From the Battle of Seattle to the Crisis of 2008 and Obama

Posted January 10, 2010

In September 2008, some 8,000 people — from social movements and churches, and from labor and the left — marched through Pittsburgh to protest the meeting of the finance ministers of the G-20. The march came on the tenth anniversary of the famous Battle of Seattle where labor unions and environmentalists had united with a broad array of social movement activists to attempt to challenge the World Trade Organization. That Battle had been a stunning success, representing a new stage of cooperation among diverse movements, a new level of militancy, and suggesting that the movement was ascending. Yet just two years later the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center the Pentagon, and a would-be attack on the Capitol stopped the global justice movement in its tracks and activism declined rapidly.

Democracy one way, WTO other way

Those environmental activists, labor unionists, and church members who participated in the street battles in Seattle returned to their local communities prepared to challenge corporations and the government. The Battle of Seattle of 1999 represented a sudden upsurge in the struggle against corporate globalization, leading to new hope in the possibility of progressive social change.

Ten years later George W. Bush, after plunging the country into the Iraq War, demonstrating a criminal negligence in dealing with hurricane Katrina, and overseeing government policies which would contribute to a “Great Recession,” had brought not hope, but despair. In the face of that sense of despair, Barack Obama called for hope and for change, but unlike the anti-corporate sentiment of Seattle, Obama’s vision of change is entirely corporate, governmental, and imperial.

How did the United States progress from that inspiring anti-corporate and for some anti-capitalist moment in Seattle to the election of a new corporate liberal president in 2008? What accounts for that is the peculiarly uneven, erratic and episodic character of the labor and social movements in the United States in the period from 1990 to 2009. In contrast, for example, to the period from 1956 to 1979 — when social movements in the U.S. expanded exponentially from year to year until they reached a crescendo around 1968 and then subsided — between 1990 and 2009, movements arose, flourished and died, often within a year or two. Seldom did the movements spread from one sector to another, and almost never did their actions coincide. The Battle of Seattle, tying together various strands of labor and radical activism, was the great exception of the period, perhaps the beginning of a new period, had that not been interrupted and terminated by the terrorist attacks of 2001, that lead to war, repressive police policies, and political reaction.

The Politics of the 1990s

To appreciate the significance of both the Battle of Seattle and the election of Obama, we should go back at least to the beginning of the 1990s. The decade of the 1990s may be said to have begun in 1989 with the series or upheavals in Eastern Europe that within a year had brought down the governments there and by 1991 saw the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. Without Soviet support, the Cuba entered the “special period” of austerity, weakening its role in the hemisphere. And at about the same time, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which had inspired so many American leftists, lost the 1990 elections. While some on the American left — particularly the Trotskyists and the Maoists — had long ago lost faith in the Soviet Union, still the apparent “collapse of Communism” demoralized and disoriented some on the left. Though, in truth, the left was a very small factor in American society.

In any case, the world now appeared to all to be much different than before. Suddenly, the Cold War’s bipolar framework based upon the struggle between the United States as leader of the “Free World” and the Soviet Union as the leader of “Communism” no longer existed. Political pundits proclaimed that democracy and capitalism had proven victorious over totalitarianism and the command economy. Francis Fukuyama in his 1989 essay suggested that history had come to an end. U.S. President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher suggested that the world would now enjoy a “peace dividend.” American ruling circles expressed glee as the Eastern European economies and their social welfare system collapsed. The West claimed victory, conservatives rejoiced in their power and their prosperity. The Left retreated and waited.

To War in Iraq

The peace dividend, however, failed to materialize. When Saddam Hussein led Iraq in the seizure of Kuwait in August of 1990, the United States took advantage of his exaggerated ambitions to make war on Iraq. During the short period leading up to the war, secular and religious activists rapidly assembled an impressive anti-war movement. Once the war actually began, however, the protesters’ signs were quickly eclipsed by patriots’ symbols such as the angry eagle as well as by the yellow ribbons tied to trees in support of the troops. The U.S., acting under the aegis of a United Nations resolution and standing at the head of a coalition of 34 countries, sent over half a million of its own troops into Iraq, out of a total of almost one million. The war which began in January 1990 was over by February 1991, as the U.S. Desert Storm campaign quickly defeated and largely destroyed Hussein’s army. The Gulf War, the first major military operation of the United States since Vietnam, proved remarkably successful. George W.H. Bush’s victory abroad for U.S. militarism and imperialism seemed to consolidate his hold and the hold of the Republican Party on power domestically as well.

The Clinton Presidency

Yet, only two years later George W.H. Bush’s political support had diminished because he had raised taxes, contrary to an earlier campaign pledge. He lost his bid for a second term in a three-way race. Bill Clinton, a charming populist in style and a sophisticated centrist Democrat politically, proved capable of carrying out conservative reforms that the Republicans could not, such as passing a welfare reform that dismantled much of the U.S. welfare system.

Also toward the top of Bill Clinton’s agenda was trade reform, in particular the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an initiative he had inherited from G.W.H. Bush that was intended to establish a sort of common market of Canada, Mexico and the United States. The labor unions opposed NAFTA, and under their pressure Clinton and the Democrats added the labor side agreements, supposedly to protect workers’ rights. Similarly the environmental movement succeeded in winning the environmental side agreements. While both sets of side agreements were clearly ineffectual, they provided sufficient cover so that the Democrats could support it. NAFTA passed Congress and was signed into law in December 1993. The labor union mobilization around NAFTA, while it had a fundamentally nationalist and protectionist character, represented an important step in the development of political consciousness among union leaders, activists, and ordinary members. Some would go on from the fight around NAFTA to the Battle of Seattle.

A New Radical Activism

On the date that NAFTA took effect — January 1, 1994 — a small and until then unknown guerrilla group, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) led an uprising in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas. They called for the overthrow of the government of Carlos Salinas, for the convocation of a national convention to write a new constitution, and for halting the NAFTA treaty. Some of its fighters were also quoted as calling for socialism. The EZLN spread word of its uprising and its goals around the world by the World Wide Web, leading some to call it the first internet revolt. While the Mexican government quickly contained the rebels and soon entered into negotiations with them, the EZLN spokesman Subcomandante Marcos reinterpreted the movement and its goals as a kind of indigenous anarchist movement. The Chiapas Uprising and the EZLN inspired a new generation of young radicals around the world, many of whom became activists in the new movement against corporate, neoliberal globalization of the economy. Throughout the United States, young anarchist activists joined demonstrations against free trade wearing the EZLN’s ski-masks and red bandannas. Largely under the impact of the EZLN, for the first time in a hundred years a small anarchist political current was reborn in the United States. Inspired by the Zapatistas, the anarchist youth, faces covered by their masks, would also reach Seattle.

Since the 1970s a radical current of environmental activism had been growing, particularly in Oregon and California. Environmentalists concerned about protecting the region’s forests had begun in the 1980s tree-sitting and tree-spiking to stop loggers and save the trees. Some environmental activists turned to eco-terrorism or eco-sabotage by the 1990s, though most combined their environmentalist philosophies with tactics of direct but usually non-violent action. The environmental movement, particularly strong in the Northwest of the United States, also succeeded in some places in overcoming the hostility of labor unions, and by the end of the 1990s, a labor-environmental alliance was emerging. For the radical environmental movement, Seattle was virtually their home.

Labor Reform

After decades of bureaucratic stagnation, U.S. labor unions saw significant reform movement develop in the 1990s, though they ultimately proved incapable of overcoming the bureaucratic character, widespread corruption, and moderate politics of the unions. In the Teamsters, Ron Carey, with the support of a rank-and-file reform group within the union called Teamsters for a Democratic Union, succeeded in winning the presidency. Under Carey’s leadership, the Teamsters led a successful national strike against UPS, the country’s largest trucking company, in 1997. Five days after the strike was settled, however, government investigators revealed that people working in Carey’s campaign had stolen money from the union to support his campaign for reelection to the Teamster presidency. The courts disqualified Carey from running for office, and James P. Hoffa, Jr. became president in 1998. Under Hoffa’s leadership, the gains of Carey’s successful strike were frittered away.

The AFL-CIO, the federation of most U.S. labor unions, also experienced reform in this period. In 1995, John Sweeney of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), succeeded in leading a coalition of international unions — including Carey of the Teamsters — to challenge the conservative group that had headed the federation since its founding in the 1950s. Sweeney and his New Voice slate argued that the federation had neglected organizing as unions shrank in size and influence.

Once elected, Sweeney and his New Voice group expanded the size of the council and the number of women and racial minorities on it, attempted to mobilize the unions to support new organizing campaigns, recruited college students to work for the unions, and worked to create an alliance with intellectuals. He called for a strategic center, for better coordination and more support for strikes, and for organizing low wage workers, particularly workers of color. Also, much to its credit, the AFL-CIO changed its longstanding position on immigrants, calling upon the unions to support and organize even undocumented workers. This reform movement from within the union leadership could not overcome the bureaucratic character of the unions. Still, it would create enough new energy to propel some union members toward the Seattle confrontation.

The Battle of Seattle

When the World Trade Organization decided to meet in Seattle, they chose a city which had become a focal point for several different progressive trends. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union had long been led by old leftists whose roots lay in the Communist Party. The Teamster reformers associated with Ron Carey and Teamsters for a Democratic Union controlled one of the largest local unions in the city. Seattle was a center of the radical environmental movement, and many of its youth had been influenced by the anarchist ideology of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The AFL-CIO, still in the early phases of its reform process under Sweeney, and (for nationalist and protectionist reasons) particularly angry about the admission of China to the WTO, decided to mobilize its member unions to protest at the WTO meeting. Unions such as the United Steelworkers organized delegations from cities hundreds of miles away.

So, for a brief moment, labor unions, environmentalists, and anarchist youth came together to challenge the world’s political and economic elite, and succeeded for a few days in tying up the city, if not in stopping the WTO meeting. When the police fought against the protesters, they often found Longshoremen, Teamsters, or Steelworkers standing beside environmentalists and anarchist youth. The Battle of Seattle reinvigorated the American left — but this energy was not to last.

September 11—A New Political Reality

September 11

The September 11, 2001 attacks brought the radical upsurge to a sudden halt. First, they led to an upsurge of patriotism as the public united behind President George W. Bush. Adding to the hysteria at the time were mysterious anthrax attacks on a number of government officials, politicians and private individuals who received packets of white power laced with the deadly anthrax virus. While this later turned out to be the work of an individual and not part of an international terrorist conspiracy, it contributed to national atmosphere of apprehension and alarm. Second, the Bush administration, dominated by a group of “Neo-Conservatives” right wing politicians, took advantage of the national mood of anger, fear and a desire for revenge to launch wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, fabricating a story of weapons of mass destruction being stockpiled by the latter, which had had nothing to do with the attacks.

Third, Congress passed the Patriot Act which reorganized federal police agencies and increased police powers, including surveillance of citizens. The U.S. government — ignoring Constitutional civil rights guarantees and the Geneva Conventions — arrested, jailed and tortured prisoners either in Iraq or Afghanistan, or in prisons in other countries in Europe, or in the prison on the Guantánamo military base on the Island of Cuba. Xenophobia grew and vigilante attacks on immigrants increased, and not only those from the Middle East. Patriotism, xenophobia, and repression characterized the period. The political atmosphere discouraged opposition and dissent or even criticism of the government. Nevertheless, a large and vocal anti-war movement sprang up in opposition to the War in Iraq, just as it had a decade earlier to oppose the First Gulf War. Yet, with the declaration of war, most Americans united behind the U.S. war effort, and the anti-war movement suffered a temporary setback.

The Unions Stalled

Throughout the 2000s most unions found it hard to hold their ground, though SEIU succeeded through its Justice for Janitors campaign in organizing a significant number of cleaning workers. In many cities, union activists came together in local chapters of Jobs with Justice (JwJ) to offer mutual solidarity and to take up legislative issues. Also important in this decade has been the growth of Labor Against the War which has educated and mobilized unions and workers against the war in Iraq. Finally, Labor for Single Payer built a movement to demand a government organized universal health plan for all Americans. Attempts to organize broad movements against the employers’ demands for concessions or to take on bigger issues such as the reorganization of the bankrupt U.S. auto industry proved futile. While there were a few exceptions such as the workers’ occupation of the Republic Windows factory in Chicago in 2008 in an attempt to save their jobs, most American workers simply were not willing to fight.

With the unions still in decline, in 2005, the SEIU, led by Andy Stern, together with five of the country’s largest labor unions—UNITE-HERE (garment and textile, hotel and restaurant workers), the Carpenters, the Laborers, the Teamsters, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union—left the AFL-CIO to create Change to Win. The new federation pledged to concentrate all of its efforts on organizing low-wage workers, and concentrated on immigrant workers, workers of color and women. Yet, once again, much like Sweeney and his New Voice leadership within the AFL-CIO, Change to Win simply proved incapable of stopping and reversing the long term trend toward a decline in labor union membership, strikes, and political influence. By 2008, after the election of Barack Obama, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win would once again be discussing a possible reunification of the union movement.

In this period, the labor movement succeeded in creating stronger ties to the immigrant communities. Both traditional labor unions and the new Workers Centers took up immigrants issues, recruited immigrant members, and in many cases joined the movement for immigration reform. Immigrant union leaders and activists would play a key role in the immigrant rights movement, the largest and most impressive movement of the 2000s, which also proved to be the most ephemeral.

The Immigrants in Motion

In the spring and summer of 2006, millions of immigrants, mostly Latino immigrants and especially the huge Mexican immigrant group, demonstrated in cities across the United States for immigration law reform. The mobilizations were backed by labor unions and the Catholic Church and organized through local immigrant hometown organizations, soccer clubs, churches, and radio stations. In some cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, the May Day demonstrations of hundreds of thousands became virtual general strikes — in some cases employers closed factories in support of immigration reform, and in other cases workers left work to demonstrate, forcing the factories to close. The May Day 2006 immigrant rights demonstrations were the largest social movement demonstrations in U.S. history. Yet, the following year, the immigration demonstrations shrank dramatically, the movement virtually disappeared, and all legislation stalled.

Immigrant activists hold sign reading Ningun Ser Humano Es Ilegal

Katrina—the U.S. as a Failed State

In August of that same summer of 2006, hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast and the City of New Orleans. Levees were breached, floodwalls failed, and the city was flooded. The federal government was slow to respond, and George W. Bush demonstrated a combination of incompetence, indifference and callousness towards the hurricane’s victims that damaged his reputation and weakened his administration. The United States, in dealing with a natural disaster, looked to the entire world like a failed state.

The hurricane — which killed over 1,800 people — brought national attention to the city so famous for its contributions to blues and jazz music, revealing the terrible poverty of its African American and white communities. Local neighborhoods in the city organized to help each other and African American communities, churches, schools and universities from across the country mobilized volunteers to help clean up and rebuild New Orleans. Organizations on the Left attempted to build a movement out of the anger that swelled up in reaction to the government handling of Katrina. Although some connections were made, no significant movement came out of those experiences. The anger over Katrina would turn against Bush and the Republican Party and ultimately help to lift Obama into the White House.

The Anti-War Movement

Meanwhile, as Bush’s Iraq War went on, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, over 2,500 U.S. military casualties by 2006, and thousands more soldiers wounded, public sentiment gradually began to shift against the war and the anti-war movement revived. The U.S. anti-war movement in the 2000s was led by three major organizations, MoveOn.Org, United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ), and ANSWER and the International Action Center, the first two founded by liberals, the second by a small socialist group, the Workers World Party. MoveOn.Org, originally founded in 1998, used e-mail to organize around liberal causes, but became during the 2000s principally an anti-war organization. MoveOn.Org used its vast reach to millions to organize both national and local demonstrations and protests around the war. Politically it aligned with the Democratic Party liberals. United for Peace and Justice, founded in 2002, was a more traditional American anti-war coalition of hundreds of national, state, and local organizations from around the country, united to oppose the Iraq War and U.S. militarism and imperialism more generally. While more politically independent than MoveOn.Org, its leaders too tended to be oriented toward the Democratic Party, though many more independent and radical groups and individuals participated.

The third national anti-war center, ANSWER and the International Action Center (IAC), founded about the same time as UFPJ and was closely associated with the Workers World Party. The Workers World Party had its origins in a split from the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in 1948, but after leaving the SWP aligned itself with the USSR, Maoist China, Eastern Europe, North Korea and various other self-proclaimed anti-imperialist regimes. Politically controlled by the WWP, ANSWER organized against the war but also linked the struggle against the war to other issues, particularly the Palestinian struggle against Israel.

The anti-war movement, under one or another of these three organizations (or under brief coalitions of them) organized hundreds of thousands of protesters in massive demonstrations both during the build-up for the war and after the war began, though they proved incapable to forcing the Bush administration to stop the wars.

Social Movements—Political Alternatives

While various labor and social movements made irregular and intermittent progress in the 1990s and 2000s, they did not find a political expression in an independent and left-wing political party. The U.S. political system, for over one hundred years a two-party system, militates against independent political parties. The Labor Party, created in 1996 under the leadership of Tony Mazzochi, brought together his own Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW), the United Mine Workers (UMW), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the California Nurses Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and many local unions. Declining to run a candidate for president or to challenge Democrats in elections, it failed to gain a foothold in the American political scene, and by the 2000s had become insignificant and irrelevant.

The Green Party, which arose out of the environmental movement, ran consumer advocate Ralph Nader for president in 1996 and 2000. By the time of his 2000 campaign, Nader had taken up labor issues, and sounded very much like a populist or even a socialist. When in 2000 Nader won 2.74 percent of the popular vote, the Democrats excoriated him for having caused Gore to lose the election. Nader ran again as an independent in 2004, but had little impact. In 2008 the Green Party ran Cynthia McKinney, U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, as their presidential candidate, while Ralph Nader ran as an independent. Neither candidate made a significant showing in the election. The American left, finding it impossible to create a leftwing party, saw its organizing efforts inevitably contributing to and finally captured at the polls by the Democrats.

The Financial Crisis

With the Iraq War still dragging on in the 2008, the economy began to slow, and by the Fall a full-scale economic crisis had begun. The financial crisis in the United States, detonated by bad housing mortgages, worthless derivatives, and widespread fraudulent practices, brought down a series of financial institutions beginning in the spring of 2008. Bear Stearns collapsed and was bought by J.P. Morgan Chase in March. That summer the United States government, despite the prevailing free market ideology, was forced to take over mortgage bank IndyMac and mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In September Washington Mutual, the country’s largest “thrift bank” (building society) failed. Lehman Broths went bankrupt in October. At the end of 2008, the U.S. government spent $50 billion to bail out CitiBank. In early 2009 the U.S. government put up $20 billion to rescue Bank of America, and another $118 billion to guarantee its bad assets. Now a few months later we are in a third round of bailouts, tens of billions more spent in financial rescues, and still the economic crisis spirals downward.

The Crisis Comes to Industry

No sector of the economy was spared. What began in the housing construction, real estate, and mortgages soon spread to finance and quickly jumped to the auto industry, and from there to the economy as a whole. At the end of January, widely disparate corporations—Citigroup, Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson, Home Depot, General Electric and Nokia, Sprint Nextell, Texas Instruments, and even Microsoft—announced layoffs amounting to 75,000 jobs. Boeing and IBM also cut their workforces. In February the 500 largest U.S. corporations laid off 123,604 people at JP Morgan, Dow Chemical, Corning, Micron Technology, Avon, U.S. Steel, Best Buy, Chevron, Delta, Goodyear, General Motors, Delphi, John Controls, Smithfield, Wal-Mart, United Technologies, W.W. Grainger, Caterpillar, U.S. Airways, Nike, General Electric, and Macy’s. All sectors of the economy were caught up in the crisis. In early March auditors reported that General Motors, for decades the very center and symbol of the U.S. economy, might well have to declare bankruptcy. Soon both GM and Chrysler were facing bankruptcy and seeking government assistance.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on March 6 that the unemployment rate rose from 7.6 percent in January to 8.1 percent in February, the highest rate in more than 25 years. The BLS estimated that 12.5 million Americans were unemployed in February, an increase of 851,000 since January. Some 651,000 jobs were lost in January. For each of the last three months, more jobs have been lost than in any similar period since October 1949. In the fourth quarter of 2008 the U.S. economy actually shrank by 6.2 percent, the worst quarter since 1982. Yet, despite the bankruptcies, plant closings, and layoffs, nowhere in the United States was there a significant mass labor protest movement.

Politically, however, the economy proved to be the last straw. After the macabre fiasco of the government’s handling of hurricane Katrina and the continuing bloodletting of the Iraq War, the U.S. economy was now head in the midst of “Great Recession,” as it was being called. The American corporate elite determined that the Republicans could no longer run the country, while the American public also turned against them. Serendipitously, a charismatic young African American politician — a social liberal, an economic moderate, and a sophisticated operator — had appeared on the horizon.

The Obama Campaign

Barack Obama rode a desire for change and hope to the White House in the November 2008 elections. Voters overwhelmingly rejected John McCain, whom they saw as likely to continue the policies of George Bush’s disastrous presidency. Worried about the worsening economic situation, they voted for change. The first African American to be elected president represented a sea change in American attitudes toward race, a long overdue political reflection of the civil rights victories decades earlier. Obama’s campaign was propelled by organized groups from all social classes: from financiers and corporate attorneys to labor unions and poor peoples’ organizations. The black vote was his, as was a large majority of the Latino vote. The election seemed a stunning victory for a young, charismatic, liberal, black candidate.

At the level of party politics, Obama’s victory represented something novel: the first step in the creation of a new hegemonic political bloc. His campaign was backed by high finance — banks, insurance companies, and the mortgage industry — as well as by many wealthy corporate board members and executives, and by the professionals, particularly lawyers. At the same time, Obama had support from both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, as well as of the National Organization for Women and while many people of color organizations often could not endorse Obama because of their not-for-profit legal status, he had their tacit backing. Obama’s campaign was a classical cross-class Democratic Party phenomenon.

The American electorate voted its hopes: a return to economic prosperity and an end to the wars in the Middle East. Unions had their own wish list, topped by the Employee Free Choice Act, making it easier for workers to vote for unions, health care reform, and a new immigration law. The optimism generated by the Obama campaign, however, did not last long, as between November and the inauguration, the collapse of the financial institutions intensified. When Obama took office on January 20, this represented not only the arrival of a new political administration but also the opening of a new economic period.

Obama: Another Corporate Presidency

Since taking office, Obama has used trillions of dollars of tax-payer money to save the banks and the auto corporations, while failing to protect homeowners and workers. While he took up health care, he soon dropped the single-payer proposals, and then backtracked on the fight for a public option insurance company. The health care reform as Obama and the Democrats now put it forward is meant to save the health industry (insurance companies, health care corporations, and physicians) not to bring good health care to all Americans. His concentration on health care meant that both the Employee Free Choice Act and immigration reform have been moved lower down on the agenda. At the same time Obama — seen by many who voted for him as the peace candidate — has continued the Iraq War, expanded the War in Afghanistan, and continues to make war on Pakistan through its drone aircraft attacks.

Despite these policies, Obama remains popular, and proved capable in the debate over health care of going to the public to regain his popularity when his ratings slipped. While Obama cultivate his following among the labor unions, among African Americans, and among immigrants, he does not represent their interests. Contrary to the claims of some American liberals and radicals, the Obama presidency has not opened up space for the Left or the movements and has certainly not given them a seat at the table.

The two decades from the 1990s and 2000s were a particularly episodic period in the history of American social movements and the left. Unlike the period from 1956 to 1979, they did not produce an ascending movement. The labor unions and the social movements seldom coincided and failed to become national, militant, and political. Independent political action almost never took place and the left failed to build a political party of its own. So, for all of these reasons, the tasks for the left remain those of the last thirty years: the building of the labor and social movements, the creation of an independent political party, the propagation of the ideal of democracy and socialism, with the recognition that it will take a revolutionary movement and organization to achieve them. At the moment, it looks, once again, as if the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will provide the greatest opportunities for the left to intervene. Though, if the Great Recession continues to go on and becomes a second Great Depression, which seems altogether possible, then economic and social issues must become the center of left activism.

This article was first published in Spanish by Viento Sur, in Number 107, December 2009.


Dan La Botz, a teacher, writer, and activist, lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of several books on labor in the United States, Mexico, and Indonesia. He is a leading member of Solidarity, a member of the editorial board of New Politics, and the editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis. To learn more about him and his work go to: