In the latest issue of Jacobin, Seth Ackerman takes Joe Burns’ 2011 book, Reviving the Strike, as a prompt to reflect on the relationship between the Occupy movement and organized labor in the United States. Drawing out a historical comparison of Burns’ between labor-movement conservatives of yesteryear and contemporary radical critics of unionism, Ackerman writes:
Meanwhile, today’s generation of young radicals, like the progressive labor bureaucrats have spent all of their formative years living in the era of capitalist realism — the era of There is No Alternative. And it’s perhaps for this reason that each tenet of the union bureaucrat philosophy that Burns recounts finds its distorted mirror-image in the views of the young anti-union radicals. After all, the prevailing attitude in certain precincts of the Occupy movement is that unions by their very nature will never break the law. That workplaces are not at the center of the struggle. That middle-class intellectuals and full-time activists should take the lead role in strategy and that these groups do not have different material interests than rank-and-file workers. That building “communes,” rather than confronting capital, should be the movement’s main mission. And, above all, that one can tacitly resign oneself to the permanence of capitalism and neoliberalism and still devise effective movement tactics. The irony is poignant. When Burns writes that “conservative trade unionists such as Samuel Gompers were more radical than even today’s labor left,” the same could be said of many of the Occupy movement’s young intellectuals.