All posts by JC

Against Climate Exceptionalism

Today, members of Unity and Struggle, along with comrades from Sloths Against Nuclear State and Barnard Columbia Divest for Climate Justice * will be engaging in the People’s Climate March in New York City.  We wrote a short pamphlet to share with people who are engaging in these struggles, and who are working through questions of reform and revolution in regards to climate change and environmental destruction.

“Climate Change is Not an Environmental Issue”
It’s easy to forget the roots of climate change.  For many people, climate change and environmental destruction are synonymous with human society, or population growth.  Non-profits, academics, and even some radicals blame environmental destruction on the “anthropocene” and “human intervention.”  But we want to call the origin of the crisis what it is. We are not only dealing with an environmental crisis.  The same root cause that creates climate change is behind inequality, poverty, many contemporary illnesses, homelessness, and everyday alienation.  This root cause is not humans, or “human society” writ large.  It is instead a particular form of human social relations: capitalism.

Capitalism is the organization of society around production purely for exchange and profit, as opposed to use.  Capitalism requires overproduction, debt, endless growth, and most important of all, inequality. Capitalist social relations are inherently anti-democratic. Whether you work for an NGO or for an energy company, you are working for something that exists outside of your direct control.  Without inequality, there would be no workers to exploit, no land to grab, and no rents to raise.  Without hierarchy, capitalist production would become obsolete–as the people formerly on the bottom would take democratic control over the means of production, and end exploitation.  Inequality, hierarchy, exchange, misery, and alienation are all sources of life for capitalism, and sources of death for working and poor people.  The state (congress, the police, local civic bodies, courts) exist to maintain inequality and hierarchy, and work out conflicts within the ruling class. Continue reading Against Climate Exceptionalism

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

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

 

Contra a Transparência

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. Continue reading Contra a Transparência

Our Friends With Benefits: On The Union Question

By Jocelyn Cohn of Unity and Struggle and James Frey

Authors’ Note: This piece represents one perspective in Unity and Struggle, and is intended to be part of the ongoing discussion on unions, particularly in response to Advance the Struggle. The authors are concerned with the role of revolutionaries in unions. A second piece will be released by two other Unity and Struggle members in the next week that may represent divergent views from this piece. By posting both pieces, we are hoping to clarify our own positions as well as contribute to the ongoing discussion outside of our organization.

Introduction

As communist workplace organizers serious about praxis, the authors find ourselves debating the strategic importance and political composition of trade unions in the United States. We find what could be called “the union question” to be in fact a number of questions surrounding the composition of capital in general, capital in its in its present incarnation, as well as the composition of trade unions and their relationship to capital and the state. Most immediate to our investigation is the question of how this arrangement can be interpreted by revolutionaries, in the workplace and outside of it. After engaging these questions it is our finding that working explicitly within the existing trade union structure to defend, change, or strengthen them is not a compliment to working toward consolidating class-wide organizations capable of effective revolutionary struggle, but rather that these two objectives stand in irreducible antagonism.

I. The Historical Context

The use of rebellion, for the purpose of developing capital with ‘renewed energy and vitality’ is not new and not confined to women.  For capitalism to co-opt every aspect of struggle, to renew itself with our energy and our vitality, and with the active help of a minority of the exploited, is central to its nature.

Selma James, “Women, the Unions, and Work” 1972

We understand that this debate is re-emerging from the relative torpor it has enjoyed since the 1970s due to the ongoing transformation of the processes of production and reproduction in the United States. This shift is alternatively referred to as “neoliberalism” and “austerity”, but these terms are emblematic of a deep-seated shift in the relations of production, the novelty of which is done no justice by comfortable buzzwords which claim its content as already definable.

Historically speaking, we find the roots of the transformation which comprises our present epoch in the 1950s and 1960s. In this period the state took on the role of regulating the value of labor power through public welfare and unemployment programs which kept unemployed people from uniting with the rest of the working class and allowed for a flexible workforce that could work seasonally and in many jobs, as well as through certain wage and benefit protections provided through Collective Bargaining Agreements and shifts in labor law, which simultaneously coerced workers into de-skilled, repetitive, and unrewarding factory jobs,  and kept a caste of workers slightly above another while styming at least some labor unrest. Most importantly, it kept worker activity contained by union bosses at least as much as by company bosses.
Continue reading Our Friends With Benefits: On The Union Question