I Reckon: October 15 Strike is a lesson on how not to organize

A design of different hands holding up cell phones in front of a blue-tinted background of a protest.
(Alyssa Shao | Daily Trojan)

Behind every political success, there are months, if not years, of meticulous planning. This is especially true for political campaigns, where candidates will form exploratory committees years before they even announce whether or not they’ll actually run for office. It is also true for small-scale labor movements. For example, when coal miners in Alabama entered their fifth month of striking, their bills began to pile up at home. Then, their wives stepped in, organizing fundraisers for coal families while their coal miners were on the picket line. 

Regardless of whether one is planning to launch a national presidential campaign or a small local movement, planning remains the most important ingredient. For the organizers of the national general strike on Oct. 15, it seems like they forgot to put that ingredient on the shopping list.

The origins of the October 15th National General Strike are slightly muddled. The strike demands fairer wages, environmental protection, better access to healthcare and other progressive policies. There is a website with the movement’s goals, and there’s even a contact page where the organizer, or organizers, provide their email and a list of their social media handles. 

Unfortunately, the Twitter account they linked was hacked by a user who renamed the account to “Nailgun World.” The hacker offered to return the account to the strike organizers. The organizers, now using a Twitter account named “Labor Movement X,” declined. Labor Movement X, as one will soon find out, is the new organizing group behind the Oct. 15 general strike. 

Not only is the origin of the national strike muddled, but so is the list of demands for the group. When one searches for “October 15 general strike,” the top website lists demands such as a $20 minimum wage, a four-day work week, a 25% corporate tax rate and 12 weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave. On the website that Labor Movement X links on its social media account, the demands differ by a wide margin: a $15 minimum wage, no mention of a shortened workweek, a 28% corporate tax rate and 16 weeks of paid parental leave. 

If one didn’t do more research, they would assume that these are two totally different movements. They could only connect these two dots if they were to come upon a letter on a Google Docs file meant for current union representatives and members.  Embedded in Labor Movement X’s LinkTree, this letter from the National Chair for Labor Movement X states that the Movement “grew out of the viral flyer and social media accounts promoting a national General Strike on the 15th of October… We found that many of the young and enthusiastic original organizers were stepping down, in light of realizing the enormity and complexity of what was being proposed.”  

For loyal supporters of the general strike, this change in leadership without a clear announcement from those in charge makes the general strike seem like a shoddily put-together list of demands that would be better off on an online petition, rather than the basis of a mass movement.

Perhaps that’s why the October 15th National General Strike hasn’t graced the cover of many online publications or newspapers. The entire movement reeks of hashtag activism, similar to the type of activism that engulfed social media during the last few months of tumultuous racial reckonings. 

Take the black square incident for example. What started out as an initiative by two Black women to reflect and call out the music industry’s exploitation of Black talent turned into a worldwide phenomenon that clogged the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, cutting activists and supporters that used the hashtag as a hub of information. 

The main perpetrators of this fiasco were activists who, whether through their own fault or not, fell victim to the performative activism that thrives on social media. Information moves fast through these channels, and it can often spiral so far out of control that it no longer fulfills its intended purpose. 

That’s not to say that it isn’t worth fighting for the demands of the Oct. 15 strike. In fact, a CNBC survey found majority support for five out of six progressive policies, such as paid maternity leave and boosting the minimum wage, which represent some of the October 15th National General Strike demands. 

Unfortunately, the organizers of the strike seem to imply that most of their social media content effectively educates the public. This comes at a time where many on social media are already “educated” thanks to the neverending social justice slideshows that inform social media users of hot- button issues. 

Many already understand why these demands are important, either through their own work experiences or through that of their friends or family. The strike does nothing to capitalize on an already educated and supportive public. When Oct. 15 comes around, the lesson to future organizers and activists will be to mobilize outside of the confines of social media — to go into local communities, educate and radicalize your neighbors, support a local union or simply stop and reflect on what made past strikes and movements successful. If we don’t learn from the mistakes of this strike, we’re doomed to repeat them later on down the road.

Quynh Anh Nguyen is a sophomore writing about current political events as an Asian-American Southerner and California transplant. Her column, “I Reckon,” runs every other Tuesday.