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Platforms rest on the ground. This seems a forgotten lesson of Social Change 101. What I mean by it is that party platforms are constructed on the basis of the status of social forces on the ground. A strong and militant organized labor movement will drag centrist parties like the Democrats (the “leftwing of capital”) to the left, forcing such ruling factions to include reformist planks in their platforms, and holding their feet to the fire when they take office.
Without independent and militant mobilization on the ground, you’ll never get any desirable change from those who govern, be it in the planks that go into party platforms or the rattling heaves of strikes and street actions that topple them to earth where the rest of us – the people – live. (For a good example of a real threat to our rulers in 2012, see the Quebec student movement and CLASSE.)
Needless to say, the relentless union-busting assault on workers over the past 3 decades has reconfigured the social terrain such that the left wing of capital governs – and talks – increasingly like the right. The beleaguered US labor movement has secured better Labor Relations Board appointments from the Obama admin but it’s had no luck with top priority reforms like the Employee Free-Choice Act. And it’s actually been Democrats leading the charge to destroy teachers’ unions (and public education) across America.
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The decision to hold the Democratic National Convention in the swing-state of North Carolina has rankled many in the labor movement. Not only is North Carolina a “right to work” state, it’s illegal for the entire public sector to unionize there. You read that right. It’s illegal for, say, teachers to unionize. Anywhere in the state. Union membership in the tobacco state sits at 2.9%, the lowest in the country.
Addressing the convention in Charlotte, the radiant Michelle Obama’s praise of wage-less, deferential teachers was a wink to Chicago mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s war on teachers’ unions. Some party of labor. The Chicago Teachers Union, which held a spirited downtown rally on Labor Day, has its strike signage printed and will walkout on Sept 10th if the belligerent mayor’s office doesn’t come around.
Most Americans don’t understand the meaning of “right to work” if they’ve even heard the Orwellian term. And when Americans lineup later this month to see the Hollywood drama Won’t Back Down starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter and featuring Meryl Streep, they’re unlikely to fully grasp it as the anti-union propaganda and attack on teachers that it is. For an informed discussion of all this, and a little history on Labor Day in the US, listen to comedian David Feldman’s podcast The David Feldman Show for an interview with one of the best labor journalists in the US, Josh Eidelson, who covers the labor beat for In These Times and Salon.
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As a parting shot in the direction of Hollywood conservatives, Feldman had perhaps the best quip generated by the Republican National Convention in Florida last week:
Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention was so incoherent I’m surprised he wasn’t the nominee.