Monday, April 16, 2012

The Mohawk Valley formula or a plan for strikebreaking

During the first decades of the 20th century, many large corporations decided to hire a gang of thugs armed with truncheons to bludgeon strikers and demonstrators. There used to be some shooting too, and many trade unionists died, either in the middle of a demonstration or in a dark alley. In Barcelona, this practice became common during the 20s –the so-called pistolerismo (from Spanish pistolero, gunman). But it was a global phenomenon to be found in most industrialised countries.
Obviously, it is quite an effective way to break demonstrations and strikes, but it is not a long-term solution. First, some trade unions and anarchist associations (like the Spanish CNT) decided to hire their own gang of thugs, who even succeeded in shooting dead the Spanish Prime Minister Eduardo Dato in 1921 and some Spanish regional authorities. Secondly, strikebreaking gangs increased people’s unrest and it was made clear that they were acting in collusion with police forces and the government, so strikers had even more arguments to go on with their demonstrations, and those who were as yet undecided quickly took sides.
Then, someone had the greatest idea: it was in 1937, during the “Little Steel” strike in Johnstown, west Pennsylvania. Instead of attacking demonstrators with truncheons and guns, their leaders were attacked with speeches and papers, so that the rest of workers would not take their side. This was a way to end up with strikes and demonstrations and be seen as the good guys. It was later known as the Mohawk Valley formula. The reasoning behind is quite simple. “We” (businessman, bankers, unemployed, workers and housewives) are interested in making factories work so that there are job posts, no riots and everything can work out well. “They” (trade unionists) just want problems and riots because they live out of it. Therefore, “we” have to defend “our” interests and be united so that we do not succumb to “their” provocations. Strikers are subversive, violent, antidemocratic and rioting and “we” (the good guys) should try to stop them. In order words: a bank executive and a cleaning maid have the same interests, so they should fight together against anti-systemic movements.
It may seem clumsy and too easy, but if you repeat this same message all over again from different sources (mass media, political parties, schools…) it ends up working well. Really well! To the point that today it is the most widely used formula to break strikes and demonstrations, or at least to prevent that most citizens take part in them, so that those who fight for labour rights and social rights become a minority --the “anti-systemic groups”.
It is very interesting to take a look at newspaper headers and statements by some politicians or employer’s organizations before and after a strike. For instance, the days before the Spanish general strike of 29 March 2012 we collected some press clippings with Mohawk Valley-like statements... and we found hundreds of them. If you wish, just take a look at any newspaper library. You’ll find articles about syndicalists’ wealth, about the fact that they do not get a day deducted from their balance, or even arguments against strikes because of the financial loss (which should be assumed by workers, of course). As Noam Chomsky says, after discussing the Mohawk Valley formula, "Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state".

  1. Two texts by Noam Chomsky about Mohawk Valley formula:
  1. “Pistolerismo” in Barcelona:
  2. Eduardo Dato, Spanish Prime Minister assassinated by anarchists:


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