Category Archives: Writings

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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Building a Solidarity Network in Houston

*This post reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Southwest Defense Network as a whole*

Last October, a handful of Unity & Struggle members living in Houston, TX, together with other Houston-based organizers, started a solidarity network, the Southwest Defense Network (SWDN). [1] Since then our work has grown and we have been learning a lot about the economic and political dynamics in the city.

In many ways, Texas (and the South in general) represents a future that the rest of the country is rapidly headed towards. At the same time, the contradictions grow sharper every day, representing a potential for offensive struggles among the working class that have not been seen in other parts of the country in decades. This post is an attempt to pull together an objective picture of what’s happening with the working class in Houston, specifically in the area we are working, and to lay out some of the strategic reasons why we have chosen this as one organizing project among others.

What follows are some basic background notes on the situation that are intended to lay the groundwork for future thinking about the strategic and tactical issues that will be raised in this work.

WELCOME TO HOUSTON, TX

According to most economic reports, Texas is a booming state, among the top in terms of job creation. It has an unemployment level that has consistently been lower than the national average. It is home to some of the most profitable national and multinational corporations. The number of new businesses relocating to or setting up shop in Texas is growing rapidly. It is a vital hub in the manufacture, import/export, warehousing and distribution of commodities. For the last decade, exports from Texas have grown at a faster pace than the rest of the country (its top export markets being Mexico, Canada, China and Brazil). [2]

The population of the state has exploded, growing by over 20% in the last decade alone. The city of Houston has grown by over 1 million people in that same period. Growth among communities of color fuels almost 90% of the state’s growth, and the majority of that is among Latinos. [3] Texas has the 2nd highest overall birth rate in the country but this growth is also happening due to a massive wave of immigration from other U.S. cities and other countries. Between 2000-2010, Harris County (in which Houston is located) had the largest absolute growth of immigrants compared to all other U.S. counties. [4] The majority (61%) came from Central America, with sizable numbers also coming from the Middle East, South/Southeast Asia and Africa.
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On Direct Democracy

Democracy has two contradictory meanings today: the justification of existing and aspiring states and ruling classes versus a tradition of revolutionary popular liberation. The extension of this second tradition is the future of the world in which we live. This vision of self-governance has always been held in contempt by elites everywhere who mask themselves in the language of freedom while simultaneously attempting to crush its expression and manifestation.

We believe in direct democracy. We believe everyday people can and must govern themselves. This means popular self-management through a federation of popular councils and committees where decisions are made and executed on matters of economic planning, judicial, military and cultural affairs. This is not only the best way we can imagine a more free society but also a historic necessity.

We recognize there will never be one utopian moment in history. However, direct democracy is the most ideal and pragmatic vision at this juncture where working and oppressed peoples can truly take their destiny into their own hands.  The historic necessity of everyday people truly governing themselves is by no means new. We have a long and proud tradition. From ancient Athens to the Hungarian people resisting Soviet totalitarianism; from the Nuer people of Sudan and the Igbo people of Nigeria to the popular committees of the Spanish Civil War; from the Diggers and Levellers in the English Revolution to the Shanghai Commune in the Chinese Revolution; from workers self-management in Algeria to the many French Revolutions; from the liberated zones of the Zapatistas in Mexico to the historic general strikes of Argentina, Brazil, Jamaica and Trinidad; from the popular committees in the Palestinian Intifada to the Anabaptists of medieval Europe, and the historic Maroon communities of these Americas; from the rebellions of the American Revolution and Native Americans against colonialism to the dual power of Reconstruction; from the copwatchs of the Black Panther movement to the CIO labor strikes and organizing drives. We see that people have always been trying to extend their freedom in the face of those who would try and reduce them from equals to appendages of profit and property; from those who would govern themselves in fraternity to those who would be governed.  Even when hurricanes and tornadoes hit and rivers overflow, or political disasters of terror in Oklahoma and New York strike, whether state sponsored or by authoritarians from below, we see that everyday people can manage their economy and provide for each others welfare and security.
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