New Orleans There have been massive protests and rolling strikes in France seeking to stop French president Macron from unilaterally raising the pension age from 62 to 64. There have been three months of mass protests in Israel over Prime Minister Netanyahu and his latest far right coalition’s effort to appoint judges and ignore court decisions over his fitness for office. All trains were down in Germany, and flights were cancelled at German airports in a strike over pay. A strike wave confronting inflation has been raging off and on for months in Britain over pay demands in the face of soaring inflation. Observers talk about the power of the “Arab street” in middle eastern countries. Who says strikes and mass demonstrations have lost their bite in the age of social media? Not politicians at the top of the heap in these countries, that’s for darned sure. In many of these countries, what seems to be working on the street is a community-labor partnership mobilizing citizens anger and utilizing the strategic importance and power of institutional unions to stop business as usual.
For all of those who thought strikes and the streets were passé in our modern world, they need to take another look. In Israel, Netanyahu suspended his judicial legislation as strikes and protests were coupled with discontent from within the military, which makes a small point about mass conscription as well. In his concession, at least for now, he said he didn’t want to leave the country insecure and trigger a civil war. The final victory is not assured, but no one can say that mass actions haven’t worked in Israel. In France, Macron rammed through the proposal in spite of the protests, knowing he didn’t have the votes in the assembly. The reaction has been virulent. Garbage sits on the streets. Roads to the main airport in Paris and other cities have been blocked. Macron may be winning a Pyrrhic victory that is costing him whatever popularity he had left and may topple his government yet. Protest is a way of life for some. There was an article in the Times on a retiree who has made signs and attended thousands of protests in recent years. I sent the article to Adrien Roux, ACORN’s head organizer in France. He told me a story from several years ago about a protest in Aubervilliers in the early years of our organization there and how excited everyone was when he showed up.
What’s wrong with America? People aren’t happy. We have issues galore. Where are the hundreds of thousands that marched against war and for civil rights? Are our unions so weak or so disconnected from the politics of the street? Sure, these are long struggles that in some cases have no end in sight and haven’t won, at least not yet, but all of them are exacting a price and building power. Furthermore, we know it works. Look at SEIU 99. 30,000 low paid school support workers went on strike after a year of fruitless bargaining and demanded a 30% pay hike. 30%, they must have lost their marbles, right? Wrong, they won every cent of that in two days of shutting down the Los Angeles schools with the mayor announcing the settlement.
Seems like it’s time to hit the streets again!