Egypt and the Work of Organizing
The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt hold so much potential and are inspiring to so many of us. But accounts in the corporate media are misleading when they describe the protests as “spontaneous.”
As with countless other “uprisings,” e.g., Oaxaca, Bolivia, Haiti, Guadaloupe, to call this movement spontaneous masks the years of organizing that made it possible. In each of these cases, national labor movements have been key to the broader movement for political and economic change. Unions know how to organize, create coalitions, gauge the political landscape, and negotiate. They’ve got the skills and political will.
Egyptian workers have organized over 3,000 labor protests since 2004, in the context of a brutal dictatorship. That didn’t “just happen.” With 28% of the Egyptian workforce unionized, mostly in the public sector, their training and participation in the recent protests was critical. Last year Professor Joel Beinin of Stanford University referred to Egypt’s labor activism as “…the largest social movement in the Arab world since World War II.”
In our own national experience the labor movement has played a key role in antiwar, civil rights, women’s, and health-care/safety net movements. We need strong unions to help lead the way toward progressive politics around the globe.
Down on the Democrats
The attacks on Professor Francis Fox Piven by Glenn Beck and his followers are outrageous and need to be condemned. However, these attacks must not prevent us from discussing among ourselves critical issues confronting the labor movement.
In the December Clarion Professor Piven theorized, importantly, an effective organizing strategy for labor. She argued US workers will have to forge a militant, mass strike movement to force the ruling class to stop the ongoing cutbacks, and concede real material concessions, such as a new public works program. At the same time Piven underscored her own support for the Democrats and Obama, arguing “labor has been right to work for the Democrats.”
But how will our movement succeed while still tethered to the Democratic Party? We will fail in our aim of striking fear into corporate boardrooms as long as the ruling class knows the movement will ultimately subordinate itself to the corporate-controlled Democratic Party. Political independence from the Democrats, including running candidates against them, therefore, is crucial for realizing working-class power. A major obstacle in achieving this independence is not only the official union leadership, but left intellectuals who continue to provide a radical cover for the discredited policy of backing the Democrats.
College of Staten Island