What's at Stake on May Day

Josh Harkinson’s recent Nation article on the new and murky 99% Movement–a traditional top-down institutional organizing campaign dressed in Occupy meme-ery–ironically and unintionally states many of the issues that are at stake this May Day for Occupy and Americans.

For months, the original set of Occupy movements that have survived repeated cullings by local authorities, have been working to inject a sense of urgency, and a radical, counter-establishmentarian character to traditional American organizing. Indeed, the seed of the Occupy movement has been, in every instance, a dissatisfaction with what has become a business as usual progressive political machine, geared toward servicing the formerly ineffectual, and increasingly corrupt and evil Democratic party.

That’s why former liberals, labor activists and organizers, anti-war organizers, environmental and racial justice activists all ended up populating the tents in the political community that grew in the shadow of a corporate controlled city government in Oscar Grant Plaza in October 2011. These activists were united by a common desire to find an escape hatch from a corrupt and closed process, which provides illusory possibilities of change through permitted marches, but alters very little, if anything.

Given this reality, the comical irony of Harkinson’s writings on the 99% disguises of traditional Democratic-party servicing organizations is hard to exaggerate. The question of Occupy’s relevance has been answered. Move On, Be the Change, and Rebuild the Dream went into hibernation almost as soon as Occupy Wall Street came onto the scene. And they’ve been virtually asleep for the entire Occupy period. They’ve done no organizing, no base-building–they’ve even failed to support Occupy in its direst moments around the country.

Indeed, what is at stake on May Day–from the cynical viewpoint of these very organizations–is their own relevance to national politics. The carapace is off, and the skeleton beneath is visible for the first time in decades. These organizations won’t produce change; that’s not what they’re designed to do. Rather, they’re designed to enable a duopoly’s existence by forever dangling the possibility of change before a public far ahead of what is considered the mainstream at this time.

The relevance of Occupy, by contrast, is obvious. On May Day, Bay Area CNA nurses working at Sutter Medical Centers in the Bay Area will walk out. ILWU Local 10 will stage a work shut down, effectively shutting down the Port of Oakland during the May Day work day. A coalition of Golden Gate Bridge workers will walk out, and have planned various events around the Golden Gate Bridge. University of Berkeley workers represented by SEIU will walk out and march downtown; SEIU city employees are currently discussing occupying SF City Hall. The 99% spring, or power, or whatever t-shirt and poster meme they’ve designed, had nothing to do with this; their top down, out-of-a-box-from-the-DC Office organizing tactics, in fact, prevent exactly this reality of local labor unions taking control of their own destiny.

Before Occupy in Oakland and New York brought up the idea of massive demonstrations on International Worker’s Day way back in late January, when these mainstream organizations were still slumbering, the issue and symbolism of the day were off the national radar. Indeed, as I’ve noted here and elsewhere, national level labor organizations ignored the historic mobilizations of undocumented workers in 2006 almost completely; outside of one shutdown by the ILWU in 2008, May Day receded again from the national scene, and much of that had to do with a union machine whistling past the graveyard and hoping that locals wouldn’t notice the subversive power of symbolic days of resistance like May Day. That’s because the national level union offices are 1% institutions–in all effects, the labor-management office of the corporations they liasson with.

It was the fire of the Occupy movement–its refusal to march around in circles at the behest and direction of the powerful, its boundless energy–that informed locals and workers of the horizon of the possible, beyond the pointless spectacle of electoral politics and the edicts of national offices. For the first time in many long somnambulent decades, workers, both documented and undocumented, will be out in the streets on their own day, a symbolic memorial day for those killed in the struggle for justice by governments and elites; not the “labor day” chosen for them by those same corupt national leaders at the behest of their corporate overlords. They will reclaim May Day. They will do it in the old way, in the power of a strike and picket won by wildcatters from long ago, the ultimate defiance of the power of the 1%.

Harkinson’s question about the relevance of Occupy in this context is surprising and suspect; and, indeed, his turn to “academics” on the issue of a mass strike day is absurd and telling. The Occupy movement has no such questions to answer–certainly not to Todd Gitlin, the nation’s poster-child for the self-serving careerist cowardice that produces liberalism. The influence on labor and other movements is obvious to all but those whose living is made as enabling fabulists for capitalist power structures. One look at the 99% Power website, shows this– despite a roll-out designed to coincide with actions already planned months in advance, the front has no actions planned for May Day at all. And indeed, Harkinson’s claim that 99% Power activists will be involved in May Day is specious at best. It is perhaps true in only the most generous view, but at no organizational level and with no forethought or strategy.

On May Day, it will be the institutional and obstructionist organizations–those that keep trying to wrench activists, old and new alike, back into well-worn cul de sacs–that have something to prove. And in the long run, it will take more than some populist window-dressing and buzz-words to do that. They’ll need to show results that go beyond electoral politics, that improve lives, begin to change the system. Such organizations are no more relevant to that task than the 1% community they are aligned with.

Go to http://strikemay1st.com/ for more info on all the events of May Day 2012


A non-profit organizer who was present for the action and the organizing meetings, has this to say about the Wells Fargo shareholder’s action on April 24:

All those nice, big color posters claiming it was a 99%Power demo, slapping their name at the bottom?

Shipped out here to the local orgs UNREQUESTED. Just shoved their …onto everybody and of course the broke-ass NPOs used them rather than take a hard line and toss them into the recycling…

The hard blockade in front of the doors? (Locking down with arms shielded by pipes)

Well, apparently that was put together by OSF but the main point is that it didn’t prevent the WF emplyees from getting in (the kops just escorted them in by climbing over the blockers) but that it prevented the 200 people organized to charge the cops from crashing the meeting including many homeowners fighting displacement by WF.

And by all informed reports, those 25 who got arrested were 99% Spring folks who came from out of town and jumped into the mix first. They squirted into the meeting without any consultation and precluded any of the locals who have been doing the heavy lifting all year round 24/7 from getting their pound of flesh.


2 thoughts on “What's at Stake on May Day

  1. Pingback: Weekend Reading « Backslash Scott Thoughts

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