A self-perpetuating system

Labor activist/reporter Mike Elk in Alternet makes many, many good points and you should go read all of them:

Since the financial crisis and President Obama’s election in the fall of 2008, there have been two major actions taken by working people that commanded the attention of America’s financial elite — the 2008 occupation of Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago and the current Wisconsin State Capitol occupation. Both events won enormous public support.

However, these types of events not only threatened economic elites that run our economy, but posed a challenge to established progressive leaders in Washington; how to incorporate them. The mass, spontaneous civil disobedience and direct action allowed workers to take matters into their own hands and upset the normal function of the insider relationships the progressive elite tend to rely upon.

As the president came into office in December 2008, United Electrical Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago shook the world when they occupied their factory after its closure was announced. For eight days and nights, the factory occupation held the attention of state, national and international media as unions around the world issued statements of solidarity. Even President-elect Obama — then in downtown Chicago, just miles away from the factory — announced his support for the workers. The workers were ultimately successful in winning their legally owed severance from Bank of America. As a result of the attention drawn to the struggle, the workers were able to find an owner to reopen and run the factory.

Despite the success in Chicago, there was no follow-up in terms of factory occupations by unions, plants employing thousands continued to close under Obama with little resistance. The progressive movement has so far not responded to the economic crisis in the way that the activists during the Great Depression did. They did not engage in the mass campaign of factory occupations and strikes that led to the New Deal nor did they engage in the campaigns of nonviolent civil disobedience that won civil rights for African Americans in the 1960s. And little effort was made to incorporate the success of Republic Windows and Doors.

“There were these big expensive conferences where people talked about how to build a progressive movement, but never was I or anybody from our union invited to talk about how we could replicate the tension with the banks that led to victory at Republic Windows and Doors,” said veteran UE political action director Chris Townsend. “Instead, the progressive movement just went back to relying on the same overpaid media consultants, playbook and insider relationships that had resulted in their betrayal during the Clinton administration and the Carter administration before that.”

That’s been my own experience. The progressive movement is indeed built on insider relationships and I just don’t take most of them all that seriously. (Hell, I’d take one Madison uprising over all of their think tanks.) The progressive institutions aren’t ground-up, grassroots-oriented — unless you consider privileged white kids who went to top colleges to be representative of the country’s grassroots. I don’t happen to agree. I don’t think political consultants are in touch with the pulse of working people — the policies they push and the strategies they adopt indicate otherwise.

If you’re a salaried progressive activist, and you’re not working for a union, odds are you don’t give working people a second thought — if you even gave them a first thought.

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