Incarcerated Workers Take the Lead: Prison Struggles in the United States 2008-2016

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Jesus Manuel Galindo

11.29.1976 ~ 12.12.2008[1]

 

The Houston Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (I.W.O.C.) would like to dedicate this pamphlet to the memory of Jesus Manuel Galindo, a detainee at the Reeves County Detention Complex in Pecos, Texas.  His death was not in vain.

 

Introduction

The following summary was completed on the heels of the Texas work stoppage, a mass strike taking place in April of this year, but the idea for it came out of discussions two years prior after a series of hunger and labor strikes spread across the US.  These strikes occurred in both private and public facilities – in prisons that housed primarily US-born workers and also detention centers responsible for the incarceration of undocumented workers and even families.

We are writing this for you–our fellow workers locked down and forgotten by mainstream society–and for us, since we know our own struggles against the bosses and the State on the outside are inseparably tied together with your struggles.  Living in the country with the largest prison population in the world, many of us have family, friends, and comrades who are already incarcerated.  We know that where you are is where we are all headed unless we organize and fight back.

Continue reading Incarcerated Workers Take the Lead: Prison Struggles in the United States 2008-2016

The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Book Review

One year has passed since the streets of Baltimore erupted in rebellion after the police murder of Freddie Gray. While people will recall the dramatic footage of a CVS on fire and rebellious youth dispersing police lines in the streets like leaves in the wind, we look deeper to understand the full significance of what occurred. What follows is a book review of the sharpest account of the Baltimore Uprising to date, and we invite readers to join the discussion and share their own reflections in the comments section.

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“Looking at a lot of shit different now”:
Research and Destroy’s The 2015 Baltimore Uprising

By Rosa DeLux and Chino Mayday

The story of a rebellion is usually told from the perspective of its opponents. Those who subdue the rebellion define the narrative, while the real movement of revolt––the sound of store windows breaking, the feelings of elation when cops break formation and run, the curious mix of self-doubt and bravado one encounters in the street––is lost to history. That is, until the rebels tell their story themselves. The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary tells the story of last year’s Baltimore riots from the perspective of its participants, offering an exciting, humorous and deeply provocative snapshot of young rebels in motion.

Compiled by Research and Destroy New York City[1], Uprising collects hundreds of tweets from the teenagers who turned Baltimore on its head in April 2015, after police murdered Freddie Gray in the back of a patrol van. Uprising is filled with their outrage, their feelings of “west baltimore making history,” and their meditations on the value of black life, and this alone makes the book required reading for anyone trying to understand where the black movement in the United States may be headed. A few reviews hyped Uprising when it came out,[2] but this piece highlights a theme from the book that deserves more attention: how young people in Baltimore came to understand themselves as active subjects shaping the course of history. This theme challenges commentators––both right-wing and left-wing––who saw only nihilism in the riots, and it demands consideration by anyone who wants to abolish white supremacy. Yes, the rebels of Baltimore rejected our oppressive society. But they also made themselves anew in the process.

Continue reading The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Book Review

Learning to Fight, Learning to Heal

Like everybody else, Unity and Struggle members have grappled with how to address abuse and patriarchal behavior in our society, and in left organizations including our own. We don’t have easy answers, but we’ve found it helpful to study the nature of abuse under capitalism and different responses to it. Below is the syllabus for an abuse study that some U&S members and friends are currently test-driving in several cities, based on interest. We hope other groups will take up the reading list, adapt it to their needs, and use it to craft responses to abuse in our movement and lives.

Sit El Banat, stencil tribute to the women who were beaten, dragged and stamped on by military forces in December 2011. Image from SuzeInTheCity

Abuse Study Guide

1. Defining Abusive Relations.

Objectives: (1) Gain empirical understanding of the broad range of physical and emotional abuse in intimate partnerships; (2) Explore relationship between objective social relations and individual experience of abuse, consent, trauma; (3) Develop our own definition of abuse;

 

Continue reading Learning to Fight, Learning to Heal

Soy mujer y soy humana: Una crítica marxista-feminista de la teoría de la interseccionalidad

de Eve Mitchell; traducido por CM de We’re Hir We’re Queer

Read English version here

Introducción.

En los Estados Unidos, al final del siglo XX y principios del XXI, domina un conjunto específico de políticas entre la izquierda. Hoy en día, podrías entrar a cualquier universidad, a cualquiera de los numerosos blogs progresistas-izquierdistas o a cualquiera web de noticias y los conceptos de “la identidad” y “la interseccionalidad” encontrarás como la teoría hegemónica. Pero, como toda teoría, ésta corresponde a la actividad de la clase obrera contestando a la composición del capital actual. La teoría no es ninguna nube flotando sobre la clase, lloviendo reflexiones e ideas, sino, como escribe Raya Dunayevskaya, “las acciones del proletariado crean la posibilidad para que el intelectual resuelva la teoría.” (Marxismo y libertad, 114)[1]. Por lo tanto, para entender las teorías dominantes de nuestra época, hay que entender el movimiento verdadero de la clase. En este texto, voy a repasar la historia de las políticas de la identidad y la teoría de la interseccionalidad con el fin de construir una crítica de la teoría de la interseccionalidad y ofrecer una concepción marxista positiva del feminismo.

El contexto de “la identidad” y “la teoría de la interseccionalidad.”

Para entender “la identidad” y “la teoría de la interseccionalidad”, hay que entender la circulación del capital (es decir, la totalidad de las relaciones sociales de la producción en el modo actual de producción) que precedió el desarrollo de tales conceptos en los años 1960 y 1970 en los EEUU. Más específico aún, ya que “la teoría de la interseccionalidad” se desarrollaba principalmente como reacción al feminismo de la segunda ola, hay que estudiar cómo se desarrollaban las relaciones de género bajo el capitalismo.

En el movimiento del feudalismo al capitalismo, la división del trabajo por género, y luego las relaciones de género dentro de la clase, empezó a tomar una nueva forma que correspondía a las necesidades del capital. Algunas de las nuevas relaciones incluyen las siguientes:

(1) El desarrollo del salario. El salario es la forma capitalista de la coerción. Tal como lo explica Maria Mies en el libro, El patriarcado y la acumulación a escala mundial, el salario reemplazaba a la servidumbre y a la esclavitud como el método de forzar el trabajo alienado (quiere decir, el trabajo que realiza un trabajador para otra persona). Bajo el capitalismo, los que producen (los trabajadores) no poseen los medios de producción, así que tienen que trabajar por los que sí poseen los medios de producción (los capitalistas). Así pues, los obreros tienen que vender al capitalista lo único que poseen, la capacidad de trabajar, o la fuerza de trabajo. Este es un elemento clave porque los obreros no son remunerados por el trabajo vivo sensitivo – el acto de producir – sino por la capacidad de trabajar. La ruptura entre el trabajo y la fuerza de trabajo causa una falsa impresión de un intercambio equitativo de valor – al parecer, el trabajador cobra por la cantidad que uno produce, pero más bien el trabajador cobra únicamente por la capacidad de trabajar por un período determinado.

Además, la jornada laboral se divide en dos: el tiempo de trabajo necesario y el tiempo de trabajo excedente. El tiempo de trabajo necesario es el tiempo (como promedio) para que un trabajador produzca suficiente valor para comprar todo lo necesario para reproducirse (todas las cosas, desde la comida hasta un iPhone). El tiempo de trabajo excedente es el tiempo que uno trabaja más allá de lo necesario. Ya que la tasa vigente de la fuerza de trabajo (nuevamente, la capacidad de trabajar – no el trabajo vivo en sí) es el valor de todo lo que un trabajador necesita para reproducirse, el valor que genera el trabajo excedente va directamente hacia los bolsillos del capitalista. Digamos que yo trabajo en una empresa de los Furby. Cobro $10 por día por 10 horas del trabajo, produzco 10 Furby diariamente, y cada Furby se vende por $10. El capitalista me paga por la capacidad de trabajar una hora diaria para producir suficiente valor para reproducirme (1 Furby = 1 hora de trabajo = $10). Así, el tiempo de trabajo necesario es una hora y el tiempo del trabajo excedente son 9 horas (10-1). El sueldo esconde la verdad. Recuerde que, dentro del capitalismo, parece que cobramos por el valor equitativo de lo que producimos. Sin embargo, cobramos solamente por el tiempo de trabajo necesario, o la cantidad mínima necesaria para reproducirnos. Bajo el feudalismo, fue distinto y fue muy claro cuánto tiempo trabajaba cada uno por sí mismo y cuánto tiempo trabajaba por otro. Por ejemplo, si la sierva labraba la tierra cinco horas por semana para producir la comida para el señor feudal, luego el tiempo restante le pertenecía a ella. El surgimiento del salario es clave porque fue el mismo salario que impuso la división del trabajo por género.

Continue reading Soy mujer y soy humana: Una crítica marxista-feminista de la teoría de la interseccionalidad

No Safehouses: Patriarchy on the Left Part 2 of 4

by Jocelyn Cohn and Eve Mitchell

This is the second part of a four part series that attempts to understand patriarchy in our current society.  The first part, “No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light” explored the relationship between gender, patriarchy, and sexism broadly in capitalist society.  This section will explore the expressions of patriarchy specifically in the “left” subculture.  Parts three and four will look more specifically at recent attempts to deal with patriarchy on the left, some critiques and potential solutions.

Patriarchy is a total social relation that takes particular forms of expression in a society dominated by the capitalist mode of production.  There are no “safehouses” or “patriarchy-free zones,” because patriarchy is defined in its deeply personal and bodily expressions.  We carry its effects with us everywhere.  However, as also discussed in the last section, patriarchy finds different forms of expression in different areas of life.  Individual expressions of gendered and patriarchal relations within the working class can be known as “sexism.”  In this section we will explore the ways that we have seen and understood sexism in “left” organizing spaces and subcultures specifically.  This is meant as a broad sketch of what we find most prevalent.  Not all people will have the same experiences, and we are not able to discuss every person’s individual conditions, but we do hope others will find resonance here.

Who is The Left?

By “the left” we mean radical/activist/progressive/socialist/anarchist/communist political and social milieus.  While we recognize that all people have political experiences and the ability to comprehend and articulate extremely complicated aspects of capital, there is a material difference between those who make up the organized and subcultural left and those who make up the broader working class. When we discuss “sexism on the left,” we are talking about a relatively small group of people who see themselves consciously as activists, leftists, theoreticians or revolutionaries and who, in this moment, are objectively isolated from the working class itself.  This is despite the fact that most individuals on the left are proletarians, in that they do not own the means of production and therefore must sell their labor power to survive under capitalism. This is the result of historical and objective factors such as the murder, incarceration, and institutionalization of revolutionaries; neoliberalism; the capitalist subsumption of much activism; the absence of a generalized movement that blurs the line between activists and proletarians; etc.  There are also revolutionaries’ subjective failures such as an inability or refusal to develop lasting roots in organizing projects that build contacts and trust among working class communities.

Continue reading No Safehouses: Patriarchy on the Left Part 2 of 4

No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light: Patriarchy on the Left Part 1 of 4

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by Jocelyn Cohn and Eve Mitchell

Many months ago, the two of us began writing a piece on dealing with patriarchy on the left.  In the process of writing we began to realize that we did not have 100% agreement on the question.  To us, this is very telling:  no one has the answer and perhaps there is no one answer.  We have thus decided to go forward in writing separate pieces on patriarchy on the left.  This project was inspired by the combination of difficulties we have faced in our organizing, accountability processes we have been part of, as well as the attempts we have witnessed to address patriarchy on the left.  We agree that the primary challenge facing many people in dealing with conflicts—especially those about gender—in left organizations and milieus is the confusion of the particular situation of individuals with the general conditions, creating situations where one person’s situation is taken to characterize all of society, thus leading to a solution which attempts to abolish a total social relation through a particular case.  Similarly, we agree that none of us are able to deal with patriarchy as individuals, or as small groups of people operating outside of the transformation of total society.

Although there are certainly a wide variety of attempts to address patriarchy, this conflation of the particular and the universal is the most consistent thread that we have identified in both practical and theoretical traditions in the United States in the last decade. While we will discuss this further in all four parts of this project, we see our first task as clarifying the relationship between patriarchy as a total social relation.  Following this part, we will co-publish a piece describing the individual forms of sexism in our political formations.  Finally, having clarified the categories and objective material conditions, we will examine how we can reasonably expect to respond.  Our third and fourth installments will be separate pieces delving deeper into dealing with patriarchy on the left.

Continue reading No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light: Patriarchy on the Left Part 1 of 4

ALL LIVES MATTER: White Reaction in Austin, Texas

This guest piece focuses on the resurgence of white reactionary forces in Austin, Tx leading up to the Police Lives Matter rally taking place Saturday, Sept. 18, 2015. While U&S members may not agree with every point made below, we post it in hopes of sparking discussion.

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#PoliceLivesMatter march in Houston, Texas, September 12th 2015

ALL LIVES MATTER
White Reaction in Austin, Texas

By Scott Hoft

This was inevitable. Movements of Black people in this country have always been accompanied by an intense backlash of those who benefit from black oppression. Beginning in late spring 2015 we have seen the rise of a number of diverse right-wing formations: Alex Jones rallying his acolytes, renewed Ku Klux Klan activity, a nazi punk stabbing at a metal show, neo-confederates rallying against the removal of monuments of “southern heritage”, and a mass pro-police pushback called, of all things, “Police Lives Matter”.

The cycle of the post-Ferguson movement in Austin has been relatively tame. We never blocked a highway, no window has been broken, nor any store looted or burned. Those in the leadership of several post-Ferguson organizations have tended more and more to encourage cooperation with politicians and police.

The highest profile act of vandalism was the word “CHUMP” written in chalk on the base of a statue of Jefferson Davis. This, happening at the University of Texas, sparked a campus wide movement to “BUMP THE CHUMP”. The axiom alone propelled a satirical Student Government Campaign to the highest offices. Continue reading ALL LIVES MATTER: White Reaction in Austin, Texas

The Conroe Detention Center Strike – Reflections of a Houston Militant and Wob

In the Spring of 2014 a hunger strike started inside an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas at the Joe Corley Detention Facility one hour north of Houston. Joe Corley is one of several detention centers and prisons run by The GEO Group, INC which is a private company making millions off of incarcerating prisoners, immigrant detainees, the mentally ill, and those with addictions. Several weeks before the hunger strike started in Conroe, there was a hunger strike in Tacoma, Washington at the Northwest Detention Center which is also run by The GEO Group. The strike in Tacoma went on for over a month and at its height was carried out by around 1,200 inmates. These strikers developed a demand letter as they were on strike. The demands were centered around the conditions of the facility itself and included better food, better treatment, better pay, lower commissary, and “fairness.”

Inspired by the Tacoma strike, inmates at the Joe Corley Facility decided to carry out their own hunger strike in Conroe. Initial reports were that a larger group had started the strike but that the group had become smaller by the time they released a demand letter through a lawyer. Similar to the strikers in Tacoma, Joe Corley inmates demanded improved conditions of the detention center, better quality of food, outdoor privileges, and better visitation arrangements. But unlike Tacoma, they demanded something quite different: the abolition of deportation and detention.

Continue reading The Conroe Detention Center Strike – Reflections of a Houston Militant and Wob

Why Aren’t American Cities On Fire?

This guest piece deals with the growing militancy on the streets in the U.S, and where that militancy is heading. While U&S doesn’t agree with every point made below, we post it in hopes of sparking discussion. 

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Why Aren’t American Cities On Fire?:
Notes For A Discussion About Riots In The United States

By Arturo

 

I’m in my mid twenties. Unlike most working class people in my generation, my friend has a car, and I sometimes catch a ride with him to work, if it works out. This buddy of mine works as a welder in one of the last shipyards in the city, a high-paying job for a working class person of my age. Thus, the car.

One day I got a ride with him to work, which for me is a restaurant. Another friend, who had been crashing at my place, also caught a ride with us downtown. At the time, this other friend was unemployed, and tried to support himself through various illegal activities. We all went to the same high school together.

I have an old tape recorder, which my friends let me use to record interesting moments I have with them, and I had it with me on this day. We were shooting the shit along the ride, and the topic of riots came up, as political topics usually do in our conversations. That’s when I pressed the record button. “Imagine if we were in Baltimore when it was going down against the cops!?” asked my unemployed friend. I’m not going to write what the response to that question was, and I have since erased that segment of the recording, as I usually do with any potentially incriminating recordings. The eruption of an anti-police rebellion in Baltimore in April was still fresh in our minds.

My crew of high school friends and I have all despised the cops from a very young age, because we all got harassed by them at some point or another. In this conversation, we wondered what a rebellion would look like in the urban region we live in. After a few minutes of imagining, there was the common sense response, from my welder friend, “yea, well, call me when it happens!” To which I responded, “well, we gotta prepare for it if we’re gonna be ready when the moment comes, right?” There was no surprise that I asked this question. “Right.” I’ve known these two particular friends since I was about ten, so we were all very comfortable talking about this with each other. I pried further, “but how???” After a pause, my unemployed friend said, “practice,” which I remember he said with a completely straight face. Continue reading Why Aren’t American Cities On Fire?

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 A Houston Wob’s Reflection on the USW Strike