How Working Class Atomization and the Mohawk Valley Formula Gave Us Centrist Democrats

The Mohawk Valley Formula, the propaganda model of “scientific strikebreaking” originated in 1937. Since that time, forms of non-violent worker control have been updated into much more sophisticated measures of strike-breaking. At this stage in American history, strike breaking is a major profession and by destroying unions and atomizing people, the business-run class war continues to achieve major electoral bipartisan results in promoting the right wing GOP business elite while holding off progressive Democratic electoral victories.

In the late 1930s, around the time when Avram Noam Chomsky was gathering information on the Spanish Civil War and publishing his first political essay at the age of 10, the American business class was waging full scale class war against its own population in the Mohawk Valley. One such place was the Remington Rand Company in Ilion, New York where a viscous labor dispute took place. Remington Rand made business machines, typewriters and later manufactured computers. The American Federation of Labor and the Federal Union helped to organize the strikers, and it quickly turned into a brutal, nasty and violent affair at the hands of law enforcement and through the private company’s use of vigilantes.

As the company made it an ongoing practice to delegitimize workers and spread rumors about specific unionized employees to preempt their own managerial and sadistic plans to close some of its manufacturing sites, as well as sell off portions of the plants to companies refusing to recognize the labor union, the Remington Rand workforce resistance and organization mobilized and intensified.  As a result of these organizing efforts, the management and president acted swiftly to tame the strike potential by firing key union leader officials in an arbitrary and capricious manner. This prompted walkouts by Rand labor plant employees in New York, Ohio and Connecticut.

I first learned of the strike in the mid 1990s through the writings of Professor Noam Chomsky and journalist David Barsamian. What Chomsky was especially interested in, in terms of the strike, and later myself, was the scientific strike breaking guide that company president James Rand had issued in response to the strike. This was referred to as the Mohawk Valley Formula. The purpose of the formula was to turn the local community, against their working and middle class brethren.

According to Robert G. Rodden, author of The Fighting Machinists, the purpose of the formula was outlined in the US labor press:

1) When a strike is threatened, label the union leaders as “agitators” to discredit them with the public and their own followers. Conduct balloting under the foremen to ascertain the strength of the union and to make possible misrepresentation of the strikers as a small minority. Exert economic pressure through threats to move the plant, align bankers, real estate owners and businessmen into a “Citizens’ Committee.”

2) Raise high the banner of “law and order”, thereby causing the community to mass legal and police weapons against imagined violence and to forget that employees have equal rights with others in the community.

3) Call a “mass meeting” to coordinate public sentiment against the strike and strengthen the Citizens’ Committee.

4) Form a large police force to intimidate the strikers and exert a psychological effect. Utilize local police, state police, vigilantes and special deputies chosen, if possible, from other neighborhoods.

5) Convince the strikers their cause is hopeless with a “back-to-work” movement by a puppet association of so-called “loyal employees” secretly organized by the employer.

6) When enough applications are on hand, set a date for opening the plant by having such opening requested by the puppet “back-to-work” association.

7) Stage the “opening” theatrically by throwing open the gates and having the employees march in a mass protected by squads of armed police so as to dramatize and exaggerate the opening and heighten the demoralizing effect.

8) Demoralize the strikers with a continuing show of force. If necessary turn the locality into a warlike camp and barricade it from the outside world.

9) Close the publicity barrage on the theme that the plant is in full operation and the strikers are merely a minority attempting to interfere with the right to work. With this, the campaign is over—the employer has broken the strike

It was company President James Rand that issued these plans to overwhelm the locale with misinformation that in turn made the workers look undignified, selfish and greedy. In order to turn the community against the workers and their legitimate grievances, this propaganda campaign had to be devised to question the workers’ commitments to societal harmony as well as any potential appeal to patriotism, nationalism or “Americanism” — all subjective terms without much meaning when used in the context of the striking worker.

Chomsky’s particular interest and original observation of the Mohawk Valley Formula was found in his ability to characterize and cite the formula as a key primary source in pinpointing the break from violent strike breaking to scientific strike breaking. As Chomsky put it, “breaking knee caps got old [in a society claiming it was free and democratic].” Since it was no longer in style to crush worker uprising with fascist-styled violence in the more democratic societies, management needed to control what Chomsky described as, “controlling thoughts, opinions, and attitudes” and by controlling “how workers felt about themselves, [or] about one another.” He argued that “their perceptions needed to be controlled since behavior was left for the governments that used the bludgeon.”

As Chomsky just recently turned 91, I’m reminded of how this formula is still firmly in place in conception, not only in terms of labor, but in electoral terms as well. First, in regards to the Bernie Sanders campaign for president, where there remains an incredible bipartisan hostility to question not only his actual policies, but his loyalty as well to the “American way of life.” (Or unbridled capitalism)  When The New York Times isn’t giving him less than favorable coverage, MSNBC essentially fails to cover Sanders at all.

As the Republican outrage against Sanders is obvious enough, journalist Liza Featherstone has appropriately commented on center-right corporatist Democrats, such as Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and namely Deval Patrick. All have drifted rightwards to present themselves as viable alternatives to the reactionary Trump. Actually they serve as Featherstone states, “flagrant insults to popular uprising” thus encompassing an inevitable insult to the popular support gained by Sanders.

The “white-working class support of Trump” is very much a myth, yet the Mohawk Valley Formula’s lasting impacts continue to play out in regards to establishment Democrats’ efforts in dismantling the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, including their more obvious attempts at the takedowns of heavy hitters like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and Ilhan Omar.

The Intercept’s Aida Chávez & Ryan Grim recently remarked that, “as a new Democratic insurgency has risen over the last year, unions have clung tightly to the old guard.” Furthermore, while the working class continues to rally behind Julia Salazar, who stood victorious in her New York state senate race, some conservative Democrats that claimed to be progressive, ignorantly lagged behind in favor of the patronage laced incumbent. Even more sadly, rising progressive Tiffany Cabán couldn’t budge the Gregory Meeks “misleadership” led machine and conservative union leadership ties to Melinda Katz in her bid for Queens District Attorney. She posed such a threat to the establishment that Andrew Cuomo prematurely whined about low voting turnout, a feature they usually benefit from.

Despite some efforts by unions such as National Nurses United and (in most cases) individual and broader progressive membership, you can see the lasting effects of the formula elsewhere. Right wing carpenters, electricians and steamfitters (not only law enforcement) split with progressive labor and supported the St. Louis District Attorney after the murder of Michael Brown. In Staten Island, Democrats supported the most (and lone) conservative District Attorney in New York City. Additionally, white working class atomization seems to explain the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Representatives Max Rose and Joe Crowley in New York, Gretchen Whitmer’s victory in Michigan and Brad Ashford’s endorsement in Nebraska – all candidates that support managerial gradualism and capital at the expense of rank and file labor in center-right locales marred by the formula’s legacy and propelled by money in politics.

The Mohawk Valley Formula then and the modern public relations industries now, might also help explain why Kshama Sawant’s opponent was being supported by Seattle’s unions. Lastly and perhaps most disturbingly is the liberal worker’s aversion to immigrant labor and climate justice. When progressives criticize Democratic leadership and labor officials for accepting donations that feed the fossil fuel industry, they are called intellectual elitists!

In realty, unions were not always allies for broader progressive aims in the first place but in order to create and maintain a class discrepancy. Even 25% of the union at Remington Rand didn’t vote in favor of the labor strike in 1936 and with an ever increasing growth of the public relations industry in the post-war era of continued deregulation, both labor and capital have joined forces in the name of private competition, much more than they have resisted each other or supported the working class or working poor. Why would they ever address a non-voting bloc unrepresented by a major party?

Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters and grassroots union activists are usually, relatively left wing by the standard of those involved in electoral politics. But most establishment machine politicians and their mid-level support networks serve as clubs and associations in seeking to protect their own specific set of union interests in self-preservation. They are rather comfortable with capitalism. Even “when union members are not conservative, most of them see the union more as a professional organization that protects their interests, rather than as part of a broader progressive social movement,” says Yves Smith.

Aside from the remnants of the Mohawk Valley Formula and the incredible upgrades in the age of bought and paid for candidates through electioneering are those supporting Bernie Sanders from afar while lending weight to local politicians (that Sanders wouldn’t support.) This is how the average provincial Democratic voter carefully saws off their own leg. This is also how centrists and liberals prepare for the inevitable Democratic centrist nominee, which according to journalist Doug Henwood, “Trump will make mincemeat of.”

Daniel Falcone is a teacher, journalist, and PhD student in the World History program at St. John’s University in Jamaica, NY as well as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He resides in New York City.