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Labor Militancy and Beyond, with Bob Master

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Block & Build
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Labor Militancy and Beyond, with Bob Master

On the show this week, 45-year labor movement veteran Bob Master joins us to discuss the intersections of the ongoing protests for ceasefire in Gaza and a politicized labor movement. He and Cayden will take a deeper dive into his new piece, Militancy–and Beyond, co-published by Convergence and Jacobin. In the full article, Bob lays out the need for political strategy and education in the labor movement so it can build working-class governing  power from the recent wave of militant strikes.

This episode also features the second part of Highlander Research and Education Center’s Ash-Lee Henderson’s conversation with Convergence print contributorStephanie Luce and Chicago Teachers Union Vice Presiden Jackson Potter about how we fight the looming threat signaled by  Project 2025, and the MAGA presidency that would usher in its dangerous promises. The full video is available on our website now.

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[00:00:00] Cayden Mak: Welcome to Block and Build, a podcast by Convergence magazine. I’m your host and the producer, or the publisher of Convergence, Kayden Mock. On this show, we are building a roadmap for the people and organizations who are trying to unite anti fascist forces in order to build the influence of a progressive trend while blocking the rise of authoritarianism in the United States.

[00:00:18] This week on the show, we are going to talk about just like an interesting trend in repression against protests this week. Protests whose Protesters here in the bay who are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza managed to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge for several hours on Monday, 38 of them were arrested and the San Francisco Chronicle has been suggesting that temporarily inconvenienced drivers may be entitled to quote unquote restitution for false imprisonment shilling for our DA here.

[00:00:44] The modern McCarthyist movement marches on as the president of Columbia University testified in Congress against alleged anti Semitism on her campus. Meanwhile, peaceful protesters on Columbia’s campus seeking a ceasefire in Gaza were rounded up by the cops in riot gear. 108 [00:01:00] protesters were arrested there, including the 21 year old daughter of Representative Ilhan Omar.

[00:01:04] Finally, we’ll conclude our series on the threat of Project 2025 to organized labor with Ashley Henderson of the Highlander Research and Education Center, and she will be joined by Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jackson Potter. Joining me to discuss all this good stuff, I guess not good stuff.

[00:01:20] As well as his new article Militancy and Beyond that we co published this week with Jacobin is Bob Master. Bob was a founding co chair of the New York State Working Families Party and has served many roles during his 36 years at the Communication Workers of America. Bob, thank you so much for joining us today.

[00:01:37] Thanks 

[00:01:38] Bob Master: for having me, Caden. 

[00:01:39] Cayden Mak: Yeah it’s, it is really an honor to to have you on the show, and I’m delighted to have, that we’ve published this piece of yours I think that it has a lot of really urgent and relevant messages for folks in the labor movement, and beyond, really, to think about how we in the social movement lab work with labor.

[00:01:55] Bob Master: Thank you very much. I’m 

[00:01:57] Cayden Mak: honored that you saw fit to publish it. [00:02:00] Excellent. Cool. Let’s jump into this conversation about these, all of this news about repression against protest and dissent, because I think that when we were chatting about what we talk about today I was saying that I was seeing a lot of folks online saying that, fascism is already here, right?

[00:02:17] That this is evidence that a lot of the people who are worried about the rise of fascism are maybe not seeing what’s right in front of their eyes. And I think that one of the things that we’re seeing, one of the, I guess one of the, one of the things that I think a lot is like when the repression gets worse, it means that the messages are getting through from protest movements.

[00:02:39] But also, I think that there is important historical context to a lot of the things that we’re seeing going on that this isn’t happening in a vacuum, it’s not coming out of nowhere and that a lot of the things happening at the federal level are in fact the long tail of the last presidential administration, not just this one.

[00:02:58] What do you think about all that? [00:03:00] Look, I think that 

[00:03:02] Bob Master: historically, when the left has been activated, It often provokes a repressive response, and the stronger the left is, the tougher that response. And, you can look back, similar to the history that I talked about in the article, you look back to the post war periods after World War II, there were massive, government inspired crackdowns on progressives and on the labor movement.

[00:03:30] I think we’re just seeing here in the last few weeks in the examples that you gave, the tip of the iceberg. And we should be very clear about where this is coming from. This stuff that’s happening on the campuses is being driven in part by right wing donors, by the kind of right wing AIPAC ultra pro Israel Jewish community.

[00:03:51] But I think that we should be clear that these congressional hearings are being used very much the way in which the house [00:04:00] on American affairs committee. operated in the thirties, forties, fifties how McCarthy operated in the fifties. They’re using that as a pulpit completely cynically.

[00:04:11] These are the same people who are calling the January 6th convicts hostages, and defending their right to invade the Congress and saying they’re political prisoners. They are talking about peaceful protest as being somehow terroristic or subversive. And, what we have seen, what we have seen is that Virginia Fox, the chair of the committee and Elise Stefanik are skillful demagogues, right?

[00:04:41] Who have created an environment in which these college presidents, instead of standing up and saying, no, I am for the first amendment. The most important thing to do is to defend speech I disagree with because that protects everybody’s speech. And you’re seeing this kowtowing, which, [00:05:00] by the way, in the 50s, A lot of the liberal community kowtow to the anti communist name calling.

[00:05:06] This is the tip of the iceberg because they have a two vote majority in the house and they control the house and they control the Senate, let alone the presidency. We can imagine, what went on in the fifties when, if you were a left winger, if you were a progressive labor person, you could expect a knock on the door from the FBI.

[00:05:27] Cayden Mak: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that’s a really sobering reminder that this is in some ways they’re telegraphing what their plan is here. Like they are not pulling any of their punches. They’re being really clear about the agenda. And I think that this this point about, I think where there are fractures in the anti fascist front.

[00:05:48] is a really important note too, right? That the crisis in Gaza and the Biden administration’s mishandling of that situation has really exposed a huge vulnerability [00:06:00] in the united front of the left and potentially liberals who are like, maybe progressive exter of Palestine, or otherwise Maybe would waffle in the face of this kind of pressure that you’re talking about.

[00:06:16] And the, those of us on the left who are really clear about what our commitments and values are. And I think that we, it is correct to be worried about that. And to figure out how to reunite across that divide. 

[00:06:28] Bob Master: Yeah. United front politics are not easy.

[00:06:31] And, they involve compromising with forces that you can be very unhappy is not a strong enough word. You can be outraged by, right? And that is the situation that we’re grappling with now. This, misuse the word mishandling and to describe the Biden administration’s policies towards Gaza.

[00:06:51] Mishandling is a very generous word. It’s a catastrophe. On the other hand, Trump’s what Trump is saying is get the killing [00:07:00] over with and finish the job, and then, then we’ll stop the killing, after we’ve, killed them all. 

[00:07:04] Cayden Mak: Yeah.

[00:07:04] Bob Master: Yeah. It’s chilling, 

[00:07:06] Cayden Mak: truly chilling stuff. Truly chilling. Yeah. And I guess also in light of a lot of the I, a lot of the sort of like the power and the like commitment of ongoing direct action protests about American policy towards Israel. I think it. It’s, I, the thing that interests me also about the Bay the Golden Gate Bridge stuff, and that before the the Bay Bridge stuff was, is that the, so the DA who is doing this prosecution is also somebody who she was elected after a progressive DA was successfully recalled in San Francisco County.

[00:07:44] And it also strikes me that there’s like this other narrative thread about law and order domestically here that is being deployed to say we can’t have we can’t have dissent. We can’t have these unruly protesters interrupting [00:08:00] people’s commutes to work. When the real urgent thing is that people are being, children are being starved to death in Gaza, right?

[00:08:07] That the point is that our government could do something about it, has leverage but chooses not to. And in fact, chooses to shore up the Israeli killing machine as opposed to intervening. And I think that there’s also this interesting place In that kind of like law and order narrative where the left loses out, right?

[00:08:24] That it’s, this is part of a a coordinated backlash, at least this for at least about a decade now. Since the conversation about, Defunding the police and like looking at non reformist reforms to the criminal punishment system here in the United States works. And I think that’s also worth our thinking about as well as we grapple with this moment.

[00:08:49] Bob Master: Yeah I totally agree. I think that there is a real sense of disorder and chaos and displacement. that seems to be [00:09:00] pervasive in the electorate, among working people, and the right has figured out how to capitalize on that, how to capitalize on the fears. That generates and I don’t think that we’re particularly adept at addressing that, there’s a sense of cultural dislocation, which has just been completely whipped into a frenzy.

[00:09:21] And I do think Trump personally. bears a huge amount of the responsibility for it. He is a fomentor of division and anger and other rising people. That is his specialty. He appeals to the absolute worst. And in, in here in New York city where I live, We’re seeing in polling in suburban and ex urban areas, a, just a sense of panic about subway crime, because folks who don’t come to the city, What they see on Fox News is someone’s been pushed onto the subway platform and they don’t, they just have this sense of everything is going [00:10:00] crazy and we’re going to have to figure out how to hold onto our values, but also reassure people that we are not the, the, the importers of disorder, 

[00:10:11] Cayden Mak: and I think what I also hear you talking about is this sort of like crisis of belonging, right? That like people don’t feel like there’s a place for them. And I think what’s interesting is that this is a common feeling, I think, across demographics and it is for different reasons, for different demographics.

[00:10:25] And I’m really excited that, so this is a callback to something that we published, oh, I don’t know, a couple months ago, but we are going to have my friend and comrade and chosen family, Sammy on the pod to talk about belonging in social movements. But one of the things that I find myself talking about a lot with people is how belonging is something that you do find in organizing, right?

[00:10:49] And that you do find in, Organizations that are really like looking at with clear eyes what the problems are and how we can potentially solve [00:11:00] them together. And I think that past two weeks I’ve talked to Lone Tran about the social movement left. I’ve talked to Jennifer Knox about building a mass line for a national party.

[00:11:12] And I think that one of the reasons I was really excited about getting you on this week is that You represent your experience of the labor movement represents this other pillar right of like institutions that create belonging. And that is the, and that is organized labor. I think that the thing that also your article militancy and beyond offers is a really clear link between those 3 pillars, right?

[00:11:35] Like, how those 3 pillars can work together. And I guess to start the conversation about that article I’m curious in your own words why you felt moved to write this at this moment? And what you hope the impact is going to be. 

[00:11:49] Bob Master: Sure. And thanks for asking those questions. I have been fortunate in my career at CWA to Have participated in, in, in more strikes than most unions to have [00:12:00] got to participate in over the last 30 or 40 years.

[00:12:02] While strikes disappeared from labor’s, tactical. Arsenal. We were on strike six times at the phone company starting in 86 and going through 2016, and then there were a number of other healthcare strikes and some others and strikes are an incredible experience because people are taking.

[00:12:22] enormous risks. They have a sense of empowerment. There’s a, an opportunity to express your fury at the boss and so on and so forth. The thing that I am concerned about is I don’t want to romanticize them or mythologize them. They don’t necessarily

[00:12:44] Produce a working class, which is progressive or radical, and they help to open up the space. There’s no question about it when you have to pick and choose which side you’re on. It is a, a transformative experience. [00:13:00] But, I think, as I referenced very early on in the article in 2016, we had this incredibly militant strike against Verizon that lasted for seven weeks.

[00:13:10] And it was, it was an incredible experience. We had endorsed Bernie, the union had endorsed Bernie Sanders. He was on the picket line. And then a lot of those people who were on strike. turning around and voted for Donald Trump in November. And we can talk a lot about why that happened, but the point is, I just really wanted to say to the labor left and to the labor movement the militancy of 2023, which I think was pretty extraordinary, that there really has been such a dramatic decline in strikes since Ronald Reagan crushed Trump.

[00:13:45] The air traffic controllers union in 1981. That the strikes that took place in 2023 are not enough to rebuild a progressive anti fascist movement and that we need to be conscious about doing that. [00:14:00] And we need to think through what are the steps that we can take to translate that militancy into action.

[00:14:06] into a progressive workers movement. And just keeping in mind that as exhilarating as these strikes are, they don’t necessarily automatically translate into the kind of political movement, which I think we desperately need. In 2024 and beyond. 

[00:14:23] Cayden Mak: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I think that the, uh, the really taking this kind of sobering look at like what the purpose of strikes are, I think is really important as we take stock.

[00:14:35] What then are, like knowing this context, what are the things that you would like listeners and then the readers of the article, and I really do encourage folks to go read the whole thing. It is. It is rich. It is well researched. It is, it, Bob knows what he’s talking about, y’all. What are the big ideas that you want people to come away with as they move forward in 2024?

[00:14:58] Bob Master: I think the central idea that [00:15:00] I was trying to convey in the article is that the labor movement, and I, here I’m just borrowing, I’m stealing shamelessly from one of my favorite labor historians, Nelson Lichtenstein. Who wrote a whole bunch of marvelous books. The most important one was a biography of Walter Ruther, which is so relevant today as the UAW revives, um, has a very received book out about the Clinton administration recently, which I’m dying to get to but in the mid nineties, he wrote this book called state of the union, in which he said the labor movement is essentially a political project and that you need institutions and ideas to Which give the labor movement meaning and I’m trying to argue for that point of view that fundament that politics is fundamentally integrated or constitutive of the labor movement and when the labor movement.

[00:15:58] Is able to [00:16:00] borrow from a broader political context. It has more power and more impact and I would argue, for example, that this militancy that we’re seeing whether it’s, in the struggles that went on around U. P. S. Health care fights and in, in the covid context.

[00:16:19] Certainly the UAW strike, you can trace this back to the shift in political climate that was kick started by Occupy Wall Street and then transmitted, given greater life and reach in the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016, the Sanders and Warren campaigns in 2020, because these Political developments sanctioned the reason for the labor movement’s existence.

[00:16:47] When you have politicians in the mainstream getting 45 and 50 percent of the vote in the primaries saying the central problem in American society is inequality. Yeah. And the banks and the [00:17:00] billionaires have, too much power. Then you need a labor movement and people understand that. And when the political climate turns against us, and I’ll come back to that in one second, but when the political climate turns against us, the labor movement has a very hard time moving forward.

[00:17:17] And my read of labor history is, what made a decisive difference going back to the 1870s and 80s, when the labor movement first began to take modern shape, is the decisive factor in the advance of the labor movement was the whether the state and federal governments came down hard on these strikes, with state militia or troops, which basically until the 1930s, that’s what they did, which is we get a permanent industrial labor movement for the first time.

[00:17:45] Out of the new deal era. 

[00:17:48] Cayden Mak: Yeah. That stuff’s really interesting. And I do want to also circle back to the history that you tell in the article about the CIO. Um, but I also want to grab this thread about I guess what [00:18:00] we do next, right? Like how do we use the momentum of the strike wave of 2023?

[00:18:05] One thing Jay Knox said last week is she was like, I don’t think I, I don’t think I ever talked to anybody who doesn’t know somebody who was impacted by one of these strikes in a very real way. Or in the case of UPS, the sort of threat of the strike and it’s certainly the case that my local driver here, like we talked about it.

[00:18:19] I remember talking about it with her and how excited she was about their victory. But how do we politicize people off of this? What are the things that we can parlay those contract wins into politically this year? 

[00:18:30] Bob Master: Yeah. I put, I do two things. One is I outline a whole bunch of different things that I think could be part of the labor left’s agenda, including really good work that’s going on around engaging the labor movement in the fight to stop climate change and new forms of collective bargaining like that.

[00:18:52] The work that’s being done by bargaining for the common good and in California to try to create sectoral bargaining for fast food workers. And the, [00:19:00] the work that needs to be done about democratizing the government. I, I think. We want the leaders of. Now, the industrial militancy of 2023 to turn some of their attention, they’ve got to keep promoting militancy and other parts of their unions, but some of their attention should go to these kinds of tasks.

[00:19:19] But the three central things that I’m focused on in the article are number one, and this obviously fits very well with the block and build. Um, theme here is we’ve got to defeat Trump because whatever Biden’s limitations and flaws, and I am not sugarcoating any of those, right? I think that the, that Gaza is just a terrible catastrophe, but and an outrage, but he has been extremely pro labor, and the inflation reduction act and the infrastructure bill are filled with provisions that help to strengthen the labor movement.

[00:19:55] The NLRB is more pro labor and more aggressively [00:20:00] trying to defend the rights of workers than it has in my entire career. Let alone that Biden walked on a picket line. So you’ve created a climate in which workers, there was this famous and nobody’s really sure if it’s apocryphal or not.

[00:20:14] But during the thirties, the CIO put out a poster The president wants you to join a union and it was like a picture of Roosevelt, and workers, rallying it’s not clear that Roosevelt ever actually said that, but they put out the poster anyway. But you have that situation now where.

[00:20:31] A worker looks around and is yeah, the president walked on a picket line. Yeah, the president sent that a pro union video for Amazon workers. It creates a climate. I’m not saying it solves the problem of employer resistance, but if we lose Biden, what we know is, and this is where the video that you guys did on project 2025 is absolutely chilling, right?

[00:20:54] I, I watched it in the last couple of hours and I definitely recommend it. Um, they [00:21:00] have a plan to smash the labor movement, and that’s what Trump will do. The NLRB will no longer be our ally, it’ll be our enemy and the work that we need to do to rebuild the labor movement will be that, that much harder.

[00:21:11] So that’s task number one is block, right? Block proto fascism, block an anti labor administration. The second thing that I’m saying is We’ve got to work towards creating some kind of independent politics for labor, as is, I write in the article I was, and you said in the introduction, I was one of the founders of the New York State Working Families Party.

[00:21:33] I’m still representing CWA on the National Executive Committee. Working Families Party isn’t perfect. No organization is, but it is the most sustained, most significant effort. To try to figure out how to do independent politics. And by that, create independent capacity to recruit and train candidates, to recruit and train staff, to run issue campaigns [00:22:00] to, support primary candidates and to go after Republicans or right wing Republicans.

[00:22:05] And the party is going through an endorsement process, I’m hopeful and I’m pretty confident that, it’ll lead to an endorsement of Biden and, but at the same time, we need to support the squad. We need to have our own institutions, which have the power to hold the democratic party accountable.

[00:22:25] And the labor movement has been ambivalent about this, right? There are many unions, which are just all in on the democratic party. And in my experience, that’s not enough. We need to build independent power. And the third thing is that I think isn’t of immediate concern is addressing this polarization that’s taking place within the ranks of the working class.

[00:22:49] It’s primarily among white workers, although we’re seeing obviously. Slippage among black workers and Latino workers. And [00:23:00] this is not a panacea, but I think that unions need to do more political education and they need to engage their members in a discussion about how these systems work, what is capitalism?

[00:23:13] What is neoliberalism? What is the 40 year class war? How has institutional racism been deployed by. The 1% to divide workers forever, like integral to American history stories you can’t tell in Florida anymore for fear of offending people, . That’s right. And, I felt really good that I was able to get that quote in from this CWA Ranka efile leader, Joe Oli who’s, at the very end where he says.

[00:23:39] People are getting their information from all kinds of crazy places, in which all it is name calling. And he says, we treat people like adults. We provide them with information and they come to the right conclusions on their own. And he says, would it make a difference if every union did this?

[00:23:56] He says, I think it would, and those are the three immediate [00:24:00] things that I would like to see all these unions that waged these wonderful strikes last year. At least partially. Turn their attention to, 

[00:24:08] Cayden Mak: yeah, that’s meaty stuff. And I also really appreciated that quote about political education and unions, because again, I, I think it does go back to this sort of like the, I think a lot about the internet and what the internet has done to our political culture.

[00:24:23] It’s my whole thing. And, 

[00:24:25] I think at the end of the day, one of the things I say a lot is like the antidote to a lot of this technology that is driving a lot of. This sort of like polarizing name calling BS is good organizing. And like this, the kind of political education that you’re describing here is getting good information from trusted sources and being able to digest it with people that you trust and have something in common with is like, It sounds so basic.

[00:24:49] It’s not shiny. It’s not sexy, but it does the thing, right? Like it does, it is a meaningful antidote to the kind of fear, I think that a lot of people are feeling it’s [00:25:00] critical. 

[00:25:00] Bob Master: I just wanted to add one thing, which is, there’s this pretty interesting book out came out earlier.

[00:25:06] I think it was in 2023 called Rust Belt Union Blues coauthored by Theda Scotchpole from Harvard and one of her, Undergraduates actually was undergraduate thesis. Very impressive. And it’s about Western Pennsylvania and it’s about the kind of deterioration of the kind of cultural and socialization infrastructure.

[00:25:29] that developed out of the 1930s and 40s and persisted until the 70s. That was created really by the new deal and the rise of the industrial labor movement. And, they even have like maps of where all the union halls used to be. And these were the places where people got their values in politics.

[00:25:48] Now they attribute. The rightward shift of the working class to the deterioration or the, disappearance of a lot of this, socio cultural infrastructure. I [00:26:00] think they don’t pay enough attention to the way in which the Democratic Party abandoned real pro worker politics, and especially on the trade agreements, 1 is the cause and effects a little bit confused.

[00:26:12] But I do think They’ve identified something important, which is there was this cultural apparatus that cemented people to a set of pro labor, values, primarily through the Democratic Party that has completely dissipated. I think it’s, the decline of the labor movement from 35 percent to 10 percent of the workforce is a very significant factor in all this.

[00:26:37] Cayden Mak: Yeah, absolutely. And this is another thing I found so interesting about your articles is bringing up a lot of this history of the CIO movement of the 30s. One of the things that I enjoy doing here at Convergence is historicizing a lot of the things that we’re experiencing so that people can understand them in this deeper context.

[00:26:55] I think it’s really important for organizers in general to, to know about. [00:27:00] And I will admit I was like some of this information was new to me about the CIO movement. And I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about what as the parallels and like why these lessons are important to us now.

[00:27:11] And also perhaps what some of the differences are that we have to be dealing with. 

[00:27:16] Bob Master: Obviously, there are vast differences between the current. Um, political and economic situation from what existed in the thirties. To state the obvious, the level of social and economic crisis in the thirties was so extreme.

[00:27:32] 25 to 30% unemployment. The stock market cut by two thirds the levels of production plummeting. And that at the beginning of the depression, no safety net, right? . security, no Medicare, no Medicaid, no food stamps. None of the things that we take for granted.

[00:27:50] That would soften the blow. Complete desperation, which gave Roosevelt an enormous amount of room to do whatever, in a way that Biden doesn’t [00:28:00] have. And furthermore, especially after the 1934 election, Roosevelt had, I don’t know, 68 or 70 Democratic Senators.

[00:28:10] And, I don’t know, the house was down to, 120 Republicans or something, he had overwhelming majorities in contrast to what Biden has, which is like no majority practically count, mansion and cinema as Democrats. It’s not much of a majority. What was interesting to me about the example of the thirties is that the C.

[00:28:33] I. O. consciously combined massive organizing with a political program and the political program was brought was ambitious. It was the height of The social democratic impulse in the labor movement, the CIO was calling for, um, broader social welfare programs, was calling for wages and hours [00:29:00] legislation, was calling to rectify the limitations in the Social Security Act, which excluded domestic workers and agricultural workers.

[00:29:10] It and very crucially. This political scientist, Eric Schickler writes, the CIO became the largest white led organization in the country to support. Civil rights and the struggle of the black freedom struggle. And one thing I, learned, was reminded of, writing the piece was right from the very beginning in their legislative scorecard, they included anti lynching legislation and there was one other piece, I forget, opposition to the poll tax.

[00:29:42] Which was extraordinary for a white organization in the 1930s. And, and we all know that Roosevelt was weak on that stuff. Roosevelt never lifted a finger for anti lynching legislation. And the New Deal was deeply scarred, by the role of the Southern Democrats who controlled all the committees and [00:30:00] forced a lot of compromises.

[00:30:01] So what to me, the CIO modeled was. Yes, we’re going to have sit ins in Akron and Toledo and Flint and Atlanta and Cleveland and, Pittsburgh. Yes, we are going to organize U. S. Steel, but we are also going to do something the labor movement had never done before, which was to invest massively in Roosevelt’s re election in 1936 and to build a political apparatus.

[00:30:31] To mobilize members and working class voters across the country. So that’s why I, even though the circumstances are different, obviously the terrain on which you’re playing out these politics is quite different. The idea that you’re combining mass organizing with A far reaching visionary political program to me is a model for how you are able to, restructure American politics and, [00:31:00] by, last point, which is until 1932, blacks voted overwhelmingly for Republicans because it was the party of Lincoln, and starting in 32, because of the, Because, they were, the most vulnerable victims of the depression, but certainly by 36, when it’s clear that the new deal is oriented towards lifting up poor people, they abandoned the Republican party and start voting Democratic. They come and then.

[00:31:26] with the Great Migration, they come into the Northern Democratic Parties. And by 1948, the Democratic Party is taking a more pro civil rights stand. This is the restructuring of the American political system. The CIO plays a very important role in making that happen. And I’m hopeful, that a revived progressive labor movement can help take the openings, the very, small but significant openings that have been created by the Biden administration and help us to get to a restructuring that is a post [00:32:00] neoliberal, a new kind of pro worker political order.

[00:32:04] Cayden Mak: Yeah. I love it. I don’t know. I feel like these lessons are so important for us to be thinking about right now, because like, almost 100 years out from the 30s, we do have the benefit of being able to truly look at that historical moment in context and think about what are, what were the opportunities that presented themselves then?

[00:32:24] And as you say, it’s important history is not, A prescriptive playbook for us in the present, but there are ways that we can see how leadership then saw the threats and opportunities and were able to weave them together to create something really new. And I don’t know it’s funny to me.

[00:32:45] I do because of, in some ways, because of doing this show, I’ve been telling my, my friends and the people that I talk to regularly that I think I may be the most optimistic among us because I’m having these kinds of conversations. But I think [00:33:00] I want to respect your time and I also want us to pivot to the second part of this video that we have about project 2025 and the labor movement.

[00:33:10] We know that so this weekend, our friends at labor notes are hosting their annual conference in Chicago. I know you’ve been, I’ve been it’s a great gathering and it’s, I think it’s bigger this year than it’s ever been, is it their largest? The last 

[00:33:23] Bob Master: three, I think have been just. Enormous and I think that’s a very exciting reflection of the energy in the labor movement these days.

[00:33:29] Cayden Mak: Yeah. Yeah. And especially thinking about like a really progressive labor movement and like what sort of like core of something that’s truly progressive that’s focused on the rank and file, like what that actually looks like. And the question about how workers respond to the threat of MAGA is really crucial.

[00:33:48] And I’m very curious to hear folks report backs from that. Our episode last week featured Ashley Henderson of the Highlander Center talking about what are the specific threats to the labor [00:34:00] movement in the GOP’s mandate for labor or leadership, the conservative promise. Aka project 2025. If folks have not listened to that you can check out that episode.

[00:34:11] There, we’ll put a link in the show notes. And there’s also the full video is just available separately on the Convergence website. But this week Convergence Print Contributor Stephanie Luce and the Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union, Jackson Potter follow up on that presentation explaining what is in Project 2025 with some thoughts about how we organize against it.

[00:34:32] Josh, could we roll that tape? 

[00:34:35] Stephanie Luce: I miss Stephanie Luce. I teach labor studies at the City University of New York and have been working with some unions on developing curriculum on how to talk to members about the threats of authoritarianism, but I’d love to ask you and Jackson if he also has some thoughts on what are some specific steps that unions can be doing.

[00:34:55] To address this serious concern. 

[00:34:59] Ash-Lee Henderson: [00:35:00] Yeah, 

[00:35:00] Stephanie Luce: absolutely. 

[00:35:00] Ash-Lee Henderson: I think, as I was raised, the first step is admitting we have a problem. There’s been, and this isn’t just a problem for labor. This has been a problem across sectors. It’s we don’t we’ve had a crisis in base building, some of which is really not our fault.

[00:35:14] Like, how do you base build in the old school traditional way during a pandemic where the state is mandating and actually Rightfully so that we be socially distant from 1 another. And so I think we’re coming into a post shutdown reality about how to navigate both the digital sector.

[00:35:34] What it means to door knock in person and build relationships across our differences when people are learning how to people again. While the crisis of pandemic didn’t go away, frankly, many of us are still impacted by the consequences of COVID that are still very ever present in our lives and the reality of more polarization than ever and frankly, more war and things that are heightening emotions amongst our people and [00:36:00] contradictions amongst our people.

[00:36:01] So there’s a base building crisis. And what happens when some of your revenue and being able to sustain your organization is dependent on recruitment? But not necessarily dependent on organizing, right? I think that’s been an ongoing conversation amongst folks in labor for decades, right? Certainly since my time as a junior, brand new, labor organizer with CWA back in the day.

[00:36:27] And so we need to get serious about the fact that it’s time to prioritize organizing. That if we’re doing good organizing, the recruitment becomes easy, brainless really. But only if people have something to be organized into that actually gives them meaningful work that is winnable to change their material conditions for the better.

[00:36:48] We’ve got to get back to that work. We’ve also got to get real about telling the full truth, right? And what do I mean by that? It might be easy to say vote for Joe [00:37:00] Biden for some of us. Certainly not me. It takes. I’ve been practicing in the mirror for years now. Many of us are going to struggle with that.

[00:37:08] But for some of us, it’s easy and it would be easy to stop the sentence there. That you need to vote for Joe Biden period or to say something that is dismissive of the contradictions that people are really living in about what it means to vote for him. So it’d be easy for someone to look at me and tell me that, People died for the right, for my right to vote.

[00:37:27] And if I don’t vote for Joe Biden, then I’m pissing it away. And I’m basically sanctioning Donald Trump to implement 2025. But what that erases is decades of my life where I got to watch my brother be impacted by his crime bill, right? It’s ignoring the fact that I have, I literally have comrades that I consider my family in Palestine.

[00:37:48] that are dealing with this genocide in Gaza, right? It’s erasing the fact that I’m having a real lived experience. And frankly, I would say it’s also erasing the fact that people don’t feel like the Biden administration [00:38:00] actually kept a lot of the promises that they risked their lives to vote for him for in 2020.

[00:38:03] And I don’t mean only risking their lives because of COVID. I also mean, because some of us were literally getting shot at the polls. White supremacists were actually showing up and threatening us. Certainly election defenders all over this country face that. So it’s not fair to tell a half truth sentence by telling me I need to vote for Joe Biden, even if you’re right.

[00:38:26] What you also have to do is be like, listen, I know this world is a mess, and I know people have been telling you to hold your nose and vote for a really long time. And it is true that if you hold your nose for too long, you’ll suffocate and die. And movement actually hasn’t given you a plan or built the infrastructure to hold neoliberals accountable in a way.

[00:38:46] That has moved you beyond voting and then getting the result that you deserve that actually builds your right to self determination and gets you the kind of governance power that you deserve. Now is the time for us to have the rest of the [00:39:00] answer about what the left is going to do to consolidate our power.

[00:39:03] So that we don’t get cut off at the knees in the objective united front for democracy that does objectively exist, whether we like it or not, right? There’s a whole nother conversation about what the plan should be for us to lead that united front. But right now, we gotta live to fight another day to even be able to do that, right?

[00:39:21] So how are we going to if we can’t answer that question that we’re setting people up again for another four years of kind of the okie doke with neoliberals and they’re not wrong about that. They’re not wrong about that. We might win some minimal things just because they’ve got to give us something, but we’ll see we’ve seen in the last 4 years trunk by not really doing anything about immigration.

[00:39:42] That was from movement. Certainly not doing anything about divestment from the carceral state and investment and healthy, sustainable and equitable communities. We saw some symbolic action and some real moves around the infrastructure bill, as Jackson said, originally about showing up on a picket line, et cetera that, that was because we had [00:40:00] the power to take what we wanted.

[00:40:02] How can we do that across sector? And again, I think that we have been taught. That having an organization to organization strategy. And then building coalitions is the way to get there. And I actually think it’s go time for us to actually be building a movement ecosystem strategy that actually gets us the power that we deserve.

[00:40:20] So I think we can’t just say part of the sentence. I think we have to finish it for our people or they won’t, we won’t be trustworthy enough for them to follow in that tactical direction. 

[00:40:29] Jackson Potter: Yeah. I think, Ash said pretty much everything we need to hear. A couple of things I might add is. I would predict if Trump’s reelected, there’s going to be warrants out for the arrest of union leaders.

[00:40:43] That’s the fascist playbook. He’s already said, he’s going to send federal troops to crush protests. Those are different kinds of tactics than what we’re seeing from neoliberal air from the Biden administration. Like people have to get [00:41:00] clear eyed about that. And we need to defend our champions.

[00:41:03] We have the squad who is. Really stuck their neck out and we are in community with that section of the Democratic Party and we want to build and grow it and it would be devastating if they lose because they’re getting targeted by AIPAC and MAGA money. So in our case, we sent about 15 CTU members, United Electrical workers, And SEIU Pennsylvania members to canvas this week Monday and Tuesday during our spring break for summer league.

[00:41:37] But we found some interesting dynamics. The MAGA Republicans are eating our lunch on the left, right? The people on doors were more frequently saying, summer leaves too radical, I’m going to vote for opponent. And I’m worried about Trump and the radicalism of the right. And so we really had to engage people on.

[00:41:58] The question [00:42:00] of you know that there’s a MAGA businessman, Jeffrey Yass, who’s funding the Democrat opposing Summer Lee. Do you want to help that militancy that you’re against to win this race? And I know you’re not that happy with Biden. He’s an imperfect candidate, right? But you’re voting for him anyway.

[00:42:17] So you need to do the same thing for Summer Lee. And that really changed sentiment indoors. People don’t want to vote for MAGA Republicans. But they will vote against our champions if we let them. So we have to get on doors, we have to get engaged. 

[00:42:33] Ash-Lee Henderson: Yeah, my good buddy, Maurice Mitchell, the National Director of the Working Families Party, often says a vote is not a valentine, a vote is not a valentine.

[00:42:41] And this is about power. And I think we, I think partly why I’m so excited about the political education work that all of you are doing is that it’s an opportunity for us to get real about the concept of power. And what is required of us to get it. And again, I don’t think we all have to execute the same tactics.

[00:42:58] We have difference [00:43:00] ideologically, and that might shift where our line of demarcation of unity is, but we really got to get serious about where that line of unity is and work collectively towards it. With all of our tactical expertise, right? It’s this is the season where the direct action was going to get the goods by itself over the season where organizing and base building alone would get the goods by itself over because most of those folks are making demands that actually have to be enacted via policy.

[00:43:25] And guess who writes policy? Elected officials, so the time that policy could even happen without electoral justice is oh, now we need a multi tactical strategy. We need a multi sector strategy, right? We need there’s so many pieces of this that is going to require our collective work. And so I feel excited about the opportunity.

[00:43:44] I think many of us have been desiring that kind of a United front. And to lead in that kind of way for as long as I can remember now’s the time to do that. We have more opportunity to do that more positionality, more resources and more people on the ground and [00:44:00] Jackson’s point that are behind the doors that we’re knocking who are waiting on that level of leadership and really ready to not only do what we ask of them, but are really thirsty for us to tell them how to do that too.

[00:44:12] Stephanie Luce: And I think unions are in the best position are in a great position to be leading on what convergence talks about as block and build. We’re blocking the threats of the far right, and we’re building our power as a working class people of color, multi democracy movements. And so I think we can put in links to this video some resources for the block and build study curriculum, as well as connections to the curriculum I’m working on with others for trade unions to talk about authoritarianism, as well as the articles that Ashley references in the talk.

[00:44:45] I think there’s a lot of exciting directions to go. And I think thinking about it in terms of both doing the blocking, we’re not just talking about fighting the right, but we’re also building our organizations to have more power so that we’re not forced to be in these difficult decisions every four years.[00:45:00] 

[00:45:00] Thanks so much to Ashley Henderson and Jackson Potter for being with us today. And we look forward to working with you more in the future. 

[00:45:08] Jackson Potter: Thank you. 

[00:45:09] Stephanie Luce: Absolutely. Thank y’all. 

[00:45:13] Cayden Mak: Great. As I said previously, the full version of the video is available on Convergence’s website. We’ll put a link in the show notes for folks who are listening who want to check it out or maybe share it with somebody that they know to watch in full.

[00:45:25] But quickly, Bob I’m curious what what sort of threads you want to pull out of the conversation Stephanie, Ash and Jackson are having together. What are the things that the sort of through lines that you’re noticing there? 

[00:45:37] Bob Master: Yeah. I think they’re very clear and very compelling about, what the danger is and what we have to do.

[00:45:42] And I think the block and build formulation, really sums it up. If we don’t succeed in blocking the return of MAGA and Trumpism, to federal power then the space for the building is going to be shut down. That is my strongest argument. Even to the [00:46:00] folks who are justifiably quite broken and outraged by what’s going on in Gaza, that all the space that we have to try to build a broader movement.

[00:46:10] Our movements tend to flourish when there is a kind of liberal space that opens up around them. And then we were able to push further. But I think it, I think, what Ash was saying was absolutely true. We have to be honest with people. I will differ a little bit. I don’t think.

[00:46:25] Biden is a straight up neoliberal. I think there’s a real contest. If you read the interviews with Brian Deese, who used to be the council of economic advisors, and now Jared Bernstein, they actually articulate the concept of worker power. Like nothing you ever saw, during the Obama and Clinton years.

[00:46:41] There’s a fight going on and sometimes it’s, the terms of it are obscured. But Bernie and Warren really changed the center of gravity in the democratic party. And we could lose that or we could build beyond that. And so that’s what I’m focused on. [00:47:00] And the other thing I would say is Jackson, Jackson nailed it.

[00:47:03] It’s there’s no mystery to what we need to do. We need to get out there and talk to people, and we need to talk to more people. We need to broaden the universe of people we’re communicating with. It’s an election like we got to convince people to vote for for our side and for democracy basically 

[00:47:17] Cayden Mak: Yeah, that’s right.

[00:47:18] It’s that this is a moment for mass politics if there ever was one. 

[00:47:22] Bob Master: Yeah. 

[00:47:22] Cayden Mak: Great. One thing I always ask folks who we have on the show is if you have a recommendation for the for Everybody listening. Is there something that you’ve been reading that you’ve been watching you’ve been listening to that has really been filling your cup or bringing you back to the fight is there anything that you’d like to recommend for us this week?


[00:47:41] Bob Master: first of all, read anything by Nelson Lichtenstein, starting with the Ruther biography but the book state of the union, which is a series of essays about the labor movement, especially about the evolution of the new deal and so on. I do recommend this book, racial realignment by Eric Shickler.

[00:47:56] It’s really an interesting book. And I wasn’t prepared for, I [00:48:00] didn’t have a, advanced, um, preparation for that. But yeah, I think it’s a great book. Do I have time to say two more, two more short things? Oh yeah, go for it. Yeah, just very quickly. One thing I want to be clear about is, I don’t want to sanitize the history of the CIO when it comes to race, right?

[00:48:18] Sure. It wasn’t perfect. It was a huge breakthrough and it was recognized as such by The NAACP and many others in the, among black leaders at the time, blacks got confined to the worst jobs in the factories to the foundries and to the paint shops and stuff like that. It was, wasn’t perfect, but it was a real change.

[00:48:37] And the second thing I would say in reference to that is the left played a huge role. In the positioning of the CIO, which I think is another model for folks that labor notes and for others on the left was the one that pushed the CIO leadership to be to take an anti racist position to call for an end to lynching in the poll tax.

[00:48:57] These were issues that the Communist Party had been working [00:49:00] on. For a decade, and so there’s a real role for the left and the left were organizers during the CIO and they were high ranking staff people like in, Len Decoe, the editor of the CIO news, was very close if not in the party.

[00:49:12] I just wanted to make those two points. I didn’t want to sugarcoat the limitations. But I also wanted to talk about the possibilities. 

[00:49:19] Cayden Mak: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And I think that it’s also very instructive in terms of what a multi sector like cross sector coordination actually might look like in terms of like, how do the dynamics between our organizations and our sectors influence each other and shape the trip like a historical trajectory, right?

[00:49:39] That it doesn’t take just one organization or leader to do this kind of work. That resolving, not to be that guy, but resolving the dialectical tensions between these agendas and these perspectives is a necessary part of getting to where we need to go. 100%. Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us today, Bob.

[00:49:58] I don’t know. Is there anywhere [00:50:00] that if people want to hear more from you that they should go to connect with you and your work and your writing? Send me an 

[00:50:06] Bob Master: email.

[00:50:10] Cayden Mak: Amazing. And certainly if people want to read Bob’s full piece, it will, it is up on the Convergence website. I, Should be up on Jacobin this week as well. It is. Perfect. We’re so glad that we get to carry this really important conversation. Thanks so much for joining me this week.

[00:50:25] This show was published by Convergence Magazine for Radical Insights. I’m Caden Mock. Our producer is Josh Elstro with important editorial assistance from our print editor, Marcy Rien. If you have something to say please drop me a line. You can send me an email that we’ll consider running on an upcoming Mailbag episode at mailbag at convergencebag.

[00:50:44] com. And if you’d like to support the work that we do at Convergence, bringing our movements together to strategize, struggle, and win in this crucial historical moment, you can become a member at patreon. com slash convergencebag. Even a few bucks a month goes a long way to making sure that our [00:51:00] small independent team can continue to build a map for our movements.

[00:51:03] With that, we’ll see you on the internet.

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