WITH APOLOGIES TO SAUL ALINSKY
By ART CHANCE
Over the last decade or so, Republicans have acquired some awareness of Saul Alinsky and his 1971 book, “Rules for Radicals.”
I read “Rules” when it first came out because I was a right-out-of-college, long-haired, dope-smoking, FM-radio-listening liberal in those days. A few semesters of Life 101 dissuaded me of most of my college education and I tucked old Saul away in the recesses of memory.
There was still enough of my leftist education in me that I could ally myself with organized labor in the Seventies. I knew and worked around and sometimes with all the major labor leaders of the era. They were often venal and avaricious, but they were loyal and patriotic Americans. When Jimmy Carter wanted to ship grain to the Soviet Union, the AFL-CIO refused to load the ships.
I spent the summer and fall of 1980 assigned by the AFL-CIO to Sen. Mike Gravel’s re-election campaign. That did it for me. I realized that I’d gotten far enough up the ladder in organized labor to get myself in serious trouble, but not far enough up to get myself out of that trouble. Armed with the courage of my connections, I struck out into the private sector to make some money.
Fast forward a few years and was in Juneau, recently divorced and with custody of a teen-aged daughter. I needed a steady job with benefits in town and the State was looking for a labor relations analyst.
I was a bad fit, but they hired me. I was a hard-living Laborer’s union brawler, and the State’s labor relations staff were a bunch of prissy Juneau bureaucrats, mostly out of the State’s personnel system, and some who’d come over from the Alaska Public Employees Association. Plus, I was from Anchorage and that is good for being hated in Juneau. My resignation got written several times, but they couldn’t bring themselves to fire me and I couldn’t bring myself to quit.
In those days we were all in our 30s or early 40s and the labor arbitrators, mediators, and administrative law judges were in their 60s and 70s; they’d been corporate general counsels, law professors, judges, and the like. They’d gone to Harvard and Yale and such, and if you couldn’t keep up with the literary, and sometimes Biblical, allusions in their rulings and decisions, you got no respect. You learned to win by making your argument by allusion and in the footnotes; your adversary never knew what happened to him.
It was a fairly collegial world; we could pound our chests at each other all day and then join our adversary and the trier of fact at the bar for an after action analysis at the end of the day. I loved my work in those days; I went to the State Office Building snack bar at lunch, got my sandwich and Coke and sat at the table in the office reading Hardin’s “The Developing Labor Law” or Elkouri’s “How Arbitration Works.” If you live something, you get good at it.
Fast forward another 10 years: that world was all but gone. The largest group of State employees was now represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and their head was joined at the hip with President Bill Clinton.
They don’t do labor relations, they do guerilla theater. Those leather-bound hornbooks, treatises, and reporters in my office are gathering dust.
I returned to the Executive Branch from the Legislature in 1999 and one of the first things I did was buy a copy of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” for every member of my professional staff. I had a member of my staff digest it into what was essentially a playbook. I put out a directive to all the human relations and labor relations staff in the departments that Labor Relations was calling the plays now and they were to take no action against the union mau-mauing supervisors or doing their guerilla theater act unless it was coordinated with labor relations.
Labor relations was no longer a matter of law and contract; it was just political posturing and we put all the books away and put a lot of wear on our copies of “Rules.” Collective bargaining had simply become politics by other means.
Some conservatives/Republicans posit that we should adopt Alinsky tactics and use them against the left. The short answer is that generally you can’t; it is really hard to get a bunch of middle-aged, middle class Republicans to go to a bean dinner before a public hearing so they can stage a “fart-in.”
The appropriate response to an Alinsky-ite attack is to ignore it. If you ignore them, they’ll keep doing ever crazier things trying to get you to do something stupid and preferably violent. All the while as they do crazy things, they shed supporters. At some point they do something indefensibly crazy and you smash them like bugs. It just takes patience and discipline.
As the Finance Committee’s recent budget road show unfolded and the naifs with AFP organized Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s tour, I thought of writing a piece on this, but I decided it was better to just let it play out; let the hearings get mobbed by the unions.
This is not a game Republicans can win; you aren’t going to get people with real jobs to turn out for the “hearings;” that’s the whole idea.
Let them have their echo chamber hearings; we won the election.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.