L’affaire D’uncle

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?

please discuss.

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2 Responses to “L’affaire D’uncle”

  1. dave3544 Says:

    First principles my brother. Democracy, freedom, intellectually inquiry (hey look everyone, the Enlightenment!). Could natter on about dissent being patriotic and drawing parallels to war protests and there you are, let the imagination run. I’d also offer our sisters in CLUW and I am imagining that somewhere there is a labor caucus for people of color. Further imagining that these internal organizations have also been accused of giving aid and comfort to the capitalists at one time or another. We have too much experience of the MSs of this world to not be able to hear the pleas for “solidarity” in our minds’ ears. Did I mention that for evil to succeed, good men must remain silent?

    Of course, valid points can be made about being ill used. Maybe “our” mistake at times can come from thinking that our conversations are more private than we think or that no one could possibly take us seriously, as we have such a difficult time taking ourselves seriously. Certainly, we should all be more careful, especially while we still consider ourselves inside this movement. ‘Course the capitalists don’t really need our help putting out a counter narrative and I think they would quote us only as some sort of snark. If anyone who read that post actually surfed around galileo, then they certainly wouldn’t come away with an anti-labor, pro-union, pro-republican view of the world, any more than they might if they hit SEIU.com and read some of Stern’s bs about working with WalMart.

    But not speaking out means, of course, conceding the floor to those that would speak. Here privilege enters the discussion. While you and I certainly have plenty of that, we are disadvantaged by our age and our complete lack of power. And while we could certainly do better, I give “us” some credit for trying to surround ourselves with people who are more than happy to remind us of our privilege and we generally work to expand our movement and include all voices, even those we think tend to miss the mark on an all too frequent basis.

    And then do we do our movement any favors when we fail to speak out when we think it is going down the wrong road? Unless we because “got to get paid” union organizers, I say “no.” I say we make the arguments we think are right, and let the chips fall. Within reason. Maybe. Tough call. Can you see yourself working for SEIU and swallowing and regurgitating the standard line? Do we know anyone else in the labor movement who is going somewhere who did/is not? “We” may not rise to power, but we may influence those that do. Lord knows the redhead seems to be going places and we have his ear. Our little corner of the democratic/organizing movement is churning out leaders left and right.

    Anyway…we’ll have to see if the enemies can make anything out of this.

  2. The PrisonShip darling of the right wing ur-media, 'aficianado' « Says:

    […] of the right wing ur-media, ‘aficianado’ May 30th, 2007 — lexdexter yep. well it happened to n’uncle, then it happened to me! this here blog has been cited by union facts, where some wanky cato […]


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