Lessons of the Government Shutdown

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We’re now a month on from the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and we need to remember how this shutdown actually came to an end. The corporate media worked overtime to make the case that Trump caved to Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party. Article after article detailed how Nancy Pelosi’s Congressional maneuvering made it impossible for Trump to keep the government closed. However, this is a shameful half-truth. The real forces that pushed Trump to reopen the government with not one of his demands met were the federal workers, particularly at the airports, who refused to go to work until their pay resumed.

The last day of the shutdown did not begin with Nancy Pelosi calling for mass rallies or Chuck Schumer organizing a sit-in at the Oval Office. It began with air traffic controllers and TSA agents at some of the country’s busiest airports refusing to go to work. It began with Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, calling on flight attendants across the country to skip work and organize mass sit-ins of Congressional offices until the shutdown ended. It began with Paul Rinaldi, president of the Air Traffic Controllers Association declaring, “They’re [Air Traffic Controllers] worried; they’re tired; they’re distracted. And they’re not going to come to work if they’re not fit for duty… This government shutdown has got to end.”

In Trump’s speech where he announced the end of the shutdown he left open the possibility that after three weeks, if there was no funding for the border wall, the shutdown would resume. At the time we wrote:

“While Trump threatened to shut down the government again at the end of three weeks if he doesn’t get agreement on money for a wall, it is very hard to see how triggering another shutdown would be a sustainable political position. Nevertheless, unions should continue mobilizing and making it clear that another shutdown will be met with more decisive action. This position would have massive popular support.”


As the possibility of a renewed shutdown approached, Sara Nelson held a press conference to make clear that things would resume where they left off the last day of the shutdown and escalate from there. Calling for a “general strike” she said flight attendants would not work in an unsafe situation and appealed for mass demonstrations at the airports starting on February 16. This is exactly the bold approach that the labor movement needs to take up if we are going to succeed in defeating Trump.

It is crucial that the lessons of this shutdown be crystallized for a whole new generation of workers that are entering into confrontation with their bosses and the billionaires. It is our work that lines the pockets of the super rich every day, and this gives us immense power. Airport and airline workers, who play a critical role in the overall economy, were able to bring the longest government shutdown in U.S. history to a close by beginning to strike and threatening wider action. We should learn from and replicate this lesson by organizing ourselves into an unwavering struggle against Trump, the bosses who take advantage of us, and the billionaire class as a whole.

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