Class politics needed to build the Occupy movement

The new Occupy Everywhere global movement is a magnificent example of the creativity and energy of the movement against capitalism. The slogan ‘We are the 99%’ captures the inclusive spirit of a movement that is drawing to itself all those who want to see a better world.

The success of this movement lies in its ability to ‘join the dots’ of struggle. Everyone feels their issue is addressed and has a space to be heard. We need to continue to attract people into the movement.

The unions and the movement

A crucial debate surrounds how to relate to the trade unions and whether union banners and flags should be excluded from protests.

The anger at the passivity and collaboration of the trade union leaders in implementing the EU-IMF deal is understandable but refusing to make links with trade unionists is a mistake. You have to distinguish between the trade union leaders – full time officials, and ordinary union members.

Many trade unionists are as angry and frustrated at the union leadership as the Occupy protestors. Banning union banners simply plays into the hands of the trade union leaders. They are happy to keep the union movement passive.

The way to force unions to act is to appeal to their membership to join the occupy protests. The union bureaucracy will hate nothing more than to see branch union banners on the protests.

We need the power of organised labour to defeat the government. The general strikes in Greece this month shows the power of organised workers. By withdrawing their labour workers can bring capitalism to its knees.

Many young protestors have never seen a large strike by workers, never mind a general strike. It is no surprise then that they do not automatically look to the power of workers organised in trade unions. It is up to other activists, and leftwing political parties, to bring the experience of previous class struggles and point to examples like the strikes in Greece to show where our power lies.

In the US the occupiers have made vibrant links with the trade union movement. Trade unions played a crucial role in stopping an effort to evict OWS. Unions called on workers to stop by Liberty Plaza on the way into work to show their support. Thousands answered the call, leaving the cops and city authorities powerless to remove the occupiers. Bloomberg had to lamely announce that “cleaning” the square would be “postponed”.

Noam Chomsky speaking at a Rebellious Media Conference held in London commented on the occupiers’ tactics. One source of inspiration were the US sit-down strikes of the 1930s, Chomsky said, “Take the sit-down strikes, they had a huge effect. They terrified owners and management, and there’s a very good reason for that. A sit-down strike is just one step before taking over the factory, kicking out the bosses and the managers and saying, ‘We’ll run it ourselves’.”

Chomsky said of the Arab Spring “The main successes are Tunisia and Egypt, where there have been major labour struggles for years which have finally broken through. It’s when the labour movement began to seriously participate that the gains of these movements really became noticeable. That ought to be known if the occupy movements, spectacular as they are, are going to have real success.”

Class politics brings clarity not division

Some fear attempts to co-opt the movement by political parties – like the Democrats in the US, who are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement like they did the anti-war movement. Others argue that raising politics at all divides the movement into ‘left’ and ‘right’ and that we should simply talk about a ‘peoples movement’.

Calling for ‘No politics’ is understandable in a country where all political parties implement the same EU-IMF policies no matter what they promise before they get elected. FG-Labour is the same as FF-Greens and Sinn Fein are implementing the same austerity policies in the North.

But ‘No politics’ glosses over the political differences that already exist in the movement – whether they are articulated openly or not. ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ simply means those who are for or against capitalism. The more ‘left’ you are the more anti-capitalist.

The 1% who own the wealth also own the main media outlets. They use this influence to shape the political debates in the country. This influence also extends into the protest movement.

This influence can be seen in the debates over whether to protest and use civil dis-obedience or simply wait for the next election, whether to support strikes by workers or whether to exclude the unions.

Banning leftwing political literature makes it easier for the capitalist press to win more influence. We need to counter their arguments and attempts to divide the movement. That means having our own media and having the freedom to debate all opinions about how to build the movement.

In a country with a history of banning political dissent – like the use of section 31 to silence republicans – the movement should be defending alternative media and politics not trying to repress them. We need more creativity, more ideas, more debate… not less.

To get rid of this horrible system once and for all we need a movement of ‘people power’ linking with workers’ power. We need to bring the occupy movement from the squares into the neighbourhoods and from there into every school, college and workplace.


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