Saturday Shutdown? Then Saturday Stayaway! The same 800,000 federal workers who went without pay last month are still in the Republicans’ crosshairs. While Congressional talks have arrived at a border-related compromise—reportedly, 55 additional miles of fencing, costing roughly one-third of Trump’s wall proposal—it’s not yet clear that Trump will accept that deal. Should he not, the federal workers and their families and the four million federal contract workers and their families could again fall victim to the president’s hostage-taking.
To short-circuit such an outrage, a number of workers’ advocates have proposed a suitable response: A mass stay-away from work. Sarita Gupta and Erica Smiley, the co-directors of Jobs With Justice, have pledged that if Friday’s deadline passes with no resolution and workers are again rendered income-less, they will help organize a stay-away from work, which could be particularly effective in the sector where staying away compelled Trump to end the shutdown the first time around: air travel. In this, they’re expanding a proposal voiced by Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants (which is affiliated with the Communications Workers, CWA), in which her members would demonstrate at airports across the country on Saturday. A number of activist unions, including CWA, Unite Here and the American Federation of Teachers, have appeared to warm to this idea, as have leaders of such groups as People’s Action, the Center for Popular Democracy, Our Revolution, and Greenpeace.
Congressional Republicans are clearly reluctant to shutter the government after the political beating they took for the first one, and while Trump himself seems to grasp a second closure would redound against him as well. Even if they decide to keep the government up and running, however, the actions that Gupta, Smiley and Nelson have proposed signal a welcome intensification of labor’s transformation into a more solidaristic movement, at a time when red-state teachers have won groundbreaking victories outside the confines of collective bargaining laws.
For their part, federal employees are forbidden by law from striking, but the last shutdown ended just a few hours after air traffic controllers in the DC area called in sick (as Georgetown University history professor Joseph McCartin had suggested they do in a piece on the Prospect website), which paralyzed air traffic throughout the Northeast and led to the suspension of flights for several hours at LaGuardia. A similar sick-out would be an appropriate way to kick off Saturday’s action if there’s a Saturday shutdown, and there’s no law preventing flight attendants, pilots and other airline workers—none of whom are federal employees and hence faced with firing if they strike—from walking off the job that day, too. Nor is there a law prohibiting Americans who are indignant about the Republicans’ inflicting such arbitrary misery on federal workers from flocking to airports and demonstrating, too, as many did during the Muslim travel ban.
Indeed, there may be some informational pickets at airports on Saturday even if a shutdown is averted, to affirm the importance of federal employees’ work and to caution against a return to Republican shutdown-ism.
What we really need to forestall the Republicans from shutting down the government—now, or in the future—if they don’t get their way on an unrelated policy issue is a general strike of federal workers and their supporters, though given the constraints of the law, it would have to be a de facto general strike that takes the form of a de jure mass sickout. Coincidentally, yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the concluding day of the nation’s first general strike, which closed down Seattle in 1919. The Seattle workers—who kept the city running through their own endeavors at the centers they established—were seeking better pay and conditions. Today’s federal workers would be seeking something more elemental than that: not better pay, but simply the pay to which they’re entitled for the work they’re required to perform.
Plan your Saturday accordingly.