so some may remember a thread last week in which i invited you all to join in on a debate over the tactical/moral worthiness of corporate/comprehensive campaigns in the labor movement…well the upshot to all this is pretty fucked. cheek’s self-critical survey of our common political battle royal ended up getting appropriated by the enemy of all enemies, unionfacts, who describe him as an “ardently pro-labor blogger,” and quote him in a “see! even this labor activist thinks corporate campaigns are evil” way.
my point is not to call out uncle here: truth is, he took one for the whole team. the rest of us, too, have been pretty loose-lipped about the blemishes to be found in our workplaces. my question is, what’s the right way to handle this? i’m as fearful of “airing the family laundry” as the next guy, but i don’t want to be tight-lipped to the point of quelling debate. all of a sudden the oft-evoked ‘politics of representation’ actually seeem political!!!
more context. uncle didn’t make any points from his corner of the blog-realm that hallowed leftie publications don’t advance all of the time. an institution among the non-trot labor left, labor notes has been known to make the same objections to the salaries of union officials that the unionfacts rightists love. is a certain statement ‘progressive’ when unionists make it, but ‘propagandistic’ when bosses do? is this just a re-run of questions of who has the right to say ‘nigger’ and who doesn’t?
okay, i’ll buy that. i definitely believe that statements’ meanings derive largely from the context in which they’re spoken. but even if we accept the idea that it’s the speaker, not the speech..where has this gotten us? where is it safe/productive for the left versions of self-criticism to be voiced? for example, an acquaintance (who thinks i’m an asshole, btw) has made quite a splash writing about the adverse conditions in which young labor organizers are recruited, and the excruciating work environment in which they’re ‘baptized’ – should this literally “go without saying,” anywhere but in private spaces? will that change the situation? of course not. that said, i’ve become incredibly skeptical about my own interest to observe a labor union in my dissertation research…why shine a light on the insides of a grass roots organization when i could be shining one on capitalists somewhere, i ask? i certainly wouldn’t be trying to negatively portray a labor union, mind you… but even by focusing on the virtues of labor, don’t i end up producing information that could be skewed and reproduced for the ‘wrong’ interests?
which brings us to another question, one that we’ve taken on in the context of art: at what point does the author cede ‘responsibility’ for the life of the text s/he’s produced? would uncle be responsible for the death of corporate campaigns if unionfacts grafted his critique onto a union-busting campaign? would my acquaintance be responsible for a decrease in organizer recruitment? again, moral psychology obscures more than it illuminates… the issue is not one of intentions, but one of outcomes. uncle would regret a blow against the labor movement whether or not he deserved recriminations for this blow. but then we’re back to the sad fact that, yes, some of us would like to make significant changes within our political movement. and how can we do that if we’re terrified by how unintended consequences?