“The first [general strike] took place during the Civil War, when slaves walked off plantations throughout the South, heading toward Union lines and undermining the ability of the Confederacy to fight. The scholar and civil-rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois rightfully termed this a ‘general strike’ in his 1935 book Black Reconstruction. Though unplanned and disorganized, it was perhaps the most important labor action in American history.

In 1892, workers in New Orleans, both black and white, conducted a general strike to demand recognition of their labor unions. Led by three racially integrated unions, the strike showed the potential for organized labor to overcome racism, even as Jim Crow descended on the South. When the city’s leaders attempted to race-bait the strike out of existence, the rest of the city’s unions called the general strike. It continued until the New Orleans Board of Trade agreed to submit to binding arbitration and to negotiate with unions that had both black and white members. The working-class racial harmony proved short-lived, but it was still a major union victory.”
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