Tag Archives: IWW

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.

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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

Book Review: Lines of Work

by JF

In the introduction to Lines of Work (Black Cat Press 2014), Scott Nappalos places the volume of first-person workplace testimonials, many familiar to readers of Recomposition blog and some previously unpublished, in the tradition of the Johnson Forest Tendency and Stan Weir, whose mid-century accounts of American work located, rather triumphantly, the seeds of a future society in the cooperative productive relations of the present. “Working class experiences of story telling” Nappalos writes “have not been taken seriously enough among those of us who try to organize and build a better society.” And it is not simply the circumstances depicted in Lines of Work which nurture and develop class consciousness, Nappalos maintains, but the experience of story telling itself, and I would add, the experience of reading such captivating stories of everyday hardship, struggle, and above all, faith in the liberatory potential of the working class, no matter how concealed beneath its daily debasement.

From the reader’s standpoint, it is an emotional experience to read these earnest and often unpolished accounts, from such disparate fields as nursing, finance, education, the supposedly extinct North American factory, day labor, and predictably enough, a healthy dose of service work. The pervasive pathos is one of fatigue, bitterness, anger, and oftentimes desperation. Though the authors are primarily politicos ideologically dedicated to workplace organizing, most of the low end jobs, including the worst paying and least rewarding, and almost always in small shops, seem taken out of economic necessity instead of any overarching organizational strategy. The predictable grumbling of Paul Mason’s “graduate with no future” is matched in intensity by the grumbling of stomaches underfed and over-caffeinated. Most notably, a contributor named The Invisible Man, a déclassé college graduate driven to low wage factory work and day labor, plumbs this abject position in a nuanced handling of class, race, and nationality in Canadian society, demonstrating simultaneously the importance of a racial analysis to workplace struggles, and the limits of solidarity based on race and nationality.

On the higher end of the job spectrum, in traditional middle-class bulwarks such a nursing, teaching, and “white collar” office work, the comparatively higher wages bring along endless days of overwork, debilitating stress, and sleep deprivation sufficient to find one dozing off behind the wheel, like P. Barbanegra, whose “Who Dismisses the Teacher?” is a must read for radicals seeking meaningful work in education. And throughout all jobs, the daily perils of sexual harassment, bullying, precarity, time theft, the forfeiture of youth to wage labor, all of which are, on top of it all, met with no little or no mass resistance, are voiced with a sense of despair difficult to exaggerate. When mounted, struggles are isolated, piecemeal, and not the stuff of the labor history their initiators no doubt came up on. Minor victories are briefly savored, as they must be, before the sobering reality of the struggles to be waged kicks in, and often the pink slip is not far behind.

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