Brief report from a brief visit to Madison - Loren Goldner

Brief report from a brief visit to Madison - Loren Goldner

A piece by Loren Goldner about his trip to Madison, Wisconsin to join the protests around collective bargaining law.

Loren Goldner
March 16, 2011

I managed to get to Madison, Wisconsin, for the mass demonstration there on March 12 in the ongoing mobilization against Governor Scott Walker’s assault on public employee unions. I went with a New York comrade and met up there with a comrade from Minnesota and his wife. The following day, I talked for a couple of hours with a highly knowledgeable Madison academic associated with the Working Families Party.

What follows are some brief notes on my impressions and things I learned.

The demo was apparently the largest in this struggle so far: over 100,000 people. The crowd seemed to be overwhelmingly working-class, from all over Wisconsin. There were many families with young children. This has to be the biggest working-class mobilization in the upper Midwest in decades; it was reportedly larger than any of the antiwar demos in Madison during Vietnam. We may recall the P-9 (Hormel) strike in Austin, Minnesota in 1985-1986, or, farther south, the “Three Strikes” in Decatur, Illinois between 1993 and 1996, but the Madison demos have dwarfed them, included in national (and even international) attention. 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. If a lot of University of Wisconsin students had not been on spring break, the March 12 demo in Madison would undoubtedly have been even larger. Union buses had brought people from all over the state, and there were significant numbers from out of state.

The Capitol building, in front of which the rally took place, had been occupied by thousands of people from the middle to end of February, when the last hard-core thousands apparently left, largely voluntarily. The Capitol had also been occupied on March 9 after the Republican state legislature had passed its hastily-drafted law ending collective bargaining for public employees, after separating it from the previous bill which combined abolition with massive budget cuts to circumvent the need for a quorum. That occupation had also ended, apparently voluntarily.

This was the third or fourth demo of this size since the confrontation erupted in mid-February. For someone such as myself who remembers the late 1960’s, the mood seemed calm and relaxed by comparison. There were not as many American flags as I recalled seeing in videos of the previous mobilizations, but the crowd did at one point sing “America the Beautiful”, something that would have been inconceivable in 1969 or 1970. (One recalls that even the IWW used American flags at its demos to take that symbolism away from the capitalists. If I had carried a flag, it would have been red.) There was also some singing of “Solidarity Forever”.

Judging from the signs that an important number of people carried, there was general support for the unions and for the Democratic Party, especially for the “14” from the state senate who had disappeared to Illinois to deprive the senate of the quorum necessary to vote Governor Scott Walker’s full bill. (Wisconsin law requires a quorum to pass any law involving expenditures). The “14” had returned and some of them spoke at the rally, their speeches periodically interrupted by chants of “Thank you! Thank you!”. (According to one local informant, the “14” were absolutely undistinguished garden-variety Democrats who had been trying to redeem themselves with their trade-union base.) The great majority of signs were unsurprising; anti-Walker, anti-Koch brothers, a few quotes from Hitler about abolishing trade unions in 1933, support for the “14”, references to Tahrir Square. A few signs asked Obama plaintively when he was going to support the struggle. No one criticized the union leadership or the “14” for their apparent willingness to give lots of ground on wages and benefits if only Walker would drop the demand for the end of collective bargaining. There were also lots of signs and lots of energy over the recall campaign aimed at some Republican senators who seemed vulnerable, as well as for electing a very ordinary Democratic judge to the state supreme court. The fact that Democratic governors such as Jerry Brown in California or Andrew Cuomo in New York were attacking public unions (though not collective bargaining per se) in much the same way as Scott Walter didn’t seem to faze this sentiment.

Here and there, very sparsely, were signs calling for a general strike, mainly (as far as I could tell) distributed by a small contingent of the IWW. I could also see few signs of leftist sects such as the ISO, Spartacists, etc.

The speeches were unremarkable, of a generally pep rally tone, interrupted by loud applause and chants. No speech I heard (and I was admittedly paying more attention to the crowd than the speakers) said anything about the capitalist system or the idea that these attacks were merely a continuation of attacks on the American working class going back to the 1970’s. No one called for a break with the Democratic Party or criticized the unions in any way, even for accepting all the cutbacks even before negotiating. Judging from the crowd response, such a speech would have struck a sour note in the overall jovial, Kumbaya tone of the demo. (In the opinion of my very knowledgeable local informant, on the other hand, 50% of the crowd was very skeptical about the Democrats and the trade union bureaucrats.)

The crowd also periodically chanted the slogan “This is what democracy looks like” (which as far as I know originated in Seattle) and “The people united will never be defeated”, which had an ominous ring to one who remembers that it was the chant of the mass demos in Chile just before the Pinochet coup and a massive defeat of the “people”.

One of my main objectives was to find out the reason for the overwhelmingly white majority of the demonstrators, as I had seen it in videos from previous weeks and saw it again in person on March 14. It is true that only 6% of the population of Wisconsin is black, but Milwaukee, with 200,000 black people, is only one hour away. One reason, apparently, which I learned in conversation, was that most blacks in Milwaukee are trapped in almost apartheid conditions in north Milwaukee, where there is barely even any public transportation, a situation exacerbated by Scott Walker himself when he was county executive there. Most blacks in north Milwaukee don’t have cars either, which combined with the lack of public transportation makes it difficult for them to even hold down jobs, to the extent jobs are available. Milwaukee rates as one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. The situation results in part from the de-industrialization of Wisconsin going back to the 1970’s, which essentially decimated the black working class. Wisconsin also has one of the highest rates of incarceration of blacks and Latinos in the country, on a per capita basis, including in Dane County, where Madison is located.

Latinos, generally a much more recent presence, were equally absent. This was explained to me as a case of a recent immigration working hard and keeping its head down politically.

In one conversation with a retired steel worker from Milwaukee, I asked him his opinion about the absence of blacks and Latinos. His first reaction was to say he hadn’t particularly noticed, (revealing in itself); he then talked about all the plant closings that had pushed large numbers of black workers and their children into marginality. One can of course hardly draw conclusions from one conversation, but my guess is that in this largely white state his lack of attention to the absence of minorities would hardly have been untypical of many present. Coming from New York City, on the other hand, it was one of the first things I noticed.

The race/class dynamic also informed one of my other questions, namely about the police support for the movement and the presence within it of prison guards, who are members of AFSCME. The police (and firemen) had both apparently supported Walker in the November 2010 election, but joined the movement over the issue of collective bargaining. Some people to whom I have voiced these concerns have said that they are irrelevant to the movement as it exists today, but 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. (I also recall that AFSCME in Pennsylvania squelched any union statement about the case of Mumia abu Jamal--on death row for 28 years--and in California stopped a state investigation when some of its members were filmed organizing gladiator fights between prisoners in the supermax.)

My overall feeling, based on essentially one afternoon in the demonstration and a few conversations with highly informed locals, was that this movement is in its very early phase, and unless it greatly expands its outreach, it will be defeated. It is difficult to compare to the movements of the 1960’s because it begins with precisely the white working-class population that was largely absent from many (but not all) of the movements of that period. In order to win anything of substance, it must reach out to blacks and Latinos on a class-wide basis, as well as to the casualized working class that resulted from de-industrialization and which is susceptible to right-wing demagogy about coddled public employees. It has to break with the Democratic Party and the unions by developing new, class-wide forms of struggle. At present, it gives the impression that if Democrats could recapture the state legislature and overturn the Walker bills, it would demobilize. But given the world crisis, there is no going back. The movement will have to “tell the truth” about the gravity of the crisis, and realize that any victories along the way will be temporary, prior to the overthrow of capitalism.

Nevertheless, it is the largest working-class mobilization in the U.S. in a very long time, and for that reason alone, win or lose, its existence and its groping for direction are the most important things about it.

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Mar 16 2011 17:35

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Hieronymous
Mar 17 2011 17:59

This is pretty shallow and anecdotal.

Goldner sees the race aspects through completely biased lenses. Wisconsin is 91%, so no shit -- there were mostly white people in Madison. Most African Americans are in Milwaukee, where black unemployment is 47%.

To expect these impoverished unemployed formerly private sector workers to trudge 2 hours along snowy roads to get to the protest in Madison is pretty unrealistic. If Goldner was driving from New York, why didn't he go to Milwaukee and interview black workers there? Or offer to give a few a ride to Madison?

From what I heard, Goldner didn't actually talk with too many people there -- and most of the above account was based on mainstream internet sources.

Take it with a grain of salt.

MT
Mar 16 2011 18:17

my impression is that Loren said nothing practical, but it is a report, so I take it as a report and that's it.

Juan Conatz
Mar 16 2011 18:37

Briefly,

Coming from the crappier sections of the Quad Cities recently, I kind of noticed the same thing (the whiteness). But yeah, Wisconsin is over 90% white and Madison itself is 83%.

That said, the immigrant & Latino/a groups have definitely pointed out stuff that have alienated and angered them. Things like praising the police for doing such a good job while same police are an occupying, enemy force who get people deported and disproportionally target them, etc.

There's other things in the budget bill that would disproportionately effect immigrants, women and people of color, but these things haven't really been mentioned as much, probably because the unions and Democrats saw the collective bargaining bit as more vital to their direct fundraising abilities than, say, the fact that it may take 12 months to get food stamps or whatever.

OliverTwister
Mar 16 2011 19:02

I largely agree with this. Just a few notes:

-The re-occupation of the capitol last week did not end entirely voluntarily. Probably ~60 of us blockaded the Assembly Chamber to prevent them from meeting and were dragged out by police.

-The IWW contingent was certainly small compared to the overall crowd, but for the IWW it was a fairly big group that probably seemed much smaller because we had split up into teams to distribute our general strike materials more widely. We had ~3000 of our general strike pamphlets and ~1000 of the Drooker general strike posters, all of which were gone by the end of the day. A drop in the bucket, certainly, but at least with the posters my experience was that people were often crowding around to get them.

Samotnaf
Mar 16 2011 19:16

It would certainly be practical to attack the Democrat and TU leaders and the ideological attitudes that support them.

Hard to know how much he expressed his critiques to the people he spoke to on the demo ( or whether he spoke to many at all) - often superficially people seem to support this or that bullshit, but when you probe a bit, a lot of contradictions in their point of view come out...

Samotnaf
Mar 16 2011 19:19

Above post is a response to MT's

Quote:
my impression is that Loren said nothing practical

Blackhawk
Mar 17 2011 01:37

There were sizable delegations from the latino immigrant workers "union" (which is just a group of immigrant workers and not a labor union) maybe 50 or so people in one group in one demo that I saw. I saw delegations from at least two of the states five first nations peoples. Almost every group of people in the state that I could think of were represented in the demos over the last month. The Democracy and "save the middle class" rhetoric of the unions generally alienates people who happen to be poor and working in the private sector...that and there aren't many minorities here to begin with.

jesuithitsquad
Mar 17 2011 03:56

While smaller and having even less radical content than Madison, the demonstrations in Indianapolis have been more or less representative with relatively large contingents of minority workers. Indianapolis has a more diverse population than Madison with roughly 25% of the population being african-american and 7% hispanic.

However, the primary problem here--along with similar problems of total trade union and Democrat control of the struggle at the moment--is connecting struggles. As addressed in another thread, in addition to the right-to-work and anti-teacher union legislation, Indiana has a proposal for an anti-immigration law similar to the one in Arizona.

The lack of connection was striking last Thursday when the labor rally was 10,000 strong, and a later rally against the immigration bill drew 150. It was a particularly sad sight seeing thousands of union activists getting on their buses while the second rally began. (Though to be fair, the response of those waiting on their bus to arrive was overwhelmingly supportive.) Part of this, in my opinion, was a tactical error on the part of the organizers: having a separate rally instead of a block within the larger rally. But even more so, it seems like a matter of advocates on both issues not seeing how the struggles are inter-related.

A rally against the immigration bill yesterday had a far better turn-out (several hundred) and at least tried to make some connections with a couple of union bureaucrats giving speeches , but it was also dominated by speeches from Senate Democrats (the house dems are still out of state), and there were hundreds of small American flags that were handed out by organizers for the whole, "Hey look we're super patriotic too!" effect.

In terms of demographics, honestly the most striking disparity here is the age gap. The age of the average worker on these demonstrations is 45 or higher and it occurs to me this is a microcosm of the labor situation in the US as most of us in younger generations have never had the chance to join unions.

cansv
Mar 18 2011 06:15

In the absence of more concrete details, I'm cautious about using race as a marker of the movement's character. What is the Black composition of the Milwaukee-area public sector workforce, higher or lower than the demographic breakdown? Did the Milwaukee-area unions or others make serious attempts to mobilize outside their membership? There's a host of other questions like this that need to be answered before we can infer any special significance to the lack of Black participation.

What is more interesting to me is how the demonstration attracted such a large number of middle-aged white working class males, the same types who are routinely written off as potential Tea Party members, beneficiaries of "white-skin privilege" "patriarchy" etc. All the contradictions and possibilities coming from their involvement needs more elaboration and careful investigation.

joselito
Mar 18 2011 14:50
Quote:
What is more interesting to me is how the demonstration attracted such a large number of middle-aged white working class males,

One of the ways politics in the US never ceases to amaze, I'm sure there is a fair number of these folks who at one time or another in the past year have been supporters of the tea party. Many, perhaps who wouldn't see any contradiction at all.

radicalgraffiti
Mar 18 2011 15:32

why are you sure of that?

Dan K
Mar 18 2011 18:01

Radicalgraffiti, I had a conversation with one of those people in Madison, who was insisting that he was a real Republican, and Gov. Walker wasn't a real Republican. Judging by signs at the rally, most protestors see this in terms of "the government" versus "the people," rather than in terms of class. So for some, it fits in perfectly with the tea party. How dare that big government take away our collective bargaining rights? It's unamerican!

cansv wrote:
In the absence of more concrete details, I'm cautious about using race as a marker of the movement's character. What is the Black composition of the Milwaukee-area public sector workforce, higher or lower than the demographic breakdown? Did the Milwaukee-area unions or others make serious attempts to mobilize outside their membership? There's a host of other questions like this that need to be answered before we can infer any special significance to the lack of Black participation.

What is more interesting to me is how the demonstration attracted such a large number of middle-aged white working class males, the same types who are routinely written off as potential Tea Party members, beneficiaries of "white-skin privilege" "patriarchy" etc. All the contradictions and possibilities coming from their involvement needs more elaboration and careful investigation.

Asking for statistics before acknowledging that an overwhelmingly white labor protest is a problem seems like a bad idea to me. The US is a multiracial society, and so a working class movement that's going to win has to be multiracial as well. The protests being disproportionately white is a problem, regardless of what specific reason it happened.

This isn't just an issue of Wisconsin being a white state. I think I saw 3 or 4 Latinos total at the protest; 2 were people I knew from Iowa. There were about as many black people sitting across from me on the Madison city bus as I left the protest than I saw all day at the protest. The problem is (like Juan said) that the movement thus far is cozier with "cops for labor" than with black or latino workers.

That said, this article was a frustrating read. I mean, I was just another dumbass parachuting in for a weekend of struggle like Goldner was, but I managed to find some people involved in organizing in Madison. It wasn't that hard. More fun to just keep comparing things to the 60s, I guess.

Hieronymous
Mar 19 2011 06:05
Loren Goldner wrote:
The following day, I talked for a couple of hours with a highly knowledgeable Madison academic associated with the Working Families Party.

This can't be glossed over. What is the Working Families Party? Here's a little background from a right-wing blog:

Quote:
It is becoming increasingly clear that Barack Obama did not create a movement. A movement created Barack Obama. One of the key leaders of that movement is a Madison, Wisconsin, law professor and sociologist - Joel Rogers. While not widely known outside "progressive" circles, few people have exercised more influence in more strands of the movement that selected and elected Barack Obama than has Joel Rogers.

Obama's former "Green Jobs" Czar, the Marxist-Leninist [actually he's a former RCP Maoist, now a Green Capitalist--Hieronymous] Van Jones has been part of Rogers' network for some years. Rogers has served with Jones on the board of the Apollo Alliance, a radical led coalition of green groups and labor unions that had considerable input in writing Obama's massive "stimulus package". Rogers has served as Senior Policy Adviser to Jones' Oakland based Green For All - the Northern California affiliate of the Apollo Alliance. Jones points out three "great gifts" that Joel Rogers "has given our movement".

January 2009 Mayors Innovation wrote:

Firstly, there is "a new economic model ...high road development ...the best thinking that he represents is now reflected in the White House."

Secondly , "...the New Party, which is now the Working Families Party...the idea of a 'new politics' that you could actually have in this country bringing together labor, civil rights, feminists...and actually make a difference...is the basic framework for what just took over the White House."

Thirdly, ..."his idea of a new energy paradigm. His founding the Apollo Alliance. I believe the stimulus is going to put something like $80 billion in this direction..."

Jones credits Rogers with dreaming up the White House economic model - basically a 21st century "green" version of corporate socialism. Rogers also allegedly masterminded the electoral alliance that put Obama in the driver's seat. He then founded the organization that helped write the "stimulus bill", which is now funneling billions into a movement primarily designed to keep the Obama and the Democrats in power.

That's a lot of influence for one man. Does Van Jones exaggerate? Let's investigate.

The New Party which Rogers and Dan Cantor founded in the early 90s, was an attempt to unite the poor, Blacks, Latinos, labor and "community groups" to work with and inside the Democratic Party to elect large numbers of leftist candidates to public office.

The party was essentially amalgam of four organizations -radical Washington DC "think tank" the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

The first strategic meetings to plan the New Party were held in Joel Rogers' home in Madison Wisconsin in the very early 1990s...

Wow, Goldner spent hours talking with this "highly knowledgeable Madison academic" to hear the Democratic Party-IPS-DSA-SEIU-ACORN slant on the events in Wisconsin.

From the Working Families Party website:

WFP wrote:
Most of the time, the Working Families Party cross endorses Democrats or (occasionally) Republicans who promise to fight for issues that matter to working people. But we do run our own candidates, if we think we can win. Letitia James was elected to the New York City Council, Luci McKnight was elected to County Legislature in Albany, and Wayne Hall was elected mayor of Hempstead, Long Island, all solely on the WFP line.

In contrast, I support the conclusion of working class historian Alan Dawley, in his brilliant book Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn, when he writes:

Alan Dawley wrote:
"The ballot box is the coffin of class consciousness"

EDIT: is this more constructive? A couple hours spent talking to Wisconsin rank-and-file public sector workers would have been infinitely more fruitful than hearing the political line of even the most articulate liberal. How could the professor know the consciousness of the workers any better than the workers themselves?

jesuithitsquad
Mar 19 2011 05:43

I always thought you and Goldner were pals? Most your criticisms are spot on, but your tone could probably be a bit more constructive.

Samotnaf
Mar 19 2011 08:48

jesuithitsquad

Quote:
I always thought you and Goldner were pals? Most your criticisms are spot on, but your tone could probably be a bit more constructive.

Maybe a question of:

Quote:
I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end

- William Blake, "The Poison Tree", from Songs of Experience.

Samotnaf
Mar 19 2011 11:54

Got this from a friend about the demo there last Saturday:

Quote:
on Saturday I heard farmers drove their tractors in from the countryside to circle the capitol building, seems like people were treating them as their heroes, their calvary, though none of them charged the building or even tried to till the dawn. Just a big spectacle it appears, but I'm sure it at least allowed another venue for people to talk to one another about the next steps...
No! - Not "Recall!" From "general strike" to "recall" - I
hope that tide isn't shifting as much as I think it is.

Hieronymous
Mar 19 2011 17:15
Samotnaf wrote:
Maybe a question of:
Quote:
I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end

- William Blake, "The Poison Tree", from Songs of Experience.

Something like that. My concern is that if Goldner's informant was an apparatchik close to the Democratic Party, wouldn't he hear the recall rather than the general strike agenda?

And Samotnaf, did you mean the farmers didn't "till the [capitol] lawn?" (not "dawn")

Samotnaf
Mar 20 2011 04:56
Quote:
Samotnaf, did you mean the farmers didn't "till the [capitol] lawn?" (not "dawn")

Yes - misread what my friend wrote.

Blackhawk
Mar 21 2011 16:01

Some things should be said, there was a politeness and levity at the protests. They would've welcomed almost anyone as heroes just for showing up in a delegation. Protesters were ridiculously polite to the Tea Party nut-jobs who came down just to insult people and try to start fights. By polite, I mean even to the point of cleaning up after these idiots when they left.

The race question raised by Loren Goldner, partially misses the point. The lack of a diverse population and the bourgeois nature of the Democratic led "movement" and a middle class perspective. The inherent racism is explicit in the denial of the class character of the attacks on workers. It is inherent in the denial of struggle on the class terrain and the legalism of recall votes and legal challenges in the courts. Bringing excluded workers into struggle would require a break from the liberals and the unions--a break from capitalist politics. Sadly, I see the Democrats really benefitting from this, as well as unions ultimately. In a sense when the leaders come to declare a victory, when everyone knows there has been a defeat, shows that for the Democrat/union nexus of capitalism a defeat for workers is a victory for their faction in the sense that they stand to gain politically from this.

The past years saw a Democratic Governor giving workers a month long series of mandatory unpaid vacation time. By the time the elections came about for the governorship many of those who would've harassed me for being a non-voting revolutionary weren't bothering to vote. These voting "citizens" were clearly demoralized. The Governor came into the elections and spent a little over $8 million. Consciousness can be purchased and propagandized at least for a short time until capitalist reality sets in. The last union contracts were killed by two Democratic legislators, who gave the issue of a contract over to incoming Republican administration and everyone knew then he was going to come in with a chainsaw in one hand and a sledgehammer in the other to attack workers. The state workers contract will set the tone for labor contracts in the private sector and will ultimately effect the wages of non-union workers as well as labor contracts get rewritten and private sector employers follow suit by lowering or freezing wages, or laying off employees.

At this point the real movement of workers has long receded, and started to recede early on. This backbone of this movement initially consisted in the beginning of a walkout of students and teachers from the public schools. In my neighborhood the High School students walked out and marched up a twenty block stretch of city where you can practically count the surviving businesses on one hand. It took the mobilization of Hollywood stars, Democrat Party pols, and a month of marching in the streets to exhaust people to the point where the last demo, this weekend attracted a "mere" 20,000 people to come see the Iraq Veterans Against the War solidarity march. Put in perspective, the typical question at demos here for the last thirty years or so, has usually been if there were the required 75 people to legally take the street and march. Even after the passing of the bill in the state assembly, the protests started to lose steam. The word I heard that the unions were going to be "switching gears", that is to say winding down the protests and taking up DP politicking and legal challenges, moving protests around the state.

The relationship of the protesters to the local police departments and firefighters is another matter. When capitol police and campus police discovered that they too were in the budget to get cut, and privatized into a private security guard force according to the initial bill proposed by the Governor, this caused a dynamic where the police weren't so willing to be the "palace guards" according to a comment to the Governor from the head of the State Highway Patrol whom I assume would've preferred to have his officers patrolling the state highways. Then the Governor made a gaffe in a phone conversation with a man he thought was one of the Koch brothers, where he said he considered planting people to disrupt and infiltrate the protests, which did not endear him to the local police chief who doesn't like being left out of such discussions. This is not to defend the enforcers of capitalist laws or anything but the threat of layoffs is a powerful motivator.

The austerity measures impacted so many people directly that the longer the bill took to pass, the more people realized that they too were on the block. The Democrats and the unions don't have the capacity to mobilize 100,000 people to take to the streets and protesters from out of state didn't start show up in force until a couple of weeks into the demonstrations at least. The lefts Professor Goldner saw were the main local left groups: the IWW, the ISO and to a lesser extent the Sparts and Socialist Action (castroite ex-trots).

Anyway, its a shame that Professor Goldner didn't dig deeper. Though in all his comments can be considered a more or less accurate description of a small slice of what has been going on here in madcity.

John Garvey
Mar 22 2011 23:10

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.

S. Artesian
Mar 23 2011 20:58

Full disclosure: I am an editor of IN, and a personal friend of Loren-- neither of which changes the fact that I disagreed with his analysis of "race" as a marker or index or whatever to the importance, strength, and/or prospects for the demonstrations.

Yeah, it's a lot of white people, so what? With a lot of populist "left Democrat" "Michael Moore" manifestations. Big deal. Movements don't spring full blown from the forehead of Marx/Zeus.

But I have to say the criticism expressed [in the Libcom comments] of Loren's "marker" or "index" misses the same point as the marker does: that is-- this is how movements emerge; these are limits that need to be overcome; are events developing that will drive against these limits; and what forms of organization can take advantage of push coming to shove when push does come to shove?

As much as it makes me gag and puke to hear or see a movement embracing and/or welcoming cops and prison guards for, basically, not yet beating their heads in, making that into an ideological concern isn't the way out of that particular trick bag.

naima1917
Mar 25 2011 07:50

Hi all,
I would like to include my two cents on this issue. I was invited to this list by a good friend of mine Javier. I recently went to Wisconsin and although the population was largely white to say that there were no Black people present is not true at all. Personally, as a Black woman I always look for Black people at protests. I would like to add a short clip of some students I met who had walked out that day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AbHfez__54

Racism is not discussed I think on teh left in a real, Marxist, open way. Often it is intellectualized or touched with kid gloves or just left to the Black Nationalists. We need more formulations on racism in this country one of the most commonly used weapons of capitalism. On the one hand the lack of Black faces in attendance has to do with previous budget cuts, racism etc (someone posted incarceration rates for example). There were also not a lot of immigrants. I met a few from the immigrant workers union but they are also small and newly formed. Many immigrants according to them work on dairy farms in the country and arent as much of a cohesive force. Two extremely oppressed groups that need to be oriented to.

I would like to also mention that women's militantcy in particular the Teachers and Nurses unions can never be underscored. The National Nurses United are leading the campaign for " No Cuts No Concessions Blame Wall St. As far as I know the building trades and most public sector union heads are calling for some sort of concessions. The Teachers had sick outs for days after the union told them to go back to work. Even doctors set up a table to sign their sick notes with their stationary.

I generally agree with most of what people have to say about the necessity of a National General Strike. The best recent example being the Immigration General Strike of 2006. Whomever posted numbers for Los Angeles your source underestimates it signifigantly. It was over a million people. Maybe even two. It was impossible to go from one end of the march to another. I have never been part of anything like that before! This fight will require organized labor to join the immigrant rights movement and take up racism and sexism. In Madison for example, the local police had signs that said, " Cops for Labor" at the same time the police chief uses routine traffic stops to pick up undocumented people and get them deported. Walker's bill also eliminates in-state tuition for undocumented students. There is a small group I met there called the Immigrant Workers Union. A few of them seemed to be Marxists or one ilk or another.

On Saturday the LA County Fed of Labor is organizing a rally in solidarity with Wisconsin. The budget cuts group I am part of (LA March 4th Committee to Defend Public Education and Social Services) will be there. We are calling for organizing a National General Strike, breaking with the Dems etc. The mlitant rank and file socialist organization deficet has been laid bare. We must organize ourselves. Debate, discuss, organize and strike!

huli
Mar 25 2011 13:30
Quote:
The Teachers had sick outs for days after the union told them to go back to work. Even doctors set up a table to sign their sick notes with their stationary.

I was under the impression that teacher (wildcat) sick-outs began around February 16. Schools closed because so many teachers called in sick on the evening of February 15 that the district superintendent of Madison schools had to announce the closures:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/article_e3cfe584-3953-11e0-9284-001cc4c03286.html

As far as I can tell, union leadership had neither condemned nor condoned the sick-outs at this stage.

Then, around the 20th, union leadership told teachers to go back to work:

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/labor-pains-pro-walker-troopers-union-repudiates-endorsement-in-wisconsin.php

Were teachers continuing to wildcat after this? I would like to know.

angelo
Mar 26 2011 14:50

I didn't get the sense that this article was about racial under representation. So I think saying that Wisconsin is 90% white is missing the point. I thought the point was that black people were conspicuously absent considering how much they have to be angry and demonstrating about. This doesn't mean that the Madison demonstrations are racist, it is just an indication that the motives of the crowd haven't yet breached the narrow defensive stance of the specific interests of public workers. The point about moving from defensive to offensive, I think, is key. Even the immigrant demonstrations that naima1917 mentioned, while impressive and important, are still defensive in the sense that Loren described. And as impressive and important as they were, we still got Arizona's pass law. I think we've developed a little neurosis from the negative comparisons to the "nut bag" teabaggers, and that has created a potentially damaging connotation of an offensive demonstration. Everyone wants to be reasonable, no one wants to be made fun of on Jon Stewart or have an embarrassing YouTube video circulate, and so we get the America the beautiful singing and the cleaning up after the teabaggers. The left, it seems, wants to be any thing but "offensive", and that's a problem.

Hieronymous
Mar 29 2011 07:36
Loren Goldner wrote:
One of my main objectives was to find out the reason for the overwhelmingly white majority of the demonstrators, as I had seen it in videos from previous weeks ...

Not to rehash something we've already polemicized to death, but Goldner simply watched the wrong videos. Obviously he hadn't tuned into libcom, because on February 15th Kdog posted a link to a webpage of the Wisconsin State Journal with a link to this video (that features this image):
A group of nearly 800 students from Madison East High School, having walked out of school, are shown going down East Washington Avenue to the Capitol for the rally on Tuesday, February 14th. The high school kids are pretty diverse, requiring a less spectacular analysis of the race and class composition in Madison.

A recent critique of Goldner's accounts puts it like this: he totally misses the "Wisconsiness" of the protests. Shoulda watched fewer -- or more accurate -- videos and spent more time in Wisconsin.

From another thread:

S. Artesian wrote:
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.

I'm sorry that I can't find humor in all this. I feel this compulsion to defend my comrades (sorry for my narrow sectoral identification, but I'm a public sector worker too; their fate is my fate) in Wisconsin. If Goldner's critique seemed fraternal, I wouldn't be so humorless. But he's making unsubstantiated claims, based on media he has never referred to specifically (with links or url's of the actual videos and photos he mentions) and with statistics thrown out randomly, instead of celebrating the most advanced workers in the most wide open class action in a generation. After the inspiring first week of working class self-activity, the movement wasn't able to generalize itself and quickly reached its limitations. It was unable to break out to the private sector, as well as being unable to overcome deep-seated and historical racial divisions, not to mention addressing the complete marginalization of working class immigrants. It also failed to give birth to new forms of struggle, going well beyond unions, that would rise organically from the content of the fight and reflect the increasing class consciousness of the struggling subjects. Our challenge is to critique obstacles to further working class agency with truly communist theorizations.