I was asked by The Guardian, UK, who were forwarding a request by Occupy London, to write a piece on demands of the Occupy movement…so I sent them the following:
Demands that are worth winning are those which, being implemented, would improve the situation of those in need. Demands that are even more worth winning are those which, given how people fight for them, can not only be won to improve people's lives, but can also be won in ways that create conditions for still further gains.
Elites do not like demands that would diminish their power and wealth and will not implement such demands without being forced. Winning such demands therefore depends on raise social costs to elites so high that to give in is their only course of action in order to avoid in their view even worse outcomes then giving in.
In other words, elites confront a movement which, if they do not give in to it, will become dramatically stronger and demand even more, threatening the very system elites seek to defend. At that point, elites give in. And if the movements operate optimally, after the elites give in, rather than going home, the movements get stronger anyway, and seek more.
So should the Occupy Movements inLondon and around the world make demands?
In my view, yes, when they are ready and able to do so successfully, they should. Which means when they can do so in a way that leads forward, they should.
But what does making demands in a way that can lead forward mean?
It means (a) that movements have sufficient strength to be in position to win – where such strength is largely a function of the numbers of people they galvanize and their levels of commitment. And (b) that movements can win in a manner that further increases their membership and the commitment of their members.
Demands therefore need to appeal to a very wide constituency. They need to be put forth not by a small group, but by a large and growing movement in touch with the needs of a still larger constituency. And they need to have a character such that one can fight for them in ways that open doors to new demands and to new audiences, rather than leading back into compliance with a moribund and immoral system.
How can making a demand open doors?
Consider as an example the demand for full employment. Elites tell us that economic requests for goods and services are low. Production has to be cut back, they say. People must be fired. In reply, what sense would it make for us to demand the opposite, that those who are out of work be rehired?
First, winning full employment will benefit the right people. Second, talking about full employment, and fighting for it, will open doors to new demands and awareness. Thus, seeking full employment makes sense because firing people is a way out of the current crisis that leaves elites stronger than they were before. It is a way out that leads right back to business as usual, with, in addition, a bonus for the rich and powerful in the form of a weakened working class. Clearly, we don't want that. We want the opposite, a stronger working class and weaker elites. And that is the point. Full employment strengthens all workers, and it weakens all owners. But how can we have more people working when there aren't enough people ready to purchase their products? Their output will go to waste. Once the question is asked, the answer is pretty obvious.
The larger work force works fewer hours until the economy is back in shape. But that introduces a new problem. If I was earning just enough to get by, and my work week is shortened by, say, a fifth, or even a fourth so everyone can work – I and my family cannot not live on a fifth or even a fourth less income. So, we nave to think further. We have to have a next part of the demand.
We seek not only full employment, but also, as part of the same campaign, thirty hours work for forty hours pay, at least for everyone who is earning less than some quite high amount. For those above that amount, they can endure the 20% or even 25% lower wages for less hours – and they may even like it. For the owners, they get a lot less profits, which is good, too.
The point is, the way to approach demands is to mold them into a form that really strengthens the poor and weak, and really weakens the rich and strong – and which will also appeal really widely, and which we can argue for and fight for in ways that enrich consciousness and commitment. Consider another example.
It is pretty obvious that the Occupy Movement is against the expenditure of social funds on war and on bail outs for the rich. The movement can say, with hopes of great support, cut the war budget. It is a fine demand. But we also have to realize that there are some who are very far from being in the 1%, or even in the top 20%, who would suffer, and who don't deserve to.
For example, how about those who live near bases that would have to close? They would lose the bedrock of their local economies. Okay, so let's enrich the demand. Cut the war budget by half. But also turn half our military bases into new production units that build low income housing, and into new rapid deployment rescue facilities to aid people in natural disasters. Then, no communities suffer. And the poor, and endangered, benefit.
What about soldiers who are cut loose? More unemployment? Well, why not demand that if they want them, the soldiers at the bases that are o be transformed automatically get jobs there – and, in fact, they even get a claim on the first of the new low income houses, and, more, they even get to self manage the new production units which in that way become a model for transforming other units throughout the economy.
The above would need refinements, to be sure. But imagine that the Occupy Movements around the world all adopt demands and campaigns more like those mentioned – and others we might also consider, for example, demanding that mass media give ample space to grass roots activist reporting and commentary placed under the auspices of Occupation Committees, not newspaper boards of directors. Imagine also that city wide occupations start to morph into federations of neighborhood occupations, and that the neighborhood occupations not only make demands relevant to the lives of their constituencies, but begin actively implementing many of those agendas, locally.
It seems that there are ways to adopt and pursue demands that lead not into anti democratic behavior, and not into reformist give us this and we will go home happy behavior, but into escalating awareness, militance, and desires. I would say, when the Occupy Movements are good and ready, then and only then they should embark on pursuing demands. Until then, reaching out for more members, developing consciousness and commitment, solidifying modes of decision making and activism, gaining awareness of the needs and desires of diverse constituencies and incorporating their escalating participation, are immediate priorities.