The Wisconsin movement morphed from unions and their sympathisers demonstrating in the streets to electoral politics because it had to. Because electoral politics is the structure by which we organize the rules – the laws – we live by. The failure to recall a crappy political tyrant was disappointing. But in terms of electoral politics, the movement succeeded in slowing down his right-wing agenda.
The two Democratic seats gained in last year’s senate recalls forced Walker to back off introducing RTW legislation and the complete dismantling of environmental protections, among other things. Winning the senate precludes him from calling a Special Session before he's indicted for his transgressions as Milwauke County Executive. Will he be convicted in a trial? Who knows. But, the investigation and the probability of facing trial will no doubt take up valuable time and energy.
Movement vs electoral politics is a bogus argument. One should be seen as a natural progression – a complement – to the other. Where was the popular resistance to Mitch Daniels when he turned Indiana into a RTW state with a stroke of a pen, for instance?
Obama could not have adopted a 99% message and strategy without the Wisconsin movement and OWS. Economic Populism is once again a national discussion. Without channelling our effort and resources into ‘structures of power’ – one of the two political parties – popular movements and demonstrations accomplish nothing.
Labor actions can work, but should only be judiciously used in instances where such actions are sure to affect desired policy goals. In Wisconsin, Walker was prepared for a general labor action, and had lined up his political allies to take on that fight. He welcomed the idea of emulating his hero Ronald Reagan. What he wasn’t prepared for was the electoral politics that resulted in turning the senate and forced him to be accountable for his policy initiatives at the ballot box.
The Tea Party understands this. The Right has been very successful in harvesting tax-payor resentment into processes serving to elect representatives, like Walker, who can actually effect the policy changes they seek.
Rather than deriding the Democratic Party, the Labor Unions, Progressives, Conservationists and grassroot activists opposing the fascist corporate politics of today’s right should organize, educate and motivate individuals invested in their ideologies to develop political power to put pressure on the Party. Enough pressure to exert their political will. And the two sharpest swords of political power are money and ballots.
Unions have the money to wield political power, but have lost control of the members' votes – at least as seen in the Wisconsin recall election.
|Gwen Moore and Big Ed Schultz at the "June 5, Come Alive! rally.|
Workers, conservationists, women’s groups, minorites (African-American, Hispanics, LGBT) may not have a lot of money, but their community leaders can control large blocks of votes that will coalesce to exert control at the ballot box. MICAH and Milwaukee's black leaders got out the vote. Planned Parenthood took strategic action to help Lehman oust Waangard.
No, if you consider the Wisconsin movement to hold Walker accountable for his policies a failure, the blame shouldn’t be placed on choosing electoral politics over labor action. Rather, Labor and its political ally, the Democratic Party, need to figure out why they failed to harvest the movement power that began so brilliantly last winter. Money is too easy a scapegoat.
As a non-unionist, I contend that it began to go horribly wrong when Labor went out, on its own, to back a candidate who promised to restore collective bargaining, but lacked broad-based support. That, in turn, forced a primary. While Walker was spending wildly to convince the electorate that his policies were working, Labor should have been countering with messaging explaining why collective bargaining is important, why the unions’ right to have a voice in the delivery of public sector services like public education – at the heart of middle-class values and systems – was worthy of a recall election. Instead, Labor wasted valuable time and political resources promoting a single issue candidate that its political ally knew couldn’t win. The DPW, for their part, failed to help their preferred candidate develop a winning message. The best platform speech I heard was Bill Clinton's discussion of "Creative Cooperation" - a positive theme developed too late to win over the few moderates still undecided.
Labor – and the DPW – miscalculated and mismanaged the final steps in the process and messaging of transitioning from ideological movement to political action. Both failed at the chance to drive a broad-based coalition empowered to stand behind a good candidate and stand up to the motivated and well-funded corporatists, to “Finish what we started!”
The good news is, we engaged a lot of activists. We heightened the political awareness of who is attacking the institutions of middle-class working America. We helped disenfranchised voters understand why they must fight - and VOTE.
No one is ready to quit on the new Wisconsin Idea.