A tale of three strikes
Let me tell you a story about three strikes.
None of these strikes are labor strikes in the traditional sense, but together they paint a realistic picture of American society.
Robson and several dozen teachers throughout the state vowed not to eat solid food for 14 days in an effort to urge state administrators, legislators and political candidates to follow in Gov. Nathan Deal’s footsteps and end so-called “austerity cuts” that kept the state from fully adhering to its school funding formula.
For the past 15 years, a slow economy and the Great Recession prompted the state to make cuts in public school funding. In March, Gov. Deal signed a budget that eliminated those cuts and fully funded public education based on the formula, called Quality Basic Education.
“This may be the first hunger strike in history not to try to change something, but to keep it the same. In 2018, Georgia public schools were fully funded for the first time in 16 years. We are hunger striking because we want this to continue, and we want Georgia public schools to be a priority in our upcoming election,” Robson said at a news conference Monday.
Los Angeles’s housing market is in crisis. Low-income communities of color across the city are facing systematic displacement due to gentrification. Skyrocketing housing costs have created a homelessness epidemic that has left almost 60,000 people living on the streets. And now, the city is undergoing its largest rent strike in recent history.
In three buildings on South Burlington Avenue in the rapidly gentrifying Westlake neighborhood, an estimated 200 families in about 80 units are currently refusing to pay rent. After years of neglect, the buildings’ management company began rolling out exorbitant rent increases this February, hiking residents’ rents anywhere from 25 to 40 percent. For the buildings’ working-class tenants, these rent increases are just not affordable—so they’ve joined together and have been on a rent strike since March.
The tenants of the three Burlington Avenue buildings have been living in deplorable conditions for years. Back-flowing drains cause leaks and floods, leading to serious mold issues; trash is left to pile in the dumpsters, filling the trash chute to the top floor of the three-story building; and large sewage pipes in the first-floor parking garage repeatedly become backed up and flood the area with the building’s collective waste. Maintenance requests are only selectively resolved, if not completely ignored, by the property-management company, which has made the buildings breeding grounds for roaches, bedbugs, and rodents. And when repairs and fumigations are completed, they are routinely charged to tenants.
One recent afternoon in a pizzeria in Oakland, California, Cole Dorsey pulls out an LG flip phone to explain how he’s helping organize a strike in the country’s harshest workplace...
Dorsey’s makeshift messaging system connects prisoners who may be separated from each other by just a few hundred feet, as well as walls, fences, and rules that prevent them from congregating. The prisoners are members of the Industrial Workers of the World, the militant union that is backing a prison strike that’s set to begin this week. Starting on August 21, prisoners in at least 17 states are expected to refuse to go to work, launch sit-ins in common areas, boycott commissaries, or go on hunger strike, according to Dorsey, an electrical lineman who’s a member of the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
This year’s strike is a successor to the 2016 work stoppage that generated headlines as the largest prison strike in US history. The protest, which lasted more than a month in some facilities, was meant to draw attention to prison labor, which organizers argued amounts to modern slavery. Inmate laborers are often paid just cents on the hour (or nothing at all, in Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas) for doing mandatory cooking, cleaning, and maintenance jobs or working for companies like AT&T and McDonald’s.
Organizers say some prisons have already isolated suspected strike leaders. Last month, the Virginia Department of Corrections moved Kevin Rashid Johnson, a member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, to Sussex State Prison in what his supporters say was an act of retaliation. Also in July, IWOC reported that Siddique Hasan had been put in solitary confinement in the Ohio State Penitentiary for talking about the upcoming protest.
“Prisoners are taking a huge risk,” says Amani Sawari, who publishes Raised Black Fist. “They know they could lose potentially their jobs, their privilege status, their recreation programs, their lives as a result of choosing to strike.”