Learning from Our Mistakes: IWWs Criticize and Reflect on Their Organizing

Mobile Rail workers marching the picket line on strike outside of Chicago.

Mobile Rail workers marching the picket line on strike outside of Chicago. August 2013.

The other day a friend posted a question along the lines of “The IWW seems to put out a lot of criticism of other union’s organizing, but it doesn’t seem like they are willing to criticize their own organizing publicly.” I thought that would be a fair point- if it was true of course.

There’s actually a pretty robust level of discussion in the IWW around the failures, victories and the organizing models the IWW uses. Naturally not every member is engaged with these discussion and as well some of that discussion takes place in internal forums. For instance in Portland members circulate a booklet called “Learning from our mistakes” that discusses their campaigns and their pitfalls but this would be an example of something not circulated publicly.

But most important is that these criticisms have helped shaped and evolved the IWW’s model of organizing. As well many in the IWW see this as contributing towards a working class intellectual culture- one where shop floor organizers and participants in the organizing are creating the lessons from their experience instead of relying on professional thinkers and academics to do this work for us.

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Relaunch and Recommended Readings

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Machete 408 is back serving you up with a new series of postings after a summer hiatus. A continuing state of joblessness and downgrading to a slower internet connection both put a bit of a damper on the political juices that went into the blog. But despite these, there’s a nice backlog of recently published pieces that I hope Machete 408 readers will check out. Below is a collage of recommended and recently published articles and commentaries.

Did anyone notice a coup happening somewhere? Writing on the recent coup in Honduras, Jose Antonio Gutierrez of Ireland’s Worker Solidarity Movement (WSM) as well as the Frente de estudiantes Libertarios (FeL) in Chile, provides analysis with “Coup in Honduras: The Return of Guerillas or the Tactics of Attrition?.” Also is a piece on the potential of the recent popular uprising in Iran in response to stolen elections. “The Iranian Election, A ‘Legacy of Martyred Flowers’” is by Farah, an Iranian whom is also a member of the WSM. Both pieces appear on the Anarkismo international anarchist news and publishing site and Farah’s is followed by a lively debate in the comments section.

Looking at a global trend is “Workers Creating Hope: Factory Occupations and Self-Management” by Shawn Hattingh from Monthly Review Zine, which gives a brief overview of the growing factory and workplace occupations around the globe. The piece concludes, “The actions of these workers [involved in occupations] are inspirational. It seems likely that more and more workers will begin adopting and adapting the idea of factory occupations as a viable way to save jobs and reclaim the dignity that bosses have tried to take away from them. Perhaps what we are also seeing through the occupations, takeovers, and self-management is a glimpse of what a post-capitalist world, created by the workers and the poor themselves, would look like.”

Justice for Oscar Grant: A Lost Opportunity? On the movement and political analysis tip is the Advance the Struggle blog, founded earlier this year and written by Bay Area writers influenced by various strains of Marxism. Of interest are several pieces debating the movement that surrounded the killing of Black, 22 year old Oakland resident, Oscar Grant at a BART station on New Years Day 2009. Included is three pieces. “Unfinished Acts” is an insurrectionary anarchist piece created in the format of a composite narrative play; “Justice for Oscar Grant: A Missed Opportunity?” is a solid piece with excellent critical analysis of both the role of the RCP and the non-profit dominated CAPE coalition that led much of the community response; and “Bring the Struggle, Advance the Ruckus” a response to “Missed Opportunity” by Oakland members of the revolutionary group Bring The Ruckus is also worthwhile as well. I won’t link the pieces individually, instead you should go to their blog and find them.

For all those in the labor movement disillusioned with the lack of passage of EFCA (suprise, suprise) is the article “Introducing the Employee Liberation Act” by Daniel Gross of the IWW. There is much to be critical about of the EFCA (See the Machete 408 piece on EFCA here), but what Gross provides us with is a total rethinking of what ails the labor movement and what changes in the legal arena might actually allow for advances by workers instead of card check recognition. Its a bit of a wish list, but what he proposes is a three pronged bill that would: 1) Make discrimination against organizing in the workplace on par with federal civil rights protections around race and gender discrimination. This would make worker rights a recognized civil right as it should; 2) End the second class, modern Jim Crow status of undocumented immigrants in workplace across the US; and 3) Eliminate legal barriers and restrictions on strikes, which would unleash worker’s most powerful weapons against the power of bosses: that of solidarity and the ability to bring profits to a halt.

On an uplifting note is an AK Press blog picture report on the 2nd Annual LA Southern California Anarchist Conference, with nice shots of the jewlery, cultural and publishing vendors, as well as some of the performers and presenters for the event.

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Finally, on the anarchist political organization theory front we have the long awaited English translation of “Huerta Grande” by a good comrade at The Left Winger blog. The 1972 piece is considered a seminal theoretical text of the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU), which played a leading role in spawning the especifist current within the South American anarchist movement. Also be sure to read this “quick and dirty rought history piece” on the FAU for background and context.

As well, we have a recent translation of South American Anarchist philosopher Angel Cappelletti (1927-1995) posted on the AK Press Blog “Revolution by the Book.” Cappelletti was born in Argentina and spent the later half of his life in Venezuela, becoming a key intellectual figure in the libertarian left, authoring several works on philosophy, anarchism and Latin America. Supporters have recently created a Spanish language archive site of his work. And last but not least is another piece from Jose Antonio Gutierrez, who again offers us some worthwhile thoughts, but this time on strategy and the role of anarchist organization with his Considerations About the Anarchist Program. Here’s an excerpt:

The essence of the Platform is how to build an organisation that unites like-minded anarchists based on concrete proposals and tactics – that is, a “political organisation” as opposed to what is a purely ideological group. In this tradition, it is perfectly fair that we ask ourselves how many of our organisations, leaving aside any pretensions, have actually managed to reach the level of development of a political organisation. At present, the majority of these groupings are only propaganda groups. The principle difference between a political organisation and a propaganda group is not its number of militants nor its level of militancy, nor even the political insertion of its members. The principle difference is the simple answer to the question: what can we offer the people? While propaganda groups can not offer more than a political and ideological vision and, in the best cases, a few slogans, the revolutionary political organisation can offer a course of action; a programme; a tactical line; a strategy; short-, medium- and long-term objectives.

What’s Interesting in Upping the Anti #9

uta_8_final_cover.jpg picture by adam_freedom  Upping the Anti out of Toronto, Canada is perhaps the hottest and best radical left theory/movement journal since it first began publication in late 2005. Releasing its eighth issue as of May 2009, the journal has provided a steady content of articles, interviews, reviews and topic based roundtables by and with movement activists and organizers on the radical left.

  With the tag line “a journal of theory and action” the journal leans towards the more academic side. But unlike some of the more dense and long running left journals (Monthly Review comes to mind), the editorial collective and contributors are nearly all folks engaged in struggle and much of the theory and discussion comes directly out of movement organizing work. It’s not another left journal for radical college professors, but for folks in the movement trying to grapple with many of the difficult issues and conversations that those seeking to create revolutionary change should be. Perspective wise they maintain a pluralistic and non-party stance combined with anti-capitalism, anti-imperialist and anti-oppression politics (the three antis as they call them). Read reviews of issues #3 here and issues #2 and #3 here.

  With this issue UTA brings us an interview “Contour of the Crisis” with three political economy instructors at York University in Toronto on the realities and opportunities for the left in the current financial meltdown (discussed above);  “Movements Where People Can Grow” is an interview/discussuion with Helen Hudson (who among other groups is a board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, see their new spiffy website here) with her thoughts on building long-term and sustainable movements; a roundtable with former activists of SLAM (Student Liberation Action Movement, audio archive here) active in opposing tuition increases in the New York public university system in the 1990’s and discussing their strong leadership from women of color; and another roundtable with members of various study groups/circles taken up by radicals in a number of cities.

Helen_Keller.jpg picture by adam_freedom Also, here’s a quote from the back cover of this issue that warms my heart from Helen Kellar, the advocate for the blind. Often left out of history is her radical politics as an anarchist and member of the IWW.

  Capitalism will inevitably find itself face to face with a starving multitude of unemployed workers demanding food or destruction of the social order that has starved them and robbed them of their jobs. in such a crisis the capitalism class cannot save itself… Its police and armies will be powerless to put down the revolt. (1918)

  Here is also a quote on how she first moved towards radical politics from her Wikipedia entry…

   I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame [referring to prostitution and syphilis] that ended in blindness.

Outline of US Labor History with a Focus on the Role of the Left

nyiwwpicket.jpg picture by adam_freedom
UPDATED and EXPANDED May 6, 2009. Below is a rough outline of the US labor movement that I created as part of a presentation. I’m attempting to periodize by decade, important organizations and broad trends. A particular focus I attempt to also give is looking at the changing relationship of the left within the labor movement. -AW

Outline of US Labor History with a Focus on the Role of the Left

· Colonial through Pre-Civil War Period– indentured servants, sailors and slaves organize minor labor protests and rebellions, and local level proto-union organizations. Some of these efforts included both white indentured servants and slaves cooperating together. Fearful elites grant privileges to whites servants and enshrined a harsh system of chattel slavery for Africans such as through the Naturalization Act of 1790 which granted citizenship only to “free white persons.” Also during this period sexual division of labor would produce laws, culture and practices of unpaid work for girls and women that would last for centuries.

· Race and Labor- Race plays a key role in US labor history whereas early white servants and later workers were granted privileges, access to land, and the right to vote (far before male suffrage was granted in most western countries). Leading into the Civil War period, many white workers cling to the ideology of “free labor,” seeing themselves as free whites and wanting to return to an imagined golden era of artisans, small farmers and shop keepers which they hold in contrast to unfree, slavish and permanently proletarianized workers of color. Because of this, much of the history of unionism has been of white, skilled male workers (though the definition of who was considered white changed over time to incorporate various European immigrants such as Germans, Irish, Eastern Europeans, etc) protecting their privileges against the unskilled, women and non-white workers. Also a much smaller current of homespun labor radicalism emerges, which is sometimes called a “proto-marxism” by historians.

Civil War is a defining conflict in US history over what type of labor system the country will have with Northern elites eventually imposing free labor in contrast to Southern plantation owners who wished to maintain race-based chattel slavery. Following the collapse of Reconstruction after Civil War, white elites impose the laws and customs associated with Jim Crow that creates an apartheid system that lastes into the 1960’s and making blacks the most exploited segment of workers. Laws created across the country during the Jim Crow era, such as for vagrancy, apply for all poor and non-white.      Continue reading

Howard the Coward: The Day My Boss Ran Away

biz_starbucks.jpg picture by adam_freedom

 

  Imagine if you worked for a huge corporation making crumbs and you had the chance to confront the CEO of your company?  What would you say to the man in charge who had been thwarting your every attempt to organize a union to demand better pay and justice on the job?

 

  Well one member of the Starbucks Union of the IWW had a chance to do that- and the boss simply ran away. Its a great story captured in the below blog post and one that has been widely popular among retail and services workers across the internet. Starbucks of course mysteriously laid off this worker two weeks later, (read the follow up story here) but of course union members are fighting this through organizing and legal action and the incident will likely become one more black eye to the image of Starbucks.      -AW

Howard the Coward: The Day My Boss Ran Away

by Joe Tessone

03/03/09- The time is 8:55 AM, 5 minutes before my alarm clock was supposed to sound I am awoken by a text message which says that Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO and #1 union buster, is having a press conference at the Oak and Rush Starbucks location. I jump out of bed, get dressed, and haul downtown. By the time I get there, the news cameras are gone. I look around and there he is sitting behind a merchandise wall in an interview with a few reporters. I order an Iced Tall Passion Tea… no need for caffeine, I’m fired up.

My old District Manager is in the cafe greeting customers and she asks me why I’m there. “Just getting a drink,” I respond. She then proceeds to make a call on her cell phone, obviously calling upper management. After I get my beverage, I find a seat, set my bag down, and I approach him.

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Stockton Truckers Call Out the Industry with 400 on Strike

Stockton Truckers Call Out the Industry with 400 on Strike

From May 2008 Industrial Worker, newspaper of the IWW

By: J. Pierce with Adam W.

Independent truckers in California’s San Joaquin Valley shut down their rigs on Friday, May 2nd declaring an open-ended strike. At $4.80 a gallon, sky-rocketing diesel prices top the list of grievances. As their main demand, drivers insist on doubling the rates paid for hauling a container. The second biggest demand is a fuel surcharge of upwards of 55%. The brokers currently pay surcharges varying from 30-40%. If drivers can keep the trucking bosses from stealing it, the increased surcharge would help place the burden back on those who can afford it.

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