India, France, Puerto Rico: Corporate media hide general strikes from U.S. workers

Marching under the banner of Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), a general strike in India January 8, 2019.

Around the world, people are walking off the job in huge numbers, withholding their labor power to protest government attacks on workers’ rights and other crimes of the profit system. Why isn’t this in the news?

Unless you regularly follow alternative news sources, you might not have heard that the largest strike in history took place on Jan. 8 in India. Between 250 and 300 million — yes, million — workers, urban and rural, joined by students, shut down much of the world’s second most populated country. 

The strike was long planned by unions as a protest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies of austerity, price hikes and privatization. But the strike took on added momentum because of recent anti-Muslim laws that threaten to strip many people of their citizenship and the brutal police violence against protests of the anti-Muslim laws.

Meanwhile, in France, one of the most powerful countries in Europe has been gripped by a historic 40-plus day general strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. 

Not only would French workers be forced to work longer for their pensions; the measure includes a thinly disguised plan to hand over the country’s pension funds, now administered and guaranteed by the government, to big banks and insurance companies — just like the rotten system that exists in the U.S. That’s why the country’s labor unions, the Yellow Vest movement, the unemployed and the unorganized have all united in an unprecedented strike movement.

Closer to home, few workers outside the Puerto Rican community may be aware of a general strike called by unions and social movements in Puerto Rico on Jan. 20. This call for mass action comes on the heels of the Trump regime’s continued withholding of urgently needed aid in the wake of ongoing earthquakes, symbolic of Washington’s racist conduct and Puerto Rico’s colonial status. 

Further fuel was added by the discovery by local activists in the city of Ponce of a warehouse full of supplies withheld from the people following Hurricane María. Last July, a massive general strike that encompassed much of Puerto Rico’s population forced the resignation of the island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló.

The year 2019 also saw powerful general strikes of workers, uniting with other sectors of the working class — students, women, Indigneous communities — in Ecuador, Colombia and Chile, to name a few of them. 

So why isn’t the mass media in the U.S. reporting it?

Bosses scared

In the rare event that these strikes are mentioned — say, in a 10-second flash on a news program, or a photo caption in the local paper — no context is given. The workers’ demands are not explained. 

The first thing to remember is that the mass media in the U.S. are completely monopolized by mammoth for-profit corporations. Whether it’s the local newscast, 24-hour cable news or the local paper, what you are allowed to see trickles down from a handful of profit-hungry media giants. U.S. corporate owned social media, which many workers and youth rely on for their news, are rife with censorship.

The same bosses who hold the strings to these media giants, the banks that finance them and the politicians beholden to their money for re-election, are scared by the recent growth of the strike movement in the U.S. In 2018, nearly 500,000 workers went on strike in this country — the most in more than three decades. 

The capitalist government, from the Trumps and Pelosis on down, and the big bosses they answer to, don’t want workers, communities and students here to see the power that they could have if they all get together to shut down business (and profits) as usual.

What makes a general strike different from a more common strike action? It’s not only that more people are involved. Instead of being directed against a particular employer, usually for economic demands, a general strike is directed against the government and the whole profit system.

The recent strike wave in the U.S. has been targeted at specific employers and industries. But some, like last year’s Los Angeles and Chicago teachers’ strikes, show some characteristics of a successful general strike, such as involving the wider community and raising broader demands that would benefit the whole working class, like more affordable housing. 

Also, last autumn’s global climate strike, though not a labor strike per se, took on a mass character that saw many workers withhold their labor and employers forced to close their doors for a protest against the capitalist system’s deadly ravaging of the environment.

The possibility that this could blossom into greater consciousness of workers’ power as a class and desire for unity makes the bosses very nervous.

After all, aren’t there plenty of things that could warrant a general strike here? 

Both the Republicans and Democrats voted in December to hand the Trump administration a massive increase in the war budget, even as Trump prepares to further cut food assistance to low-wage workers. 

Federal, state and city governments continue to give tax breaks to big companies and okay development of luxury housing while the numbers of homeless families increase and oppressed people are driven out of their neighborhoods by gentrification. 

Then there’s the official torture and imprisonment of migrants and refugees, including children.

Help spread the word about the general strikes in India, France and Puerto Rico. Let’s share these vital ideas with our class!