Government Shutdown: Will Labor Respond to a Historic Moment?

The Public Opposes the Shutdown and Supports Workers

Federal workers and supporters rally to end the shutdown at PDX Airport in Portland, OR. Photo by .

The longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history entered its 35th day today. Almost a million federal workers are affected, and almost half a million people have been working without getting paid.

The vast majority of those workers don’t support the shutdown or the wall. And those workers, not Trump, clearly have the support of the public.

There are moments that, depending on the choices we make and the action that we do or don’t take, have the potential to be real turning points in history. They are the moments that we look back on as the sparks that lit the powder kegs, which set off even larger moments that lead to foundational struggles and systemic change.

A Potentially Historic Moment

The current shutdown is one of those potentially historic moments. Hundreds of thousands of working people are being forced to work without pay over something that a significant majority of them don’t support.

Hundreds of thousands of working people who aren’t getting their paychecks are staring eviction in the face. They have no guarantee that their families will have food to eat. They won’t be able to afford transportation or childcare.

Labor sit-in at Senator Mitch McConnell’s office. Photo by .


Today because not enough air traffic controllers are coming to work.

Over the past week across the country, and .


The foundation for a historical moment is being laid.

We Need Bold Action From Labor

If federal labor unions worked with members to take bold, organized, and coordinated action they could end the shutdown.

If hundreds of thousands of federal workers went on strike they could not only end the shutdown, they could engage in and win big victories for everyone.

If the rest of labor joined them… we could be unstoppable.

We could fight to end

  • the privatization of the VA and the United States Postal Service,
  • the disastrous Trump tax cuts for the wealthy.

We could fight to tax the rich and begin to

  • fully fund our government agencies, particularly the ones meant to support working people and those in need,
  • fund desperately needed universal services like single payer Medicare for All and a guaranteed basic income.

We could fight to pass and fund a Green New Deal that will

  • end the use of fossil fuels,
  • make the U.S. carbon neutral by 2030, and
  • spark massive innovation, investment, and job creation in clean-renewable energy and related industries.

We could fight to get big money and gerrymandering out of our electoral system.

We could fight to nationalize banks and turn them into instruments of true public benefit.

The possibilities are at least theoretically endless, and are potentially revolutionary. The question is whether or not the moment is already passing us by.

Will Labor Respond to the Moment?

We are heading into week six of the shutdown. There is no doubt that people have beensoeaking out and taking action. There have been rallies, some direct action, an outpouring of public support, and the . The makings of the spark are certainly forming.

At the same time Trump is now actively working on issuing an executive order to fund his wall against the will of the people. If successful the order would lead to the construction of a . That itself may add fuel to the growing fire. But it could also enable Trump to end the shutdown in a way that could easily deflate the slowly growing whispers of a general strike and a potentially revolutionary moment.

If labor comes together and takes bold action before the balloon deflates, then a desperate situation for almost a million working people could be transformed into the moment when this country takes a turn for the better, the moment when we begin to transform our country and create a truly democratic and participatory economy and society.

If we miss this historic moment, it will not be the first time and likely won’t be the last. But we’ll need to be honest about the fact that missed that moment so we can learn from our mistakes and be ready next time.

Justin Norton-Kertson is a labor-community organizer and a member of the .



Genderfluid antiauthoritarian leftist. Author, editor, publisher, musician, & organizer living in rural Oregon with their partner, cats, pups, goats, & bees.

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Genderfluid antiauthoritarian leftist. Author, editor, publisher, musician, & organizer living in rural Oregon with their partner, cats, pups, goats, & bees.