Unions prepare for general strike if Trump subverts Biden win
The number of U.S. unions and Central Labor Councils declaring their intention to strike if Donald Trump loses and refuses to leave office is increasing. In this July 20, 2020, people hold up signs during a rally on the Strike for Black Lives national day of action in Las Vegas. Political strikes, or general strikes, are rare in the U.S., but many in organized labor say a Trump coup would be an emergency situation requiring immediate action. | John Locher / AP

Central Labor Councils in Rochester, N.Y., Seattle, and Western Massachusetts have issued calls for a general strike should GOP White House occupant Donald Trump steal the Nov. 3 election.

The first resolution, from Rochester on Oct. 8, was circulated to the New York State and national AFL-CIOs, which have yet to respond. The Western Massachusetts AFL-CIO posted its Oct. 19 general strike call in a tweet two days after passage.

Seattle issued the general strike call in late October and scheduled a session of post-election training for its members on the weekend of Oct. 31-Nov. 1, The Stand, its news website, reported.

The Oakland General Strike of 1946. | Oakland Museum of California

The Seattle resolution calls for “whatever nonviolent actions are necessary up to and including a general strike to protect our democracy, the constitution, the law, and our nation’s democratic traditions.”

The Martin Luther King County (Seattle) Central Labor Council also passed the measure “to get the discussion going” about what to do in an extreme situation, President Nicole Grand told The Guardian.

A general strike would respond if Trump tries to steal the election in a variety of ways. They include stationing a 50,000-person “Army of Trump” so-called “poll watchers” at voting sites to prevent “them”—a dog-whistle meaning people of color—from voting.

Trump and the GOP could also override popular votes through GOP-run state legislatures and governors, prevent the counting of millions of the record 70 million (so far) mailed-in ballots, send militias and their ilk to tote guns into voting sites, as courts have permitted in Michigan, and use the U.S. Supreme Court to arbitrarily toss out ballots and declare Trump the victor.

Rochester’s resolution bluntly blames Trump for the need for a general strike. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “have consistently refused to state publicly that he will respect the outcomes of the election and, in the case of his loss, concede the office of president,” it says. It calls Trump “a tyrant dictator.”

It also lists the ways Trump foments unrest which would force workers to the general strike. They include “dismantling key infrastructure” for voting, notably the Postal Service, voter suppression and misinformation as methods to steal the election, and Trump’s refusal “to denounce…white supremacist and fascist militias and organizations” which plan “to overthrow American democracy.”

“We demand the U.S. Constitution be followed, requiring voters and not the courts, to determine election results,” Rochester’s resolution declares. That looks both forward—to where a GOP-named six-Justice Supreme Court majority could decide the outcome—and back to the court’s 5-4 partisan award of the 2000 awarding election to GOPer George W. Bush, by stopping the vote count in Florida.

“The extreme risk currently posed to the historic institutions of democracy in our nation may require more widespread and vigorous resistance than at any time in recent history,” the resolution adds. It declares a general strike is labor’s “most powerful tool” and “a greater power than any political machinations of aspiring despots.”

Rochester put itself on record as “firmly in opposition to any attempt to subvert, distort, misrepresent or disregard the final outcome of the 2020 presidential election,” before demanding the AFL-CIO and all other unions “prepare for and enact a general strike of all working people, if necessary, to ensure a constitutionally mandated peaceful transition of power as a result of the 2020 presidential election.”

A general strike is not unknown in the U.S. but has rarely occurred. It’s also rarely been nationwide.

People march during the Strike for Black Lives national day of action, July 20, 2020, in Las Vegas. A Trump coup may see similar resistance by labor. | John Locher / AP

The last national general strike threat, by Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson early in 2019, preceded the end of the 35-day GOP-engineered shutdown of the entire federal government.

Nelson told The Guardian the national AFL-CIO isn’t ready to call a general strike, yet. But if Trump steals the election, along with worker rights, security and safety, “We will have to do the one thing that takes all power and control from the government or anyone with corporate interests in keeping this person in office, and that is withholding our labor.”

General strikes in the 20th century were regional, such as the Teamsters 1934 general strike which shut down the Twin Cities, an International Longshore and Warehouse Union strike in San Francisco and at other West Coast ports that year, and the 1919 IWW general strike—against World War I among other causes—which brought Seattle to a halt.

The 1893 American Railway Union Pullman Strike was nationwide. Federal troops sent to Chicago by conservative Democratic President Grover Cleveland, using the excuse that the strike was blocking the mails, broke it. Strike leader Eugene V. Debs was later convicted on various trumped-up charges for leading it.

“The first #GeneralStrike with 20,000 occurred in 1835 between carpenters, coal miners and public works” personnel, Matthew U, a unionized Flight Attendant based in Chicago, tweeted to Nelson. It was for economic reasons and it won.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.