Personally, I’ve never felt a stronger sense of class consciousness — that strange mixture of anxiety, rage, love, and resolve — than right now. I can only imagine that many workers feel similarly. Everywhere you turn there are people waking up to the importance of solidarity and considering far more radical steps than they have ever considered before.
Now is the time to turn these disparate threads of resistance into a coordinated fight for our dignity. After all, many of the necessary conditions are already falling into place.
I don’t mean only that the conditions that make such revolts necessary are clearly present, but some of the key components of success are as well. In some ways the two go hand in hand: mass actions are more successful when the cracks in the system are clear.
Let’s review the conditions which have made mass actions (like strikes and boycotts) and direct actions (like riots and jailbreaks) necessary. To put it lightly, the most marginalized have faced a veritable parade of misery since the very start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, it seems as if those in power have seen an opportunity in this crisis too: an excuse to even more violently and blatantly oppress those on the other side of the power dynamic. Darian Worden covers some of the ways in which authoritarian governments in particular have doubled-down on terror in the confusion of the pandemic here.
Just a few of the communities targeted include:
- Those in immigration detention, who are being shuffled around in what could be a deliberate attempt to spread the infection, and are even having handmade masks taken away.
- Those in prison, who are trapped in similar conditions and being granted no relief.
- Immigrants and even those married to immigrants who likely won’t get stimulus checks.
- Sex workers who won’t see any small-business relief money.
- Queer folks, who will likely see healthcare discrimination protections lifted soon.
- Homeless people, who had their encampments destroyed all over the country.
And of course, we’ve all been victimized by a government that steals PPE, delays testing, suggests that people should drink bleach, and — when it finally does grant us some form of relief — gives us only a flashy militaristic fly-over, courtesy of planes that cost enough to pay for the necessities we lack several times over.
For some of these things, there’s not much we can do beyond demonstrating and advocating and providing mutual aid. But for others, a good solid dose of solidarity and courage might go a long way. In fact, across the world, we’ve already seen successful strike efforts in response to the pandemic and its associated horrors. Such efforts seem to be spreading and are taking on some perhaps surprising forms. In France, for instance, workers are poised to strike over what they’ve deemed a too-quick re-opening of key industries. This could be an option for those of us in the US as well. With states like Georgia already declaring lockdowns over and a president all too keen to say he’s solved the problem, we might need to use a bit of leverage to prevent a huge spike in virus deaths and even a potential health system breakdown.
The most obvious targets for large-scale strikes though are the so-called “essential” industries like shipping, food distribution, and retail, where workers are in many cases being held hostage by poverty, debt, and the threat of unemployment. Even for those who are continuing to work on their own volition though, the lack of overtime or hazard pay, non-existence of PPE, and unfair sick-leave policies are well worth fighting over.
As of today, workers at Walmart, Amazon, Instacart, and more are on strike over exactly these concerns. These corporations though aren’t the only ones continuing to put their workers at risk, pay them unfairly, and otherwise abuse their power over the people who keep the wheels turning.
With mass strikes already underway, widespread support for aggressive action, and stakes that couldn’t be higher, there’s never been a better time for a general strike of all workers. In the US, yes, but perhaps over the whole world.
There’s good reason to think such an ambitious endeavor could work at this moment in history. In some ways, the past month of layoffs, quarantines, and explosive growth in mutual aid infrastructure has put us in a great position for a general strike. The most crucial component of a successful strike in the US — or any country with a minimal support system — is the ability to keep striking workers fed and housed for the duration of the strike. This means in order for a general strike to work, you have to muster massive mutual aid funds and/or facilitate the redistribution of resources throughout the working class, with the support of class traitors in the middle class and above.
Already, the pandemic has forced us to put these resource sharing systems into place and to arrange emergency supports for the most vulnerable. Almost every neighborhood in hard-hit cities has some sort of Covid Grocery Share group on Facebook or other social sites. Mask-making groups have sprung up as well, and people are working day and night to ensure our neighbors are protected, housed, and fed. For example, I’m personally helping to arrange crash-housing for people on rent strike right now in case they’re forced out. Others are running bail funds for those in prison or immigration in detention. Still others are devising ways to safely continue crucial food support programs for those left out of the official response.
And there are important ways in which these different kinds of strike efforts — like rent strikes and debt strikes — can support and magnify each other. A general strike of workers would be powerful to be sure, but combined with a debt and rent strike, it would be just about unbeatable. With large segments of America already unable to pay rent or make debt payments, we need to make sure these needs are accounted for too. And it’s a lot easier to support striking workers if those workers aren’t making rent payments and saddled under debt.
Then there’s the psychological component. As mentioned previously, it’s a lot easier to get people to see that the current system is broken when it’s crumbling before our eyes. But the conditions of this crisis have also rendered many people even more desperate than usual. Mass layoffs have thrust those living paycheck to paycheck into abject poverty. Most people won’t riot over debt until they see the obligatory payments competing directly for their grocery money. Many who thought they were “middle class” and therefore potential future capitalists are having that delusion blasted apart right now. People are — for very good reason — much angrier than usual. And with a life-threatening crisis on their minds, they don’t have the same patience they used to for the arrogance, cruelty, and downright fuckery of the ruling class.
Even quarantine is an opportunity in some ways. Whether laid off or “working from home,” a lot of people have a lot more time right now. I know the first thing I did when my hours got cut down to nothing was to throw myself into various organizing efforts. And the 100+ people on a movement Zoom-call that week made it clear I wasn’t the only one. While safety measures make it difficult to pursue some kinds of actions and to plan face-to-face, having people sitting at home with lots of time gives us the needed man-power to coordinate something like a general strike.
So, you might be asking, what do we strike over, exactly?
A general strike could be used to win many different kinds of concessions. After all, we’re currently seeing just how much a near-total shutdown of the entire economy makes those who hold power quake in their boots. Perhaps the best framing though, especially as lockdowns are lifted and things start to return to “normal,” would be a total rejection of that “normal” to which authoritarians and capitalists so desperately wish to return.
The easiest and most obvious goal would be the maintenance of all the important concessions that we’ve already been granted in the wake of this pandemic. There have been many “temporary” measures put in place in the past month that anarchists and others had been fighting for years, if not decades. From the suspension of policing for minor crimes to the loosening of unemployment rules, there are many policies we could fight to keep. While those in power may claim these victories are temporary, granting them in any situation changes the conditions of our struggle. We’re no longer fighting to gain ground, we now only have to keep it.
We can and should take advantage of this opportunity.
So right now we should start thinking about how we can keep those spaces even when things open back up and what else needs to be done to prepare for a broader and more aggressive push towards the world we want to see after this pandemic is over.
I don’t want to detract from or obscure the absolute horror of our current global situation by talking about the “silver linings” and opportunities for large-scale societal change presented by the pandemic. Over 230,000 deaths (so far), severe economic hardship and shortages, and massive disruptions in everyone’s daily lives are nothing to smile about. But the terror and suffering that accompany crises of capitalism are not unexpected. Those of us who advocate for the building of a new world emphasize building new institutions because we know that our current institutions are not resilient. We expected them to fail under stress and so they did. In huge and important ways.
And this is why we do have to keep fighting and pushing for our new world. It’s a terrifying fight in many ways, and seeing the real human cost of institutional failure up close and personal is not fucking pretty. But if we’re successful in pushing for new forms of life and new social structures, we’ll not only help alleviate the immediate pain people are suffering, we’ll also ensure that future crises are easier to weather and that people are more generally protected from the ravages of poverty, violence, and death. So we must fight to maintain the “temporary” reliefs we’ve been granted. We have been given ground in the form of real resources, physical space, and power to negotiate. We should fight to keep this space.
We should also try to maintain the momentum by winning additional concessions in the name of pure humanity. In particular, there is currently a strong human rights case to be made for emptying immigrant detention centers, releasing prisoners on at least a temporary basis, and providing a universal basic income of some sort.
As anarchists, it’s our duty to not only advocate for the bare minimum of temporary measures that could keep people alive in the short term. No, we want bread and roses. So, our question should be “Whats the most we can get right now?”
Regardless of what happens, in terms of strategies taken or outcomes won, as we get through this together, stay aware of what it feels like to engage in intensive mutual aid and deep solidarity right now. Keep it close and don’t ever forget.