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(en) US, Another take on The Million Workers March in Washington DC, October 17, 2004

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 20 Oct 2004 23:33:33 +0200 (CEST)


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Two weeks before the American presidential election, there was a labor
rally in Washington, DC. Few would call the event an unqualified
success. The turnout was smaller than hoped for, there were
organizational problems (detailed below), and the crowd was dominated
by the already politicized... Still, there were bright spots to be found. The
fact that the event even took place gives cause for hope regarding the
unions in America... We can hope that more such events will be
forthcoming, that with experience the organizational difficulties will be
ironed out, and that more rank and file workers will began to participate.
And as always, whenever workers join forces to battle the power of
capital, we anarchists will be there.

Two weeks before the American presidential election, there was a labor
rally in Washington, DC, the ill-named Million Workers March (MWM).
With the possible exception of the organizers, members of Local 10 of the
International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), few would call
the event an unqualified success. The turnout was smaller than hoped
for, there were organizational problems (detailed below), and the crowd
was dominated by the already politicized. That is, it was really not the
massive “workers” march that was billed and hoped for.

Still, there were bright spots to be found. The fact that the event even
took place gives cause for hope regarding the unions in America. On the
one hand, an optimist might perceive the MWM as the force of the rank
and file applying political pressure from below; more realistically, I think,
the march could be characterized as the expression of a dissenting faction
within the bureaucracy that dominates organized labor, a faction with a
somewhat more progressive agenda and aggressive approach than the
conservative elements at the highest echelons of the AFL-CIO. Whatever
one’s spin on the content of the dissent, any challenge to that
organization’s top-down centralization can only be a positive
development.

Why was the turnout so small?
One prominent labor activist estimated the crowd at between 5 and 10
thousand. Of course, there was never any serious expectation of actually
turning out a million people, and this led many to question the wisdom of
using the tired old “Million Strong” formulation. But in the weeks
leading up to the march, many reasonable organizers had hoped for a
much larger crowd than materialized.

Click on image for a larger version

It can be truly said that police repression played a part in reducing
turnout. There were reports of buses with prearranged parking who were
turned away from their destinations. (The fact that the state power felt
threatened enough to actively combat the event serves as a perverse sort
of endorsement.).

Still, most observers agreed that the biggest impediment to a large march
was the opposition of the AFL-CIO “leadership”. In the prelude to
the MWM, the AFL-CIO actively campaigned against participation, on
the grounds that all energy at this time must be devoted to the 2004
presidential election.

Sadly, the opposition of the union officialdom probably also explains why
there were so few rank-and-file workers. It may be that without
Sweeny’s blessing, the dissemination of information about the
march, and logistical support with transportation and lodging, were
lacking. The most pessimistic interpretation would be that the bulk of the
workers pay blind allegiance to the uppermost levels of the AFL-CIO.

Anarchist were out in force
Anarchists, of course, scoff at the false hopes proffered by the
Sweeney/Kerry apologists for capitalism, and supported the march. While
there were some complications formalizing that support (I don’t think
there was ever a specific formal call for a red and black contingent) a red
and black contingent did develop. Such organizations as the North
Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC) and the Workers
Solidarity Alliance (WSA) were well represented, as well as a large group
of IWW fellow workers. The small attendance at the march made the
anarchist presence seem even larger.

There was also a call by a group calling themselves the Coalition of
Imaginary Anarchists to support the working class demands of the march.
This was seen by some as motion towards a more class-orientated
position, by factions within the anarchist milieu that had previously been
involved primarily in counter-cultural efforts. If the two anarchist factions
didn’t exactly march together, they did march near each other, with
no visible animosities.

The reception by the police and the ILWU organizers, on the other hand,
was less friendly. Upon arrival at the convergence point in the shadow of
the grotesquely phallic Washington monument, anarchists and IWW
members were warned by police that unfurling banners would be
regarded as an un-permitted demonstration, and that arrests would
follow.

According to one report, upon arrival at the rally point the anarchist
contingent was denied entry to the fenced inner perimeter of the rally by
marshals. Later in the day, as the multitude of speakers inside the fenced
perimeter droned on, the red and black contingent held a consulta outside
the fence, to form a contingency plan in the event that an actual march of
workers never materialized. A man in an ILWU jacket approached, and
began to interrogate the consulta’s facilitator. When informed that we
were doing something called democratic process, the man became irate
(he didn’t have far to go) and began sputtering about how we should
fall in line and support “his” event, instead of assembling
independently. In addition to the illogic of berating us for failing to
support a rally we were apparently denied entry to, his aggressive behavior
was offensive. The anarchist facilitator did not return his verbal blows, but
neither did he allow the interloper to disrupt the meeting to the point of
ending it, or taking it hopelessly off-topic. As such, his behavior is to be
commended under these difficult circumstances.

The thousand leftists did indeed march
Finally, mercifully, the beginning of a march was announced from the
stage, whose destination was a local hotel with the cleaning staff out on
strike. Incredibly, even as the march left the area speakers continued from
the stage, given the implicit message that it was OK to skip supporting
the striking fellow workers at the hotel, and remain at the rally point. In
spite of this blunder, most people did join in what became a spirited
march, followed by a rally at the hotel.

In spite of the organizational problems, Local 10 of the ILWU is to be
commended for the fact that in the face of AFL-CIO resistance and police
oppression, the event at least did take place. We can hope that more such
events will be forthcoming, that with experience the organizational
difficulties will be ironed out, and that more rank and file workers will
began to participate. And as always, whenever workers join forces to
battle the power of capital, we anarchists will be there.


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