Versus the global labor revival. Go read Matt Stoller’s entire piece — it’s long but well worth it.
I do find it fascinating (if unsurprising) that Obama refuses to take a real position in favor of the Wisconsin strikes, which means the Stockholm syndrome process is now complete and the former community organizer is openly and unashamedly on the side of the oligarchy. (I’m sure his Wall Street mentors have explained to him that no reasonable person would take a position against the “needs” of the global labor market!
But if there’s one thing I know, whether it’s on a global scale or played out between two people, it’s this: Control freaks always lose, because while they’re making plans to move people around like chess pieces, they forget that even chess pieces have minds of their own.
As Daniel Ellsberg once said, “Courage is contagious.” And what happened in Wisconsin came from the inspiration of see millions of powerless people join together and overthrow a regime in Egypt. It didn’t come from union leaders, who have been perpetually unprepared for the onslaught against them. Just look at the webpage of the AFL-CIO of Wisconsin. It looks like it was designed by Geocities in 1997. Yet, #wiunion has been trending on and off for a week on Twitter, and has inspired actions all over the country (check out the Cheesehead protest in NYC).
This upsurge certainly didn’t come from the Democratic Party leadership. I mean, Rhode Island is a pretty reliable blue state and the last Mayor of Providence was just elected to Congress as a Democrat. Meanwhile, Former Democratic Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is saying the Wisconsin state Senators need to get back to work. And what is striking about Obama’s posture on the greatest uprising in American labor history of this century, is how he is really nowhere, meekly tut-tutting about union busting while gravely acknowledging fiscal realities and tough choices. But the Wisconsin protests happen every day, without formal authority structures. This quote from the Huffington Post Hill newsletter shows that there is something new going on.
Tom O’Grady, a union sheet metal worker from Sun Prairie, Wis., said the sight of youngsters protesting against Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to gut collective bargaining rights is bittersweet. “It’s humbling,” said O’Grady, 60. “We see all these kids, they may never have a union job, and they’re here every night for us? It’s very humbling.”
Striking just isn’t in the collective memory of the American public anymore. This kind of highly politicized hybrid political protest/strike walks like an Egyptian these days, which is why Egyptians were sending Wisconsinites pizza and Madison protesters were holding signs lauding teachers, workers, and the new Egyptian flag. In fact, Madison may represent a new kind of American labor model, the melding of old school unions, Howard Dean-style internet-based organizing, Anonymous-style serious pranking, and social media reporting on protests and policy. There’s an anti-bailout class-based fervor here as well, with a simmering anger at Wall Street as subtext. It’s headless and global, though there is leadership. The most powerful moment so far in the Wisconsin conflict didn’t come from the actions of a labor leader, but froma prank call by alt-weekly “Buffalo Beast” editor Ian Murphy, who pretended to be billionaire American oligarch David Koch and had a frank 20 minute conversation with Governor Scott Walker. Murphy originally wanted to pose as Hosni Mubarak, but couldn’t pull off the accent.
Perversely, people may be so beaten down that they only want to side with institutions that are visibly and aggressively advocating for them. This might lead them to recognize that middle class interests are aligned with those of labor, which was the widespread view in the first generation after World War II. However, that also means that the de facto business unionism of the 1970s onward isn’t appealing. People might only like unions when they see strikes,otherwise all they hear about is backroom negotiations. Perhaps effectively striking is actually the way to force people to ask questions about what kind of country they want to live in. I haven’t seen this much labor coverage since, well, ever in my lifetime. There seems to be multiple feedback loops at work: political, global, and economic.
As commodity prices shoot up, and become more volatile, the pressure to liquidate America will only increase. These increases take the form of gifting public assets to oligarchs, taxing the middle class and poor, slashing social service budgets, and cutting wages through inflation and outright demotions (like the NYC sanitation workers that were demoted right before a giant blizzard). But civil unrest is intensifying it its most basic forms: protests and strikes, and in advanced forms, like the blowback at the national security state embodied in the HB Gary and WIkileaks fiasco.
What we are seeing is two political and economic systems, increasingly at odds – high trust and cooperative, or dominance-based and lowest common denominator. This is not, fundamentally, a debate about economics. It is true that neoclassical economics doesn’t work, leads to corruption, and is intellectually dishonest. But that’s why this isn’t a question of economics, because the dishonesty is part of a system of corrupted values.
It is Andrew Mellon morality, the kind that led to the Great Depression (and will lead again to catastrophe):
“Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.”
Or it is the morality of Martin Luther King:
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Sometimes it really is that simple.