The law-abider is a ass

By Michael J. Smith on Thursday June 7, 2012 09:27 AM

From the indispensable Black Agenda Report:

  • Mass movements have political demands anchored in the deeply shared values of their core constituencies.
  • Mass movements look to themselves and their shared values for legitimacy, not to courts, laws or elected officials. A mass movement consciously aims to lead politicians, not to be led by them.
  • Mass movements are civilly disobedient, and continually maintain the credible threat of civil disobedience. They inspire and embolden large numbers of ordinarily nonpolitical souls to engage in personally risky behavior in support of the movement's political demands.
  • Mass movements are supported by lots of vertical and horizontal communication reinforcing its core values.
  • Mass movements capture the energy, enthusiasm and risk taking spirit of youth. Nobody ever heard of a mass movement of old or even middle aged people.
The core elements of union organizing and union activity are in effect illegal in the United States. Does it not therefore follow that effectual union activity, if there is to be any such thing, must disregard legality?

It's an interesting question whether substantial social transformation -- of the type that most readers of this blog would like to see -- is possible at all without a healthy labor movement. Personally I'm inclined to doubt it.

Comments (21)


Excellent question indeed
The legal versus all the varieties of non legal struggle

Once again keenly observe the rise of the CIO

Old Lewis is the anti hero of that tale

One grapples mightily with the contradictions he encompassed within himself

Up shot there comes the time when you link up with Lewis and his above ground operation even as you continue your under ground mission

The sit down was in a twilight zone in36-37
The supremes ruled it illegal in 38

Take the time machine rejoin the debate in38

As a tactic sit downs
drop or no drop ?

Yes effectual mass organizing must be founded on non legal action and non legal operations

But even at the guerilla stage where organizing is opposed by all legit institutions including official unions
Maintaining an active above ground cut out is best practice

Unions always operate in shadowy areas where " actionable " practices abound
It's a venue filled with civil suit land mines

so cut outs must be built even by pie card outfits

For example
My daughters work is entirely of this shadowy nature

Planting sticks of virtual dynamite these days rather then the real McCoys

But there u have it
a complex ensemble for sure

I think it's still too early to give up on writing your congressman!


Onyx: So which one was right? In your humble opinion? Or can nobody ever get it right?


Perhaps a Texan from times past was on to something:

Such a labor metaphysic, I think, is a legacy from Victorian Marxism that is now quite unrealistic.


The Mills essay linked to above is breathtakingly wonderful.


More from Doug Henwood at his best:

there’s not much of a sense of solidarity in America these days. Seeing generous retirement and pension provisions, the masses don’t say, “I want those too!” Instead, they say, “They can’t have them either!” It’s not clear that pouring more resources into fights to defend pensions will yield any good results.

... the old model is dead. Private sector unions are virtually gone, and those that remain are negotiating concessions. Public sector unions were safe for a long time, but they’re on the chopping block. Dems will chop more slowly than Reps, but they will chop nonetheless.


Also a useful take on siege mentality that led to der Untergang of a famous public sector union:

But ever since the PATCO strike failed so colossally, its most damaging fallout has arguably been in the diffuse realm of the political ideal-type. The popular image of the union movement as the plaything of an entitled civil service demanding ever greater sacrifices from the taxpaying public has adhered strongly in the nation’s political unconscious...

Man, MJS those two quotes you just posted from Henwood are dead on as far as I can tell. He just encapsulated the situation perfectly with those two paragraphs.

Merkin in Montreal:

Comrades Smith, I’m not sure if the Labor Unions in their current shape are what’s needed for galvanizing a mass movement but any movement needs a structure to rally support.

I shall point you to my new adopted home, Quebec, which in recent months has been the home of the most viable mass movement in North America in decades. Oddly enough, there’s not a peep in the American media, left or right about what’s been happening here. I’m talking about the Quebec student strike that has been going on since February and while it’s too early to cast a verdict on its success, I can assure you that it has galvanized people from all walks of life. How could they mobilize hundreds of thousands of people in a province of 8 million is a much longer discussion than I can summarize in the comments section here but one obvious reason is the Student Federations that are run pretty much like unions minus the pension plans, seniority laws, and other wage related elements. The Quebec Student Federations charge union dues from their student members and they also get funding from the government. They called for strike back in February and put it to vote of the rank and file members. When the majority voted for strike, they went on strike. Over 150,000 students went on strike and the picket lines went up preventing the “non-voters” from entering colleges and universities. At the end, the government had to shut down the schools and defer the winter semester to August hoping to resolve the issue by then.

The jury is still out on the outcome but so far, the government has not won this fight. So how did they do it here? They had a union like structure/organization that rallied the support and forced the government to the negotiating table. Yes, the government had to negotiate with couple of 20 year olds! Now find me a 20 year old American who’d be willing to do away with his crackberry or iCock for a few hours to negotiate with the government! That’s the challenge my friend!

Man, that's really inspiring stuff Merkin! Maybe it's time to get the dual Canadian citizenship I've been putting off.

Merkin in Montreal:

Comrade Paul, don't mistake Quebec for the rest of Canada! In fact, the rest of Canada views this strike with the same disdain as their Anglophone cousins south of the border. Every Anglophone media outlet, including the ones from the "green" and "enlightened" BC has been condescending and hostile to the movement in Quebec. That however has not stopped the labor unions in Anglo Canada to donate money to the cause in Quebec. The labor unions in Ontario and Quebec have been sending funds to the Student Federations to cover the legal costs of defending the kids who've been arrested.


"Who is it that is thinking and acting in radical ways? All over the world ....
the answer’s the same: it is the young intelligentsia."


Merkin -- Since I have a bit of Quebecois in my own family woodpile -- or so I'm told -- I have a very high regard for Quebec, and I agree it's really nothing like Canada. How 'bout writing up a whole post on the student strike? As you say, the Merkin media have ignored it. stopmebeforeivoteagain %at%

Onyx: So which one was right? In your humble opinion? Or can nobody ever get it right?

Fuck it. Let's go bowling.

If you play together, as well as work and live together, sticking together is easier.

Of course things have to burn, to which the Leninist always replies, "Not yet. Until I control the party...nyet."

Collective effort is fine, but we are long past the age of the party, and public politics. That's just playing into the entertainment functions of the press.

A war of knives in the dark. That's where it has to start. The do-gooders and lightworkers won't like it. They never do, spirtualized into passivity as they are. But, if you want to degrade the interface between a hierarchy and the State it controls (which always means, also, the captured public), you have to make it look weak, overextended and desperate. You have to paint the protection racket in its own signage.

Merkin in Montreal:

Comrade Smith, your investigative reporter in Montreal shall get busy right away with a post on the student strike in Quebec.


Part québécois myself

Can't wait


"Such a labor metaphysic, I think, is a legacy from Victorian Marxism that is now quite unrealistic."

The Left has been pretending the white working class doesn't exist for the last 50 years. Look how that worked out. Keep on waiting for the bourgeois student radicals to start the revolution.

anne shew:

.. in montreal , .. by not a peep in the media south of our border .. ,of my being north of somewhere as well, ..what do you mean , i look at the media beyond the more tangible very little, but see that being noted , .. what of it is not being noted ..if you are able to say more / and of being your newly adopted home , where from ? / .. just a quick look in on this post , haven't looked at the linking of comments above .. or able to look at the commenting more at the moment , preparing for something of an in the street ,off line.. here on the weekend , not relating to schooling , but that from montreal and what you are suggesting of not has my attention ..

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