead Occupy Wall St. and the subsequent General Strike of Oakland and from the Bay area the call for a national General Strike.

4.The May Day General Strike has no “Demands”

False. The General Strike is “against the corruption of the worldwide marketplace, which has led to illegal foreclosures, mass unemployment, low wages, high taxes and a penalization of all those who do not own the ‘99%’ of the world’s resources, and in solidarity with the immigrant movements of May 1st” for “IMMIGRANT RIGHTS, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE and LABOR RIGHTS, PEACE WITH JUSTICE, CIVIL LIBERTIES — END THE POLICE STATE, HOUSING, EDUCATION AND HEALTH CARE AS HUMAN RIGHTS, WOMEN’S RIGHTS, LGBTQ RIGHTS & GENDER EQUITY” [ 3], but the simple act of Striking is a program in and of itself. A cold hearted rejection of the systems of exploitation. Its limits are clear however. Stopping work is not the same as abolishing work as a Social relation. This has always been the historic limit of a General Strikes and why the working class gets into one and then asks itself… well what do we do next? The General Strike is the tallest and highest weapon of the working class. But a gun isn’t a hammer and we can’t expect to build a new world until we turn protest into new communistic social relations.

5. A General Strike will win us these demands

General Strikes never win much. Especially not in America. The fetish of General Strikes will result only in disappointment. Only revolution can realize these demands and a General Strike will not and never has catalyzed any revolution. General Strikes are “revolutionary gymnastics,” a way of keeping in shape for the time of revolution. It’s a way of increasing militancy, developing strategies and new tactics, keeping the power of the working class in the public eye. It’s but a small piece in the accumulated experience of the working class.



[1] – Confronting the Debates in Occupy  This differs from the historic Ultra – Left.

[2] – Not in the Leninist sense, by any means.

[3] http://www.occupymay1st.org/

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2 Responses to A General Strike.. in my Country? 5 Myths of the May Day “General Strike”.

  1. while not in full agreement with everything said here, the essentials of why this action count are there. this is particularly the case in florida where the entire industrial class of the state has been built mostly very recently and has no sense of empowerment. politics here will always follow that of what comes from major centers of activity and if anything we must continue to resist to not allow reactionaries to organize our areas against us.

  2. Binh says:

    Former ISO member here and you are absolutely right. All this stuff about “ultra-leftism” and “substitutionism” is bull. It just shows they don’t understand what it means to be a revolutionary, how the heroic actions of a determined minority can inspire others to act (depending on context, what the action is, etc.) OWS began with less than 200 people. Was that action “substitutionist”? No.

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