Sunday, February 25, 2018

On Unconquered Remnants, A Working People's Day of Action, and a Struggle for the Labor Movement #UnrigtheSystem

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When I heard about the planned union action - the Working People's Day of Action –during our delegate assembly, I asked if we were going to march or sit and hear speeches.  The action would serve as a speak out about the Janus case moving its way through the supreme court.

Movements move, I declared.

No, the other unions don’t want to move, I was told.

They want a rally.

It was a useful image of the conundrum the trade union movement finds itself it.

We want power but the movement we are a part of does not want to move.

The right is moving against us. But no one is sure we are taking the right steps to help the trade union movement to adapt to our current conditions. 

So we rally. 

Thousands of working people and our allies will stand up for our freedoms and demand an end to a system that’s rigged against us. We will rise up and fight.

Fight for the freedom to come together in strong unions. 
Fight for equitable pay.
Fight for affordable health care.
Fight for quality schools.
Fight for vibrant communities.
Fight for a secure future for all of us.

When we join forces and stick together, we are unstoppable. 

Before the action, Mike Fabricant put it:
“Next week, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.1
This case is the culmination of decades of attacks on working people by corporate CEOs, the wealthiest 1% and the politicians that do their bidding to rig the economy in their favor. The forces behind it simply do not believe that we should have the same freedoms and opportunities as they do.
On Saturday, Working Families Party members will be joining thousands in NYC and cities across the country to show our solidarity against these attacks on workers, and demand an end to an economy that’s rigged in favor of the 1%.”
Arriving at Foley Square, I saw hundreds of activists, many who I’ve known since Occupy, or years earlier. My old social work professors were there, as were colleagues from my union, the Professional Staff Congress of the City University.

James Davis, the chapter chair at Brooklyn College, and I talked about what we were up against, with the Janus Case. He was glad to see so many people out. As he pointed out: “The union movement needs to remember the fine art of the street demonstration.”

My friend Sarah Hughes referred to the possible million members her union might lose.

Alex Vitale walked over with his daughter on his shoulders. “Its only a couple of days before the court takes us this case.  So it’s a little late, but my hope is that this is a wake up call for unions to do member to member organizing.” 

At the PSC, we’re signing up members, asking them to recommit to the union before the court ruling expected later this spring.

“We’re here to join other workers, to show solidarity.  We feel working people should have a fair deal,” noted Mike and Allan, both of the PSC, speaking together.

I walked up to Andrea Vasquez.  I’m here to defend our union,” she explained.  “I come from a union family.  We’re been in unions for generations. We should be organizing more people, not less, bringing more people into the movement.  Janus challenges all of this. This threatens all unions.” Vasquez smiled as she spoke.

Beside her stood Mike Fabricant and Mimi Abramovitz, two of my old professors from Hunter College. 

 “Down with Janus,” noted Mimi.  “First they came for the private sector unions.  Now they are coming for the public sector. They don’t want any of us to organize or resist.”

Governor Cuomo was clear about the threat to unions posed by Janus, acknowledging that the case could weaken unions.  But it won’t kill them.   “This is a time for honestly,” declared the Governor, who has famously been hostile to unions. “They have declared war on working people.  The president showed his true color year, passing a tax cut for the rich that does nothing for working Americans.  They want our voice silenced,” he continued. “But you are our voice. If the supreme court carries the Right’s water, New York will do whatever it can to push back.  When you attack labor, you attack New York.  This state has more union workers than any other in the country.  We started the union movement here, fighting for the eight-hour work day, for fair wages, against the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory abuses.” The governor paused.  “I am from Queens where the adage is simple. If you are with us, we are with you. You have always been with me.  I’ll always be with you. I wouldn’t be here without you.  My father, god bless his soul, he wouldn’t have been here without you. As long as I am governor, I will be with you.”

Then fund CUNY, one of the members of the PSC declared.

The governor took seven years to get CUNY its last contract.

And he’s late on this new round.

But his words of support were welcome at this moment when the movements face a married of challenges, including a few of its own contradictions.

Later in the day, my group at the Commons was reading the Grundrisse, an unfinished 1861 manuscript by the Karl Marx, of the notes that find their way to become Capital.
The work is extremely humanistic, emphasizing debates about Hegel and the dialectical method, that were later omitted from Capital.

It’s a great time to read this story.  The work starts with peoples’ struggles, with waves of actions that begin at any minute.  He explores the conditions of production.  What is being produced, by whom, and on what terms?  What determines all of us – everything – from where we live, to the water we drink, to where we work, or go to school. Social relations between all these things are always shifting. These concepts are changing with the relationships making their way through contractions, evolving and changing with new categories of living.  This is the struggle we are still in as we debate the future of the labor movement. Over time, these social relations are always ebb, flow, and transform, with old categories losing meaning within their contradictions as new ideas take shape. 

Hopefully, the modern labor movement is not one of these ‘vanished social formations’, stale categories, unable to move forward.  Hopefully a few of these “unconquered remnants” can push us forward.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in this case against labor.

A few of us from our union will be outside making our presence known.

As Mike Fabricant puts it:

We are traveling to witness and protest the Supreme Court hearing on the Janus case. PSC will be part of a strong union presence on the steps of and near the Supreme Court.

It is our opportunity to make the case outside the Supreme Court or in the larger court of public opinion that a bad decision will hurt workers, public services and poor people especially of color. This is a historic case and moment; please don't miss it. We are providing the bus. Can you be there?

The Janus decision will likely be rendered in the next three months.”

We’ll be marking our place, stating what is right, what the world needs for workers, the poor, hoping for something better. Opponents of labor will be there opposing what we have to say.  Certainly, the President’s supreme court judge will be there, leading a new conservative majority, opposed to the movement and organizing of working people.

Here, as old categories crumble, people find their voices, moving forward.

I have never been a fan of premature autopsies.  Hopefully a few of these unconquered remnants will find movement in this movement. 

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