Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wisconsin solidarity spreads

There were fifty pro-union rallies in fifty state capitols today, outnumbering their right-wing Tea Party opponents when the latter bothered to show up. This is what one would expect. The Right can bring out numbers, but it can't usually match the Left in this terrain - its real power is in the support it gets from the state and the ruling class. But more surprising perhaps is the way in which two crucial aspects of the state in Wisconsin have swung behind the protesters. First of all, the local Democratic Party has actually demonstrated more spine than I've seen in the Labour Party of late. Second of all, the police - yes, the poh-leece - refused to evacuate protesters from the capitol building on orders from the governor today, and instead joined them.

This is raising questions which I don't fully know how to answer at the moment. It's surely unprecedented for major components of local power structures to swing behind labour in such a major way. And this is all happening in the much maligned mid-West: the strikes have been breaking not only in Wisconsin, but in Iowa and Ohio where similar measures are threatened. The scale of the protests and strikes, with 70,000 marching in Madison last weekend, the degree of organisation and rank-and-file militancy that has been unleashed, and the speedy way in which the campaign has taken the elements of popular discontent, articulated them and polarised them to the Left, may have shocked the political establishment. It may also be that this has raised doubts among sectors of the ruling class who previously accepted the direction of the Koch Brothers/Tea Party wing of the Republicans purely for the material benefit of tax breaks and weaker unions, without having invested in the wider strategy of outright conflict. After all, if strikes spread, these employers could stand to lose tens of millions for every day of action, perhaps more than they gain in any tax breaks. And the risk of energising and rebuilding a national left-wing movement after the Obama administration had successfully coopted the elements of leftist, working class dissent, rearticulated and neutralised them, is one that they may be wary of. But the Wisconsin campaign shouldn't just be looked at in terms of the crisis of capitalism, the divisions among the ruling class and the crisis of the state apparatus, as important as these are. The initiative is very much on the side of the workers at the moment, and the way it has energised the Left across the US suggests that it might in the near future demand study as an example of a successful left-wing, labour-based political intervention.