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FSU, Labor, and the Election

10/22/2020

Dear FSU Members,

We have received a number of queries about what the FSU, faculty/librarians, or the labor movement more broadly, might do in the case that the upcoming national election is somehow subverted.  Fortunately, one of the FSU’s own members – Alejandro Reuss – has put pen to paper and shares his thoughts below.  He also shares (immediately following his statement) links to additional resources for those who are interested.  In addition, UMB’s very own PSU (Professional Staff Union), with help from an MTA member, is offering a 3-hour training on non-violent resistance this Saturday, October 24th, from 10am to 1-pm.  Register at this link:

https://umassboston.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYqfu2pqzMtGtRQgTjtuYOA8O5GDRtEk6ar

Finally, for those who are interested, there are also planning meetings both in Boston (https://www.facebook.com/events/702045060661473) and nationally within the labor movement

(https://www.facebook.com/events/391059578732163).  

There is no doubt a lot more going on as well.

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Memo on our Union, the Labor Movement, and Opposing Authoritarianism

Drafted by Alejandro Reuss (FSU)

1) A few weeks ago, there was a series of alarming statements and action by the Trump administration, apparently floating plans to steal the upcoming election/perpetrate a coup (see links at the end of this memo). These included unfounded predictions of widespread electoral fraud (going against Trump), claims that mail-in ballots would especially be characterized by fraud, attempts to interfere with postal delivery, suggestions that mail-in ballots be thrown out altogether (new voter disenfranchisement), refusal to commit to the "peaceful transfer of power," plans to throw out electoral results for entire states (substituting electors appointed by Republican legislatures), incitement of supporters (far-right armed groups among them) to voter intimidation, etc. We have even seen such a far-right group plot a violent coup (thwarted) at the state level.

2) It is very difficult or impossible to estimate the probability of an attempted coup. The developments described in point 1 above, however, are enough to take the scenario out of the realm of highly improbable events that do not make sense to plan for, and place it in the realm of events for which it is necessary to develop contingency plans. Already, there are discussions going on about how to respond to a coup attempt (including ideas for large-scale street protest). There have been these sorts of discussions in some unions as well (including calls for a nationwide general strike, should it be necessary). Indeed, there are probably those among us who are aware of these discussions or are even participating in them. We would not be alone in thinking seriously about the threat or planning resistance.  Any contingency plans we develop, in other words, might prove unnecessary (and hopefully will). It is possible, for example, that the actual election results will be sufficiently tilted that--even if Trump and his clique were still game for a coup attempt--it would require actions so large and brazen that other key actors would be unwilling to go forward. It would be very misguided, however, to do nothing now--basically just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that everything turns out OK.  At the very least, we can throw our weight on the side of democracy--sound the alarm that the authoritarian threat is serious and pledge to take concrete action to oppose a coup. The authoritarian threat, moreover, is not likely to just disappear regardless of the political outcomes over the next few months.Even if a coup attempt does not end up materializing right now, the organizing that we do  can strengthen the defense of democracy against any threats that are around the corner. Moreover, it can help mobilize our forces for the democratization of the U.S. political system (which is undemocratic in many ways).

3) It makes no sense to assume that someone or something will, in the absence of mass resistance action, prevent a coup attempt or even a successful coup. Trump and other members of the administration do not seem to have any democratic or constitutional scruples. Rather, they appear to delight in the idea of Trump as dictator and in repeated flouting of mainstream political norms (including the rule of law, sanctity of elections, etc.). There is not much evidence of willingness by Republican legislators or party officials to oppose Trump. Even his refusals to pledge to abide by election outcomes, refusals to condemn white supremacism, etc., have led only to tepid "distancing" statements on their part. There is no indication that Trump would lose support from his base--who have proved steadfast in their support for him through his many outrages--if he attempted to carry out a coup by any of the means described in part 1. We can expect Democratic politicians to condemn a coup attempt, but they are likely to differ in the kinds of action they call for. Some may call for mass resistance, others only for legal challenges. In the event of an attempted coup, counting on legal challenges and action by the courts would be very misguided. Judges are political actors, like everyone else. In such a high-stakes situation, we cannot afford to bet that they would act as we would wish, nor that coup plotters would abide by their decisions. We should reject out of hand any calls to hold off on mass resistance (to "wait for the courts to do their work").

4) All of us who are involved in our unions--including elected leaders, organizers and other staff, and member-activists--have our hands full even during "normal" times. Add to that the current crisis, and the additional efforts required to beat back layoffs, cuts in pay and benefits, and so on, and it may seem impossible to take responsibility for even more. Our traditional trade-union tasks are certainly urgent, but the defense of democracy is also urgent. This is not a remote threat, which we can be sure there will be time to respond to later. The future of the labor movement hangs in the balance as well. The conditions for labor organization are already very difficult in the United States (largely due to the imbalance of political power between workers and employers). These conditions would only get worse (possibly much worse) for the labor movement and for the working class as a whole under conditions of authoritarian government. I think it would be wrong, moreover, to view the interests of our organizations and our members as the limits of our responsibility. At it's best, the workers' movement has been a champion not only of these interests, but of democracy and equality in general. That is what we should aspire to.

5) In the event of an attempted coup, involving any combination of the machinations described in point 1, it is likely that there would be widespread protest. The labor movement would not have to "go it alone." We do, however, have important resources that could strengthen such protests--and could tip the balance. The ability to mobilize these resources, however, depends on the degree of political and organizational preparation ahead of time. Among our advantages are the size of our membership (still over 14 million nationwide), our state and national organizational structures, our strategic positioning to disrupt "business as usual" (at least in some key sectors), and recent experiences of worker militancy and large-scale collective action (including in education). To give examples from close to home, in the education sector: We and other members of unions in higher education could reach out to teachers' unions across the Commonwealth, raising the alarm and calling for the development of contingency plans. If a critical mass can be built here, we can reach out to education unions nationally. We could develop plans for participation in street protests, for protest strikes in elementary, secondary, and higher education, etc., in the event of an attempted coup. The development of such plans, specific to the education sector, could proceed simultaneously to attempt to reach out to unions and workers generally across various other sectors. In the event of an attempted coup, the objective would be to prevent the normalization of the coup--to prevent the society from continuing to operate on a "business as usual" basis. Obviously, we cannot jump right to the last step, so this is a call to take the first step--to initiate a conversation within our union (including leadership, staff, and membership) about what we can do. Hopefully, this would include both identification of possible protest actions (as contingency plans), a pledge to participate in protest, and a plan to reach out to other labor-movement organizations to involve them in this process.

6) The ideas described in point 5 should be framed as a defense of democratic political norms. The authoritarian threat clearly comes from the current administration and its supporters, but opposing it should not be framed in partisan terms. The point is not to do whatever will bring about a preferred partisan outcome, but to oppose attempts to seize or maintain political office by throwing out election results, by voter disenfranchisement, by intimidation, and the like. We should condemn such actions regardless of the scale or whether they tip the political outcome. (People who are disenfranchised are gravely wronged no matter the outcome.) In addition, our position should not be framed in a way that equates current U.S. constitutional structures, or political institutions more generally, with "democracy." The current U.S. political system is undemocratic in many ways, to a very great extent by design (including legal disenfranchisement of millions of people, electoral systems that make some people's votes count for more than others', and the de facto concentration of political power in the hands of the economic elite). The successful defense of the elements of formal democracy that actually do exist, however, can be a springboard to fight for urgently needed democratizing reforms.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-if-trump-loses-and-wont-leave/

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/five-ways-trump-and-gop-officials-are-undermining-the-election-process/

https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/30/politics/trump-delay-election-no-authority/index.html

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/08/08/trump-wants-to-cut-mail-in-voting-the-republican-machine-is-helping-him-392428

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-09-23/trump-prepares-for-electoral-college-tyranny-will-republicans-follow

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-09-23/trump-prepares-for-electoral-college-tyranny-will-republicans-follow

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trumps-chances-are-dwindling-that-could-make-him-dangerous/

 

 

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