Opportunity & Crisis: Examining a Total Strike

Petyr Baelish famously said that “chaos is a ladder,” identifying the opportunity his crisis presented him. People fighting for progress in all directions should take a moment to consider how COVID-19 reshapes the strategy of our movement.. Now is the time to frame our circumstances as they are, recognizing those working against progress are presently weakened. Now is the most significant opportunity we’ve ever had in our lifetimes for radical transformation. We’ll explore why a total strike is necessary, how it could take form, and the policies we should be demanding.

Seeking opportunity in crisis is generally frowned upon, as it should be. Taking advantage of people during periods of weakness and uncertainty highlights everything negative about the human condition. We rejoice when price gougers receive justice—collectively rejecting crisis exploiters, demanding a higher intent for humanity.  

National leadership disagrees. To them, this crisis is about wealth transfer. The recently passed stimulus bill includes $500 billion for massive corporate bailouts. [1] It is peak aggression in our ongoing class war, a slight to every American now in crisis. Behind the curtains of our political spectacle are millionaires and billionaires, patiently preparing to purchase significant amounts of the depressed assets yet to come.

 

Data Source: H.R. 748 https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr748/summary

 

As Americans, we have some tough decisions to make, and we need to make them now. The COVID-19 virus is going to decimate our country. The aftermath will be an economic collapse that will allow wealthy elites to become significantly richer, while what remains of America’s middle-class free falls into poverty. Our country will be a shadow of the United States that all of us remember. The task every American owes themselves is to decide if this future is known or subject to change.  

Why Total Strike?

A total strike would combine labor, consumption, rent, and debt strikes together to grind the American economy to a complete halt intentionally. It is, without a doubt, the most effective tool the American people have to demand necessary changes. Together, we would refuse to participate in the economic arrangements we’re currently bound to.  

It is now more apparent than ever that our legal, political, and economic institutions are inadequate in the face of crisis. A total strike allows we the people to address these failings without reliance on elected officials.  

Our leadership is unwilling to do what is necessary to prevent mass casualties. Instead of utilizing the full power we have, a national mobilization of healthcare and manufacturing, they choose to rely on uncoordinated private profit-seekers to solve the crisis. 3.5 million people applying for unemployment during the first week of quarantine is a glimpse of the devastation that is here and still coming. Any return to previous states of activity will be slow and gradual, impoverishing hundreds of thousands in the process. In our worst times, we see that our political system is nothing but puppetry for the millionaire and billionaire classes. 

 

The primary reason for a total strike is because we have no other options. It is simply not enough to sit back and wait for things to get better while those in charge funnel money upwards. There’s no other way to say it, the America you thought you knew is over. Every one of us has a decision to make now about what our lives look like moving forward. Will we come together to reject oligarchy and profit in favor of community and cooperation? Or, will we accept our fate and revert to serfdom at the expense of many lives? Desperate times call for drastic measures. Americans have a difficult decision to make over the next month—one that will determine our fate for years to come.

Consider two critical factors about the time we are experiencing. The economic crash is erasing trillions of dollars worth of capital investments. The billionaire capital class is the weakest they’ve been in decades—a brief moment in time where the predator is injured to the degree that turns them to prey. Following up on our present economic calamity with a total strike will put so much strain on their systems of capital and finance that we will break the machine. It is the billionaires demanding that the American people go back to work knowing full well that the virus is still spreading. They need us to begin producing more than we need them.

We can’t talk about this present moment without also recognizing the sheer number of us who will be economically devastated by the crisis. Opportunity is a fickle moment. It presents itself demanding you seize it or watch it go. Fleeting, and quick to move, those who are slow to act or afraid of failing are most likely to miss out. The question for every American at this moment in time is, what do you have to lose? If you long for a better vision of humanity, now is the most significant opportunity ever presented to us.

In times of great calamity, there are moments of hope. But hope is not the precursor to action. It is the result of it. Now more than ever, it’s time to embrace the fact that as a people we need to come together for a broader vision of humanity. The monied elites and their corporate Congresspeople will not save us. It is up to us to protect ourselves through swift and decisive action. That is why it is time for a total strike.

Three Primary Demands

A total strike without a clear set of demands is a waste of effort. While everyone will have a personal collection of critical requirements, we want to focus on programs that are immediately accessible and popular enough to achieve a majority consensus. The three demands we’ll explore will radically reshape the economic, political, and social landscape of the United States. Our objective is not a temporary relief like that found in independent rent or debt strikes. It is to redefine the circumstances in which we live.

On the surface, three demands may seem inadequate, given the grand scope of problems in the United States that impression is undoubtedly correct. However, by sticking to three core demands, we significantly increase our likelihood of success. It allows us to approach our action with laser focus and create frameworks for implementation that can hold people accountable. If we demand everything, we will get nothing, but if we focus on the most critical structural reforms, we will open doorways to transformation in many directions.

Our first demand is a socialized healthcare system. Many of us are familiar with the adage of having the right tool for the right job. Without Medicare for all, there is simply no way to test and treat people for COVID-19 to the necessary degree. It is the social technology that we need now.

Today there’s a clear gap in the quality and quantity of healthcare available divided by economic class. One example staring us in the face is that wealthy Americans are accessing COVID-19 testing while poor people cannot. States and medical facilities around the country do not have adequate supplies to deal with patient volume. What we need is a warlike mobilized productive and treatment effort. What we have is self-serving organizations seeking to benefit from our collective weakness.

Medicare for all is a platform that the majority of Americans across political parties agree with. [2]. Now more than ever, we need to socialize our health care verticals. Tens of thousands of lives depend on it. Our elected leadership has chosen to forsake the lives of the American people for profits. We are given no choice but to demand the transition immediately. The plan exists, and we can begin implementation today.

Universal Health Care is an incredibly strong demand because it is necessary to alleviate the circumstances that we find ourselves in. It’s a direct ask that will be put to immediate use, saving thousands of lives in the process. If we are unwilling to take up the fight and demand Medicare for all now, then we all own a small part of the inevitable deaths to come. 

COVID-19 makes it surprisingly easy to forget about the other extinction-level crisis that we’re facing. Before the pandemic, any progressive would tell you that the most pressing issue facing humanity is the climate crisis. If we’re to find any positivity in our immediate circumstances, it is that we now have the power to make multiple demands heard. The second demand of a total strike is to pass, implement, and immediately enact preparations for a green new deal.

To date, the primary opposition towards transitioning America to a green energy infrastructure has been the lobbying efforts of the fossil fuel industry. Monied elites who are not shy about placing profits over global well-being. In our second financial crisis of the past 12 years, it should surprise no one that large corporations are the biggest benefactors of our most recent stimulus package. If it is our responsibility to bail out for-profit corporations, it is their responsibility to bail out the planet.  

The green new deal addresses two critical concerns for the United States during and after the crisis. The first and most obvious is the transition to green and renewable energy. If we conquer the Coronavirus but do nothing to save our planet, all this is for nothing anyway. Building a networked green energy infrastructure will create millions of jobs and radically transform economic activity within the United States. There are millions of Americans out of work right now who were not a month ago. Those numbers are only going to increase. Large scale coordinated government infrastructure investment is a way to guarantee training and jobs for millions of Americans. We are ensuring that our revitalization favorably impacts our working class, not just elite capital holders.

We can’t talk about a green new deal without highlighting one of the most profound but often unspoken realities of this investment. A networked green energy infrastructure provides the United States with an almost limitless supply of near-zero cost energy. Today we already understand that the most productive sector of the American economy is innovation and creativity. Nearly free energy would radically reshape our access and agency within the world. Demanding a green new deal now is a way to secure the economic futures of generations to come.

One thing that the crisis highlights about American society is just how corrupt our elected officials are. At this point, it’s well beyond political party bias. The United States of America is the wealthiest country in the world, and our trajectory indicates that we are going to have the worst COVID-19 response of any country. The consequences of our lackluster effort will be many preventable deaths. We have to follow the money. 

The third demand of our total strike is the separation of money and politics. Simply put, our paralysis to rise to the challenge of this crisis is because of the political institutions we inhabit. When private and corporate donors sponsor the majority of members of both major political parties, it is impossible to ever have governance for the people. What every American should always remember about this crisis is that it was well within our power to take dramatic action. Instead, our leadership defaulted to a handful of private medical manufacturers and insurance companies to develop a way to help us while still making a profit.

It probably won’t surprise you when I share that health insurance companies have donated billions to political candidates over the past decade.[3] We could interchange health insurance companies with fossil fuels, pharmaceuticals, and so many others, and the results would be the same. Social transformation demands that we remove politics from the shadow of money. During any average time, this would be a tremendous hurdle given the fact that so many elected officials answer to corporations. COVID-19 opens a rare window of opportunity and offers a shortcut to solving one of the core problems of American society—the legal dominion of wealthy elites over our national direction.

The solutions for money free elections already exist. We should publicly fund elections at the federal, state, and local levels. We can give States the freedom to democratically determine how much money to allocate to each individual, depending on the position they’re running for. We can reduce overall costs by integrating modern technological solutions such as developing publicly-owned campaign platforms that list every candidate in a single centralized location. To qualify for funds, we can keep existing petition signature requirements or create new ones.

Publicly funded elections are superior to alternative methods such as “democracy dollars.” Our objective is to deepen democracy in the United States. By creating a higher degree of civic participation and awareness, we can speed up the pace of change in our legislative process to better mirror the technological, cultural, and social changes we are experiencing. Any solution that leaves the opportunity for one candidate to amass a large swath of funds comparable to the others will corrupt itself. Reimagining democracy and demanding its transformation through a total strike will open the door for alternative visions of the future and new generations of candidates who develop them.

Of the three demands we’ve discussed so far, democracy reform may seem like the most out of place. Here I’ll argue that it is equally as crucial as universal health care and a green new deal. There are institutional inequities rampant within the United States. Much of the ethics and logic behind the rules we govern ourselves with stem from slavery and serfdom. They are relics of a different age and era, one that simply does not reflect the consciousness of the modern human being. If we are to maximize the opportunity at hand with a total strike, rewriting the rules surrounding how we choose leadership is imperative. Without it, nothing is stopping us from reverting to old forms of dominion once the memory of crisis has faded.

Organizing a total strike

Given that we’re all in quarantine, organizing a total strike is now a digital effort. Together we need to determine a date and a threshold. When will it happen, and who are we asking to participate?  

Calls for student debt and rent strikes are already spreading throughout America. They’re more real now than they’ve ever been before because more people are simply unable to afford these payments. Capital and debt strikes are critical, but without combining them with productivity and consumption strikes we dull our blade. Now is the time to coalesce around a broader vision. It’s not enough just to defer or deflect payments within the system. Now is the time to demand transformation.

If your immediate reaction is concern about the aftermath, you’re not alone. Will you suffer as a result of your resistance? It’s certainly possible. But as the old saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Now is the time to come together as human beings to demand a better way of living. If we can develop cooperative networks within the strike to ensure the avoidance of suffering amongst our participants, we can do this.

If you’re questioning why you would participate in a national strike when your interests are not at risk, consider this. In a nation of rapidly increasing unemployment, poverty, and disease, no one is safe. Consider our present trajectory as a nation and a people and ask yourself if you can afford to abstain from change.

Ultimately every individual’s decision to participate in a total strike is their own to make. We can choose to take a stand together, presenting our demands and joining in a total strike until they are met. Alternatively, we can choose to do nothing and embrace the known future that accompanies the decision. We’re unlikely to have many more opportunities like this within our lifetime. Radical progress is within our grasp. We just have to be willing to take it.


[1] What’s in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus Senate stimulus package ByJeff Stein Washington Post  3/26/20 https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/senate-stimulus-bill-coronavirus-2-trillion-list-what-is-in-it/

[2] Public Opinion on Single-Payer, National Health Plans, and Expanding Access to Medicare Coverage by Kaiser Family Foundation 2/21/20 https://www.kff.org/slideshow/public-opinion-on-single-payer-national-health-plans-and-expanding-access-to-medicare-coverage/

[3] Insurance industry donations OpenSecrets   https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=F09

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