Category Archives: Strategy

interview with New River Workers Power on VA Target strike

The following is an interview with New River Workers Power based in Christiansburg, VA. NRWP has helped to organize a strike of Target workers in the New River Valley area with the demand to terminate an abusive supervisor and for recognition from the company. They have already won their first demand. The interview was conducted because the strike raises important questions around the forms of working class organization in general that emerge from the present social condition and their relationship to political organization and should be seen as part and parcel of broader thinking about the strategic and historical context that militants and organizers need to base our activity.

Tell us about Christiansburg, VA. What are the social and political conditions of the town and the general area, e.g. the racial and class composition, how people make ends meet, etc? In what ways have these manifested at the Target at which you are working and how does it reflect or contradict these conditions?

Christiansburg is a relatively small town of 20,000 people. It is located in the Appalachian region of Virginia, and as such it is very white in racial composition – around 93 percent – the next highest racial group is African Americans at 4.8 percent. On a county level the Asian population rivals the African American population at around 4 to 7 percent depending on which source one looks at – this is due to the nearby university, Virginia Tech. Based on census data the workforce is around 50 percent. Virginia Tech is the economic powerhouse of the area and most industries in the area are built around it, including the service sector. The service sector – retail, food, healthcare – is the largest industry in the area. Education workers are the largest single sector at 30 percent. Healthcare is second at 20 percent, but if retail and food are combined it is on par with Healthcare. All other industries are in the single digits in terms of percentages of the workforce in the area. The region is generally conservative, while around Virginia Tech and Blacksburg it is considered more “liberal”. There is an animosity between Blacksburg as a college town and the rest of the county and region. The class divide is also largely reflected in this as well, with the local rich mostly concentrated around Virginia Tech. It’s important to view this area on a county or multi county level to understand the dynamics at play rather than just focusing on Christiansburg. This area is usually referred to as the New River Valley.

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In regards to Target a lot of these facts carry over into the workplace. There is a division among the workers on the basis of age and education. Many younger workers are also going to the local colleges – the nearby Radford University and New River Community College are the more working class colleges – trying to get trained in skilled labor positions, such as nursing. But older workers seem to not have college degrees or are not able to find jobs related to their degrees that might result in higher pay. There also is division on the basis of locals vs non-locals.

Continue reading interview with New River Workers Power on VA Target strike

Morbid Symptoms: Conclusions

This is the last in our series of posts about the Trump regime. Part one can be found here, and part two is here.

We have argued that Trump’s election represents a deepening impasse in neoliberalism, and that this impasse results from a systemic crisis in capitalism. As capital works to counteract falling profit rates by contracting social reproduction, it faces a growing problem of legitimacy. Delegitimation deepened slowly but steadily for years and fractured the consensus below the neoliberal order. Now the rise of Trump represents a sudden expansion of these fractures, which extend, like cracks in a windshield, deep into the state. And the upsurge of right-wing nationalist populism that accompanies Trump’s presidency foreshadows even further ruptures, as it lays the conditions for a fascist politics that could sustain capitalist retrogression by devouring bourgeois democracy itself.

In response to this deepening crisis, new forces have arisen that form an emerging, if still differentiated opposition. In the past decade immigrants, prisoners, public sector workers, students, teachers, middle class communities cast into the proletariat, the black proletariat and middle class, indigenous peoples, and a handful of private sector workers in healthcare, communications and transport have all launched moments of struggle, and in some cases larger ruptures. These forces carry within them the potential to destroy the current system. At the same time, they face internal limits borne of the conditions in which they arose. To grasp the limits and potentials of today’s struggles, we need to situate them in the shifting capitalist relations that produced them.

The Widening Gyre

At their foundations, proletarian struggles take shape within the capital-labor relationship. Capital must accumulate or die, constantly seeking to expand itself. Yet even as capital appears to grow on its own, it is actually a social relation–more precisely, a relation of labor to itself in alienated form–which depends upon living labor to exist. Without the continual alienation of living labor, capital would cease to reproduce itself. Nevertheless, workers are also a product of capital and depend on it in turn. To get the wages they need to live, proletarians are compelled to sell themselves to capitalists every day as labor power. Thus we are locked in a contradiction: capital and labor cling to one another even as they repel each other. This contradiction doesn’t stay still, but continually mutates as capitalist society develops and changes.

Continue reading Morbid Symptoms: Conclusions

Morbid Symptoms: Fascism and Anti-Fascism

As an interlude while we prepare the next installment of “Morbid Symptoms,” we’ve uploaded a short talk and reading list below. We hope these will help U.S. revolutionaries to analyze the phenomena of fascism and the Trump regime, and develop anti-fascist strategies on the ground that bring us closer to freedom.

Further reading on fascism and anti-fascism:

  • Beetham, David. (1984). Marxists in the Face of FascismTotowa: Barnes & Noble Press.
  • Guerin, Daniel. (1994). Fascism and Big Business. New York: Pathfinder.
  • Hammerquist, Don. (2002). “Fascism and Anti-Fascism.” In Confronting Fascism. Montreal: Kersplebedeb.
  • Passmore, Kevin. (2014). Fascism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Payne, Stanley. (1983). Fascism: Comparison and Definition. University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Sakai, J. (2002). “The Shock of Recognition.” In Confronting Fascism. Montreal: Kersplebedeb.

A Houston Wob’s Reflection on the USW Strike

Unions’ power is in decay and lately have been resorting to more creative methods in order to remain relevant. We’ve seen the Democrats putting their money behind the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Fight For $15 in Houston at the same time attempting to “turn Texas blue.” But this dependency of unions like SEIU and the United Steel Workers (USW) on the Democratic Party means they are severely limited in what they are willing to do in the realm of tactics. This along with union density being sharply in decline, as well as union power being undermined by Right-to-Work spreading to states like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, means the unions are not up for waging anything close to a class struggle. Instead unions like the USW maintain their position as representing only certain interests and timidly bargaining around them.

Texas, like other Right-to-Work states, has a working class that is almost entirely disconnected with their own fighting traditions. There is no real culture of workers resistance, union or not, nor is there any historical memory of fighting strikes. However, recently in Houston we have seen a few significant developments unfolding in labor starting with the immigrant rights movement and detention center hunger and labor strikes, the Maximus Coffee strike and lockout at the end of 2013, the ongoing Fight For $15 “movement” and its semi-annual spectacles, and the most recent and equally significant, the USW refinery strikes. These developments are very exciting for Houston not simply because of the lack of historical memory of struggle to draw from, but also due to the high density of industry in Houston which is unlike most of the country.  This makes Houston a critical choke point for US capital and thus pivotal for workers struggle nationally. Continue reading A Houston Wob’s Reflection on the USW Strike

Discussion: Ferguson and the Unfolding Rebellion in the U.S.

Pages from U+S FERGUSON(1)The recent spike in the size and intensity of the street protests surrounding the racist murder of Eric Garner, most notably in New York City and Berkeley, California, is a profound phenomenon. But while the protests and street battles in Ferguson, Missouri had been consistently maintained since early August, it was only after Eric Garner’s murderer was not indicted, only a week after another grand jury failed to indict the police officer who murdered of Mike Brown, did the protests and street battles really take off.

The rolling over of the struggle between these two incidents represents a unique moment, when masses of people both maintain the continuity of the struggle, and reap the benefits of experience and a higher level of consciousness, with new militants and leaders emerging very quickly.

But these moments of continuity also provide a wealth of experience and information to develop our analyses, strategies and tactics. What follows are a series of discussions written by a number of members of Unity & Struggle based on our experiences and conversation with other militants in the streets. We offer them up, in order to further develop our theory and practice, and welcome other contributions to the discussion.

Also, courtesy of Servius of RIFAMS Distro, a printable pamphlet of the discussion

5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

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: Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion,Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action,The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


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1. Work to abolish police and prisons, not to reform them. President Obama has passed legislation to put body cameras on police officers, but this won’t stop the cops from killing black folks. Eric Garner’s murder was caught on camera like many others, and it didn’t save his life. Even worse, this reform can be used against the people it’s supposed to protect: a recent study showed body cameras help police far more often than their victims.

The police and the prison system can’t be reformed, because their basic role is to maintain a racist, unjust, unequal capitalist society–and this requires violence. As Kristian Williams documented in Our Enemies in Blue, police forces developed in the U.S. to capture runaway slaves, crush strikes, and prevent hungry mobs from taking what they needed to live. The system isn’t “broken” when it kills someone like Mike Brown, it’s working just as intended.

Instead of chasing reforms, we should work to abolish police and prisons. It won’t happen all at once, but we can guide our efforts with the catchphrase: disempower, disarm, and disband. We can disempower the police on the streets, by building neighborhood groups that respond to police abuse, and deter them from terrorizing us. We can demand the police be disarmed, taking away their military gear and firearms. And we can work to disband police units one-by-one, starting with the most vicious.

Continue reading 5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

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

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.

Continue reading The Intermediate Moment (Part One)

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. ‬

Continue reading The Rise of the Fast Food Worker

When do we SNAP?: Against Cuts, Low Wages, and Food Stamp Discipline by Florence Johnston Collective

The Florence Johnston Collective is a new group of both U&S and non U&S members in New York City struggling around “reproductive” work; or work that’s primary function is not to make things to be sold, but to take care of the lives of both workers and non-workers in society.  This includes nurses, CNAs, home health aids, teachers, social service workers, nannies, and more, plus custodians, kitchen workers, and other staff who work in healthcare and social services facilities. We are specifically interested in organizing both recipients and providers of care, as these two groups often appear to be in an antagonist relationship with one another, when really both are being destroyed by the same cuts, policies, and bosses.  U&S is happy to re-post the first in a series of longer written articles posted on FJC’s blog, and intended for mass distribution and agitation.  Please see http://florencejohnstoncollective.wordpress.com to find out more.

Introduction

As political campaigns to raise the minimum wage grab headlines, there is a decrease in the federal minimum wage on the horizon that nobody is talking about. The coming reduction in the wage for working class people in the United States, employed and unemployed, will come from a two pronged reduction in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, better known as food stamps. These cuts will affect the 50 million people struggling to feed themselves and their families in the current economic depression. And these nationwide cuts, effecting every recipient, just may provide workers with the broad basis for action against the system that keeps them broke, overworked, and dependent on their boss and the state just to survive.

The state calls food stamps “benefits” and “entitlements”, and tells people they are a privilege, not a right. Some politicians talk about food stamps like they are state sponsored charity. But SNAP benefits are a part of the wage for the lowest strata of the working class. They are the piece of the paycheck necessary to buy food, a piece that the capitalists refuses to pay.

SNAP cuts must be recognized as wage cuts, and fought against by the cooperation of all working class people, no matter whether they receive benefits, and especially by the working class people who work in food stamp and other benefit centers. We need to help build this movement by facilitating these connections, and agitating beyond the reformist lines.

Accordingly we can’t simply defend the program or demand more benefits. The SNAP program itself must be understood as a tool used to discipline the working class. No matter how high they are, these benefits hold a small amount of working class peoples’ wages over their heads to make them dependent, subject them to humiliating privacy violations like drug tests and endless bureaucratic hurdles, and provide a cheap compensation for the loss of real jobs, the ever-diminishing standard of living, and the mass incarceration of tens of millions of Americans. This is why we don’t simply need more food stamps, but the end of the system that makes food stamps necessary to survive

 

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Continue reading When do we SNAP?: Against Cuts, Low Wages, and Food Stamp Discipline by Florence Johnston Collective