With just one day to go until May Day, the Occupy-planned general strike remains a largely unknown quantity. How many people will skip work to take to the streets? The Occupy call, which has gained support from numerous labor and immigrant justice groups, reads “No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping. Take the streets!” It’s just a matter of hours before we see whether and how it will be answered.
I have written here at some length against judging this May Day by standards of traditional general strikes — not seen in the U.S. since the 1940s — or contemporary mass strikes in Europe, where unions have not been politically pummeled into weakness, as they have in this country. And although pundits are looking at May Day as a referendum on Occupy’s relevance, it’s unclear what success in this case means or would look like. Marches (both permitted and un-permitted), free meals, teach-ins, college student and high-school walkouts and roving dance parties have been scheduled in 115 cities around the country. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and other well known musicians will be joining a “guitarmy” — 1,000 guitarists marching (and strumming) from New York City’s midtown to Union Square. Clearly, the general strike organizers in New York are less interested in affirming the strength or relevance of a movement than they are in experimenting with new tactics. Still, there’s a feeling that somehow, and in some bold way, it’s got to be big.