Antifa recruiting captain

Tonight there is another of the 2020 Democratic primary debates on television. I’m ignoring it, as I have all the debates so far this cycle, and as I intend to continue to do so. Douglas Rushkoff has a great monologue at the beginning of this episode of Team Human that I was listening to today, which probably has a lot to do with it. We’re in the midst of state legislative races this year where I live, followed by municipal races the following spring in time for our primary voting. I haven’t decided what my involvement is going to be yet. I’ve been contacted by at least one city council candidate, but they’re not pounding down my door, or anything. I may pick up with the Sanders campaign and help out there, but for now I’m keeping to my current regimen of family, work, school, meditation, crypto, this blog, and the other two or three projects which I’ve already committed to.

My day job involves supporting numerous small businesses technology needs, I’m sure I’ll get more into the details of that another time, but we’ve got a wide swath of clients across the political spectrum. As I deal with the owners and managers most often, I’ve gotten to know them best, and for the most part they lean conservative. There’s a few that would make great character studies. There’s the lesbian couple who live and work together and are politically active Republicans. Another is an effeminate man who I would be willing to bet is so deeply closeted that he doesn’t even realize it, and pumps Christian rock playlists in the office and through the phone system — the stories to tell there…

I’ve got a couple people at various offices who are the lefty side of the political spectrum (dental and environmental cleanup firms, now that I think about it,) and know who I am and provide encouragement, but given that my boss is retired military, and Irish Catholic, I don’t broadcast or advertise things too much. So when I got called into deal with some customer service issues at a small evangelical mission outreach office, I wasn’t planning on making any friends.

Now, as most people I’ve a long and complicated story with religion that will take more than one blog post to get out, but the word atheist would have probably been most appropriate for the last decade or two in my life. I’ve mellowed a bit over the years, and I think the term has some baggage to people in the African American church community, and as someone in politics I’ve had to adjust how I talk about my beliefs publicly. Which is why I was suprised to be proclaiming myself as a ‘militant atheist’ in this ministry office earlier this week.

This is actually the third faith-based organization I’ve had to deal with in the past few weeks, and in all cases I’ve had little, if any, face to face interaction with staff. Most of that had been handled remotely or by other people under my supervision. We don’t deal with any mega churches, so budgets are tight and so my interactions are quite limited.

So I’m at the office, which is basically made up of two young women in their twenties. Their bosses are a husband and wife team, he being the theologian and speaker. There were several pictures of him on the walls of the office, somewhere in sub-saharan Africa, one would presume, with him surrounded or addressing adoring throngs of the darkest, black-skinned natives you can imagine. But it’s just the two young women and I , and as I spend the next few hours taking care of business, I can’t help but eavesdrop.

After a couple disparaging, ironic remarks paraphrasing Trump or conservatism, she mentions something about ‘Leftbook’. At this point my curiosity got the better of my professionalism, so I asked her if she just referred to Facebook as ‘Leftbook’. Yes, she says, as it was almost entirely radical leftist content, save for one conservative friend or colleague that she was still following. I regurgitated some of the Team Human theories Rushkoff has humans as the fuel for Facebook’s prediction algorithms, and let my guard down entirely. I told them who I was, my political activity, DSA membership, and when I showed them a picture of me standing behind Bernie Sanders they both lost their shit.

After a while they admonished me not to tell their boss. They weren’t paid to have opinions, they said, and their boss, the Great White Savior, had recently worn Trump 2020 socks to the office. They were literally giddy that they had “made a friend”, since they both are transplants to the area, and I’m pretty sure promises were made to induct them into Antifa at some point.

Jokes aside, the power dynamics within that office could probably warrant a sociological study. That said, it was good to connect with someone on the job, especially when it means building solidarity with these two young millennial members of the working class.

Solidarity indeed.

Solidarity, whatever

I’m sitting in the living room, looking out the window at the back yard, where my daughters are out playing with a couple of her neighborhood friends. I’d say it’s relaxing except for the sheer volume of high-pitched yelling that they’re doing as they play. My wife is asleep upstairs. I couldn’t ask for a more peaceful end to the summer.

Earlier today my wife and I attended the local Democratic Party’s Labor Day breakfast. I was in a mostly pissy mood, for political and personal reasons, and did my best to avoid people as much as possible. It’s quite a feat to attempt in a room with two hundred people, but I managed to take a seat at an empty table facing the wall until events started. I did see some close acquaintances on the way in, but managed to avoid any substantive conversation.

Again, I’m torn here between providing all the details and holding on to the finest pretense of anonymity, but what I can say is that during this last primary season for state legislature, a schism erupted between the Labor federation and the state’s Democratic Party. Certain business-friendly candidates were endorsed by the state’s Federal delegation, Senators and Congressional representatives, over pro-labor candidates. I can say that the pretense for the endorsements were personal relationships and fundraising ones, but the matter did not sit well with Labor leaders, and they have put state and local Democrats on notice.

One of the most important issues among labor are the so-called ‘right to work’ laws, which basically allow free-riders within labor’s collective bargaining structure. It’s one of the major contributing factors in labors’ decline over the last seventy years, not just in our state, but across the nation as well. Organized labor has traditionally stood behind the state’s Democrats, who haven’t held power in the state since the 90’s, and there is a very good chance that Dems could win back control of the state legislature in the next election cycle. Labor is rightfully concerned that their support within the Democratic party may not be as strong as they thought it was. And rightfully so.

All of this led to a convention earlier this summer where more than a third of of the Democratic legislature was not endorsed by the labor federation. And Labor leaders were not shy about this fact this morning, reminding those assembled that they were done supporting candidates and electeds just because they had a ‘D’ next to their name. The head of the state’s AFL-CIO went so far as to threaten that any Democrat that was not with them (presumably voting against right to work repeal,) would not survive re-election. Other speakers from within labor, including a sitting member of the state legislature, echoed these sentiments as well.

Now while these sentiments immediately improved my mood, there is part of me that questions whether Labor has the ability to back up these threats. Now I haven’t been organizing long enough to see whether Labor remains strong enough to overthrow a sitting incumbent. Most of the trades unions still seem to be operating as management organizations, with most of their activities centering around insurance policies. To be honest, and I hope I’m wrong, but I remain skeptical that labor has the power that they think they do. Their membership is too deflated, and their management too worried about their positions or retirement, to truly attempt something so radical as challenging the Democratic party establishment.

I hope I’m wrong.

There are a lot of changes needed. It seems that some new blood is needed in the movement to stir things up, to motivate people and rebuild labor. We need new types of unionism that fits better within the new types of tech sector firms that we have these days. The good news is that I think change is on the horizon.

Labor Day

It’s the start of Labor Day weekend here in the the good ol’ U.S of A., and while most of the population may see it as an excuse to close out the summer with one last pool-party barbeque, in my house we treat it a bit more orthodox. My spouse and I are both involved in Union activism, so we treat this a bit more seriously than most.

First off, it’s important to note that Labor Day, as an American construct, was actively chosen to decrease working class solidarity with the rest of the world. The first of May, or May Day, as it’s known around the rest of the world, was the day chosen by socialists and communists, and others on the Left to commemorate the Haymarket Affair, which was a protest that occured in Chicago in 1886. People were rallying in support of workers who were striking for an eight-hour workday. The previous day police had killed eight workers, and the peaceful rally turned violent after someone set off a dynamite bomb and killed several police and civilians. Several people were jailed or hung, one committed suicide in jail.

So when the powers that be decided on a labor holiday in the US, they decided to choose the current date, as strategically halfway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, avoiding May Day to prevent any further solidarity with socialist or anarchist movements.

Here in my area, the local Democratic Party has been hosting an annual Labor Day breakfast. This Monday will be the tenth year. The question I am struggling to answer is what’s left of Labor here in the states and what can be done to renew it. Most of leadership is approaching retirement, and has not done a good job of mentoring the next generation of leaders in their midst. Of course, right to work laws and hostile conservative and business-friendly liberal governments have not helped either, but it almost seems that labor is it’s own worst enemy right now.

Beyond the lack of political power that labor holds within the Democratic establishment these days, there still seems to be a tendency toward management-style leadership from above, rather than any sort of activation of the rank and file from above. Most members treat union membership as an insurance policy, to be used in times of grievances, or as a representative body when labor agreements need to be renewed. But I’ve seen or heard little to indicate that the rank and file are encouraged to become active in their own representation.

The other thing that strikes me is the lack of technological deployment in these organizations. This isn’t unique to labor, of course, but is prevalent in many of the party and campaign organizations that I’ve been a part of. It seems like magic when we mention things like mailing lists; we’re still caught up in the massive CC lists in emails. We’ll be talking more about deploying tech strategically within political organizations in this space at some point. There’s much to be said on this point.

So I will attend the breakfast and will be looking for young faces. We’ll sit in a fancy dining hall at large tables with elaborate centerpieces and wait for our three course meal to be served. We’ll sit and watch the recognition of elected officials, who are ultimately providing lip service to labor as members of the opposition, we’ll hear fiery speeches from labor leaders to rouse the troops.

But one thing that I’ve noted in past years among these parties is the difficulty in getting them to actually use union sources for supplies. I had to speak up on several occasions to get the local party to consider a union source for some committee t-shirts that they wanted to order. And never once, in the last three years that I’ve attended this event, have I ever heard mention of the working conditions of the waiters and bussers to fill our water and clear our plates. Sure, they may get recognized for the work that they are doing for us to enjoy ourselves on this day, but where are the mention of the service unions, where is the solidarity with them and the efforts to better their work on the other three hundred and sixty-odd days of the year?

Labor has many problems, from the right, from centrists, and from the changing nature of work that makes it harder to organize tech workers, gig workers, and so on. But I fear the biggest problem, and the one that will be the hardest to overcome, is from the labor organizations themselves.