From a 2011 article:
Closing space to speak is not in workers’ interests
(As I See It column)
BY FRANK FORRESTAL
AND PAUL MAILHOT
A front-page article in last week’s issue of the Militant, headlined “Prounion rally in Wisconsin outnumbers antilabor action,” gave an inaccurate account of the competing April 16 protests at the Wisconsin Statehouse in Madison.
The article also failed to explain why efforts by union members and others to shout down Republican Party politician Sarah Palin were a display of weakness not strength of the labor movement, damaging the political and moral standing of working people in the fight for our rights.
Since mid-February, workers in Wisconsin have helped open a broad discussion among workers and farmers in the United States and beyond about the unrelenting attacks that the government and employers are raining down on us. Despite talk in the big business media about a “recovery,” the devastating economic and social consequences of assaults on working people since the acceleration of the world capitalist crisis in 2007 continue to pile up. Actions of up to 100,000 in front of the Statehouse in Madison have helped focus world attention on these attacks and workers’ beginning resistance to them.
On April 16, some 5,000 workers, many of them union members, turned out in Madison once again for a demonstration against antilabor legislation and proposed cutbacks in needed social programs. That working-class message was not reported by the major capitalist media, however.
Instead, the dailies and TV newscasters focused on an attempt by a substantial number of union supporters there—although nowhere near a majority of those demonstrating for labor rights that day—to shout down Sarah Palin, who was speaking at a nearby rally associated with the tea party.
Like Democratic Party politicians who addressed the prounion rally on the opposite side of the capitol, Palin demagogically proclaimed she had been a union member herself. At the same time, she denounced working people who have protested Republican governor Scott Walker’s antiunion legislation and budget cuts, calling them “violent rent-a-mobs.”
Many working people, as well as middle-class individuals facing mounting uncertainties due to the capitalist crisis, turned out to hear Palin. Like other bourgeois politicians in both parties, she pretends to present an alternative for working people to government policies and bureaucratic indifference.
Palin denounced the Barack Obama administration and other Democratic Party politicians, a message that gains a hearing from many workers and small business owners who feel the blows coming down on millions today.
The Militant account of the April 16 rallies reported: “While prounion forces organized a counterrally on the opposite side of the capitol, thousands of union supporters intermingled with the tea party protest. They chanted and yelled prounion slogans, and rang cowbells. At times the chanting was so loud that it drowned out the speakers.”
Contrary to the impression given by this account, however, from the standpoint of advancing workers’ class interests, there was nothing positive about this effort to disrupt the tea party rally and prevent Palin from being heard. Whatever the broader aims of many involved, shouting down Palin was an attempt to silence someone with an opposing point of view. And many workers—not only those who share Palin’s views, but many others still looking for an explanation of the crisis and how to effectively fight its consequences—rightly reject such conduct as thuggish.
The April 16 events were in marked contrast to what happened at an earlier tea party protest in Madison on February 19, also reported in the Militant. That rally drew about 1,000 people. Tens of thousands of working people came to the prounion demonstration that same day—some estimates were as high as 70,000.
Protesters marched around the capitol for hours and never tried to disrupt the tea party rally. To the contrary, at times those denouncing Governor Walker’s antilabor legislation debated and argued with those who had come to hear the tea party speakers, seeking to sow doubts and neutralize some and to convince and win over anyone they could.
Closing down space to organize and speak is not in the interests of the working class in face of the capitalist class and its massive apparatus of state repression. Ultimately any actions aimed at silencing the expression of views will be used against working-class organizations by the capitalist government, their courts and cops, and their hired goons.
Taking the moral and political high ground in championing the right to speak and organize today will stand labor in good stead tomorrow, when we are called on to defend, by any means necessary, our pickets, our meetings, and our class organizations.