Category Archives: NGO

The Old Mole Breaks Concrete

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


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

by JF and friends

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

Toward a Practical Grasp of the Present

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

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

Continue reading The Old Mole Breaks Concrete

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

A Moving Story by James Frey

By James Frey

The following piece, by James Frey, was originally posted at Libcom, and is the story and analysis of organizing in a precarious workplace in New York, where a significant part of the working class works at-will, without health insurance, and several jobs at a time.  The piece includes important lessons for organizing precarious work places, as well as a range of important political critiques, made concrete through the questions raised by this struggle.  Frey can be reached at movingstorycontact@gmail.com

In the Summer of 2012 the exploited workers of a New York City moving company autonomously organized our shop and began the fight for control over the conditions of our lives. This is one worker’s account of how it all went down.

“They Just Run Us Into The Ground…”

Our struggle was born in the cabs of box trucks all over the city. Stopped in traffic, cramped and stewing in diesel fumes, and working off the clock due to flat-rate travel pay based on mythic road conditions, we have spent countless hours in the privacy of our little boxes enumerating our grievances endlessly. In these scenes, the individual gripe is always the germ of systematic critique. And such grievances are in no short supply when the starting rate for workers at our dangerous job has progressively fallen over the past four years, rolling back a full five dollars and coming to rest on the precipice of minimum wage, as has the pay cap for our nearly nonexistent pay raises, which can only be negotiated individually and secretly with management, in competition with our co-workers, and are rarely granted. Medical benefits are non-existent, though the threat of severe bodily harm comes with every day’s work, more reliably so than the gratuity with which each of our customers, in morally satisfied ignorance of our pay rate, are expected to subsidize our basic social needs out of sheer generosity. “Have a few drinks tonight!” they’ll chortle along with a meager tip, as we wonder if this keeps us on track to make rent. The undesirable conditions at our shop have created a high turnover which makes for unsafe working conditions, only exacerbating the daily struggle to make ends meet and make it home one piece.

Work in our shop comes in a pattern of feast or famine. We list which days we are available, and work is assigned to us based on necessity. This “flexibility” (as it is presented in the job interview) is misleading, as it is necessary to make oneself available almost every single day in order to make enough hours for the week, and work is announced with less than 24 hours notice. Many days we are available there is no work at all, especially for the newer workers, who can go two weeks at a time without hearing from the company. Often the most competent, experienced, and professional of our ranks view the job as an unfortunate short-term situation, explicitly citing lack of pay, reliable scheduling, and above all, dignity, and these workers have one eye on the door from the start.

This situation has engendered an entire class of disposable workers hired for the extreme short term and not expected to stay beyond a month, at which time they can be replaced by another crop from the inexhaustible Craig’s List precariat. They are hired at a pay rate which most often precludes any experience, and in many cases precludes maturity and responsibility. It is not uncommon to find among new hires an apathetical approach to this labor intensive and dangerous job. Surely, nobody among us can really blame workers making close to minimum wage for behaving accordingly. A while back a worker in this pay rate was an hour late on a Saturday morning, and one of the veterans joked “He just paid $8 to sleep in for an hour.” However, the most experienced and responsible crew members on each job must train each new worker behind the customer’s back while doing the work of two, and to turn their attention away from the new hire to perform a technical task or to even use the bathroom is to risk catastrophe.

And catastrophe strikes often, in the form of avoidable damages resulting from basic errors or carelessness, for which the company regularly doles out thousands of dollars, overcompensating the customer in the name of preserving its good standing in the public eye. The same is true for drivers, who the company is unwilling to hire at a competitive rate for commercial trucking. Instead it opts to underpay inexperienced drivers who routinely cause expensive wrecks and drive up the company’s insurance costs, while posing an obvious threat to the safety of all. In a bitter irony, the myriad expenditures stemming from constant turnover in an underpaid, often inexperienced, and increasingly apathetic workforce are cited as the reason we cannot receive raises, which of course would help obviate accidents and damages, and the cycle continues as wages are driven ever downward by the imperative to minimize costs in the short-term. This lends some weight to the view that in the wage relation, domination of the labor force is the primary concern for the accumulation of capital, and the importance of low wages to immediate concerns of profit is secondary.

Those of us who work our hardest do so not because it reflects our pitiful remuneration, but out of a basic human desire to take pride in the application of one’s faculties to a day’s work, and to recognize one’s efforts in the quality of the product. This is of course a complicated relationship within the paradigm of exploitation, and it leaves especially the most adept and responsible workers feeling like suckers. “The company uses us the same way they use the [notoriously unmaintained] trucks”, one seasoned worker commented morosely. “They just run us into the ground.”

“My Mover Has Read Goethe!”

We have all worked plenty of “shit jobs” before and came to this company with no illusions about the nature of precarious work in the present day. But the real insult to injury for most of us lies in the company’s hipster “niche market” status. According to its literature, our company only hires artists and other creative people, whose creative endeavors the customer can “support” simply by hiring us. This is a major selling point with the customers of course, but also with new hires, with whom it is used to justify low wages. The company dons the “starving artist” trope for itself in dealings with the staff, to whom the trope actually applies. And the idea that “we” are a “collective” of “artists” suggests to the average customer that there is some kind of common ownership or stake in the company, or at the very least, that the workers are compensated anywhere near the mean industry rate. After all, how could a company so hip and cool and with it pay its workers minimum wage? Instead, tips are a major source of our income, though we are prohibited from discussing it with the customers, and many customers seem legitimately unaware of how much we need gratuity to survive. Worst of all, this sort of company manages to drape a layer of DIY hipster obfuscation over the basic relationship of exploitation. This fools the willfully ignorant customers, who don’t want to think ill of their precious luxury item, but can also make things difficult for organizing those among the staff with somebody else supporting them, a type often drawn to this kind of hip company, whose class privilege allows for some distance between the exploitative wage and the material necessities of their lives.

Continue reading A Moving Story by James Frey

“Guide to the Exploited Non-Profit Worker” by Tituba’s Revenge, a new NYC anti-capitalist collective

with Wen

Tituba’s Revenge is a collective of anti-capitalist nonprofit workers who are majority queer women of color in NYC. We began to get together this year to discuss the challenges and contradictions in our workplace and aimed to develop tools and analysis as a collective to deal with workplace exploitation. We read Marxist-feminist texts such as Silvia Federici and Maria Mies to gain deeper insights into our alienation and devaluation as women caring laborers. In the past decades, the professionalization of nonprofits has drawn a significant amount of women – progressive activists from our communities in particular – into the low-wage, long hours, and non-unionized working conditions.  We feel that there is a vacuum in the analysis of the exploitation in the nonprofit workplace.  Nonprofits are serving as an integral part of the capitalist society rather than operating outside of it.  We want to dispel the myths we are told about nonprofits to create an active project aiming to develop an anti-capitalist analysis of the material oppression of the communities we work within through fighting against our shared exploitation in the workplace.

The pamphlet is part of an ongoing working project. We hope to continue to develop more in-depth analysis between the role of nonprofit in capitalist relations as well as strategies to facilitate workplace organizing.

About “Tituba”:

The name “Tituba’s Revenge” comes from a Black Caribbean woman named Tituba who was enslaved and brought to Salem, Massachusetts. She was persecuted in the witch trials particularly because she was an African healer.  We want to acknowledge the centuries of women’s struggles against capitalist patriarchy that appropriates and alienates us from our knowledge and labor and find ways to fight back in our own workplaces.

……………….

Download the PdF Here or visit http://titubasrevenge.wordpress.com

Guide to the Exploited Non-Profit Worker

Perspectives on Occupy Atlanta from Revolutionary Voices

This piece was written by one of our members and her comrades in Atlanta, who have been taking part of Occupy Atlanta since day one.

A public, revolutionary perspective of the ongoing occupations across the nation has been lacking. There is much talk within radical communities, organizations, and blogs about the occupations, but few written declarations have been made from those within the occupations themselves. This is our small attempt to address this problem.

We do not represent the voices of every occupier, but we also recognize that our own voices must be heard. We followed the Occupy Wall Street movement when it was just several hundred people in New York City, and we watched, thrilled, as it spread across the nation. We were ecstatic to find out that folks, here, in Atlanta were starting to organize our very own Occupy. But we were also cautious—cautious because we knew there were very serious critiques of the racial, class, gendered, and political makeup of the occupations that we largely agreed with and didn’t want to see replicated in our own city.

Last Friday was the first night of Occupy Atlanta. At six pm, the scheduled time for the first General Assembly, over 500 people gathered in Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. It was exciting to see so many people come out to something that had been planned so quickly. It was a testament to the excitement and rage in the air. At the same time, there were lots of problems from the start. White men moderated the entire three hour discussion, spoke almost the whole time, and made it very difficult for anyone else to speak because of the “process” of the meeting. Many of us had to wait almost twenty minutes, several times, to say one word even though no one else was on stack. The meeting was at times boring, tedious, and incredibly frustrating. Yet, it was also an exercise in democracy, and the biggest collective decision making body most of us had ever witnessed.

During the GA, Congressman John Lewis, the celebrated civil rights leader, showed up in expectation of addressing the crowd. We were informed that he wanted to address the crowd at that very moment, and were not told until far later that he had a prior engagement and thus could not wait until later to speak. Hundreds of people were in the midst of a critical meeting and knew that there was a place at the end of the agenda for people to address the crowd. Furthermore, recognizing that one of the central values of the Occupy movement is the belief that no individual or group of individuals is more valuable than any other person—particularly those already over-valued and over-represented in the very governmental institution we are opposing—many folks in the crowd felt that the meeting should not be interrupted for an “important” figure. The folks asking Lewis to wait until the scheduled speaking time were not only white folks, as has been suggested by some, but a diverse group of people, and ultimately made up the majority. Those asking Lewis to wait wanted Lewis to speak—they recognized his legacy, his importance, and his value for many of us, especially to the black community—but they also wanted him and every other individual to respect the process of a democratic meeting.

Yet, this collective ask prompted a handful of black folks to leave the crowd, telling some individuals they felt alienated and upset by what had happened. One woman of color was in tears on the phone, speaking to a friend, saying that those who claimed to speak for her were unaware of what she needed—John Lewis was a radical man whom empowered his community, and here was a mostly white crowd shooing him away. This was so upsetting to witness for many of the radicals in the crowd, as we were already concerned about the racial dynamics and did not want the decision to ask Lewis to wait to be construed as a rejection of such a prominent black leader, and therefore, as a major affront to POC and the black community. In the days that have followed, the John Lewis story has not died down, but rather gained steam and turned into something it absolutely was not. So let us be clear, as witnesses—John Lewis was asked to wait until the specified time for speakers to address the crowd. He did not stay; he had to leave for an appointment. He expressed absolutely no ill will towards us, publicly.

What happened is unfortunate. But those of us writing this document must be clear—if we have to rely on the presence of Lewis to attract and retain folks from the black community at a protest, something is fundamentally wrong. The situation should raise an altogether different question—why were only white men speaking and moderating? If a black woman had been on the bullhorn and had been the one to say Lewis needed to wait until the end, how would things have been interpreted differently? On the one hand, we need not to fetishize the democratic process. On the other hand, we need to recognize the influence of an individual like Lewis in the hearts of so many. However, the solution and discussion shouldn’t be limited to letting Lewis speak or making him wait. Again, if there were more women, more POC, more queer folks, up at the front of the crowd, and if they were the ones telling Lewis he needed to wait, what then would there action from the crowd have been? We ask this question because we are adamantly against the privilege baiting that has gone on in regards to the Lewis debacle. Far too often, these privilege politics (you are white and thus you have no right to ask Lewis to wait) are often masking political beliefs of individuals that are deeply imbedded within the non-profit industrial complex and black capitalist class which is nowhere more prominent than in Atlanta. Additionally, the privilege baiting attempts to erase the countless voices of women and people of color that also voted for Lewis to wait.

Again, the issue from the onset is not about Lewis being asked to wait; it is that people of color, queer folk, women—those upon whose backs capitalism was built and perpetuates its oppression—were not adequately reached out to in the preparatory stages of Occupy Atlanta, and were not actively included once it began. Using Facebook and word of mouth to spread information about an occupation, or any movement for that matter, is insufficient. These forms of communications rest on friendship ties, and friendship ties in this case were predominantly between those already existing in the progressive Atlanta community (which is very white). The Atlanta occupation, and those all across the country, have been planned, dominated, and frequented by mostly white, middle class, young men and women. This is the true issue at the forefront of these occupations, and many social movements. It is the sharp contrast between those speaking and those needing to speak that must be brought up, discussed, and publicly addressed by radicals, lest we fall into the same paradigms of non-profits, whom claim to speak for the disenfranchised, but in reality, rob and maim the voices of the oppressed classes.

Yet, we found ourselves questioning, why despite all of these problems, do we remain occupying? This is our answer: We remain occupying precisely because of these problems. We are revolutionaries, and the job of revolutionaries is not to ignore a mass movement of people breaking out just because it has problems, but to insert ourselves directly into the movement to raise, critique, and help fix the problems. We must stay here so we can bring up these non-coincidental issues of color, class, and gender-orientation representation and strive to change them. We must stay here so that we can raise the revolutionary character of these movements, challenge the participants to think and act differently, and incorporate the voices of those that have thus far been absent.

The authors of this document, along with countless others occupying cities across the nation, stand against capitalism, patriarchy, and racism. We recognize that capitalism would not be possible without the original, and ongoing, oppression of women, queer folk, and people of color. Capitalism was built upon our backs. This economic crisis has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years for queers, people of color, and women—it is nothing new. These communities have also been fighting back since the beginning of their oppression—resistance is also not new. We recognize that it is only when the homes of white, middle class Americans get taken away, when their jobs are lost, when they begin to suffer, when they begin to fight back, that the media and the politicians begin to pay attention.

But we also think there is a space to recognize and critique these factors from within the current occupation movement. We refuse to abstain from the largest mass activity that any of us have seen in our lifetimes, just because there are problems.

The authors of this document believe that the occupy movement reflects the biggest self-organization of the people that we have seen in decades. People are joining together to address the problems they face. But we also recognize that full realization of the demands that occupiers are making, such as putting people over profit, are impossible under the capitalist society in which we live. Full victory will never be possible as long as economic relations continue to be driven by the profit imperative. It is only through a revolution, created and led from the bottom up, by the people, for the people, by the 99% that are most affected, that we can move beyond the corruption and corporate rule we are witnessing today.

Yesterday, three women from this document moderated a 100 person general assembly. We are currently working on a workshop on white privilege and male privilege. There are more brown faces at the occupation each day, than the day previous. We renamed Woodruff Park, the park which we are occupying, Troy Davis Park. We are organizing a walk out at our school in which more than 30% of the students are black. There is a workshop on Saturday at Troy Davis Park about free, radical childcare. There is a march on Friday in support of a homeless shelter nearby that is in danger of being forced to close. We have fed hundreds of mouths, many which would have gone to bed hungry without our homemade peanut butter sandwiches and bean burritos.

Here’s the thing: We’re sick of asking for change, and we’re not going to do it anymore. We’re sick of being told to lobby and to vote, and if we just supported Obama a little more, things would be different. We’re sick of being told to join a non-profit, however radical it perceives itself to be. We’re sick of being told that change can happen within the system if we only just participate more. We’re sick of being told we’re racist, or sexist, or classist, for participating in a movement that has problems. We’re sick of sitting on the sidelines and refusing to actually engage in a movement while writing on our blogs and Facebook about how screwed up things are. We’re sick of asking and we’re sick of waiting. The time to act is now, with every ounce of our brown, female, and queer bodies.

“There are so many more Troy Davis'”

There has been an enormous amount of attention paid to the execution of Troy Davis and the international outcry that developed in the days preceding his murder. As a native of Atlanta, I was long aware of the case and the campaign attempting to get Troy off of death row. However, the campaign was largely dominated by non-profits and from my understanding, lacked any formal or public critique of Troy’s imprisonment and murder as directly caused by a racist and capitalist social order. As a result, I decided to orient myself towards other political action that had a more explicit political critique and would allow me to meet and develop alongside radicals, not those forever tied to the non-profit industrial complex.

But as news came of Troy’s impending execution, everyone I knew, radical or not, felt the need to act. Not only did we recognize the importance of being able to temporarily suspend our own organizing when sudden and important moments occur, but we also saw how many people who had never acted before were outraged and pouring into the streets (or the sidewalks at this point, because we hadn’t yet learned to take the streets together).  In this piece, I will first attempt to reconstruct my own experiences in the week leading up to Troy’s murder specifically the protest outside the prison on the September 21st. I will then address some of the critiques that have been made about the movement in relation to my own analysis not only as a witness, but as a committed revolutionary. This is a long piece, but bear with me, as I strongly believe this was one of the most important political ruptures many of us have ever seen, especially here in the South.
Continue reading “There are so many more Troy Davis’”

The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

revolution_not_funded

By fatima and Alma

The role and rise of the non-profit sector has long been a critical debate among the Left. INCITE!’s 2007 anthology, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, takes up these questions more comprehensively than ever before. As two women who have worked for NGOs, we have both struggled with the relationship between these organizations and our revolutionary politics.  For fatima, working in a social service domestic violence nonprofit, primarily with women of color, helped her make the connections between the problems with social service and reform-based work and the need for revolutionary organization. She recognized the bandaid nature of the nonprofit system, which did not provide the possibilities for liberation in the way organizing does. For Alma, her relationship with NGOs is less clear.  She recognizes the profound ideological problems presented by NGOS, yet at the same time feels they often provide alternatives that revolutionary organizations currently do not.  She has largely worked in legally based non-profits, and feels these organizations are often successful in directly attacking massive civil liberties violations, such as Guantanamo and illegal surveillance.

One important observation we have made is that the forced implementation of neo-liberalism throughout the world beginning in the 1970s is directly linked to the rise of NGOs. Continue reading The Revolution Will Not Be Funded