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A Houston Wob’s Reflection on the USW Strike

Unions’ power is in decay and lately have been resorting to more creative methods in order to remain relevant. We’ve seen the Democrats putting their money behind the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Fight For $15 in Houston at the same time attempting to “turn Texas blue.” But this dependency of unions like SEIU and the United Steel Workers (USW) on the Democratic Party means they are severely limited in what they are willing to do in the realm of tactics. This along with union density being sharply in decline, as well as union power being undermined by Right-to-Work spreading to states like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, means the unions are not up for waging anything close to a class struggle. Instead unions like the USW maintain their position as representing only certain interests and timidly bargaining around them.

Texas, like other Right-to-Work states, has a working class that is almost entirely disconnected with their own fighting traditions. There is no real culture of workers resistance, union or not, nor is there any historical memory of fighting strikes. However, recently in Houston we have seen a few significant developments unfolding in labor starting with the immigrant rights movement and detention center hunger and labor strikes, the Maximus Coffee strike and lockout at the end of 2013, the ongoing Fight For $15 “movement” and its semi-annual spectacles, and the most recent and equally significant, the USW refinery strikes. These developments are very exciting for Houston not simply because of the lack of historical memory of struggle to draw from, but also due to the high density of industry in Houston which is unlike most of the country.  This makes Houston a critical choke point for US capital and thus pivotal for workers struggle nationally. Continue Reading

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Fanon and the Theory of Race

Fanon 1It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others
– W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks

He who is reluctant to recognize me is against me
– Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary
— Malcolm X, Speech at the Founding of the OAAU

Frantz Fanon is one of the most important 20th century thinkers on race, and any serious theory and strategy dealing with the reality of race has to grapple with his work.[1] At the same time, Fanon remains one of the most misunderstood revolutionary thinkers. Part of the reason lies in the hybrid nature of his work, which draws from, among other fields of knowledge, philosophy, psychiatry, literature, anthropology and marxism. Another reason for the conflicting interpretation of his work may be the conditions under which his writings were produced, often addressing the immediate theoretical issues of the day, whether in France, Algeria, the Caribbean, or the anti-colonial struggles in Africa. Further, dying of leukemia at the young age of 36, Fanon was robbed of the opportunity to more fully develop and synthesize his diverse and fragmented work.

During his lifetime, Fanon was first and foremost known as an associate of the FLN, the leading party of the Algerian Revolution, a proponent of the Algerian Revolution as a model of anti-colonial revolution, and a critic of the emerging national bourgeoisie. In addition, Fanon fostered relationships with French intellectuals, most famously Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. However, Fanon’s work was never widely known in his lifetime in France, or, more broadly, in the metropoles.

It was not until Les Damnés del la terre was translated into English in 1965 as The Wretched of the Earth that Fanon reached a wider audience. The emergence of nationalist and Third Worldist movements, both globally and in the “Western” countries, meant new life for Fanon’s work, as these movements drew on his work in various ways. Wretched of the Earth was at the center of this Fanon revival, while other important works, such as Black Skin, White Masks, were relatively ignored. Later, after these movements subsided, Fanon was the subject of intense appropriation and critique within American universities. The different moments and places in the reception and interpretation of his work meant that Fanon has been interpreted in widely different, and contradictory ways.

The purpose of this essay is to briefly examine some of the core tenets of Fanon’s understanding of race, and it by no means provides an exhaustive account of his work.[2] Important areas of his writing are left untouched, as is most of the historical context. Instead, this essay explores some of the key categories and methodology Fanon uses in his analysis of race, with the aim of drawing out some of the lines in his thought. A particular emphasis is placed on his concept of racial alienation. The hope is to encourage others to take up Fanon, or engage with those who have already done so, as one step in the necessary reconstruction of a revolutionary theory of race and white supremacy for today.

The notes below approach the question primarily through a close reading of the important chapter in Black Skin, White Masks, “The Lived Experience of the Black Man,” although other parts of his work are touched on. This chapter is important because it lays out his core concepts of racial alienation and its self-abolition.
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Women and Children First…But the First Shall Be Last

(Note:  this is an updated version of an article originally posted on We’re Hir We’re Queer here.)

In the wake of a five day hunger strike over conditions of confinement at Karnes family detention center in South Texas, many are beginning to look critically at family detention.  But this practice, and the struggle against it, is nothing new. Groups in the southwest, including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families have been struggling to end family detention for almost a decade.  Most recently, these groups are struggling around a new facility in Dilley, Texas, the largest family detention project since Japanese internment.  In developing a strategy against immigration detention, we must consider how capital and the working class is composed and why there is a renewed emphasis on women’s and family immigration detention.

Immigration detention has been steadily climbing over the past few decades.  Some cite the prison boom as a 1980s-90s phenomenon, since the U.S. saw massive rates of incarceration of primarily black men due to draconian drug laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and other strategies for criminalizing the black working class.

Incarceration Rates

At a certain point in the early 2000s, prison rates tapered off.  However, this is also around the time that immigration detention as a national phenomenon began to dramatically increase.  While Grassroots Leadership, and many other advocacy and community groups will argue that this shift toward detention expansions is parallel to the expansion of the private prison industry, I believe this is only one side of the story.  Why, in the middle of the deepest economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression, is the federal government expanding the immigration detention system, and why are women and children being particularly targeted in this effort?  I will attempt to answer this question; but first, some background info.

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The Hunger Games and Revolution Symposium Audio

While the wealthy dance and drink fine wine in a futuristic playground, working people suffer on the outskirts — hungry, heavily policed, and struggling to secure basic subsistence. Once there was the chance for revolution, but now it’s a distant memory, a discarded hope kept at bay by brutal police, aching poverty, and the separation of working people into small segregated areas afraid or unable to talk to each other in a meaningful way.

Is this Panem of The Hunger Games, or the America of 2014?

Questions of whether The Hunger Games belongs to the “left” or “right” typically inhabit the same old partisan sideshow where answers are determined in advance and politics is a matter of arguing opinions. This is not the domain of revolution, which in 2014 must be the site of unanswered questions and argumentation by action.

On November 23rd in New York City, a group of activists, organizers, and revolutionaries came together to discuss the meaning of The Hunger Games to the class struggle in America. What does the popularity of this book and movie series tell us about the popular imagination? How is it read and understood by young people about to enter the job market with little hope of success? Think ahead to what an American revolution could look like, what do we make of Katniss’s struggle against not only the unjust class society she inhabits, but the authoritarian alternative that calls itself the revolution?

Listen to activists, authors and revolutionaries John Garvey, Jasmine Gibson, Jarrod Shanahan and Yuko Tonohira in a discussion moderated by Jocelyn Cohn and sponsored by Unity and Struggle and Insurgent Notes.  Special thanks to Mylo Mendez for recording the audio, and to the Brooklyn Commons for hosting.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Play Audio:

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Discussion: Ferguson and the Unfolding Rebellion in the U.S.

Pages from U+S FERGUSON(1)The recent spike in the size and intensity of the street protests surrounding the racist murder of Eric Garner, most notably in New York City and Berkeley, California, is a profound phenomenon. But while the protests and street battles in Ferguson, Missouri had been consistently maintained since early August, it was only after Eric Garner’s murderer was not indicted, only a week after another grand jury failed to indict the police officer who murdered of Mike Brown, did the protests and street battles really take off.

The rolling over of the struggle between these two incidents represents a unique moment, when masses of people both maintain the continuity of the struggle, and reap the benefits of experience and a higher level of consciousness, with new militants and leaders emerging very quickly.

But these moments of continuity also provide a wealth of experience and information to develop our analyses, strategies and tactics. What follows are a series of discussions written by a number of members of Unity & Struggle based on our experiences and conversation with other militants in the streets. We offer them up, in order to further develop our theory and practice, and welcome other contributions to the discussion.

Also, courtesy of Servius of RIFAMS Distro, a printable pamphlet of the discussion

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Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, 5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson, The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.

Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action

by Out of the Flames of Ferguson

Intro

The decision made by the grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson for the merciless killing of Mike Brown came at no surprise. I had been hearing and reading about similar stories prior to that one of Brown and realized the outcomes were pretty much the same. A black man dies at the hands of our American brothers and sisters and the system continues to work flawlessly. No indictment. No charge. Paid vacation. Half of me wishes this was fiction but all of the conscious me knows it is a full blown reality.                 

Knowing that it would not be anytime soon before any kind of justice would be displayed regarding such cases, many individuals including myself took our frustration to the streets. We marched tirelessly throughout Third Ward the following night…                

It seemed as though I had arrived to the protest at precisely the right time. There was at least one thousand people there with signs that read BLACK LIVES MATTER and HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT. The momentum had been building for some time now and I could gather from observation, that at that corner of Southmore Boulevard and Dowling Street, the massive group in its entirety had to make a decision. The energy was perfect and our power as group was getting more intense by the second; however, there was a problem. We had no direction. Our mission has suddenly started to unravel. We began to look like fools in the eyes of the oppressor. While the majority wanted to push through the barricade of horses and pigs in uniform, those individuals who we thought were on our side presented their own agenda.

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5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion,Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action,The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


5ways1

1. Work to abolish police and prisons, not to reform them. President Obama has passed legislation to put body cameras on police officers, but this won’t stop the cops from killing black folks. Eric Garner’s murder was caught on camera like many others, and it didn’t save his life. Even worse, this reform can be used against the people it’s supposed to protect: a recent study showed body cameras help police far more often than their victims.

The police and the prison system can’t be reformed, because their basic role is to maintain a racist, unjust, unequal capitalist society–and this requires violence. As Kristian Williams documented in Our Enemies in Blue, police forces developed in the U.S. to capture runaway slaves, crush strikes, and prevent hungry mobs from taking what they needed to live. The system isn’t “broken” when it kills someone like Mike Brown, it’s working just as intended.

Instead of chasing reforms, we should work to abolish police and prisons. It won’t happen all at once, but we can guide our efforts with the catchphrase: disempower, disarm, and disband. We can disempower the police on the streets, by building neighborhood groups that respond to police abuse, and deter them from terrorizing us. We can demand the police be disarmed, taking away their military gear and firearms. And we can work to disband police units one-by-one, starting with the most vicious.

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Burn Down the Prison

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Ways to Build a Movement After Ferguson, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


Burn Down the Prison:
Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion

by TZ with edits from Chino, HiFi, and JF

 

Work?
I don’t have to work.
I don’t have to do nothing
but eat, drink, stay black, and die.
This little old furnished room’s
so small I can’t whip a cat
without getting fur in my mouth
and my landlady’s so old
her features is all run together
and God knows she sure can overcharge—
Which is why I reckon I does
have to work after all.

-Langston Hughes, “Necessity”

“A lot of people in the bourgeoisie tell me they don’t like Rap Brown when he says, ‘I’m gon’ burn the country down,’ but every time Rap Brown says, ‘I’m gon’ burn the country down,’ they get a poverty program.”
-Stokely Carmichael, Free Huey rally, 1969

“We may risk the prediction that we are entering into an era of riots, which will be transitional and extremely violent.  It will define the reproduction crisis of the proletariat, and thus of capitalism, as an important structural element of the following period. By ‘riots’ we mean struggles for demands or struggles without demands that will take violent forms and will transform the urban environments into areas of unrest; the riots are not revolution, even the insurgency is not revolution, although it may be the beginning of a revolution.”
-Blaumachen, “The Transitional Phase of the Crisis: The Era of Riots,” 2011

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The Old Mole Breaks Concrete

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Ways to Build a Movement After Ferguson, Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


The Old Mole Breaks Concrete:
The Ongoing Rupture in New York City

by JF and friends

“When history is written as it ought to be written, it is the moderation and long patience of the masses at which people will wonder, not their ferocity.”
-
C.L.R. James

Toward a Practical Grasp of the Present

The US working class is on the move. The Ferguson militants are the vanguard of a rebellion threatening to generalize across the United States. Individual cases of police murder are escaping the confines of their particular context and blurring into the total condition of life under white supremacist capitalism. The ruling class is breaking ranks on the question of police violence. The movement politicians are running behind the movement. The police are scared. There is no talk of the 99%.

As unarmed black men murdered in the street by pigs who the state calls innocent, Michael Brown and Eric Garner have many things in common. But most important to understanding the last four months in the United States is that they both stood up and said no more. Ordered rudely out of the street in Ferguson, Michael Brown refused. Harassed constantly by the NYPD, Eric Garner took a stand: “This stops today!” We can cite a million subtle causal factors for the ensuing mass movement, but we should not lose site of its grounding in brave acts of defiance that cost two black people their lives.

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Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev

After a recent discussion and debate with the NYC local, we asked Noel Ignatiev (formerly of Sojourner Truth Organization and the journal Race Traitor) to clarify some of his theses on the status of race in the US on the eve of the Ferguson grand jury decision. We hope Noel’s position can serve as a prompt for a reinvigorated and principled discussion, grounded in US history and our understanding of Marx.

While the present moment is unique, we hope to understand the activities of the class today as part of an unfolding of the broader history of struggles against white supremacy and capitalism. If you are interested in responding to this piece at length please get in touch with us.

Noel’s piece is also one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Way To Build a Movement after Ferguson, Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, and The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, .


 

Noel Ignatiev: Capital is race-blind; the capitalist mode of production (cmp) tends to reduce all human beings to abstract, undifferentiated, homogenous labor power. However, the pure cmp exists nowhere; all existing societies, including those in which the cmp prevails, contain elements left over from the past as well as elements that are the product of the political intervention of various groups.

Racial oppression is not universal to capital. Four places developed historically on the basis of racial oppression: the U.S., South Africa, Ireland, and Palestine.

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