Scott Walker won his recall election, and labor has suffered a genuine defeat. Maybe the words of Big Bill Haywood can give us some perspective on the place of elections in the struggle and where we might go from here:
The Industrial Workers of the World is an economic organization without affiliation with any political party or any non-political sect. I as an Industrialist say that industrial unionism is the broadest possible political interpretation of the working-class political power, because by organizing the workers industrially you at once enfranchise the women in the shops, you at once give the black men who are disfranchised politically a voice in the operation of the industries; and the same would extend to every worker. That to my mind is the kind of political action that the working class wants. You must not be content to come to the ballot box on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the ballot box erected by the capitalist class, guarded by capitalist henchmen, and deposit your ballot to be counted by black-handed thugs, and say, "That is political action." You must protect your ballot with an organization that will enforce the mandates of your class. I want political action that counts. I want a working class that can hold an election every day if they want to. (my emphasis)
I support the public sector unions opposing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's agenda. While I'm neither a fan of government nor the civil service, it's clear that the so-called lavish benefits and salaries public sector unions defend against Republican encroachment represent not entrenched privilege but merely the last vestiges of a minimally fair employment deal. The last forty years have seen this deal eviscerated in the private sector, and it is only in comparison to the current paltry influence of contemporary labor that public sector unions seem pampered. One need not single out individual teachers to critique public schooling, for instance - in any case, the idea that a school teacher is grifting me provokes involuntary laughter.
As a Wobbly, however, the ideology of class struggle informs my activism on labor. Solidarity is never unconditional, as my friend Chris Lempa pointed out to me in a letter. True common purpose in the struggle against bosses must be framed in terms of legitimate class theory in order not to degenerate into the business-as-usual, reformist, junior-partner-in-the-ruling-class unionism that has prevailed since the Wagner Act. And so while I support public sector unions in this conflict, I find it difficult to place them in the traditional model of class struggle.
In the private sector the class dynamics are clear: workers and bosses can be easily seen as in zero-sum competition. One gains at the expense of the other, the prize is effective control over the means of production, and the players line up along the party whose control they favor. Customers and suppliers represent the third parties who, while not powerless in the equation, tend to deal with the organization as a whole on a voluntary basis. The adversarial relationship is more centered inside the organization, and market pressures from the third parties are accepted as a given. Much of the decline in labor power has arisen from capital's superior marketing of the narrative that union gains come at consumer losses.