Millions protesting Trump, rehearsing for change

Millions of people in the streets against Trump must win. Not necessarily, these street protests may be a necessary, but far from sufficient condition for beating Trump. Scott Walker smashed union rights in Wisconsin despite huge numbers of protestors, as Mike Gecan reminds us.

He says that the Trump administration has “studied the game films from Wisconsin in 2011, when Gov. Scott Walker declared war on organized labor, the Democratic Party and the moderate wing of his own Republican Party. Right after his election, Walker introduced Act 10, a bill that drove large holes in the defensive position of unions by severely limiting collective bargaining and eliminating the main fund-raising tool of the unions, fair share.”

“The unions and their supporters responded to this play by organizing massive demonstrations and sit-ins in the capitol in Madison. During the week of Feb. 14, attendance grew day by day, hitting 25,000 by Friday and more than 50,000 on the weekend. The next week, the daily average was 50,000, and the weekend attendance hit 100,000.

“On and on it went, with the opposition using massive demonstrations and a statehouse occupation to counter the offense run by Walker.”

“This reaction attracted national and international media, brought celebrities flooding into Madison, and generated scores of millions of dollars for the cause. The demonstrations took on a life of their own. Their leaders then called a second play — a recall of the governor, which attracted more than $75 million to just one progressive organization and untold millions to others.”

“Here was the problem. These defensive moves didn’t work. On March 9, the Wisconsin Legislature passed Act 10. And on June 14, the state’s Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional, after which the demonstrations and occupation evaporated.”

Gacen skirts over the governor recall tactic chosen by the Democrats, and Walker’s subsequent increased numbers in the legislature. The mobilisation in the streets became a campaign to elect Democrat Tom Barrett as governor, after union preferred candidate Kathleen Falk lost the primary.

Nonetheless, a huge number of protestors against Walker in Wisconsin was not by itself enough to stop him smashing the unions. So what direction for the masses assembled against Trump? How will they avoid a repeat of the Wisconsin defeat?

These things also matter – what demands do the protestors agree they are fighting for, how do they organise, what tactics and leverage will they use, how will they decide who gets to speak for them, and how will they decide when they are satisfied with any settlement or result.

Leverage against Trump will be critical, and it is employed labor that can bring a halt to Trump, by stopping work, and stopping doing Trump’s bidding.

One group of workers responded immediately, according to Peter Cole: “perhaps, the most dramatic and important action [on inauguration day] was taken by dockworkers in Oakland, California: They stopped working. Their strike demonstrated the potential power ordinary people have on the job, when organized. Longshore workers, who load and unload cargo ships, chose not to report to their hiring hall. As a result, “Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest container facility at the Northern California port, was shut down Friday,” according to the Journal of Commerce. It also reported that all other Oakland container terminals were essentially shut down, too.”

As Buzz Malone says in Jacobin magazine “It’s truly organize or die time, and that doesn’t mean simply signing up new members — it means moving all of them to action around their issues, not ours, because clearly, there must be a difference between the two that we have missed along the way.”

The recently late John Berger described The nature of mass demonstrations, and to paraphrase Berger, it could be said of the Trump protests that there is a danger that these demonstrations may in retrospect appear to have been merely public spectacles, if they do not become the property of a movement for revolutionary change.

“It would seem that the true function of demonstrations is not to convince the existing State authority to any significant degree. Such an aim is only a convenient rationalisation.

The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: their quality – the intensity of rehearsed awareness – may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle.”


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