50,000 Lineup for Housing Aid in Detroit: Where is the Left?

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-Will

I only have two questions when reading the World Socialist Website article:

What does this say about the objective situation for the radical/ revolutionary left?

Where is the radical/ revolutionary left?

TheWSWS websites writes:

“In a scene reminiscent of the crowds of jobless workers who lined up for free soup during the Great Depression, a queue of tens of thousands of workers and unemployed people wound around the downtown arena. Young mothers pushing baby carriages, disabled workers in wheelchairs, senior citizens and throngs of young workers and youth stood for hours waiting. Many had slept on the streets the previous evening to be the first served.

Several people fainted during the wait and were treated by medical personnel on the scene. By 11:30 a.m., Detroit’s mayor, David Bing, made a public appeal for citizens to stop coming to Cobo Hall. Hundreds of police, including officers from Detroit’s special Gang Unit, stood guard at the entrances to hold back the crowd.”

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5 thoughts on “50,000 Lineup for Housing Aid in Detroit: Where is the Left?”

  1. Related to the second question Will raises, on where is the left: I’d be interested to hear from other readers/writers on strategies for organizing among unemployed workers, as well as perspectives on organizing against home foreclosures that’s happening now or has happened historically. Both seem like important fronts for working class struggle in our current context of deepening austerity for workers and lining the pockets for rulers.

    What I’ve noticed in my experience of being out of work and on the job hunt for the past couple months is that it is clearly an employers’ market right now. For basic call center gigs, I’m being told that I have to go through 2 and 3 interviews, take various skills tests and go thru a rigorous background check in order to get the job. I never had that before when working at call centers, save for when I worked in the airline industry (because of the federal security regulations they’re supposed to meet). Some of the folks I’ve been meeting who are interviewing for the same jobs have been looking for work for 6, 7, and 8 months, and hate to do it but are putting up with these BS hiring processes because they feel desperate and like they have no other job options.

    To put it in perspective, I saw an article recently talking about how a GE plant in Kentucky that announced 90 open positions, received over 10,000 applications. The kicker of it was that those new positions were opening at $4-5 an hour less than they went for this time last year because the union took concessions that now allow the company to create a two-tiered wage system.

    These experiences are demoralizing but also infuriating for the millions who are having them. They can leave a person feeling atomized, like they have no say against employers and are in a position of weakness. These are important politicizing experiences. It’ll be important for there to be militant, fighting organizations built inside actual workplaces for those who are working, but there also needs to be a struggle waged among the unemployed because of their strategically important position (meaning, among other factors, because of the way capitalists use unemployed folks as a reserve army of labor against other layers of the working class).

    What kinds of organizing can bring unemployed & employed workers together in struggle? What does unemployed workers organizing have to do with other struggles among communities of color, seeing as people of color disproportionately make up the ranks of the unemployed? Why was there so much unemployed organizing in the Great Depression but not today? How differently should unemployment be understood today from the Depression, given the changes in capitalism, class composition, etc., between then and now?

    Anyways, this comment has ended up being more questions than answers, but it all in my mind points to the need for the left to be seriously taking up new strategies and campaigns organizing among unemployed workers.

  2. Here are some scattered notes on the general situation of the US as it relates to this post.

    In the United States, revolution is not around the corner and nor is right-wing reaction imminent. There is time and space. Some general features stand out:

    -The U.S. has averted a Great Depression 2.0 in the short-term with its massive stimulus plan and government intervention. This has softened the growth of mass mobilization by oppressed people.

    -At the same time, the situation of oppressed people is desperate. The suffering and sacrifices of the American working class is immense. However, in this current period, when middle class organizations, NGOs, trade union bureaucracies etc dominate the organizational vehicle and forms of struggle, people have no clear and aggressive way forward. They are stuck. Some want to fight, but the way forward is muddied. In their desperation, people are waiting for change from the government of Obama, saving every penny they can hoping for a recovery etc; in other words a defensive, wait-and-see period is upon us. How long it will last, it is hard to say.

    -Obama’s popularity while declining, still hold’s a powerful weight amongst many people of color, progressives, and radicals. The fear of criticizing a Black president while the Right is on the hunt, appears to pose few anti-racist alternatives to millions.

    -The first opening shots or temper tantrums of oppressed people have begun against a systemic attack by the capitalists since the economic crisis. The asymetirical behavior could not be starker, while the capitalists have launched another round of austerity on the working class, the class has not been able to mount a broader offensive. Perhaps the struggles in California represent something new, along a more systemic attack against the rulers and their offensive, but it is too early to say anything definitive on that.

    -The opening shots however means that vanguard layers are coming out in the open to struggle creating opportunities for revolutionaries to engage in struggles and develop relationships with this layer of society.

    -The revolutionary left is not in a position subjectively or objectively to grow in huge ways. That is still a few years away. Subjectively the left is tiny and disconnected from oppressed layers, offering at times more propaganda then material aid which is a huge problem. Objectively people are more defensive then anything else right now. Right now the left can probably grow in tens and twenties–this layer is very important. Especially if this growth is rooted in the first line of oppressed people who are fighting. This will provide the left with organic links into the class and also provide oppressed militants with organizations which break with the trade union, middle class groups etc etc.

    -Trade union struggles are generally trapped in caucus work to reform the unions.

    -The Right, while it has taken up immense national space, changed what is acceptable in any discussion. This dynamic effects the Senate, House of Representatives or any other institution in the US, in all major debates in the country. The right has made powerful public showings at the street level, but has not won battle of the streets, workplaces, and communities in a materially decisive way. In some ways the Right has put on its own theatrical performances, while powerful, have not been a fatal blow the left.
    Nor has the Left and its forces come out aggressively. We can only wonder if oppressed people are watching the Town Hall meetings and beginning to think if they should go out and confront the racists, or go out and fight for issues in such militant ways as well. Only time will tell if such lessons were learned. Winds of polarization are blowing, but has not caught the sails of any ship so to speak, meaning mass movements have not taken shape from either the right or the left.

    -The great battles of Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Fransisco did not happen immediately after the Great Depression. They happened in 1934, five years after the stock market crash. While history does not repeat itself, it cannot be discarded either. What can be learned from this past?

  3. well, Will, what would yall do if you hadnt left Detroit? what would your program be.

    i remember way back when there were some labor stuff was going down here some of yall either dismissed it as social democratic and reformist or economist and based on peoples “animal instincts” rather than revolutionary ideas. i remember sitting in a meeting and being told that LDD Detroit wuold meet with Soldiers Of Solidarity organizers only to debate them and how SoS had to be statist an dbeauracratic because one of its poeple had some symapthies with Lula and Partido dos Trabalhadores.

    now, SoS had its problems but it was at the time a broad swath of auto workers and organizers – some conservative, some left oriented, some sympathetic to the syndicalism of the IWW of old, and most just concerned about their families, communities and futures as auto tanked and the UAW tried pushing more concessions on them. SoS was a big tent but many welcomed the participation of concerned students, workers, and community people.

    so…were gonna see scenarios like this one at Cobo, were not going to be able to instantly relate (or maybe relate at all to that particular event). its gonna take protracted organizing and building links/networks so that when there are flash points we may have the potential to intervene and connect with a broader range of folk.

    but yeah, rather than posture about “where’s the Left” let’s here some programmatic thoughts. i sure as hell would be interested in ideas on what to do here in The D

  4. Yo C. Alexander.

    The points you raise about “LDD”–our old organization name– show exactly what was wrong with us back then. Shows how revolutionaries can have no conception of how everyday folks struggle, how to relate to reform and revolution, and how sectarian they (in this case I) can be. I am not sure if those exact things were said, but I could imagine something along those lines being thrown around by young or older LDD folks–including myself. I can also imagine something along the lines of “the left treats the SOS people as if they have only animal instincts” being said, which is an attack on economism. I don’t know if exploring the nuances are helpful or evading the point you are trying to get at. Let me know and we can try to get the bottom of this…

    But back to you responding to your post: I guess all I can say is how wrong I was for those perspectives at the age of 24ish or so. Four or so years later, I know I do not agree with what I said about the SoS–at least the comments you point to.

    I agree 100% on your comment “so…were gonna see scenarios like this one at Cobo, were not going to be able to instantly relate (or maybe relate at all to that particular event). its gonna take protracted organizing and building links/networks so that when there are flash points we may have the potential to intervene and connect with a broader range of folk.”

    Regarding the posturing and programmatic thoughts. I certainly am not trying to posture. (My understanding of “posturing” is when a revolutionary disses other revolutionaries for not doing quality revolutionary work. It is a way of saying, “I am more revolutionary than thaou.”)

    My apologies for that. I suppose reading that article I was very angry and hurt to see what was happening to the city of Detroit. A place I hold very dear to my heart…. I was also angry at the revolutionary left which includes myself and the organization I am involved in. I feel a great responsibility to oppressed people…

    Either way, to be clear, I think the post was a cry of anger and desperation. I posted it on the blog because that is what I felt. In no way was I trying to say something about the rest of the left which could not be said about Unity and Struggle or LDD. I suppose that should settle the question of posturing.

    In terms of the programmatic thoughts–fair enough… I will work on some in the upcoming week and post them. I hope you can engage me on them as quality programs do not come out of one brain, but out of intense collaboration, practice, study, and fine wine.

  5. I agree with Will, we made a lot of mistakes back then. We’re trying to move forward now, and critical discussion and collaboration is key for doing that.

    To take a shot at one of Lauren’s questions, and one small part of C. Alexander’s question about Detroit, I agree that unemployed organizing is crucial. I’ve been looking for good resources on unemployed work that could help us figure out how to do it well today- there is some good stuff written about the 30s but I’m having trouble finding more contemporary stuff.

    Some of my friends, former students, and I just started Employment Justice Action, a small group here in West Seattle that is demanding jobs in the neighborhood, especially for youth of color. The neighborhood has faced devastating gentrification the past few years with the state setting up a new mixed income development that kicked a lot of folks who used to live in the housing projects here out of the city. On top of that many of the local businesses don’t hire folks from the neighborhood. We’re tragetting those businesses, threatening boycotts if they don’t hire a cross section of folks from the racial and ethnic groups hardest hit by unemployment in the hood. This is all very new and we’ll see how it goes.

    We hope over time we can link up this work with the rank and file labor organizing we’re doing at the UW, one of the city’s largest employers. Workers there are facing speed up while at the same time there are layoffs and a hiring freeze and not enough folks going through apprenticeships to enter the trades. One painter paints 63 buildings while meanwhile many of my students and other young people in West Seattle can’t find jobs. C. Alexander, this long term strategy is partly inspired by discussion with a comrade of yours from Solidarity and Defense who told us about speed up in his job as a Detroit city worker and how there is a big need to fight for funding and access to the apprenticeship program for unemployed youth of color from the city – how the fight against speedup on the job could be linked to the fight for jobs.

    We’ll post on all of this more directly as things develop.

    Is anyone else out there doing unemployed organizing today? If so, it’d be great if you could share your experiences or if anyone could suggest good contemporary reflections on unemployment work.

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