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Socialist Worker | Tactics and the port shutdown

I wondered when Occupy’s actions would move out of public sqaures and into directly confronting the mechanisms of capitalism that working class people depend on — I’m supportive of Occupy, and this kind of push-pull tension in confronting capitalism with direct protest was inevitable. I don’t see easy answers, here; I don’t think there are any.

From Socialist Worker:

In the aftermath of the West Coast Port Shutdown on December 12, a debate over tactics has emerged in the Occupy movement. The discussion centers on the role of port workers and Occupy activists’ relationship to them. 

The December 12 actions were an important step for the Occupy movement, especially in connecting to the struggle of workers against some of the richest and most powerful corporations around. But the future of the movement depends on Occupy activists adopting strategies and tactics that treat workers on the docks–and everywhere else in the economy–as allies and potential supporters, not as opponents.

People’s World |Occupiers message to Congress: All we want for Christmas is good jobs

From People’s World: 

WASHINGTON-“All I want for Christmas is JOBS!” 

That was the message on a placard carried by a Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP) member as he marched with about 50 other PUP members to join a “People’s Camp” on the Capitol Mall Dec. 6. 

PUP brought a busload to join rallies, speak outs and other mass actions during a rainy but mild week in the nation’s capital. It included sit-ins outside lawmakers’ offices demanding that they extend jobless benefits and create jobs by approving a multi-billion dollar public works program.
A coalition including Rebuild the American Dream movement, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) USAction and many other unions and community organizations are sponsors of the mobilization. 

Protesters from Ohio sat down in the corridor outside House Speaker John Boehner’s office, “bearding the corporate Grinch in his den.” It was one of dozens of impromptu sit-ins at congressional offices to protest Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s jobs program. 

Occupy Xmas?

So, AdBusters, which served as the original impetus for Occupy Wall Street, is now calling for occupations and demonstrations at major retailers:

You’ve been sleeping on the streets for two months pleading peacefully for a new spirit in economics. And just as your camps are raided, your eyes pepper sprayed and your head’s knocked in, another group of people are preparing to camp-out. Only these people aren’t here to support occupy Wall Street, they’re here to secure their spot in line for a Black Friday bargain at Super Target and Macy’s.

This is in line with AdBusters’ usual opposition to commercialism, which I generally support, but I agree with this piece from SocialistWorker dissecting the implications of this, and finding it ultimately counterproductive:

It should also be pointed out that at some of these holiday sales, people may be buying presents, but some may be buying for themselves what they can’t afford at any other time of the year.

Socialist | Occupy’s Next Struggle

If you think the Occupy crackdowns we’re seeing across the country are really about keeping order, cleaning up ‘unsanitary conditions’ or any of the other weak excuses from the empowered elite, think again.

The raids, the arrests and the police violence are about trying to silence a movement that is giving voice to the accumulated discontent of the working-class majority in U.S. society. They’re also about showing who’s the boss–the political and business establishment.

What we’re seeing is as old as the rise of the moneyed elite itself. A working-class, populist movement gives voice to widespread discontent with the status quo, and after a few perfunctory claims to respecting ‘free speech,’ the reaction from the elite is swift and violent. This is the way the elite maintain power: they do not respect the needs of the working class (that’s a given), and any talk of respecting the rights of that class is ultimately for show.

I’m boycotting a half a dozen products! I’m buying my way out of capitalism!

There’s a meme growing on Twitter that unless Occupy starts calling for boycotts “against the 1%” it will be doomed to failure.

No, it’s the idea that a few consumer product boycotts will actually accomplish anything that’s a failed idea.

The ridiculously tiny minority that control a majority of the wealth in the US, and most of the rest of the world, do not simply control raw wealth. They also control the means of wealth production. That won’t change because you switch to a different brand of toothpaste for the length of a boycott; sure folks would feel like they’re “supporting” Occupy, but it ends there; buying brand Z instead of brand X speaks to the 1% in what particular ways? It fundamentally says we’re sheep and can be marketed to. The current status quo will only change if the political body – the state – that’s empowered to actually redistribute wealth through progressive taxation actually taxes the super-wealthy and funnels that resulting revenue not into yet another series of wars as security theater, but to actual progressive domestic spending. Boycotts may feel good, but in this case, they’re just feel-good consumerism.

The folks promoting this idea are well-intentioned, I truly believe, but utterly utterly naive. Do you know which companies Bill Gates is long on? How about Carlos Slim? How much of the rest of the 1% – and every single company they hold stock in – are you willing to boycott? If you’re only interested in symbolic boycotts against one or two individuals of the 1%, then my criticism of this strategy is all the more certain. Even if you could get them to disclose every company they hold significant positions in, you’re planning on boycotting every single one of those companies? If not (and, be realistic, in the real world, you’re not going to be able to do this as a practical matter unless you simply stop buying everything), which ‘targeted’ boycotts do you suppose will materially affect the 1%?

It’s just a meaningless attempt to buy one’s way around the flaws of capitalism. You can’t undermine and support capitalism at the same time. You might think your boycotts are meaningful, but in this case, this smacks of an awful lot of magical thinking.

Who should Occupy or its supporters boycott? What products? For how long? How will any of this – any of it – materially affect the 1%? If anyone can actually make a case for it, I’d support such a boycott, but thus far, I’m just seeing an awful lot of wishful thinking about the efficacy of boycotts in theory. Occupy’s real power – and real opportunity – is not to get the 1% to change in response to some consumer boycotts that won’t affect wealth concentration even a whit. The real opportunity at hand is to make the government more afraid of the 99% than they are of the ridiculously wealthy minority they presently serve. That won’t come because you switch brands of detergent.

If Occupy and its allies – and I’m an ally, I hope it’s clear I want Occupy to succeed  really believe that “Another world is possible,” which I hope they do – I hope that’s not just a nice, but ultimately meaningless chant – the opportunity here is to really critique capitalism while the general population is listening. Feel-good consumer boycotts aren’t going to do that.