Jane McAlevey – A real labor organizer?

Click here to go to Jane McAlevey’s website

Well, I’ve been reading around on Jane. I guess it’s yet to be seen what she is capable of. I don’t know enough about her to know what she has actually accomplished or what her motivations are. I took the word of some people I trusted and her bona fides – and where she’s been – but it seems there is controversy about what she has actually accomplished. I really don’t know enough about the details – and never will because I don’t know the people directly involved.

My general reading of the controversy in Las Vegas is that she was attempting to help workers in a corrupt, ossified union that was experiencing profound internal strife. If she is honest about bottom up democratic radical change – and I have no reason to believe she’s not – maybe she is just proving you can’t change the system from the inside. From what I know, the only politics in and out of big unions these days (and for a long time) is real politique.

While every kind of organization that moves a lot of money has corruption, unions have been on the receiving end of a horrific class war waged for decades. That is the major reason for what could be called colluding with business over the years. In a word, desperation. The other side of that is corruption on the union end, but anyone who knows what has been visited upon unions and working people in general – from Reagan and his thugs firing over 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981, to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and the thugs above and under him – knows unions have been struggling to survive for a long time now. What would you do if someone gave you a leashed, seriously wounded animal, backed into a corner, being attacked by a monster 100 times it’s size? On it’s face, that seems to be the situation in which Jane was placed in Las Vegas – and most likely, she wasn’t really even holding the leash. Did she make some bad decisions? Probably quite a few. It looks pretty ugly:

Click this to read a kind of an answer to that video. It’s still not the whole story, but it is a response to some critics by a man known for his integrity. That’s about the best I can find without spending a lot more time on this.

Click this to Read Jane’s response to a review of her book. While it doesn’t focus on the details of the internecine battle in the video, it hints at how difficult the situation was and goes a long way to explain her motivations.

As I said, I can only speculate, but my feeling is she was between a rock and a hard place and didn’t have any real power to affect real democratic change there – because in the end, people in power don’t want democracy, they want power. According to her, she helped make real gains for the rank and file in their workplace, and achieving any gains under pressure from within and without is pretty damn impressive.

What all of this comes down to is that anything bringing a real chance for change has to actually be from the grassroots; that is, come from people, not from leadership with other agendas and careers to protect – unless those people step up and decide real change is worth the risk. For example, a union leader advocating for total democratization of unions would be a step in the right direction. Barring that, the demand and fight has to come from the rank and file membership. That is not to say people like Jane McAlevey can’t be a huge help to that cause, but maybe they can’t do it from a leadership position within the union – or maybe people like her have to start at a small union that is relatively more democratic. My guess is they will actually have to start totally on the outside, on the bottom, with the workers. Teach by day, organize by night? That brings up the elephant in the room. Money. In this world where money decides so many things, we need it to fund big fights, big projects, big campaigns (and I don’t mean DLC-backed candidates). For example, the fight for universal healthcare, against privatization in all sectors, etc. Until the big unions direct big money to efforts like that, it is difficult for me to take them at their word. Supporting fast food workers fight for $15/hr. is the right idea. As churches have known for decades, if you help suffering and struggling people, you will gain adherents in the end. I’m not saying the effort should be made from this selfish standpoint. Aside from being the right thing to do, the result of gaining adherents is not only a side-effect, it is requisite for survival.

Maybe leaders of organizations who recognize the real fight that has to take place should organize under one umbrella group and pool resources. The group would be dedicated to fighting against control by a transnational corporate elite who write the laws and pay for politicians. One of the main reasons this hasn’t happened yet is because those organizations are too busy fighting their own struggles and trying to survive. If people could see the forest for the trees, not only could we organize the whole country, we could organize the world, because the root cause of every protest and revolutionary movement all over the world from Turkey to Egypt, from Spain to Brazil, from Tunisia to the u.s., is the implementation of neo-liberal policies.

Right now, anyone who is not rich is a victim of a class war that has now been waged for generations. As we like to say in america, the bad guys won. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for them, because their logic is the essential logic of capitalism. Part of that logic is ceaseless accumulation. The way that logic manifests in the neo-liberal agenda is privatization. In order to speed the pace of privatization and decimate any resistance, they break unions. Public money that once went to public institutions is redirected to corporations. Unionized workers don’t have a part in the new institutions, but tax-payer money sure does.

This lays bare the the school voucher and charter school movement (along with the testing industry, et al.). Neo-liberals de-fund schools, implement NCLB, make schools fail, attack schools and teachers and unions, send in an army of corporate consultants, institute a draconian testing regime that enriches the testing “industry”, fill school boards with corporate shills, fund the Michelle Rhees of the world and create schools that are private but take tax-payer dollars. How many poor and working-class kids are getting the education they need and deserve, how many communities are being ripped apart? How many charter schools are unionized?

The global elite consolidate power in transnational corporations that control every aspect of our lives, from banking to health, from education to food and water. If you consider what neo-liberals have already accomplished in those areas, you can see what we’re up against. The only hope for people like you and me is to get together and figure out how to help each other. People like Jane McAlevey know a lot and can be great allies. Yes, assuming she is honest. If not, there are other people who have her knowledge who are. So, concretely, there is no time like the present to educate yourself, meet with other people, talk and learn together; which, in turn, means fighting for our rights together.

Good luck to us all. We’re going to need it.

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