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How to Beat the Corporations

by Todd Chretien Thursday, Aug. 10, 2000 at 8:12 PM 510-595-7675 433 37th Street Oakland, CA 94609

Debate over movement tactics: Masses or Clashes


After reading dozens of post Philadelphia emails posted to the D2K lists and talking to activists who were in Philadelphia, one this is clear: The Kensington Welfare Rights March was the most successful direct action of the whole week.

Why? It was multi-racial. It involved working class Philadelphian families. The march strengthened the fight against the central pillar of the GoreBush attack on workers: "welfare reform." The size of the march (around 3,000), and the unions' determination to defy the police ban on their rights to assemble, forced the cops to back down and retreat. In many ways, it was a model of where our movement needs to go.


Other recent successful direct actions: this spring, 12,000 janitors in LA blockaded buildings and streets during their victorious strike; 5,000 protestors trespassed on military property at the School of the Americas in Georgia last November; 50,000 Black and white people marched in South Carolina to successfully demand the Confederate Flag be removed from the roof of the capitol building this spring. It goes without saying that the mass direct actions in Seattle and DC also proved very effective, although in different ways (Seattle shut down the WTO conference, DC did not shut down the IMF, but did bring attention to it).


My point is NOT to counterpose smaller direct actions to bigger ones. Or to say that you can't do anything unless you've got thousands of people. I've been arrested a dozen times, at actions involving from 10 to 1,000 people. Rather, we should see direct action as a tactic and not a principle. Our guiding principle in all tactical questions should be: will a particular tactic build the movement broader, involve more workers and students, make it more multi-racial? OR will it limit those who can participate to a small hard-core.

Sometimes a small direct action can start a mass movement: In Greensboro, N.C. in Februrary, 1960, four Black students began the lunch counter sit-ins to desegregate the South - thousands rushed to join them in the next few months. Correct tactic.

Last spring, USAS students held small sit-ins at a half dozen schools - since then, millions have learned about sweatshops and UNITE (the garmant workers union) and the Steelworkers Union have built an alliance with students for the first time in decades. Correct tactic.

A minority of activists (including, but not encompassing all) anarchists, decide to trash parts of Philadelphia in order to confront the police state. Incorrect tactic.

WHY? What was the point? If it was to tie up Philly, then they should have gone to th transit unions and learned how they struck two years ago and shut down ALL the trains, buses and subways in Philly. If it was to defeat the police, well, honestly the police easily won the street war (how many cops are in jail?). If it was to "galvanize the masses into action," then "trashing" merely gave the police and politicians a means to intimidate the hundreds of thousands of workers and poor in Philadelphia who sympathized with the Kensington Welfare Rights March.


I am all for confronting the police in certain situations. When thousands of Black and white dockers in South Carolina fought hand to hand with state troopers to stop the unloading of a scab ship 6 months ago, they were right to do it. When UPS workers stood their ground in Massachussetts in 1997 against police attacks, they were right to do it. When hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest the Rodney King beating in 1992, they were right to do it. When thousands of peaceful protestors in Seattle and DC braved pepper spray, plastic bullets and beatings to keep control of the streets, they were right to do it. When the Kensington Welfare Rights Union defied the police and marched into the streets to protest welfare reform they were right to do it.

What unites all these situations? In each situation, confronting the police was a tactical necessity to achieve the goals decided upon by the people in action. Confrontation with the cops was not the goal, or a tactic which would somehow inspire others to join in. Rather, it was necessary to win.


It goes without saying that the police are the real source of violence. The symbolic acts of property destruction employed by a handful of anarchists are a protest (even if ineffective) against the tremendous brutality of the police and the system. The cops are the criminals. We should all demand the unconditional release of protestors ("violent" or not) from Philadelphia's jails, especially the dropping of the outrageous charges against Ruckus and ActUp leaders.


Our movement is not isolated. Behind the tens of thousands who've participated so far in Seattle, DC, Philly and (soon to be) LA, stand tens of millions of American workers, students and poor. We should not sell ourselves or those millions short. Tens of thousands (no matter how militant they are) have no chance at all to beat corporate power. There are a million cops in the US today. Our only chance is to organize MILLIONS. Tens of Millions. Millions to protest, millions to strike, millions to win.

How will we get millions in our movement?

*45 million without health care.

*2 million in prison - 50% people of color (50 million with a close relative in prison).

*UNIONS have 16 million members

*Public education collapsing = one million teachers, several million high school students

*Public universities under attack = 10 million college students

*If only 5% vote for Nader, that's 3 or 4 MILLOIN potential activists

Our movement does not lack an audience. We must set our goals higher. We must organize millions in unions, nieghborhoods, in schools. OR we will lose.


80% of people in the U.S. are workers (steelworkers, teachers, temps, truckers, nurses, hotel workers, etc). Overwhelmingly students become workers after they graduate (or don't graduate). So, we're the large majority.

BUT MORE. Since capitalism relies on us to do all the work, we have tremendous power to shut it down. By far the most effective direct actions are strikes. They can shut down GM, the transporation system, schools, factories, trade, etc. As the great German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg used to say, "Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there they must be broken." This not to say that other direct actions or marches or protests can't be effective. Clearly they can - look at the gains that have been made since Seattle! But if our movement doesn't get to the point where workers are taking the corporations down from the inside, we simply won't have the power to win.


Our movement has the chance to do what did not happen in the 1960's: weld together the fight for racial justice, sexual equality, enviromental justice and workers rights into one giant battle to transform the system from one based on profit (capitalism) to one based on human need (socialism). If this isn't our goal, then we don't even have a chance to win it. And if it is our goal, then we need to raise our sights and understand that our goal in LA is NOT to prove that WE are the movement. Rather it is to show the MILLIONS of working class Los Angelenos that THEY are the future. Everything we do should be geared towards that.


Ralph Nader's run for president will bring millions into politics and give them a way to express their hatred of corporate power. His campaign will explode after Labor Day. My guess is that a majority of the protestors in LA will vote for him in November. His campaign will not detract from our struggle, but will give it a huge new potential audience. During the RNC, Nader spoke at a health care march and even snuck into the Republican Convention to denounce them from the floor (before being thrown out). As of now, he is not scheduled to appear in LA during the DNC, we should make it known that he would be welcome.


The mass march on Monday August 14 will be a great success. Thousands will show the Democrats that we mean business (pardon the pun). It will be a tremendous display of unity and determination. There are also important direct actions planned throughout the week, like a youth march, protests against sweatshops and prisons and a march to defend the U'WA. (check out for details)

We also have a huge opportunity to create closer unity between street activists and the labor movement. Hotel workers are protesting Sunday afternoon at 4pm in Santa Monica at a hotel owned by a Gore supporter. We should go to support them. Then on Tuesday at 4pm teachers and public employees will be marching to demand decent contracts. These protests will undoubtedly be the most multi-racial of the week and involve the most people from LA itself.

Our movement's correct tactic is to get out and support these local workers with everything we've got. Their struggle is our struggle. Together we are the future.

In Solidarity,

Todd Chretien

International Socialist Organization

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