A Wisconsin General Strike?

The following is a report of sorts on the energy that I am seeing towards a General Strike. However, I need to say, that the most important thing that Wisconsin can do will be to elect JoAnne Kloppenburg to the WI Supreme Court on April 5th. If we can’t organize to remove a justice to has already stated he will defend Walker, then what hope do we really have to manage or win a General Strike?

The energy for a General Strike in response to the attack on working men and women committed by the corporatist controlled government (as well as the attacks on their children and the environment that are being proposed in the budget). It isn’t just the radicals letting some really well made beer do the talking. Organizations are actively preparing for a complete shut-down.

The UW-Madison recently sent out a message to students regarding a general strike. This was aimed at a group that volunteers at area schools. Students were told that the program may shut down; however, if it didn’t that they should be aware that no one can force them to cross a picket line (i.e. threaten with a bad review of their work). Further, the volunteers were also instructed that they may not act in the place of a certified or licensed teacher (i.e., they can’t scab). I don’t know about you, but that sort of letter coming from the major institution in Madison says something more that just talk is in the air. Both Mayoral candidates have pooh-poohed the idea of the General Strike, but that it is even part of the campaign issues is remarkable. Last weekend, the IWW and a committee of the South Central Federation of Labor held a community meeting to discuss a General Strike (which SCFL has already endorsed).

Part of the reason that the General Strike has received so much support is that the bill Walker signed into law would prohibit municipalities and school boards from entering into contracts. This makes a strike against the school board or the city useless. A strike, if it takes place, has to be against the state government. The only way to do that is to shut down the entire state. Walker threatened to call out the National Guard on the day that he announced this bill, so we know that he is ready.

A month ago, I would have doubted that even 20% of the people at the protests understood the full impact of a general strike. However, the benefit of the protests has been that people have been educated and had their sense of class consciousness heightened. A lot of people who saw themselves as “professionals” a month ago, now call themselves workers. The knowledge of what a general strike is has increased along with the talk of calling one.

What should worker co-ops do in a general strike?

We own our capital and democratically control our labor. However, we are also part of our community and the labor movement. Unlike many of the labor unions, we don’t have strike funds (not that those provide for a lot). In some cases, we may not be able to get supplies to operate anyway (if gas deliveries can’t be made for instance).

It is an important debate for worker co-ops to have. Each membership will need to make its own decision (as will the membership of each union and every worker). However, they can’t have this discussion internally. They need to have this discussion with the rest of the labor movement. There might be good reasons to keep Union Cab running to assist with striker logistics. Nature’s Bakery might keep operating, but supply bread to the strikers (who might not have a lot of money for food). Lakeside Press will also be vital during a strike. So will many of our other worker co-operatives. It will be important for each co-operative to explain its action to the community.

My personal preference would be for our co-ops to put down our tools and join our fellow workers. However, I would follow our membership consensus.

Part of the difficulty in this discussion is that no one knows how the “strike” will happen or when it will happen. I would imagine that it will start with small stoppages of 1-2 hours a day in order to build momentum. Perhaps a Statewide “sick day” might get called. In all of this, there might be a proviso that if someone needs to go to work (nurses, emts, or people who simply need to feed their family and fear the risk), that the engage in “work-to-rule”. Work-to-rule (known as an “Italian Strike” in Europe) is a great strategy because it allows workers to continue to earn their income while shutting down the system. As you might guess, it means following every federal, state and local law regarding your job as well as every internal rule. It prevents workers from being fired, but slows the machinery of profit down (sometimes to a trickle).

I think that the talk of a General Strike is real–at least as real as I have ever heard it. It isn’t coming from wild-eyed youngsters anymore, but from the establishment. How it gets prosecuted will still need to be decided. However, as I started this piece, I need to reiterate:

Vote JoAnne Kloppenburg for WI Supreme Court Justice on April 5th. If we can pull together to do this, then what has the last 5 weeks at the Capitol really been about?

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
This entry was posted in Worker Rights and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Wisconsin General Strike?

  1. Scott McCormick says:

    hey john, awesome article.

    i would encourage everyone to research and understand what happened during the “Ontario Days of Action,” which occurred in the 1990s in reaction to a similar situation as is happening now in Wisconsin. it appears to be a historically and culturally similar thing to our present circumstances.

    as an initial regurgitation of my conversations here in the last 48 hours, the Ontario “days of action” used some of the following strategies: while public employees cannot strike, it is possible for all of us to act under our rights of free speech and assembly. so, as a public employee, while i may not strike my workplace, after work i can go exercise my first amendment rights against the grocery store that supported the people who are screwing me. the people from the grocery store can come demonstrate against screwing public workers at my or another public workplace. same effect, different method.

    please, i am operating on little sleep and nothing in writing to back up what i just wrote – – so go look it up


  2. John!
    I WAS a wild-eyed radical in the 60s calling for a General Strike against the war in Vietnam AND I still think it IS a good idea! Worker co-ops in solidarity with the labor movement of course should be the aim. If that means “putting down” tools and joining with others outside their work places and at rallies, fine. BUT if it means serving a purpose as you mentioned, offering transportation, fliers and posters, or bread, that too expresses solidarity.

    I would support a national Co-operative Strike Fund so that Union Cab can purchase extra gallons of fuel/batteries, or that Lakeside can purchase extra paper and the bakery extra flour. And of course to help with directly aiding co-operative members with daily expenses.

    Send an inquiry to the Worker co-op list and see what response you receive. I am ready to write a check!

    Secondly, I the listing of campaign supporters for Walker I saw that the WI League of Credit Unions sent in a campaign contribution. I don’t remember the amount… presume it was considerable. On Friday I wrote to their Director of Communications, Christine Henzig (chenzig@theleague.coop), asking if this was true. Haven’t heard back. Can you check on that? If it is true…. Pull your money out!

    This is outrageous. Whose side are the Credit Unions on? Any self-respecting local credit union should condemn this sort of reckless financial behavior and at least pull out of the League.

    I am sending a copy of this comment to the National Federation of Worker Co-ops and to the San Francisco network – NoBAWC.

    In solidarity!


  3. Bernard,

    Great comments! I was one of those wild-eyed youths in the early ’80s! I think that I will send out a message to the group. It may really come it here–when people drop the titles given to them by their corporate masters and accept “worker” with dignity, you know something important has happened. The crowd on Saturday was easily 170,000 and that was after the bill was signed. No one is giving up here.

    I checked on the Credit Unions, they gave equal amounts to both sides. It is a bad practice that needs to stop. If the Credit Unions think that they will escape by throwing a couple of hundred bucks into the pot while M&I Bank kicked in $130,000, then they are the Mr. Blocks of our day.

  4. Thanks John for checking with the Credit Unions. I am not surprised that they have that practice – its “acceptable” lobbying practice. Hah! And of course Walker didn’t expose his real program during his campaign of course so the Credit Unions can say that they were “hoodwinked.” BUT, that aside, we can justifiable say that they have given support to him. They can’t weasel out of that. What to do? I would pressure them to repudiate Walker based on sound co-op principles. What I proposed above still stands.

    And so too with the idea of a W-C Solidarity Fund.

    Keep up the good work John of informing us on events with the Madison Commune!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.