I really want to recommend Sarah Jaffe’s long-form interview with Jane McAlevey about her new book that I referred to here. McAlevey makes some really important points about a number of issues concerning labor–the restrictiveness of Taft-Hartley, how the Democratic Party dictates the agenda to labor, problems within the labor movement when it comes to organizing strategies, etc. You should read the whole thing. I do want to point out one piece, which gets back to some of the discussions we were having here before the election about the relationship between elections and change.
A point of influence that I’m getting rather obsessed with right now is this whole concept of microtargeting, and a lot of that’s coming from the Obama people and it’s really having an impact in the labor movement. I hear people in the last few years, in the labor movement, say “What do you think about buying databanks of information to see if we can assess whether a worker on a door is going to vote yes or not?” There’s this huge discussion going on in the labor movement among otherwise smart people, that we should just take another step past actually real organizing and just try to do the microtargeting that the Obama campaign is using to extract one vote every four years.
The mistake is that how you win an election and how you win change are fundamentally different. The election of the right people is a prerequisite to fundamental change, but all we do is help them get elected, and then we don’t do anything in the governing period except put everyone to sleep like a switch. If you think about the talent on the Obama team, what are they going to do for the next three and a half years? They basically go home. If you have the best campaign team during the election, those people actually need to stay and keep organizing the base every damn day, to actually create a left base to allow these people to run to the left when they’re governing.
I think a huge problem with the modern left, broadly defined, is the belief that if we elect the right people to office that things will change. That’s absolutely not the case. Change happens on the ground–in the workplace, at the school board meetings, in the courts. This all requires motivated and organized movements that see the election merely as a tool, not an end in itself.