I.W.W. Advice to Occupy Oakland

It’s quite an exercise in arrogance when the Little Union that Can’t (Industrial Workers of the World) wants to dole out advice to the most popular and dynamic social movement we’ve seen in decades. This article, written by John Reimann of the San Francisco Bay area general membership branch of the I.W.W. illustrates just how out of touch the Wobblies are. This is, after all, a union that after over a century of organizing has approximately 2,000 dues paying members. Reimann specifically complains about the lack of worker participation in the port shutdowns on the West Coast and the need to “make a drive into the work places,” something the Wobblies have been doing unsuccessfully for over a century. As questionable as all that is, what really got me was the list of demands:

  • A guaranteed job for everybody who wants one and a $15 per hour minimum wage.
  • A mass union organizing campaign to win union rights for all workers.
  • No concessions, no concessionary contracts; the unions must fight for their members with mass pickets, work place occupations, etc.
  • Socialized medical care.
  • No support, including union support, for any wing of the Democratic (or Republican) Party
  • Mass funding for clean, safe, renewable energy sources.
  • Stop all evictions and foreclosures through mass action.
  • A mass, publicly financed and run home building program – affordable housing for all.
  • Put the banks and finance capital under public ownership.
  • Link up the Occupy movement nationally and internationally.
  • For a society whose production is based on social need, not corporate profits.

From the union which claims to want to abolish the wage system we have the rather strange idea of a “guaranteed job” at a wage of $15 per hour. I suppose slaves had guaranteed jobs. But this entire laundry list of demands seems to illustrate just how out of touch the Wobblies are. Take the demand to finance and run a home building program, for instance. Why on earth would we do that in a country with nearly 18.5 million vacant homes and only about 3.5 million homeless? We don’t need to build more homes. We need to get people into the homes that have already been built and find uses for the rest of the millions of empty structures. The notion that we need to link up the Occupy movements is nonsense. The Occupy movements are linked up and working together all the time. In fact, the Port Shutdown was a great example of this where we had Occupies up and down the West Coast participating and lots of solidarity actions across the country including here in New York where we staged demonstrations against Goldman Sachs. No concessions sounds good, but you have to be able to exert real power in order for that to happen; and at this point our unions just don’t have that kind of strength. A mass union organizing campaign sounds great, but what would it matter in a nation where labor laws–and laws in general– are routinely ignored as a cost of doing business?

Lastly, Reimann really surprised by actually questioning the leaderless nature of this movement:

One other issue should be considered: Officially, Occupy Oakland has no leadership. We all know this is not really true….Either a leadership will be elected by Occupy Oakland and its role and policies defined, or it will be self-appointed and will tend to do what it wants.

We all know this is true? I certainly don’t know this; and I think thousands of folks who have participated in this movement can vouch for that; it’ is, in fact, the leaderless, horizontal structure that is so appealing to people. This from the little union that prides itself on having no leaders and striving toward a world with no bosses. And yet this really does illustrate just how broken the I.W.W. really is, because while they officially talk about abolishing the wage system and have a horizontal, leaderless union, the reality is much different with routine calls for various wage reform ideas spouted by leaders within the union. This article illustrates not only how out of touch the Wobblies are with the Occupy Movement as a whole, but how far they have strayed from the basic tenets of their own union.

Wisconsin unions have a choice: militancy or death

Wisconsin unions can now either give it all they’ve got, or they’re done for.

Right now, after Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Senate Republicans have pushed through this step in the decades-long corporate assault on labor, the unions really have their backs against a wall.  Membership has declined, manufacturing has gone oversees, the national Democratic Party has abandoned them, and the cancer of the corporation has metastasized over not just government, but society.  If the unions don’t rediscover their past, if they don’t turn around their more recent history of capitulation and infighting, they’ll die soon enough anyway.  It’s their choice:  militancy or death.

At solidarity rallies and on blogs and in Madison itself, people are fond of saying that because of the unions we have weekends and eight hour workdays, and we don’t have child labor, and so on.  And they’re 100 percent right.  Most of the greatest gains of labor came in the early 20th century, when they knew that it wasn’t the Democrats who they must support, but themselves, and when militants like the Wobblies would come out by the hundreds of thousands, and solidarity meant putting your body in the way of the bosses, not just signing an online petition.

Now, I’m no labor historian, and I’m not even a union member, and ultimately the people of Wisconsin must be the ones to decide what to do.  This is a suggestion, friendly and urgent.  But I do believe in that great maxim of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a fight.”  And man, has it been great to see labor get back some of its fighting spirit in the past few weeks!  But, to quote another great dissident, Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Many people in leadership positions in the labor movement – and this has been seen in the environmental movement, civil libertarian groups, and generally in politics, this is not an attack – since its heyday have been too quick to place their own well-being over the well-being of the movement.  That either has to end or these leaders must realize that, in the long term, those two goals are one and the same.

Scott Walker’s attack on labor has, for the moment, been successful.  It is just one more nail in the coffin of the movement.  It is one more step to complete domination for the corporate bosses.  And so, given that situation, the unions can either choose to give half-hearted resistance or to go all-out.

What would militant resistance look like?  Perhaps a general strike.  Many people in Wisconsin, including labor leaders, have been talking about it and some have officially endorsed the idea.  Whatever form it comes in, it is sorely needed.  Not just for Wisconsin, but for anyone who is not in the top of the economic pyramid.

The unions could fight and lose.  But if they don’t fight, if they don’t give it their all, they will surely lose.

What is the Left’s back-up plan if unions don’t come roaring back?

Andrew Sullivan asks the question, quoting from The Economist

Which brings me to my question for progressives. Supposing that Mr Walker and not the SEIU is the vanguard of history—supposing that America is headed toward the stable non-union equilibrium—what is the next-best scenario from a progressive perspective? What is the answer if resurgent unionism is not? Is there one? I hear plenty of progressive rhetoric to the effect that only a rehabilitated union movement can save America from plutocracy and middle-class stagnation, but my sense is that this is a lot like conservative rhetoric to the effect that only a return to constitutional principles will save America from sclerotic socialist decline. Do progressives, like their conservative counterparts, really believe their own hype?

Many socialists and communists certainly believe it, and that’s where progressives got their idea about One Big Union from, even if they aren’t aware of it. But the glory days of unions in the US were decades ago and aren’t coming back. Unions today can be as corrupt as the corporate interests they supposedly oppose and their power has been greatly reduced by the ability of companies to simply move their places of production elsewhere. Companies are transnational, unions are not. Deal with it. Yet you can still hear some lefties wheezing like it’s 1935 and millions of workers are in the streets. This, quite simply, is wishful thinking. The fightback in the US when it comes (and it will) won’t be so much from organized labor but from something like what we are seeing in MENA (Middle East North Africa) now, a totally unexpected upsurge seemingly out of nowhere.

The root causes of the current rebellions were there for years if not decades. But then something triggered the explosion. They aren’t led by ideologues or those with a predetermined political agenda. It’s much more amorphous than that, and invents itself as it goes. Lefties who continually look for the revolution to come from unions or from their doctrinaire conception of what the working class is will completely miss a populist upsurge like we are seeing now in MENA and won’t understand it when does happens.

Populism is breaking out all over the Middle East. People are tired of being robbed and abused by a tiny elite. Populism is not socialist or communist, although it has the same target. It’s doesn’t have specified politics when it starts – that comes later. That’s what we’re seeing in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya – outbreaks of populism.

Populism is where the left needs to be. Forget unions. Focus on populism. For one thing, populism can go either way politically and if the left isn’t there it will go right by default.

Labor’s obligation and opportunity: Philly organizer challenges unions to rally around Greens

In an open letter to the leaders of the Philadelphia labor movement, the young and energetic organizer for UFCW Local 152 Hugh Giordano has challenged the city’s unions to have the courage to support the Green Party.  Giordano ran an exceptionally strong campaign as a Green for state legislature this year, which I wrote about for Polizeros here, in which he raised almost $30,000 and got over 18 percent of the vote in a three way race, getting support from Republicans, Democrats, independents, and even some Tea Partiers along the way. Â Now he’s working (with many other people) to spread the message of honest government, workers’ rights, and a clean environment, among other things, to the rest of Philadelphia.

As the members of the party, which I am aiding in every way I can, build the organization to run candidates in 2011 local elections, Giordano has seized the opportunity make the area’s union leadership reconsider the popular path of supporting corporate Democrats.  In his words, “Why are we, the strong men and women of the labor movement, bowing down to the corporate bosses and politicians…Union brothers and sisters, when any one of us becomes ‘fearful’ or ‘controlled’ by a political party – it’s time to step down and pass the torch on.”

The full letter is printed, with Hugh Giordano’s permission, below.

What We, As Labor Leaders, Must Do!

Dear Union Brothers and Sisters,

This letter is more of a “cry for action” rather than just an informational or ideological statement or platform. It is meant to be serious and intense, and I hope you take this letter in that form! This letter is being sent to as many union brothers and sisters as possible.

I have been involved in the labor movement now for about ten years, from non-union worker/union activist, to member, and officially becoming a union representative for UFCW Local 152. I have been a part of every aspect of the union movement, and now I must take the next step – Labor leader.

What do I mean by leader? Being a leader does not mean having the title of Business Manager or President of a local. It means standing up and saying what needs to be said against the status quo. There were numerous forms of this leadership before me, and their will be numerous ones after me – but I am worried about what is happening in today’s present labor environment.

Many of you might have heard about me in my run for State Representative as an Independent with the Green Party, and I am proud of that decision. I ended up getting the highest vote of any third party in Philadelphia and I am pretty sure I received the highest in a three way race. This is what needs to be done! I did this using basic union organizing skills and having a handful of unions behind me. Imagine what would have happened if I had all of the Philadelphia unions behind me?

Why do we support the Democrats and Republicans when all they do is take our money, use our man power, and then leave us out to dry? Why do we support CEO’s, corporate consultants, and corporate attorneys, when 365 days of the year when they are not running for office, they are fighting unions, breaking labor laws, and spreading their greed? But all of a sudden when they run for office as a ‘Democrat”, they have changed their ways? This just proves that the Democrats are as corporate as the Republicans.

Continue reading “Labor’s obligation and opportunity: Philly organizer challenges unions to rally around Greens”

Nonviolence does not equal complacency

I went to a protest in Philadelphia this past Saturday, and it was more disheartening than anything else.  It was against the wars and various other injustices, with a special focus on he recent FBI raids of peace activists and Pennsylvania Homeland Security spying on innocent civilians and activists.

By the end of it, I kind of just felt like going up to the megaphone and asking, “How much moral outrage can one person muster?  There are more people handing out fliers here than not, and with this country committing so many disgusting, outrageous acts, I don’t blame you.”  I won’t lie, I handed a few out myself.  Yet the contrast between the righteous causes featured in the speeches and on the signs and on the fliers and the, as a fellow protester said to me, “complete lack of solidarity” was striking.

However, I don’t believe that we should stop protesting or that we need to find another way to be activists (although protesting is by no means the only way to be an activist).  Old fashioned protests have always worked and they will continue to work.  But what I went to Saturday – and it is similar to many other antiwar protests I’ve been to, and I’m sure it’s similar to many other demonstrations by progressives, socialists, and the like – was too lethargic, too focused on recruiting for outside groups (like the ANSWER Coalition, as Bob has focused on before), and too passive to do anything other than serve as a large meeting for peace supporters.

The only thing we shut down was part of a bike lane and half a road in the business district of Philadelphia.  No one really cared, although we got some positive honks from drivers and some of them were probably annoyed.  Maybe that could be the antiwar movement’s new slogan:  “We’ll slightly inconvenience you until the wars, the empire, the torture, the spying, the ecological destruction, and the general disrespect toward life is over!”

When I got home, I saw this video on the blog Docudharma, which just compounded my feelings:

In France, the nation is being shut down.  Why?  Because the retirement age could be raised by two years.  Even then, it would still be three years younger than what it is in America!  Not to mention, similar protests are happening all over Europe.

In the comments at Docudharma, I said something similar to what I’m saying here, and I got a good reply, from user Activist Guy.  You can read the whole thing here, but basically he said screw the permit or march at night and bang on pots and pans or go through neighborhoods where this affects people instead of the business district.  And he’s right.  The protests in Europe are, for the most part, nonviolent.  Yet they are incredibly effective because of their numbers and their tactics.

For now, the antiwar movement doesn’t have numbers.  Neither do most movements, because we’ve become a very passive nation.  So we must utilize the numbers we do have, whether through coordinated civil disobedience (not just getting arrested for show, but actually affecting others’ lives, by doing things like blocking off streets without permission) or well-organized protests that emulate groups such as  the militant Wobblies, who utilized their small numbers incredibly effectively.  In any case, we’ve got to get the energy back.  That is what will bring people into the movements, and show them that the alternative to the failure of Washington is not copping out and becoming even more passive, but taking politics into their own hands.

By the way, this is my first post on PoliZeros, and I just want to thank Bob Morris for letting me write here.  I’ve been reading his blog for a bit of time now and I’ve always enjoyed it.  It’s one of the more thoughtful and open political blogs on the web, and I’m proud to now be adding to that.