How Organizing for Change Is Very Different Than Winning Elections
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I'm less interested in the election period than in the governing period as a general rule. And I think the problem is that the relationship doesn't separate during the governing period. So from '08 to 2012, people did essentially nothing except behind-the-scenes chit-chat at the White House. It didn't get us anything. We barely got an appointment at the NLRB, you could debate healthcare, I don't think you could call that a labor win. The immediate way it's going to play out for a lot of healthcare workers I think is actually an undiscussed question.
One of the most important things that unions have to do is shift the relationship going forward -- and completely be willing to be out the front door screaming and yelling and really building a protest movement. Not just a protest movement, that's a little bit simplistic, but really doing serious education among the rank and file about how the system works. One of my complaints in a lot of the labor work that I was involved in was that people were taking the base for granted.
There's this weird cultural thing that happens between the Democratic Party and the labor movement, which plays out in a number of ways. One is how pollsters have almost replaced organizers in the American labor movement. It's like labor doesn't talk to workers any more. They talk to pollsters who talk to the workers. I would argue that any good organizer any day of the week anywhere knows before any pollster whatever he needs to know about what the workers think. Period. That's what good organizers do.
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.
Here's another parallel. Unions do this thing, for an NLRB election we bring in the best and brightest. The whole labor movement, since 1995, when Sweeney won, we had this whole methodology, there's the A team, and we got sent all over the country. Boom, blast in, run a huge election, win. Very much like the Democratic party machine in a swing state. The second we're done we're pulled out. Every great relationship built with every worker, just gone.