Labor movement offers best option for economic equality!

The year 2011 was remarkable for two incidents that foretell the future as people struggle for economic equality in the United States.  The first was the February and March uprising of workers in Wisconsin to preserve their right for public employee collective bargaining as well as to express their general concern with the attacks upon all workers.

Secondly, and exactly a year ago this month the Occupy Wall Street movement energized millions not only in the US but throughout the world.  The Occupy movement was dramatic, and it created the idea of the “99%” of people struggling while the 1% sit in the lap of luxury.  Yet the movement itself has by and large fizzled, much like a spent rocket the day after the Fourth of July.

More than 100,000 fill Capitol Square in Madison in March 2011 rally.

It is apparent the enthusiasm generated in 2011 has gone; few people run to rallies anymore. Why is that?  The people are still hurting (though some minor pockets of relief are developing), but the rich keep getting richer and corporate profits continue to grow.

On the other hand, the Tea Party is alive and kicking, causing just as much malicious mischief as ever.   Meanwhile, polls continue to show that the Tea Party represents but a minority of Americans and that few share the Party’s extreme goals.  Why then does it continue to thrive while the Occupy Movement appears near death?

The Tea Party is still around for one reason: It has a structure.  That was due to its funding base, which includes both billionaires like the Koch brothers and their corporate cronies as well as some duped middle class folks.  It is also due to the fact that several institutional entities exist to collect the funds, make decisions as to how to spend them and generally promote the cause.  It has made is possible for Tea Party leaders to put much effort into politics, electing legislators at all levels who are ideologically committed to their nefarious cause.  

After the Occupiers were chased out of the Wall Street park and the city plazas throughout the nation, the movement lost its only tactic.  There was no institution developed to carry on it work, no political action committees ready to take up the cause.  In effect, there was no phone number, no mailing address or website.  When the occupy sites went empty, supporters had no where to go or nothing to do to carry on the fight.

Of course, that spontaneity was one of the strengths of the Occupy Movement.  It acknowledged the fact that it was a leaderless movement.  Sadly, that was also the cause of its demise.

That’s why the labor movement is so critical for liberals and those who believe in balancing the economic scales.  It is the only institution that exists that has the power and the infrastructure to challenge the corporate-funded power of the right.

To many liberals, however, the labor movement is too rigid, too inflexible and old-fashioned.  These liberals ought re-look at labor:  Fresh and progressive leadership has risen in many unions ridding them of some of their more hidebound practices. Many liberals also decry that labor gets involved in things like the Chicago Teachers Strike, which they may feel was insensitive to the needs of students and their parents.  Well, liberals, whether it is the Chicago Teachers in 2012 or the railroad workers and coal miners in 1946,  working people, will often go into unpopular — but from the view of the workers themselves  necessary (repeat that, necessary) — strikes or job-actions causing lots of wringing of the hands.

Look at the Wisconsin Uprising; it continued to work solely because it had the institution of organized labor to provide the needed infrastructure.  A year after the winter rallies, another huge rally was held in Capitol Square in Madison and thousands were mobilized in the partially successful recall movement.  While being seriously outspent, the recall did dump three senators (enough to control the Senate) while falling short in recalling the governor.

It’s time for all Americans who share the goal of income equality to realize that a strong, vigorous labor movement may be the only hope for wage- and benefit-deprived working people.  Let’s hope our ivory-towered liberal friends realize that, too.  — Ken Germanson, Sept. 15, 2012.

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3 thoughts on “Labor movement offers best option for economic equality!

  1. So, Ken, maybe what we really need is a fusion of the Occupy and Labor movements–or at least a vigorous alliance. (Which still exists to some degree in New York City–because of patient work by union activists to form a principled alliance based on shared interests.) After all, the labor movement systematically tried to spread the message of economic inequality and injustice for more than 15 years before Occupy exploded on the scene. And Occupy did more to educate people about these issues in five months than the labor movement did in 15 years (remember our “Economic Education” programs of the 1990’s and early 2000’s?).

    A final note: seems to me that the Occupy movement has not fizzled, but rather gone underground, while the activism of our Uprising has not died but been channeled into more patient yet committed work done by many whose eyes were opened by the events of 2011-2012.

  2. David: I agree that we need to bring the enthusiasm of the Occupiers together with the structure of the labor movement and that is the challenge, particularly on the part of organized labor. Perhaps it’s a matter of: “If we build it, they will come,” but what we build has got to be welcoming to the open, sometimes unruly nature of the Occupy Movement. Then the Occupy Movement will not have fizzled at all, but will be glowing as a bright flame of hope.

    • Absolutely agree, Ken. And that is what has happened at least on some scale in New York. It was principled, progressive and patient union leaders who were willing to listen and to learn and to figure out ways of relating to a new movement who were able to form an alliance. They were the ones who organized the effective support for Teamsters who had been on strike for months against the upscale Sotheby’s auction house. And with the in-your-face tactics of Occupy, they were able to win! That got the attention of more in the labor movement.

      I’m not suggesting that there is a fusion of Occupy and Labor in NYC–just that with patience and the willingness to consider new tactics and new ways of relating, great advances are possible!

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