15 October 2011

The Stranger and The Occupation

This weeks Stranger is to be commended for it's coverage of the Occupy Seattle protests and the Occupy movement in general as well as Mayor Mike McGinn's fairly bone-headed response to it. Within the context of a story about Occupy Seattle's early days The Stranger also lobbed a few subtle compliments to local traditional labor unions who have endorsed Occupy and encouraged their members to join the protests whenever they could.

While the article probably has its heart in the right place, it chafes a little bit under a lack of foresight and vision.

In commending the unions who endorsed Occupy Seattle, The Stranger criticizes in a rather backhanded and dismissive way the collective leadership of Occupy. They go on to suggest that lacking their own, Occupy should look to those same unions for leadership. True, labor unions have a tried and tested leadership and they have done some good work in protecting the quality of life of their members. But what form does the business union take, and is that the model that best suits the idea of Occupy Seattle?  The problem lies in the construction of modern business unionism and its thoroughgoing commitment to the service of capitalism. A business union is just that a business, like a business it is concerned with it's bottom line, advertising, and political influence. Economic success and growth are good for the business union just as they are for the capitalist and the corporation. Modern business unions fail to question the capitalist paradigm, it operates within and as a part of it. Their goal is merely to secure a share of the profits. Thus the success of capitalism, which is essentially the success of power and exploitation, is the success of business unions.

In The Stranger article, Labor Council executive secretary David Freiboth is quoted as saying the unions "intend to organize [Occupy] a little more", while SEIU 775 president David Rolf says "we can lend our support, but this is not ours." The titles of these two men offer evidence of the traditional union approach to power structures. Admittedly somewhat out of context as they are, these quotes offer some evidence of traditional unions "unity" of purpose. Hopefully Occupy will remain too radical for the Labor Council to co-opt, but it is important that the unions endorse and encourage vocally, vigorously and in person what Occupy is doing. If there was a union to which Occupy should look for organizing power and non-heirarchical leadership structure, it would be the Industrial Workers of the World if their membership weren't already involved.

A cursory glance at the list of demands issued by Occupy Wall Street, demands which were adopted and ratified by the Occupy Seattle General Assembly (I was there and voted) will show that Occupy fundamentally represents a rejection of capitalism, its predatory amorality, its deadly relationship with political power and destruction of public and communal life. The concrete evidence is literally in the very architecture and atmosphere of Westlake Center.

Simply put, Occupy can use union support, but does not need union "leadership. I encourage the writers of The Stranger article, and local business union leaders and members (and everyone else) to go occupy Westlake Center.

The Stranger Article
Occupy Seattle
Black Orchid Collective post about Occupy

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