In 1935, John L. Lewis, president of the coal miners union, famously punched right wing president of the Carpenters, Bill Hutchenson, in the jaw, walked out of the AFL, and formed the CIO. along the way, he supported the most radical strike wave of the 20th Century United States – the sit down strikes of 1937. Could Sara Nelson be the 21st century’s answer to John L. Lewis? She is the same one who called for a national general strike during the government shutdown of 2018-19. (See the video and read the text of her speech here.) At that time, she called out:
“Federal workers here tonight – Stand Up.
“Flight Attendants and aviation workers – Stand Up.
“Nurses who count on the medicine we deliver on our planes – Stand Up.
“Everyone who flew to this conference – Stand Up.
“Anyone who believes it is a crime to make people work without pay – stand up.
“Federal workers, we’ve got your back!….
“Go back with the Fierce Urgency of NOW to talk with your Locals and International unions about all workers joining together – To End this Shutdown with a General Strike. [!!]
“We can do this. Together. Si se puede. Every gender, race, culture, and creed. The American Labor Movement. We have the power. And to all Americans – We’ve Got Your Back!”
It is interesting to speculate on the feedback she may have gotten from the other top union officials. It’s hard to imagine it was very encouraging. Nevertheless, she seems to be continuing.
Yesterday she spoke at a meeting of the Emergency Workers Organizing Committee on what labor can do to stop Trump. See it here.) Her presentation before this meeting yesterday was very interesting. Most important was the point she made that what really stopped the government shutdown wasn’t the threat of any action in and of itself but the fact of the realization that if workers went on a general strike, they would “have a taste of their own power.”
Could she play a role similar to that of John L. Lewis? After all, it is certainly needed today. For more on this issue, see Why Won’t the AFL-CIO Call a General Strike?