Mar 7, 2014
Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges on Class Struggle
Posted on Nov 1, 2011
Robert Scheer: Well, you know, this is not the place to defend the ’60s. But let me tell you, a lot of the claims about the hedonism and the wildness and so forth, I think, were mass media exaggerations. We had COINTELPRO, we had a lot of craziness; it’s very difficult to keep a grass-roots movement going. In my own case, every picture I’ve found of myself in the ’60s I seem to be wearing a jacket and tie to go against that image. And when I read your article I thought well, you know, there was Paul Schrade. And Paul Schrade was the head of the United Auto Workers on the West Coast. And he was the first prominent—he was the guy who was shot when Bobby Kennedy was shot, he was standing near, by his side. And Paul Schrade I remember, because I would speak at many rallies where there were union workers, and in that situation he was going against sort of the immediate short-run interests of his own members—who, after all, they were having defense contracts, and so forth. And that’s really what [union leaders] [George] Meany and [Walter] Reuther were playing on: that these were good times; it was working.
And right now it seems to me, I would raise two points about this. One, there is this different reality, which everyone across the board in this country who is not part of the elite can see. These are really hard times. But the question you raise about demonstrations is how would you prevent the media, and from the police—we have a “J. Edgar” movie coming out next week about all the things Hoover did—how do you prevent these people from hijacking a movement, from distorting it? It’s extremely difficult, and I know I was up at Oakland before the police moved in, but it was difficult to maintain a tone that seems to have been maintained in New York. I’m not defending the police, but that’s the nature of grass-roots movements. They’re easily infiltrated, they’re easily—the purpose can be changed. Do you not see that as a danger?
Chris Hedges: No, because the structure of this movement—I can only speak, you know, for Zuccotti Park, because that’s where I’ve spent a lot of time. I’ve been to Washington, but I can’t—I know the structure in Zuccotti Park pretty well. And because it’s non-hierarchical, in the sense that everything is transparent—I mean, all the decisions are made by a general assembly—No. 1, you avoid that kind of leadership cult that I think plagued a lot of movements in the ’60s. And because people who facilitate and run meetings and have positions of relative authority are recycled—I mean, they’re replaced—nobody is able to accumulate significant amounts of power. That’s significant.
The other thing is that because the process is transparent, you don’t have groups that are—every decision is made in public, and chanted throughout the entire park. Now, there are clearly plainclothes police in the park; we see them; they all look something, you know, like a caricature from Doonesbury; they look like cops; they’re sort of 30 years old with baseball caps, telling you they’re students from Rollins College or something. But the big tip-off is they’re running around saying well, who do you think the leaders are? Where’s the core leadership? And so that makes this movement a lot harder to decapitate, because they can’t take out the leadership.
But this is a widespread movement; it’s decentralized; it takes on its own coloring and characteristics, depending on the city that it’s in; and so there will be, you know—as you point out, I mean, movements are by their very nature messy and make steps forward and steps back. But I think that there is a resiliency to this movement because it articulates a fundamental truth of inequality that hits the majority of American citizens.
Robert Scheer: This is Robert Scheer for Truthdig Radio. I’m interviewing Chris Hedges, and this is part of the KPFK fund drive. KPFK is one of these rare media outlets that is honestly covering these events, and not allowing them to be distorted. Chris, let me ask you: It seems to me a high point for labor involvement came in the Wisconsin protests, where there seemed to be a very good merging and clarity about the need of organized labor to support these [protests]. There was a moment in the New York protests where unions turned out; is that developing, or is it still estranged?
Chris Hedges: First of all, Wisconsin—you know, there was a lot of discussion about a general strike, which is what they should have done. And it was the Democratic Party and organized labor that talked them out of it, which I think was a mistake. You are seeing, certainly on that Friday morning when they threatened, if you remember, at 6 a.m. to clear the park out, ostensibly to clean it, and then several thousand people gathered and linked their arms—you did see teamsters show up to help protect the park. I think that part of the reason that organized labor, in a way, has to graft itself onto this movement is because the union leaders have betrayed the rank and file and the interests of the American worker. These union bosses are pulling five times’ the salaries that the rank and file are pulling; all they’ve done over the last couple of decades is largely barter away benefits and pension plans, and you see contracts now essentially abandoning incoming workers, the quid pro quo being that they protect limited privileges or rights—privileges is probably the wrong word—for older workers. You see groups like Moveon.org, which has become an obsequious public relations machine for the Obama White House, trotting down to Zuccotti Park. Because I think they’ve been exposed for their cowardice, for their complicity in systems of power, which really has made war against the poor, the working and the middle class. And in a way, they will see their own base drift away from them if they don’t at least pay lip service to these movements.
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