"You have built the ships for your boss. Why not build them for yourselves?"
Today, April 1st, the Chicago Teachers Union is holding a walkout and "day of action" to demand a better contract and protest the state's chronic underfunding of city schools.
"I guess the important thing to say is we're just very conscious of the fact that we're part of a broader movement that needs to figure out how to fund social services," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Tribune, "and we're trying to ask people to see April 1 in that broader context." For more on Friday's strike, see Mark Brenner in Labor Notes, and Micah Uetricht's interview with CTU executive board member Sarah Chambers in Jacobin.
Below is an excerpt from a talk given by ISO member Leia Petty, as part of an ISO meeting held on Wednesday, March 30 at Verso Brooklyn, called Socialism: Getting from a moment to a movement, about the challenges of taking socialism from an idea to a reality. The following piece places our current struggles in historical context by discussing the revolutionary workers strike in Seattle in 1919.
On January 21st, 1919, 35,000 shipyard workers went on strike. Within two weeks, 110 union locals granted authorization for a general strike and formed a three-hundred person strike committee, charged with running the strike. They were eventually joined by thousands of unorganized workers, members of the International Workers of the World (IWW), and Japanese workers who were previously denied entrance into formal trade unions but saw the general strike as a means to achieve better working conditions in restaurants and barber shops. Directly influenced by the formation of soviets in Russia, the working class of Seattle was determined to not just withdrawal labor power but to reopen industry in the interests of ordinary people.
One of the leaflets published at Equity, a radical printing press, was titled, "Russia Did It", the text of which read: "You have built the ships for your boss. Why not build them for yourselves? Why not own and control, through your unions, YOUR jobs and YOUR shipyards? Why not dictate yourselves the number of hours you should work, the conditions under which you work, the pay you should receive for your labor? The workers of Russia did it, why not you? They refused to be starved by the capitalist class and when the capitalists refused to meet their conditions, they took over themselves the industries, and operated and managed them in the interests not of the parasitic capitalists but of the workers. The majority of class conscious workers of America are with you. It is up to you. The world is for the workers."
Despite the pleas by the city government of Seattle to call off the strike immediately, workers began taking control, forming in practice a counter government. Practically every aspect of the city's life came before the strike committee for a decision. The most complicated job involved feeding the strikers and residents of Seattle. The milk wagon drivers established 35 neighborhood milk stations across the city. The restaurant workers immediately moved into action, opening 21 eating places at a very low price. By the end they were serving 34,000 meals per day. City life was both shut down and resurrected. The Union Record encouraged workers to use public libraries (which increased tremendously during the strike), urged small community "sings", and organized recreational gatherings.
The strike memo called on workers to "make the most of your leisure time," and ended, "This is a fine weather for a vacation anyhow." A Labor's War Veterans Guard, made up of WWI veterans, and modeled on the Workers, Soldiers and Sailors Council in Russia, was established to enforce the decisions of the strike committee during the strike. There was not a single arrest connected to those participating in the strike, and general police court arrests sunk to less than half the normal numbers. Despite the hysteria created by the city government and media, the general in charge of US troops that were later called into the city, said that in his forty years of military experience he had "not seen a city so quiet and orderly."
Leia Petty is an unionist, education activist and socialist living in Brooklyn, NY.
For more info on the ISO, check out www.internationalsocialist.org.
In solidarity with the CTU day of action, Micah Uetricht's "Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity" is 50% off print and 90% off the ebook for today, April 1 (North America only).
Read an excerpt of Strike for America here.