A major problem for the left, before, during and after, “the Wisconsin Uprising” is sectarianism, I am convinced. It undermines a basic strength. As I concluded in the past “heat and light” post: “After the fall of Communism, the strength of the left is its diversity, its turn away from dogmatism. Understanding what different actions, movements and institutions contribute is crucial.” It was with this view in mind that I read the discussions here and on my Facebook page on Chad Goldberg’s recent post. Here is a dialogue blending the two discussions.
I appreciated Vince Carducci’s Deliberately Considered comment, even though I wondered how he decided what is radical:
“This discussion is really getting to some good ideas, helping to move beyond the knee-jerk facile reactions to the recall. I think there’s value in both positions, though Henwood is more radical (which I have sympathy with) and perhaps as a result more reductive (which I don’t like so much). Chad Goldberg brings important firsthand experience into the discussion. I do think there’s another aspect to Fox Piven and Cloward’s book that he overlooks. It’s true that the legislative process was crucial to the success of poor people’s movement in the end, but the central thesis of the book is that the substantial gains are usually made *before* legislation not really in tandem. The legislative process, Fox Piven and Cloward assert, is the way in which the grassroots movements were mainstreamed and thus brought under control. So in this regard, I side with Henwood to a certain extent. However, even as a strategy of containment by the so-called powers that be, the fact that the legislative process embedded progressive ideals into the mainstream is important. Examples include: the creation of the Food and Drug Administration, fair labor laws, the Civil Rights Voting Act, and in fact the provisions of labor into what Daniel Bell termed “the Treaty of Detroit.” I’d like to suggest a framework within which both perspectives might be brought, specifically Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato’s work in Civil Society and Democratic Theory. I modify . . .
Read more: Heat and Light over the Wisconsin Uprising: Cooptation?
Chad Goldberg’s “Lessons of the Wisconsin Uprising” ignited a great deal of discussion here and on my Facebook page. There was a lot of heat. I am posting some excerpts of the high points of the debate today centered on the question of labor unions, with some additional commentary. In upcoming posts the question of electoral politics, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama will be considered. The exchanges were sharp. I hope to illuminate some key issues in hopes of moving the debate forward, inviting deliberate discussion.
On Facebook, the most heat was generated over appraisals of the union movement. Chad wrote his piece with a post Doug Henwood published in his Left Business Observer in mind, quite critical of his attack on labor.
“I have never come across such a bunch of thin-skinned, paranoid, defensive people as those in & around the labor movement, except maybe the hedge funders who were offended when Obama slipped and called them fat cats. If you criticize, you’re embracing the right. Not all are like this – I’ve gotten a lot of support for what I’ve written from rank & file teachers, laborers, Teamsters, and even one SEIU VP. They at least know that telling comforting tales would be suicidal at this point.
Also, how is the fact that 38% of union HHs voted for Walker not an indicator of union failure to educate and mobilize the membership?”
Goldberg in turn replied:
“I do not object to all criticism of labor but criticism that (1) adopts and starts from the assumptions of the right and (2) is too sweeping. To conclude that unions are an ineffective means to mobilize popular support for social justice because Walker survived a recall election is to set the bar absurdly high. He was only the third governor in U.S. history to even face a recall election. Yes, thirty-eight percent of voters in union households (not 38% of union households) voted for Walker. I’m open to constructive . . .
Read more: Heat and Light over the Wisconsin Uprising: On Unions
I want to take this opportunity to respond to two recent blog posts which reflect upon the usefulness of electoral politics in the wake of the Wisconsin recall election: one by Jeffrey Goldfarb (“On Wisconsin,” June 6, 2012) and the other by Doug Henwood (“Walker’s Victory, Un-Sugar-Coated”). I am in basic agreement with Jeff Goldfarb’s main points, though I have a few of my own to add. With Doug Henwood, I am in strong disagreement.
Elections matter, as Jeff Goldfarb argues, and not just presidential elections. Elections are what enabled Republicans to gain power in state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. Their electoral success in Wisconsin is what empowered them to legislate a radical assault on labor and public services there. Unless they are dislodged from power through elections, they will continue to use their power in familiar ways. But ironically, even as the right demonstrates the effectiveness of electoral politics, some radicals are now arguing that the left should abandon elections.
Following Walker’s victory on Tuesday, a longtime friend of mine wrote that Wisconsin’s unions should have organized a general strike instead of fighting Walkerism by means of elections. This is almost surely an erroneous conclusion. Exit polls showed that 38 percent of voters from union households voted for Walker in the recall election, suggesting that solidarity was neither broad nor deep enough to pull off a general strike. Moreover, rather than forcing a repeal of Walker’s anti-union legislation, a strike in Wisconsin would more likely have ended like the 1981 PATCO strike, another iconic instance of government union-busting that reportedly inspired Walker. I do not oppose strikes and other forms of disruptive protest under all circumstances; I only insist that anyone who cares about the consequences of their actions must use these methods intelligently. Their effectiveness depends on the ability of protesters to surmount a host of practical obstacles, well documented in sociological studies of social movements, including the likelihood of . . .
Read more: Lessons of the Wisconsin Uprising