This is a moment of heightened class and democratic struggle. The signs are everywhere – not least in states in the nation’s heartland. It isn’t a time for the fainthearted.
The Republican right is squeezing labor and other sectors of the people’s movement at the federal, state and local level. Nothing like it has occurred in the post-World-War-II period. And we haven’t seen the worst of it.
Public workers are at the center of this attack to be sure, but it also reaches beyond them to the entire working class and people.
While right-wing Republicans are doing the dirty work, not far behind, pulling the strings where necessary, are major sections of the capitalist class.
The aim of this coordinated attack is twofold.
One aim is to shift the costs of the current crisis of capitalism onto the American people, who had no hand in its making. This is what the capitalists always do in the midst of any economic crisis no matter if it is deep or shallow.
The other aim – and this is what makes this crisis response from the top layers of capital different – is to strategically undermine labor’s power in the political arena, much like it has done to labor in the field of collective bargaining.
If successful, it would leave the organized section of the working class, the main social force combating right-wing extremism, a badly weakened actor in U.S. politics and society.
But as Robert Burns said about “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,” they go oft astray. Neither labor nor its allies is rolling over and throwing in the towel. Instead, a working class led counteroffensive is emerging – so much so that it is fair to say a new phase of a struggle is afoot, in which labor and its allies could turn the tables decisively in their favor.
The battle in Wisconsin electrified (for good reasons) the whole country. But the counteroffensive is not just Wisconsin – it is national in scope, diverse in form, creative in tactics, and united in action. This nationwide tapestry of struggle is multi-threaded, woven in varied patterns, loops and colors.
It is accompanied by a change in class mood, feeling and consciousness the likes of which we have not seen in recent decades. In the felt experience of tens of millions, capitalism isn’t working for working people, the American Dream is crumbling, something better is needed.
The counteroffensive in my view dates back to the 2006 elections, where labor and its allies scored a victory and thus threw the Bush administration on the defensive for the first time.
It continued in 2008 when tens of millions danced in unison on the political stage and elected an African American president who promised a u-turn from the far-right policies of the Bush years.
There was an unfortunate lull in this counteroffensive in the first two years of the new administration, during which time the right and corporate class regrouped and went immediately into attack mode. But the lull is over. Labor’s counteroffensive is resurfacing in a strikingly new and promising way.
This augurs well for the future, even though Republicans at the state and federal level, fresh from a victory at the polls last fall, are pressing their advantage.
In the coming months, the GOP because of its legislative majorities may register some victories, but they will be short lived.
In politics, winning and losing isn’t a matter of simple arithmetic, not simply a matter of tallying up what was won and what was lost. Rather, it depends on which side is able to expand its support, deepen its unity, and capture the initiative. It also depends on which side is best able to frame the debate and win the battle for public opinion. And on these counts, labor and the people’s movements are scoring well.
Already casting a long and ever-present shadow over the nation’s politics, economics and public discourse is the 2012 elections.
No struggle has the same possibility to rearrange the political balance of forces in a progressive direction as does the 2012 elections and its outcome. No other struggle has the same possibility to throw the working class and people’s counteroffensive onto an entirely new forward trajectory.
Labor may have fewer financial resources in 2012, but its army of activists will be far bigger and its ground game will be bolder.
As we dig into today’s struggles, it’s not too early to be thinking about what has to be done to defeat right-wing extremism at the polls next year.
Photo: The scene in Madison, Wis., February 18. People’s World