The Battle Beyond Seattle, part II
Source Louis Proyect
Date 00/01/04/21:27

The Battle Beyond Seattle, part II, by George Windau

[George Windau ( is a Left labor analyst and member of
the U.A.W.]

Advice to the (rational) Left

There is a certain folly in trying to extend advice to those who think they
don't need it. It is worse than folly to try to reason with Ultra-Left
formations such as the Black Army Faction of Eugene, Oregon who labor under
the pastoralist delusions of John Zerzan and his anti-technological
ideology. Yet, there is no folly or futility in using proven tools of
analysis to point out the several possible developments that can be
extrapolated from this interesting Battle in Seattle. The crowing and
self-congratulatory satisfaction of the Newest Left in America is
disconcerting and disturbing. Yes, Seattle is/was a significant event. Yes,
there is an indication for a resurgence of the Left in both the US and
Canada. The illusions of this Newest Left revolve around formalistic
thinking regarding friends, allies and enemies. In short, not everyone you
marched with in Seattle is your friend or ally and what may be even more
confusing is that not everyone you threw a brick at in Seattle is your
enemy. Thus we have a certain confusion about just exactly which side of
the barricades the combatants in Seattle will eventually settle into. Just
as the town of Gettysburg was a glaring contradiction such that it was a
northern town which welcomed Robert E. Lee as a savior and liberator, so
too we must understand that Seattle was merely the opening 'break' in a
billiard match where all of the balls are still in motion and have not
settled into their respective fixed political pockets. One of the keenest
points of evidence that I can see in this regard is the behavior of the
Police who turned their tear gas and concussion bombs on the 'Yuppie'
patrons of the elite 'Capital Hill' district of Seattle. In my days as a
street protestor, I never saw police consciously choose to target the
well-dressed and affluent society of Washington D.C.. It would never have
happened, but it did happen in Seattle, and if you don't notice this
development (the City Fathers of Seattle certainly noticed this with great
horror) then you don't have a full appreciation for the dynamics involved
in the great Battle in Seattle.

The temporary convergence of Far Right and Far Left against a seemingly
harmless mainstream institution such as the WTO is in no way a stable
development. Thus, in one sense, the actions in Seattle were not merely a
convergence of many single-issue protest groups but a general declaration
that mainstream perceptions of the world economy and the national economies
of the US and Canada are complete and total lies. While all could agree
that the official story about the Global Economy is a lie, a simple attempt
to define a common truth about this new economy will split the coalition.
If any credible movement is to evolve from this first engagement in
Seattle, those who may be considered to be the 'rational Left' must be
prepared for dramatic splits in their fragile coalition, even to the point
that certain major labor unions may split from the AFL-CIO over the same
issues that divide the non-labor sections of this coalition of movements.
Like a picture puzzle that slides off of a table, certain pieces will
totally separate from all other pieces and whirl off into space. Yet other
groups of puzzle pieces will remain joined and comprise a size-able chunk
of the total picture we saw in Seattle. The key piece to observe and
influence will be the organized labor section of this picture puzzle. It is
not good to be the tiny piece that has no connection to any others. It is
better to be part of a sizable chunk; especially the chunk that contains
organized labor. If there is any principled way to maintain a coalition
with labor, then it should be done, but done cautiously.

Those who stand outside of any experience with organized labor must learn
how to deal with the upper levels of leadership in these major labor
unions. One must keep in mind that the leadership of the major labor unions
in North America are not leading their members, they are merely trying to
keep up with the shift in sentiment of their membership. Thus the big shot
union leader is not as important as the shift in sentiment among the
rank-and-file membership. Those on the Left must be attuned to the changes
and shifts in the perceptions of the American and Canadian workers.
Remember that most upper level leaders of the North American trade unions
would rather be playing golf with the CEO of General Motors than talking to
you about some upcoming demonstration against the latest outrageous
development in the Global Economy. Also remember that most upper level
leaders of the major North American Labor Unions would rather have their
members unleashed for 'Hard Hat' riots against the Left than rubbing
shoulders with Leftist political activists who happen to be temporarily on
the same side of an issue as the Labor Union. If you remain totally
conscious that the Union Leadership can never be a permanent ally of the
Left, if you are conscious that the Union Leadership would rather
beat-you-up than march-down-the-street-with-you, then you are beginning to
have a realistic vision of the shape of the "Battle Beyond Seattle". As
long as you realize that the labor leaders are mobilizing their membership
because the have to and not because they want to, you can find ways to
speak directly to the rank-and-file members to help create the conditions
where a repeat mobilization of labor must take place. Such a repeat
mobilization that is built on the momentum of Seattle can make the original
"The Battle in Seattle" look like a Shriners'

Convention that got out of hand.

Let's speak of goals and yardsticks by which we can measure the progress of
the Left in America and Canada. It is folly to celebrate the stagnation of
the WTO conference in Seattle as a victory in and of itself. That would be
as foolish as Robert E. Lee claiming he had won the Civil War because he
captured the village of Gettysburg on the first day of the battle.
Capturing Gettysburg in and of itself was meaningless when the Union Army
commanded the back door approaches to Washington DC. Likewise, the complete
elimination or disbandment of the WTO in and of itself would be meaningless
and should not be celebrated as a victory. Lee did not suggest that the war
was over and his troops could demobilize as soon as the town of Gettysburg
was captured. Likewise, those who suggest that the goal of this Newest Left
movement should be the destruction of the WTO have no real allegiance or
relevance to the coming workers movement in the US and Canada. Those who
focus on the WTO, and not on the economic pressures that are activating
layers of the American and Canadian workers, are either fools or deliberate
misdirectors of the Labor Movement. The WTO may die or go away, but the
economic pressures will not stop or go away.

Looking at the Battle of Seattle in a political microscope we can see
images of the shape of things to come, the shape of The Battle beyond
Seattle. Besides the curious grudge riot by the Seattle Police against the
residents of the Capitol Hill district, we also saw a one-day work stoppage
by the dockworkers in Seattle. This political strike was in sympathy with
the actions taking place on the streets. This is exactly the kind of thing
that the big shot labor leaders do not want to see. Yet it happened anyway.
Thus, the Deep Blue Sea of workers self-mobilization began to advance,
putting more unwelcome pressure on the union bureaucracy. While the City
Fathers of Seattle are still deeply concerned about a Police Force that
seems to have its own independent political agenda, the big shot labor
leaders are not pleased about workers who take it upon themselves to
exercise the 'strike weapon ' for purely political causes. Yet, both of
these developments, while they occurred only on a small scale and for a
short time duration, are exactly the kinds of things that the American and
Canadian Left should take special notice of. While the formalistic
one-issue activists cheer about knocking over a WTO conference, the
experienced observers on the Left are more excited at the thought of Police
with their own independent agenda and workers who have the strike weapon in
their own hands and are willing to use it for political issues. The
exciting implications of these two incidents means that certain chains of
command were broken down in the melee of Seattle. It means that the City
Fathers lost control of the Seattle Police. It means that the AFL-CIO lost
control of a sector of its members. Into those openings caused by the
breakdown of the chain of command will rush those persistent 'kooks' known
as the Far Left and the Far Right. The dynamics of 'fast politics' will
quickly overtake the ivy-league apologists for 'cheap labor' and The Battle
beyond Seattle will leave the mainstream Democrats and Republicans
completely out of the action, further advancing the collapse of the
political center.

So, the goals for the American and Canadian Left are to find a way to
prevent our own political isolation. We don't want to be the isolated
puzzle piece that whirls off into empty space when the false coalition of
Seattle fragments. We want to stay relevant to the largest pro-labor
segments of the coalition that survive the split of the Seattle anti-WTO
block. Yet, we must have no illusions about the formal union leadership. We
know that they hate us and want to mobilize their membership into
revanchist 'Hard Hat' riots against us. That can only happen if we are
foolish, however. Next we must realize that with the 'collapse of the
political center' will come breakdowns in the chain of command, both within
the union bureaucracy and within the institutions of repression. We must be
able to discern how we can use these to our advantage, pressing forward
with calls for more 'political strikes' and 'general strikes' in defense of
jobs and wages as well as other issues that relate to US and Canadian
workers. On the other hand, we must always recognize that 'splits' in the
institutions of repression can work for or against us. While it would have
been insane to suggest that cops might join picket lines in the 1960's, it
is not insane to suggest that this dynamic might happen again in the
twenty-first century, as it did in the 1930's.

Furthermore, it is not insane to suggest that splits in the institutions of
repression may go over to the Far Right and exercise extra legal grudge
repression against the Left. One type of split would favor the Left, the
other, of course would not. We perhaps can measure the progress of the
American and Canadian Left, not by how many worthless or false targets we
disrupt or destroy, but rather upon the level and quality of the formal
repression that is required to disrupt or disperse our street actions or
political strikes. If a handful of KKK shooters led by a few ATF agents can
shoot us down like dogs on a garbage heap, then we are going in the wrong
direction. If on the other hand, the President of the United States is
forced to mobilize and airlift the 82nd Airborne Division to smash a
city-wide general strike someplace, then we are going in the right
direction, showing the workers that the ultimate task of military force is
not to defend the home country but to defend the property interests of
capitalism. Such an extreme use of repression would show the critical level
of breakdown in the capitalist chain of command and clearly demonstrate to
workers just exactly the nature of the forces arrayed against them. The key
to mobilizing for The Battle Beyond Seattle, is to create the conditions on
the streets (a focus that is external of the factory) such that the workers
on the shop floor (a focus that is internal or inside the walls of the
factory) can be inspired to take the strike weapon out of the hands of the
union bureaucracy and hold it firmly in their own hands through a system of
rank-and-file 'strike committees'. The orientation of this Newest Left
toward workers' demands for higher wages will be a critical litmus test for
whether this assortment of one-issue Leftist groups can remain relevant to
a pro-labor orientation. If the Newest Left remains silent and
non-supportive of workers demands for higher wages and shorter work hours,
they will be isolated and irrelevant. No one will care much if they are
shot down by the KKK like dogs on a garbage heap. If the Newest Left links
up with the economic demands of the workers and moves beyond their
one-issue orientation, then there is hope that the Newest Left can have
some influence over a mass-based radicalization of the workers in the USA
and Canada. So, while the "street soldiers" of the Battle in Seattle are
quick to congratulate themselves on a great victory over the WTO, there are
yet many political minefields ahead for this new generation of
inexperienced street soldiers to tumble into. Time will tell if a
significant chunk of the Seattle coalition will remain in tact or not. Are
we headed back again to the 'Hard Hat' riot or are we headed toward the
'general strike' and the 'political strike' organized by independent
'strike committees' in a coalition with progressive students and Leftist
groups? It will be one or the other, I can assure you. Why? The answer is
because the economic irritants against US and Canadian workers will not go
away and the Union Bureaucracy will need some form of scapegoats if it
cannot even prevent a tiny 'political strike' during a useless mobilization
against a false target such as the WTO. So, while the Bureaucracy sits
uncomfortably between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, history teaches us
that the Bureaucracy always sides with the Devil (Capitalist reaction) when
they are faced with the rising tide of the Deep Blue Sea (the
self-mobilization of the workers).

An Unremarkable Summary

For some reason, my thesis that the WTO is a false and useless target for
the Labor Movement to focus on seems astonishing to many in the Newest Left
movement. To me, the anti-WTO actions are the modern version of Toyota
Bashing and nothing more. The Labor mobilizations against the WTO are a
shunting of rising labor militancy into a useless and ineffective channel.
No, I don't see that my thesis really is something to be astonished or
surprised by. Furthermore it is really an 'unremarkable' observation. My
comrades in the Old Left and Old New Left will probably laugh at this essay
because it demonstrates nothing more than 'a keen perception of the
obvious.' A Union Bureaucracy that has submitted to twenty years of
wage/benefit concessions, accepted two-tier wage rates, allowed bona fide
labor leaders to be hauled away in chains and leg irons (re: Steven
Wallick, PATCO strike, 1981) without so much as a whisper for a general
strike, a Bureaucracy that has accepted the virtual elimination of the 40
hour work week and merely waved 'good by' when American and Canadian jobs
were shipped away to 'slave-wage' nations, suddenly this Bureaucracy is
seen to be concerned that the WTO is over-ruling 'dolphin-safe' tuna
fishing legislation. Excuse me, I don't think so. The bureaucrats don't
care about their own members so why would they care about dolphins unless
these dolphins were willing to pay up a sizable lump sum of back dues?
Think about it, boys and girls of the Newest Left! Stop and think about it
for a moment or two. The Bureaucracy is not your friend and your moralistic
arguments about 'dolphins and sea turtles' have not persuaded the
bureaucrats to join in some holy street crusade against the autocratic and
non-democratic WTO. The Bureaucracy has used you, not the other way around.
You provided the Bureaucracy a safety valve for the release of worker anger
and frustration, that is all.

On the other hand, the rank-and-file union membership is your greatest
potential friend as well as your worst possible enemy. If the workers are
mobilized against you, then you will feel worse than a dolphin in a tuna
net. It is one thing to be beaten and gassed by a policeman, it is quite
another to be laughed at by that policeman as a Hard Hat construction
worker throws you against a lamp-post and proceeds to kick each one of your
ribs in. On the other hand, if the workers are mobilized with you, then you
will feel the power of a shadow constituency marching a thousand fold
greater for every worker that actually marches with you. The KKK won't
flash a single sheet when the workers take the streets. Worker militancy
and anger will keep pressure on the Bureaucracy but it may take a while
before the Bureaucrats risk another mobilization even against a phony
target. Why? The answer is that Seattle proved that things can unravel and
chains of command can break down. In short, the Bureaucracy can loose
control and they do not like that. The labor victory was not against the
WTO in Seattle, it was against the Bureaucracy itself with the single
sparkling flash of a 'political strike' by the dockworkers. That alone is
the victory in the Battle for Seattle because it shows the potential of
rank-and-file workers for using the strike weapon independent of the
authority of the top labor leadership.

The rising issue in the great Battle of Gettysburg was the issue of
slavery. It was unspoken; it was never articulated by either of the white
armies that fought at Gettysburg, yet it was the underlying cause of the
American Civil War. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln could not have mobilized the
nation on a slogan of "A War Against Slavery." Few or at least not enough
soldiers would come to that war. Instead, Lincoln called for 'A War to
Preserve the Union.' Are we not at a similar point in our modern North
American saga of labor? Can we mobilize people with a slogan such as "No
More Slave Wages" ?? Who would come to that action? Furthermore, how would
such a movement be structured? How would it fight and whom would it fight
against? What would be the 'effective and true' targets of such a struggle?

So, although the great American Civil War could not be started with a
slogan or program against slavery, the war certainly ended with an
unmistakable crusade against slavery. While church activists and moralists
preached for years against the evils of slavery, the white worker paid
little attention to the simple existence of slavery. Only when the rapid
expansion of slavery provided a type of unfair competition, producing a
drag on the wages of free white labor, only then, did the white worker get
the religion of abolitionism. So too we see the same dynamics as we stumble
into the 21st century. Privileged North American white workers have had
little concern for the super-exploited farm laborer imported illegally from
Mexico. However, when good paying jobs of white workers are transported or
exported down to Mexico or to Malaysia, suddenly the white worker begins to
hear the voices of morality. Suddenly the illusion of middle class status
seems to be in jeopardy. Suddenly, 'slave-wages' in far away lands become
an issue that touches the heart and wallet of the North American worker.
Slavery was the unspoken issue that thousands of men died over at
Gettysburg. The slave-wage rate (that has enabled the flight of capital
from America and Canada) was the unspoken issue that thousands of working
people marched against in Seattle. It was the unspoken issue that the
dockworkers shut down their jobs over. It is the issue over which the
Battles beyond Seattle will be fought.

Oh, and by the way, a man named John Brown was once considered to be the
historical equivalent of a 'kook' in his day. By 1865 every Union soldier
sang a song about Mr. Brown's "truth" marching onward, or something to that
effect Perhaps one could say that this minor footnote is but another
stirring American example of "The Collapse of the Political Center." When
an idea whose time has come, arrives on the political scene, they write
songs about 'kooks'. I wonder if Professor Krugman's essays on 'cheap'
labor will ever be set to music? No, probably not. I guess it just goes to
show you that in an historical sense, it is far better to be today's 'kook'
than tomorrow's 'clown'. Time will tell whether 'cheap' (slave-wage) labor
will bring the great prosperity that Krugman forecasts before or after they
start writing songs about the 'kooks' who fought in the great 'Battle of

[View the list]

InternetBoard v1.0
Copyright (c) 1998, Joongpil Cho