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Fighting Back in Michigan Part I: A Statewide Strategy

December 14, 2012


It has been a tough week in Michigan, as the legislature and the Governor have pushed through repressive bills that will deeply impact working class people, women, racial minorities, the LGBT community and immigrants.

Already, there has been some talk about “going after the GOP in the 2014 elections.” While this is an understandable reaction and one tactic that could be employed, it is a best an inadequate, but more likely a failed strategy.

What we need in order to really fight back is to explore, develop and expand a strategy of resistance and justice. So what follows are just some general ideas on possible directions to go, since the need to organize and fight back has to be a collective effort from the grassroots, particularly the grassroots from the most disaffected sectors. What follows are just some broad ideas that need to be expanded and explored.

First, we need to claim our roots. The labor movement in particular has such a rich history of fighting back in this country, from the early days of the Knights of Labor, to the Wobblies and the CIO. Hell, even the UAW started as a more radical union and did not shy away from engaging in direct action through the wildcat strikes that forced the auto industry to accept their demands, beginning with the 1936-37 Flint factory occupations. We need to utilize the tactics of strikes, walkouts, workplace occupations, boycotts and even a general strike, which are all actions that give us real power.16flint400

All of the movements negatively impacted by recent Michigan legislation, such as the women’s movement, the LGBTQ movement and immigrant rights movement have strong histories of radical analysis and direct action that must be explored and reintroduced into future organizing.

Second, we need to redirect financial resources toward organizing where we are. For decades the labor movement has been pumping millions of dollars into electoral politics instead of organizing in the workplace and building capacity amongst workers to have the skills to do radical politics.

Think about the $21.9 million dollars that was raised this year to push for Proposal 2. What if that amount of money was spent on paying people to become organizers, to provide resources to those doing organizing campaigns wherever workers wanted to organize? Workplace democracy is one of the strongest forms of democracy and can trump Right to Work laws. If businesses do not have compliant workers, they can’t make money.

Beyond spending the money on organizing, that kind of money could be used for mutual aid, providing resources like food, health care and housing to fellow workers and their families who are struggling to make it in this capitalist economy. Engaging in mutual aid will build solidarity, by demonstrating to people that we care about our working class brothers and sisters.imclogo2

Third, we need to develop our own independent media. The commercial media in this state doesn’t understand our collective struggles and they won’t because they are dependent on advertising dollars from the very entities that exploit workers. We used to have a lively labor press in the US, but so little of that exists now. We need an independent media that tells the stories of the people whom the commercial media ignores. With an independent media, more people will have access to information that the commercial media marginalizes or represses. I’m not talking about just online media, I’m talking about labor-based press, a newspaper that is run by and for workers. Such a tool and other forms of media are weapons we need in the war of propaganda that the capitalist press is winning.

Fourth, we need to engage in intersectional organizing and solidarity. Each of the groups most negatively impacted from this most recent round repressive legislation cannot afford to remain isolated from each other. Women’s reproductive rights groups, LGBTQ groups, immigrant rights groups, public school educators and workers need to see that our struggles are inter-related and inter-dependent. In order to see this we need a more holistic and institutional analysis of the problem so that we can identify common enemies in this fight – the capitalist class, patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia and anti-environmental forces.solidarity-350x350

Once we have a shared analysis, we can develop strategies to work together and engage in acts of solidarity. This doesn’t mean that we all have to go to more meetings, but it does mean that we need to include each other in our organizing work and we need to put our bodies on the line with each other when necessary. If the LGBTQ community is fighting discrimination at a workplace, then organized labor needs to be there. If organized labor is faced with downsizing or factory relocation then the LGBTQ community needs to have their back. Remember, Harvey Milk and the gay community in San Francisco supported the union boycott of Coors beer, which led to union support of the Castro district and Harvey Milk’s election.

We simply cannot afford to organize around single issue politics anymore.

Fifth, we need to stop thinking about elections as the main strategy. Virtually every major struggle we can think of in this country – end of slavery, women’s rights, worker rights, civil rights, environmental justice and LGBTQ rights – did not come about from elections, they came about through direct action and struggle. Elections have to be seen as simply a tactic in the larger strategy and in a radically different way. We know how to turn people out for actions and to vote. Doing so does not require a ton of money, since most election money is spent on electronic advertising.

But before we turn people out to vote, we need to think differently about voting. If we have stronger coalitions of grassroots groups, we should create a collective platform that candidates must endorse before they get our support. This way they can’t get the pro-choice vote without the pro-LGBTQ vote, etc. Think of it this way, we don’t endorse them, they endorse our platform.

This of course does not guarantee they will do what we ask once elected, but it provides a better chance, since the coalition of grassroots sectors can then withhold voting for them in the future if they don’t do what we asked them to do. Of course, elections themselves are ultimately not truly democratic, since the goal would be to create a system of direct democracy instead of representative democracy, which at this point in our history is so corrupt and mostly likely beyond repair.capitalism-bound

Sixth, we need to create new and radical ways of living. This one might be the hardest for us to think about, since most of us don’t know of any other way of organizing society. However, there are lots of examples from neighborhoods to villages and even cities. These forms of cooperative systems of living can be learned from indigenous communities, worker-run collectives, anarchist struggles and even religious communities like the Quakers and other liberation movements.

This is not just a pipedream, but a real possibility that we need to serious investigate in our struggles for greater justice. These new ways of living with each other also might not be enough, especially considering the urgency we face through climate change. If humanity is to have a future, we have to radically rethink how we are going to both resist the current systems of oppression and how to form new and liberating systems based on justice, cooperation and revolutionary love.

Part II of this will look at strategies for West Michigan.

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