Sunday, February 27, 2011

Organizing An Organization

Although I found the right article at Watching America, I could just as easily have got directly to the UK's Guardian, which I frequently do. Still, this article from the "Comment Is Free" column popped right up, and the timing was perfect.

David Karpf wrote the column before yesterday's amazing nationwide rallies, including the big one in Madison (75,000 people at least). I don't think that after seeing the tremendous outpouring of support for the Wisconsin struggle against that state's governor and his union busting drive Mr. Karpf would have changed his essay in the least, nor should he have. His point is even more well-taken.

Like the protests in Cairo, the protests in Madison have depended to a large extent on the internet for messaging, logistics, and overall news. It's worked so far: as many people showed up in Madison as generally attend a football game, which in this country is a very big deal. But in the long run, that probably won't be enough.

But, just as the Egyptian protests were aided by social media, rather than caused by social media, the roots of this fight are really quite different.

Labour unions offer a bedrock structure for large-scale collective action. Governor Walker is attempting to remove that structure. If he succeeds, internet-mediated organisations won't be able to fill in the gap. Groups like can be tremendously effective, particularly in the new media environment. But they can't organise workers in a specific industry or city to improve wages, working conditions and benefits. MoveOn is never going to sit across from management at the negotiating table.

That's where "organising without organisations" reaches its limits: you need to build institutions of power if you're going to confront institutions of power. When the going gets phenomenally difficult, you need courage and commitment to succeed, not just a wifi hotspot.

And that is why this struggle on behalf of the unions is so crucial. That institution has to be protected especially at a time when those who have 99% of the wealth of this country are buying politicians so that they can get that last 1%.

The current outpouring of people power is just the first step. Now unions have to tap that people power for the next battle, whether it is at the voting booth or the streets. More effort needs to be expended in educating the public about unions and why they are so important. More effort needs to be expended in increasing union membership. Less effort needs to be expended on wining and dining the politicians who have allowed the inequities and iniquities to increase.

Move On will turn the people out for you, but only if there is a good reason to do so.

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