Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is a general strike?

Occupy Oakland called for a general strike on Thursday, and the most recent news shows that they succeeded in persuading many businesses in the city to remain closed, and then effectively shut down the port of Oakland--a major west coast port--by taking it over with thousands of people.

To ask American Studies questions: what is a general strike? And what is the history of general strikes in the United States? This is not my area of expertise, but here's a useful journalistic article that surveys the history, noting that the two major examples of general strikes in US history took place in 1919 in Seattle and--interestingly--in Oakland in 1946. There's an extremely useful site at the University of Washington, supervised by history professor James Gregory, with lots of information about the Seattle strike. I haven't found as comprehensive an account of the Oakland strike online; but there's an overview here.

If any readers of this blog have knowledge about the history of general strikes, or insights or experiences pertaining to related current events, please feel free to post in the comments here.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I show a film in my Political Sociology class, "The Battle of Algiers," which depicts the Algerian uprising against the French occupation. After much guerilla activity and protest, they is a general strike. It seemed to me to be a move of last resort--when the movement had grown to such a size that it could effectively shut down the capital city. Although I think Oakland was essentially successful I fear that a call for a general strike -- on a national level -- would end in failure. I'm happy to see OWS move on to other tactics...a march on washington (sure to have some acts of civil disobedience as well!) and a day of action in NYC N17. Perhaps later, when the movement grows a little more, we will see a national strike day. Very incredible.