REVIEW: The Main Street Moment by Gerald McEntee and Lee Saunders

In a recent book published by past and current Presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – one of the largest public sector unions in the United States – the authors make clear that America’s workers are undeniably facing class warfare:

If unions are so darn great – with members, other workers and entire states benefiting – then how come we see the American Dream keep slipping away from the nation’s working middle class and an increasing share of wealth being hoarded by those at the top of the income scale?

Because we’re in a class war.[1]

The authors go on to say: “You don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Obama, one of the world’s five wealthiest people: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”[2]

But if this is really war, it has become clear that the bureaucratic culture of “business unionism”, presided over and encouraged by the Democratic Party through much of the twentieth century, is no longer sufficient in mounting a reliable defense. In fact, the Democratic Party – in spite of its perceived place as the party of organized labor – has, in reality, done very little to prevent the anti-union forces from doing incredible damage to the legal protections guaranteed to workers in the United States. In fact, one of the principal criticisms of many U.S. labor unions (and AFSCME in particular) is that the unions no longer function as a tool for workers to defend themselves; rather, the unions function as an arm of the Democratic Party, manipulated to ensure that the once mighty American labor movement never returns to its militant roots. This of course begs the question: If, as McEntee and Saunders argue, America’s working people have found themselves being attacked by corporations engaging in class warfare, how are we to fight back?

The AFSCME leaders’ book builds an excellent case for a return to union militancy, pointing out clearly how the U.S. legislature has been effectively bought by global corporations.[3] The tension mounts but the conclusion is anti-climactic and is reminiscent of an iconic scene from the movie A Christmas Story where Ralphy listens attentively to the “Little Orphan Annie” radio program until, finally, at the end of the show, a secret message is transmitted to the loyal fans in the audience. Ralphy, certain that he is decoding a piece of vital information that will change the course of history, uses his secret decoder ring to decipher the message only to reveal a word from “Little Orphan Annie’s” corporate sponsor, Ovalteen, that predictably reads, “Drink more Ovalteen”. Ralphy, upon realizing that he has loyally devoted hours and hours to “Little Orphan Annie,” earned his decoder ring and patiently awaited its delivery, is disgusted to find nothing but “a crumby commercial”. Certainly this is how the AFSCME members of Wisconsin must have felt after reaching the end of The Main Street Moment only to read the same tired liberal mantra, “vote Democratic” – or, as Ralphy puts it, a crumby commercial.

If it is true that Americas unions are immersed in class warfare, isn’t it time we get used to it and act accordingly? If the opposition is thinking, organizing and fighting like a class, isn’t it time for America’s working people to give up their partisan loyalties to either of the two parties of, for and by the billionaire minority? Isn’t it time we start showing some partisanship to each other, thinking, organizing and fighting back like a class?

It’s time to recognize that the laws of warfare are now more applicable than ever in deciding the fate of the labor movement. Specifically, it’s time to recognize the fact that the liberal state and its political parties have always opposed organized labor and only when the nation was brought to the brink of revolution did they ever begrudgingly enter into a truce or willingly make concessions. It’s time to recognize that neither lawmakers nor laws gave the labor movement its strength. On the contrary, the strength of the labor movement was built by working-class law-breakers who recognized intuitively what Cicero (106-43 BC) observed, “Inter arma enim silent leges” (Law stands mute in the midst of arms.)

It’s not enough to study Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas, or Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, or even Alinsky’s classic, Rules for Radicals. If today’s embattled union locals and public sector workers are truly at war, they need to be studying Sun Tzu, Vegetius, Frederick the Great, Machiavelli, Napoleon, Rommel, Mao Tse-tung and other strategic innovators who developed their maxims on the all-or-nothing field of battle where the correct approach meant glory and prosperity while the wrong approach spelled doom. Indeed, today’s struggle will prove to be a fight to the death from which only one side, organized labor or corporate multinationals, will emerge victorious.

For those who fight on the side of labor, it is essential to prepare for battle just as any decent military commander would; that is, you must carefully assess the factors at play, the interests and objectives of the enemy, his strengths and weaknesses, labor’s strengths and weakness, and strive to engage them on a field of battle that has historically been most favorable to organized workers: the street.