ENG: A general strike is a strike action by a critical mass of the labour force in a city, region, or country. While a general strike can be for political goals, economic goals, or both, it tends to gain its momentum from the ideological or class sympathies of the participants. It is also characterized by participation of workers in a multitude of workplaces, and tends to involve entire communities. The general strike has waxed and waned in popularity since the mid-19th century, and has characterized many historically important strikes.
North American general strikes include the 1877 Saint Louis general strike, which grew out of the events of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 across the United States, the 1892 New Orleans general strike, and the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
Winnipeg General Strike
The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history, and became the platform for future labour reforms.
Although many Canadian companies had enjoyed enormous profits on World War I contracts, wages and working conditions were dismal and labour regulations were mostly non-existent.
In Winnipeg, workers within the building and metal industries attempted to strengthen their bargaining ability by creating umbrella unions, the Building Trade Council and Metal Trade Council respectively, to encompass all metal and building unions. Although employers were willing to negotiate with each union separately, they refused to bargain with the Building and Metal Trade Councils, disapproving of the constituent unions that had joined the umbrella organization, and citing employers' inability to meet proposed wage demands. Restrictive labour policy in the 1900s meant that a union could be recognized voluntarily by employers, or through strike action, but in no other way.
Workers from both industrial groupings therefore struck to gain union recognition and to compel recognition of their collective bargaining rights.
At 11:00 a.m. on Thursday May 15, 1919, virtually the entire working population of Winnipeg had gone on strike. Somewhere around 30,000 workers in the public and private sectors walked off their jobs. Even essential public employees such as firefighters went on strike, but returned midway through the strike with the approval of the Strike Committee. Although relations with the police and City Council were tense, the strike was non-violent in its beginning stages until the confrontation on Bloody Saturday.
On June 10 the federal government ordered the arrest of eight strike leaders (including J.S. Woodsworth and Abraham Albert Heaps).
A week later, about 25,000 strikers assembled for a demonstration at Market Square, where Winnipeg Mayor Charles Frederick Gray read the Riot Act. Troubled by the growing number of protestors and fearing violence, Mayor Gray called in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police who rode in on horseback charging into the crowd of strikers, beating them with clubs and firing weapons. This violent action resulted in many people injured, numerous arrests and the death of two strikers. Four eastern European immigrants were also rounded up at this time and eventually two were deported, one voluntarily to the United States and the other to Eastern Europe. This day, which came to be known as “Bloody Saturday”, ended with Winnipeg virtually under military occupation.
1919 Seattle general strike
In Seattle, 35,000 shipyard workers went on strike for a pay increase.
The Seattle Central Labor Council called for a city-wide strike in support. More than one hundred union locals voted to strike. Total number of strikers were sixty-thousand union workers, joined by 40,000 other workers who walked out in sympathy.
The city was successfully shut down, except for essential needs such as fire protection and hospital laundry. Thirty-five neighborhood milk stations were set up throughout the city, and large kitchens prepared thirty thousand meals per day.
National leadership of the American Federation of Labor and other top union officials opposed the strike, and successfully brought pressure to end it.
According to Howard Zinn, participants in the strike were mostly affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, and there were only a few IWW locals. Zinn observed,
The strike had been peaceful. But when it was over, there were raids and arrests: on the Socialist party headquarters, on a printing plant. Thirty-nine members of the IWW were jailed as "ring-leaders of anarchy."
1934 textile workers
The term "general strike" is sometimes applied to large-scale strikes of all of the workers in a particular industry, such as the Textile workers strike (1934). Such "general" strikes, however massive they might be, involve workers only in a particular workplace.
1934 dock workers strike
The classic general strike involves workers (and members of the working-class) who may have no direct stake in the outcome of the strike. For example, in the San Francisco General Strike of 1934, both union and non-union workers struck for four days to protest the police and employers' tactics that had killed two picketers and in support of the longshoremen's and seamen's demands.
1934 Teamsters strike
The distinction between a strike of different organizations, and a general strike is not always clear. In the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934, as an example, many building trades unions and organizations of unemployed workers in federal work projects struck in sympathy with striking truck drivers and to protest the police violence against picketers.
Thousands of others participated in demonstrations to support the strikers. Those sympathy strikes, while sizable, never acquired the scope necessary to amount to a "general strike", however, and the organizers of the Teamsters' strike did not describe it as such.
1946 Oakland strike
In October 1946, women at two department stores went on strike. On December 1, 400 members of the city's police force were employed to break the strike. Police succeeded in breaking the picket line, but their actions created a spontaneous general strike throughout the city. An estimated 130,000 people stopped work, essentially shutting down the city.
2011 Oakland general strike
The Oakland General Strike of 2011 was a general strike held in Oakland, California on November 2, 2011 as part of the larger Occupy Oakland movement.
Thousands of protesters gathered at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to participate in rallies, marches, and teach-ins designed to empower citizens and to draw attention to economic inequity and corporate greed. The last general strike in the United States was in Oakland in 1946. Local unions expressed solidarity for the strike including Oakland's largest union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, Oakland Education Association, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, and United Brotherhood of Carpenters. While none of the unions were officially on strike, many urged their members to take a personal day, vacation day or to participate after work.
A flatbed truck with a sound system was parked in the middle of the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway and used as a makeshift stage. The morning's rally began at 9 am and a range of people addressed the audience including the scholar/activist Angela Davis and musician Boots Riley. Live musical performances occurred simultaneously in the plaza amphitheater including local hip hop group BRWN BFLO.
While most of the day-time activities were peaceful, Oakland Police chief Howard Jordan reported that a small group of "anarchists" vandalized a Whole Foods storefront, and broke windows and ATMs of Bank of America and Wells Fargo banks in the afternoon. Many buildings were vandalized, including some businesses that displayed signs of support for the general strike. After the incidents of vandalism, members of Occupy Oakland guarded local businesses, boarded up broken windows, and cleaned graffiti caused by the small group of protesters utilizing black bloc tactics. Oakland mayor Jean Quan described these protesters as "a small and isolated group" that "shouldn't mar the overall impact of the demonstration and the fact that people in the 99 percent movement demonstrated peacefully and, for the most part, were productive and very peaceful."