Discussing the economic crisis, austerity, and his advocacy of worker cooperatives, Richard Wolff has been getting a boost of attention with recent appearances on Democracy Now!, NPR and with Bill Moyer. But does Wolff represent an anti-capitalist perspective that those who believe in revolutionary social change can get excited about? My take is that while his views represents an important shift in public discourse there are some major weaknesses and in what he presents and which I hope to explore briefly. Continue reading
Note: Bringing this back with a revised version. This commentary piece was removed after the attacks by right-wing blog and media sites on Van Jones intensified and led up to Obama washing his hands of Jones with his resignation. Right-wing sites cited “left wing blogger Machete408” as further ‘proof’ of Obama’s undercover socialist credentials (read an actual socialist refute this total non-sense here). As for Jones’ himself, he’s likely made some major political transitions. A mentor of his touts the “pro-business, market-based ideas Van has promoted for years, including in his best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy.” (link) Though I think it’s fair to say that the tendency on the revolutionary left, Van Jones formerly included, which views alliances and involvement with the state and electoral politics—state power if you will— as a strategic orientation is alive and well. (See link, link, link and critique, critique) See also my follow up piece “On Van Jones’ Resignation.”
Did anyone catch the news that Van Jones of Green Jobs for All, and formerly of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland and a revolutionary organization in the Bay Area, was recently tapped by the Obama administration to serve as an advisor around green jobs? The position was officially dubbed the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, that is before Obama accepted Jones’ resignation following attacks by the right-wing blogosphere and Glen Beck on his radical past.
I’ll get back to that in a minute. I was having a conversation with a friend the other night about the legacy of sixties revolutionaries and Marxists who attempted to “proletarianize” themselves or as some called it “colonize the working class.” Many of these radicals, who were largely from more middle-class backgrounds and college graduates (or those who after becoming radicalized dropped out of college), got jobs in factories and various industries with the goal of bringing the messages of socialism and revolutionary politics to the working class. (For more on this see Max Elbaum’s excellent history of the sixties communist left with Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Che and Mao) Many of them also became active in the unions at these workplace, whom were largely conservative bureaucracies if not outright reactionary. Continue reading
Filed under: current events, Left Organizations, the left, Uncategorized | Tagged: Labor, Max Elbaum, radicals, Revolution in the Air, Standing Together to Organize Revolutionary Movements, unions, Van Jones | 2 Comments »
Once again San Jose led the Bay Area with the largest protest in Northern California for May 1, 2009. While poor weather and swine flu scares turned many would-be marches away, many saw this years May Day immigrant rights march as the most spirited and significant since the massive march of 2006 when nearly 100,000 swelled the streets.
The day had a marked difference from previous the marches coming after 2006, as this year many of the more institutional organizations took a major step back in their involvement. Reflecting on this is New American Media and Silicon Valley De-Bug commentator Raj Jayadev who wrote “The irony was that in an effort to reclaim that spirit of spontaneity that defined the 2006 march, every effort made by the large institutional organizations seemed more contrived and predictable [in the 2007 and 2008 marches].” He also gives his thoughts on the sense of fighting to win that was present with participants. (link)
To get a feel for the march, or maybe just to relive the the moment if you were there, check De-Bug’s video interviews of participants and photospread of the march here. One thing to note that I’ve heard from a couple of places is that in the media coverage of the march and the comments and signs of participants, there is a much higher emphisis on May Day, International Worker’s Day and worker issues than there an been in the past. Though of course the emphasis on immigrant rights has not been lost at all. A positive development without a doubt.
Check out Pierce Artwork for an amazing and original collection of worker and labor related comics (featured above). A member of the IWW, Pierce offers a fresh, radical and often times subtly hilarous approach to themes relating to working class power. Comics are in English and Spanish as well as other languages.
Speaking of labor, my recently posted “Outline of US Labor History with a Focus on the Role of the Left” has been updated and expanded. The piece attempts to periodize the labor movement by decade, important organizations and broad trends. A particular focus is given on the role of the left and left organizations.
“The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday defeated a plan to spare hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure through bankruptcy, a proposal that President Barack Obama embraced but did little to push through. … Obama had said [the proposal] was important to saving the economy and promised to push [it] through Congress. But facing stiff opposition from banks, Obama did little to pressure lawmakers who worried it would encourage bankruptcy filings and spike interest rates.” (Mercury News, May 1, 2009 link).
Meanwhile real estate agents have a “Repo Tour Home” service- a bus that drives potential clients around town to view recently reposessed homes- such as the one pictured above in Stockton, CA.
If you’ve had enough of the swine flu hysteria that has been gripping the media you’ll be glad to know that they seem to be shifting over to a fire burning the mansions of rich people in Santa Barbara and Obama and Biden’s lunch outings. But if you’re still hoping to laugh it off, you should try these videos: The new Swinewow super absorbent towel on Jimmy Kimmel Live and “La cancion del gripe marrano,” a song and dance video by a group of Mexico City musicians. English subtitles included.
Filed under: Humor, Labor, organizing, Reflection, The Movement | Tagged: Central Valley, comics, foreclosure, immigrant rights, Immigration movement, international workers day, La Cancion del Gripe Marrano, Labor, May Day, Obama, Repo Home Tour, San Jose, Silicon Valley De-Bug, Stockton, swine flu, Swine wow, workers | 1 Comment »
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
I love Lynd’s radical and critical perspective on the proposals that people are floating for the labor movement. On reform efforts he says: “Current efforts to revive the labor movement in the U.S. define their objectives so narrowly, that even if successful, they would not change anything fundamental.” Beautiful!
The 2nd half gets into debates on labor history, but it is exactly on point: everybody is waiting for a leader, but it is the bottom up organzing with a radical vision that moves change.
Another World Is Possible
Staughton Lynd lectures to Missippissi Freedom School teachers.
By Staughton Lynd
WORKING USA – March 2008
What is the problem? What needs to be set right? The
mother of all wrong solutions is card-check voting,
which would give more access to unorganized workers for
the same top-down unions, with the same
unaccountability to the membership because of the dues
checkoff, with the same ever-readiness to give up the
right to strike. Equally misguided in my view is the
notion that Taft-Hartley represented a decisive turning
point and that its repeal would release the original
pristine impulse of the Congress of Industrial
Organizations to flower again. All major trade union
leaders beginning with John L. Lewis have devised means
whereby workers would give up the right to collective
self-activity embodied in Section 7 in exchange for a
mess of pottage. So we, labor lawyers and labor
historians, can only begin to be useful when we forego
our endless apologies for the latest hoped-for
“progressive” union leader. Our task is to envision an
institutional” “embodiment of the class self-activity
discovered and imagined by E.P. Thompson and colleagues
and partially realized by the IWW in work that
desperately needs updating.”
The new worldwide movement against “globalization,”
meaning, U.S. imperialism, and for a better day, has
come up with a defining slogan: Another World Is
Possible. The words remind us that a social movement is
unlikely to bring about what it does not even try to
achieve. Current efforts to revive the labor movement
in the U.S. define their objectives so narrowly, that
even if successful, they would not change anything