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Labor Prepares for Last-Minute General Strike If Trump Tries to Steal Election

The AFL-CIO executive committee is reportedly considering adopting a position similar to one pitched by regional unions.

The 100,000-member MLK Labor Council, an AFL-CIO regional body of labor groups representing more than 150 unions in the Seattle, Washington, area, passed a resolution Wednesday that calls for a general strike if President Donald Trump does not respect the outcome of the November 3 election.

“MLK Labor will call on to City and County governments to pledge to protect the protesters defending democracy and commit to not using police action or curfews to curtail these activities and to use all available resources to stand up against any effort by the Trump administration to steal the election,” the resolution states.

“MLK Labor, in collaboration with other labor and progressive forces, will take whatever nonviolent actions are necessary up to and including a general strike to protect our democracy, the Constitution, the law and our nation’s democratic traditions.”

The resolution was adopted during a special executive board meeting and will be brought before the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington branch of the AFL-CIO. There has already been discussion at the state level about creating a strike committee to start preparing for the possibility of a general strike, says Karen Strickland, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington, who helped draft the resolution.

“It’s not, we’re going to do a general strike; it’s, if our democracy is threatened then we’ll move toward that,” Strickland told Truthout. “And if our democracy is threatened, and we’re not willing to do it then, you have to ask what circumstances would make us do a general strike?”

The resolution comes after the 70,000 member AFL-CIO Rochester Labor Council became the first regional AFL-CIO body in the U.S. to call for a general strike last week if Trump rejects the results of the election and attempts to hold on to power. The MLK Labor resolution closely resembles Rochester’s.

“The Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO, stands firmly in opposition to any effort to subvert, distort, misrepresent or disregard the final outcome of the 2020 Presidential elections,” the Rochester resolution states.

Rochester AFL-CIO President Dan Maloney, who just last year helped lead a six-week-long United Auto Workers strike at General Motors, told Truthout that the Rochester Labor Council hoped for just this kind of outcome: that its resolution would spread to other regional councils and across the labor movement.

In fact, he tells Truthout that he joined a national call with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on October 22 in which labor leaders discussed how the federation should respond if Trump refuses to accept election results. According to Maloney, Trumka emphasized the importance of getting out the vote (GOTV) to elect Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as the federation’s first and foremost priority. He characterized regional labor councils’ general strike resolutions unnecessary and hasty.

“[Trumka] kind of blew us off and said kind of, ‘Stay focused on GOTV,'” Maloney said about the call. “It was kind of disheartening to hear.” A spokesperson for the AFL-CIO did not respond to Truthout’s request to confirm the details of the call.

In late September, Trumka said that labor should “stand ready to do our part to ensure [Trump’s] defeat in this election is followed by his removal from office.” On October 19, the federation’s executive council released a statement saying that labor leaders and workers “are determined and prepared to defend our democracy.”

The AFL-CIO Constitution suggests that bold strike action is well within the executive council’s purview and could be argued as necessary to fulfill its Article II, Section 12 obligations, which instructs the federation:

“To protect the labor movement from any and all corrupt influences and from the undermining efforts of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and all other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedom of association and oppose the basic principles of our democracy and of free and democratic unionism.”

After Rochester passed its resolution, the Seattle Educators Association, a member union of the MLK Labor Council, likewise passed a resolution calling for an emergency board meeting to be held within seven days of the election to determine whether there has been election interference. Upon that finding, the board would then call a meeting of the union’s representative and general assemblies as soon as possible to vote on a work action.

In Detroit, Michigan, union activists with the American Postal Workers Union created a flyer with a pledge to take to the streets and shut the country down if necessary to prevent a coup. Members have printed more than 1,000 copies of a shortened version of the pledge on the union’s letterhead to distribute at post offices and the area’s main sorting plant.

On Monday, the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation also approved a resolution calling for a general strike and pledging to take nonviolent action to defend the democratic process “if Donald Trump and his GOP enablers attempt to obstruct, subvert, sabotage, overturn or reject a fair and complete count of presidential ballots.”

According to Area Labor Federation President Jeff Jones, the resolution “aims to get us thinking about how we as a labor movement intend to respond in the case of an attempted coup. The labor movement must be ready to defend our democracy and use our collective power to ensure that every vote is counted.”

For Rochester’s Maloney, the time for labor to act is now. “It’s very dangerous what Trump’s been doing,” he says. “He’s been so over the top that he’s shown he’ll stop at no lengths to keep power, and with that we just wanted to have a plan in place in the event something happens where we can act, rather than try to put something together and let it drag.”

The aim of a national general strike, according to Maloney, is to raise the stakes while pressuring Congress to act as a proper check “to maintain our democracy and keep tabs on a wannabe tyrant.” Still, he cautions that a national strike is a tactic of last resort.

“A national general strike is a nuclear option for us,” he said. “You can’t pull that card every time, but this is great enough where our American democracy itself is at risk. We need to put [plans] in place and be ready to pull the plug and get everybody out in an effort to have our Congress grow a backbone, find their spine and take on this imperial president and aspiring despot.”

It’s imperative, Maloney says, that unions work now to support and encourage workers who may be risking their job if they were to go out on strike. “The thing is, there are immoral laws that on occasion you have to break in order to make it right for our society, and this is one of those times. Labor recognizes that. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s a necessary thing,” he told Truthout.

During a Tuesday night webinar hosted by the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee titled “What Can Workers Do to Stop Trump from Stealing the Election?” Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson imparted lessons from her union’s largely successful strike during the government shutdown last year. Nelson’s repeated threats of a general strike proved instrumental in ending the shutdown.

She told more than 300 labor organizers and activists Tuesday that her union is working nonstop to pressure Congress to pass a new COVID-19 relief package, saying, “What we need to be doing to lock in this relief bill is critical for the fights forward, and if we are all taking part in that and coming out for relief-now actions and locking this in; this is going to be a large part of building the broad base support for the fact that it’s … working people who demand that our government work for us.”

Responding to a question about economically strategic locations for strikes, Nelson said, “If we can control when and where [we strike], and we think about how we can strategically place pressure in places that are going to have a major impact, we actually don’t have to have a general strike across the entire country. We can have a major impact if we know that we can shut down one specific place, and it doesn’t even have to be for a very long period of time. If we take control of the schedule of the country, we can have a tremendous effect.”

Progressive groups are also organizing toward a national general strike. Organizations including the Moratorium NOW! Coalition in Detroit, the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement, and the People’s Alliance-Bay Area have put out calls to organize a broad-based People’s Committees to Defend Democratic Rights that would call upon union locals to conduct a vote on authorizing a general strike in the event of a coup attempt.

The growing calls to organize a general strike come as strike activity in the U.S. has reached levels not seen since the end of World War II, as frontline workers struggle for protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic and take action in solidarity with the movement for Black lives. There have been at least 1,160 strikes since March 1 of this year, according to Payday Report’s Strike Tracker.

Still, AFT Washington President Strickland warns that preparing for a general strike is going to be a heavy lift for many unions, with so little time left before the election.

“I don’t want to sound like a naysayer, but the fact is, we’re not prepared. We should have been having this talk six months ago, but we will mount a big show of force if circumstances are such that the military is in the street, if there is an attempted coup,” she says. “I do think we can get there…. We are getting great momentum from younger folks. I think that we can effectively make things happen.”

Member unions of MLK Labor were already preparing for the possibility of mobilizing for a general strike even before the resolution was drafted and brought before the labor council. In addition to unions’ get-out-the-vote organizing, many members are also offering workshops designed to prepare area activists for safe participation in mass mobilizations in the days after the election, including designating safe spaces for protesters in the streets.

AFT Washington is discussing ways to support and guide educators and faculty members at college campuses that could serve as touch-off points for protests. Educators are already worried about attendance issues amid the potential for student-led, pro-democracy protest movements in the period after the election.

Communication across the labor movement is another huge concern. “In order to be effective, we have to have a full-on, coordinated communications plan that should be happening right now,” Strickland says. “General strike or not, I think our coordinated communications plan has to be full speed ahead, because that’s what’s going to help us prevent the terrible actions that Trump might try, or if that’s not successful, then prepare people for taking action.”

One thing Strickland is certain of is that labor won’t be able to do this alone.

“[Progressive groups] have to come together. It can’t just be labor. Labor needs to take a strong role, but we’re all in this together,” she said. “Labor has to take a leadership role and use all the institutional power and leverage that we have while also taking leadership from younger people and Black Lives Matter.”