Citizen Action Monitor

“Counterpower” by Tim Gee — Pt 5: Use Counterpower to make it too costly for opposing elites to ignore

No 383 Posted by fw, January 1, 2012

This series is based on Tim Gee’s Counterpower: Making Change Happen. Gee conceives of Counterpower as the ability of the powerless to remove or neutralize the power of the powerful. He posits three types of Counterpower – Idea Counterpower, Economic Counterpower and Physical Counterpower.

Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this series of posts recounted Gee’s Chapter 1 stories about the three types of Counterpower to illustrate how they can be used independently or in a tactically integrated manner to much greater effect.

In this post, Part 5, Gee wraps up some loose ends in his conclusion to Chapter 1, How Counterpower helps movements win, ending with this teaching from US activist Michael Albert

“[M]ovement victories are achieved by ‘raising unendurable social costs to elites. . . . Costs embodied in the threat that the conditions of their privilege will unravel if their policies don’t succumb to pressure.

The Adaptability and Potential Force of Counterpower

  • Counterpower principles can be used effectively for action campaigns of all sizes, from small to large scale. Gee cites, for example, the small-scale case of an employment agency that refused to pay a temp employee for hours worked on a short-term placement but not logged on his timesheet – this after they had verbally assured him he could skip the timesheet for this placement. Fortunately, it didn’t take much to get the company to back down and pay up. Idea Counterpower tactics were used to put at risk the agency’s source of income from its clients: the agency’s chain of offices was picketed by organized groups of temp workers.
  • News that grassroots activists, using Counterpower tactics, are prepared to fight back and hold powerful elites to account, is likely to give the powerful pause for reflection and activists cause for boldness. Gee notes: “This is most clearly to be seen by looking at unionized workplaces where, on average, wages are higher, conditions are better and workers are more likely to be consulted on major decisions.” Outside of the unionized workplace, community activists face tough challenges, and headline campaigns may be lost. But even so, as Gee points out, “. . . the very presence of a group with the ability to make life difficult for the powerful makes it harder for them to ignore local opinion.

Three Alternatives to Counterpower

  • There are alternatives to Counterpower. For example, gaining power over elites is one approach; making backroom deals with opposing power groups is another. However, the threat of Counterpower remains a powerful leverage tool regardless of how power is eventually won – and held. Leverage comes with the opposition’s realization that they have just two options – submit to the demands of a mass Counterpower movement or face potentially huge social and economic costs in a fightback. To those activists who advance a purist “power corrupts” principle, Gee counters with Martin Luther King’s retort: “There is nothing essentially wrong with power. The problem is that in America power is unevenly distributed.
  • And to those who insist that social change must begin with individual personal salvation, for only that can lead to collective change, Gee counters: “Personal morality and collective consciousness are both helpful, even necessary . . . . But they are not of themselves strategies.” As King put it: “. . . power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
  • Then there are the low-key voices of opposition who insist that by simply presenting those in power with good ideas, they will be immediately inclined to adopt them. But as Gee observes, policy-making is not about finding the best solutions for the most people. To politicians and their advisers, it is about retaining power — “Will I keep my job if I allow this to happen?

Gee concludes Chapter 1 with American activist Michael Albert’s best advice:

“[M]ovement victories are achieved by ‘raising unendurable social costs to elites. . . . Costs embodied in the threat that the conditions of their privilege will unravel if their policies don’t succumb to pressure.

Which essentially repeats a point raised above in Item 1, Counterpower Alternatives: Leverage comes with the opposition’s realization that they have just two options – submit to the demands of a mass Counterpower movement or face potentially huge social and economic costs in a fightback.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Information

This entry was posted on January 1, 2012 by in evidence based counterpower, social movements and tagged , , .
%d bloggers like this: