This Spring, America Is Going on Strike Against Trump

Bryce Covert, Think Progress, March 2, 2017

Estefania Navarro has never gone on strike before. She’s got a lot on the line. She’s a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative; her family traveled to the U.S. from Mexico in 2005, and her mother is still undocumented. Striking is “risky, uncomfortable,” she said.

But she’s planning to join with immigrants on May 1 this year and refuse to go to her job as an academic adviser at a community college. “As an immigrant, once you come to the realization that we can’t vote, so therefore we couldn’t have changed the outcome of Trump’s election or any other local election,” she explained, “but we can buy… and knowing that so many industries in the U.S. rely on our labor — that’s power.”

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Since the election, there has been a large and mostly sustained wave of protest against Donald Trump and his agenda. The women’s march the day after inauguration was the likely the biggest demonstration in U.S. history.

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But one tactic has started to surface that is an unusual protest tactic in the U.S.: calls for general strikes.

Some of them—the March 8 women’s strike and the May 1 immigrants’ strike—are ambitious and threaten to mobilize huge numbers of people.

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Staging a general strike is not something undertaken lightly. Unlike asking people to march in the streets, there are a number of legal and societal hurdles in the way of successfully pulling off a strike.

Today’s legal landscape offers few protections. Anyone who decides to stay home from work on March 8 or May 1 may not find a job to go back to. If a group of employees at a particular workplace went on strike to protest a particular workplace issue, they might be protected. But individuals who strike to protest politics are totally exposed.

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Unions themselves can also no longer stage “sympathy strikes” where one group of workers walks out to support another striking group.

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Strikes, broadly speaking, have fallen out of favor: There were fewer work stoppages over the last decade than used to happen in a single year before the 1980s. There were just 15 major workplace strikes last year, compared to hundreds a year in prior decades.

The reasons are manifold: Less than 11 percent of American workers were in a union last year, compared to about 20 percent in 1983. It’s also difficult to generate a sense of solidarity among Americans across our scattered workplaces.

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The history of general strikes in the U.S. is spotty and violent, and typically not focused on broad political statements—they were historically about pay.

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Despite the difficulties, a number of groups are organizing ideological strikes this spring in direct response to the Trump administration and its policies.

On March 8, women across the country are pledging to stage a mass strike that could draw huge numbers. A group of radical feminist scholars and advocates called for a strike from paid and unpaid labor, and they have since been joined by women’s organizations and even the people who organized the highly successful women’s march on January 21.

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Women don’t just have to refuse to go to work to partake. The day will also include “abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, [and] calling out misogynistic politicians and companies,” as they wrote.

“We call this a strike from gender roles and from social reproduction activities,” Arruzza said. Women who might not be able to walk off the job can still abstain from household work at home, for example, and ask their male partners to take over for them.

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Other groups are planning their own mass demonstrations, such as the upcoming Día Sin Inmigrantes on May 1st, otherwise known as May Day, that Navarro will be part of. It’s being organized by the Cosecha movement, which advocates for protection and respect for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The strike has actually been in progress since before the election as a way to work up to a weeklong strike at the end of this year. “Our strike is not targeted to Trump,” explained Carlos Rodriguez, a volunteer organizer with Cosecha. “Our strike is more than anything targeted to the American public.” The point is to draw attention to the consumer and labor power of immigrants and what happens when those two things are withdrawn. “We’re hoping that by engaging in boycotts and strikes, we have the American public understand that immigrants are needed in this country,” he said.

And the hope is to be able to mobilize immigrants in this kind of protest for future action as well. “For us, the strategy of strikes and boycotts is a strategy that we can push regardless of who’s in the White House, whether we have Trump, Obama, whoever,” he said.

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“What I see in immigrant communities is folks are saying, ‘Ya basta,’ enough is enough,” he said. “We’re tired and ready to do what’s necessary to be seen.” Those who have already been working in the immigrant rights community are seeing a huge call to go on strike from immigrants themselves in response to Trump’s increased deportations and Muslim ban.

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That fire driving people to go on strike has already burst into action. Immigrants in cities across Wisconsin staged a Day without Latinxs, Immigrants, and Refugees on February 13 to protest a Milwaukee sheriff’s pledge to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Three days later, immigrant restaurant workers went on strike to stage their own Day Without Immigrants across the country.

 

“The masses are moving towards a strike,” Rogdriguez said. And it’s only good news for his own efforts. “We’re not competing for strikers. What we’re saying is one day is not enough. We need to flex those striking muscles…get people comfortable with striking.”

His is not the only group mobilizing people to strike on May Day. David Huerta, president of the union SEIU United Service Workers West in California, will be rallying his members to strike that day as well.

“The moment is now,” Huerta said.

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All of the groups planning strikes are clear that they support each other and aren’t trying to compete. Huerta, for example, supported a February 17 general strike action, which was organized primarily online, as well as the March 8 women’s strike. “We hope everybody will be supportive on May 1,” he said. “The more we can support one another’s movements and actions, the more united we can demonstrate our power.” It remains to be seen how many people can be mobilized to strike, and whether they can stay organized in the long term.

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