Normally, the rain in Seattle is slight and constant, nothing like the torrential downpours seen in the south or the Midwest during summer storms. But on Thursday, August 29th, it was syrup-thick, the grey clouds speckled with lightning. Almost as much rain fell in that one day as had fallen the entire month prior. South of the city, the unusual weather nearly produced a tornado—a remarkably rare occurrence on the coastal northwest.
In the city proper, fast food workers were striking for the second time in three months, part of a coordinated national walkout that hit more than fifty cities. The strike-first strategy they were using was itself a rare occurrence, standing out distinctly from Big Labor’s normal repertoire of muted sign-holding and closed-door contract negotiation. But even before the rain began, this second walkout had been dampened by low turnout compared to the first strike at the end of May.
In that first strike, at least eight stores were shut down entirely for some portion of the day, twice as many more having to call in additional managers to staff their shops. In the second walkout, only a handful were actually shut down for any period of time. A Subway was emptied early in the morning, a Specialty’s had to close their coffee counter when the worker they’d called to scab decided to walk out instead, a downtown Jimmy John’s was forced to suspend deliveries after all its drivers walked off, and another Jimmy John’s on First Hill had to call in managers to make up for the four in-shop workers who struck. Those who portray the actions as composed entirely of paid staffers and community members ignore these real (if limited) walkouts that did, in fact, happen.
Still, it was immediately obvious that this second strike was smaller than the first, with less worker participation, fewer actual walkouts and a more limited economic impact. At the same time, it was much flashier, with big multimedia set-ups in Westlake Park streaming video of actions in Tacoma and Missoula, politicians lining up to speak at the rally on Capitol Hill, and a fawning lead-up feature by The Stranger, Seattle’s arts and culture weekly, which only rarely deigns to dirty its hands with the problems of the proles.
Each of these dimensions, more or less consistent with what I have heard from other cities, signals that the movement may be confronting its initial limits. After the first strike, I argued for radicals to take on a limited engagement with the campaign where possible, offering a few concrete forms that this engagement could take. It’s essential to now give an update as the movement confronts these initial limits. In most respects, the methods initially advocated still remain valid, though the environment sustaining them has begun to seriously change. As this change progresses, those methods will also obviously have to adapt.