"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Worker Rights’

The Struggle To Save Our Planet Heats Up

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Adapting to Climate ChangeOldspeak: “To get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order…

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.” –Chris Williams.

YES! The root of the issue is capitalism. We have to stop nibbling around the edges. We have to recognize that capitalism in its current globalized and unrestrained form is fundamentally at odds with Democracy, human and natural rights. We have to have an honest critical discussion about global capital and how it’s destroying our planet. We must reassert our sacred commitment, as our ancestors did for millennia, to be custodians of our earth mother, not her rapists. We must recognize that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. The global capitalist enterprise is collapsing and blowing up all around us, one need only look to texas and Bangladesh and the explosion in unemployment and poverty, the collapse of ecosystems, to see what’s happening.  We cannot keep dumping wasteful trillions into failing, obsolete, toxic, fossil and nuclear fuel based infrastructure that is destroying and poisoning our planet. We have to fundamentally rethink how we organize our civilization and economy. The systems we have are not working.

By Chris Williams @ Z Magazine:

Capitalism stands as a death sentinel over planetary life. Recent reports from institutions, such as the World Bank, detail how, as a result of human activity, we are on track for a 4° Celsius increase in average global temperatures. Should this come to pass, the Earth would be hotter than at any time in the last 30 million years; an absolutely devastating prognosis that will wipe out countless species as ecosystems destabilize and climate becomes a vortex of erratic, wild weather events.

Despite this Americans, suffered through an election campaign in which climate change literally wasn’t mentioned—at least until the final weeks, when a hurricane forced the presidential candidates to acknowledge it.

Even as the World Bank published its report—with the conclusion that avoiding a 4° temperature increase was “vital for the health and welfare of communities around the world”—bank officials were nevertheless still handing out loans to construct more than two dozen coal-fired power plants to the tune of $5 billion.

In direct contrast to politicians and the media, fully 80 percent of Americans believe that climate change will be a serious problem for the United States unless the government does something about it—with 57 percent saying the government should do a “great deal” or “quite a bit.”

Even for the 1 in 3 Americans who say they are wary of science and distrust scientists, 61 percent now agree that temperatures have risen over the last 100 years. Commenting on the new poll, Stanford University social psychologist and pollster Jon Crosskick wrote, “They don’t believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say…. Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along.”

This background of overwhelming public concern helped situate the national demonstration in Washington, DC on February 17, against the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas. If built, the pipeline will carry 800,000 barrels a day of highly-polluting tar sands oil, effectively dealing a death blow to hopes of preventing rampant climate change. The demonstration added significance as activists attempted to draw a line in the sand and pose the first big litmus test for the second term of Barack Obama.

Given that an overwhelming majority of Americans, and even most people hostile to climate science, are in favor of action, why is it that the overwhelming majority of politicians—who presumably are subject to the same weather as the rest of us—can’t seem to see the need? Why aren’t our elected representatives proposing serious measures to prevent it from getting worse?

How one answers this question is not one of semantics. Rather, it is of decisive importance because it determines how one should fight and with whom one should forge alliances. Unfortunately, it is a question that Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org and a key organizer of the February 17 demonstration, has struggled with, but not conclusively resolved. His confusion is evidenced by the title of an article he wrote in January: “Our Protest Must Short-Circuit the Fossil Fuel Interests Blocking Barack Obama”—implying that Obama would do something if he could.

The momentum generated from this demonstration may serve as the launching pad for a sustained campaign that begins to stitch together the myriad forces fighting locally around the country, transforming previously isolated or single-issue initiatives and groups into a broad united front for climate justice that draws in other forces, such as unions.

This was the position of Big Green groups like the Sierra Club. Even as it pledged for the first time to take part in civil disobedience, its executive director, Michael Brune, declared that the new strategy was part of “a larger plan to support the president in realizing his vision and make sure his ambition meets the scale of the challenge.”

The first thing Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry could do is say no to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That would be inordinately easy, as Obama has the final say and doesn’t require Congress’ support to shut it down. After 53 senators from both parties signed a letter urging him to green-light the pipeline, Obama is running out of ways to further delay his decision.

In spite of the rhetoric of his inaugural address, the pivotal question remains: Is Barack Obama—or any Democratic leader, for that matter—really on our side? Is it just a question of persuading a reluctant friend, hamstrung by a right-wing, dysfunctional Congress and stymied by powerful corporate interests, to act by demonstrating outside his house to let him know we’re there for him? Or should we be surrounding his house, knowing full well that he won’t give in to our demands without a social movement that acts independently of his wishes and control.

To understand the reasons for Obama’s “lack of desire” to address climate change—a microcosm of the larger inability of global leaders and institutions to do likewise amid two decades of futile climate negotiations—it’s necessary to go beneath the surface appearance of things; to examine the structure and ideology of the system of capitalism.

Systemic Causes

When their financial system was threatened by the crisis that began in 2008, political leaders didn’t sit around for 20 years arguing that they had to wait until all the facts were in and attempting to reach consensus on a solution. No, in a heartbeat, they threw trillions of dollars at the banks.

But when a far larger crisis, one that threatens the basic stability of the planetary biosphere, unfurls as a result of the same policies of reckless growth, waste and warfare, they spend their time trashing scientists and ignoring the unraveling weather outside their windows. Therefore, to get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order.

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.

Ultimately, as a socialist, I would argue that we need to live in a world where there are no classes with diametrically opposed interests, in perpetual conflict over social and political power. Only in such a socially just and ecologically sustainable world will there be any long-term hope for humanity to live in peace with itself, other species, and the planet on which we depend. The stepping-stones of the revolutionary road are the acts of struggle needed to create it.

In contrast to his inaugural speech, Obama’s first press conference after re-election gave a more accurate insight into the priorities of his second term. Unlike four out of five Americans who want the government to do something to address climate change, Obama made it clear that this wouldn’t be a priority for his administration: “Understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

With two mentions of the need for “growth” in a single sentence, Obama faithfully echoed the declaration of the Earth Summit, Rio+20, held in June 2012, where the representatives of 190 countries, while dismally avoiding any commitment to new targets or limits on greenhouse gas emissions, did commit—16 times in all—to “sustained growth,” a phrase taken to be synonymous, rather than in fundamental conflict, with another term: “sustainability.”

The obligation to promote growth underlines why the root of the climate problem is systemic. If capitalism is not growing, it is in crisis. Growth must occur continuously and in all sectors. If the sector in question is highly profitable, it will grow even faster, regardless of any social considerations.

Like, for example, the fossil-fuel sector. Oil production, rather than declining, as is desperately needed to stop climate change, is predicted to increase from the current 93 million barrels per day to 110 million by 2020—with some of the biggest increases worldwide occurring in the U.S. The Holy Grail of all administrations since Richard Nixon —energy independence—is being made possible by the policies of the Obama administration, as the New York Times reported in a special feature: “National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly 7 million barrels by 2020. Some experts think it could eventually hit 10 million barrels—which would put the United States in the same league as Saudi Arabia.”

As the climate blogger and former Clinton administration official Joseph Romm put it, Obama is “basically pushing a moderate Republican agenda. It’s just that there aren’t any moderate Republicans left, much as we don’t have any ‘below average temperature’ years any more.”

Again, if we examine the roots of the issue, we find that the pathetic response of an administration purporting to be concerned with environmental questions has much less to do with individual personnel than with the dynamics of capitalism.

In 1992, when George H.W. Bush flew to Rio for the first Earth Summit, all things seemed possible. The “evil empire”—as Ronald Reagan liked to call the tyrannical dictatorships of the USSR and Eastern Europe, which operated falsely in the name of socialism—had collapsed under the weight of its own economic, social, and ecological contradictions. Politicians in the West were euphoric. They had seen off what they perceived to be an existential threat to their system.

In today’s world of enforced austerity, it’s difficult to recapture the sense of optimism that pervaded Western ruling class circles in the early 1990s. The atmosphere of triumphalism was so great even Republican presidents like Bush could make promises about protecting the environment. A few years later, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was written, Western governments were still willing to pledge that they would do the heavy lifting with regard to reducing emissions, while developing countries would be free from such limits.

Hence, the seeming “lack of will” at Rio+20 last year can be much better explained by the onset of a huge structural crisis of capitalism, rather than the “lack of vision” of individual politicians.

Instead of optimism about acting on climate change, the real optimism these days among capitalists is about the profits they can make from the oil and gas bonanza. Oil giant and planet-wrecker par excellence BP is predicting that by 2030, the entire Western Hemisphere will be energy independent, due to the expansion of new techniques for oil and gas exploration, such as fracking in shale deposits and horizontal and deep-water drilling. Fossil fuels are expected to remain at 81 percent of the energy mix in an energy economy that will be 39 percent larger than today.

Naturally, oil executives such as Scott D. Sheffield, chief executive of Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources—headquartered in an area of the world that received only two inches of rain for the whole of 2011 and spent most of the year with large parts of the state on fire—are nevertheless overjoyed: “To not be concerned with where our oil is going to come from is probably the biggest home run for the country in a hundred years… It sort of reminds me of the industrial revolution in coal, which allowed us to have some of the cheapest energy in the world and drove our economy in the late 1800s and 1900s.”

Depending on who you are, the outlook for natural gas is even rosier. The International Energy Agency recently released a report that asked in its title “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Gas?” The answer was a resounding “yes,” due to the North American shale gas boom and a “strong post-crisis recovery.”

The other side to this “golden age,” as the report makes clear, is that future economic expansion based on natural gas “alone will not put the world on a carbon emissions path consistent with an average global temperature rise of no more than 2° Celsius,” but on a “trajectory consistent with stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at around 650 parts per million CO2 equivalent, suggesting a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°  Celsius.”

Insane Logic

In the insane capitalist “logic” of the 21st century, short-term profit-taking must be maximized at all costs. In a little-reported phenomenon, the energy companies have figured out that they can find oil in shale deposits previously considered marginal in the same way that they “frack” for natural gas. With the price of oil over $80 a barrel, it’s profitable to seek oil in this way, regardless of the environmental cost.

Hence, not only is there a natural gas boom in the U.S., but there’s also an enormous, though much less publicized, oil boom. In fact, the oil boom from previously untapped shale deposits is so large that its effects can be seen from space. The Bakken Field in North Dakota, all 15,000 square miles of it, is one of the largest contiguous oil fields in the world, with output doubling every 18 months. In Texas, production from the Eagle Field increased 30-fold between 2010 and 2012. The reason that the remote and sparsely populated Bakken Field rivals Chicago in light pollution, making it visible to orbiting satellites, is because the natural gas that comes up with the oil, rather than being collected and sold, is set on fire in a process called “flaring.” This senseless act of vandalism and waste is the result of the fact that companies are in a rush to make money from oil that they can’t be bothered to develop the infrastructure necessary to cope with associated natural gas.

As Stanford University academic Adam Brandt, who analyzes greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, explains: “Companies are in a race with their competitors to develop the resource, which means there is little incentive to delay production to reduce flaring.” In Texas, the natural gas flared in 2012 could have provided electricity to 400,000 homes.

So while one set of capitalists is fracking for natural gas on the East Coast—thanks to political leaders like Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, who appears to be ready to open up the state to fracking—in other parts of the country, a different set of capitalists is setting fire to the exact same gas because it’s a nuisance that slows down production of the different fossil fuel they’re after.

Nothing could exemplify the utter waste and anarchic insanity of capitalism than this fact. One of the government regulatory bodies supposedly in charge of overseeing the oil corporations, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission, gave their logic for refusing to take action against this senselessness: “If we restricted oil production to reduce flaring, we would reduce the cash flow from oil wells fivefold…. As well as cutting waste, we are mandated to increase production, which we would not be doing.”

As for the third and dirtiest arm of the triumvirate of fossil fuels, the world is predicted to be burning 1.2 billion tons more coal per year in 2017. Coal has actually declined in use in the U.S. due to companies switching electricity production to cheaper natural gas, which has reduced U.S. carbon emissions.

One might think this is a good thing. However, capitalism is a global system, so any coal not sold here finds a market overseas. The Chinese population is literally choking to death on grotesque amounts of air pollution in cities such as Beijing. And who’s to blame? The U.S. government says China is building too many coal plants, but increasing amounts of the coal in Asia is coming from mines in the U.S. According to a report in ClimateWire: “Although Chinese coal is largely sourced from domestic mines, EIA figures show that U.S. coal shipments to China have dramatically risen in recent years, punctuated by a 107 percent jump from 2011 to 2012. Chinese imports of U.S. coal surged from 4 million tons in 2011 to 8.3 million tons last year.”

This brings us to the international dimension—and the economic and military competition between countries that makes it impossible for effective international agreements on climate change and emissions reduction to be negotiated. If Barack Obama really wanted to do something about reducing energy consumption in America—and killing a lot fewer people around the world—he could start with a massive reduction in military spending. The U.S. military is the single biggest user of energy in the United States, with the Department of Defense responsible for 80 percent of government energy requirements. Just the cost of the war in Iraq would have paid, from now until 2030, for all the investment in renewable energies necessary to stay below 2° Celsius of warming.

These examples illustrate two things. First, we are in a do-or-die battle with the economic system because capitalism is in fundamental conflict with the biosphere. And second, only a committed alliance of social and ecological justice activists that is clear about the nature of the enemy and prepared to confront the political and economic architects of the crisis stands a hope of winning.

This is why fighting the XL pipeline is about much more than stopping a single pipeline or the first test of Obama’s second term. It’s about building a movement for social and ecological justice and making it clear that we are going to organize to prevent any more infrastructure being built that will drive us over the ecological cliff.

As energy analyst Chris Nelder has put it, we face a choice between keeping the old fossil-fuel based infrastructure that is burning up the planet, and adding to it at an annual cost of $1.6 trillion just to keep it running—or transitioning, at much lower economic, let alone environmental, cost, to a new energy paradigm. His figures and argument are worthy of a lengthy quote: “Instead of incremental spending on an effectively dead transportation regime, we should be thinking about one that can survive the challenges ahead, and deliver more economic benefits than costs. We should be setting an ambitious target, like replacing all commercial passenger air flights with high speed rail for trips under 1,000 miles, replacing 90 percent of our city street traffic with light rail, and moving all long-haul freight traffic to rail. Even if the cost of all that rail infrastructure were in the range of $3 trillion, it would be a fantastic investment.

“Against $6 trillion (minimum) in sunk costs and $1.6 trillion per year in maintenance, the $1.2 trillion per year, plus building the high speed rail network at a generous estimate of $1 trillion, looks very reasonable.

“Put another way: Would you rather spend another $32 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain a outmoded, unscaleable, aged, unhealthy system, plus another $2.8 trillion in lost productivity due to delays and gridlock, only to wind up out of gas? Or would you rather spend $25 trillion to repair our infrastructure, transition transportation to rail, transition the power grid to renewables, upgrade the entire grid, and solve the carbon problem, to have free fuel forever.”

Of course, whether we travel that road or not—and whether we leave a world to our descendants as beautiful as the one we were born into—will depend on our own independent, organized self-activity to wrench control away from a ruling elite that is quite happy to continue making money from a system that must be overturned.

Chris Williams is an environmental activist, professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University, and the author of Ecology and Socialism.

A Question Of Labor: How Do We Help Workers Connect The Dots To This Larger System Of Oppression?

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.addictinginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/labor.jpgOldspeak:”There’s been a fifty-to-sixty year campaign in this country to destroy the reputation of unions. We don’t have a labor page, we have a business page in every newspaper. We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day, and it drums into people these horrible lessons. There is a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does. Unless and until labor leaders are willing to take some responsibility for rebuilding the relationship internally to the rank and file, we are in trouble because I think this is where the dot-connecting has to happen.” –Jane McAlevey
The death of the American Middle class is directly correlated to the death of the American Labor Unions as community organizing/educating powerful bulwarks against corporate hegemony. The  Labor unions has largely been co-opted, adopting the practices of the interests they were created to balance against.  Owners.  Top-down management, disconnection of rank and file workers from decision-making.  Mobilizing instead of organizing. Integration into the hopelessly corrupt “Pay-To-Play” system of governance, that has crippled representative government. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Laura Flanders @ Truthout:

You could choke on the irony in Charlotte this Labor Day. The United States’ faux labor holiday falls on day one of the Democratic National Convention. While the Democrats will no doubt tip their hat to working people and imbibe a beer or two on labor’s campaign tab, the ragged edge of organized labor’s relationship with the Democratic Party will be on painful display. After all, it’s supposed to be a holiday.

Will Barack Obama win this November? Probably. In 2008, the unions spent at least $300 million to elect him president. As will be obvious in Charlotte, they’re likely to spend even more this year. The Democrats are up against far bigger spenders – men like Sheldon Adelson and the brothers Koch – but it’s hard to believe the GOP bankrollers will ultimately hoodwink enough of the American electorate to win, while Republican extremism, on everything from women to wages, gives moderate voters every reason to be rattled by Romney and Ryan. What’s harder to see is how working Americans actually benefit from the situation that will likely squeak Obama back into the White House.

Which brings us back to Labor Day. President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation declaring the first Monday in September a national holiday just days before he sent 12,000 troops to brutally break the Pullman Strike of 1894. The concession wasn’t what international socialists (who observed May 1) wanted in the way of a labor holiday. In fact, it was the opposite, but Cleveland and his successors excelled at dusting repression with just enough reform to defuse industrial workers’ organizing.

Fast-forward to the most bitterly split era since those Robber Baron days of the industrial age and we find ourselves in a rerun. Having free traded our manufacturing jobs to other countries and deregulated our economy to labor death, more than half of all jobs in the US today pay less than $34,000/year, a quarter pay less than $22,000 (the poverty line for a family of four.) Six million people exist on food stamps as their only income – and American labor unions are the weakest they’ve ever been. Gloating from the stage of the RNC in Tampa, we saw Republican Govs. Chris Christie and Scott Walker from the formerly labor-dominated states of New Jersey and Wisconsin, trumpet their success in scapegoating public-sector unions.

As organizer/author Jane McAlevey points out, “We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day [that] drums into people … a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does.”

What will turn this around? Not another four years of an Obama in office with only the radical right on the offensive. Labor has failed to win any of the legislation it was promised by the Democrats four years ago, yet the rightward rush of the Republican Party has kept unions in quiescent lockstep behind the Democratic Party.

The great, loud, Labor Day party we need is not at the Democratic National Convention.

Jane McAlevey has a book coming out this fall from Verso called “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement.” I started by asking her to introduce herself, and then to talk about hell-raising in Wisconsin and the lessons the labor movement might draw from that experience, with relevance to the elections that loom just ahead of us.

Jane McAlevey; I’m Jane McAlevey and I am an organizer. I worked in the non-union part of the social justice movement for many years and made a transition into the labor movement on the heels of [John] Sweeney’s election [to be president of the AFL-CIO.] At the AFL-CIO in 1995 – when we had the first contested election in the history of the merged institutions (the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations) – there was a lot of promise in the labor movement, and people like me signed up in droves.

Laura Flanders: You wrote a piece in the June 26 issue of The Nation magazine with Bill Fletcher about the lessons from Wisconsin. Talk about hopes and disappointments, the top lessons, in your view?

JM: I think the top lesson in our view is that there is not enough internal radical, political education taking place inside of America’s unions. If there was one thing we had to do differently, it’s actually trust that our rank and file can handle a lot of the information and that the rank and file will know what to do with real facts, real information, and what’s really happening.

I should back up and say in terms of the introduction, I worked at a place called the Highlander Center for three years when I was young, and I’m quite sure that my bias as an organizer towards intense levels of education with the rank and file comes from being in my mid-20s and working at the most prestigious adult education center in this country. It was the heart of the civil rights movement, and (most people don’t even know) Highlander was the CIO’s official labor education school in the 30s and 40s. With that background to my early years of work, by the time I hit the labor movement, I had a very strong philosophy that I trusted the workers. If you trust the workers, and you actually present a framework for education that helps workers begin to understand that this isn’t just about the boss on the third shift, by the way, it’s the corporation you’re working for, and then … you help workers connect the dots to this larger system of oppression that’s taking place in this country dressed up as free enterprise and freedom.

I was trained by someone named Jerry Brown who is now retired, formerly the head of 1199 [the New England Health Care Employees Union – SEIU] in New England which was a communist-based union by origin that continued (even though they broke with Stalin, etc.) the organizing tradition that came out of the Communist Party in the ’30s – which is deep organizing. It starts with trusting the workers. So when I became a union organizer and I had been organizing already, I thought, what do I need to know? Jerry Brown, who I credit enormously for a lot of brilliant labor work in his time, said to me “trust the workers McAlevey, treat them like grown-ups and teach the workers to run the unions.”

LF: But still, going back to the June election in Wisconsin, one-third of all union members voted for Scott Walker –

JM: That’s right.

LF: … The anti-union governor, to stay in office.

JM: Yes, but I think that’s symbolic of what happens when you don’t trust the workers to be able to make wise decisions once we’ve provided the educational settings that enable radical, participatory, education. I’ve seen some arguments in Wisconsin where people said, “Well, one-third of union members are Republican and always vote Republican,” and I think that’s a bad analysis. The question is what’s the relationship between the leadership of the union and the rank and file members? The 38% that voted for Scott Walker is reflective of a lack of real, consistent, ongoing relationship-building with the rank and file of the union.

When we don’t engage the workers and treat them like grown-ups and say we have to have some really hard conversations – things are looking really bad right now and here’s why – and then explain how Scott Walker connects to what’s happening to the second shift manager or whatever it is; if we don’t do that, we’re going to continue to have 38% of union members voting against their self interests even though – I think Bill Fletcher and I say in our piece – in our own experience, we’ve both done a ton of radical, political education with thousands and thousands of workers, when we do our work right as labor leaders – when we really share what’s happening to these workers around them, give them the space to learn it on their own – to explore the system called capitalism in a way that’s not coming “to” them in some doctrinaire one-way messaging – I think that you would find that they’re not going to vote against their self interests. We’re not helping people connect the dots anymore – and we desperately need to.

LF: The dots in Wisconsin … when I was out there covering the uprising a year ago, were pretty broadly laid out. We interviewed grassroots activists from the world of farming, education, teaching assistants, young people of color fighting against cuts in social services, and more. It wasn’t just about “workers.” What has happened since when it comes to capitalizing (for the lack of a better word) on all those dots that are not in the “work place”?

JM: There’s been a fifty-to-sixty year campaign in this country to destroy the reputation of unions. We don’t have a labor page, we have a business page in every newspaper. We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day, and it drums into people these horrible lessons. There is a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does. Unless and until labor leaders are willing to take some responsibility for rebuilding the relationship internally to the rank and file, we are in trouble because I think this is where the dot-connecting has to happen.

It’s through our rank and file in the labor movement that the relationship to the so-called external allies needs to be built. It should not be a professional staff operation. And by the way, it’s not just unions, it’s in all of our movements – whether it’s the feminist movement, the environmental movement, or the labor movement. (I don’t like to just blame labor here – I have organized in all these movements and the same tendency has been taking place.) From the time [Saul] Alinsky published “Rules for Radicals” in 1972, there has been a fairly fast transition away from the deep organizing that characterized American left movements in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. In the ’70s we take a turn from what we would call deep organizing and into what I call shallow mobilizing where you replace staff for leadership engagement and radical rank and file, participatory education (and I mean rank and file whether it’s environmental, conservation, women, etc. The rank and file meaning the grassroots, the people, ordinary Americans …)

We’ve replaced doing real leadership development and empowering people and trusting that they can figure out what’s going wrong in this country with communications, messaging, pollsters, lawyers, lawsuits and a bunch of staff and a bunch of advocacy organizations that sort of do the work for people. All staff do nowadays is “turn out,” turning out people for a rally. Our movement has become “go turn out bodies for a rally” and that’s why 38% of union household voted for Walker.

LF: You have a book soon coming out in the fall from Verso and we’ll go into this in more depth then, but to give us a taste right now, what happened in the 1970s to make the shift?

JM: So, we had tremendous success in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and that success came from brutally hard work. Brutally hard work: people were shot, killed, etc. I think we got to the height of power, the environmental movement passed all of its biggest legislation in ’71 and ’72 under Nixon. We had won Medicaid, we had won the Civil Rights Act, the National Labor Relations Act; we won a series of very structurally powerful changes that happened from the 30s, 40s and 50s culminating in the early 1970s. So people in the movement thought, HA! We’ve won. We now need to set up highly professionalized, very bureaucratized, nationalized organizations in Washington D.C. Let’s just hire a bunch of lawyers to implement our laws.

By the way, most of those laws have never even been fully implemented because there was a failure to understand that the reason that we passed the laws was because from the 1930s through the late 1950s, there was extraordinary movement in this country, grassroots everywhere. Every movement understood that the odds were against them, we had to build to majorities in the field to win. So they did incredible work, sacrificed so much, built huge majorities, built movements, and passed legislation not from professional staff and lawyers in Washington but from activism at the base, and then we made the fundamental mistake of thinking all we had to do was move to Washington and implement the agenda. We fail the minute we forget that the power is outside of the capitol, outside of every state capitol, certainly outside of the nation’s capitol. We have let our base whither and at the exact same time the right-wing in America begins to realize, ah, it’s the base, stupid, and [with Phyllis Schlafly, the Business Round Table et al] the right begins to build this hugely powerful base.

LF: What would you have done in the last 12 months of Wisconsin or in any other struggle you want to focus on? Concrete steps of how you do this differently.

JM: Step 1: Start having an extraordinary number of meetings. (I’m going to talk about this from a union perspective.) Have one-on-one conversations with every rank and file member there is. People say, well how do you do that? People think that would take a lot of staff. No, I’m not talking about staff, that’s the thing. I’m talking about trusting workers, bringing them in, going to trainings, talk to everyone. Then they begin to systematically map every single relationship they have. What church are they in? What farmers do they know? So that the strategy of the work is not professional staff to other constituencies, it’s rank and file members, doing inventory with them, really tapping what all the union members themselves have in their own community. And instead we sort of drop these layers of artificial coalition building on top as the best source we have.

LF: What about what their lives are like? How much does the workplace organizer know about what their member’s life is like outside?

JM: Exactly, very little. So one of the models of work that I have had the pleasure of using in the labor movement is – we start with these basic discussions. We get through the initial election victory in the union (a hard fought-fight) now we’re heading into our big first contract fight and we know it’s time to build serious allies. We’re looking effectively to build and win what labor folks call “neutrality.” What the labor movement wants is fair rules (which they can boil down to the Employee Free-Choice Act or EFCA, which sounded like some kind of social disease), but what we are trying to get to is, how do we blunt the instrument of the employer? That’s what all the tactical warfare of labor is engaged with.

The model that I worked on and worked with for the last fifteen years in the labor movement was that we said screw labor law, forget thinking we’re changing labor law, forget it, it’s not happening in our lifetime; the odds aren’t there. So instead, how do we create neutrality on the ground? We create neutrality on the ground by having the workers tap their own existing relationships to their own community. To go out themselves, not as I’m the union coming in to have a conversation about why we’re so good, but it’s Sally who goes to Reverend George’s church, and Sally, very nervously by the way (it takes about four rounds of work with Sally because workers aren’t just going to go talk with their religious leader, they are scared of them. Note to Labor movement – the workers are more scared of the house of faith and God than they are of the union or the boss). You have to do training work, you have to get the workers in role plays, they actually have to practice, but once they go and have that conversation you can see their shoulders relax, when they go in and get support from their religious leader it’s like, well, God’s on my side now.

LF: It’s kind of like the reverse of Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Take Your Worker Back Home.

JM: [Laughs] Yes, exactly.

LF: Where do you see it happening? Are there any models right now that are exciting to you?

JM: The places I see it happening most consistently are on what we would call the margins of the former labor movement. Which is in a lot of the immigrant organizing, whether it’s domestic workers … guest workers, the fight we are seeing now in Louisiana around the shrimp house, so there are places where it’s happening, but the big problem of it is – going back to the piece Bill Fletcher and I wrote on it is – these strategies (they’re not tactics, not games), these strategies are not being embraced by main line labor.

LF: What’s your advice to union organizers heading into the 2012 elections?

JM: I think we are in that customary, awful situation we normally are in this country, which is of course we’ve got to get Obama elected. It’s not funny. I find it actually not funny to think about what the alternative is. However, (pause,) if we do anything during the election period from now to November, it’s got to be that everything we are doing is additive, it’s building towards getting ready to launch serious fights the minute the election is over and I don’t care if it’s Obama, and with Romney it’s going to be a different kind of fight, but either way we have to be doing additive work. When we’re out building a base for an election too much of it is tactical, we want one vote out of them, we want to drive them out on Election Day. For organizers it [should be] how are we building for the long haul? How can we not make the same mistake in December of 2012 that we made in December of 2008, which was to be gloves off, access is cool, “We’re back in the White House!” That didn’t get us very much in four years. So, Democrat or Republican, we need to get Obama in, then we need to fight like hell to get an agenda through that’s not two-tiering any benefits that exist in this country, but fighting the next administration, whoever they are, that’s what we have to be building towards in this election period.

Jane McAlevey is, among other things, the author of the forthcoming “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement” that we’ll talk to her about when it comes out from Verso.