The very tactics used against workers in workplace elections have now been exported to the broader electoral arena.
By RA Monaco
In these final days before midterm elections, it’s become easier to see divisive workplace styled tactics playing out in our electoral arena. Under threat of losing control of the House of Representatives, Trump’s divisive rhetoric surrounding the migrant caravan fleeing Central America, continues to grab the headlines of the daily news.
The politically motivated claim that billionaire George Soros is paying thousands of migrants to “storm” our border—with zero evidence—has kept Trump at the top of the news feed as well as the list of most reckless President in American history. Metaphorically speaking, the timing of this fleeing migrant caravan may well be the-political-pot-calling-the-kettle-black—who at this moment can say?
Certainly, these desperate tactics undermine the political integrity of the entire government and are a thin effort to whip up a based that was promised a Wall—paid for by Mexico. Nevertheless, they are also the very same types of workplace tactics, long time labor organizer Jane F. McAlevey says, are frequently deployed by the corporate class in labor fights.
In a recent interview with Marc Steiner, Jane McAlevey made the case that things fundamentally shifted in 2010, “when trifecta Republican control broke out in 37 states at once.” She went on to further drive this point saying that in 2016, “we lost the White House, the Senate, The House. We’ve now lost the judiciary, and we’ve lost most state Houses.” She used the term, “trifecta” to group the loss of “governorships, state Houses, and states Assemblies.”
Futility is a Strategy
Beyond their anger, many people continue to feel that nothing will ever change. That sense of futility is by design—it’s actually a strategy. According to McAlevery, these are “the very tactics used against workers in workplace elections [which] have now been exported to the broader electoral arena.”
The corporate class which hides behind their populist puppet president strategically drives this concept of futility, according to McAlevey. They’re “trying to instill a sense in people that no matter what you do, even if you go to elections and vote, your vote’s not going to matter, nothing is going to change.”
“That’s what they just did to us in the Kavanaugh hearing,” says McAlevey, that’s a strategy. The abandonment of moral integrity surrounding Bret Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation is anything but comforting to those justifiably concerned about holding onto the tenets of democratic government.
Drawn from the Blueprint of Fascist Regimes
The images of babies stripped from their mothers’ arm along the southern border and the Trump Administration’s ham-handed zero-tolerance immigration policies have shamed an entire Nation. Just labeling asylum seeking families as illegal immigrants however, has political utility.
Casting asylum seeking families as villains necessarily implies that of a hero—even though the threat is pure fiction. Simply analyze the political spending, lobbying and money going to these high-profile companies brings into clear focus the reality that the Trump Administration’s ‘Zero-tolerance’ immigration policy is big money for contractors and nonprofits commissioned to care for minors.
The idea that immigrants are responsible for the social ills that threatens a nation under Trump, is an “idea also drawn from a blueprint shared by the most robust fascistic regimes in recent history,” explains Yale professor Jason Stanley. Scapegoating asylum seeking families in order to funnel the Nation’s wealth into the hands of political constituents easily falls within that blueprint.
From October 2016 to the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year, the federal government spent $4 billion on contract and grants to support Trump’s Zero-tolerance policy—clearly a quid pro quo to the political influence culture.
In only a matter of days, we will find out whether our collective anger with Trumpism was enough to get people to take action and whether, as Mark Twain observed, it is easier to fool a person than to persuade him that he has been fooled. At this political moment, it just won’t be enough to click onto your favorite news platform and moan about what we all know is wrong.
Enact Policies that Help Sustain Victory
An important observation McAlevey makes and which Progressive’s need to embrace, is that “the first thing [Republican’s] do is they begin to swiftly enact policies that help them sustain their victory, and then grow their potential for future victory.”
The immediate challenge, is to also overcome the loss of legitimacy that our government has suffered at the hands of two centrist parties—both lacking the political-will to create a measure of accountability; both demonstrating the unwillingness or inability to craft economic policies that would genuinely change our growing inequality; both nurturing a “friendly fascism” that has seized the political apparatus of the Nation.
Last year, Noam Chomsky told Real Clear Politics, “[F]ascism has become a kind of a scare word. But many of the aspects of fascism are not far below the surface.” Today, corporate and financial elites have substantially captured the machinery of the state and neutralized the nominal center-left party as a source of systemic reform. One of the insidious ironies of fascist politics is, that talk of fascism itself becomes more difficult because it is made to seem outlandish, explains Professor Stanley, in his new book examining inflammatory politics.
Ordinary People confused over Parties and Leaders
Our scrambled politics grossly confuses people over which parties and which leaders are defending ordinary people against the predation of raw capitalism, explains Robert Kuttner in his recent book, “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?”
Deregulation generally, has turned out to be a blessing for corporate titans and an emblem of bipartisan collusion—not for an efficient or equitable economy. Capitalists, as a political class, need to be constrained or they will destroy the foundations of our social contract while failing to produce real benefits for broad constituencies.
“Democratic flirtation with everything from austerity economics to partial privatization of Social Security [have] blurred differences and left voters unimpressed,” says Kuttner, citing the 2008 financial collapse as a “teachable moment” squandered. In short, working-class voters have been left to conclude that nobody was looking out for their interests.
Progressive Must Shift toward Deep Organizing
Academics, for too long, have considered the labor movement as a separate phenomenon with little relationship to the civil rights movement. “Social scientists have approached the study of each as if they were different species, one mammal and the other fish,” says McAlevey.
The great successes of these two powerful movements relied primarily on—and were led by—ordinary people. It is not merely if ordinary people—so often referred to as “the grassroots”—are engaged, but how, why, and where they are engaged.
McAlevey believes that the reason progressives have experienced a four-decade decline in the United States is because of a significant and long-term shift away from deep organizing and toward shallow mobilizing. She argues that the split between “labor” and “social moments” has hampered what little organizing has been done. “Together,” says McAlevey, “these two trends help account for the failure of unions and progressive politics, the ongoing shrinking of the public sphere, and unabashed rule by the worst and greediest corporate interest.”
People Understand to the Degree they Participate
The core challenge, both economically and politically won’t just be to match finance, which pundits discuss endlessly. Progressives are facing the same methods and machinery, first perfected in the warfare against workplace democracy, that billionaire’s unleashed against American democracy in the 2016.
Tactics the right-wing continues to deploy to divide the working class in America are tactics typical of professional union busters, according to long time labor activist Jane F. McAlevey,
We must not assume that elites will always rule. McAlevey believes progressives’ have enough resources to achieve a massive turnaround of this long reactionary political and economic trend in the United States. “Substantial change can happen fast—in just a few years,” says McAlevey, in the introduction to her most recent book, No Shortcuts.
People participate to the degree they understand—but they also understand to the degree they participate. The chief factor in whether or not organizational efforts grow organically into local and national movements capable of effecting major change is where and with whom the agency for change rests.
Working Class and Ruling Class
To overcome defeat this fall, in 2020 and beyond, McAlevey says there is an important lesson to be learned from successful union organizing—“workplace democracy changes the horribly skewed power disparity in American society.”
As a young organizer McAlevey says she was taught, “There are only two sides. There’s the working class, and there’s the ruling class.” In sum, her message to Progressives is building new unions and rebuilding last century’s unions, is our way forward to reduce income inequality and win elections—No Shortcuts!