Category Archives: Labor

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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The Rise of the Fast Food Worker

The following post was written by U&S’s comrade, Will.

The following piece is predicated on a series of discussions which have already occurred‭:

1‭. ‬“Fast Food Workers Fight for $15 an Hour” – Vice

2‭. “Fast Food Workers Strike:  What Is and What Isn’t the Fight for Fifteen Campaign” – Machete 408

3‭.‬ “Fast Food Strikes to Massively Expand: ‘They’re Thinking Much Bigger'” – Salon

4‭. ‬“Who’s Strike?” – Kasama

5‭. ‬“Venture Syndicalism:  Can Reviving the Strike Revive Mass Unionism?” – Libcom

I am still thinking many things through so at times this piece will be fragmentary and move from place to place‭.  ‬I am trying to use the three volumes of Capital to think through what the fast food industry means in capitalism today‭. ‬I hope that does not distract from my fundamental point‭. ‬I argue that the role of the fast food industry is key in lowering the value of labor power and that revolutionaries should make fast food organizing a central part of their work‭.‬

In Capital‭, ‬Marx writes‭, “…‬the labour-time‭ [‬sic‭] ‬necessary for the production of labour-power‭ [‬sic‭] ‬is the same as that necessary for the production of those means of subsistence in other words‭, ‬the value of labour-power‭ [‬sic‭] ‬is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of its owner‭” (‬274‭).   ‬Furthermore‭, ‬the reproduction of the worker’s family must also be taken into account‭.  ‬Accordingly‭, ‬Marx writes‭, ” ‬The value of labour-power‭ [‬sic‭] ‬was determined‭, ‬not only by the labour-time‭ [‬sic‭] ‬necessary to maintain the individual adult worker‭, ‬but also by that necessary to maintain his family‭” (‬518‭). ‬This passage has three processes happening at the same time‭: ‬the reduction of the means of subsistence‭, ‬the reduction of the labor-time necessary for the production of labor power‭, ‬and the reduction necessary to feed‭, ‬clothe‭, ‬shelter and educate the worker’s family‭.  ‬One of the key means of subsistence in determining the value of labor power is the cost of food‭.  ‬This process did not occur overnight‭.  ‬Loren Goldner describes this process as‭, ‬

By the late 1960s‭, ‬the postwar boom had brought world capital to another‭ ‬moment in which the current cost of reproducing labor power could no‭ ‬ longer serve as the systemic numeraire,س‭ the common denominator‭, ‬for ‬commodity exchange‭. ‬Capital again‭, ‬as in 1914‭ ‬but more diffusely‭, ‬entered a‭ ‬new period in which physical destruction on a world scale was a necessary‭ ‬part of the movement of devalorization and potential revalorization‭.‬ ‭(‬Goldner‭). ‬

This meant the restructuring of capital and labor power‭.  ‬More efficient food production and distribution per calorie were central in the lowering of the value of labor power‭.  ‬As the graph shows‭, ‬there has been a clear and continuous decline in the percentage of food expenditure for U.S‭. ‬households‭. ‬

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The League of Revolutionary Black Workers for Militants Today

by Semaj and Tyler Zimmerman

We’re reposting an essay written by a couple members of ¡ella pelea!, a group that organized against budget cuts, cuts to ethnic studies, and for open enrollment at UT-Austin from 2009-2011, on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.  It fits in with the broader conversations happening now on the union question, feminism, and the content and methodology of liberation.  We did a study of the League together and wrote this essay to draw lessons for communists and other militants today in the fight against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and the State.  We try to incorporate the best of the League experience while confronting its historical and political weaknesses.

This is the link to the original post.

For reference purposes and to explore past conversations we’ve had here on the League, check out this post from HiFi and the conversation that follows.

 

Introduction

 

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers emerged in Detroit in the late 1960s, a period of growing dissatisfaction with the mainstream integrationist civil rights organizations and the failures of the Democratic Party to address the subjugation of black people in a comprehensive way.  A new movement which came to be known as Black Power or Black Liberation, grew out of these failures and gave birth to a new identity and a number of new mass and revolutionary organizations, one of the most advanced being the Revolutionary Union Movement and the League.

The Black Power movement also conceptualized the oppression of black people domestically within an international context of white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism.  It looked toward and drew inspiration from the national liberation movements that were happening in Cuba, Algeria, and Vietnam as well as the Cultural Revolution in China as a model for what black liberation in the United States could look like.  The League was no exception in this regard.

Catalyzed by the Great Rebellion of 1967, an upheaval of Detroit’s black poor against police brutality, poor living conditions, and limited jobs, the League saw the necessity of organizing black workers.  Formed by a core of organizers who worked in the auto industry, they were also instrumental in organizing the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), in the Dodge Main auto plant and which pushed for addressing atrocious workplace conditions, speed-up, and the extension of the working day as well as their racist implications.  Some DRUM militants were a part of previous civil rights groups but were discontented with the politics and took a more radical political stand that contextualized white supremacy through the framework of capitalist social relations.

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Perspectives on the Fight Back by Occupy and the ILWU Rank-and-File in Longview

From Insurgent Notes:
All Eyes on Longview: An Injury to One is an Injury to All

The breaking of Local 21 will undoubtedly be a prelude to further attacks on the ILWU up and down the west coast, with automation another battering ram. Clearly, the bosses and the state are out to pit ILWU workers against Occupy militants in order to isolate and weaken both. They recognize and fear the demonstrated power of joint Occupy/ILWU action.

In spite of that threat, the ILWU International called for confining the protest to EGT and Longview and for not shutting down other ports. They will tell the longshoremen to cross Occupy picket lines everywhere except Longview. On January 6, ILWU thugs attacked a meeting of Occupy Seattle that was planning solidarity actions with Longview.

Local 10 oppositionists, including former officers and rank-and-filers, declare that they will shut the Port of Oakland down if the ship attempts to land. In fact, the thugs who attacked the January 6 Occupy Seattle meeting did so just when retired Oakland longshoreman and Local 10 opposition leader, Jack Heyman, told the meeting that the ILWU rank-and-file in Oakland, Portland and Seattle had voted with their feet to honor the Occupy picket lines and close those ports on December 12, Occupy’s West Coast port shutdown, and would do so again when the grain ship docks at Longview. Whether or not this will happen, against the intense pressure being brought by the state and the bosses, with the complicity of the ILWU International and several Local presidents, remains to be seen.

[…]

The Longview confrontation will be the latest, and hardest test to date of the ability of the forces which shut down west coast ports on November 2 and December 12 to continue to mobilize mass support. Key to its success will be a serious, class-wide alliance of rank-and-file dock workers, the much larger numbers of unorganized truckers in the ports, and the casualized mass which forms the radical wing of Occupy. Turn this defensive struggle into an offensive one now!

 

From the Black Orchid Collective:
Longview, Occupy, and Beyond: Rank and File and the 89% Unite!

To be clear, at this potluck our friends were not saying that unemployed, precarious, non-union workers of color should have more authority than the ILWU to decide tactics in the Longview struggle.  Instead, they were pointing out that the D12 port shutdown was not just about solidarity with the ILWU so it was not up to them to decide whether or not it should happen.  In Seattle, it was about the proletariat showing our collective power by breaking the norms of capitalist legitimacy and legality. For one day, we were able to exhibit our power to blockade the flow of capital with a barricade at the port, cutting capitalist profits at the point of distribution. It wasn’t an attempt to co-opt the ILWU; it was an action done autonomously from the ILWU as well as in solidarity with port workers’ struggles.

It is in light of constant attacks on the legitimacy of non-union workers and unemployed people to conduct such a direct action, that we began to define ourselves as one big union of the 89% and unemployed, in unity with rank and file union members. We want to express explicitly that we, too, have a stake in class struggle. By using the label “89%,” we do not mean to suggest that the 11% of union workers are our enemy.  We are not comparing them to the 1% or the capitalists.  Instead, we wish to point out two things. First, that union leaderships who claim to speak for the 11% of union workers, cannot, and do not, speak for the rest of us. In fact, many times they do not even speak for the members of their unions. Second, we use the language of the “89%” to convey that labor struggles in this country must go beyond efforts  to preserve existing unions. Those defensive struggles are important, but for those of us who are not unionized, our class struggles in our authoritarian casualized workplaces, communities and neighborhood, need to be recognized as such: class struggle, even when they are not “sanctioned” by unions that are officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

[…]

When revolutionaries act as if legitimate class struggle only happens through NLRB-recognized unions, they ignore the very real and material divisions between union and non-union workers, many of whom see unionized workers as remote and unrelated to their lives at best and as privileged workers who do not understand the realities of the proletariat at worst.  If we do not understand this sentiment by the majority of the proletariat, then we cede this ground to the right wing, who will gladly use it to mobilize anti-union attacks on a populist basis. It’s ironic that the ISO accuses us of supporting right wing anti-union politics when that is precisely what our 89% rhetoric and organizing aim to challenge.

[…]

When fighting for liberation, oppressed people have and will utilize varying forms of organization to succeed. Unions have been and continue to be one of those forms. NLRB-unions have a dual nature under capitalism. They at once ensure that union workers have the ability to negotiate with bosses about wages and benefits by way of collective might. However, they also adhere to laws which hinder the potential of this collective might and it’s ability to end a situation in which a majority has to negotiate for its survival. Our critique of the bureaucracy lies in the fact that regardless of how progressive individual labor leaders may be, their positions rests in some manner on their ability to adhere to the contract which they have negotiated with the capitalists.  They end up helping management and the courts enforce this contract even when it goes against the interests of the workers.  In other words, they play a role in maintaining labor power as a commodity and in ensuring some level of discipline at the workplace .

The Egyptian Uprising

More at The Real News

-Chris Shortsleeve

The uprising in Egypt is escalating. Imperialists who have said that ‘stability’ is what makes for good democracy, racists who have said that Arabs do not want their freedom, patriarchs who have said that women do not attend, much less lead, protests, and the Western middle classes who have wanted to paint the Egyptian uprising as a Twitter and Facebook-happy ‘Cedar Revolution’ of doctors and lawyers, have all in the last two weeks seen their pseudo-sociological assumptions about the Egyptian people collapse.

On Tuesday, one of the largest pro-democracy demonstrations yet went down in Cairo – this after days of the US media reporting, and the Mubarak regime requesting, a return to “normalcy” in Egypt – and perhaps even more significantly, new and militant strikes are now emerging throughout Egypt: six thousand Suez Canal workers have gone on strike in Suez, Port-Said, and Ismailia. They are being joined by railway technicians and oil workers, by government, sanitation, and court employees, and by factory workers both in Suez and historic, militant Mahalla. Independent trade unions are forming, and calls are being circulated for both single-day and more sustained General Strikes. The working class is moving in Egypt.

And while the Mubarak regime unleashes both direct and extra-parliamentary repression against the pro-democracy forces, while Torturer-in-Chief Omar Suleiman issues a mixture of pleas, threats, and mild economic ‘reforms’, and while both the Obama administration and the Egyptian opposition itself cannot coherently say whether they are for dictatorship or democracy, cannot unequivocally call for the Mubarak regime to be dismantled and for Mubarak and Suleiman to step down, the Egyptian people are showing no signs of giving up, and are continuing to call for the entire government’s dismissal.
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How can we advance the anti-police brutality struggle?

Reflections by Nightwolf and Mamos from Seattle Unity and Struggle

The week of August 30th, 2010 saw five people murdered by police throughout Washington State, including John T. Williams. Williams was a First Nations carver who was shot four times by police officer Ian Birk while walking with a closed carving knife and a block of wood.  Birk gave Williams only four seconds warning before opening fire, and Williams, who is partially deaf, may not have heard his commands.

This murder, along with several other recent cases of police brutality against Black and Latino folks in Seattle has sparked a small but vibrant movement against police terrorism.  Here we will analyze the potentials and the limitations of this movement.  While we are very critical of some of the players in this movement, our goal is not to hate on folks- it is to open a rigorous and honest discussion about how we can advance the struggle beyond its current limitations.   We need to advance the struggle because we don’t want more people in our communities to die at the hands of killer cops. Every day we are struggling and organizing against the effects of the economic crisis in our workplaces , schools, and neighborhoods and we need to organize citywide and country-wide networks of resistance  and solidarity to make sure these small embryonic struggles are not shut down through joint repression by the bosses, landlords, and cops.

This reflection is broken into two essays.  In the first one, “The Rainbow Coalition stomps the flames”, Nightwolf analyzes how liberal people of color leaders worked with the cops to try and dampen the explosion of anger in communities of color  following John T. Williams’ death; he puts this in historical context, showing how it relates to the successes and failures of the 1960s and 70s movements against white supremacy.

In the second piece, “Workers spread the embers”, Mamos analyzes some of the small but promising actions against police brutality that have emerged in Seattle the past few months and asks how these actions can deepen and how they can connect to other forms of working class organizing going on in Seattle now.  He  explores the role that  militant worker networks like Seattle Solidarity Network and International Workers and Students for Justice could play in challenging state violence.

While these essays reflect on anti-police brutality struggles, they raise much broader questions that are really relevant for a number of different struggles in Seattle and in other cities.  While these essays may not present a full answer to the question of how to stop police brutality, they are an attempt to prompt discussion about the current political impasse our movements are  in and to think creatively about how to move beyond it.

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When we lose control of our labor power

by Will

Background to the 1844 Manuscripts

Some of us around Gathering Forces are reading a selection from The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx. We should be careful not see this document as just a brilliant piece of writing coming from a solitary brain of an intellectual giant. Instead this writing is a powerful product of its time with all sorts of issues and events shaping its coming together. Four things which stand out in shaping this document are: a) Marx was breaking from Hegel who thought history moved through a world spirit and alienation was only mental. b) Marx was heavily influenced by the working class and specifically the Silesian weavers uprising in Germany. This was an important moment for Marx has it continued to propel him to break from bourgeois radicalism and left-wing Hegelianism. He saw that the movement of history was the process of production, that it was materially located in the working class. So two things are solved in this piece: alienation’s material dimension and the labor process as the central thread of human history. What placing the labor process as central to human history meant was that by only solving the contradictions in how humans work can we hope to build a radically new society. Or as Raya says, “He began with the proletarian activity at the point of production. He separated labor from product and from property, and looked for the contradiction within labor itself. It is through this contradiction that the laborer would develop, that is, would overcome the contradictions in the capitalist method of production (Marxism and Freedom, 55).” c) Marx was separating himself from the various dimensions of French socialism. It’s a big list so I won’t go into it here but folks can look up Utopian Socialism, Auguste Blanque, and Proudhon to get a sense of what I mean. d) He was using British political economy as a basis for his critique of political economy.

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Malcolm X Reconsidered

Ferruccio Gambino provides another way of thinking about the emergence and importance of a figure like Malcolm X.

The man then called Malcom Little entered the place then called the Norfolk Prison Colony in 1948.

The transgression of a laborer:  Malcolm X in the wilderness of America

by Ferruccio Gambino

What led a group of young black convicts in the late 1940s and early 1950s and particularly one of them, Malcolm X, to see the U.S. as an imperial power? In a time of lonely crowds, retreat into domesticity, and feverish patriotism, the emergence of a group of young blacks debating in the corner of a Massachusetts penitentiary courtyard the issue of a world out of joint must have appeared to authorities as a curious aberration. In retrospect, it was the birth of a movement that would shift from a chiliastic condemnation of the white world to a more pointed withdrawal from specific aspects of European and American civilizations.

How the generation of African Americans who came of age in the 1940s shaped its cultural identity is now beginning to become a subject of inquiry. (1) This essay looks at some events in the development of one young man– Malcolm X-who shaped that identity as much as any single individual. It suggests how Malcolm X came to occupy the double political space of “the immigrant” transgressively and how that self-location in relation to the American state violated the written and unwritten codes of legitimate political behavior. It also suggests how Malcolm X’s transgression increasingly became a source of radicalization from the early 1950s on.

By “double political space” I mean the creation of a new allegiance to the country in which immigrants have settled, in conjunction with the often more tenuous devotion to the links with the country of origin. In general, the modern state tolerates immigrants’ attempts to keep their double political space, its attitude being one of cautious patience, swinging towards intolerance during periods of international tension or war. The maintenance of immigrants’ links to both their country of origin and country of resettlement has provided the state with informal means of influencing the political course of both. But sometimes the state demands a more exclusive allegiance and reduces the immigrant’s choice to leaving or breaking ties to a “foreign” symbolic and material universe.

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Two Views on the Recent Strikes in France

Mouvement Communiste has written up a brief report and analysis of the strikes that have broken out over the last month in response to the attempts by the Sarkozy government

******

An attempt to report on the situation in France

by Mouvement Communiste

General overview

We have seen a growing number of demonstrators in many towns and cities of France in demonstrations called by the unions and supported by official left-wing parties. But on the side of working class strikes the figure is not so bright.

First of all, strikes have not hit “private” sector industry (with some exceptions detailed later). Our two Paris area big automotive assembly plants, Renault in Flins and Citroën in Aulnay saw only 100 strikers among a workforce of roughly 4000 (i.e. even not all the union delegates went on strike); as some workers said, “the mood is not there”. Even in demonstrations there were very few banners relating to private companies….

They finish with some conclusions:

…..On the content

We can say that confusion is deeply rooted in the movement. If everybody understands that the government “reform” is an attack on the working class, there was no expression of the view that pensions are wages. On the contrary, the ideology of defending the “French social system” is still very strong, not to mention talking about “solidarity among generations”…..

….On the unions
Contrary to what many leftists thought, unions were not opposed to the “movement” and not ready to “betray” it. Their “offer” was very broad. From the SUD completely unrealistically calling for a “General Strike”, to the CFDT being more “realistic” and waiting for a government response, through the CGT being more realistic according to the weak balance of power in the strikes, and divided by some extremist rank and file-ists, the usual limited scheme of “betrayal” does not apply up to now…..

….To remain optimistic

In many places very tiny groups of people tried to organize themselves on a rank and file basis to do something, for instance blocking the economy. However unrealistic it is, it certainly allows people to create horizontal links that could be useful for the future. We have participated in Paris in an “Inter-category assembly” (however foolish may be the name of such a gathering, regarding reality) organized around engineers of SNCF in Paris Est and other workers. This could be a chance for the future if links are maintained….

Read the rest here

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Foxconn suicides and Honda strike in China: Call for Asian workers solidarity.

While the Chinese government has invested as much as $58 billions to stage the Shanghai Expo, Chinese workers at Foxconn Technology, a Taiwanese-owned electronic manufacturer which assembles products for corporates such as Apple, Dell, HP, Motorola, and Nokia are jumping out of their sweatshop factories. Foxconn employees nearly 600,000 workers all over China, and its total network is worth 54 million dollars. The boss, Terry Guo, is the richest man in Taiwan, but the workers are only paid $132 a month, which is the legal minimum wage in China, and work over time to boost the salary. There have been 12 suicides in the Shenzhen factory this year alone and most of them were 18 -24 year old second generation farmers who migrated to the urban factories from the South because there were simply no work opportunities back at home. They sign off their rights to the labor laws and work as much as 36 hour over time to compensate for the high living cost in the city. The Foxconn workplace is extremely oppressive—military like security control (also because companies such as Apple demanded so), crowded dormitories and long work hours. To prevent workers from the same hometowns to mobilize, they are separated into different sectors of the factory as well different dormitories. While the Foxconn workers clearly face severe workplace alienation, the Shenzhen government expressed that they haven’t found any direct relationships between the suicides and the workplace issues, but purely personal “psychological stress.”

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