Elizabeth Warren takes credit for Occupy Wall Street's ideology

Democratic Senate hopeful criticised by the right after saying she created "intellectual foundation"

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor running for the Senate in Massachusetts, has raised eyebrows by aligning herself with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Asked her opinion of the protests in an interview with the Daily Beast, she said:

I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do. I support what they do.

This is a fair claim. As an academic, Warren has for several years been one of the most articulate voices challenging the excesses of Wall Street. Since entering the race for the Senate -- seeking to take Ted Kennedy's old seat back from the Republicans -- she has become the hero of the left and been demonised by the right.

Despite attempts by the right to paint her as a lunatic leftie, she is by no means a simple ideologue, and was a registered Republican until she was in her 40s (she is now 62). Elsewhere in the interview, she says:

I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore. I was a Republican at a time when I felt like there was a problem that the markets were under a lot more strain. It worried me whether or not the government played too activist a role.

Predictably, Republicans are up in arms about Warren's comments on Occupy Wall Street, and are keen to use it to discredit her. The National Republican Senatorial Committee criticised "Warren's decision to not only embrace, but take credit for this movement" in light of arrests if protesters in Boston.

Over at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent analyses the battle lines being drawn:

[Republicans] are wagering that the cultural instincts of the working class whites and independents who will decide this race ensure that the excesses of the protesters will make them less inclined to listen to her populist economic message, which is also directed at those voters.


Warren, by contrast, is making the opposite bet. By unabashedly embracing the protests, she is placing a wager on the true mood of the country right now. She's gambling that these voters will look past the theatrics of these protests; that they will see that she and the protesters are the ones who actually have their economic interests at heart; and that they will ultimately side with Warren's and Occupy Wall Street's general critique of the current system and explanation for what's gone wrong in this country.

It remains to be seen which side will be triumphant, although recent polling suggests that voters have not been alienated by the protests. Either way, Warren's presence will ensure that Massachusetts remains the most polarising Senate race in 2012.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.