Most Americans may not use the term “class warfare,” but they know that they are under attack from somebody. As I write this, we’re hoping that 34 million Americans won’t lose their health care this very week!
When we describe these attacks against us, we usually use the metaphors of open battle, but I think we would understand a lot more if we thought of ourselves as under military siege. Wikipedia explains siege, the military tactic, pretty well.
They say, “Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static defensive position.” That one party would be us. From the other side’s offensive point of view, Wikipedia says, “The most common practice of siege warfare was to lay siege and just wait for the surrender of the enemies inside or, quite commonly, to coerce someone inside to betray the fortification.”
I think we could understand a lot about our progressive organizations, including our unions, if we think of ourselves as being under siege by enemy forces. The enemy of working people is, of course, our bosses, so that part is easy to understand. But what is it like to be on our side while we are under siege?
Our Bureaucracy Gets Tough
We will have to ration everything, and that will require a strong bureaucracy. On our side, within the castle walls, we have to guard against spies, provocateurs, and defectors. We have to watch not only the enemy outside but every one of our friends and allies inside. We may have to deal with some of them, severely!
Our untrusting bureaucracy will grow ever tighter. We will “circle the wagons,” not just against the attackers, but against everyone inside our castle walls who might betray us. The enemy outside the walls, where people are free to come and go, will doubtless criticize us as undemocratic. They will compare our leaders to “union bosses,” or to Stalin, or even to Hitler!
If they are able to make our situation within the walls more and more desperate, we will be less and less a democracy. Eventually, if the enemy can keep the siege going long enough, the people we are trying to protect will be sick of our own leaders and might even assist in an overthrow.
Does this sound like, for example, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Iran, or Venezuela today? Does any of this sound familiar in our own organizations, in our own unions?
What’s the Answer for the Besieged?
Ideally, we should break the siege. That is what the AFL-CIO has been trying to do since 1995. From 1947 (Taft Hartley Law) to 1995, they acted more and more like an isolated and untrusting bureaucracy within walls under siege. Since 1995, the labor federation has been reaching out for allies every where they can find them. The better unions no longer view their own members with suspicion, but look for new channels of communications and internal democracy. I agree with this course, but it isn’t going to be easy. Our enemies are very good at besieging, and we went the wrong way for a considerable length of time.
Not every siege works. The people of Leningrad overcame the German siege of over 900 days, just mostly by enduring. We, too, have to endure.
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