Tag: Labor

#GeneralStrike: Why an old tactic could bring about new changes

This was a piece that I wrote several months ago, but never published. There is no time like the present, though.

Boots Riley tweets

Back when I was a liberal posing as a socialist in my early 20s, I would always sneer at the suggestion of a general strike by the leftists I hung out with. After all, the only thing approaching a national general strike that I had ever read about in American history books was the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. That strike, which began in West Virginia with workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, ended with President Rutherford B. Hayes calling out federal troops to suppress the strikes and states passing laws to ensure that such interstate cooperation amongst the working class would be rendered illegal in the future. Plus, my experience in organizing for the Democratic Party had embittered me to the notion that low-income families and communities would ever join such an action. My thinking was, “Hell, I cannot even get these folks to vote for shiftless, do-nothing Democrats! What makes y’all think these folks would willingly walk off their job to support their neighbors?”

But as the conversation surrounding the non-indictments of police officers in the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown has become focused on possible solutions and methods for obtaining those solutions, I find myself being thoroughly disappointed. If I am not reading something on body cameras or hiring “smarter” cops (as if the systems producing state violence are somehow no match for your run-of-the-mill MPA student), I am reading about meetings with the President where it is difficult to discern whether the florid rhetoric was matched by any real binding commitment to anything other than technocratic tinkering around the edges. Phillip Agnew exhorts that if the demands of the group in that meeting are not met, then they will “shut it down”.

But shut down what? And how? The protests that have caused major traffic backups in major American cities are exhilarating to watch, for sure. Many of us could only dream about such an occurrence unfolding nightly before our eyes a year ago, and yet here we are. It has been a sight to see. But anyone who has done community organizing or political organizing can tell you that such micro-level actions are not sustainable for the weeks, months, and possibly years that it will take to see change through this system of ours. And despite all the rhetoric of needing to “decenter” people who are either indirectly affected or unaffected in movements for change, the fact is that it will require a coalition of communities and causes to right the systems of injustice that have pulverized and demoralized us for so long. That means communists, socialists, liberals, communities and activists of all colors, low-income, middle-income, and many more will be needed if we plan on “shutting down” anything.

Given this, as well as the perspective that comes from shifting ideologies and growing older, I have come to see that the only way this will come about is through economic pressure and direct action that focuses solely on the accumulation of capital. No amount of liberal technocratic edge-tinkering will bring justice to communities like Ferguson, Brooklyn, or Phoenix so long as it leaves the status quo relationship between state and citizen in place.

Therefore, I join others in supporting the call for a nationwide general strike. There are, however, two big things that would have to be put into place before such an action could be successful. After all, this would be a massive undertaking for a country that has never seen such an occurrence.

Alabama, the Socialist: A brief vision for giving Dixie its Heart back.

I have done enough complaining about the politics of Alabama. To be sure, there is much to complain about: the Legislature is an oversized clown car, the state supreme court has apparently decided that nullification is a thing, elections are a joke, and the opposition to Republican rule in this state is decimated to the point that Alabama is probably the closest thing you will find in America to a one-party state. If you are someone who cares about the dignity and worth of other human beings, it is a tough place to live and engage in politics.

I hope to make a small dent in Republican hegemony in this state by reviving the Tuscaloosa organizing committee of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). It sounds ridiculous, I know; how can I expect a state to embrace socialism when it will not even embrace the tepid centrism on offer from the Alabama Democratic Party?

The truth of the matter is that any organizing on the left in Alabama, or anywhere else in the South for that matter, is going to be a decades-long proposition. Democratic party units at the state and local level have atrophied to the point that they have taken on some of the characteristics of third parties: struggling in fundraising, being overly dependent on a big name to revive the party, and simply not competing in many districts and elections. Those structural issues tank the party long before we get to talking about ideology, an arena in which the Democratic Party in the South is nothing short of atrocious. This sets the political paradigm firmly on the right end of the political spectrum and ensures that progressive and leftist ideas are not only ignored, but openly derided. Changing the discussion and dislodging this accepted political filter is not something that can be done in an election cycle. It would be folly to even suggest it.

That is why I am going to begin the process towards changing the debate now. My vision is just that: mine. Being a socialist means that you are always strategizing around the formation of coalitions and thinking about how to include as many voices as possible in political decision making. The vision that I lay out here may not be the one that guides the DSA in Tuscaloosa. But I think that it is important to start discussing what a socialist vision for Alabama looks like and how we might put it into action.

Know Your History: Lessons in organizing from the leftists and labor organizers of yore.

Ever heard of the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union? You could be forgiven for answering in the negative.

Ever heard of J.P. Mooney and his organizing exploits in Avondale, Alabama? Nope?

Did you know that the largest political rally ever held in Alabama was put on by the Communist Party during the Depression? Nah?

The South has earned its reputation as the region most hostile to leftism and union organizing in the United States. After all, Gov. Nikki Haley, who is cruising towards re-election in South Carolina, declared that any auto companies that had unionized workforces should refrain from relocating in South Carolina. In Tennessee, state legislators made plain their opposition to the United Auto Workers gaining a foothold in Chattanooga by stating that they would revoke any tax incentives that Volkswagen received in the event of a yes vote. Aside from those anecdotal examples, the South is home to some of the lowest unionization rates in the country — North Carolina’s union density, at only three percent of workers organized, is the lowest in the country. Arkansas is not far behind at 3.5 percent, nor is Mississippi and South Carolina at 3.7 percent. One does not think “citadel of unionism” when they think of Alabama, but at 10.7 percent, they far outpace any other state in the region for union density.

But there was a time when radical politics and organizing found its home in the rural South.