Criminalization, Crisis and Care: Tennessee’s S.B. 1391 and Attacks on Reproduction

Below is a recent article written by members of the Florence Johnston Collective looking at the current crisis of reproduction and state control over/criminalization of women’s bodies.  Last week, a woman in Tennessee was arrested based on her pregnancy outcomes.  The Collective will be releasing a second article looking at these issues, along with a pamphlet for print and distribution.  See the original post here.

Tennessee recently passed a law, S.B. 1391, making it the first state to prosecute women for criminal assault if their fetus or newborn is considered harmed due to illegal drug use during pregnancy.  Criminalization of pregnant women and mothers is one side of the various ways the State attempts to control reproduction and discipline womens’ bodies.  This is an attack against working class women of color not unlike those we have seen in TexasCalifornianationally and globally.  All of these measures will impede women’s access to health care and efface women’s reproductive skills and knowledge.  But unlike abortion restrictions and forced sterilization, the Tennessee law is an attempt to divide feminized workers under the guise of “protection” of women and children, a strategy we are likely to see more frequently as the economic crisis deepens.

S.B. 1391 and the Crisis.

Today’s crisis is manifested in the inability of the class to take care of itself, or reproduce itself; it is a crisis of reproduction.  Wages are so low that the class cannot afford to get everything it needs to go to work every day.  Of course, “everything” we need is a relative term based on time and place; workers in America need a smartphone and cable TV after years of changes in living standards.  The class has supplemented this crisis of reproduction with personal debt.  We get credit cards to buy clothes and pay our cell phone bills and we take out student loans we will never pay back to make an extra $3/hr.  This is what life looks like for the working class today.

For the ruling class, there is another type of hustle.  It is a general law of capitalism that profits must always increase.  So capitalists make changes to the workplace, by introducing more and more machines and pushing workers out of the production process, to ensure an increased profit.  However, this catches up to them.  Since workers are the only ones capable of creating value (there is always a worker somewhere in the production process!), the more capitalists push workers out of the production process, the more the profit margin weakens.  Couple this phenomenon with the working class’s increased dependence on debt and loans and we find ourselves in today’s economic crisis.

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On top of this, because so many workers are pushed out of the production process (consider Detroit’s 23% unemployment rate for example), a surplus population of workers makes it possible for capitalism to pit people against each other in competition for jobs.  In this sense, the ruling class has an interest in controlling the actual number of workers there are in the world at a given moment, based on the needs of capital.

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The Intermediate Moment (Part One)

by Adelita Kahlo and Tyler Zee

*The perspectives advanced below are those of the authors and do not represent an official “line” of U&S.  U&S, as will be seen below, does not have formal positions.  While many of the ideas will be common starting points for U&S, there will be nuanced differences and perhaps some disagreements according to individuals and locales.

PART ONE

Introduction

This piece is the result of many conversations and has been informed by engagement with a cross section of various nodes of activity.  We, the authors, have learned so much through these conversations; many assumptions we held prior to this effort have now been either thrown out or complicated.  While a number of questions remain, a few starting points have been clarified.

As a consequence of these conversations, the scope of this piece has also changed from one tailored primarily to debates within the solnet milieu, since the two of us have been doing aspects of solnet organizing for a while now, to being fundamentally about the intermediate concept and its strategic merits for revolutionaries in the current moment that takes the solnet (and others) as a kind of case study.  While the scope has shifted we very much want to enter into more systematic exchange with the above folks and others that are grappling with these and parallel questions.

Part one of the piece is geared toward making sense of the current moment and elaborating on concepts the writers have used to do so.  This also means a discussion that might appear as tangential but what for us represent an attempt to have a holistic, systematic, and rigorous approach.  The conclusions drawn here are of necessity temporal and are toward the ends of building the bridge between the present and the medium-term future.  So as “scientific” as we have tried to be, there are limits to this piece both in scope and in the factors entering our analysis.

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Reflections on Truth and Revolution: A History of Sojourner Truth Organization 1969-1986

by Eve Mitchell, originally posted on We’re Hir We’re Queer here.

I recently finished reading Michael Staudenmaier’s Truth and Revolution:  A History of Sojourner Truth Organization 1969-1986.  Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) was a majority white revolutionary group that worked closely with Black Nationalist and Black Power groups to build autonomist workplace, community, identity- and issue-based organizations.  They are most known for their theoretical contributions including the white skin privilege analysis and theory of dual consciousness.  Perhaps their most well-known writing (which was originally a speech) is “Black Worker, White Worker,” which describes their approach in building militant, fighting groups that organize on the demands of the most oppressed layers of the class.  Concretely, in their time and in the spaces they organized, that meant the Black proletarian.

Staudenmaier_TruthHowever, as Truth and Revolution describes, STO was involved in many forms of struggle including the early anti-nuke movement, the women’s liberation movement, some immigrant defense work, among other things.  The sheer amount of work they accomplished with very few people and resources in the span of a 17 years is extremely impressive.  This post will discuss some other reflections I have on their work.  These reflections are relevant to me in this stage of my organizing and experience, having recently moved to New York City and attempted to help build the Florence Johnston Collective (aka Flo Jo), a group that organizes within and across feminized workplaces, alongside working to build Unity and Struggle, a small, national, left communist grouping for the last five years.(1)  Obviously both of these tasks have been carried out in an extremely low movement time, in the wake of some interesting struggle globally and some upticks nationally and regionally.  My comments may not reflect some of the broader lessons to be learned from STO; I recommend checking out Truth and Revolution itself to extract those.

1. Privilege Theory and STO’s Race Politics.

Elsewhere I have written substantial critiques of how today’s activists and the Left use privilege theory and identity politics.  While I think this is qualitatively different from how STO used them, I agree with Staudenmaier when he writes that STO must bear some of the responsibility for how this theory continues to be applied.

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Chicago’s SEIU Arrest and the Story of a Stock Photo

by JF

arrest1-320x320The arrest of Jose “Zé” Garcia, May Day 2014.

Details are still emerging from the apparently SEIU-assisted arrests on May Day in Chicago. According to IWW Chicago, marshals from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and staffers of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) “singled out and physically restrained two activists, leading to their arrests. While the arrests occurred, the marshals attempted to surround and enclose members of the IWW’s Red and Black Brigade contingent of the march, blocking their freedom of movement. The marshals also directed other participants to move past the enclosed contingent, preventing the other marchers from showing solidarity with the arrestees.”

In tandem with this minor scandal, the US labor world is anticipating a series of demonstrations to be held on May 15th, the largest to date for the $15/hr minimum wage movement in the fast food industry, variously titled Fast Food Forward (FFF), and Fight For $15. Accompanying this story on high profile reformist outlets such as Salon is the following dramatic stock photo, credited to the AP, which has appeared more than a few times attached in FFF stories, with little context.

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Loot Back: From Whom?

 A Response to “Why Riot?”
by JF

kiev-old-man-bashed-cop-with-brick

 A response to Phil Neel’s recent piece “Why Riot?” on the ULTRA website. We hope to initiate healthy debate and engagement around this exciting and important project.

Phil Neel’s bold and exciting piece of agitational material “Why Riot?” raises too many points to engage with one response. It’s raw honesty, sophistication, and visceral appeal speak for themselves.  As an initial response I will focus only on its conception of “generations,” an error of the piece which unfortunately seems potentially central to Ultra, and the rectification of which will determine the project’s direction. Admittedly this is not the central focus of Neel’s piece, and while it may seem tangential, I plan to return to Neel’s more central theses once familiarizing myself with his source material, and thereby connect the dots. I will also attempt in the near future to concretize some of the recent history presented below, which is admittedly schematic.

Neel echoes Ultra’s appeal to so-called millennials, or “Generation Zero”: “Our future has been looted. Loot back.” Ultra aims to appeal to this particular “generation” of proletarians, and Neel’s “Why Riot?” is thus far Ultra’s most explicit statement to this effect. Citing Blaumachen’s “age of riots” thesis, the piece is geared those who are not finding political expression through rallying behind demands, or joining/building political groups, but through mass actions of refusal of discipline, illegality, and attack against the forms of appearance of capital, or sites of proletarian social reproduction (smashing windows, short-lived blockages of the points of capital circulation, etc.).

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Taking Back May Day! Statement from Florence Johnston Collective

Hi all, Florence Johnston Collective in New York has put out this statement for May Day.  Please feel free to share.  If you are in NYC you can find us at 5:30PM tomorrow at the Ghandi Statue in Union Square!  Look for our amazing new banner made by a FJC and No Nukes member.

Patient&Nurse_web

(Click here for the full flyer in PDF!)

Long before the Haymarket Massacre, the worldwide workers’ movement, and the very existence of a worldwide working class, May Day was a celebration of what we hold in common. Before modern capitalism, vast stretches of the world were held by communities, not individuals. Everyday people with no conception of wage labor shared expansive tracts of land for farming, grazing, hunting, fishing, and coming together to celebrate their communal bonds. May Day originated as a celebration of the fertility of the harvest season, which would provide the food necessary to subsist for the entire year, and of the commonly held land and communal social ties that made survival, merriment, and love possible.

From the fifteenth century continuing through the present day, the development of capitalism has violently enclosed the commons, placed the planet’s resources in private hands, and compelled most people to live in isolation from their neighbors, working for wages in jobs unrelated to their daily lives. This was and is a brutal process involving the theft of land, the massacre and torture of untold millions, and the institutionalization of racism, sexism, and homophobia on a worldwide scale, as capitalism has divided and hierarchized the worldwide working class it has created. This process of enclosure continues to the present day, and will never end so long as there is a free breath of air for the worldwide working class to take.

The communal resources we have lost are not simply land, food, and potable water. We have also forfeited our common knowledges of the body, and our abilities to care for each other regardless of income status. With the establishment of capitalist medicine, women especially were forced out positions of power, knowledge, and authority in matters of health. The power of women over their own reproductive lives, never mind communities’ control of their own social reproduction, has never been fully recaptured, despite many important battles.

Indeed, the relationship of our society to health and to the body itself has increasingly become one fitting the capitalist mode of production — compartmentalization, alienation, and commodification have taken the place of holism, communitarianism, and care based on need. Today, all the “progressive” politicians can talk about is making alienated health care more “affordable”, while still leaving room for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to make a fortune, and not addressing the social causes of our society’s deadliest ailments: overwork, undernourishment, pollution, stress, and self-medication.

This May Day the ghosts of our lost past continue to haunt us. As hospitals servicing the poorest New Yorkers close their doors, care workers find their labor ever devalued, women’s reproductive rights are threatened all over the US, and low income people of the world are shut out of basic health services, we must remember the past, and recall that this does not have to be the fate of humanity. Another way of caring for each other is possible. We cannot return to the past, nor should we desire to, but we can fight for a future inspired by humanity’s greatest achievement: the commons.

May Day is not a day for politicians to give speeches about reforms and compromises. It is not about searching for a kinder gentler capitalism, or a more diverse ruling class. In a world without commons it is a day of loss. And this loss calls not for mourning, but for action. It is only through struggling together as a class that this loss can be redeemed, towards a future of the commons reborn.

The Florence Johnston Collective

All Out in Solidarity with the Hunger Strikers

As detainees escalate their struggle at Joe Corley Detention Center north of Houston with a full blackout (work stoppage, no leaving cells), and we await word any minute now about the strikes spreading to other facilities, all out in solidarity with the hunger strikers on April 5th for the National Day of Action Against Deportations!

Book Review: Lines of Work

by JF

In the introduction to Lines of Work (Black Cat Press 2014), Scott Nappalos places the volume of first-person workplace testimonials, many familiar to readers of Recomposition blog and some previously unpublished, in the tradition of the Johnson Forest Tendency and Stan Weir, whose mid-century accounts of American work located, rather triumphantly, the seeds of a future society in the cooperative productive relations of the present. “Working class experiences of story telling” Nappalos writes “have not been taken seriously enough among those of us who try to organize and build a better society.” And it is not simply the circumstances depicted in Lines of Work which nurture and develop class consciousness, Nappalos maintains, but the experience of story telling itself, and I would add, the experience of reading such captivating stories of everyday hardship, struggle, and above all, faith in the liberatory potential of the working class, no matter how concealed beneath its daily debasement.

From the reader’s standpoint, it is an emotional experience to read these earnest and often unpolished accounts, from such disparate fields as nursing, finance, education, the supposedly extinct North American factory, day labor, and predictably enough, a healthy dose of service work. The pervasive pathos is one of fatigue, bitterness, anger, and oftentimes desperation. Though the authors are primarily politicos ideologically dedicated to workplace organizing, most of the low end jobs, including the worst paying and least rewarding, and almost always in small shops, seem taken out of economic necessity instead of any overarching organizational strategy. The predictable grumbling of Paul Mason’s “graduate with no future” is matched in intensity by the grumbling of stomaches underfed and over-caffeinated. Most notably, a contributor named The Invisible Man, a déclassé college graduate driven to low wage factory work and day labor, plumbs this abject position in a nuanced handling of class, race, and nationality in Canadian society, demonstrating simultaneously the importance of a racial analysis to workplace struggles, and the limits of solidarity based on race and nationality.

On the higher end of the job spectrum, in traditional middle-class bulwarks such a nursing, teaching, and “white collar” office work, the comparatively higher wages bring along endless days of overwork, debilitating stress, and sleep deprivation sufficient to find one dozing off behind the wheel, like P. Barbanegra, whose “Who Dismisses the Teacher?” is a must read for radicals seeking meaningful work in education. And throughout all jobs, the daily perils of sexual harassment, bullying, precarity, time theft, the forfeiture of youth to wage labor, all of which are, on top of it all, met with no little or no mass resistance, are voiced with a sense of despair difficult to exaggerate. When mounted, struggles are isolated, piecemeal, and not the stuff of the labor history their initiators no doubt came up on. Minor victories are briefly savored, as they must be, before the sobering reality of the struggles to be waged kicks in, and often the pink slip is not far behind.

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Solidarity with Tacoma Hunger Strikers / Solidaridad con lxs huelguistas de hambre de Tacoma

This statement was originally issued by Florence Johnston Collective (FJC), a New York City collective of U&S members and other awesome folks.

Solidarity with Tacoma Hunger Strikers

The struggle against austerity connects the worldwide working class, at a time when borders seem to make no sense to anyone but the states who enforce draconian immigration laws. As global capital enters its fifth year of crisis, with the promised stabilization of “recession” never quite delivered, the brunt continues to fall on those perceived as least able to defend themselves: the poor, the sick, the aged, workers in unstable industries, workers with unions unwilling to fight, and the undocumented workers who make countries like the United States run.

Late last week a group of undocumented workers in Tacoma Washington staged a hunger strike and corresponding work stoppage, demanding better conditions and the basic consideration all human beings deserve. It remains ongoing. The strikers are held under harsh condition by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for the crime of seeking low-waged work in the US after their home economies have been ravaged by trade agreements with the US and other world powers. As reproductive workers, circulation workers, and unemployed workers of New York City, we express a deep solidarity with this struggle and recognize it as part and parcel of our own.

The question of what it means to be considered a human being and treated like one is central to the struggle we share. Is a human being “illegal” when they seek to work and provide for their family? Is a human being “insubordinate” when, working as a nurse, they deem fifteen patients too many to care for in a compassionate way at one time, and tell their supervisor this fact? Is a human being entitled to the medicine and health care they need, for as long as needed to improve completely, regardless of their income, race, nationality, or citizenship status?

The hunger strikers have used the only weapon left to them in such a repressive environment as the ghastly ICE detention centers: their very lives. Their gesture is not histrionic, it is a sober assessment of the life or death stakes of the worldwide struggle against austerity. And by seeking to bully and brutalize the strikers into breaking their action, the state is revealing just how dangerous their statement can be, if it finds ears in those around the world who are increasingly left with nothing but their bodies, and nothing to lose in putting them before the powerful and saying “Enough!”

The Florence Johnston Collective expresses its unqualified solidarity with the Tacoma hunger strikers, and all prisoners of our inhuman immigration system, who stand alongside those without healthcare, those without homes, and those supposedly lucky ones whose jobs steal their lives and well-beings away, as living rebukes to the lie that things have to be the way they are and they can never change. To this they reply: “Enough!” We stand with the Tacoma strikers not as allies, but as comrades in the same struggle.

Tonight in NYC we will join a coalition of supporters for a noise demonstration outside of a detention facility, to tell those locked up that they are in our thoughts, that their struggles will not go unnoticed, and ultimately, that their struggles are our struggle.

In solidarity,

The Florence Johnston Collective

Solidaridad con lxs huelguistas de hambre de Tacoma

La lucha contra la austeridad conecta la clase trabajadora alrededor del mundo, en un momento cuando las fronteras parecen ya no tener sentido para nadie salvo para los estados que ejecutan leyes draconianas de migración. A medida que el capital global entra en su quinto año de crisis,   con una recesión y una incumplida promesa de estabilidad, la carga sigue cayendo sobre lxs que están percibidxs como menos capaces de defenderse a sí mismxs: lxs pobres, lxs enfermxs, personas de la tercera edad, trabajadorxs en industrias poco estables, trabajadorxs en sindicatos que no están dispuestos a luchar, y trabajadorxs no documentadxs que hacen funcionar a países como los Estados Unidos.

Hace un tiempo un grupo de trabajadorxs no documentadxs en Tacoma, Washington fueron detenidxs bajo condiciones severas por ICE por el crimen de buscar trabajo de bajo salario en los Estados Unidos cuando las economías de sus países han sido devastadas por acuerdos de comercio con ese país y otras potencias mundiales. Hace una semana organizaron una huelga de hambre haciendo un alto en sus trabajos, exigiendo mejores condiciones y la consideración básica que merecen todxs lxs seres humanos. Como trabajadorxs reproductivxs, trabajadorxs de circulación, y trabajadorxs desempleadxs de la ciudad de Nueva York, expresamos una solidaridad profunda con esta lucha y la reconocemos como parte fundamental de la nuestra.

En el centro de las luchas que compartimos está lo que significa considerarse ser humano y ser tratadx como tal. ¿Es un ser humano “ilegal” cuando busca trabajar y sostener a su familia? ¿Es un ser humano “insumiso” cuando, al como enfermerx, decide que quince pacientes son demasiadxs para cuidar apropiadamente? ¿Tiene un ser humano derecho a la medicina y al seguro de salud que necesita sin importar sus ingresos, raza, nacionalidad, o estatus de ciudadanía?

Lxs huelguistas de hambre han usado la única arma que les queda en un ambiente tan represivo como el que existe en los horrorosos centros de detención de ICE: sus propias vidas. Su gesto no es histriónico, es una apuesta sobria entre la vida o muerte como una lucha mundial en contra de la austeridad. En su esfuerzo por acosar y embrutecer a lxs huelguistas para que desistan de su acción, el estado revela lo peligroso de su acto. Si este acto encuentra oídos en lxs que en todas partes del mundo son dejadxs cada vez más en la miseria, estos no tienen nada que perder en pararse antes lxs poderosxs y decir “¡Basta!”.

El Colectivo Florence Johnston expresa su solidaridad con lxs huelguistas de hambre de Tacoma, y todxs lxs encarceladxs del sistema no humano de migración. Nos ponemos de pie al lado de lxs que están sin seguro de salud, lxs que no tienen trabajo, y lxs supuestxs afortunadxs cuyos trabajos roban sus vidas y su bienestar, mientras la lucha por vivir descalifica la mentira de que las cosas tienen que seguir como son y que nunca pueden cambiar. A esto responden: “¡Basta!”. Estamos con los huelguistas de Tacoma no como aliadxs, sino como camaradas en la misma lucha.

Hoy en la noche en la ciudad de Nueva York nos juntaremos con una coalición de personas que ofrecen su apoyo para realizar un cacerolazo afuera de un centro de detención, para decirles a lxs encarceladxs que están en nuestros pensamientos, que sus luchas no pasan desapercibidas y, que últimamente, sus luchas son nuestas luchas.

En solidaridad,

El Colectivo Florence Johnston

 

Translation of “Against Transparency” by Passa Palavra

Passa Palavra (meaning “Free the Word”), an impressive libertarian Marxist organization based in Brazil and Portugal with whom Unity and Struggle has a great deal of political affinity, recently translated a piece by Jocelyn and James that we posted earlier last year called “Against Transparency”. We feel very honored to be featured on their site, and encourage everyone to check out their prolific writing. In addition to putting out theory, Passa Palavra organizes in daily struggles, and have been intimately involved in the anti-fare hike movement, as well as far left peasant struggles against the left-leaning Brazillian state. We encourage you to read their writing on Brazil in English which was posted in Insurgent Notes.  

Contra a Transparência

2 de fevereiro de 2014
O trabalhador militante não deveria ter medo de fazer exigências que não cabem no orçamento na sua forma atual; uma exigência desse tipo é a essência do radicalismoPor James Frey e Jocelyn Cohn

A exigência por transparência surge inevitavelmente nas lutas no local de trabalho, especialmente quando estão envolvidas organizações liberais [*], sindicatos ou Organizações Não Governamentais (ONGs). “Abram os livros!”, exigem alguns, “e nos deixem ver de onde o dinheiro está vindo, para onde está indo e exatamente quanto pode ser gasto!” O imperativo de abrir os livros pode ser inspirado por intenções nobres, como o desejo por uma democracia radical no lugar de trabalho, e aparece em resposta ao mistério criado pela gerência sobre a fonte da riqueza da empresa. No entanto, a exigência de ver o orçamento dos patrões implica que os trabalhadores são um custo para o qual é necessário encontrar dinheiro, quando, na verdade, somos nós o componente mais necessário da produção, e a fonte de seja lá o que for encontrado no “orçamento”.

Então qual é a origem da exigência por um orçamento aberto? Exigir transparência parece conseguir uma prova irrefutável da desigualdade: se “seguirmos o dinheiro”, podemos mostrar que os patrões conseguem mais dele do que os trabalhadores e, armados desse conhecimento, nós, enquanto trabalhadores, podemos mostrar que muito dinheiro é “desperdiçado” nos salários dos gestores. Esse argumento é especialmente proeminente quando cortes salariais são apresentados sob o disfarce de “corte de custos” ou “austeridade”. “São os salários dos gestores que estão custando tanto, não os nossos! Corte no topo!” são os gritos por um orçamento aberto. Mas para aqueles trabalhadores que exigem uma igualdade desse tipo a fonte de riqueza da empresa continua sendo, como interessa à gerência, um mistério. Parece que essa riqueza vem de uma atividade externa ao trabalho, como compras feitas e lucros obtidos no mercado, juros adquiridos nos bancos, ou benemerência de doações generosas. A causa da má situação dos trabalhadores seria, assim, a subsequente má gestão desses fundos nas mãos dos patrões gananciosos. Desse ponto de vista, a pobreza do trabalhador pode ser facilmente corrigida – basta circular o dinheiro! Mas os trabalhadores em luta contra suas condições descobrem algo diferente. A desigualdade entre patrão e trabalhador não é acidental, causada apenas pela incompetência ou ganância; ela é fundamental ao trabalho na sociedade em que vivemos. A desigualdade é inerente às relações sociais entre a classe dos patrões, senhorios e políticos e a classe dos trabalhadores, inquilinos e a gente comum. Read More