From Cairo to Madison, The Old Mole Comes Up For An Early Spring - Loren Goldner

Loren Goldner examines the Wisconsin protests against the background of the capitalist assault against workers since the 1970s.

(Editor’s Note: The following article generated sharp debate in the IN editorial board because of its discussion of the race/class dynamic in the Wisconsin movement. We welcome responses from readers on this and any other controversial points.)

Insurgent Notes takes heart from the fact that, nine months after our first issue, governments in two countries (Tunisia, Egypt) have fallen, a third (Libya) is teetering on the brink, and masses have gone into the streets in Algeria, Yemen, and Bahrein. A February general strike in Bolivia, in response to further austerity, put paid to the myth of the “socialism of the 21st century” of Morales. Last fall, extra-union inter-professional committees appeared in the mass movement in France against Sarkozy’s public sector pension “reform”, and in December in Britain, working-class youth led the rioting against David Cameron’s massive budget cuts there. When we used the subheading (in Insurgent Notes No. 1, for “The Historical Moment That Produced Us”) “1789-1848-1870-1905-1917-1968-20??” even our guarded historical optimism did not allow us to foresee that 2011 could well be the next in the sequence. We are hardly so brash as to claim influence on these developments; we merely felt the early winds of the emerging tempest, and aspired, and continue to aspire, to be part of it.

Now, as we prepare IN No. 3 for publication, this seemingly global contagion has been extended in the biggest U.S. working-class mobilization in forty years in the American heartland of capitalism, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Whatever else may happen in the near to medium future, events have shown that the past four decades of class warfare (in the U.S. above all) in which only one side—the capitalist class–was fighting—have come to an end.

This hardly means that the institutions which safeguard and reproduce the system have been overthrown, however much they must stretch themselves to keep up with the daily-unfolding reality. In Tunisia and Egypt, “caretaker governments”, politicians, parties and trade unions are working overtime to put an acceptable face on a revamped social arrangement to channel the popular movement, and above all the working class, into calmer waters.

Let us look, then, at the balance of forces as they are shaping up in Wisconsin. Forty years of unrelenting propaganda, chipping away at the post-1945 Keynesian dispensation in the U.S., have prepared this moment, when capital aims at turning its long war of attrition into a rout.

There can be little doubt that powerful forces have designated 2011 as the year for a showdown with public sector unions—state and local– in the U.S., and these forces clearly see Wisconsin as a national test case to be repeated elsewhere, as soon as possible. These forces, propelled and financed by the likes of the infamous Koch brothers, want to use the momentum of the past year’s hard right advance (Tea Party, etc.) against Obama’s “socialist” policies (most notably the health care “reform”, written by the insurance companies) to deliver a knockout blow to what they see as the last standing obstacles to their unrestrained “free market” feeding frenzy. They see their plan to abolish public sector collective bargaining, even after the anointed spokespersons (Democrats, union officials) of the opposing side have already whimpered their assent to “shared pain” in various budget cuts, as a 1-2 punch that will simultaneously allow them a free hand in ridding the state of whatever remains of public services, and also deprive the Democratic Party of a major source of its funding, the public sector unions.

For forty years, during which income disparities in the U.S. reached and then surpassed those of the pre-1929 period, the ideologists of the “free market” (promoting of course their agenda for the proper use of state power to get their snouts deeper into the public trough) , the wealthiest people in the U.S., who control the system at every level, have quite succeeded in demonizing “elitist” “special interests” highjacking the common good. “Special interests” have included at different times black people, Latinos, women, or gays, but no “special interest” has drawn right-wing venom like what remains of the organized labor movement. (Recall, for example, the Wall Street Journal’s apoplectic response to the mildly successful 1996 UPS strike.) Meanwhile, that labor movement has declined from 35% of the work force at its 1955 peak to 12% today, with only 8% in the private sector. Such a decline, expressing first of all a hemorrhaging of decently-paid and stable unionized jobs through a combination of outsourcing, casualization and capital-intensive development, is one important factor in creating the gap between working conditions in the public and private sectors. Contemporary propaganda aimed at whipping up support for right-wing populist rage never mentions that public employees as a whole appear “privileged” today only because millions of other workers have been so beaten down for so long. (That the unions in both the private and public sectors, trapped in their ostrich-like parochialism, have never lifted a finger over the past 40 years to address this reality, nor do they do so today, is a problem to which we will return.)

Linked to this unending hurty-gurty about “special interests” has been a similar, droning one-note song about the stagnant, slothful state and “big government”, as if these benighted souls did not know that it was “big government” that saved capitalism from the precipice in the 1930’s depression. While we at Insurgent Notes have no use for the capitalist state, from an entirely different point of view, we note the same distortion of reality in right-wing propaganda, ignoring such statist phenomena as the Manhattan project or the Tennessee Valley Authority, not to mention the role of the state in the economic rise of Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and now China) since the 1960’s, or finally the statist-protectionist (Hamiltonian) origins of U.S. capitalism itself (from which the Asians got the idea, via Germany). But of course the real targets of such muddying of the waters are such “entitlements” as widely-popular Social Security and Medicare. The “free-market” ideologists never mention the parasitical HMOs as a significant reason for spiraling health care costs and hence further state deficits, nor debt service (to fully-protected investors) on those deficits, nor the trillions spent (more recently) on war in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the multi-trillion dollar bailout of the banks after 2008 and the resulting ongoing bonuses of the hedge fund and securitization crowd. The beneficiaries of such largesse are of course not “rent-seekers”, but the state civil servant retiring on $19,000 a year or the destitute people in the slums left behind by de-industrialization, surviving on disability or Social Security and Medicare are, for the right, precisely that. Hundreds of pinhead PhDs in grey suits spend their days at the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute or the Peter Peterson Institute putting the proper spin on statistics and propaganda to perpetuate this distortion of reality. All of this, moreover, is supposedly argued on behalf of the beleaguered “taxpayer” (and all this funded by the class in society that pays a smaller percentage of its income in taxes than any other), as if most “taxpayers” are not precisely the ordinary working people who benefit (mostly) from public education, transportation, health care, housing and various other services.

Finally, the mainstream “free market” propaganda is silent about the fact that, without “big government” and its massive deficits since ca. 1970, (financed to a significant extent by foreign holders of Treasury bills) their system would have collapsed long ago. A real implementation of a program of “small government” and balanced budgets as advocated by Milton Friedman and his ilk (who, for example, will pay for U.S. military and intelligence operations in 110 countries?) would promptly replace the 1970-2008 “hidden depression” with something qualitatively surpassing the post-1929 depression in scale and scope.

Enough said, for now, about the 40-year propaganda war by which the right has set the stage for the escalation of class war in Wisconsin, after having seemingly won the ideological high ground in significant sectors of American society, and the buzzwords (big government, the beleaguered taxpayer, “elitist” special interests, entitlements, rent-seekers, spiraling health care costs) that have passed for many into almost unchallenged self-evident truths as a result. To anyone likely to be reading Insurgent Notes, most of the preceding is quite well known. The propaganda war of the right, as part of the real one, has been powerfully abetted by the ideological disarmament of the “left”, for the most part hypnotized by its Keynesian/ Social Democratic assumptions and thereby blinded to the real crisis in production and reproduction which began long ago, and thus incapable of effectively countering the fog of lies set down by the ideological carpet-bombing of the right.

We are of course much less concerned with charging through an open door in a fairly well-known critique of the right and hard right than with assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the left as they have been taking shape in the ongoing confrontation at Madison, and first of all because some of those weaknesses mirror the ideological fog of the right.

We naturally begin by expressing our delight at the return of class struggle in the American heartland on a scale not seen since the early 1970’s, and with a mobilization far surpassing such notable but isolated and losing struggles as the Hormel (P-9) strike in the same area (Austin, Minnesota) in 1985-1986, or the even longer “three strikes” (in both senses of the term) in Decatur Illinois in 1993-1996. The scale of what has been transpiring in Wisconsin since mid-February reflects the scale of the crisis of U.S. and world capitalism today, far graver than either in the 1970’s or the 1990’s (even though it is an extension and deepening of the selfsame crisis, a point we cannot elaborate here).

A brief rehearsal of the (again, broadly known) “facts” is also in order. Riding the wave of the brain-dead right-wing populist backlash (“Big Government Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare!” went one particularly eloquent slogan) in the November 2010 elections, Scott Walker and the Republican Party took over the governorship and both houses of the Wisconsin state legislature on a program built around “creating jobs”. No sooner were they ensconced in power than, borrowing a page from Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, they gave major tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations, and then, invoking a state deficit greatly exacerbated by those very same tax breaks, attempted to ram through legislation, not merely imposing slash- and- burn cuts in social services of all types, but also enabling the state government to privatize at whim without the slightest public oversight, and, adding insult to injury, effectively abolishing collective bargaining rights for public employees. (The bill was not rushed through only because 14 Democrats in Wisconsin’s upper chamber left the state to prevent the quorum necessary for certain passage of the bill by the Republican majority. The bill was ultimately passed on March 10 in the absence of the Democrats, by further legal maneuvers. Walker and his minions intended to achieve their pillage by stealth and shock, but they were shocked in turn by the unleashing of a statewide, regional and ultimately national mobilization that (as of this writing) led to an ongoing occupation of the state’s Capitol Building and repeated mass demonstrations, in freezing weather, of between 70,000 and 100,000 people (culminating—to date—on March 12), and support demonstrations in fifty states. (The movement had been launched almost immediately in response to the legislative launch of the bill in a rolling strike wave that that shut down schools throughout Wisconsin.) Demonstrations on this scale had not been seen in Madison since the Vietnam War, 40 years ago. And we can measure the distance from that era by noting the far greater presence, in the current mobilization, of a broad swath of the organized labor movement, which was cool or downright hostile to the movement of the late 60’s/early 70’s. This time it’s for keeps.

Everyone on both sides understands that this is for keeps. We cannot know if the Koch brothers and the national Republican command central which is closely monitoring events (with an eye to trying the same tactics elsewhere, most immediately in Ohio and Indiana) specifically chose Wisconsin as their preferred test run. On our side, there is a palpable whiff of “Tahrir Square” in the obdurate persistence of masses who come, day after day, to demonstrate and occupy with the idea of outlasting Walker and his cohorts. But Wisconsin and America are not Tunisia or Egypt, because here, unlike those doddering gerontocratic dictatorships with no popular base when the crunch came, the U.S. is still in the midst of a surging right-wing populism that positively admires what Walker is attempting, and wishes to emulate it at the first opportunity. This permits the right to reach out demagogically to the very same private sector workers it has steamrollered in the past, referring to the supposedly privileged lifetime jobs of public employees, not subject to “competition” and “market forces”, with their benefits, health plans and supposedly Rolls Royce pension plans, which have become “unsustainable” by (among other things) the very erosion of the tax base that has resulted from downsizing nearly everyone else and from one of the most regressive tax structures in the “advanced” capitalist world, (advanced mainly in senescence). In other states, these same attacks are carried out by Democrats such as Jerry Brown (California) and Andrew Cuomo (New York), abetted by the very unions that financed their 2010 elections. (Mainstream propaganda rarely mentions that many state and local pension funds are in trouble because of massive losses in “AAA”-rated junk in the 2008 meltdown; “toxic assets” from Wall Street were reimbursed at 100% in the U.S. government bailout, the toxicity was dumped on the states and municipalities, and the famous “taxpayer”—ordinary working people—winds up paying in higher taxes and with lower or even disappearing pensions.)

Having expressed our unequivocal enthusiasm for the mobilization in Wisconsin, we sense that this movement, as the first confrontation in what certainly will be a national issue in coming months, is in its very early stages. Madison, the state capital where the movement is focused, is also a liberal university town where, like Cambridge (Mass), or Ann Arbor (Michigan), or Berkeley (California), some palpable afterglow (albeit diminished) of the Sixties still lingers. (A fair number of those who lived through the Sixties there are still there, and have been in the streets.) It is the capital of a northern Midwestern state where, as in Minnesota or North Dakota, a northern European (Scandinavian and German) Social Democratic and a native-born prairie populism deeply marked the political culture, most notably associated with the name of Robert La Follette, however attenuated those currents may be today. Some in the crowds at the massive weekend demonstrations waved a number of American flags and even sang the national anthem or “God Bless America”; not our style, but we know well that the IWW on occasion (as in the great Lowell Massachusetts Strike of 1912) did the same, attempting to take that symbolism away from the capitalists and their state. We surmise that many, perhaps most of the demonstrators were disillusioned Obama supporters, some of whom may still hope (God help them) that he will come out in clear support of their movement. The Wisconsin Police Assocation (11,000 members) has, like prison guards (who are members of AFSCME), indeed supported the movement, and the laid-back, even jovial relations between the demonstrators and the police strikes us as another manifestation of a movement in its early stages. We cannot imagine the NYPD or the LAPD, dealing with the occupation of public buildings by young blacks and Latinos in similar circumstances, being so relaxed when similar cuts hit home elsewhere, as they will. Widespread talk of defending the “middle-class” way of life also strikes us as an American ideological muddle that must be overcome.

(Many of the cops and prison guards are former blue-collar workers or potential workers who never made it to the working class. Jay Gould famously remarked long ago that he could hire one half of the working class to kill the other half, and American capitalism in recent decades has amended that to hiring part of the working class to incarcerate another part.)

We also note the apparent overwhelmingly white (judging from on-line photos and videos) composition of the movement, at least in Madison itself. We doubt the significant black population of nearby Milwaukee, not to mention of nearby Chicago, would be so sanguine about the presence of police and prison guards in any movement it chose to join. (Wisconsin has routinely ranked at or near the top of states for the rate at which it locks up blacks compared with whites. In Dane County, where Madison is, nearly half of black men between the ages of 25 and 29 residing in the county are either incarcerated or under court-ordered supervision. Black men there are 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.) The Wisconsin movement has to date toed a fuzzy line between legality and illegality (it occupied the Capitol building, and finally evacuated it when asked to do so by the police, and a teacher sick-in has amounted to a wildcat strike, strongly supported by student walkouts). But when this movement, or similar movements elsewhere, have to cross the line of illegality and shut things down, law enforcement personnel will either have to break with their roles as police and prison guards or else will turn on the movement, under orders.

We mentioned at the outset the crucial role of institutions that must sustain and refurbish the status quo. Here we speak of course of the unions and of the Democratic Party, both of which desperately want to sign on to some version of Walker’s budget cuts, if only he will stop short of abolishing collective bargaining. Jesse Jackson and Rich Trumka—to how many losing causes have they given the kiss of death over the decades?—flew in to work the crowds with their demagogy. Michael Moore flew in on March 5th to give a rousing populist speech that never once mentioned capitalism and invoked the U.S. constitution. The Democratic politicians in hiding in Illinois were apparently in daily touch with “reasonable” Republicans in the state senate, hoping thereby to get Walker to throw them the bone that will allow them to return and proclaim victory. Randy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) flew in for the day and advised the movement to cede to all the proposed cuts, then flew out again.

This whole show by the duly-appointed left-wing guardians of the status quo hardly means that the masses of the mobilized rank-and-file, who started this movement by walking out (led by high school students) almost as soon as the bill became known, share these craven, threadbare illusions. It does seem that a majority is willing to give in on wages and benefits, but not on the indispensable right to collective bargaining, which if nothing else means some modicum of protection on the job from harassing supervisors, and the right to tell such supervisors to shove it without being unceremoniously fired on the spot. Giving so much ground from the get-go is in our view not the best strategy, but we certainly support whatever minimal protection union membership provides day to day on the job.

We sincerely hoped that the movement in Wisconsin would succeed in stopping Walker’s bill. But win or lose, the national movement it has unleashed must understand that this is still, on a greater scale, the kind of defensive struggle that the American working class has for the most part lost, going back to the early 1970’s. At some point, these defensive struggles have to go on the offensive. People involved in them, and those who will be joining them, have to realize that the situation we are in provides no room for any stopgap solutions. The world crisis of capitalism is not about greedy, reckless Wall Street bankers or the machinations of the Koch brothers or tax breaks for the rich or two-bit local politicians trying to balance budgets; these are, in different ways, deepening symptoms of a crisis in capital accumulation that started 40 years ago. From here on out (and for a long time already) there can only be stopgap victories on the way to taking economic and political power away from the capitalists: in short, a social revolution. The movement in Wisconsin might like to recall Scott Walker and restore the status quo ante, but that status quo ante was already one of long-term grinding down of working people that finally has come for its pound of flesh from the previously (somewhat) sheltered public sector. There is no going back.

Individual sectors, even as large as public employees in the U.S., have to reach out to all those who have been ground down over the past forty years. Any working-class movement worthy of the name embraces the interests of the most oppressed, and that today includes the 15-20% of the U.S. population currently unemployed and increasingly foreclosed into homelessness, the casuals and temps, the harassed immigrant workers both legal and illegal, the millions of marginalized youth, white black and Latino, and the three million people in prison. We know very well that not every struggle that erupts can immediately enlist all such people, but a “climate” must be created in which that universal outreach—what we might call a “class for itself” orientation– is understood as a necessity, much as such a climate existed, for a few years, in a less extreme situation, in the 1960’s. No reformism is possible today, and those who do not yet recognize that nothing can change for the better without changing everything–a social revolution–will have to do so. That means, for starters, running off the Democratic Party and the trade union bureaucrats, the Jesse Jacksons and Rich Trumkas and Michael Moores, whose job is to refurbish empty populist rhetoric about the “rich”. That means understanding that such figures will talk as far to the left as the situation requires because they understand, as much of the Wisconsin movement may not, that in a rapidly polarizing situation the ultimate issue is power and control. (We do well to remember that, in the midst of the Minneapolis general strike of 1934, the local Democratic Party Congressman proclaimed himself a revolutionary socialist.)

The coming months, from the Middle East to Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, will undoubtedly be decisive.

Comments

Hieronymous
Mar 21 2011 05:38
Goldner wrote:
We also note the apparent overwhelmingly white (judging from on-line photos and videos) composition of the movement, at least in Madison itself.

You were there, weren't you? What did you see?

Goldner wrote:
We doubt the significant black population of nearby Milwaukee, not to mention of nearby Chicago, would be so sanguine about the presence of police and prison guards in any movement it chose to join. (Wisconsin has routinely ranked at or near the top of states for the rate at which it locks up blacks compared with whites. In Dane County, where Madison is, nearly half of black men between the ages of 25 and 29 residing in the county are either incarcerated or under court-ordered supervision. Black men there are 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.)

The author's informant, based on another libcom post, was a member of the Working Families Party whose left-liberal position seems to have influenced this account of the racial dynamics in Wisconsin. Why didn't the author ask more than one protester about their opinion on the racial divide in the Wisconsin working class?

Goldner wrote:
The Wisconsin movement has to date toed a fuzzy line between legality and illegality (it occupied the Capitol building, and finally evacuated it when asked to do so by the police, and a teacher sick-in has amounted to a wildcat strike, strongly supported by student walkouts). But when this movement, or similar movements elsewhere, have to cross the line of illegality and shut things down, law enforcement personnel will either have to break with their roles as police and prison guards or else will turn on the movement, under orders.

Didn't the author even bother to read first-hand libcom posts about the actions at the capitol in Madison? Obviously not. He confuses the legality/illegality situation. Progressive-era laws, overturned with the recently passed labor bill, allowed citizens access to state buildings in Wisconsin at anytime relevant events were occurring. So sympathetic officials scheduled meetings 24 hours a day.

And without a single substantial first-hand account of the attitude of protesters about the cop and prison guard presence, these assertions are mere speculation. It's crucial to know the level of tolerance of the pigs, but if the authors had read libcom threads they'd see Oliver Twister's account of skirmishes with the pigs to stay inside the capitol. The involvement of the pigs and prison guards in the protests needs a critical analysis, as well as uncovering the role of AFSCME and other unions representing them, but the above account seems to be forwarding an anti-racist ideological agenda from the outside -- with little basis in fact.

Loren Goldner
Mar 21 2011 14:40

Actually the material of the rate of incarceration and court supervision in Wisconsin is easily available on-line.

As for an "anti-racist ideological agenda", I never use the term "racist" (or other buzzwords such as "whiteness") to characterize the Wisconsin movement. I would not presume to use such moralizing language. I merely note the overwhelmingly white participation in the March 12 mobilization in which I participated, and in previous ones I had seen in videos. The movement only needs to be color-blind to show its limitations, both historically and in the US of today. The Knights of Labor in the 1870's and the IWW from 1905 to 1920 systematically attempted to overcome the "caste" hierarchy within the U.S. working class that was the legacy of white supremacy; the contemporary movement must do the same. For evidence that an important legacy of centuries of white supremacy still persists in the U.S., one need look no farther than the scores of young blacks and Latinos shot down with impunity by the police every year or making up large majority of the 7 million people in the prison system or on parole. The movement will indeed, as the commenter suggests, need a "critical analysis" of the role of the police and prison guards in the movement, to put it mildly.

I also wrote in the article:

"Any working-class movement worthy of the name embraces the interests of the most oppressed, and that today includes the 15-20% of the U.S. population currently unemployed and increasingly foreclosed into homelessness, the casuals and temps, the harassed immigrant workers both legal and illegal, the millions of marginalized youth, white black and Latino, and the three million people in prison. We know very well that not every struggle that erupts can immediately enlist all such people, but a “climate” must be created in which that universal outreach—what we might call a “class for itself” orientation-- is understood as a necessity, much as such a climate existed, for a few years, in a less extreme situation, in the 1960’s. "

If the commenter disagrees with that, well, I don't know what to say. That's the kind of "color-blind" Marxism which, in the U.S., has historically been blind Marxism.

Hieronymous
Mar 21 2011 21:59

First, it's necessary to put the Wisconsin incarceration rate into a national context. While not having the highest rate of African Americans imprisonment in the U.S. (South Dakota has that inglorious distinction with 4.71%), Wisconsin is second with 4.42%. But the rate of disparity also has to be put in context because states like Wisconsin and Vermont have high rates of black incarceration, but average rates of white incarceration. Other states, such as New Jersey and Connecticut, have average rates of black incarceration and below-average rates of white incarceration. So raw numbers or ratios can be misleading. The national statistics are more telling because while African Americans are 12% of the U.S. population, their national rate of incarceration is 38.9% -- and states exhibit substantial variation in the ratio of black-to-white incarceration, ranging from a high of 13.6-to-1 in Iowa to a low of 1.9-to-1 in Hawaii (statistics from the Sentencing Project). Wisconsin ranks 5th, at 10.6-to-1 (or it's 6th if Washington D.C., at 19.0-to-1, is included and would be #1).

While Wisconsin is on the high end of racial bias in rates of incarceration, it pales considerably when compared to the breakneck velocity of California's massive prison building boom. California went from 76,000 prisoners in 1988 to 170,588 today (this does not include federal prisons, county jails, or California Division of Juvenile Justice facilities located in California, or any of the private correctional facilities in Arizona, Mississippi, and Tennessee under contract housing California inmates to relieve prison overcrowding). From 1852 to 1964 the state built only 12 prisons, but since 1984 it has built 23 new prisons -- at a cost of $280,000,000 to $350,000,000 each. Yet the 33 state prisons have beds for only 83,000. So nearly all prisons are not only at 200% capacity, but due to bloody decades-long gang warfare, most are segregated powder kegs of violence. One of the most significant trends nationally, particularly noticeable in California, is the Hispanic rate of incarceration that has risen 43% in the last 2 decades. And due to the 3-strikes law passed in California in 1994, 1-in-6 prisoners have life sentences. But in the greatest indicator of California's brutal prison regime (in the country with the world's highest rate of incarceration), it leads the nation in the number of death row inmates, currently numbering 697 (#2 Florida=398; #3 Texas=337; #4 Pennsylvania=222; #5 Alabama=201; #6 Ohio=168). Wisconsin has none; the overall incarceration rate in Wisconsin is 17% below the national average.

(California has 170,588 prisoners, which is 4.75% of the overall population; Wisconsin has 21,110 which is 3.70%; overall Louisiana has the highest rate, at 8.66% and is 48% above the national average)

To really understand what has happened in Wisconsin one must go back to the 1960s and 1970s and look at the role of unions and their institutionally racist hiring practices. Systematic barriers were raised to blacks in securing union jobs; when they got them, they were the shittiest, i.e., the worst paying, most dangerous (when danger was involved), and the least likely to offer opportunities for better work. White union workers entering the workforce in this period supported this type of policy. The crucial question is whether workers remain openly racist because from on-the-ground reports on forums like libcom, the protesters at the capitol in Madison are not harboring tacit racist sentiments as expressed practically, in daily speech or in behavior vis-à-vis fellow workers. If Juan Conatz, Oliver Twister, Will Barnes or others present in Wisconsin could confirm -- or refute -- this, we could discuss this on a more factual basis.

The working class in Wisconsin is dealing with the burden of the institutional past, which first found full expression when Scott Walker became Milwaukee County Executive (2002-2010) and proceeded to fire 20% of the public sector workforce during his term in office -- this affected African Americans most heavily as the last hired, first fired. Secondly, and directly related to this, the unemployment rate in the inner city of Milwaukee among black males of all ages, 47%, while it is 16% county wide. This condition is a nationwide trend (with unemployment of black youth at 46.5%, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics), with similar conditions in Gary Indiana, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, East Oakland, South Central Los Angeles, and other deindustrialized inner-cities. Statistical analysis alone (especially decontextualized incarceration rates) cannot show the historical causation of the current attacks on public sector workers; we need a deeper analysis of past class formation that gave rise to the current situation in Wisconsin. To fill out this picture, we must include an understanding of the near-complete deindustrialization resulting in the mass disappearance of unionized private sector jobs (see the section "Basic Industry and its Collapse in Wisconsin" in Will Barnes' Report from Madison: Fascists and Unions in the U.S. North), and hence the lack of any significant presence of private sector workers at the Madison protests.

Likewise, these class and race relations are specific to historic developments in Wisconsin. Hypothesizing how police/protesters interactions would play out in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, or Oakland is disingenuous. Also, understanding how a mass of 100,000+ workers relate to unionized cops and prison guards can't be generalized from internet images or knowledgeable activists. Yet common sense would tell anyone who's ever attempted illegal direct action that sympathetic cops are preferable to ones swinging riot batons, spraying mace or unholstering their Taser (think Oscar Grant here). It would be great for anyone on the ground in Wisconsin to post their first-hand observations on this.

Lastly, I've been to Wisconsin twice in my life. I spent 2 weeks in Madison one summer over a decade ago, and to be honest I didn't see anyone non-white the whole time. Granted, I stayed a week in a student co-op on Lake Mendota and another in an apartment in the shadow of the capitol. I spent another week traveling west, staying in a small town near the Minnesota border. During that week, I didn't meet a single person who wasn't of Scandinavian descent. Later, I traveled to the Twin Cities and it was more of the same in rural Minnesota. Expecting diversity in such a non-diverse region is pretty unrealistic. Both states are around 90% white and this was confirmed by my experience.

John Garvey
Mar 22 2011 23:06

I’d like to respond to comments that have been made in response to two different posts by Loren Goldner about the same topic—the recent mass demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m going to do so by posting the same response in both threads and ask readers’ indulgence about reading something that might not quite make sense in light of what’s been written before in one or the other of the threads.
Let me begin by acknowledging that I am not an innocent bystander. I am one of the co-editors of Insurgent Notes with Loren Goldner and have had numerous conversations with him about the events in Madison; I also know Hieronymous and have had some limited correspondence with him about the issues at hand.
Let me begin again by saying something trite: we need to reserve our spite and contempt for our enemies and we need to be very careful when we express our disagreements with our friends and comrades or with the larger groups of workers that we’d like to engage. As regular readers of this web site and others well know, comments on a blog are often not the most conducive contexts for careful delineation of differences. This is not an iron rule. By way of example, in the earlier discussion prompted by Will Barnes’s post on the fascist aspect of the Republican agenda, I thought that Will’s follow-up comment on the significance of electoral shifts prior to the Nazi seizure of power was quite illuminating.
So, what is the debate all about? One important issue apparently is the significance of Loren’s meeting with a University of Wisconsin academic who is a key figure in the Working Families Party. I have no doubt that this guy’s politics are bad—about as bad as just almost all of those who think that they are on the left. That tells me as much about us as it does about them—we have not even registered on the landscape of what counts as opinion. The other guys--the ones with insider connections with the Obama administration (God save their souls) and those beseeching the Obama administration to be something it can’t (I saw a great Spartacist poster this past weekend: “The ISO dilemma: kneel on one knee or two before the Obama agenda”)--effectively constitute the world of left opposition. (Please note—this is not an endorsement of the Sparts). However, the flaws of their politics do not mean that they know nothing or have nothing to say of value.
I have read Loren’s report several times and there is nothing to suggest that Loren has adopted any of the political views his interviewee holds nor is it clear what, if any, parts of Loren’s report were specifically informed by his conversations with that academic figure. Perhaps naively, I suggest that Loren used what he learned in that conversation (because it’s possible to learn something from a soft-left academic, just as it’s possible to learn something from a right-wing web site about Van Jones) to complement what he was learning by being part of the mass rally and talking to the various people he met. So far as I can tell, none of the individuals who have contributed their observations to this web page have raised any fundamental objections to what Loren described about the rally, but there are clearly differences of interpretation about their significance.
Which leads us to the second and more substantial issue involved—the significance of race in the Wisconsin events. As Loren has already noted, none of his observations and comments were about the “racist” attitudes of the Madison protesters. Instead, they were an attempt to understand the significance of what might be considered the racial structuring of everyday life and class conflict in Wisconsin and the extent to which the protesters both reflected that structuring and appeared to be unaware of it. The issue of the relationship of the protesters to the participation of police and prison guards is important because policing and imprisonment (along with failed schools and effective exclusion from large chunks of the primary labor market) are the defining experiences of the lives of black people in places like Milwaukee. So what is plain as day to them is as obscure as night to others. That is a large problem and a challenge to all of us who would like to contribute to a resurgence of sustained working class struggle in the United States. I hope it is not too late for that discussion to take place on libcom.

John

Hieronymous
Mar 23 2011 07:58
John Garvey wrote:
...the second and more substantial issue involved—the significance of race in the Wisconsin events. As Loren has already noted, none of his observations and comments were about the “racist” attitudes of the Madison protesters. Instead, they were an attempt to understand the significance of what might be considered the racial structuring of everyday life and class conflict in Wisconsin and the extent to which the protesters both reflected that structuring and appeared to be unaware of it. The issue of the relationship of the protesters to the participation of police and prison guards is important because policing and imprisonment (along with failed schools and effective exclusion from large chunks of the primary labor market) are the defining experiences of the lives of black people in places like Milwaukee.

and

Loren Goldner wrote:
...the biggest U.S. working-class mobilization in forty years

Am I missing something? I mean all this talk about "race," the size of the protests, and the need to look to Milwaukee, makes we wonder if we're discussing the same thing.

Also, I forgot to mention that I find it admirable that Goldner went to Madison in the first place, since many chose to watch the events from afar even though they had the time and resources to go there. He should be applauded for his act of solidarity.

That all said, I'm feeling this strange generation gap. Not that Goldner and Garvey are anything like the institutional economists of the Wisconsin School of Labor History, because they're not and have done excellent theoretical work challenging white supremacy and racism. They're clearly not ol' John R. Commons, the dean of the Wisconsin School, who wrote the 4-volume History of Labor in the United States (1918-35), or his disciples like Selig Perlman, Philip Taft or Ira Cross. But the latter's own student, Alexander Saxton did break new ground to be taken up by the New Labor historians, who Goldner and Garvey are closer to, with his account of how anti-Chinese racism was used to unify the white working class in his monumental Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (1971). The anti-immigrant movement was whipped up in San Francisco behind racist demagogue Denis Kearney during rallies in support of the the Great Upheaval Railroad Strike in 1877.

The Workingmen's Party of California rallied workers behind the platform of white supremacy and lobbied for the successful passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The Big Four robber barons of the railroads (Crocker, Hopkins, Huntington, and Stanford) needed Chinese coolie labor, but the ruling class reveled in this huge wedge dividing the working class. And they cheered again as workers rallied for in support of the "Yellow Peril" campaign against Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century. This anti-Asian racism carried on when 120,000 people of Japanese descent were imprisoned in the U.S. during World War II.

So why all the talk about immigrants, when the topic seems to be public sector workers protesting and ignoring the 1-out-of-2 black workers unemployed in Milwaukee? I guess because I wasn't expecting an incomplete, contemporary version of Wisconsin School Labor History. I was expecting Goldner or Garvey to have gone beyond even the New Labor historians of the Brody, Dubofsky, Gutman, and Montgomery variety. I was expecting a more complete, more thoroughly synthesized account of the working class, including race, ethnicity, gender, and immigrants. And an indication as to why this new form of fascism was being born in Wisconsin, birthplace of "Fighting Bob" La Follette and the Progressive Movement in the early 20th century. But also the state where McCarthyism was born with the Cold War anti-communist witchhunts of Senator Joe McCarthy.

Scott Walker's fascist predecessor, and heir to Joe McCarthy, is Jim Sensenbrenner -- who serves as congressional representative for Wisconsin in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing district 5 that includes suburban Milwaukee. He was the main author of the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437, also called the Sensenbrenner Bill) which would have have not only militarized the border, but would have made all illegal aliens felons, in addition to mandating: "humanitarian workers, public schoolteachers, church workers, and others whose only object is to provide relief and aid to five-year mandatory minimum prison sentences."

Beginning in February, 2006, mass mobilizations against H.R. 4437 began throughout the U.S., including as many as 1,500,000 protesters in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006 -- in the city's largest protest ever. The main day of action was May Day, where strikes and walk-outs occurred in at least 200 locations, involving as many as 4 to 5,000,000 protesters. The U.S. Senate never passed the bill, so the resistance was successful.

Infoshop News wrote:
Effects of the general strike hit well beyond the visible numbers of protestors in the street and absent from school. Thousands of stores, companies, offices, small businesses, service agencies, and branches of corporate industries closed down either in solidarity or were forced into closure by loss of workers. Port truckers in Los Angeles shut down 90% of transport at the Port of L.A. [& Long Beach, the busiest container port complex in the western hemisphere--Hieronymous] In many of central California's agricultural counties: Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, San Joaquin-- tens of thousands of workers were absent. Gallo wines suspended their production. In the South and elsewhere, industries including construction, domestic work, and meatpacking suffered huge absences and many plants closed—including a dozen Tyson factories, the world’s largest meat producer. Tyson, Swift, Perdue and Cargill closed plants in the Midwest and the west employing more than 20,000 people. Chain restaurants including McDonalds’ and Chipotle shut stores and slashed shifts. Human chains blocked Wal-Marts and Home Depots in Arizona, as student protestors blocked Wal-Mart in Mexico City.

In conjunction with Mexico-wide demonstrations for a “Day Without Gringos,” border crossings were blocked by 400 protestors at the Tijuana-San Ysidro crossing (northbound shut down intermittently for 3 hours); Hidalgo International Bridge (into McAllen, Texas) blocked for 14 hours by hundreds of protestors with their bodies and rope in Reynosa, on the Mexican side of the border; the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo bridge was blocked for hours.

The following cities and towns participated in the 2006 May Day General Strike:

Accomack County, VA: several hundred
Alamosa, CO: 200
Albuquerque, NM: 2-5,000
Allentown, PA: 300
Anchorage, Alaska: hundreds
Athens, GA: 1200
Atlanta, GA: 1-5,000
Aurora, IL: 9,000
Austin, TX: 8,000
Bakersfield, CA: 15,000 march/ 4,000 students walk out
Beaufort County, SC: 80-90% of Latina/os boycott work
Berkeley: 1,000 college & high school students
Boise, ID: 75
Boston: 2-5,000
Boulder, CO: 2,000+
Burlington, VT: 300
Carbondale, CO: 1,200
Camden, NJ: 1,000 join Philadelphia rally, most independent grocers in county closed
Caldwell, ID: several hundred for silent vigil
Cannon Beach, OR: 175
Ceres, CA (N. San Joaquin Valley): 2,000
Chapel Hill, NC: 40
Charlotte, NC: 10,000 rally, 684 students absent, Spanish-language radio goes ad-free to support boycott
Chattanooga, TN: 300
Chicago: 600,000 (fire department estimate), some school districts up to 80% absent
Cincinnati, OH: several thousand rally at National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Cleveland OH: 200-400
Colorado Springs, CO: 3,000
Columbus, OH: 40 at Ohio State University
Concord, CA: 3,000
Dallas, TX: 1,500
The Dalles, OR: 700
Dayton, OH: 550
Denver CO: 75,000
Des Moines, Iowa: 40+ businesses close
Detroit, MI: many businesses in southwest closed
Dothan, AL: hundreds
Durango, CO: 100
Eugene, OR: 400
Kansas City, MO: 2,000
Knoxville, TN: 300
El Paso, TX
Eugene, OR 1,000-1,500
Eureka, CA: hundreds march to Arcata
Florida: state totals 30,000 in Pensacola, Homestead, Ft. Meyers, other cities
Forks, WA: 700
Fresno, CA: 15,000+ and earlier rally of 3-4,000 students at CSUF
Grand Island, NE: 3,000
Grand Junction, CO: 3,500
Hickory, NC: hundreds
Hood River, OR: 1,500
Houston, TX: 15,000
Huntsville, AL: several hundred
Ithaca, NY: 400
Jackson Heights (Queens), NYC: 1000+ make chain measuring 10 blocks
Joliet IL: 600
Laramie, WY: 200
Las Vegas, NV: 2,000
Laurel, MS: 200
Little Rock, AK: hundreds
Los Angeles: 500,000 (about 72,000 --27% of students absent)
Louisville, KY: 1,000
Lumberton, NC: 4,000*
Madras, OR: 250
McAllen, TX: thousands rally, 700 students absent
Medford, OR: 500
Merrifield, VA: some day labor crews reduced by over 90%
Miami: 10,000 (65,000 walk out)
Madison, WI 7-9,000
Milwaukee: 70,000
Minneapolis, MN: 3,000
Modesto, CA: 15,000 & student march of 250 from Modesto High
Morehead, KY: 60
Nashville, TN: many workers strike, immigrants shut off lights from 8-9 p.m.
New York City: 50-500,000
New Orleans: 2-10,000
Oak Cliff TX: 500
Oakland, CA: 40-50,000
Odessa, TX: rally
Ogden, UT: 1,000
Olympia, WA: 400
Ottumwa, MI: hundreds rally, 440 students absent
Oxnard, CA: 4,000
Omaha, NE: 3-6,000
Ontario, CA: 1,000
Orlando, FL: 20-30,000
Paso Robles, CA: 200 rally, 24% students absent
Philadelphia: 7,000 (incl. 1,000 coming from Camden)
Pittsburgh, PA: 150+
Port Chester, NY: 2,000 march, blocks of stores closed
Porterville, CA (Tulare County): 4,000
Portland, OR- 10,000
Poughkeepsie, NY: 800-2,000
Pueblo, CO: 500
Raleigh NC: 3,000
Rapid City, SD: several hudred
Russelville, AL (town with large KKK presence): more than 20% of Latino/a students absent (30% county-wide)
Salem, OR: 8-10,000
Salinas, CA: 13-20,000 (biggest at least since 70s)
San Antonio, TX: thousands
San Bernadino, CA: 1,000
San Diego: 10,000+ at multiple events
San Francisco, CA: 75-125,000
San Juan, TX
San Rafael, CA: 5-7,000
Santa Ana, CA: 2-5,000 (police start confrontation with protestors)
Santa Cruz, CA: 4-6,000 when two marches merge
Santa Maria, CA: 5-30,000
Santa Rosa, CA: 8-10,000
Santa Barbara, CA: 15,000
Sacramento, CA: 18-40,000
Salt Lake City, UT: 7,500 (10,000 statewide participate in events)
San Jose, CA: 50,000 at least—up to 100,000
San Ysidro, CA: 1-2,500 march to border
Seaside, CA: 1-2,000
Seattle, WA: 30,000
Siler City, NC: effectively shut down through boycott
Sioux Falls, SD: hundreds
Somerville, MA: hundreds
Stockton,CA
Sussex County, DE: poultry plants shut down who refused to close Feb. 14th for the regional Day Without an Immigrant
Tennessee: 10,000+ strike/boycott
Tiffin, OH: 200, organized by Toledo’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee
Tulare, CA: 3,000
Tuscaloosa, AL: silent march on Univ. of Alabama campus, 200+
Union City, CA: 1,000
Ventura, CA: 200+ march, some school districts almost 40% absent
Virginia Beach, VA: hundreds
Vista, CA: 8-12,000
Washington D.C.: Malcolm X Park, 2-3,000 and Capitol: 5,000
Watsonville: 12,000
Wendover, UT: 500
White Plains, NY: 500 highschoolers walk out, march to courthouse
Worcester, MA: 2,500 rally (largest since Vietnam War), 67+ businesses close, 800-900 students absent. Feeder marches organized for: students, Africans, Colombians, Dominicans, Jamaicans, Latinos, Pleasant St Neighbors, and Christians
Yakima, WA: 8-15,000

(source: Infoshop News)

In the initial build-up to oppose the Sensenbrenner Bill, 30,000 protested in Milwaukee on March 23, 2006.

On April 10, 2006, for the National Day of Action as many as 25,000 protesters marched in Madison.

For the May Day General Strike, between 7-9,000 marched in Madison and 70,000 in Milwaukee.

So this history is of "significance" to "what might be considered the racial structuring of everyday life and class conflict in Wisconsin."

John Garvey
Mar 23 2011 16:50

I agree completely that it's part of the structuring that I was talking about.

Hieronymous
Mar 23 2011 23:09

There is in the pieces that Loren Goldner has written on the events in Madison a subtle subtext, one which he has refused to publicly defend, that goes something like this (and it is explicit in his off-list, off-website correspondence): There is something very wrong with the working class upsurge in Wisconsin. It is a profoundly disturbing racial imbalance in these events, the almost complete absence of blacks among those rallying against or fighting the effort to legislatively gut collective bargaining.

Viewing the situation in Madison Goldner states, “I could not imagine such cordial relations between police and prison guards and a similar movement if it erupted in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles.” He would like to deduce rates of black incarceration in Madison (and Wisconsin) relative to those whites from the response of white workers to cops and prisons guards at a rally and demonstration, and on this basis conclude to that profoundly disturbing racial imbalance among workers. Perhaps through a complex series of mediations this is possible, but perhaps then the statistics that Goldner has invoked are skewed, skewed simply because methodologically statistical analysis offers no social and historical account of those conditions that create that the social relations that are frozen in a statistical summation. Let’s set aside what is just below the surface here… a provincial chauvinism that typifies the left communist (and not just left communist) milieu in NYC, for what, in part, bothers Goldner is that a similar movement did not erupt in New York (Chicago or Los Angeles)… Instead, if Goldner had said this would not have happened in Honolulu[1], where the incarceration rates of blacks to whites is 1.88 black for every white (1.88:1) per 100,000 population, well, then, he might have been more believable; for as it stands there is little in the way of race relations that New York can illuminate us on.

Since in an extensive personal correspondence, Goldner, together with John Garvey, have been fond of citing incarceration statistics to us, and since it is these statistics that underpin (and a specific “informant” that confirms) his assessment of the situation in regard to race and class in Madison, let’s look more carefully at this information.

Rates of incarceration of blacks relative to whites are highest in those states that are most lily white, in the Northeast in Vermont (12.45:1), Connecticut (12.00:1) Rhode Island (9.6:1), and the Midwest in states such as Wisconsin (10.64:1), Iowa (10.27:1) and North Dakota (10.05:1); and lowest in those states that admit the greatest racial admixtures of blacks and whites (which having lived in the mid-South for 17 years comes as no surprise) for it is in the old South, in Georgia (3.32:1), Mississippi (3.46:1) and Alabama (3.56:1), that the rates of incarceration of blacks relative to whites are regionally the lowest in the continental United States. As liberals have long known[2], integration homogenizes and grounds down, more than merely marginally, the differences between class and race; which is another way of saying that, for capital, labor power is, well, labor power, a capacity to be exploited in the creation of value…

Going back to Reconstruction, planter-merchants engaged in exploiting a hidden proletarian in black sharecroppers, and today industrial capitalists (there is a good deal more capital intensive industry relative to population density in this region of the South than in the Northeast inclusive of NYC), know from long experience how to mystify and divide by drawing a fault line down a color line among the exploited, because they know the difference between class and race so that when it comes to disciplining labor whites are two to three times more likely to be subject to formal regimentation (i.e., incarceration) there than say in… New York City…[3]

The national average is 5.56 blacks incarcerated for every white (5.56:1) per 100,000 population, while the vaunted example that Goldner invokes, New York, has an incarceration rate of 9.35:1, which, statistically, is not all that difference from Wisconsin… unless, of course, you are black, but which certainly leads to the conclusion that the relation of cops to workers, whether cordial or not, has little to do with incarcerations of blacks. In the United States the injustice of black incarceration is ubiquitous: It is surely not confined to Wisconsin.

There are several other features of Goldner’s subtext over race and class that are suspect.

First, there is the question that we can only hint at here, the abuse in the use of statistics (not to mention the absence of social and historical causation that decidedly shapes statistical analyses in the first place). Do the statistics that Goldner cites say anything about the conditions that obtain in prisons in different parts of the country? It is really, really stunningly myopic, hopelessly abstract and piously liberal (i.e., moralistic) to assert the situations in Madison and those in New York or Los Angeles are in any sense comparable when the actual numbers of human beings, blacks, incarcerated in the former are contrasted with the latter. (Statistically, in Madison, about 2,200 blacks were arrested in 2009, more than 136,000 incarcerated in NYC and 122,000 in Los Angeles)[4]. In California, overcrowding is endemic with not a single prison below 140% of capacity, and with most near 200% of capacity (with 170,588 prisoners for only 83,000 beds)[5]. This situation does not exist in Wisconsin to our knowledge. New York and California long ago legislated the death penalty, and while New York has not executed anyone since 1979, in Wisconsin there has never been a death penalty. We mention this because it is Goldner himself who cites the situation of Mumia abu Jamal on death row in Pennsylvania.

Second, there were three phases to the development of events in Wisconsin. The first was the rolling wave of strikes (teacher sick-outs and student walk-outs) that closed down 38% of the schools (by population) in the state beginning 16 February and ending on Friday, 18 February, and the massive demonstrative upsurge centered in Madison that accompanied the strikes ending Monday, 21 February; the following week through Sunday, 27 February in which "pressure" in the capital was kept up largely by Madisonians, largely nonproletarian or at least not actively so (i.e., municipal workers, teachers and university teaching assistants had nearly all returned to work); and the following 8 days that, ending with passage of Walker’s bill, was more or less a vigil maintained by the hardcore of a couple to three thousand (and dwindling) who thought they might "bring down" Walker by sheer force of will, i.e., by their unrelentingly presence, and which was renewed on Saturday, 12 March in a massive reformist display of support for union bureaucrats and the Democratic Party. By his own admission, Goldner’s assessment of events do not refer to the first, purely proletarian phase but were made on the basis of crowds that formed in Madison on 26-27 February and again on 12 March.

Third, there is the question of black participation in these events. It was minimal. Why?

In this regard Goldner refers to the city of Milwaukee, where some 230,000 blacks in a population of 600,000 live. He has indicated they had a lot a stake in this enactment… The situation there involves Walker’s role before he began governor. He was elected to the position of Milwaukee County Executive in 2002 (and was reelected several times serving into 2010) as a rightwing reformer. In this capacity, he balanced the county budget on the backs of public sector workers. He's enormously proud that property taxes in the county did not rise for eight (8) years under his regime. He did this by cutting public sector jobs in excess of twenty percent (20%) and by dramatically lowering contributions to the county employees' pension plan. There were not Milwaukee blacks at the Madison rallies and demonstrations because they were savaged in the cuts in Milwaukee County. In fact with the exceptions of UW-M academicians and a handful of black teachers, there have been few public employees from Milwaukee period... in large measure because of the demoralization inflicted as a consequence of the defeats there. More to the point, the program that is incarnate in Walker's bill had its trial run in Milwaukee, where it was not fully realized (i.e., unions were not effectively decertified) due to the calculation that, with AFSCME at the state level arrayed against him, he couldn't pursue and realize his full program without occupancy of the state of Wisconsin's executive office, i.e., the governorship.

Goldner appears to think that large layers of the proletariat in Milwaukee are black, while they are not; that the bulk of the black proletariat where it exists is there, in Milwaukee, organized; it is not. You are as likely to find blacks there employed in administering social services and as social workers as anywhere else. Like the question of the prison guards (not to mention the cops), we are not ecumenical in our conception of the working class; these elements strike us as dubiously proletarian, and though public employees we think the attitude and orientation of the administrative levels is quite different with a view to Walker’s bill.

Fourth, there’s the question of whether these events would have occurred in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles in the manner in which they did in Madison. Goldner is begging the question here, since what he refers to (in private correspondence he state “the Bronx, the south side of Chicago or southcentral in LA”) are non-Anglo, overwhelming black residences. We too couldn’t imagine the same scenario, in these areas or in south (not north) Milwaukee (and here it should be noted the polarization was historically between blacks and Polish workers, not German-Scandinavian ones). The scenario he is imagining is one where racial relations have been highly polarized and overlaid and overshadowed class relations. The proper comparison is between Madison and San Bernardino, or Chicago, north of the point where I-90 bisects the city, or, again, in western Milwaukee where the outcome of the imagined scenario would be far different. And, posed this, the proper way, Madison (in its proletarian phase) did quite well in this comparison. So, in contradistinction to Goldner (and Garvey), we reiterate our earlier assessment: In the proletarian phase of these events, the strike wave and the mass demonstrations that accompanied it, exhibited the presence of blacks, especially teachers, in proportion to their presence in the general public sector proletarian population statewide.

As we have pointed out to Goldner, the problem in Wisconsin exemplifies the problem of labor reformism and contract legalistic awareness among organized workers. And this was the real problem in Madison and Wisconsin, and not just here but among unionized workers in the United States generally. The situation in Milwaukee… where the unemployment rate in the inner city among black males of all ages is 47%, countywide it is 16%… is the historical legacy of whole racist set up that has structured union activity since the emergence of the CIO... going back to 1886, the AFL has been more often the less openly racist... and, accordingly, the failure to integrate blacks into labor... where they have been integrated they have on the basis of a much greater demographic density than exists in Wisconsin and they have done so through their own actions… is a product of this institutional legacy which, without doubt, earlier generations of white workers actively supported. That legacy can be summarized in the statement, “last hired, first fired,” and, in Milwaukee, this entire situation was exacerbated by Walker’s countywide cuts during the course of the last decade.

Finally, there is the question of Goldner’s other sources. One of us (Will) was with him in Madison for part of the day on Saturday, 12 March. He was there Saturday and Sunday. His sources are, politely speaking, limited and burdened with an ideological, i.e., Democratic Party, agenda. In the 3+ hours Will spent with him in and around the capitol grounds, he spoke to no one besides Will, Vicki (his wife), and S., his driving companion. Now you may want to write this down to travel fatigue. (He and S. made the long drive in from NYC the previous day). Though, we would add, S. informed Will he had spoke to roughly 25 people Saturday. (Perhaps, you can write this down to his youth, since Goldner, Will and Vicki are all in excess of thirty years old than him.) Outside of a retired steelworker he states he spoke with, his main source of information on Madison and the events there derived from discussions with Joel Rogers, a professor of law, political science and sociology at UW-Madison, and a longtime adviser to the Democrats who heads up the Working Families Party, a left of center Democratic Party pressure group (despite being, as told by Goldner to G.H., a “Situationist in the 70s" Rogers serves as the exception to Goldner’s rule that “Once you have played grand master chess, you rarely go back to checkers”). Such an “informant” does not, in our view, embody or even “represent” the views of workers, especially those workers who in the early days of the unfolding events in Wisconsin engaged in class action.

G.H. (Hieronymous)
Will Barnes

References

[1] Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, “Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity,” Publication of The Sentencing Project, July 2007: 6 (chart). Raw statistics are available at the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics and can be accessed online at albany.edu/sourcebook.

[2] If we were to make a liberal argument, you know, the bleeding heart type that Goldner makes, we would point that since our figures date from 2007, and Goldner’s from 2005 (at which time the combined rate of Iowa and Wisconsin according to his source was 11.60:1), Wisconsin (and Iowa) appear to be making progress. This, however, it not the type of argument we are making. For Goldner’s and Garvey’s source, see Bruce Dixon, “Ten Worst Places to be Black,” 14 July 2005, accessible at blackcommentator.com.

[3] Goldner might also recall that NYC has the dubious distinction of being home to the worst, most brutal race riot in U.S. history in mid-July 1863, an event that exploded in not just a race riot but a week long general strike in which the city's working classes, particularly dock laborers and the early industrial proletariat, opposed Republican party war policy set forth anew in the first conscription in U.S. history. The draft riots embodied the single, definite statement of the position of the working classes on the war - namely, resounding, violently anti-black based opposition.

[4] Mauer and King, “Ibid.”
The population for New York used in this calculation is 8.392,000, for Los Angeles 4,095,000 and for Madison 233,200.

[5] California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Prisons/index.html; “California’s Overcrowded Prisons,” by Fred Dungan, see graphic map.

Samotnaf
Mar 24 2011 05:24

Hieronymous - trying to get my head round what's happening over there, as there seems to be very little information in France, and even less discussion.

So a couple of questions which are probably not really central to your polemic with LG & JG.
You state:

Quote:
the following week through Sunday, 27 February in which "pressure" in the capital was kept up largely by Madisonians, largely nonproletarian or at least not actively so (i.e., municipal workers, teachers and university teaching assistants had nearly all returned to work)...Goldner’s assessment of events do not refer to the first, purely proletarian phase...Goldner appears to think that large layers of the proletariat in Milwaukee are black, while they are not; that the bulk of the black proletariat where it exists is there, in Milwaukee, organized; it is not. You are as likely to find blacks there employed in administering social services and as social workers as anywhere else. Like the question of the prison guards (not to mention the cops), we are not ecumenical in our conception of the working class; these elements strike us as dubiously proletarian

I'm a little confused about your use of the word "proletarian". Do you mean actively contesting their proletarian condition (as opposed to "working class" as a term to describe one's condition within this society, whether you struggle against it or not)? In which case, what does it mean to say "the following week through Sunday, 27 February in which "pressure" in the capital was kept up largely by Madisonians, largely nonproletarian or at least not actively so "? People were demonstrating after work? Or it wasn't directly workers who were involved? Or just that they weren't contesting anything? As for the statement "Goldner appears to think that large layers of the proletariat in Milwaukee are black, while they are not; that the bulk of the black proletariat where it exists is there, in Milwaukee, organized; it is not". Are you using "proletariat " and "working class" interchangeably? And that there are no large amounts of black proletarians/workers (working or not) in Milwaukee? It's not clear - but maybe that's me.

Also, do you know if there have been any attempts by the student (and others) movement in Milwaukee to go beyond the University ghetto and connect to the blacks (or other proletarians) in the area?

Loren Goldner
Mar 24 2011 17:32

I thank Hieronymous and Will Barnes for all the empirical work they have brought to bear in this debate.

First, a simple clarification of fact: in my shorter piece (also posted on libcom)
"A Brief Report On A Brief Visit to Madison" I wrote:

"In recent decades, only the national Latino demonstrations in May 2006 can be considered a larger working-class mobilization, but they not related to a specific issue such as the union-busting austerity now underway in Wisconsin." I omitted that from the longer article. My bad.

Hieronymous and Will Barnes write:

"There is in the pieces that Loren Goldner has written on the events in Madison a subtle subtext, one which he has refused to publicly defend, that goes something like this (and it is explicit in his off-list, off-website correspondence): There is something very wrong with the working class upsurge in Wisconsin. It is a profoundly disturbing racial imbalance in these events, the almost complete absence of blacks among those rallying against or fighting the effort to legislatively gut collective bargaining."

Well, I wouldn't (and didn't) put it so strongly, either on or off-line, and I'll thank comrades for focusing on what I say, not what they think I am saying. (I'm glad they didn't tar me with the brush of saying the workers in Wisconsin are "racist", as one of them attempted to do his HIS "off-line comments".) My purpose in going to Madison and writing about it was in response to one of the biggest signs since four decades that in the U.S. (where the incidence of strikes in the U.S. tapered off to almost nothing in the past decade) that workers in America were at last mobilizing to take on the crisis underway, (sometimes slower, sometimes faster, and now definitely accelerating) since the 1970's in confrontation with the state.

One might think from the intensity of the response of Hieronymous and Will Barnes that I had indicated some "unspoken" sympathy for the Democratic politicians or union blowhards leading the crowd in the chants I cited, or for the recall campaigns about which everyone I talked to (from people in the crowd to Joel Rogers) were totally into, or ended the two articles I wrote with the usually Trotskyists rosary paragraph about "only by building a revolutionary vanguard party..."

No. What I wrote about Madison was a probe, based largely on material and videos available before I went there, and what I saw there on a brief weekend. Will Barnes is from Wisconsin and has an intimate knowledge of the working class in the upper Midwest which I totally lack. Neither he nor Hieronymous are "color blind" (i.e. blind) Marxists. The probe was aimed at inciting debate about the significance of the Wisconsin movement, and more importantly, about its generalizability to other parts of the country (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) when this same super-austerity juggernaut arrives there (and it has arrived point-black in Ohio and Indiana), probably promoted by the same miserable Democrats who were being cheered in Wisconsin. At the heart of my probe, and the questioning which prompted my trip to Madison, was the following: how can a movement that seemed (in Madison) to be 98% white, that seems largely in thrall to the Democrats and the unions, that to date has mobilized neither the 200,000 largely marginalized blacks in the north Milwaukee Bantustan nor the significant Latino population scattered around the state, how can such a movement became a "class for itself"?

Neither Hieronymous nor Will Barnes have addressed that question, nor commented on the various widespread chants I quoted ("The people united will never be defeated", "Recall recall recall", "Thank You Thank You" interrupting the speeches of the Democratic politicians) or the singing of "God Bless America" as indicating something about the consciousness of the movement, however many people anyone talked to.

In late spring 2003, I participated in the mass mobilization in France around a (successful) attempt by the Chirac government to raise the retirement age of public employees to the same level as workers in the private sector. I was in more mass demonstations, week-in week out, than at any time since the late 60's/early 70's. Red flags, the sound trucks blaring the "Internationale" and calls for a general strike were everywhere. It meant little or nothing. The unions and CP and SP led the series of parades in Paris and other big cities until everyone was tired out and went home; the measure passed. And once again, the movement was 99% white, and was not supported by either the private sector workers nor the Arab and African immigrant population, (the youth of the latter rioting in the Paris suburbs two years later). There was the same indifference or even hostility from the rest of the class about the relatively privileged (after three decades of rollback aimed at them) to the situation of the public employees. Total disconnect.

To quote my longer article again: "Any working-class movement worthy of the name embraces the interests of the most oppressed, and that today includes the 15-20% of the U.S. population currently unemployed and increasingly foreclosed into homelessness, the casuals and temps, the harassed immigrant workers both legal and illegal, the millions of marginalized youth, white black and Latino, and the three million people in prison. We know very well that not every struggle that erupts can immediately enlist all such people, but a “climate” must be created in which that universal outreach—what we might call a “class for itself” orientation-- is understood as a necessity, much as such a climate existed, for a few years, in a less extreme situation, in the 1960’s. "

Do Hieronymous and Will Barnes disagree with this? I doubt it. Have they seen signs in the Wisconsin movement of development in this direction? They don't mention them. How do THEY feel about the presence of cops and prison guards--the very people enforcing the incarceration and state supervision of the very high percentage of blacks and Latinos there, including in Dane County, where Madison is--simultaneous with the virtual absence of blacks and Latinos in the mass mobilizations? Not important?
They should say so.

Thus their insinuation--supported by nothing in either of my texts--that I think something is "very wrong" with the Wisconsin movement is a lot of clap-trap. Now that the movement has thrown itself into the "recall" campaigns to replace the Republican pols with Democratic pols, what do THEY think about that? I said that the Wisconsin movement is a "very young" movement and I welcomed and still welcome it. It has nonetheless in its political and trade-union expression still shot through with illusions.
As constituted and projected into the future in the recall campaigns, it will lose, perhaps by electing some Democrats who will, like Jerry Brown in California or Andrew Cuomo in New York, push through a similar austerity package, tarted up by the unions who massively funded their campaigns.

So I throw the question back at them: how will this movement, led for the moment by the two institutions, Democrats and unions, which have been the "soft cop" to the "tough cop" of the Republicans in the U.S. since the late 19th century, break out to become a "class for itself"? Failing to deal with this, everything else they say, valid or not, is so much hot air.

Loren

Hieronymous
Mar 26 2011 04:50
Samotnaf wrote:
Hieronymous - trying to get my head round what's happening over there, as there seems to be very little information in France, and even less discussion.

So a couple of questions which are probably not really central to your polemic with LG & JG.
You state:

Quote:
the following week through Sunday, 27 February in which "pressure" in the capital was kept up largely by Madisonians, largely nonproletarian or at least not actively so (i.e., municipal workers, teachers and university teaching assistants had nearly all returned to work)...Goldner’s assessment of events do not refer to the first, purely proletarian phase...Goldner appears to think that large layers of the proletariat in Milwaukee are black, while they are not; that the bulk of the black proletariat where it exists is there, in Milwaukee, organized; it is not. You are as likely to find blacks there employed in administering social services and as social workers as anywhere else. Like the question of the prison guards (not to mention the cops), we are not ecumenical in our conception of the working class; these elements strike us as dubiously proletarian

I'm a little confused about your use of the word "proletarian". Do you mean actively contesting their proletarian condition (as opposed to "working class" as a term to describe one's condition within this society, whether you struggle against it or not)? In which case, what does it mean to say "the following week through Sunday, 27 February in which "pressure" in the capital was kept up largely by Madisonians, largely nonproletarian or at least not actively so "? People were demonstrating after work? Or it wasn't directly workers who were involved? Or just that they weren't contesting anything? As for the statement "Goldner appears to think that large layers of the proletariat in Milwaukee are black, while they are not; that the bulk of the black proletariat where it exists is there, in Milwaukee, organized; it is not". Are you using "proletariat " and "working class" interchangeably? And that there are no large amounts of black proletarians/workers (working or not) in Milwaukee? It's not clear - but maybe that's me.

Also, do you know if there have been any attempts by the student (and others) movement in Milwaukee to go beyond the University ghetto and connect to the blacks (or other proletarians) in the area?

Response to Questions (forwarded from Will Barnes)

We assign no special meaning or sense (sens) that entails a contrast or a distinction between the terms “proletarian” and “worker.”

So that what is meant here that the first phase… evinced in the strike wave carried out first and foremost by teachers (and high school students) at the elementary and secondary schools, by teaching assistants at the University of Wisconsin, and by municipal city and county workers in and around Madison… was defined by defensive struggle, in which strictly worker or solely proletarian demands where raised, i.e., it was a fight to preserve the mass organizations of public sector workers.

From another written account:

Will Barnes wrote:
In response to Walker’s programmatic assault on worker organizations, on Wednesday, 16 February, teachers and students in Madison and some of the outlaying towns inaugurated a wildcat, closing down these schools and rallying at the capitol grounds; on Thursday, 17 February, teachers from Milwaukee and more towns around Madison joined so that now the two largest school districts in the state were shut down; on Friday, 18 February, still more schools now reaching toward the center of the state (north of that point where I-90/1-94 split) wildcatted and headed for Madison. By then, 3/8, a full 37% of the schools in the state were shut down, and other school districts in the state (in and around Fond du Lac and Green Bay for example), while managing to keep their doors open, reported absences between 25% and 40% of personnel and students. On each day, teachers and students were joined by growing numbers of city and county municipal workers from Madison and the surrounding area, and teacher assistants at UW-Madison (who had initiated the whole movement with the first day of the capitol occupation on Tuesday, 15 February). The numbers were astounding, and they grew each day. On Wednesday, 20-25,000, on Thursday (the first time I was there), 30,000; Friday, 40,000. Then, as the weekend rolled around, and the more cautious workers joined in the size of the movement skyrocketed, 70,000 on Saturday and a 100,000 on Sunday.

The statement, “the following week through Sunday, 27 February, in which ‘pressure’ in the capitol was kept up largely by Madisonians, largely non-proletarian,” meant the core public sector workers (enumerated above) were no longer present, that they had gone back to work, that those who were present were now the “activists,” those with leisure and time to engage in a sustained, narrow action aimed at getting Walker and the legislature to reverse course. In point of fact, some these people may have been workers, or retired workers, but quite a few were university students (who, in Madison at least, may have a working class formation…as many students work part- and some even full-time… but others do not work at all, and whose existence is not immediately determined by the wage relation).

In the statement concerning blacks and Milwaukee, yes we used the terms “proletariat” and “working class” interchangeably. And, yes, the black proletariat in Milwaukee is exceedingly small. To hint at this, a couple statistics: The current unemployment rate for black males of all ages in the Milwaukee’s inner city, here known alternatively as a “ghetto” or “slum,” is 47%; countywide, it is 16%. Though exacerbated by the ongoing contraction, this is not a temporary situation. The spatial dimensions of Milwaukee’s black “community” have, not incorrectly, been characterized as a Bantustan. Black workers, male and female, are largely casualized, we think you might say precarious; and while there is a very thin layer of black Milwaukeeans who are employed in administering social services and as social workers (and who we do not consider proletarian), there are very large numbers who are lumpenized, finding a life and home in gangs, engaged in the “illegal” economy (mostly drugs).

While we have a sense of what is the case with regard to your last question (relations between UW-Milwaukee and the black community), we are not well enough informed to make a reasonably evidenced judgment in this regard. This is obviously inadequate, but it is honest and exhibits our limitations, for, though one of us was in Madison on two occasions during the events in question and one of us lived twenty-seven years in Wisconsin (including time in Milwaukee), that was years ago. Neither of us lives there now.

Samotnaf
Mar 26 2011 04:29

Thanks for clarifying all that.

Hieronymous
Mar 26 2011 22:32

Shoulda Stayed Home and Watched it on Video

Loren Goldner wrote:
"In recent decades, only the national Latino demonstrations in May 2006 can be considered a larger working-class mobilization, but they not related to a specific issue such as the union-busting austerity now underway in Wisconsin." I omitted that from the longer article. My bad.

Come on, get the facts straight! The May Day General Strike was in response to the Sensenbrenner Bill, H.R. 4437, a very specific issue to not only undocumented workers but to those (like myself), who work (i.e. humanitarian workers, public schoolteachers, church workers, etc.) in a capacity giving them aid or support. It made all of the former felons and all of the latter violators of a misdemeanor, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison.

Loren Goldner wrote:
One might think from the intensity of the response of Hieronymous and Will Barnes that I had indicated some "unspoken" sympathy for the Democratic politicians or union blowhards leading the crowd in the chants I cited, or for the recall campaigns about which everyone I talked to (from people in the crowd to Joel Rogers) were totally into, or ended the two articles I wrote with the usually Trotskyists rosary paragraph about "only by building a revolutionary vanguard party..."

This still begs this question: there were plenty of first-hand accounts here on libcom, some of which were written by left communists and other libertarian communist-sympathizing comrades. Why didn't you read their libcom acounts and why didn't you seek these comrades out? Instead you talked to hardly any workers, but instead sought out Democratic Party apparatchiks, or read and watched...

Loren Goldner wrote:
...material and videos available before I went there...

And you based your account on that, as well as what you "saw there on a brief weekend." Fair enough. But why did you even bother going? I mean, you could've just stayed home and watched it on video. The wildcat strike phase was clearly over,

Loren Goldner wrote:
Neither Hieronymous nor Will Barnes have addressed... commented on the various widespread chants I quoted ("The people united will never be defeated", "Recall recall recall", "Thank You Thank You" interrupting the speeches of the Democratic politicians) or the singing of "God Bless America" as indicating something about the consciousness of the movement, however many people anyone talked to.

Just one, among many accounts here on libcom:

Oliver Twister wrote:
... There was a "people's mic" in the center and I got to it pretty early, imagine how happy I was when the speaker two spots before me called very eloquently for a general strike and had the crowd chanting. I did this, and several other speakers throughout the night did.

...they didn't come for us until after 11. MSNBC (I believe) interviewed one of the blockaders (who wasn't a part of any political group) and asked her what people would do if this bill passed and everything failed, to which she answered (with the support of the rest of us) "General Strike!" Eventually, though we were doing our best to link arms and go limp they were able to drag us out with no arrests (I think - there was a rumor of one arrest in the antechamber). Right after I was led out people were chanting "General Strike".

This isn't to make a critical appraisal of whether a general strike was still feasible, given the momentum of the class and the forces on the ground, at that point. But the sentiment for militancy was still there when Oliver made this report on March 11.

Loren Goldner wrote:
... but a “climate” must be created in which that universal outreach—what we might call a “class for itself” orientation-- is understood as a necessity, much as such a climate existed, for a few years, in a less extreme situation, in the 1960’s."j

That "climate" does exist, but almost exclusively for the Spanish-speaking proletariat, as made clear in the spring of 2006 and culminating in the May Day General Strike that forced congress to back down of the fascist Sensenbrenner Bill. But that climate didn't spring out of nowhere, but could be seen as part of the historical trajectory that goes as far back as the 8-hour-day movement and the tragedy of Haymarket in Chicago in 1886. It goes like this:

Hieronymous wrote:
The U.S. the government intentionally put Labor Day in September to try to erase the memory of the Haymarket martyrs who inspired the celebration of May Day as International Workers’ Day, starting in 1889. Events have come full circle; in 1886 during the eight-hour day movement in Chicago immigrant workers were fighting against capital accumulation in the phase in its extensive form, as it extracted surplus value under formal domination. The Haymarket prosecution was the “trial of the century” as radical workers around the world followed the court case through their labor press. In places like Spain the execution of the Chicago radicals was integrated into their commemoration of May Day.

Since the 19th century many Spanish radicals have immigrated to Latin America to escape government repression, bringing their version of May Day with them. Workers throughout South America and Mexico celebrate May Day under the influence of these Spanish émigrés. With American-backed repression throughout Latin America, in addition to the destruction of tradition work sectors with the passage of NAFTA, many Latino immigrants escaped to the U.S. – bringing their version of May Day with them. They have reconnected the American working class with the traditions of self-activity of the working class and the insurrectionary potential at its birth, embodied in Chicago anarchists of the 1880s. Today’s immigrants are part of the new global proletariat, recomposed within international division of labor at this higher level accumulation, yet connected to historical continuities as they point us to the future.

My comrades and I participated in the events on May Day 2006, joining a march along International Blvd (a.k.a. East 14th Street), that began around 98th Avenue at the Oakland/San Leandro city border with around 15,000. It doubled through the Spanish-speaking Fruitvale District and when it arrived in downtown Oakland there were over 50,000, having marched over 100 blocks. It was the largest demonstration in downtown Oakland since the 1946 General Strike.

And I saw some serious cleavages. About a dozen black nationalists started attacking the protest right in front of City Hall, spewing xenophobic hatred. It was calculated to be divisive, attracting over a dozen police cars. Some protesters with saner heads defused the situation and nothing came of this provocation. At the time, I was teaching laid off Chinese garment workers, all of whom had either a green card or citizenship. Just prior to May Day, they introduced the topic of the planned strike and marches and asked my opinion. I grew excited and suggested we participate together. They grew glum and denounced the "Mexicans" with "no papers," who hadn't paid the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to be legal residents or citizens as they had. My heart sank, but I realized that the racial tensions in the U.S. go well beyond simple white/black binaries, especially on the West Coast where Spanish-speakers and Asian are the the fastest growing groups.

When the ILWU invoked a contractual clause to hold a "work-stop" meeting on May Day 2008, I went to every planning meeting in the Bay Area. The ILWU was able to use this technicality to shut down 29 ports on the West Coast on May Day, with the unrealistic, but admirable, demands of ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, solidarity with and legalization for all undocumented workers, and as a celebration of international workers' day. But the longshore activists were short-sighted in many ways. They hadn't thought of sending the message to the tens of thousands of troqueros (16,500 at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex alone) who do the short-haul moving of the cargo containers around the port. These drivers had been mostly unionized workers, until Carter signed the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, deregulating the trucking industry and making most non-long-haul drivers into precarious independent contractors.

So for about 2 weeks at the end of April, ten of us would get to the Port of Oakland at the crack of dawn and flier the troqueros with bilingual announcements of the May Day action, inviting them to join the protest -- since with the longshore workers taking a day off, meant no work for them. We also gave them bilingual fliers about the national wildcat of long-haul truckers that had been spreading sporadically that spring, hoping that they would find common class interests and perhaps strike themselves -- as they had done in a wildcat action that blocked the one of the main gates at the Port of Oakland for 8 days in the spring of 2004.

Additionally, some of us linked up with the Bay Area I.W.W. and spread the word of the 2008 May Day port closure to other ethnic based organizations of workers. From an attempted fare strike in San Francisco's transit system, we had worked closely with the San Francisco Day Laborers Program, so we scheduled a formal meeting with that group to announce the port shut down and the May Day rally in order to invite their participation. They voted right then and there and decided to not work on May Day and to help spread the action in the Spanish-speaking community.

We also tried to reach Chinese worker groups, like San Francisco's Chinese Progressive Association, to no avail (although we had worked with them on the 2005 transit strike). All this is to say that it's impossible to bridge the racial divides that weaken the class without reaching out to everyone in organized groups and trying to get them to listen. If a general strike had begun across Wisconsin when all the teachers were wildcatting, it would have been up to working class militants like us to try to spread it to other ethnic working class communities, but also to attempt to break down sectoral walls, as well as to spread it regionally beyond Wisconsin. That's where the contact my comrades and I have made in California could be called upon to try to spread it here. That would be keeping alive the militant working class "climate" that Goldner mentions, mostly dormant now but we hope to keep it alive by continuously fanning the flames.

Loren Goldner wrote:
Do Hieronymous and Will Barnes disagree with this? I doubt it. Have they seen signs in the Wisconsin movement of development in this direction? They don't mention them. How do THEY feel about the presence of cops and prison guards...[?]

What's there to say? Yeah, we find no common cause with pigs and prison pigs because we consider them class enemies. Some of us in the Bay Area participated in the movement around Oscar Grant, the African American young man shot in the back by a transit cop in Oakland on New Year's Day 2009. It fizzled with typical leftist infighting, but if there hadn't been a handful of riots in downtown Oakland, the killer cop probably would've gotten off. But even this type of anti-cop activism lacks class politics and can be extremely limited and reformist.

Loren Goldner wrote:
--the very people enforcing the incarceration and state supervision of the very high percentage of blacks and Latinos there, including in Dane County, where Madison is--simultaneous with the virtual absence of blacks and Latinos in the mass mobilizations? Not important?
They should say so.

Here again, when you say: "virtual absence of blacks and Latinos in the mass mobilizations," virtual is the operative word because you are simply mistaken.

naima1917 wrote:

Watch this video, posted on March 14th:

Or click and watch this "Mutiny in Milwaukee" video from Fox News about the wildcat strike by 600 public school teachers in Milwaukee during the first week.

Public schools are one of the biggest battlegrounds in the current phase of the class war. Just watch the lame anti-teacher, anti-worker, anti-union hit-piece Waiting for Superman to see the pro-market ideology for education. Michelle Rhee was appointed by Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, when he was elected in 2007, as chancellor of schools where she was given autocratic discretion and began her hatchet job of attacking teachers' working conditions with merit pay, in addition to firing 241 teachers and attempting to close 24 schools. In the backlash, Fenty was voted out and Rhee had to step down too -- but even in failure, her campaign to privatize, charterize schools and attack teacher pay and working conditions has gained momentum.

A recently retired Oakland high school teacher, who was instrumental in helping organize the K-12 walk-outs in Oakland on March 4th last year, is heading to Milwaukee this weekend to talk with organized groups of black parents who are coming together to fight against Mayor Tom Barrett's plans, à la Fenty & Rhee, to give dictatorial powers to the mayor to run the schools -- by almost anyone's standards Milwaukee Public Schools are one of the worst districts in the U.S. He's read this debate, is sympathetic to the position of Will Barnes and myself, and has promised to write an account of the conditions in Milwaukee when he returns. I hope to post it here.

How race divides the class has been an important concern to our solidarity activities here in the Bay Area and we have been attempting to intervene with bringing class unity across race, ethnic and gender divisions, in a coordinated fashion, since at least 2003 when the invasion of Iraq began. We made the banner below, with "NO WAR BUT THE CLASS WAR" written in English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. During the demo, we had conversations with other protesters speaking all of those languages, we handed out around 5000 of two version of our anti-capitalist, anti-war flier, and we invited like-minded people we met at demos to come meet with us.

Loren Goldner wrote:
Thus their insinuation--supported by nothing in either of my texts--that I think something is "very wrong" with the Wisconsin movement is a lot of clap-trap. Now that the movement has thrown itself into the "recall" campaigns to replace the Republican pols with Democratic pols, what do THEY think about that? I said that the Wisconsin movement is a "very young" movement and I welcomed and still welcome it. It has nonetheless in its political and trade-union expression still shot through with illusions.
As constituted and projected into the future in the recall campaigns, it will lose, perhaps by electing some Democrats who will, like Jerry Brown in California or Andrew Cuomo in New York, push through a similar austerity package, tarted up by the unions who massively funded their campaigns.

I believe not a few, but most of your account regarding working class conditions in the U.S. come from sources clearly clueless about the lived reality of the proletariat today. Some are disreputable Trots, others are classless angels in the academy. Still others are fellow travelers with the Democratic Party and some are even class enemies from the bourgeoisie (or functioning to serve their interests).

I recently came across a fairly mainstream book I'd recommend to Goldner. It's from 1996, so it's dated; it's William Julius Wilson's When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. Wilson was a social democrat and was weak on so many things. But he was excellent in comparing the difference between ghettos that are simply poor with those that are poor and are plagued with long-term unemployment. Not that I want to glorify wage labor, but in the latter a sense of hopelessness and despair sets in that's corrosive and much more demoralizing than poverty from low wages. Wilson claims that we need to see this less with the lens of race and more with the lens of class. And to update his tale, just watch films like Winter's Bone or read Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus to see that if left to the communist practice of coastal dilettante Marxists, sipping their latte, reading the New York Times, and whipping out their iPad to plan their next trip to Paris, we're fucked. The ghettos will explode like Watt/Los Angeles in 1965 and 1992 again and cosmopolitan left communists will be sitting on their hands. And trailer trash working class whites will keep smoking crystal meth and goose stepping with fascist Christian fundamentalists. That is, if we don't start rolling up our sleeves and engaging all the members of our class, warts and all. Goldner, you clearly don't.

Loren Goldner wrote:
So I throw the question back at them: how will this movement, led for the moment by the two institutions, Democrats and unions, which have been the "soft cop" to the "tough cop" of the Republicans in the U.S. since the late 19th century, break out to become a "class for itself"? Failing to deal with this, everything else they say, valid or not, is so much hot air.

Loren

Less hot air than your grand pronouncements written from afar (New York City) and from far outside the class. Goldner, you obviously arrived in Madison well-after the proletarian phase (but couldn't tell the difference, anyway), that had been marked by wildcat strikes of teachers and walk outs of students that shut down 18 school districts throughout Wisconsin. The detailed accounts of Will Barnes and Paul Taylor made that explicitly clear. So you saw the potential "post-peak," but your sweeping account of the events were judgments "from on-line photos and videos" you watched "before" you "went there." It begs this same question again: why did you even bother going? You gained no further insights once there (except, perhaps, Democratic Party strategy from your informant), so why didn't you just stay home and watch it on video?

Juan Conatz
Mar 26 2011 15:33
Quote:
The statement, “the following week through Sunday, 27 February, in which ‘pressure’ in the capitol was kept up largely by Madisonians, largely non-proletarian,” meant the core public sector workers (enumerated above) were no longer present, that they had gone back to work, that those who were present were now the “activists,” those with leisure and time to engage in a sustained, narrow action aimed at getting Walker and the legislature to reverse course. In point of fact, some these people may have been workers, or retired workers, but quite a few were university students (who, in Madison at least, may have a working class formation…as many students work part- and some even full-time… but others do not work at all, and whose existence is not immediately determined by the wage relation).

This is not true at all. After the teachers went back to work, the demonstrations just started really happening later. There might have been a core of these "non-proletarian" people during the hours of 12-3pm, but 3-5pm, the composition of the crowd would change until people left around 9-10pm. Even inside the capitol, where people were staying it was a mix. With some public sector workers apparently staying there on their day off or staying and going to work in the morning.

S. Artesian
Mar 26 2011 20:48

WTF is it with H. and his New York bashing? You got a problem with NYC, H? Not proletarian enough for you? Too many bankers?

And this crap about lattes, iPads, and the rest of that neanderthal anti-urban, anti-intellectual but oh so perfectly American tub-thumping, this channeling of
Spiro T. Agnew?

Sounds to me, H., that you've got a personal problem with Goldner, and you should keep it a personal problem.

Like for example, if I personally think you happen to be a sanctimonious, stuck-up, poseur with your head up your ass, waving your pseudo-proletarian credentials around like a bloody shirt, that wouldn't stop me from agreeing with what's right in what you say, nor make me any more vehement in my disagreement with what's wrong.

Nor would I ever even think of attempting to besmirch your analysis with reference to geographical locations, computer preferences, or favorite beverages. I mean I might hate your guts, but it would be your guts I hate, and for reasons regarding you, and not your zipcode.

Hieronymous
Mar 26 2011 23:22
S. Artesian wrote:
...you happen to be a sanctimonious, stuck-up, poseur with your head up your ass, waving your pseudo-proletarian credentials around like a bloody shirt,

That's not something anyone will ever say about you, not in this lifetime (having seen your CV and your business profile on the 'net). But since libcom is not composed of Leninists, how is your approach not coming to class struggle from the outside?

By the way S. Artesian, your critique of the Leninist theory of imperialism is the best one I ever read (and thanks for the tip on David A. Wells' Recent Economic Changes, it was excellent).

S. Artesian wrote:
WTF is it with H. and his New York bashing? You got a problem with NYC, H? Not proletarian enough for you? Too many bankers?

[...]

Nor would I ever even think of attempting to besmirch your analysis with reference to geographical locations, computer preferences, or favorite beverages. I mean I might hate your guts, but it would be your guts I hate, and for reasons regarding you, and not your zipcode.

But I didn't say "New York," or "NYC." I said:

Hieronymous wrote:
... left to the communist practice of coastal dilettante Marxists, sipping their latte, reading the New York Times, and whipping out their iPad to plan their next trip to Paris, we're fucked.

Your defensive municipal chauvinism sounds like this is your worldview:

As though west of the Hudson we start fires with flint, drink water out of wells, use an outhouse, and communicate by telegraph.

You know, there is another coast (where people sip latte, read the New York Times on their Kindle, design not only iPads, but many of the apps, and actually travel by plane -- if they can afford to).

EDIT: my mistake. I mentioned where Goldner lives to point out that it's not Milwaukee. If conditions are so bad there, which is an important point, he should have gone to Milwaukee to investigate. But it's disingenuous to go to Madison, then write a report that attributes the weakness of the movement converging on the the Wisconsin capitol to race and class relations in Milwaukee (or by hypothesizing what reactions would be in Chicago).

Tojiah
Mar 26 2011 22:40

If I understood correctly, the problem with New York City is that it does not present a clear view of the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. I imagine that had Goldner lived in LA that would have been cited, instead.

S. Artesian
Mar 26 2011 23:43
Quote:
You know, there is another coast (where people sip latte, read the New York Times on their Kindle, design not only iPads, but many of the apps, and actually travel by plane -- if they can afford to).

Sure. That's what you said. Combined with this:

Quote:
Less hot air than your grand pronouncements written from afar (New York City)

and in the previous post:

Quote:
Let’s set aside what is just below the surface here… a provincial chauvinism that typifies the left communist (and not just left communist) milieu in NYC, for what, in part, bothers Goldner is that a similar movement did not erupt in New York (Chicago or Los Angeles)… Instead, if Goldner had said this would not have happened in Honolulu[1], where the incarceration rates of blacks to whites is 1.88 black for every white (1.88:1) per 100,000 population, well, then, he might have been more believable; for as it stands there is little in the way of race relations that New York can illuminate us on.

Now strip my gears and call my shiftless, but pardon me for detecting a bit of good ole American anti-New Yorkism in your quotes, and maybe I'm just paranoid, but I bet I'm not alone in my dementia.

I have never read anything by Loren that would indicate NYC is any sort of paradigm for anything, other than shorter trip times to Europe.

And BTW, I think Loren has it wrong in his analysis of Madison, no BTW about it, unlike little, old, modest me who never gets it wrong.

Nope, not self-righteous, sanctimonious, or stuck-up that's for sure. Arrogant? No doubt. Blunt? Painfully so. Abrasive? Like shark's skin. But... with a real good sense of humor. And that's what truly bothers me in your criticism of Loren's .. there's isn't a shred of humor, not an ounce, a gram.

re business profile: Something I am only too proud to claim as mine. Yeah, I did all that.

Thanks for the kind words on the anti Lenin's Imperialism-- the whole point being that whatever exists as "superprofits" exists only as a moment in capitalism [if it exists at all], which in its very existence creates its own abolition.

Value isn't theft, which is where Proudhon, Gunder Frank, Sweezy, Wallerstein ad infinitum ad nauseum go and come wrong, regarding property as something distinct from the mode of production, property as NOT a reproduction of the mode of production. Value is reproduction of the social relation of its production. That's what makes it self-mediating. That's what makes "imperialism" such a sham ideology... there's capitalism, uneven and combined development to be sure.. but it's all capitalism, interlocked, intertwined, international.

Anyway, enough about that. Like I said, I agree with much of the Barnes/H. analysis of Madison, including that "pre-fascism" fascist content of the Walker, the Doublemint Fitzgerald twins, etc. attacks.

I just think you're expressing a bit of personal bitterness in your critique of Loren.

Now as for that Leninist stuff: Honestly, I try not to think about that. Next to the stuff about imperialism, I can't think of anything that has weighed like a nightmare on the brain of the living class struggle than this constant, tedious, and quite detached and therefore worthless debate about "the role of the party," the "role of the intellectuals," "the bringing of 'class consciousness'" like it's one of those gifts that magi brought to the baby Jesus. I say Hallelujah!

I have no idea where that puts me in the spectrum of "authentic" working class militancy.

What I do know is that for Madison to succeed, from the getgo the organizations have to be outside the boundaries of the unions, outside the fractionalization of the workers as public sector/private sector, unionized/non-unionized, employed/unemployed. And those organizations have to, also from the getgo, articulate a bit more than just "no concessions, no give-backs" but speak to the privation and misery imposed on just those sections of the class segregated, herded into the margins by the "privatization" the asset-stripping of our liquidationist bourgeoisie.

And I say that knowing full well I live in NYC and think NYC is more messed up than other places, but with better restaurants.