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THE RULES OF THE GAME
By Mike Hembury
Ever since Trump’s election, the big question has been: what now?
If the short-term goal of the resistance mobilizations has been stopping whatever reactionary and discriminatory orders are coming out of the Trump/Bannon regime, there has been a good deal of disagreement about the long-term goals.
There is perhaps even a degree of hankering and harking back to the business-as-usual-days of the Empire with a human face, a.k.a. The Obama presidency.
But one thing that the billionaire-military clique making up the current regime has made abundantly clear is that they are prepared to ditch business as usual and openly push towards dictatorship, naked discrimination and ecological catastrophe in order to preserve their money-making model.
Ironically, Trump and his cronies have done more to discredit fossil-fuel capitalism than all the campaigning of the past twenty years combined. On top of that, the supine nature of Congress’s acquiescence to the government’s openly anti-democratic and ecocidal plans have more or less sidelined the congressional struggle for the battles of the coming period.
A crisis of political representation
Sure, the Democrats will do their best to discredit Trump and hold him to account. But basically the Republicans can ram through any legislation they damn well please.
But whereas Obama wasted time and dragged his feet on the issue of ongoing and impending ecological catastrophe, Trump is actively attempting to withdraw to a fantasy world where the laws of science no longer apply. Not only that, with his attacks on democratic rights, the checks and balances of the Constitution, protection mechanisms for ordinary people such as the EPA, Trump has essentially thrown liberal and social-democratic models of political representation into the trash can.
The only representing going on in the House of Representatives is for the power of big business.
Not that all that many people really regarded themselves as being represented by the present system. Quite apart from all the people who voted against Trump, an estimated 45% of adults who live in the USA did not even participate on election day.
So for the anti-Trump majority, the option of waiting for the next round of elections simply is not on the table.
From a purely ecological point of view, at this critical juncture in the history of the planet, another four years of inaction and actively promoting fossil fuels will have horrendous consequences that will be felt for thousands of years to come.
On the one hand, people wanting to resist have started to look to existing extra-parliamentary organizations with a resistance agenda, like Greenpeace, for example. And if Greenpeace succeeds in mobilizing people to participate in protests, good for them. But such organizations are fundamentally lobby organizations. They essentially want their voices to be heard in the corridors of power.
And in case you thought the labor unions were taking at least a progressive stand on fighting Trumpism, here they are cheerleading Trump’s withdrawal from TPP.
In fact, it’s unbelievable how craven and cowardly mainstream unionism has been on all the issues coming up since Trump’s election. Check out the websites of the AFL/CIO, the Teamsters, even the supposedly progressive Change To Win Federation. There’s nothing on Trump, nothing on deportations of undocumented workers, no position on travel bans, nothing on the axing of environmental protection, nothing on a government of billionaires.
The union leaders are playing the old game of cozying up to power. Some just want to wait and see. But all around them the rules of the game are changing.
If we pause for a moment to take in the broader resistance movement, there are two positive trends that stand out and are in need of amplification.
The other has been the tabling of the question of direct action, and by extension, strike action.
The incredible bravery and resilience of the Standing Rock protestors and the direct actions of people like the Valve Turners have taken awareness of the toxic and ecocidal effects of the pipeline network and the carbon economy to a whole new level. Beyond that, voices from the Day Without Immigrants and the 2017 International Women’s Strike have begun to show the way forward in terms of building for united, across-the-board resistance in terms of withdrawal of labor.
But check out the list of endorsers of the call for the International Women’s Strike. With the honorable exceptions of the UAW 2325 – Association of Legal Aid Attorneys and the UAW Local 2865 University of California Student Workers, not one single union branch or regional labor organization is listed.
And surprisingly, even radical labor organizations like the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World have no mention of the word “strike” in the “International Women’s Day Special” article on their website entitled “How Can Your IWW Branch Support Women And Fight Patriarchy?”
So if the general strike is being envisaged as a means of fighting a viciously right-wing government, the question must inevitably be: How can the strike be achieved if the argument is not taken to the union branches, the workplaces, workplace meetings?
Well, I guess the simple answer is: You have to build it.
And one way to build it is by getting organizations to commit to specific instances of community self-defense.
One great example of this is the brilliant display of solidarity action taken by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), who came out on immediate, spontaneous strike on the day the “travel ban” executive order was called. And, in spite of the essentially wildcat nature of the action, the NYTWA has taken a principled stand on basic issues of working class solidarity and fighting discrimination and officially approved the strike.
“Our 19,000-member-strong union stands firmly opposed to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. As an organization whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that’s almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defense of the oppressed, we say no to this inhumane and unconstitutional ban….
Today, drivers are joining the protest at JFK Airport in support of all those who are currently being detained at the airport because of Trump’s unconstitutional executive order. Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those who are simply trying to return to their homes here in America after traveling abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry.”
The political strike is not new. The wildcat strike is not new. Boycotts are not new. Like the mass demonstration, they are part of our arsenal of defense, and we need to start getting them out of mothballs.
This is the reasoning behind the magnificent Day Without Immigrants, which had an effect right across the States. However, the solidarity movement has not been strong enough to combat victimization and firing of participating workers. And once again, the degree of participation by organized labor has been minimal.
So it would seem that strike action is possible on specific aspects of the Trump agenda. But more organizations are going to have to start committing to community defense issues before the general strike becomes a realistic prospect.
In California, for example, the National Union of Healthcare Workers have effectively declared themselves a “sanctuary union” and stated that they will refuse to cooperate with federal agents to enforce immigration laws.
Generally speaking the only way forward then, as far as I can see, is continued resistance in the form of democratic self-organization and self-activity, whether in the workplace, university campus, school, neighborhood, municipality, whatever. Whether around issues of self-defense, such as deportation, discrimination or right-wing attacks, or around issues of exploitation and economic attacks. There needs to be a move from individual expressions of solidarity to organizational expressions of solidarity that can then form the basis for further action.
This is not some top-down thing that someone else is going to take care of. In the coming period, resistance is going to be self-organized or not at all.
This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be holding their elected representatives to account. Quite the contrary. It means getting involved, it means getting organized. And it means demanding change and demanding action wherever you are organized. But it also means that we should be clear-eyed on the extreme limitations of representational politics, not just in the coming period, but in general.
The rules of the game have changed, and continue to change. For a proto-fascist regime such as Trump/Bannon, the desired developmental path towards consolidation and increased repression is already clearly mapped out.
History teaches us that united action – mass action – is the only effective tool we have available to us.
And if you want to know who is going to organize it, let me give you the answer right now:
Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England. He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order. You can follow Mike on Twitter here: twitter.com/schnappz