Nationwide "general strike" spreads to New Orleans Feb. 17


An activist holds a sign at Jan. 29 rally against the president's immigration policies. - KAT STROMQUIST
  • An activist holds a sign at Jan. 29 rally against the president's immigration policies.

The national Women's March organization, which spearheaded the inauguration-weekend protests attended by millions of Americans, sent ripples through the Twitterverse Monday with a tweet announcing an upcoming "women's strike." Though they've yet to confirm a date, other progressive activists are rallying around Strike4Democracy, a general strike scheduled for Feb. 17. A local event is being promoted by Our Revolution, the progressive group which organized a concurrent march to the Women's March in New Orleans.

Strike4Democracy event organizers call for a strike in support of "democracy, human rights, environmental concerns" and "ethics in public service," and to urge senators and congressional representatives to affirm their commitment to the Constitution. The subtext: opposition to what many see as the anti-democratic ideals and perceived ethical quagmire of President Donald Trump and his administration.

On the event date, participating individuals are urged not to work, to avoid making non-essential purchases and to hold rallies and teach-ins centered around "resistance" and "solidarity" with a multiplicity of progressive causes. Those who can't skip work are encouraged to participate in actions as they can on lunch breaks and refrain from spending money. According to Our Revolution organizer Michelle Hanks, there also are preliminary plans for a rally in Duncan Plaza from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. that afternoon.

Unions, which are the historic organizers of some of the largest strikes in American history, don't have as much as of a foothold locally as they do in some other cities. New Orleans has seen periodic strikes as workers have walked off the job to demand better working conditions. In 2010, Sodexo employees at area schools and universities picketed for better wages and more sick time and authorized a strike to lobby for university cafeteria workers' right to unionize. More recently, the Fight for $15 has organized strikes in New Orleans to advocate for a $15 minimum wage.

But it's somewhat unusual to see a call for a large-scale, political strike, both locally and in contemporary America more generally. This strike, along with other recent events, may indicate the return of strikes as part of the activist toolbox.  As part of ongoing protests against the recent executive order that called for a halt to immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, New York City taxi drivers engaged in a one-hour work stoppage against pickups at JFK International Airport — a possible preview of the kind of tactics that could come into wider use by groups protesting the president and his policies.

In New Orleans, activists also are bound to grapple with the question of whether a strike can be sufficiently inclusive to have much of an impact. Many low-wage and service industry workers — a disproportionately large proportion of the city's workforce — cannot afford to take time off work or are not permitted to call in sick (or "sick"). For those employees who do have paid time off, a Friday vacation day may not be perceived as much of a sacrifice.

"Historically, strikes meant something," Hanks wrote in a message. "They meant possible job loss, violence, jail. ... So while it is important to show continued resistance to Trump, a one-day strike without any backup to assist those in need is merely a gesture."

There's also a risk of alienating critics whose go-to retort to activists is "get a job," though between that criticism and ongoing, discredited conspiracy theories about paid protesters, winning over such critics' hearts and minds is a challenge that may be almost out of reach for activists who are being besieged on many fronts.

This post will be updated with more details about the strike as they develop.

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