Workers never got anything by asking nicely. They got it by striking, picketing, and yes, occasionally dynamiting their employers. But in an era of declining industrial action, when few are inculcated in the traditions of union solidarity and the strike, those memories have faded. Obama wants to see them completely forgotten. During the height of New Deal-era militancy, nearly all of General Motors’ 150,000 production workers were involved in a workplace shutdown or factory occupation. “Every time a dispute came up,” one UAW member remembered, “the fellows would have a tendency to sit down and just stop working.” This wasn’t the same kind of inchoate indignation that fuels the Tea Party politicians whom Obama was rebuking—it was a response from the victims of wage cuts, unemployment, police batons and poverty. Both upsurges, however, are testament to what force and organization can accomplish.
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