Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, December 12th, 2011.


Repeat After Me: It’s Not the Sixties Any More

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Labor, liberalism and progressivism

Last week I wrote a post called “Remembering Our History” that recalls the way young liberal activists of the 1960s and 1970s — the New Left — kicked apart the New Deal Coalition and thereby helped make the Democratic Party the lame and spineless thing it has been in recent years. I don’t want to repeat that entire argument, so if you want to disagree with that premise, please read the earlier post first.

Today some west coast OWSers are planning to shut down some ports, temporarily blocking commerce to punish some of the 1 percent. But other OWSers, and unions that have been supportive of OWS, are saying this would punish a lot of working people, too. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

And some occupation activists are labeling it as too confrontational, with the protest’s potential for violence detracting from Occupy’s stated intention of narrowing the chasm between rich and poor.

“Support is one thing,” Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, wrote to his members last week. “Outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process.”

Not the 1 percent

The Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council’s secretary-treasurer, Andreas Cluver, said many of his union’s workers were recently hired at port building projects after long stretches on unemployment. Given that, a port shutdown aimed at punishing the 1 percent “makes no sense,” he said.

He said no union at the port supports the shutdown.

“We’re extremely supportive of the message of Occupy Oakland, and we did come out to support the Nov. 2 general strike, but we’re not behind this one,” Cluver said. “When working people aren’t involved in the decision on whether to shut down their jobs at the port, that’s problematic. And we weren’t consulted. Losing a day of wages is hard.”

He added: “The port is a public entity. It’s really not the 1 percent. Go shut down a country club – that’s the 1 percent.”

Together, the unions represent more than 1,400 workers at the port. Other unions that have refused to endorse the shutdown, including the California Nurses Association, declined to comment – all apparently not wanting to antagonize protest organizers.

However, at FDL, hotflashcarol is calling bullshit. And she’s doing this by recalling her personal memories of the 1960s counterculture — which is kind of pathetic, considering she was only 8 years old during the Summer of Love, although she did get to Haight Ashbury then while 17-year-old me was stuck in the Ozarks. But to counter the opposition of the unions to the port shutdown, she trots out speeches from the 1960s New Left. This includes speeches by Mario Salvo (1942-1996) who was a key member of the Berkeley Free Speech movement.

Mario Savio included “organized labor” in his list of those running the odious machine, the machine that we must not stop passively, but must stop by putting our bodies upon the gears:

be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone!

After he gave that famous speech, Mario was arrested, along with 800 others, and sentenced to 120 days in Santa Rita Jail – the very same place some of us may find ourselves occupying tomorrow. I have never been arrested and I’d like to keep it that way. But I am willing to march with heroes like Scott Olsen and all the others who have been arrested and brutalized. I am willing to take that risk, especially to support the people who man the front lines and push through the police barricades and refuse to allow the state to have every single ounce of the power. Without them, who among us would have had the guts to be the first one to sit at that lunch counter or stand up on top of that police car and demand our right to free speech?

Historically, labor activists have put their bodies on the line — sometimes at the cost of their lives — a whole lot more than the counterculture ever did, but let’s go on … One of my points in the earlier post was that in the 1960s, the unions were run by a bunch of old white guys who were standing in the way of progress for racial minorities and women, and some among them were pretty corrupt, and there was good reason to stand up to the unions then.

But that was 40 bleeping years ago. The unions today ain’t your granddaddy’s unions, child. Our current state of economic injustice is very much linked to the decline of the unions, and re-empowering workers through union organizing is one of the keys to turning things around.

Hotflashcarol goes on to post a video of Angela Davis ca. 1970 discussing the violence she grew up with as a black child in North Carolina. Hotflashcarol seems to be implying that what Angela Davis and her family went through in the 1950s and 1960s South justifies whatever confrontations OWS wants to mount today.

But what blacks experienced in the South back then is in a different ball park from what the mostly white and mostly middle-class OWSers have faced even on their worst days. Back then, a few wrong words or even a hint of attitude could get a black person killed, and any white could murder any African American with impunity, because no all-white jury would convict him even if the all-white police force arrested him, or the all-white public prosecutors decided to try him. That’s what Angela Davis experienced.

Like I said, what OWS has been through isn’t anywhere in the same ball park. Nay, the same galaxy. Yes, there are free speech and public assembly issues to be addressed, but these need to be taken through the court system before any counter-violence is justified.

Repeat after me: It’s not the sixties any more. Many things have changed.

Oh, and there’s another video at hotflashcarol’s post from about 1968 that’s supposed to make some kind of point, although it’s not clear to me what.

Hotflashcarol strikes me as a relatively privileged person who has romantic fantasies of being a rebel. She refers to herself as a blond at one point, so I assume she is white. Reliving one’s youth can be fun, although I take it my youth was a lot less fun than hers. But the world is a very different place now, and like it or not, activists like Mario Savio helped bring about the rise of Reaganism and the stagnation of the working class we’re seeing today. (Again, if you don’t understand how that happened, read my earlier post.)

The absolutely last thing any lefty activist ought to be doing TODAY is dissing unions and causing working people to lose a day’s pay so that the activist can have lots of fun playing at being a revolutionary and maybe getting on YouTube. If OWS is not actively trying to gain the sympathy and support of working people, on behalf of working people, then what is its purpose?

If you are a Boomer itching to relive your youth, go light some patchouli incense and listen to Jimi Hendrix for awhile. And then get over the past and ask yourself what you can do TODAY for the working people being screwed by the system TODAY. The 1960s are OVER, people.

Update: This via ShakesvilleReuters writes,

But union workers were largely expected to stay on the job, and were contractually barred from joining such a strike. The protest will focus in part on truck drivers who earn low wages and cannot join unions because they are classified as independent truck drivers, and must provide their own trucks.

“It’s a group that encapsulates basically everything that is wrong with society,” [Mike King, a graduate student who acts as a media liaison for Occupy Oakland] said.

So, part of the stated purpose of the port shut-down is to support low-wage workers who can’t unionize. Somebody needs to explain that to hotflashcarol. The problem with a lot of big, messy, unfocused demonstrating is that while their original purpose may have been perfectly righteous, once the vocational protesters show up everybody forgets what that was.

Update:
See also Laura Clawson for Daily Kos

It’s true that there are some terribly exploitative conditions at ports, especially for short haul truckers. But doing something in the name of workers without consulting the workers involved, and despite opposition even from a very militant union, is disrespectful of workers at best.

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