As an anti-budget cuts organizer in Seattle, I am excited by the important debates Advance the Struggle (AS) has raised with their piece Crisis and Contradictions: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th. I basically agree with the perspective that AS is putting forward; it confirms and advances a lot of the perspectives that my comrades in Unity and Struggle have been developing, especially with our anti-budget cuts work with Democracy Insurgent in Seattle, with ella pelea! in Austin, and our comrade’s work at Berkley. For those who don’t know, Unity and Struggle is a revolutionary organization animated by a belief in the self-emancipation of oppressed people; for more info, check out the “About US” section of the Gathering Forces blog. I would consider Unity and Struggle and a lot of the milleiu around Gathering Forces to be part of the “class struggle Left” tendency that AS outlines and calls for; like AS we are attempting to chart a third path that is independent from both the centrists (the “we need to meet people where they are at” folks) and the adventurists (the “Occupy Everything Demand Nothing” folks). We appreciate the chance to dialogue with AS and other like-minded activists around the country and we also appreciate the chance to have principled debate with comrades from the other two tendencies.
The response pieces written by Socialist Organizer (SO) and Labors Militant Voice (LMV), raise some important challenges to this third tendency and highlight some key differences between us and the centrist tendency. It is important to note that LMV’s piece raises important critiques of SO’s piece and I engage with those here – I have no intention of lumping them together. I offer my notes on these responses in the hope of furthering the debate.
What I write here is relatively unsystematic because my comrades and I are in the middle of organizing for a strike at the University of Washington on May 3rd so I don’t have a lot of time to flesh this out. I hope comrades will forgive and correct any points here that are underdeveloped , inaccurate, or unclear. I am writing this from a first person perspective rather than formally representing Democracy Insurgent or Unity and Struggle, the groups I am a part of. I imagine that most people in both groups would agree with the spirit of what I put forward here but we simply don’t have the time to collectively write and edit a formal response right now because of all of our organizing and study groups.
Continue reading The Debate on Strategy in the Anti-Budget Cuts Movement
** written with fatima & Tyler Zimmerman — the 3 of us are organizers with ¡ella pelea! but this is not an official position of that organization
At the University of Texas at Austin our rally and march on M4 was considerably smaller compared to the West – approximately 200 at its height – but since this was its first anti-budget cuts rally it was no small feat. Numbers can be less important than energy and militancy, and it showed on M4.
A SXSW Flavor
The smaller size is partly due to the fact that the effects of the recession are only just beginning to be felt in the state of Texas. Texas is one of the few states in the country that is not running a deficit, and has also been able to attract more businesses to settle and develop here due to lower tax rates. But along with this comes the under-funding of social services as compared to the rest of the country, which includes public education.
This can also be explained by the historical and regional contours of Texas as both a border state and a Southern state. Right on the US-Mexico border, Texas has the second highest concentration of undocumented immigrants in the country, following California, and is one of the few states in the country whose population is majority people of color. Along with other parts of the South and Southwest, Texas is also a Right-to-Work state, which means that collective bargaining rights for unions are illegal.
In this light, the strength of the Right in Texas needs to be taken into consideration. With the primaries recently over, Governor Perry — who has executed more people than any governor in the history of Texas, and who openly associates with secessionists and other opportunists responsible for the attacks on white workers as well — has regained the Republican nomination. More recently, conservatives have succeeded white washing the textbooks and curriculum in Texas public schools removing people of color movements, and painting neoliberalism and US Empire favorably.
These things combined have meant that there is a lack of working class institutions to carry on the legacy of working class militancy in the face of right wing hegemony. The fight to take back and defend public education takes on new significance as a means to rebuild this legacy and these institutions.
Continue reading March 4th at UT Austin
Reflections on the Shifting Terrain of Struggle
It is has been ten years since thousands of workers and youth shut down the WTO here in Seattle. Now the fight against budget cuts is once again laying the groundwork for a mass movement. One again young people and workers are in the streets asserting that another world is possible. In this piece I will analyze this dynamic, shifting terrain of political struggle.
This reflection comes in the wake of the March 4th National Day of Action to defend public education, which was a major leap forward here. A student strike at the University of Washington (UW) brought out around 700 students, workers, teachers, and high school students with an unexpectedly high level of militant energy, shutting down streets and almost blocking the freeway ( as you can see in this video).
As an organizer with the student-worker group Democracy Insurgent (D.I.) at the University of Washington, I wish to draw out some reflections and conclusions from our involvement in the struggle. I’ll start by tracing the struggles that lead up to the March 4th strike and made it possible. Then I will outline what March 4th shows us about the prospects and challenges for building a mass movement here in WA state and beyond.
Continue reading March Forth Seattle
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
One of the innovative things that came out of the Teamsters Rebellion in 1934, was the flying squad picket. The flying squad picket is a rapid response group of members who are ready to mobilize on short notice to provide direct support for pickets or actions. It is important for how it mobilizes many workers in real time. Farrell Dobbs talks about how the flying squad pickets then included not just union workers, but also unemployed workers and people from the community.
This sort of direct action seems particularly relevant given the times that we are in right now. Unions are weak, union busting is normalized, unemployment is rising, and social services budgets are slashed with no qualms. Many workers are losing confidence that the contract negotiation process is going to help them keep their jobs, or tide through the lows of the economic crisis. The recent resounding No vote by 75% of UAW members and up to 90% in some locals,against the concessionary UAW/Ford contract, is the clearest testament to this utmost lack of faith and indignation against the union bureaucracy. This has not happened for decades. It is clearer than day that union bureaucracies have cowered at the economic crisis and perpetuated this sense of inevitability and legitimacy of attacks on workers. This can be the only foreseeable result after decades of racism that have only too conveniently shifted the blame unto third world workers, as well as economic nationalism that is more about keeping US companies afloat rather than fighting for the working class in the US.
This raises the question: What can sufficiently fight back against this economic crisis? What kind of actions and organizations can counter these endless attacks and criminalization of workers struggles?
Continue reading Flying Squad pickets and the need for independent workplace groups
Within the last decade, small groups of individual activists, some part of radical or revolutionary Left organizations, have taken part in organizing “copwatches” in cities across the US and Canada. Presently, none of us around Gathering Forces are involved in such work (still if we’ve had our share of run-ins with the police in other struggles), though it is a form of organization we are supportive of and believe necessary. But because of this lack of experience and existing information out there, this post will have more questions than answers.
What copwatching formally entails is observing the actions of the police in the process of routine traffic stops or other encounters, documenting their activity in writing and on video, and collecting names and badge numbers of the officers involved where necessary. Some may follow this up independently or with other organizations by making complaints or protesting through civilian review boards. Additionally, some groups do “know your rights” trainings or pass out relevant literature, but it is unclear if most copwatch activities go much beyond this.
The Berkeley Copwatch website claims it is the original copwatch, starting in 1990, but even they have their antecedents. The historical inspiration for copwatching has no doubt come from the practices of the Black Panther Party, though the Deacons for Defense and the NAACP branch in Monroe, North Carolina led by Robert F Williams had their own forms of armed intervention that was coupled with fighting the Klan and defending civil rights activists.
Continue reading Whither Copwatch?
One of the most militant strikes in the current crisis has been the occupation of Ssangyong Motors in South Korea.
The strike failed to win its main demand of no lay-offs, however, it blazed a light in a murky time of reactionary offensives by the rulers and defensiveness by the oppressed that characterizes much of the current moment. There is a lot that we can learn from these heroic auto-workers.
Loren Goldner, who was in South Korea during the occupation, has a comprehensive interview here about the strike.
Also, here is a summary of Goldner’s conclusions taken from the Libcom archive.
Ssangyong motors strike in South Korea ends in defeat and heavy repression
by Loren Goldner
The Ssangyong Motor Company strike and plant occupation in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, ended after 77 days on Aug. 5. For the 976 workers who seized the small auto plant on May 22 and held it against repeated quasi-military assault, the settlement signed by Ssangyong court receivership manager Park Young-tae and local union president Han Sang-kyun represented a near-total defeat. Worse still, the surrender was followed by detention and interrogation of dozens of strikers by police, possibly to be followed by felony charges, as well by a massive ($45 million) lawsuit against the Korean Metal Workers’ Union and probable further lawsuits against individual strikers for damages incurred during the strike. The hard-right Korean government of Lee Myong Bak is signaling with these measures—its latest and most dramatic “take no prisoners” victory over popular protest in the past year and a half– its intention to steamroller any potential future resistance to its unabashed rule on behalf of big capital.
The Ssangyong strike echoed in many ways the dynamic seen in the recent Visteon struggle in the UK and in battles over auto industry restructuring around the world. Involving, on the other hand, an outright factory seizure and occupation, and subsequent violent defense of the plant against the police, thugs and scabs, it was the first struggle of its kind in South Korea for years. Its defeat—one in a long series of defeats extending over years—does not bode well for future resistance.
Continue reading What can the Ssangyong strike in South Korea teach us?
Advance the Struggle has produced a very good assessment of the strategic and tactical debate inside the 9/24 walkout in California, and some key ideas and questions about where things need to go.
check it out.
“Some organizers at UC Berkeley stated that an occupation at that time would have been premature, and would not have advanced the anti-budget cut movement. It is defeatist and conservative to assert that an occupation would be “premature,” “out of place,” or “detrimental” to the movement. On the other hand, springing it on the general assembly by trying to lock down Wheeler Hall was straight-up reckless strategy……..Two days later at an anti-budget cut conference at SF State SUP was vilified by an alliance of Trotskyist groups, and other liberals, for being “undemocratic” for its perceived support of the failed occupation. This misconception was reconciled after a long discussion, but unfortunately obscured the real point of contention: the twin pitfalls of tailism (following behind proposals for petitions and legalistic protests) on the one hand, and adventurism (isolated militant action) on the other. Both of these approaches sidestep the political consciousness of the masses.”
“The strategic question faced is should there simply be legalistic mass protest in Sacramento, or can there be simultaneous “illegal” statewide shutdowns of numerous educational institutions and workplaces? Unions might engage in legal one-hour pickets, but union members should take this struggle into their own hands beyond the legalism of union politics. If a statewide strike is going to take place, we must think about what type of statewide organizational formation needs to exist for such a massive strike wave to take place. Politically, such a statewide network should see the bankruptcy of petitions, and of the general approach of petitioning power in a “respectable” and legalistic way. It should also not limit itself to advocating mass assemblies, but think a political step further about what to propose at mass assemblies in order to deepen the consciousness of the participants and advance the struggle.”