KABUL, Afghanistan—After its “epic defeat” in which defeat by Gov. Scott Walker stripped Wisconsin public employees of most of their bargaining rights, organized labor is talking tough, claiming it can transform deep opposition into a major “counterattack” against the Republican Party at the polls in 2012.
A brave face indeed after such a major whooping, but if this can be a moment of historic opportunity, then the battles cannot be fought at the ballot box and must be grounded in the workplace. The interests of the working class—by which I mean everyone who exchanges labor for an income, including those who process, analyze, and re-imagine number, words and other symbols— get clobbered year in and year out at the polls because we our engage our enemies on their turf, their terms, at the point of their greatest strength. This is a stupid strategy.
The forces of capital have every advantage in terms of advertising, campaign contributions, lobbying, influence-peddling, and coordinated strategies to mold the public imagination. They largely own the mass media, for which electoral campaign spending is a regular and predictable source of income. They have an insatiable financial self interest in maintaining the myth that real social change only occurs at the ballot box. Yet in recent decades, U.S. electoral campaigns have generated defeat, hollow victories, political betrayals, or grinding alienation for most Americans.
Good guerilla logic says you selectively engage the enemy on those terrains upon which you have a fighting chance for success. The landscape of activity most of us know best, where we have the highest level of mastery, is the workplace. It is also where we confront every political value, e.g. dignity, a living wage, respect, humane working conditions, and the promise for a better future, on an everyday basis. Strategies of resistance must be situational, local, and imaginative. Victories here will be difficult, always partial and capable of being lost, but I have to believe they are at least possible.