A Dream of Revolutionary Emergence

Popularity of the Game “Billions vs. Billionaires” — The Taste for Internationalism – Womens’ Day — The First Planetary Strike — The Economic Crisis — Revolts Everywhere -– Violence — The Billions Rise Up — The U.S. at Impasse – The Prisons Explode -– Among the Bourgeois -– Surgicals Strikes -– The Federation’s Appeal –- Cease-fire

Popularity of the Multiplayer Online Computer Game “Billions & Billionaires”
Five nights after my dream about the Collective Creation of a Utopian multiplayer online computer game I had another dream. And in this dream, I had a vision of humanity emerging and connecting in a powerful planetary movement of revolutionary creativity. But let me start at the beginning …

First, I dreamed that the class-struggle computer game “Billions & Billionnaires” (B&B) had become a smash hit around the planet in game rooms and on the Internet. At every hour, elaborate matches were being played between teams hooked up in every time zone around the planet. Possible strategies and moves were being debated in chatrooms and Internet cafés to the point where teenagers’ arguments were beginning to sound like seminars in global politics. The young were increasingly addicted to this interactive Game where the Billionaires and the Billions played out their global class struggles bound by arbitrary Rules on a Virtual Planet – a planet modelled on the world into which these kids had not asked to be born and in which they felt out of joint, useless, resentful.

The Game gave them the possibility of acting, at least virtually. The Game taught them the strategy and tactics of virtual conflicts that resembled the real struggles they saw taking place in their neighborhoods – and across the planet. Along with this planetary consciousness, the game gave them the habit of imagining they might have an actual chance – a slim outside chance – of making a difference, of having a future.

The symbol of the Billionaires in the game was an almighty Dollar Sign emblazoned on the top hat of the Billionnaire mascot, Scrooge McDuck. The Billions’ logo was an old ‘Wobbly’ cartoon symbolizing the strength of workers’ unity : a composite image of a fish made up of a school of little fish eating a big fish. The Wobbly fish was a sign of recognition among fans of “Utopia 2100” who became known as “Fishies.” In real life, most Fishies rooted for the Billions against the Billionaires, but in the Game nearly everyone enjoyed taking a turn as a ruthless Scrooge McDuck — grabbing territories, monopolizing industries, crushing rebellions.

Little by little, players of “Utopia 2100 or Bust” began taking more of an interest in real-life struggles, understanding them through the sympathies and analytical tools they picked up playing the Game. The symbol of the little fish eating the big fish began showing up as graffiti in bathrooms, schoolyards, walls, and on bumper stickers. Bold taggers took pride in spray painting Wobbly fish on walls late at night even under the most repressive torture regimes. And when dawn came up, the dayglow fish showed forth — a threat to the rich, a hope for the poor, a sign of resistance among the young and wired.

As the Game grew more popular, it also became increasingly sophisticated. The Webmasters and programmers whose job it was to update the Program fed the latest statistics and projections on economic growth and ecological deterioration into the database. Wars and social conflicts were also taken into account. The updated Game of 2010 was more complex, more realistic than the one of 2009; the 2011 version even more so. With hundreds of thousands of Fishies linking their computers together, the Game Webmasters were able to run huge programs and model the complexity of a world where climate, industrial activity, agriculture, technology, politics, economics and social conflicts interact at many different levels. Specialists in various fields around the world began to note that certain predictions of the Game were tending to come true and that happenings on the Virtual Planet often foreshadowed events in the real world. Intrigued, some of the brightest brains in science, economics and cybernetics began contributing – often anonymously – information and new improvements to the Open Source program. Eventually, the complex, powerful Virtual Planet Game Program far surpassed all partial attempts by universities, governments and corporations to model the world.

The commercial media had at first simply ignored this noncommercial, freeware game – partly because it was seen as ‘unfair’ competition to the expensive computer games produced by their advertizers. But as the fad spread around the planet, the media changed their tactic and began poking fun at the Fishies as a juvenile cult. However, when market researchers indicated that this ridicule only provided free publicity, attracting new Fishies — including hundreds of thousands of adults – to the cult of “Utopia 2100 or Bust.” At this point, the world-wide Punditocracy was turned loose on the Fishies. The Game was denounced as a communist-terrorist infernal machine, the Fishes as victims of a dangerous cult. On the other hand, each time a Game Program forecast came ‘uncannily’ true, the ‘coincidence’ was commented all over the talk shows and chat rooms.

The efforts of various governmental agencies to suppress the Game by censorship and sabotage mostly backfired. The authorities had forgotten that the Internet is a foolproof, indestructable default communications network devised by the US military for use in case of atomic attack. As the would-be censors could have learned by playing “Utopia 2100” their feeble efforts only made them look weak and ridiculous, loosing them valuable ‘Prestige Power Points’ in the planetary struggle. In any case, the Game was unstoppable. Relayed by many different servers, some mobile, others in free zones, the Program was saved on hard disks in every corner of the world. Suppressed in one place, it popped up five others. Just like the fish graffiti, which the authorities dilligently removed from the walls by day, only to see them mysteriously return at night.

The Taste for Internationalism
More and more, events on the Virtual Planet were reflecting, indeed foreshadowing events in the real world. More and more, young “Fishies” were taking social struggle more seriously. Individually and in groups or clubs, the Fishies began moving from debating virtual strategies on the Net to joining in the real struggles occuring around them. Fish banners began showing up at antiwar demonstrations. Fishies got active organising unions at the Virgin Megastores, MacDonalds, CompUSA and other outlets where many of them worked for nothing wages.

These young working people quite naturally linked into the existing radical anti-war and anti-globalisation networks, which were already hooked up to the Internet on a planetary scale. This accelerated growth in outreach and connectivity among the radical and wired soon bore fruit. Within hours of the U.S. bombing of alleged ‘narco-terrorist’ peasant villages in the Andean Republic, activists connected by these networks were able to mobilize half a billion demonstrators around the globe – far surpassing the first planetary anti-Iraq-war demonstration of February 15, 2003. Authorities were stunned. In many countries, the local police were helpless to intervene as thousands of militant protestors surrounded U.S. Embassies. In some countries, soldiers and policemen actually joined the demonstrators. U.S.-backed dictators around the globe were shitting in their pants as anti-war protesters in their capitals turned to problems at home and started demanding democracy and jobs. Panic-stricken potentates barraged Washington with phone-calls begging the White House to back off on the Andean incursion. In the U.N. the French Foreign Minister, the dashing Marquis de Poubel de Tavle, was having a field day. Forty-eight hours after the crisis began, the White House flew the Andean President Gen. Corrumpido y Sucio to Washington for consutations. The next day, at a joint press conference, it was announced that the bombing had totally wiped out the insurgents. As a result of this victory, the planned landing of 50, 000 U.S. Marines en route to ‘advise’ the Andean military was being put on ‘hold’ at the express request Gen. Corrumpido y Sucio.

The success of this planetary anti-war action encouraged social movements to reach out to each other around the globe via the Internet. As Fishies and anti-capitalist activists linked up around the planet, news of scattered struggles in the underdeveloped and industrial worlds increasingly spread from one corner of the planet to the other. Thanks to the Net, the resistance of poor peasants in India, over-exploited textile workers in China, indigenous communities threatened by capitalist development in South America, worker-occupied factories in Argentina gained publicity and support. For decades, the big computer manufacturers had been dumping vast quantities of more and more powerful used and “obsolete” computers into the ready markets of the Third World, where Internet cafés proliferated wherever there were telephone lines or satellite relays. Even in the most backward and repressive areas, as long as there was even one Fishie with access to the Internet their struggles no longer remained unnoticed and isolated. African, Asian, Latin American and East European Fishies and activists were able to inform one another about their conditions and struggles, and then, following winning ‘2100’ strategy, to mass their forces against their common corporate opponants.

Thus life was imitating art. The Game had gotten young people used to believing in the possibility that they could change the system that was degrading their lives. The was no denying Game’s simple arithmetic of ‘we are many, they are few.’ They were beginning to imagine that ordinary working people, united, could very well make do without bosses, without corporations, without the police, without the military — and that they could create a more just, more peaceful societies by themselves. At the same time, the Game had gotten them used to believing the deadly evidence of their eyes and noses (pollution, storms, floods, droughts, heat waves) rather than the mediated reassurances of governments and ‘experts.’ Hope allowed them to step out of denial. They understood that the planet was doomed and that they would soon have nothing more to lose. They began to imagine another world – their world – was actually possible.
Meanwhile, thanks to the Internet, members of labor unions, peasants’ associations, native peoples’ coalitions in various countries were more and more interconnecting on a multi-national level. Whenever possible, delegations of activists, often simple rank-and-filers, followed up on these electronic contacts, organising visits and meeting at Regional and World Social Forums. Criss-crossing the globe, they brought with them – and brought home – the mutual understanding and the essential human presence that makes solidarity real. Within the labor movement, activists also laid plans for bold cross-border campaigns. Mexican workers in the maquiladoras in the ‘free trade’ zones on the US border joined with Philippina and US textile workers to demand a minimum hourly wage in the NAFTA zone and borders equally open to sellers of labor-power (workers) and buyers of labor power (capitalists) in the name of free trade. In the European Union, independent and contract truckers formed an international alliance, and vowed not to break each others’ strikes or deliver gasoline anywhere in the Union until their joint demands were met for decent Europe-wide standard pay rates and safety conditions. And trade officials in Beijing and Washington went bonkers when U.S. employees of the union-busting Walmart merchandising megopoly joined with Walmart sweatshop subcontract workers in Communist China (where they were made to join official government-sponsored unions) and brought human rights suits before US courts, the U.N. and the WTO. Their demands? Enforcement of their right of free association in unions and damages of $11,180,000,000 in unpaid back wages.

Meanwhile, within a number of big multinational corporations, organised networks of employees talking seriously about the advantages of a global strike, backed by international boycotts in alliance with ecological and economic victims of multinational corporate policies and their sympathisers around the planet. However, be for these plans got off the ground, unforeseen events in another sphere – the battle of the sexes – changed the entire political landscape.

Women’s Day
How did the epochal Women’s Global Strike for Dignity begin? The idea was first broached at the huge All-Women’s Assembly organised at the World Social Forum that year. The topic was “Women at Work,” and participating were organised networks of female workers and professionals in every field including agriculturists, market-women and garbage-pickers (from the million-member Indian Self-Employed Womens’ Union). Panelists of specialists and women researchers documented what everyone already knew: women do most almost all the actually necessary work on the planet, both paid and unpaid.
Statistics were produced to show that in most societies women tend the crops, haul the water, care for the children, cook the meals, teach the young, care for the sick and aged, and perform most of the actual manufacturing in the labor-intensive industries like textiles and electronics that supply ordinary consumers. Men, on the other hand, were perceived as useless jerks running around giving orders and waving guns — or else sitting around in cafés and/or government offices, talking with other men (while women serve them) and generating useless paperwork (for women to type and file). A consensus soon emerged among the assembled women’s : we can do very well without men, but men can’t do without us. So let’s teach the men a lesson. Let’s get together and go on strike!
Hassan Mahmoud of the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Irak took the floor to state that although there was much truth behind that male stereotype – especially in Irak — women everywhere need to unite with the majority of working men, who are also exploited. This basic class division, she explained, was why the Iraki Organisation for Women’s Freedom support with the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions, who in turn support women’s equality and freedom. She proposed that the women invite working men to participate in the general strike of women and to take responsibility for the children and household work so that the women could meet and demonstrate.
March 8, celebrated for nearly a century as International Womens’ Day was chosen as the date for the strike. Julia Guseva, an anarcho-marxist from Moscow, reminded the women that March 8, 1917, the day when Russian women strikers made the rounds of St. Petersburg factories calling out the men to join their strike, had signalled the beginning of the Russian workers’ and peasants’ revolution which brought sexual and social equality to Russian women before degenerating into a male-dominated, bureaucratic, state-capitalist dictatorship under the Communist Party. Quoting Marx, who wrote that ‘woman is the proletarian of the proletarian, the slave of the slave,’ Guseva urged the women present to take a great oath never to allow womens’ issues to take a back seat to ‘urgent priorities.’
And so it was agreed that on March 8 women everywhere withold their labor — waged and unwaged – and assemble in their workplaces, villages and neighborhoods to demonstrate their power and discuss what to do next. The idea behind the Women’s Global Strike for Dignity was to demonstrate – by their idleness — that without women’s work the world economy . The women’s first demand was that governments and corporations respect the right of women to work as free laborers — not as slaves toiling in the fear of beatings by male bosses, landlords, foremen, husbands, pimps and religious enforcers.
Their slogans were “Stop Male Violence!” “Hands off Working Women!” “Women will no more be the slaves of slaves!”
Sisters Rise Together! the Strikers’ Handbook advised each collective and each individual woman to plan the level of her resistance according to her social and personal situation. In countries where unions were tolerated and civil rights respected, women would strike and demonstrate. But in other cultures more subtle forms of resistance might be appropriate, like slowdowns and various forms of sabotage – everything from letting the machines break down, burning the soup, misplacing household objects, acting sullen, and giving men the silent treatment. Resistance could take the form of a ‘sick headache’ – and still provoke a beating from a husband used to service plus sexual favors. The Handbook retold the ancient story Lysastrata, who organised an international sex strike to force their Spartan and Athenian husbands to stop the Pelopenisian war.
The idea caught on quickly among U.S. feminists and activists. Democratic officials eager for women’s votes gave their female state and municipal workers the day off. Smart employers like Kodak encouraged their employees to participate. (‘Sex discrimination creates a disunited workplace and is bad for productivity’). The Greeting Card Manufacturers’ Association and the Florists’ Council, smelling another Mothers Day bonanza, quietly lobbied for the March 8 holiday and began working on a heartfelt Women’s Day cards to send, accompanied by flowers, to “Mom,” “Sis,” “Grandma,” “Daughter” and Tilly the Toiler, the “girl” in the office. The Fishies used their cyber network to spred the word and help their mothers, sisters and girlfriends communicate with other women around the world. (See Rules of the Game 2100: “All winning strategies involve the free and active participation of the female Billions — united as equals with the male Billions.”)
In the poor countries, where womens’ oppression is direct and brutal, the very idea of a Strike for Dignity presented difficuties for women — both in the family or clan and in the factories where women workers were routinely confined and beating. Within traditional families, the rising pitted wives and daughters against the authority of fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles and mothers-in-law. Despite fear of reprisals, women organised events in their towns and villages — wherever there was some form of women’s cooperative enterprise, trade union or women’s center connected to the world-wide womens’ networks.
In many societies, the very act of women leaving the house or the sweatshop without male permission, of getting together with other women to organise and protest was considered revolutionary – and scary as well. Yet there were women in all these lands courageous enough to resist: for example Nigerian women struggling against the destruction of their land by Shell Oil. When troops killed dozens of male demonstrators, these women took their place and stripped naked to shame the soldiers. And so from Africa to Asia to the Middle East and Latin America, the Women’s Strike call went out along the grapevine linking AIDS clinics, womens’ cooperatives, human rights groups, unions, NGA’s and on into the hinterland.
In preparation for the international one-day strike, women activists from the rich countries sent delegations to accompany women strikers in the poor countries — hoping that their witness presence would shield them from the worst organised violence. Naturally, the local potentates, police chiefs, warlords, and religious enforcers were enraged. There were increasingly violent attacks on women’s organisations everywere from Afganistan to Zambia, and ‘foreign agents’ were often singled out.
The crisis went global when the Hollywood star Sarah Azad was kidnapped in an attack by armed men in Nigeria. After long days of suspense and mounting pressures on Shell and the Nigerian generals, the sexy, straight-talking actress was released. Bruised, exhausted and shaken, Azad pointedly thanked the world-wide womens’ solidarity movement for pressuring the initially-reluctant Republican Administration in Washington to intervene on her behalf. “It’s not about me,” she went on, “it’s about daily about state-sponsored terrorism against all Nigerian women.” Asked if she had been raped, Azad looked straight into the reporter’ eye: “What do you think?” before being ushered out of the press conference, tears streaming down her cheeks.
In answer to Azad’s call, new international women’s delegations came streaming into the poor countries, while from Washington, London, and Paris the word went down to the thugocracy to chill the violence until this Women’s Day bullshit blew over. Sensing the moment, millions of poor women took courage, left their homes and flocked around previously isolated women’s rights and self-help groups. Suddenly, International Womens’ Strike for Dignity Day – originally yet another ‘Good Idea’ initiated by the usual woman activists — was blooming into a living planetary movement.
By March 7, millions of women were streaming in from the countryside by bus or on foot – toward cities many had never seen before. Moreover, for every militant woman who managed to march, hundreds of her sisters remained defiant whether shackled in sweatshops or cloistered at home — engaging in subtle forms of sabotage, sullenly refusing to work or even to speak. The more intelligent and confident Machos, tiring of arguments, cold meals and cold beds, chose to dismiss the Strike as a harmless female whim and generously ‘let the girls have their Day.’ The rest — scared, mean, disappointed men — simply beat their wives with anything handy.
The organisers had attempted to provide shelters for women in fear of their lives, but many feared these shelters would attract additional violence. Nonetheless, non-violence was the Order of the Day. Out of common sense, the women organisers had refused (with thanks) offers from various armed revolutionary groups to act as bodyguards or escorts. Violence was incompatible with the women’s tactic of shaming their male oppressors in order to neutralising them. In any case, parading around with guns would only provoke the vastly superior firepower, while the presence of thousands of participant-witnesses might provide a shield. “Our strength is in our willingness to die for our cause, not kill for it” was the movement’s byword.
On the male side, the violent Mullahs, Rabbis, Christian fundamentalist, Hindu nationalists, feudal princes and warlords found the women’s challenge to their God-given patriarchal authority intolerable — and they were used to acting with impunity. As Women’s Strike for Dignity Day approached, their seething hatred boiled over. During the first week of March, abortion clinics were bombed in Texas, AIDS clinics burned out in Africa, womens’ centers destroyed in Afganistan – all by unidentifiable “radical elements” repudiated by their respective fundamentalist leaders. This unchecked violence became a worldwide scandal on March 7 when fanaticised mobs dragged hundreds of Asian women from a train packed with demonstrators and hacked them to pieces for hours as police and army stood aside and digital cameras beamed out photos and videos in real time via the Internet.
These horrific pictures became world-transforming images, like those of September 11, 2001. The whole world stopped and took a breath. World-wide saturation media coverage brought home the strikers’ message: Violence against women must cease! those responsible – both high and low — must be brought to justice! Far from intimidating the women of the planet, the tragedy provoked anger and resolve in the vast numbers of women who — vaguely sympathetic to the goals of the strike but convinced that it would do no practical good — had remained passive.
The outpouring of women on March 8 was massive. As dawn traveled from East to West, women woke to the news of the huge turnout in earlier time-zones. This created a snowball effect as the strike followed the sun around the planet. Safety in numbers: even timid women dared to stand up and be counted on this historic day. By noon in the world, business and every other social activity had ground to a halt. Vast numbers of women of all ages and conditions on every continent had left their houses and congregated, whether in village greens or the great squares of teeming cities. The roads were choked, transportation at a halt, no work was done. The army and police, overwhelmed, either made themseves scarce or tried to look useful for once in their swaggering lives. That day, the planet belonged to the women.
No one was more surprised by this massive outpouring than the women themselves, beginning with the pioneering visionaries and courageous local activists who had launched the strike in the first place. For feminist historians, the March 8 Women Strike for Dignity marked the beginning of the end of a whole era of female defeat and dispair under patriarchy – an era which had begun with the invention of by jealous, ambitious, violent, punishing male chiefs, kings and priests of jealous, ambitions, violent, punishing gods.
These feminists saw womankind, acting together, re-emerging as a self-acting historical subject with her own, radically different project of society — a society based on community, with power flowing in cercles and webs rather than through competition, hierarchy and domination. Their goal was not separation from men, but new relations with men as equal, yet different, partners in the struggle for the survival and reproduction of the species as well as in the quest for sexual fulfillment.
A billion women were in the street, taking the measure of their common condition, common needs, and the power of their unity. No longer did their individual miseries appear to them as somehow inevitable and somehow their own fault. A new global superpower had been released, and this female Genie – unlike the vain and stupid male Genie of Shéharazad’s tale — would never again let herself be put back in the bottle.
The First Planetary Strike
Meanwhile, labor activists in the international network were getting more and more impatient with the foot-dragging of established unions on the issue of trans-border campaigns, especially after the success of international Womens’ Dignity Day. National union officials – 95% men — had trouble resisting the logic of fighting transnational corporations via transnational organizing. Under the pressure of their members from below they verbally accepted the principle of international cooperation, but mostly their hearts weren’t in it since their jobs depended on a narrow, business-union model of local and national collective bargaining. As transnational rank-and-file networks grew in strength, some union officials attempted to sideline their militancy by signing solidarity pacts with foreign union officials with whom they posed for pictures before jetting home, at duespayers’ expense, in order to do nothing.
On the other hand, the rank-and-file activist groups with longstanding global connections were pressing for concrete action. Their ranks were now swollen by women workers – the majority in textile and many other industries — who had at last found their voices and now became a force for militant internationalism. Employees of various multinational corporations formed planetary labor councils ignoring all distinctions of nationality, branch of trade and local union affiliation. The first trans-national corporation to be targeted was Daewoo, the Korean-based conglomerate with manufacturing and distribution centers in dozens of countries. The call came from the powerful and militant Korean labor federations, who at the end of the XXth Century had fought for political democracy and union recognition and won both. Now the Korean Daewoo workers’ hard-won standard of living was declining as management cut labor costs by outsourcing jobs to South Asia and Eastern Europe.
The planetary strikers’ council also considered Daewoo, largely based on South Korean capital, to be a softer target than comparable U.S.-based multinationals. Not only was Korean capital infinitely weaker than American, the strikers foresaw that the U.S. interlocking network of corporate directors – the big investors who sit on each others boards of directors and largely control government policy — would back the management of the struck corporation with almost infinite capital reserves rather than allow a global strike to succeed. On the other hand, Daewood management had every reason to fear that in case of a prolonged strike, U.S. and Japanese rivals would revel in their discomfiture and move in like sharks to gobble up their subsidiaries and market-share.
Daewoo management blustered that it would never negotiate or “give in to terrorist blackmail and illegal pressure,” but the strike wore on, more or less effective in the various countries. The strike split the working class in the US and EU. where it conflicted with the interests local labor leaders. The power and prestige of these bureaucrats was based on official recognition by their national governments, on legal contracts negotiated with nationally-based employers, and on influence in national party politics. While endorsing the ‘goals’ of the planetary strike (which the union leaders ‘were prepared to take up with the appropriate authorities’) the bureaucrats warned the workers that ‘sympathy’ strikes, unauthorised ‘wildcat’ strikes and ‘secondary’ boycotts were all illegal – an argument that intimidated some older workers close to retirement. And indeed, wherever the leadership failed to reign in the strikers, the courts did fine the local unions and seize their bank accounts – much to the amusement of the rank and file duespayers (who had never suspsected they were so ‘rich’) and much to the chagrin of the bureaucrats (who saw their fat salaries and expense accounts go up in smoke).
On the other hand, in many countries community-based strike support campaigns were organized with the help of anti-globalists and ecologists, and womens’ dignity activists, whose several goals were endorsed by the Planetary Striker Council in their strike demands. All around the world, the products of Daewood and its subsidiaries were boycotted. Workers at other multinationals contributed part of their salaries to a Daewoo strikers’ fund – in anticipation of receiving support when it was their turn to strike. Food and clothing were collected for the strikers’ families. In Korea, management’s corruption was exposed as rebellious small stockholders called the directors out on the carpet. Rival companies positioned themselves to absorb Daewoo’s market share. Daewoo stock began to slide. The handwriting was on the wall. The words ‘bankruptcy’ and ‘bailout’ were in the air. A new management team took over …
Without actually recognising the Daewoo Planetary Strike Council, the new Daewood management announced a Global Fair Labor Policy and offered to join Strike Council representatives in a non-binding in three-part arbitration under the auspices of the International Labor Organisation in Geneva. At this, the Daewoo workers faced a delicate dilemma: If their strike actually succeeded in bankrupting the corporation – as seemed immanant — many of them would be out of a job or forced to work cut-rate for liquidator companies. In a much-debated decision which has remained controversial, they decided to call Daewoo’s bluff, accept this symbolic victory and suspend the strike for a 30-day period. Naturally, Daewoo did some backtracking once the pressure was off, and many activists were disappointed by the concessions on wages, conditions and environmental impact Daewood eventually granted — unilateraly. However in retrospect, and in the minds of millions around the globe, the first planetary strike was a resounding success, even if it ended in something of a draw, because it paved the way for other planetary anti-corporate movements.
Thus, barely a year later the Nestlé corporation was forced to stop using cocoa beans picked by child slave-labor in Africa. Moreover, the Swiss multinational pledged to buy their cocoa from peasant farmers at a fair price, provide increased healthcare and job security to its employees around the world, and use only biodegradable packaging. Soon the tactic was applied – with greater or lesser success — to other multinationals from Coca Cola and Nike to Monsanto and Shell. Everywhere workers, small farmers, ecologists and fair-traders mobilized in international alliances. Everywhere they demanded livable salaries and working conditions, shop-floor representation, elimination of industrial pollution that first cripples workers on the job before spreading out to contaminate the environment.
PLACE Economic Crisis Here. Then return to planetary GENERAL strike, with occupations and seizures and the Jubilee. Break up labor link of story in three parts.
The Economic Crisis
Although the figures out of Washington remained confident of an upturn, the country was sliding deeper into what was euphemistically called the ‘Recession.’ A number of factors were held responsible. Civil war and nationalist insurgencies (‘terrorism’ in Washington parlance) had choked off much of the supply of oil from the Middle East. This dearth encouraged a new unity among the OPEC nations, provoking a series of oil shocks which sent the price per barrel over the symbolic 100€ mark (Euros being the new international reserve currency).
Indeed, since the crash of the dollar, all commodities were quoted in Euros.
After years of tax cuts, war spending, and huge budget deficits, the debt crisis in the US — the world’s biggest borrower – had finally exploded. Big Japanese and Asian lenders, who owned the bulk of US Federal Treasury Bonds, began by withdrawing their capital, which was slowly loosing value with the steady decline of the dollar. The T-note sell-off was accelerated by White House insistence that Japan ‘level the playing field’ by obliging its banks ‘reign in’ on decades of mountainous outstanding corporate debt that was keeping the Japanese economy afloat. But the Americans forgot that the only way the Japanese could settle their domestic debt was by cashing in their US investments! These Asian withdrawals provoked a run on the dollar, which nearly bankrupted the U.S. Treasury. Officially the blame was placed on the Hungarian-Jewish financier Georg Soros, who had allegedly made billions by speculating against the dollar and then donated them to so-called liberal causes, which only encouraged the terrorists in Russia.
Immediately interest rates skyrocketed. This in turn provoked a consumer credit crunch within the US, where personal debt — the pillar of consumer society — had ballooned out of control with the so-called middle class mortgaged to the hilt, living on maxed out credit cards. Indeed, a ‘house of cards’ describes the hollowed-out US economy of that period when America’s principle exports were waste and arms, America’s largest employers were temp agencies, America’s retail industry was driven out of business by mega-chains, America’s capital was mostly invested in the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate), and when the American economy’s dominant position was based on being the world’s ‘consumer of last resort.’
Within the first thirty minutes of trading on Black Tuesday, the N.Y. Stock Market fell faster and farther than during the whole of Black Friday in 1929. The 21st Century global financial markets now functioned 24/24, and transactions were measured in nano-seconds. By 9:30 am on Black Thursday, prices were in free fall panicky investors tried to salvage their investments before they vanished into smoke. Billions of dollars worth of basically fictitious capital were being wiped out every minute as stock and bond prices plummeted. The financial markets had long been bloated with these imaginary riches, as the amount of speculative capital circulating exceeded by a ratio of more than five to one the amount of capital actually invested productive activity. Of course the small investors and the middle class with its IRA’s, unable to move quickly, were the first to be wiped out. By the end of the day, big capital had swallowed up their life savings along with their privatised Social Security. Their savings had helped to inflate the market with the help of the US Government, which privatised Social Security and broke down the 1929 firewall preventing banks from acting as investment brokers to lure customers’ money into the Stock Market. By the end of the year, upwards of forty million ruined American families reportedly had filed for bankruptcy.
Happily for American business interests, the succeeding Bush Administrations had had the foresight to change the fiscal code, making it nearly impossible for middle class working people to declare personal bankruptcy, while loosening the rules for corporations. This reform enabled CEO’s to keep their billions when, after striping their companies of capital through astronomical executive salaries, insider speculation and outright embezzling, they went bankrupt. It also enabled banks to foreclose on millions of private debtors. Soon ‘middle class’ workers were being stripped of their assets and reduced to debt-slavery — working long hours to pay off the credit companies who attached their pay checks. Not that many had paychecks. All over the country, companies were downsizing or going belly up, leaving their employees without salaries, retirement funds or medical coverage. Unemployment soared, families lost their homes, children went hungry and died of curable illnesses. Over a million people were living in the streets, and the few good jobs still available were for Security Guards and Repo Men.
Fortunately for America’s billionaires, wise legislators of both parties had with foresight previously enacted regulations sharply curtailing unemployment compensation and making it much more difficult to collect. The quasi-abolition of Welfare and the privatisation of hospitals had long ago completed the longstanding bipartisan social program designed to relieve US business of any financial responsibility for the survival of the American population. Indeed, Administrations took credit for savings, which they could then disburse in the form of bailouts of failing corporations under the Job-Saving Act (decried by so-called liberals as ‘corporate welfare’). Indeed, the ‘recession’ didn’t hurt all Americans equally. The rich retired to their yachts, their estates, their ranches, their gated communities and their tropical tax havens, sipped Martinis and lived off their fat while waiting for business conditions to improve. The steep decline of the dollar against the yen and the euro suited them to a tee. Inflation enabled them to pay off billions of dollars in debts with near-worthless greenbacks. It was a ‘fun’ era of fast cars, high fashion, and action-packed entertainment where playboy spies and detectives acted out the escape fantasies of the downtrodden and millionaires flew private rocket-ships into space.
The common people were left to their own devices. It turned out that these were many.
Revolts Everywhere
The poor rose up in the cities and the projects. An angry street protest sparked off by the police killing of a ten year old girl had ended in a police riot in which hundreds were injured and dozens of bystanders were killed. Amateur videos of police beating, shooting demonstrators were instantly aired on local public access chanels and then picked up by the Networks. Angry young Blacks rioting in their poverty-striken ‘hoods’ drove out the cops, burning squadcars and looting precinct stations. They were joined by street-wise adults with long memories who directed the angry crowds downtown to confront the Man instead of looting their local grocers – whose shelves were in any case bare.
The uprisings were better organized in the Latino neighborhoods, where Hispanic immigrants were already taking an active part in strikes and demos. Community activists in the barrios were keeping in touch with relatives and friends in Latin America where the revolution was now boiling over, with neighborhood assemblies in the lead. Youth gangs like the Crips and the Bloods signed peace treaties and turned their united strength to driving the cops and the drug bosses out of the barrios. Gang leaders gallantly put their forces at the disposal of the neighborhood assemblies, which were often animated by socially active community women – including their mothers and grandmothers.
A national student strike swept the country from the high schools and junior colleges to the elite universities. Classrooms were turned into forums. Local strike and community leaders were invited to speak on campus and explain their goals. Grad students and radicalised faculty members organised teach-ins exposing the misinformation in the media, exploding the myths of mainstream economists and political scientists. The ‘open’ campuses became a Mecca for radicals of all stripes where high-school and non-student youth, Blacks and Hispanics from the ghetto came to hang out, argue and listen to the speeches. Student volunteers streamed off campus to help where they could. Street theater flourished.
American womanhood had earlier mobilised to counter the super-patriotism of the White House, whose “Bring-em-on” belligerence had united the world’s terrorists and put thousands of young Americans in their line of fire. A nationwide support group of military mothers, spouses, sisters and sweethearts formed around the Website www.Lysastrata.org and called upon all US women to support their demand for the immediate return of their spouses, sons and daughters. The First Lady had praised their concern when they showed up 950,000 strong at the Womens’ March on Washington, suggesting they “channel their energy into Red Cross work.”
Now the Lysistratas were blocking government and military installations, getting themselves arrested en masse in nonviolent sit-ins. But as soon as they were released, the women came back, and the authorities couldn’t really hold them since the prisons were overflowing with more dangerous rebels – not to mention criminals and victims of the drugwars. They occupied some government offices for so long that the officials finally left, whereupon the women turned them into day care centers, thus releasing other women to enter the struggle. American women were also organized to protest poor schools, lack of aid to single mothers, no medical coverage, homeless working mothers, families with kids cut off the welfare rolls by Clinton and his successors. Women were also the backbone of neighborhood and community organisations in the cities. Many women had emerged as activists in the occupations, workers’ councils and strike committees. They knew they were in a revolution when their menfolk started washing their own socks.
On the labor front, spontaneous strikes were breaking out among retail and service workers, a vast, underpaid, mostly temporary workforce largely composed of young people, women and more-or-less documented immigrants whom union officials had considered too costly to organise. The strike-wave also spread to (mostly female) office workers, whose patience with the petty harrassment of stupid bosses had at long last given out. The national leadership of the AFL-CIO denounced the strikes as disorderly, hasty and illegal. However, this gave them leverage for a demand for round-table negotiations with the bosses, their golf partners.
The critical turn came when the strike spread to the transportation sector. For the first time in aviation history whole flight crews – pilots and cabin personnel together – went out on strike. Their strike was quickly endorsed by the mechanics’ union (traditionally radical) and the air traffic controllers’ professional association. All these groups were concerned about air safety, increasingly jeopardised by management “economies” cutting back on aircraft maintenance-time and rest-time for aircrews as well as by crowded airlanes and useless, humiliating, time-consuming “anti-terrorist” security procedures.
Working conditions in aviation had declined steeply after the bankruptcies and consolidations of the major airlines, when employees had been forced to accept deep cuts to pay off the enormous bank debts accumulated by management. Still the various competing craft unions (pilots, aircrews, mechanics, controllers) had defended their separate turf. Now all differences were swept aside as joint strike-committes were elected at mass assemblies organised in aircraft hangars at all the major hub airports.
Among the truckdrivers, rank and file rebels and pro-democracy dissidents within the Teamsters Union took matters (and baseball bats) into their own hands and finally got rid of the mafia bureaucracy headed by Jimmy Hoffa III, who was patriotically supporting the President’s fight against “foreign interference” in the labor movement. Although Hoffa’s mob had already siphoned off most of the union treasury into offshore banks, the strikers were able to find enough cash in local union safes and bank accounts to distribute strike pay to the members.
The over-the-road drivers reverted to a tactic from the 1930’s and blocked the highways and truck stops. However, the strikers allowed certain trucks to go through and supply cities with foodstuffs and fuel. The oil workers took over the oilfields, and the crews of tankers – who had been ordered to anchor offshore while shortages drove gasoline prices up – mutinied, turning their cargoes over to the dock strike committees. The government and armed forces retained their own supplies of fuel, but these were limited. The country was paralysed. In many areas not a wheel could turn without the permission of the strike committees. The critical moment was approaching.
The balance of forces shifted. Previously, the employers, with their global reach, had nearly always been victorious in local skirmishes against scattered workers separated by geography, by language, by nationality, by trade, by union affiliation. In the rare instances where management was forced to make concessions in one country, the owners moved their operations to another country where the workers were poorer, more desperate, more docile. Now the tables were turned. Employees and victims of this or that corporation began to unite in every country where the multinational in question did business and counterattacked.
Everywhere strike committees, workers’ councils and popular assemblies sprung to life, debating every issue, joining into regional, national and international federations. Union officials tried desperately to “settle” the strikes by signing contracts with local corporate officials, but these diversions were ignored. Similarly, left political parties tried to deflect the crisis by proposing elections and legislative programs as alternatives, but nobody was paying them attention any more. The struggle was situated elsewhere.
Wherever bosses threatened to close their installations, strikers occupied them. By sitting down and occupying their workplaces, the workers symbolically declared their right to the means of production under which they had formerly been oppressed. The act of remaining together, of living a new, democratic, collective life within the workplace gave them a new identity, bonded them into a new human force. Meanwhile, their lovers, friends and family outside organised support, kept them informed, brought blankets, food and other amenities. Within the occupied facilities, the sit-ins were constantly connected to the Internet, comparing the corporate radio and TV reports of their struggle with the information they downloaded from independent sites and their own federated strike committees sources. There was also time for discussion, for recreation (for example playing “2100” on a company computer!)
Outside, consumer boycotts were proving highly effective in putting a cash-flow squeeze on the targeted corporations. The strikers were receiving support from their neighbors, from non-striking workers’ groups. Small businessmen gave their families credit. Neighborhood assemblies and various local elected officials supported the occupations (immediately declared illegal by the authorities).
In order to fufill their mandate, the international strike committees and workers’ councils had no choice but to ignore the legal rules of capitalist institutions like the World Trade Organisation, NAFTA and Maastricht. They were also obliged to bypass existing labor legislation authorising the monopoly power of union officials to negotiate the sale of labor power. Thus, the international strike councils’ call for global solidarity came into direct conflict with local unions’ attempts to divert the strikes into legal channels.
Everywhere, the workers were faced with the same question: Who could best represent them in this crisis? Union officials tied to the system? Or their own elected, revocable councils and strike committees? The issue came down to this: should working people negotiate the best price for their slavery? Or struggle to abolish it? There was little hesitation. In some unions, the leadership, won over or thrown over by the rank and file, officially endorsed the global strike. Where they didn’t, the workers tore up their membership cards and wildcatted. Internationalism proved to be the key that finally opened the floodgates of labor militancy, long held back and channelled into narrow petty meanders by the labor bureaucracy.
Violence
The employers, caught off balance, counterattacked violently. They desperately needed to make an end of this hydra-headed enemy. Whenever injunctions were defied, the called on the government to send in the troops. They arrested leaders and fired on crowds. Everywhere, the complicity of national governments with the interests of multinational corporations became plain. ‘Patriotic’ and ‘Religious’ leaders were unmasked as fronts for the corporations. Authority was discredited. The movement became politicized. The question of power was in the air.
Authorities from India to Indiana gave free licence to well-armed right-wing fundamentalist militias (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Nazi-pagan) to attack liberated women, students, radicals and strikers. On the other side, millions of people were preparing to defend their worker-occupied farmlands, forests, factories and communities. On every continent, popular movements improvised ways to defend themselves, arming secretly, then more openly. Peaceful movements were now protected by self-armed militias in the cities as well as on the lands liberated by peasant invasions. In a world awash with guns, there were always international merchants and local venal officers willing to sell Kalachnikovs in sufficient quantity for a price. This was a great equaliser. After bloody clashes with police and troops, an uneasy truce prevailed.
The Billions Rise Up
An international general strike was brewing, revolution was in the air. On both sides, people were thinking about it, preparing for it. Unitary global strikes against multinationals multiplied. Properties owned by multinationals in the Third World – from fruit empires to oil installations – were being overrun by local labor and peasant associations. The international federation of strike committees quickly came to a consensus. The momentum was there. It was now or never for a global general strike.
On the other side, governments assigned troops to guard industrial installations. Draftees and reservists were being mobilized. The bourgeoisie was in a panic, one after another the world’s stock markets collapsed as the wealthy transformed their declining paper values into diamonds and precious metals, whose value soared. The middle classes were dismayed, their children totally enthusiastic. The situation dragged on, nerves fraying. The troops, bored guarding factories, were becoming distracted, fraternizing with local girls, then with workers. Many of these young people were familiar with the Game “2100.” They sensed what was about to happen and began talking about it to their comrades. Sympathies wavered. Discipline became harder to maintain. Junior officers were losing confidence, asking themselves questions, becoming edgy.
In the democratic countries the opposition media began to put hard questions to politicians. There was some talk of back door negotiations with the strikers. The White House squelched the very idea of pandering to terrorists by leaking to the press a National Security Council study on the effects of Star-Wars type missiles and laser strikes against the ‘terrorists’ who were ‘holding the world economy hostage.’ The Europeans, the Japanese and even some Republicans did balk at that idea. Not only would these occasionally fallible ‘smart weapons’ inflict collateral damage on population centers, they also threatened corporate property—the industrial plants and petroleum installations occupied by the strikers.
The UN debated various resolutions at length and ended up resolving nothing, eternally deadlocked by the possiblity of US, Russian, European and Chinese vetos in the Security Council. In any case, US policy contemptuously ‘refused to have its hands tied’ by the UN.
As the situation dragged on, the billions were gaining confidence and the billionaires losing theirs. Strike-affiliated assemblies and workers councils were springing up everywhere, discussing, communicating, organizing daily life, preparing for defense, federating. Striking transport workers began making arrangements with agricultural workers to bring food to the cities. Supermarkets, long since emptied by looters (for the most part in good order) were being transformed into food coops. Artists and performers were organizing shows for the strikers. Movie theaters were transformed into forums; walls blossomed with posters and slogans; the young were cutting loose while their elders were patiently waiting for the inevitable showdown. Piecemeal, the economy was passing quietly into the hands of workers without anyone ever pronouncing the word “nationalization.”
Argentina was the first country to give way, followed by Brazil, then Bolivia. Governments took off on planes to Miami, taking part of the national treasury in their baggage. Government soldiers, mostly poor peasants, began deserting en masse, setting off for home in groups, carrying their weapons for protection and safekeeping. The returning muchachos were welcomed by their relatives in the villages, who had taken over the landlords’ estates. There was heavy local fighting in the cities and on the land before the diehard career officers and police were overwhelmed.
Across the globe in Iran, the students (who had never stopped demanding their freedom), the oil workers (long out on strike), and the women (who never accepted the return to the veil) finally succeeded in overturning the dictatorship of the Ayatollahs – as their mothers and fathers had overturned that of the Shah in 1979. The spirit of the Iranian revolution spilled over into the Arab world. One by one, the kings and princes of Morocco and Saudi Arabia were finding it prudent to go on vacation to Monaco, where the dictators of Syria and Egypt soon joined them. Age-old dreams of a pan-Arabic fraternity were reborn in harmony with those of other peoples and cultures.
In the European Union a government of the Reconstituted Left, supported by the unions, took power and called for negotiations and a truce. “You have to know how to end a strike,” declared the Prime Minister of the European Community, the French Liberal-Communist Thaurice Morez. But no one was really paying attention to politicians. Indeed, the French, Spanish, Italian and German strikers took advantage of the truce to mobilise support for their beleagered colleagues in Russia, East Europe and North Africa, sending solidarity delegations with supplies and potential fighters.
The bloodiest fighting took place in China, where the new capitalists – leaders of the Communist Party and the Army – were refusing to relinquish power and were sending troops and tanks from distant provinces to shoot down student protesters and strikers in Beijing, Shanghai and other industrial centers.
On the other hand, in South Korea the transition from a government dominated by the big industrial cartels to popular self-government took place with minimal violence. The Korean students and workers, with their organisational discipline and long traditions of democratic and industrial struggle, had long ago forced the withdrawal of US occupation troops and insisted on a modus vivendi with the North, including the right to visit their relatives in the North. At the end of the 20th Century, Koreans had used general strikes on several occasions to win democracy. And it was the Korean labor movement which called for the historic international strike against Daewoo. Incidentally, Korean youth, when not studying or protesting, were totally hooked on getting together in game-cafés and playing “2100.”
The Nuclear Alliance non-interference treaty between North and South Korea protected the united peninsula from pressure by the US-Japanese SEATO strikeforce or for that matter by China. Meanwhile, the Koreans pursued their North-South sunshine and democratisation policies, while moving toward national reunification. The labor movement in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia took heart from the Korean victory, encouraged by the hope that they would have a sturdy ally if they dared to take power and implement their program. Only the USA remained as a bulwark for the world-dominating corporations.
The United States at an Impasse
The U.S. military found itself at an impasse. American armies were dispersed over Asia (Indonesia, Philippines), the Middle East (Irak, Israel, Syria) and Latin America (Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico). Significant American forces remained bogged down trying to pacify these places as part of the “War Against Terror” and the “War Against Drugs.” The essence of these two ‘wars’ – like the war on Communism that preceded them – apparently consisted of propping up dictatorships and semi-dictatorships friendly to multinationals, selling them arms, lending them huge sums to pay for them, sending in US advisors to help repress opposition. Alternately, dictatorships which no longer pleased the US (e.g. Noriega’s and Saddam’s) could be declared rogue states, invaded and pillaged as in Panama and Iraq.
To add to this confusion, some enemy terrorists were orginally CIA-sponsored ‘freedom fighters’ like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Moreover, the CIA had also been recruiting drug-lords to fight Communism since the Cold War, giving free licence to the Mafia in post-WWII Sicily, to heroin-financed Komintang armies in the ‘Golden Triangle’ during the Vietnam War, and to opium-growing Afghani warlords in the war against terror.
In the long term these unwinnable wars had left US troops dispersed, stretched thin, under-equipped, under constant attack, afraid, disoriented, demoralised. The ranks were increasingly filled with unemployed young men and women for whom decades of jobless recovery had left little choice. Many among them were poor people of color forced to fight even poorer people of color. They had no special love for big US corporations or for the Army brass. Living, working, fighting together in the army had rubbed off most of their racial, ethnic, sexual and religious prejudices. Some of them played “2100”. The Internet kept them informed of what was happening back home and around the world. They all knew they were in deep shit and so did their officers, who dared not admit it because of the effect on morale. Officially, the US was winning the War on Terror, but the GI’s were never sure if they were going to be rotated home on time or suddenly assigned to stay in country for another tour.
Now these pacification troops no longer had a mission. Not that they had ever known precisely what their mission was, unless it was to serve as sitting ducks for terrorist rockets aimed at their heavily-fortified garrisons and to be picked off by hostile guerrillas when they ventured out ‘in-country.’ Small wonder that, confused and afraid, the GI’s had come to see every ‘native’ man, woman and child as a ‘hostile’ to be killed before s/he killed back. ‘Pacification’ had become a synonym for torture, and American atrocities had multiplied as many GI’s became inured to horror.
On the other hand in Latin America, the revolutionary movements began to engage the sympathies of Hispanophone GI’s, ambivalent about their identity as Latinos and Americans. A common language made fraternisation easy. Instead of engaging in random terror, Latin revolutionaries approached the troops as brothers, making it clear they distinguished between the imperialist government in Washington and ordinary Americans, despite the uniform. Defenses were lowered. Local street kids ‘adopted’ friendly GI’s, there were conversations over beer with their big brothers, flirtations with their sisters, invitations to visit their simple homes. Even hardbitten Puerto Rican and Chicano non-coms and lifers, the backbone of this man’s army, ended up listening to the ideas of these rebel compesinos – who often reminded them of their immigrant grand-parents. Indeed, some Hispanic GI’s had relatives involved in cross-border strikes.
Sent down to fight the Zapatista terrorists in Mexico and the neo- Sandinistas in Nicaragua, GI’s were becoming converted to the rebel cause and many thought of deserting. These were advised to remain in the Army and quietly spread their ideas among the ranks, which they did with some success. Thus the Latin American revolution, far from being repressed began creeping north to California, where Anglo fruit growers and sweat-shop owners were already feeling the rebellious presence of militant farm-labor and service-worker movements. A century or more after Yanqui invaders gobbled up Puerto Rico and the former Mexican Federal States of Texas, California, Colorado and New Mexico, the US Hispanic population remained undigested ‘in the belly of the beast’. Now it stood up proudly and declared its solidarity with the popular uprisings all over Latin America.
Of US troops remaining on the Homeland Territory, few were combat units. The fighting end of the Marines, the Army and the National Guard was dug in over three continents, more or less pinned down in anti-terror pacification operations. The Administration spent lavishly on expensive hi-tech weapons, more or less useless for pacification. But it was cheap in providing ordinary GI’s with basic supplies and equipment, like bullet-proof vests and hot meals. In any case, supply lines were stretched thin and morale was low, what with clerk-typists and forty-plus desk officers now finding themselves being shot at in strange, faraway, hostile places with no air-conditioning and no light visible at the end of the tunnel.
Stateside forces were stripped down to Headquarters Staff, Administrative and Transportation personnel, training-camp instructors, cadets in the military schools. Much of the work formerly performed by uniformed supply clerks, commissary, and maintenance troops had been outsourced to a select group of big private manpower firms owned by White House cronies. Many of their underpaid employees were now on strike.
Aside from the Marines and an overstretched professional army, the bulk of US fighting forces consisted of National Guard regiments from the various states, including Reservists with careers and families who had joined the Guard to pay for their education or make a little extra money by playing soldier on the weekends. Normally dependable for disaster-relief and strike-breaking, the Reserves of the various State National Guards were now having serious second thoughts about being shipped off to some godforsaken hole to get shot at by natives they were sent to save. Neither were they exactly overjoyed at the prospect of being ordered to fire on US student demonstrators and strikers.
The government had put off reviving the draft as long as possible, haunted by memories of Vietnam-era demonstrations and riots. Similarly, memories of conscript soldiers ‘fragging’ their officers during that conflict haunted the Pentagon. But the military had no choice. If you just want to conquer weaker countries, all you need is a mean, lean professional army with an abundance of space-age weapons to be exploded at tax-payer expense (and replaced at astronomical prices). But if you need to pacify these places and make them safe enough for US business to move in and privatise their economic resources, you need big occupation forces, and the only way to get them is to draft them.
Predictably, the revival of the draft caused havoc on American campuses. The awful stories students heard from high school friends and older siblings in the Army made their hair stand on end. All but a minority of ROTC, bigtime jocks and gung-ho Fraternity types had turned more or less pacifist after years of playing “2100”, going to anti-war demonstrations, staging anti-globalisation protests and participating in fair-wage boycotts against multinationals. Across the country there was a wave of sit-ins and protests at draft boards and Army recruitment offices. A national march on the Pentagon was quickly organised via the Internet. Also via Internet, three hundred and forty thousand students signed a nationwide Pledge to Resist the Draft and declared themselves Conscientious Objectors.
The first day draftees were called up to report to Selective Service for their physicals, they found themselves accompanied by thousands of protesters all responding to the draftees’ names and demanding physicals chanting: “Will the real Private Jones please stand up?” This protest shut down draft centers in cities and towns all over America. The Army was forced to post sentries day and night around Selective Service and recruitment offices with the result that the entrances of these installations were transformed into permanent Hyde Parks with earnest young women proselytising the embarrassed sentries – on orders to refrain from fraternization while on duty (but not off). Short of shooting these gentle agitators, the Army could do nothing. And the Police were more than occupied elsewhere.
US state and local police departments, although beefed up and super-armed after September 2001, were now overtaxed to the limit. To begin with, American police forces were of very uneven quality and poorly coordinated. Departments took their orders variously from city mayors, county sheriffs, and fifty state governors, not to mention the Homeland Security Office, the CIA and the FBI— the latter arrogant, out of touch with local law enforcement and bogged down in its own nightmare of bureaucratic caution.
Police in the suburbs of Middle America were, like most of Middle America, obese and risk-averse. They looked frightening with their bulletproof vests, Darth Vader helmets, electronic gadgets and expensive weaponry, but inside their defensive shells these men were afraid of everyone. They bullied teenagers and harmless protesters but avoided skirmishes with organised street gangs and striker self-defense groups. Big city police forces were generally much more professional, albeit brutal, racist, and corrupt. Hated in black and Latino neighborhoods, their numbers were too limited to quell riots without troop support – from a National Guard stretched thin and low on morale.
The Prisons Explode
By the time of the global strike, there were already more than four million men and women in US Federal, State and Municipal prisons. Although new, mostly private jails were constantly being constructed, they rapidly overflowed with inmates thanks to the War on Drugs, the Patriot Laws, three strikes legislation and the despair of the young and the inner cities. In that vast prison population languished millions of young people, Blacks, Latinos, poor women, for the most part more victims than criminals. Since the 1960’s all kinds of revolutionary literature had been circulating samizdat among the inmates. More recently, Fish graffiti had appeared on the walls.
Even more harsh and humiliating conditions were provoking bloody riots—always brutally put down. But now the strike outside set off a general riot, and the contagion passed from prison to prison. Four million of the condemned, the tortured, the humiliated, the desperate rose up, defied the authorities, attempted mass breakouts. Among these millions of rioters the gross majority were guilty of nonviolent and victimless crimes: petty drug traffickers or simply users. They knew all too well that they were scapegoats for the big drug dealers, who never got arrested and whose laundered money was keeping the stock exchange afloat and financing supersecret projects of the CIA.
Many young inmates were facing 10 years to life sentences thanks to mandatory sentencing and ‘three strikes’ rulings. Most of these desperate men and women had nothing to lose and now they sensed a chance for freedom. Among them were also thousands of ‘politicals’ — Army refuseniks, ecological guerrillas, arrested strikers, antiglobalist protesters, Fishies —all held without trial as “terrorists” under the Patriot Laws. These inmates had serious organising experience and support from outside movements. As the strike spread, correction officers and private guards were quickly overwhelmed, as were police reinforcements. The national guard units securing corporate facilities against the strikes and occupations were now ordered to secure the prisons.
There were hostage crises, negotiations, standoffs in nearly every jail in the country. A national network of striking prisoners was established by Internet, sharing accurate information about what was happening ‘inside.’ Inevitably there were massacres of both guards and prisoners. On the outside, relatives and friends of prisoners were organizing (as were the families of the guards). The authorities refused to receive their delegations or sent them back with vague promises. Here and there they lost patience and rushed the prison gates, more or less armed. Besieged within and without, prison guards were demanding evacuation by helicopter. The correction officers’ unions, a powerful lobby, put pressure on the state legislatures. They vigorously opposed government proposals to send in the Air National Guard to “free” the hostages by “surgical strikes.” The stalement could not continue indefinitely. One by one, state by state, hundreds of American Bastilles were torn down, the newly liberated dregs of society emerging into the light, joining the mass of rebels fighting for a new ‘outside’ world where factories, schools and offices would be less like prisons…

Expand this with material from

When the Prisoners Ran Walpole: A True Story in the Movement for Prison Abolition


Very little crime was reported at that time. In the midst of momentous organised struggles, a curious calm and order reigned. Everyone went about their business, which was often everyone’s business: supplying free milk for the children, setting up soup kitchens for the strikers’ families, keeping the ambulances, hospitals, transport and emergency services running, organising for self-defense. A serious sense of purpose was in the air, which did not exclude a good deal of exuberance among people experiencing freedom and responsibility for the first time. The impending crisis provoked more good humor than depression, although the jokes were mostly ironic. People thought less about their own petty resentments. It felt good to be alive and wonderful to be young.
The Center Falls Out
The bourgeoisie was divided. Many business people were stunned by the sudden polarisation of society, frightened by the violence and uncomfortable with the Administration’s bluster, intransigence, irrealism and apparent lack of any plan to resolve the international and domestic crises. Their comfortable world was on the skids. Retailers, manufacturers of consumer goods, small businesses and companies with cash-flow problems were bleeding to death financially. They could see the handwriting on the wall. They wanted compromise, peace and a new social pact in order to save what could be saved and start up their businesses again, even if it meant accepting a certain amount of worker control.
With them stood the mainstream professionals, engineers, academics and computer programmers, even a significant minority of military and police professionals. Artists, writers, liberal film stars were outspoken against government repression. The wives and children of the Rulers of the Universe had became infected by the anti-corporate, anti-government virus, and CEO’s were afraid of being confronted when they went home to their mansions and town houses at night.
Politically, however, these wealthy and respectable Americans found themselves impotent. They were represented by a minority of Democrats in Congress and by one Republican senator who still had the courage to defy the will of the world-dominating corporations. Marginalised by the media, the good guys were derided as well-meaning “dupes” of the internationalists, if not accused of outright treason.
The poor Democrats had never recovered from the disgrace of their single term in office during the 21st Century. Elected with the help of thousands of idealistic students and middle class citizens eager for peace, the attractive Democratic candidate failed to live up to expectations about withdrawing from the quagmire in the Middle East, providing Americans with healthcare coverage, preserving Social Security, reducing the deficit, cutting unemployment, and reducing hydrocarbons. Harrassed by hostile, Republican-dominated media, the new Administration found its every mistake magnified, its every indiscretion blown up and dragged out into a major scandal. A hard-working, well-informed, bright young White House staff was made to look amateurish and ineffectual. Worse still, the economy took another dip and the Republicans won back Congress after two years.
Faced with increasing attacks on American installations abroad and rabid Republican accusations of being “too cowardly to stay the course,” the President, refusing to become the first woman to “preside over a US defeat,” ended up reinstating the draft and cutting back on health, education and the environment to balance the budget and pay for the war. Mrs. Clinton’s exit from office was as inglorious as her entrance had been promising. After failing to resolve a prolonged hostage crisis involving US aircraft downed in Syria, she announced that she would not seek a second term. The hostages were released soon after. Republican leaders later scoffed at rumors of backchannel negotiations. The new Administration did however lift the decades-old trade ban on Syria, and the Republican hardcore never lost power again.
This hard core was composed of billionaire oil men and their cronies in the defense industries, international construction firms, agro-chemicals, big pharma, banking, insurance, finance and big multinationals. Faced with a serious threat to its wealth and power, this hard core was in no mood for compromise. Neither was the national security state, with which it grew in symbiosis, bloated to enormous proportions in the half-century since Eisenhower warned of a “military-industrial” complex taking over the country. These men in uniforms and suits ruled the world’s wealth through the unchecked use of military power, and they were prepared to use the same violence to maintain their power where it was threatened at home.
Members of this hard core regarded themselves as the Masters of the Universe. Directors and owners of corporations so huge their wealth surpassed the GNP of Sweden, they were none the less provincials, for the most part. Their vision of the world was narrow, filtered through the lense of ultra-conservative theories developed by second-rate academics in right wing think-tanks financed by themselves. Basically, they believed what they wanted to believe and assumed that the world’s only super-power could do pretty much what it damn well pleased.
Self-interest, wishful thinking, narrow-mindedness, rigidity, ignorance and lack of empathy with others prevented the Masters of the Universe from understanding the conflicts and complexities of the world they presumed to rule. Vigorous American capitalism had thrown up giants like Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Decadent American capitalism was ruled by pigmies. The new Masters of the Universe had seized control of the greatest power on earth only to find themselves thrashing about in all directions against invisible ubiquitous enemies talking languages they didn’t understand. Like a hulking helpless giant, the lone American superpower found itself outmaneuvered and overwhelmed by Liliputian opponents on every side.
Electoral control was maintained by spending huge amounts of money supplied by big business lobbies in return for future favors. To broaden their electoral base, the Masters of the Universe pandered to the crackpot ideas of fundamentalist Christians, millionaire televangelists, and the political establishment of the Confederate-flag-waving South with its links to the KKK and Nazi-type militias. It perpetuated its power by constantly precipitating crises, assuming more and more extra-constitutional powers, corrupting the electoral process with billions provided by lobbyists, looting the public treasury for the benefit of its super-rich members, creating huge debts, committing electoral fraud whenever necessary, and justifying its actions by blatant lies – lies perpetuated by corporate media whose ‘professional ethic’ forbade journalists to confront administration officials with their blatant mendacity or tax them with their gross blunders.
But these media, although corporate-owned, corporate-sponsored and corporate-managed, could not remain forever immune to the immense changes taking place in the real world. Journalists were increasingly hard-pressed to fit what they were observing with their own eyes into the frame of the official government picture which had to be respected. Reports posted on Internet sites kept them informed of the world outside the media bubble and exposed them to radical perspectives. Reporters and cameramen started standing up to their editors, editors to their producers and publishers, producers to management. If they weren’t given a little leeway they would ‘lose their audience’, was their argument.
As the crisis deepened, more of the so-called ‘liberal media’ actually started sounding liberal. On the other hand, the hardline right media like the FOX Network and the Murdoch papers were demanding that the government stop waffling and nuke every terrorist from Bangkok to Boise in the name of Christianity and SUV’s. When the studio technicians and backup staff threatened to go out on strike against the big four broadcasters, the owners locked them out and sent management personnel to take over their jobs. Professional news staff, worried about their careers, hesitated. Some journalists sincerely hoped that by staying on the job they could make a difference. Meanwhile, events overtook everyone…
When the San Francisco Bay Area Assembly pronounced itself an autonomous commune, the President and the National Security Council declared a State of Emergency including temporary suspension of the Constitution and an all-out war against “a small band of evil-minded terrorists, foreign infiltrators and individual grudge-holders dedicated to destroying free trade and the American way of life.” There was live coverage on all four networks of the President’s proclamation of a “crusade to save Christianity and free markets.” The broadcast ended with the following announcements: 1) all military personnel to report immediately to their units; 2) total curfew after dark; 3) all media placed under the jurisdiction of Homeland Security for the duration of the domestic war on economic terrorism.
Soon reports flowed in of military personnel despatched to secure broadcasting studios and transmitters across the country. Panic phone calls and emails from newsrooms all around the country confirmed these rumors. While many studios prepared to cooperate, in some locations the newspeople took to their microphones, got on the air and kept their viewers and listeners informed of what was happening. Playing for time, the broadcasters barricaded themselves in and sent out a continuous SOS to their audiences, asking them to come down to the studio and stage non-violent sit-downs between the occupied media and the troops. The public, indignant, turned out massively, and soon the broadcast stations were surrounded by huge crowds. These confrontations were of course broadcast live, inciting more and more viewers and listeners to get involved. By the end of the day, the crowds were so dense that the soldiers – overage Homeland Security Guards from nearby communities – found themselves surrounded, sheepishly gave up the pretence of military aggressivity, and fraternised with the crowds.
Swept along by the movement, reporters brought their cameras out of the studios into occupied factories, neighborhood assemblies, strike headquarters. For the first time, the media showed its mass audience the spectacle of its own activity. And for the first time, US viewers were exposed to uncensored, positive images of the strikers and revolutionaries at home and around the world, no longer viewed as threatening terrorists but as neighbors and comrades. These televised images helped ordinary people to take possession of their own collective activity, to see themselves and their movements as historical. Not only were “we” on TV, we were on TV all over the place, in every region, in every state, around the world. This comforting impression of national and international strength gave the strikers and their supporters confidence, and won over many fence-sitters. America was finally ready to join the world – but not the American government.
Surgical Strikes
The first targeted attacks launched by the White House against “nests of terrorists” within the US were presented as “surgical.” However, many of these nests were located in heavily populated zones, and there was inevitable “collateral damage” which the Presidential spokesperson “regretted” while placing the blame on a “handful of terrorists, outside agitators, foreign agents and malcontents” behind the disorders. Speaking of Cleveland, Ohio, Air Force General Mike Megabom was quoted as saying: “We had to destroy it to save it.”
Radio-TV transmitter towers and occupied broadcasting studios were immediately secured. There was to be no live coverage of the Cleveland crater, the burning of Los Angeles, the mass arrests in San Francisco, the Chicago massacre. Yet within hours pictures and reports were criss-crossing the nation via the Internet, that elastic, near-indestructible electronic web originally developed (irony!) by the US military to preserve its command network in case normal communications were interrupted by a Russian atomic attack. Now this abandoned military project turned out to be a formidable weapon for democracy. Uncensored, unedited reports gathered from all over the country and posted on various information sites kept the people informed. The government’s credibility fell to zero. Shocking images and first-hand accounts spoke for themselves. The whole foundation of Americans’ faith in their government had collapsed. Where to turn?
The Federation’s Appeal
All over America, local strike committees, workers’ councils and community assemblies were galvanized into action – tending to the wounded, relieving the homeless in the zones of destruction, preparing to go underground and resist. Meanwhile, striking truckers began hauling in relief supplies while keeping the committees informed of troop movements along the Federal Interstate System. Striking firemen put themselves at the committees’ disposal, and in many localities they became the de facto local government. At the national level, the Federation of Strike Committees, Councils and Assemblies, consulting via Internet chat, took rapid stock of the situation around the country and issued a Ten Point Emergency Declaration:
1. In so far as the Federal Government, having made war on the United States People in their Separate States, can no longer be considered their legitimate representative;
2. In so far as the Union that hitherto bound the Several States has thus been dissolved,
3. The Federation calls for a Constituent Constitutional Assembly to be organised as early as possible.
4. In the interim the Federation pledges its cooperation to all State and Local Authorities who agree not to cooperate with the so-called Federal Government of the Formerly-United States.
5. Federal Officials found responsible for using Weapons of Mass Destruction on Homeland civilians, when apprehended, will be turned over to the International War Crimes Tribunal, whose jurisdiction the Federation now recognizes in the name of the American People.
6. In the absence of a Legitimate Constituted Authority representing the inhabitants of the Fifty Formerly-United States of America, Sovereignty now reverts to the American People in their Several States.
7. The Federation, speaking in the name of 180,000,000 Americans affiliated with ten thousand state and local Workers’ Councils, Strike Committees and Community Assemblies, assumes Provisional Authority in cooperation with those State and Local governments who have declared in favor of the Constituent Constitutional Assembly.
8. The Federation calls upon all Americans in uniform to refuse to transmit or execute orders to fire on civilians. Soldiers should elect delegate councils in their units, supervise and control the official command structure at every level.
9. The Federation, acting as the Provisional Sovereign Authority in International Affairs, declares a unilateral Truce ending all hostilities, undertakes the orderly withdrawal of all US troops abroad under a flag of truce, and appeals to the Governments and Peoples of the Planet to boycott the former Federal Government.
10. To remain effective, this Emergency Declaration must be ratified within Twenty Four by a nationwide Internet Plebiscite.
Thus the Internet linking the embattled strike committees, councils and assemblies across the US and around the world began to function like the nervous system of a living organism – receiving impressions and feelings from its alert sense organs in every locality; comparing, classifying and evaluating them in its millions of brain cells; comparing them with similar impressions in its memory-cells; bringing the passions and needs of its myriad cells into consciousness; sending out messages to the muscles and limbs so as to rise as one body made up of billions of individuals, head held high, feet planted firmly on the green globe, a sleeping giant awakened, never again to sleep. Thus humanity, electronically galvanized through its new electronic nervous system, came to life as a conscious self-acting subject, a multiple organism striding forth to defend and preserve its habitat – the planet.
The Federation’s Appeal echoed around the planet with the speed of the electron. Soon messages of solidarity were flowing in from countries all over the world. New popular governments including those of Argentina, Brasil, Korea and Iran were demanding that the Federation be admitted to the United Nations as the “Provisional Authority of the Formerly-United States.” Speaking before the European Parliament, Prime Minister Thaurice Morez (Liberal-Communist, France) denounced the United States as a “rogue state” and presented a Resolution condemning the US in the name of Human Rights and calling for sanctions. This Resolution was a compromise with the European Strike Council’s demand for full diplomatic recognition of the Federation’s Provisional Authority. As negotiations with the Morez government dragged on, the European Strike Council had grown into a “second power” in the European Union, controlling transportation and the economy, with tacit veto power over any governmental decisions.
The US delegate having walked out of the UN Security Council, the European Union’s resolution was adopted unanimously in the absence of a US veto. The European Rapid Strike Force (organised over US objections) to supplement NATO, was placed on red alert. For their part, the Russians, although mired in chaos, sharply reminded Washington that the World Disarmament Treaty Organisation (which the White House had refused to join) allowed member nations to take pre-emptive action (including tactical nuclear strikes) against any non-signatory atomic power who threatened the peace and was declared a Rogue State.
The White House was rumored to be preparing a second wave of surgical strikes using Star Wars weapons from space. Leaks from the National Security Council about possible use of tactical nuclear missiles alarmed those circles in the Pentagon where the War On Terror had long been considered unwinnable, given the absence of a viable exit strategy. An informal group of superior officers, including active and retired Service Chiefs, had been holding quiet meetings for some time, thinking the unthinkable. Now a vote was called. One hour later, uranium-tipped missiles capable of penetrating six metres of concrete and steel were streaking toward the secret bunker where the President and National Security Council were holed up. In a fiery instant the nest of world terrorism was destroyed, once and for all. The succubus had been exorcised. The planet breathed a sigh of relief. The future could take place.
The Ceasefire
The Officers’ Council in charge of the Pentagon immediately accepted the Federation’s call for a cease-fire. But the generals were divided on the question of whether to negotiate and with whom. Impossible to enter into negotiations with the Federated Assemblies without tacitly recognizing their sovereignty. On the other hand, the Officers’ Council could not ignore the strikers, for they controlled all the networks of civil transportation as well as access to oil and foodstuffs. For example, in order to move their remaining loyal units through the Teamster checkpoints on the Interstates, the generals’ orders needed to be co-signed by the Strike Committees. Meanwhile, conscripted soldiers and activated National Guards were longing to be at home among their loved ones in their embattled communities. The strikers gave them every facility to return, including free transportation. Whole units quietly deserted.
The top brass concluded that their position was in the long run untenable. Many officers were thinking privately about war crimes trials and other possible inconveniences. They pondered the fate of colleagues among the Latin American generals they had trained and armed: the lucky ones had made it to Miami, but where could exiled US generals go?
Meanwhile, the Officers’ Council’s major problem was reining in the Armageddon Movement of right-wing religious crazies in the military before they destroyed the country in order to save it from the Anti-Christ. Although Fail-Safe systems made it nearly impossible for the diehards to launch strategic atomic weapons without Codes secured in the Pentagon, there were plenty of kamikaze Colonels out there with lethal minds and access to heavy-duty chemical and biological weaponry.
Fortunately, the generals who made up the Council had quietly vetted reliable subordinates on whom they could count. They now moved swiftly to remove from command the obvious right-wing maniacs and religious fanatics in their ranks. The Council also placed under arrest a number of ranking officers deemed responsible for atrocities and massacres, in the hope of sating the appetite of future war-crimes tribunals by offering up scapegoats. Nonetheless, isolated fratricidal clashes broke out between Pentagon forces and rebel units. The awesome savagery of these high-tech battles to the death surpassed anything previously seen. Once engaged, there was only one possible outcome, and it had to be achieved as quickly as possible. The stunning massed firepower unleashed during these last brief explosions of made-in-USA ordnance punctuated the end of the War on Terror like the final bouquet of an awesome Fourth of July fireworks display.
Then there was silence.
Slowly the country picked itself up, dusted itself off and started to put itself together again. Councils of striking flight personnel, air controllers, dispatchers, railroad crews, truck and bus drivers got together on the Internet to put together emergency traffic schedules, deliver relief supplies, evacuate wounded. These plans were coordinated with military-run disaster efforts. Working along side of their brothers and sisters in uniform, the strikers no longer appeared to be the fearsome terrorists, malcontents and dupes of foreign agents depicted in Army “Why We Fight” indoctrination courses.
This military-civilian cooperation was crucial in the urgent work of extracting nearly two million GI’s stranded abroad among not always forgiving locals they had been sent to pacify using such friendly measures as kicking down the doors of their homes when they did not actually burn them. There was need for a rapid withdrawal. The striking aviation workers and merchant mariners placed themselves and their employers’ ships and aircraft at the disposal of the Officers’ Council. It was an offer the generals could not refuse.
The joyful fraternisation between striking US crews and the forlorn GI’s they had come to rescue broke down the last barrier of hostile misunderstanding between the young men and women getting shot at overseas and the internationalist protesters and strikers at home who had ‘refused to support the troops’ and were ‘allied with international terrorism’ – according to the government. Soldiers who had seen (and committed) horrors broke down and cried when they saw themselves welcomed with open arms by the strikers. Many GI’s had believed that all those protesters and pacifists looked down on them and hated them; they had been afraid of being spat on if and when they finally got home.
At the suggestion of the strikers’ Federation of Councils and Assemblies, the Officers’ Council granted a three-month leave to all returning overseas personnel so as to be reunited with their families. Another offer the generals could hardly refuse. Back on Main Street the repatriated soldiers found a whole country cutting loose in an explosion of joy and liberty. They breathed in the spirit of the international general strike that had finally released them from the mayhem of war. All over the country young people were flocking to giant rock concerts, smoking legal dope, celebrating with their bodies and their music the return of the future. Welcomed to these concerts, the young men and women of the military shed their uniforms, put the hell of war behind them and re-joined their generation – killers and outcasts no longer.
Nine months after this nation-wide party hospitals overflowed as an unprecedented number of American babies were born. Busy nurturing all this new life, America ceased to be a threat to world peace. With the fall of the last bastion of global capitalism, the planet now turned its attention to healing.
Here I awoke, extremely pleased with my dream. Quickly I consigned my vision to paper before the memory faded. But what was it that I had actually dreamed? A possible future? A science fiction? Or only a winning game of “Twenty-One Hundred”? My brain on fire, I strode the length of the beach, breakers crashing at my feet, face in the gale-blown spray where a stormy petrel hung motionless, repeating to myself:
We have a right to dream!