Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Who Determines What Is a Victory?

On January 23 the Solidarity with Longview working groups of Oakland, Portland, Longview and Seattle issued a release on the ILWU/EGT tentative agreement. The release said that it will be the rank-and-file of Local 21 who determine whether or not it was a victory, and pledged to continue mobilizing until the contract was approved. In the next paragraph it called the settlement “a victory for the workers, for social movements, and for the 99%.”

Apart from the obvious problem in saying something in one paragraph and the contrary in the next (probably a result of writing under time pressure after sleepless nights), the release did not set forth its criteria for evaluating the settlement. Would it be measured in wages, fringe benefits and union job control, or by “the ever-expanding union of the workers”? If by the latter, how does that square with leaving it to Local 21 to determine whether it was a victory?

It is likely that the movement’s intervention helped bring about a settlement. (It isn’t clear whether EGT or the ILWU leaders were more frightened by the growing influence of Occupy.). But how can Occupy claim the settlement as a victory for itself when it was neither consulted on its terms nor acknowledged as a principal, and took no direct part in arriving at it?

The political distance between those who make decisions about what to do based on their commitment to revolution and those who may act in a militant or even revolutionary manner where conditions indicate is greater than the distance between the latter and conservatives who are wedded, either emotionally or out of self-interest, to legalistic and pacifistic methods of struggle. Put another way, the political distance between revolutionaries who want to build councils and militants who want to build good unions is greater than the distance between the latter and union bureaucrats. Put still another way, the distance between revolutionaries and reformers is greater than the distance between progressive reformers and conservatives.

Awareness of and attention to this distinction is the starting point and hallmark of a revolutionary outlook. I am deliberately drawing the bow to the end, leaving out the tactical complexities of an actual situation in which the lines are by no means clear.

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