Industrial Worker Wobbly News and Views Wed, 19 Oct 2016 19:16:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Social War in France Mon, 22 Aug 2016 03:32:20 +0000 Read More]]> By the French CNT International Secretariat’s European Workgroup

To understand the present struggle, we find it useful to identify the ingredients contributing to the explosion of a social war that has been sweeping the country in wave after wave of popular protests.

Ingredient number 1: Instill a Little Fear

The day after the November 2015 attacks in Paris by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the French government decreed a nationwide state of emergency. First used in 1955 following the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) attacks on mainland France, these “special powers” were revived in 2005 under the presidency of Jacques Chirac in the context of widespread rioting over the accidental electrocution of two youngsters pursued by the police. It seemed at the time a civil war might start between poor, suburban, immigrant communities and the French middle classes, but curfews and the dream of the “suburban vote” in subsequent elections put an end to that notion.

The new security measures include the militarization of local police forces, the multiplication of people placed under police custody, increased military presence, searches and arrests night and day (without the need for a warrant), and a recent attempt to stifle social protest by banning demonstrations opposing la Loi Travail—labor reform legislation. This latter attack showed us how weak and isolated the state has now become, as its efforts to stop the people fighting to preserve the country’s social model have proved futile. The struggle and demonstrations go on and the cry “On ne lâche rien!” (We shall not give an inch!), is fast becoming a term of salutation.

Clearly, the state of emergency seeks both to muzzle activists and to stigmatize French Muslims. By pitting one community against the other, the government is trying to destroy solidarity and replace it with fear and mutual suspicion. The measures intended to “counter” terrorism have been perverted. In reality, the police have arrested innumerably more activists than terrorists.

Ingredient Number 2: The Chef’s Slight of Hand

While most French people would have been in favor of a state of emergency in the aftermath of ISIL’s brutal murder of innocent people, it quickly became clear during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in December that Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his team were only too happy to apply the “counter-terrorist” measures to any French activist foolhardy enough to claim that in fact capitalism, not global warming, represented the real threat to our planet. All street protests against COP 21 were purely and simply banned! The semantic shift from “defending the nation” from an external enemy to defending it from an “internal” one was seamlessly relayed by the government to the media. Few journalists batted an eye when, during an unauthorized anti-COP 21 demonstration in Place de la République and environs, 341 people were arrested.

On a positive note, organizations like France’s human rights association, la Ligue des droits de l’Homme, rallied against this attack on civil liberties and joined trade union, left-wing, and magistrates’ groups to denounce the Valls strongman initiative. Nationwide protests took place and benumbed journalists asked dissenters how they could possibly justify their behavior to the families of the 130 victims. Embarrassingly enough for the mainstream press, at a highly mediatized commemoration for the victims, one of the three families who refused French President François Hollande’s outstretched hand pointed a finger at France’s “disastrous Middle East policy” and the abandonment of underclass suburbs to despair. Small wonder that this indictment by the father of a 17-year-old girl killed at the Bataclan Theater should first be published not on a French, but on an American media website.

Finally, in a comic incident, the government’s effort to modify the state of emergency by adding a clause which would withdraw French citizenship from bi-nationals accused of terrorism, floundered on the rocks of reality. Firstly, in a country historically priding itself on its egalitarian treatment of all citizens, wouldn’t it be unfair to make a distinction between bi-nationals who could have their French nationality taken away and French-born citizens who could not? Indeed, where could a prison be found for somebody with no nationality? On the moon?
Unsurprisingly, in the wake of this debacle, popularity ratings for Hollande and Valls hit an all-time low.

Ingredient Number 3: A Quick Change of Recipe or…the Government of the People Against the People

La Loi Travail (the labor reform act) is composed of 50 articles designed to destroy victories gained by social movements over the past century, most notably those forged and fought for by members of Résistance, many of whom were tortured and killed during the Nazi occupation of France.

In short, “in-company agreements” will replace collective bargaining. Previously, the terms of collective bargaining had to be accepted by 30 percent of representative unions. With the law, agreements will need to be accepted by 50 percent. Why? Because the government knows quite well that it is highly unlikely that half the unions would agree to terms unfavorable to workers. If no agreement can be reached in such conditions, employers will cynically organize a simple in-company referendum, a system in which the pressure to keep one’s job will see fragile workers voting to have colleagues laid off.

Additionally, the protection of workers will be greatly reduced, as the interest of the company will prevail over that of its workers. Bosses may freely increase the hours of the work week and reduce salaries. Previously, the French labor code imposed a maximum of 10 hours work per day. With the new law, employees may have to work up to 12 hours or more per day. If a worker refuses the boss’s modifications to their employment contract, they can easily be fired—in the interest of the company, of course.

Previously if a worker was not able to work anymore because of sickness or industrial injury, the boss had to find them a new job. With the new law, if the boss cannot find a new job, they can simply dismiss the worker.

Previously, the labor laws imposed an 11-hour break between two working days. With the new law, these 11 hours may be divided up and it will be jolly-well too bad if workers do not get enough sleep!

Also, with the exception of workers who apply for employment to do dangerous jobs, occupational medical visits prior to hiring will be consigned to the dustbin of history. As a result, the majority of workers will not know if they really are medically and physically apt to do the jobs they have been employed for.

Last but not least, with the new law, if a company experiences a financial deficit for more than six consecutive months, the boss can cobble together a redundancy plan and fire all the employees.

Seventy-five percent of the French people are against the new law. Even before it went to parliament, over 1 million people signed a petition against the law. Moreover, two of France’s most representative trade unions, Confédération générale du travail (CGT) and Force Ouvrière, plus all student organizations, as well as 85 percent of small companies belonging to craftsmen or professional people, are against it. Even a majority of parliamentarians and Members of Parliament (MPs) are against the law!

Ingredient Number 4: Add a Pinch of Authoritarianism

The tactic known as “49.3” refers to Article 49.3 of the French Constitution. The government started using 49.3, which meant that it was able to pass the labor reform act without a debate or a vote in parliament or in concrete terms, without the agreement of France’s MPs—the men and women who represent the people.
Back in 2006 when he was in the opposition, François Hollande went on record as stating that “49.3 is brutality, a denial of democracy.” Today, the state and employers, hand in hand, are waging a class war, one they mean to win in the most authoritarian manner. Moreover, in a 2012 pre-election promise, Hollande swore that he would never have recourse to 49.3. “Ah, how times change,” he might now well add!

Finally, to add insult to injury and indeed, in keeping with the authoritarianism of Article 49.3, disgruntled members of reformist unions which support the law are being suspended for having outspokenly criticized their unions’ pro-government position.

Ingredient Number 5: Stir In a Strong Dose of Repression

The fact that the infamous riot police, the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS), should be presented by the media as the unfortunate victims of vandals—while the hundreds if not thousands of protestors who in the past few months have been savagely beaten, gassed and imprisoned, are being portrayed as casseurs (rioters)—speaks mountains about the power of journalists and their capacity to brainwash anyone witless enough to take their reports for granted.

During the national, inter-professional strike on June 14, 2016, for example, demonstrators were cattled between a water cannon and two lines of riot police in full battle array positioned in front of a children’s hospital. Mobile autonomous groups of protestors, who limit their actions to writing libertarian slogans on walls and publicity billboards or in some cases, smashing bank windows, replied to police aggression by stoning the CRS in what was undoubtedly the fiercest street fighting our generation has ever seen. Naturally enough, some windows of the hospital were broken. When the tear gas had cleared, the CRS moved on and as the last demonstrators were licking their wounds, the media homed in and showed to a horrified nation, shots of windows broken in the children’s hospital. Not one mention was made of how the police pressured, harassed and brutalized the demonstrators. At best, such reports show the gross ineptitude of journalists. At worst, these reports point to cleverly orchestrated state-media collusion.

Using the state of emergency as a shield, the police are cracking down more and more violently. Innumerable activists and young people—even junior high school students, for example, protesting over the planned closure of their school—are being arrested, injured by the police and attacked with tear gas, flash-balls, or batons. People are going to jail simply for being union activists. We have to cope with a systematic police crackdown against every protest movement, even the most peaceful ones.
At the beginning of the protests against the new labor law, we relied on high school and university students to start the movement. But the government strategy was to severely intimidate young people and their parents. The goal was to try to sweep the movement under the carpet and to break up student-worker solidarity.

In the spring of 2016, seven comrades of the Confédération nationale du travail of France (CNT-F) were arrested and held for questioning. Since that time, this tendency has been become commonplace. Many people have been physically injured in big cities like Nantes and Rennes. In Lille, police smashed down the door of our union office with a battering ram to arrest activists inside. This was the first time in France that the police entered a union office in this way. Recently, the police stopped and searched one of our union trucks in Bordeaux. In Rennes, the Recherche, Assistance, Intervention, Dissuasion (RAID, an elite law enforcement unit of the French National Police) evacuated a youth club which was being peacefully occupied as a protest against the new labor law.

Police violence is not simply made up of isolated incidences. It clearly constitutes the policy of the Ministry of the Interior and the government to destroy our movement, very much to the delight of French fascists, who recently demonstrated alongside policemen fed up of the growing popular hatred for cops.

Popular French Cuisine: The People’s Own Recipe

This people’s movement grew out of protests against the new labor law, but touches on broader issues such as ecology and direct democracy. People involved in the movement organize themselves into working groups and committees to talk and act on the issues. The movement has given rise to a fresh look at today’s society.

The biggest Nuit Debout sessions took place in Rennes, Nantes and Paris. Smaller sessions are to be found in many other cities with varying degrees of success. In Paris, it was not uncommon to see well over 1,000 people standing in Place de la République every night. They lost no time in creating a united front with some unions, like our own. The sessions are run along lines of direct but restricted democracy. They suggest that we reconsider parliamentary representation and give people a voice.

Today, the Nuit Debout movement is undergoing a mutation. It is as if the time for action has come after the months of debate. Groups are taking their own initiatives and getting involved in many local struggles. The Nuit Debout “label” has added a refreshing zest to a movement which is not likely to peter out, given the determination of activists, the multiplicity of battlefronts, and the extremely high stakes this war represents for working people.

Our View

Like some other unions, we still think that the general strike must continue until the new labor law is withdrawn. This will be the only way to get what we want. Other unions, however, those which have the greatest impact with the people, think of the general strike in terms of theory but not in practice, hence the rolling nature of the general strike, with all-out strikes occurring only every 10 days or so.

CNT-France is deeply convinced that the fight must go on and more than ever, with a social and libertarian revolution as a finality.

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Original Wobbly, Pierce Wetter Mon, 22 Aug 2016 03:19:42 +0000 Read More]]> By Steve Thornton

I recently met Rénice Alban, age 90, the daughter of Pierce T. Wetter. Wetter was arrested in 1917 in a nationwide roundup of more than 100 IWW activists for opposing the United States’ entry into World War I. He and many others were imprisoned; he served five years in the Cook County Jail in Chicago and the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. His brother Telfair ran the Baltimore IWW office during this period.

As soon as she mentioned her father, Rénice Alban launched into “The Internationale”: “Arise you prisoners of starvation / Arise you wretched of the earth / for justice thunders condemnation / There’s a better world in birth!”

Her dad taught her the song. This was the first time she had sung it since she was a young girl. Now, living in a Hartford-area retirement community, Alban began to remember more. She knew he had written an article on behalf of those still imprisoned. “It’s in Joyce Kornbluh’s book [‘Rebel Voices’],” she recalled.

Pierce Wetter led an amazing life, before and after his five-year act of conscience. Besides being a Wobbly, he was a Quaker and a pacifist. He was born on April 4, 1895 in Madagascar, the son of the American consul. He and his siblings were raised in Georgia and Ohio, mostly by his aunt. His daughter remembered that Wetter was effectively abandoned at 12 years old, and with his brother they tramped around the country. He eventually inherited some family property. Pierce could trace his ancestry back to a member of the Continental Congress during the American Revolutionary War and former U.S. President Franklin Pierce.

In 1916, Wetter was an officer of the IWW’s Coal Mine Workers Industrial Union in Great Falls, Mont. He wrote to Bill Haywood of the workers’ enthusiasm for “sabotage” as a tactic in their organizing campaign, but Haywood did not approve, writing back that “there is nothing the enemy would like better” than to publicize the tactic. The letter was used against Wetter at his trial.

The federal government simultaneously raided 64 IWW offices in September 1917, arresting Wetter and many of the union’s most well-known leaders. The charges included interfering with the war effort and violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Their trial began on April 1, 1918. He and 114 other Wobblies were charged with 100 separate crimes each—over 10,000 criminal acts in total.
Historian Melvyn Dubofsky writes in his history of the Wobblies: “The Justice Department was indeed fortunate that public hysteria had convicted the Wobblies before the jury heard the prosecution’s evidence, for the prosecution, in fact, had no evidence.” Wetter served his full five years; some of the defendants received 20-year sentences.

Immediately after he was released from prison in 1922, Wetter was threatened with deportation by the federal immigration authorities. He was charged with being an illegal alien, even though the government had his citizenship records on file. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Wetter was able to stay in the United States. A Kansas newspaper called the government’s attempt “a legal kidnapping.”

After Leavenworth, Wetter continued to fight for the remaining Wobblies in prison. He wrote “Men I Left at Leavenworth,” a passionate plea for their release that focused on the personal stories of a number of the inmates. His article emphasized that they were jailed for their beliefs and nothing more.

“War hysteria prevented a fair trial,” he told a group of college students after his release. “When newspapers like the Chicago Tribune advocated that we should be shot without trial, when 10 tons of [our trial defense] material was held up at the post office, when funds for the defense were not permitted to reach us, the handicap was too great,” Wetter said. With a sense of humor that must have helped keep him sane in prison, he added: “I was rather fortunate when Judge [Kenesaw Mountain] Landis parceled out the sentences, for I only got only five years, though I don’t know why.”
In 1923 Wetter worked to organize a massive IWW mobilization at Port Arthur, Texas. The union had announced its intention of organizing longshoremen and sailors there. Wobbly James Holland and two other unidentified fellow workers were murdered after being arrested by police and turned over to the Ku Klux Klan. The New York Times wrote that “The plan, according to Wetter, is to ‘overrun the town with jobless I.W.W.s and thus create a problem for local authorities. At the same time, resolutions of protest will be forwarded to the Mayor.’”

Wetter had moved to Brooklyn by 1923 and studied to become a mechanical engineer. He and his family lived on Washington Square in Manhattan with Robertson Trowbridge (who had adopted Wetter at a late age). There he continued to fight the power, challenging Robert Moses, the controversial “master builder” of New York City.

Moses wielded great power that he used to build highways and parks, willfully ignoring the consequences to residents and their neighborhoods (he was also the reason the Dodgers left Brooklyn). When Moses wanted to put an encircling double roadway around Washington Square in 1939, Wetter organized community opposition to successfully stop the plan.

He faced Moses again in 1942 when the power broker planned to eliminate a waterfront complex in the Battery Park section of Manhattan. Before Ellis Island opened, Fort Clinton had been the first stopping point for 8 million immigrant families coming to America. Moses cared little about that kind of history and began demolition. Wetter led a campaign to halt its total destruction, saving the immigrant building.

Wetter felt the rage of Moses when the mogul used red baiting and ad hominem attacks against the activist during this fight. Moses, referring to the activist’s IWW membership, publicly called Wetter “one of a gang of thugs and saboteurs who interfered with the military and civil works of the United States government during the World War.” Wetter “did not have a single characteristic of a Quaker,” Moses sputtered, and he deserved “a good public sock in the jaw.” Fort Clinton is now a national monument.
Pierce Wetter was pardoned by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. He died at the age of 68 on May 10, 1963.

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Reviving class consciousness Mon, 22 Aug 2016 03:12:30 +0000 Read More]]> By FW Ben Robertson

“As a rule, [working women and men] vote just as they would bet on a prize fight—to see if they can pick a winner.” – Ralph Chaplin

Wobbly Ralph Chaplin’s description of typical political thinking in 1933 rings depressingly true 83 years later. Not only are workers still lulled into believing that their ability to better the conditions in which they find themselves is confined to selecting from a list of names on a ballot, they are also increasingly having that selection dictated for them. On a near-daily basis in the United States for instance, we are told who can or cannot win elections, as if endlessly repeated voter preference statistics have anything to do with the daily struggles of the working class.

This stale, recycled information is not at all concerned with uprooting wage slavery, state brutality, or exploitation (if capitalism has consistently proven capable of anything, it is an inexhaustible capacity for reinventing all manner of violence toward earthly life, conveniently packaged with even more ways to privatize, distract and profit from it). Buying mouthpieces in corporate media outlets to obsess over the constantly shifting opinions of very scientific-sounding “demographic” divisions has proven to be a fairly successful strategy for the bosses. This line of attack seeks to dupe workers into believing that they have no unifying interests as a class because of their many different political preferences, and that the best one can do is choose the “lesser evil” from among some sad rabble of a few ultra-wealthy candidates labeled “serious” only after ingratiating themselves to the boss class.

Ralph Chaplin goes on to remind us that, “Regardless of how much political dissatisfaction may exist at any given time, the workers’ bedrock complaint against capitalism will continue to be economic,” not political. For they are robbed as a class, “at the point of production, and at the point of production [they] must fight against continued exploitation.” We must vigilantly resist the narrative that the ones to blame for economic suffering are fellow workers who “steal jobs” or “mooch” off of the system. There is indeed a class directly responsible for the theft of countless jobs, and the reaping of profits from harvests where they have sown no seed by their own sweat or ingenuity. We need no polls or pundits to explain to us which class that is.
At the root of all the political injustices faced by particular groups of workers is a singular trough from which the salivating jaws of the capitalist monster are fed: fruits produced by the working class in mines, farms, factories, and homesteads across the planet are placed immediately into the vaults of the employing class. From these overflowing vaults they graciously and with wisdom of foresight dole out the smallest pittance legally (or illegally) possible back to the worker.

This is grand larceny on an epic scale committed in broad daylight with nodding approval from passersby. Yet the worker is encouraged in the political realm not to act immediately to stop this crime when and where it is committed, but to take his or her time voting for a kind-hearted capitalist who promises to “look into” such matters and perhaps encourage the bosses themselves to write up some sort of legislation which is not likely to become law, but which will allow the kind-hearted capitalist to display some admirable willingness to “stand up to Wall Street” and “fight for Main Street.” This advice propagates the idea that voting (especially in national elections) and indirect political action, rather than class consciousness and direct action on the job, is the most effective way to rearrange the prevailing order.

“Workers must not delude themselves about the efficacy of political action,” Chaplin urges. “The danger of overstressing the importance of political action lies in the fact that the workers are thereby led to trust someone else (usually not a member of the working class) to do something for them which, with a little understanding and determination, they could have done a whole lot easier by themselves…Confidence in political action not only robs the worker of the initiative for independent action, it also leads [them] into that state of mind where [they are] willing to exchange one kind of dictatorship for another.”

Is it true that our only reasonable option is to behave ourselves and let the fighting be done for us by elected officials foisted into power by dark money from the most corrupt and devoted capitalists of the employing class? Must we passively rely on those who, in the alternate universe of polling are shown to hold similar political ideals as us, but in the real world have nothing in common with the working class? Are we to simply look after our own individual interests at work, hoping a few extra scraps will fall from the banquet table of the ultra-wealthy? Must we try to find a measure of isolated happiness as we helplessly watch the bosses hoard unconscionable profits off our backs while the politicians they buy find new “markets” to tap by poisoning the earth (which we toil to feed both them and ourselves), and by pumping the bodies of our young people full of bullets?

Class consciousness—loyalty to one another as workers across national, political, ethnic, sexual, and social divisions—leads us to a winsome imagination for a better world, and to courageous direct actions which confront the real-life struggles faced by workers on a daily basis. Wage theft, intimidation and unnecessary stress, inhumane work environments, working hours which make the enjoyment of home life impossible, lack of maternity leave—and any other conditions workers of a given place determine to be a hindrance to their flourishing in that place—all contribute to the systematic exclusion of workers from a proper share in the wealth they have quite literally labored to create.

We hope those who find themselves in positions of political power will muster the motivation to join us in these struggles. But we do well to remember the words of Big Bill Haywood and “refuse to have the ballot interpreted for [us].” For, “when the workers are brought together in a great organization they are not going to cease to vote. That is when the workers will begin to vote…”
Whether or not we silently cast the single vote allotted to us by those who are afforded a bit more influence than that, it is not political participation which ultimately empowers the working class. We can spit out the pacifier by making noise and organizing at the point of production for industrial democracy. There in One Big Union we retain that power which the bosses know we have; that power they so desperately hope we dilute and forfeit to their politicians.

And as we work together to form a new world within the shell of the old, we may even have the simple and time-honored joy of causing some harmless trouble for the bosses (who surely will find it all quite educational). Solidarity forever!

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The labor movement, digital media, and tools for resistance Mon, 22 Aug 2016 03:00:49 +0000 Read More]]> Dencik, Lina and Peter Wilkin. Worker Resistance and Media: Challenging Global Corporate Power in the 21st Century. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2015. Paperback, 260 pages, $40.95.

Reviewed by Diane Krauthamer

What is that role that emerging digital media should play in building effective worker resistance to a global capitalist system? How should the labor movement utilize digital and social media, and to what end? These are some of the questions that authors Lina Dencik and Peter Wilkin raise in “Worker Resistance and Media: Challenging Global Corporate Power in the 21st Century.”
While new media technologies bring about new opportunities for labor, these are merely tools and will never be a substitute for shop-floor grassroots organizing. Dencik and Wilkin argue just that: the developing digital media technologies are, and should continue to be, used by organized labor as tools in fighting against the dominant paradigm of capitalist exploitation. But they are merely tools, and have limitations.

The book begins with the premise that the labor movement is in decline and global corporate power is on the rise, and goes on to explain the sometimes-contradictory relationship that the media has had with labor throughout the 20th century—as a “space for visibility and resistance” but also as “an instrument for repression and social control.” More specifically, the modern media landscape defined here includes the public relations, marketing and advertising industry that emerged in the early 20th century “when both capitalism and the nation-state system faced tremendous challenges from socialists and the labor movement.” Dencik and Wilkin continue by offering concise histories of trade unionism, corporate globalization and developing digital media technologies. Of specific importance in this context was that, over the course of the 20th century, “it became increasingly common for unions to seek to align themselves with political parties, the state and even business, in effect to align themselves with the very institutions that would threaten and end their independence.” The book highlights this general pattern over the next 100 years or so, and how it effectively has weakened the labor movement as a whole, primarily in the Western world.

The authors go on to explore the evolution of labor’s relationship with big business as corporate globalization began to rise. This is what the authors term as the “second wave of globalization,” defined by “a political ideology that would require the support of the state to enforce it, a form of capitalism that freed markets from social regulation and that would prioritize corporate profits over social concerns or the common good.” Here, the authors point to Keith D. Ewing’s observation in his 2005 article, “The Function of Trade Unions,” how “increasingly unions have become subordinate partners, at best, to corporations, with many instances of unions accepting recognition agreements in return for helping corporations with their restructuring of the workforce.” According to Dencik and Wilkin, this growing business unionism illustrates “how far many unions have fallen in their role as defenders of their own membership, never mind the working class in general.”

Building on these observations, Dencik and Wilkin note that the labor movement is in “parlous condition” but “has many tools that it needs in order to revive rebuild”—and this is where social media and digital activism enter the picture.

Here, the authors look at how emerging digital media tools play a role in new (or revisited) forms of worker organization. In particular, they look at how “different repertoires of digital activism that are emerging as forms of resistance” are becoming increasingly integrated into union activities. While the benefits of having our own forms of media to counter the corporate-owned mainstream media are numerous, the authors are concerned about putting too much emphasis on these tools, which have limitations:

“Rather than using digital media to mobilise industrial power in new ways, therefore, the focus has been on building symbolic power by enhancing pressure through public image campaigns…Often the emphasis on media in this regard is seen at the expense of actual organizing as resources and energies within the union are finite.”

This is where Dencik and Wilkin get to the impetus of why they analyzed digital media’s relationship to worker resistance: “Of course advocacy has its place in labour activism, and social media has an important part to play here, but there needs to be broader overhaul of the union structures for these potentials to be as effective as they could be.”

The bulk of this book analyzes three major labor campaigns over the past two decades: Service Employees International Union (SEIU)’s Justice for Janitors and UNITE and Unison’s Justice for Cleaners movements; SEIU’s Fast Food Forward (or #FightFor15) campaign; and the domestic workers movements in Hong Kong and Singapore. The overarching theme of these three cases were that, while digital activism and social media have brought and continue to bring much visibility and even some wins for these struggles, the aforementioned limitations of focusing on these tools brings about larger questions of where the labor movement is going and how we effectively utilize the tools of digital media to help strengthen our work.

In addition to the possibility that over-reliance on digital/social media may impede organizing, one major aspect that union activists need to understand is the larger context in which social/digital media exists: namely, corporate/state control of media. The authors describe the current media landscape as “thoroughly corporate spaces.” It is here that they call for unions to define themselves as “independent bodies” in order to present themselves as “a genuine challenge to state-corporate control.”

This brings us to the conclusion—a redefinition of the labor movement and an overhaul the predominant model of business unionism. Dencik and Wilkin call for the labor movement to “rebuild its activities as an independent movement that is not subordinate to political parties or the state.” They envision this as a concept defined as “utopian realism,” which as “a conception of a better world that can be built through cooperation and mutual aid in alliance with progressive social movements, in the workplace and in communities.” This idea is influenced by the authors’ observation of the successes and failures of the modern-day labor movement’s use of coalition-building and sometimes successful, yet also limiting, use of social media and digital activism.
Overall, “Worker Resistance and Media” can help modern-day labor activists gain a broader and more critical understanding of how to utilize the tools at our disposal in the context of a larger, socialist-oriented vision. It is with this that we can continue fighting for a better world.

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A new era of Wobbly folk music with Monday Morning Denial Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:56:47 +0000 Read More]]> Monday Morning Denial. Scoundrels That We Are. Released on Jan. 17, 2016. Available online:

By W.H. Glazer

Much like peanut butter and jelly, folk music and the IWW are inextricably intertwined. Folk music has served as an important vehicle for radical politics since before the formation of the union, owing in large part to familiar and catchy tunes, clever wordplay, and easy-to-learn instrumentation. The list of prominent Wobbly troubadours is a long one, and indeed continues to grow even as traditional folk music becomes more of a niche form.

Following in the footsteps of these luminaries is Monday Morning Denial, an Oregon duo featuring husband-and-wife songwriters Kate Downing and Nathan Moore. Their debut EP “Scoundrels That We Are” was released earlier this year, and it is a delightful listen. Downing’s crystalline voice and banjo plucking effortlessly meshes with Moore’s bright tenor and guitar, lending credence to the idea that partners in love often make the best partners in music. I talked to them about their beginnings, folk music, and the process that went into creating “Scoundrels.”

W.H. Glazer (WHG): Tell me about how you started playing music together.
Kate Downing (KD): Nathan and I have been making music since about 2002 and performing out since 2007 with various different musicians.
Nathan Moore (NM): About a year ago, we started playing one or two duo songs during each set [in their earlier name of Low Tide Drifters] and audiences didn’t throw anything at us. Kate and I began playing regular Sunday evening shows at a local pub, so our good friend and former bandmate suggested Monday Morning Denial as a duo name.

WHG: Tell me about your musical influences. Whose playing inspires you to write and perform?
KD: Well, my banjo stylings are very Pete Seeger influenced. I took lessons for a while from FW [Fellow Worker] Mark Ross. Vocally, I definitely pull from old-timey and folk musicians—The Carter Family, Jean Ritchie, and a little Dave Van Ronk. In terms of writing inspiration, Nathan is constantly shoving a topic or lyric in front of me and making me finish a song. But he does most of the dishes, so…
NM: There are folks who have passed on like Utah Phillips, Alistair Hulett, and Hazel Dickens. Kate and I are hugely influenced by our friend Harry Stamper, who passed away in 2012. He was a folksinger and longshoreman from Coos Bay, Oregon, and he wrote the classic labor song “We Just Come to Work Here (We Don’t Come Here to Die).”

WHG: What is it about folk music that makes it such an important and useful vehicle for expressing radical politics?
KD & NM: There is a familiarity to the genre that resonates with audiences. We don’t often write lyrics to existing melodies like Joe Hill did, but we do try to create accessible, sing-along choruses. The participatory nature of folk music goes hand-in-hand with radical politics.

WHG: What’s your writing process like? Do you tend to write songs together?
KD: We co-write almost all of our songs. Nathan frequently starts the lyrics and I finish them. Often, we get the melodies by me singing the tune I hear and Nathan finding the chords on the guitar and then arguing that I’ve stolen the melody. But a few rearranged notes will make a new song and that’s usually the easiest part. There are a couple songs on “Scoundrels” that we wrote solo—Nathan penned “Days All Dark with Dust” and I wrote “Fish On, Papa” for my dad.

WHG: Describe the recording process for me.
KD: DIY all the way. We recorded this is an invalid album id almost exclusively in our bedroom after our kid went to sleep. We live in a little townhouse apartment with nowhere to conveniently leave equipment set up, so we just tripped over cords and stubbed our toes on mic stands for a couple of months.

WHG: The title track lovingly refers to the working class as “scoundrels.” What made you choose this word specifically?
NM: “Scoundrels That We Are” is an example of good old-fashioned folk music plagiarism. The song is about an 1883 trial of anarchists that took place in Lyon, France during a period of mass working-class unrest. Instead of blaming the people at the top, the “authorities” arrested over 60 anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin, the famous scientist. During the trial, the anarchists composed a manifesto that said “Scoundrels that we are, we claim bread for all, knowledge for all, work for all, independence and justice for all.” I came across the manifesto online and realized that it would make a great lyric. I do think that the most effective working-class activists to this day are often seen as “scoundrels” because they are independent, unruly, and impossible to control. I’ll take a scoundrel over a boss any day.

WHG: What’s the inspiration for the song “Fragments?”
KD: It’s about parenting and our responsibility to the next generation, both as individuals and as a society. As parents and grown-ups in an unkind world, we need to look at how we interact with children and find compassion for these little humans—who happen into this world in an inherently powerless position—and treat them with dignity and respect.

WHG: Nature seems to inform a lot of your writing.
KD: In Oregon the nature is just there. It’s not uncommon to see a deer on your way to school in the morning, even in the city. We’re deeply rooted in the Pacific Northwest. The salt air is home and I come from a place where kids competed to have the best seagull call. Running on driftwood was strictly prohibited and practically executed. So, that’s all in the lyrics.

WHG: What brought you to the IWW?
NM: I joined the IWW around 2000. Coming from a working-class background, I felt more at home in the IWW than I did with other activist organizations in Eugene. Kate joined about a year later. We are proud to be in a democratic, member-run union that believes in direct action and has strong musical traditions.

“Scoundrels That We Are” is available for streaming and download at

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Review: Memories of Sam Dolgoff Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:51:26 +0000 Read More]]> Dolgoff, Anatole. Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff. Chico, CA: AK Press, 2016. Paperback, 400 pages, $22.

Reviewed by Peter Cole

If you want to read the god-honest and god-awful truth about being a left-wing radical in 20th century America, drop whatever you’re doing, pick up this book, and read it. Pronto! If you’re not crying within five pages, you might want to check on whether you’ve got a heart and a pulse. Anatole Dolgoff’s love, admiration, and memories of his father Sam Dolgoff saturate the pages, making it required reading for folks interested in the Wobblies, anarchists, workers, unionists, New Yorkers, Americans, non-Americans, un-Americans, and every other human being, for that matter. Make no mistake, the 79-year-old Anatole Dolgoff might be a first-time book author but he’s one hell of a brilliant storyteller.

Sam Dolgoff met or was friends with Carlo Tresca (one of his closest friends before being murdered), Dorothy Day, Bayard Rustin, Murray Bookchin, Ammon Hennesy, David van Ronk, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Michael Harrington, Paul Avrich, and Peter Kropotkin’s only daughter, Alexandra. He had friends who knew Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Mohandas Gandhi.

On the 50th anniversary of the state of Illinois’ execution of the Haymarket anarchists, in 1937, Sam Dolgoff shared a speaker’s platform with Lucy Parsons, the legendary anarchist, revolutionary, Wobbly co-founder, and widow of Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons.

Sam Dolgoff met Eugene Debs. He knew the writer Eugene O’Neill and the artist Diego Rivera. He was great friends with Dr. Ben Reitman, Emma Goldman’s on-again off-again lover known as the “clap doctor” for treating street prostitutes who had sexually transmitted diseases in an era when no “respectable” doctor would.

Anatole Dolgoff’s middle name is Durruti, after Buenaventura Durruti, one of Spain’s greatest anarchist fighters who died defending Madrid from the fascists during the Spanish Civil War (more on Spain later). The Soviet Union, China and Mexico, the Dominican Republic and many parts of North America figure into Sam’s life and Anatole’s telling of it.

The book is worth reading simply for the opening chapter, set sometime in the 1940s, in which Anatole recounts walking with his father and older brother, Abe, from their Lower East Side apartment across lower Manhattan to get to the Marine Transport Workers (MTW) Industrial Union 510 hall in a decrepit, now-razed loft where they spent many Sundays with old-time Wobbly sailors. I’m a historian of the IWW but in this vignette, as in many others in the book, Anatole Dolgoff captured the essence of the Wobblies better than I ever have (I’m ashamed to admit).
Full disclosure: it is because I researched and wrote on the Wobblies that I met Anatole Dolgoff. A few years after my books “Wobblies on the Waterfront” (which was about Philadelphia’s interracial longshore union), and an edited volume on Ben Fletcher, their “Black Wobbly” leader, I got an email from Anatole. As a young boy, he had known Fletcher. Here was a man who could tell me stories about the most prominent African American in IWW history because his father and Fletcher were close friends. As a child, Anatole spent quality time with Fletcher and remembered him fondly and well. But let me also confess, and meaning no disrespect, that I had no idea that Anatole’s stories were this good or that he could write so damned well!

In addition to capturing the history but also—harder—the feel of many of the Wobblies and other anarchist/left individuals, organizations, and moments, this book is wonderful for those simply wanting to open a window into the past.

Take New York City, an incredible city that justifiably has received countless authors’ attentions. Dolgoff poignantly captures the feel of 20th century working-class New York, a “lost New York.” Lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, the occasional foray into the Bronx. New Yorkers and those who love New York will find much to love about this book as he walks “through lower Manhattan streets not to be gentrified for fifty years,” along with the Puerto Rican, Italian, Jewish, and other residents.

Moreover, the language is, well, of a time and a place. Where else, these days, can one read words like “floor moppers” and “sonofabitch”?

As Dolgoff declared near his memoir’s start: “What I can do is tell stories: of my parents and their world, which spans seventy years of revolutionary activity…Hopefully it will add up to a history of sorts…Do not look for ‘objectivity.’ To hell with it. I have read many such ‘objective’ accounts of the anarchists and Wobblies, and few of them bear any resemblance to the flesh-and-blood human beings who broke bread with us or snored on our sagging couch. I’ve opted for the truth instead.”

Like so many others, Sam Dolgoff was the son of desperately poor Jewish immigrants from tsarist Russia. Like so many others, they ended up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As the oldest child, Sam went to work at the tender age of eight, delivering milk off a horse-drawn wagon before dawn. A few years later, his father apprenticed him to a house painter, a trade at which he worked for the next 60 years.

Sam Dolgoff was working class through and through and proud of it, as were nearly all the Wobblies who toiled as Jack tars and timber beasts, gandy dancers and harvest stiffs. First drawn to the Socialist Party and the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), he abandoned their vision of evolutionary socialism and electoral compromises for the anarchists. A while later, he found his ideological home, the IWW, the great revolutionary industrial union founded in Chicago in 1905. Dolgoff believed that revolutionary industrial unionism was the only path to socialism—at the point of production where workers had real power. He committed himself for the next 70 years to that belief. Anti-capitalist and unrepentant, he never took a job that required him to fire or hire another fellow worker. Supporter of the underdog and the little guy. Hater of the 1 percent before the term existed. Humanist. Wanting to build a new world from the ashes of the old. Willing to fight for it, strike for it, suffer for it, go hungry for it, to help out someone who’s even hungrier.

To Dolgoff, capitalism, the state, and organized religion caused most of the world’s suffering, which was why he became an anarchist. He hated hierarchy, oppression, and the institutions that both caused and perpetuated it, so he loved the Wobblies. He also loved to sing Wobbly tunes like “Halleliuah, I’m a bum,” “Solidarity Forever,” and countless other gems.

This historian of the IWW found it especially interesting that Sam Dolgoff’s time in the union began in the early-to-mid 1920s. That is, after its so-called heyday, after the government had arrested and imprisoned most of its most important leaders and deported others, after many states had made belonging to the IWW illegal under unconstitutional “criminal syndicalist” laws, after many local and state police and vigilantes had further beaten and imprisoned Wobblies and shut down their halls, after the lynchings of Frank Little and Wesley Everest, after the Bisbee Deportation and Everett Massacre. And after the rise of the Soviet Union and Communist Party (CP) that did all in its power to undermine, co-opt, and destroy the IWW for presenting an alternative view of what socialism looked like.

We read about Wobblies in the interwar years, organizing the Unemployed Union in Chicago in the early days of the Great Depression. Anatole actually makes an argument that underneath, behind, to the side of many great Left actions, events, and organizations in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s were Wobblies. While perhaps overstating his case, undeniably many unions, most obviously in the newly-founded Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and other progressive organizations were influenced by the IWW.

A great deal of this book is about anarchism, an ideology that attracted Sam Dolgoff. Over time, he became a much in-demand speaker, brilliant author, and even theoretician of anarchism.
Though only finishing eighth grade, Sam Dolgoff evolved into a great intellectual, schooled by some of the greatest anarchists of the early 20th century. Familiar to precious few, the legendary Russian anarchist Gregorii Maximoff made Dolgoff into the man and reader he became. Anatole describes Maximoff this way: “a man who had faced down the power of Lenin; had come within hours of a ring squad; had conducted a successful hunger strike in the Cheka dungeons; had organized steel mills and peasant collectives; had served as an editor of important journals and, while in Berlin, helped found an international anarchist organization comprising—it may surprise you—several million people.” Maximoff and his fellow Russian anarchists who lived in permanent exile made Dolgoff read Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin but also Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin as well as William Shakespeare and Mark Twain. He read constantly—even after a full day of work and despite having a wife and two sons.

One of the pivotal times in Sam Dolgoff’s life, as well as for others on the Left was the Spanish Civil War. Recall Anatole’s middle name, Durruti. Predictably, Sam was not just a kindred spirit with the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), the anarchist union and spiritual sibling of the IWW. The CNT stronghold of Barcelona proved the high point, early in the Civil War, of the cause. Dolgoff was a leading supporter, propagandist, and fundraiser for the CNT and Spanish Republicans. For those interested in this tragedy and its long shadow, this book offers much.

Some chapters in the book, vignettes really, are amazing stories of people few ever knew about. Dolgoff knew I.N. Steinberg, the “Peoples Commissar of Justice in the Soviet government from December 1917 to March 1918 and a central figure in the drafting of the Soviet Constitution, [who] came to tell us of his private, face-to-face meeting with Lenin in that sparsely furnished Kremlin room where he [literally] forged the communist state. Steinberg had been there to protest the vicious crackdown of the Cheka on all dissent and suspected dissenters. Vanishing people, torture, murder—all without trial or even a hearing.” Steinberg was one of many anti-CP leftists who pepper this book.

Dolgoff never gave up on his beliefs nor stopped organizing. For instance, during the height of the Cold War, Dolgoff helped found the Libertarian League that proclaimed: “The ‘free’ world is not free; the ‘communist’ world is not communist. We reject both: one is becoming totalitarian; the other is already so.”

Anatole is not uncritical of his father, particularly his father’s drinking problems as well as poor treatment of his devoted, loving wife and life partner, or his falling out with his older son. Anatole also discusses, briefly, his own life and travails though he would be the first to admit that his life mostly has been a good one, greatly enriched by his father.
Anatole wrote this book, after retiring, because friends “urged me to put my ghosts and shadows down on paper. And so I have. I leave behind a record of my parents’ life and through them a history of sorts, the history of a culture, and of a chapter of American radicalism that few people know about. It is an incomplete and inadequate record no doubt.”

I cried at the beginning of this book and again at its end. Since it is so wonderful, I will not reveal more details—no spoilers here—but suffice it to say that the last few years of Sam Dolgoff’s incredible life were as honest and compelling as his first 85. Truly, there is no other way for me to end this essay than: Sam Dolgoff, Presente!

This essay first appeared at:

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Teachers rise up, face repression in Oaxaca Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:36:43 +0000 Read More]]> By John Kalwaic

In the city of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico teachers have started massive protests against neoliberal education reforms. These protests have come at a time when many Mexicans are protesting corruption in their government. The teachers came into conflict with Mexican police and troopers have frequently fired on them, killing several of the teachers. This has been a mirror of another rebellion in Oaxaca that took place in 2006 and led to what was known as the Oaxaca Commune. Mass demonstrations started again when the government of Mexico and its president Enrique Peña Nieto wanted to impose an educational reform bill from 2013 that imposes new teacher evaluations and tests on the education system.

Many teachers say that the tests and evaluations do not reflect the needs of students in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tabasco, Chiapas and other predominately indigenous areas of Mexico. The reforms had been dictated to the Mexican government by international organizations like the World Bank and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and then promoted by the government. The government’s reforms have led to the dismissal of nearly 10,000 teachers so far.

The union that represents the teachers is the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has fought back against these proposals. In May 2016, the Mexican government stopped negotiating with CNTE over the implantation of the reforms made three years prior: this is when the protests started. Because the government would not negotiate with them, the CNTE launched a massive strike in southern Mexico, which started on May 15. During the strike there were cases of police and troopers firing on demonstrating teachers, and on May 25 the situation grew extremely tense as police brought military-style vehicles. The police then shot rubber bullets at demonstrators. On the same day, May 25, tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City in solidarity with the CNTE teachers. On May 28, striking teachers in Chiapas took over the central media radio stations including Sistema Chiapaneco de Radio y Televisión (Chiapas Radio and Television System) and the Chiapas channel. A reason for this has been the mainstream Mexican media’s negative portrayal of the struggle as demonstrations of “radical teachers.”

From June 11 to June 13 barricades began to form again in Oaxaca as more demonstrators battled with police. Many at this point were wondering whether the Oaxaca Commune of 2006 would re-appear again in 2016 in reaction to President Nieto’s “education reforms.” On June 19 the Mexican government made good on its threats to attack striking teachers. Twelve people were killed and many more were injured. At the time many teachers had also already been arrested in the previous weeks. In response to the June 19 attack, the guerrilla group known as Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (the EZLN, or Zapatistas) in Chiapas released a solidarity statement for the CNTE teachers of Oaxaca, condemning the “cowardly act” of President Nieto’s government repression. Doctors from the medical group #YoSoyMedico17, which includes pediatricians, surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, joined 200,000 physicians in a general strike on June 22 in solidarity with the CNTE teachers and also against Nieto’s universal health system reform. Many doctors and medical staff in Mexico believe Nieto’s medical reform is often the same as privatization of healthcare.

Support for the CNTE teachers has come from all over the world. On June 22 the Chicago Teachers Union conducted a solidarity demonstration for the CNTE teachers in front of the Mexican Consulate. It remains to be seen whether this uprising will end in another Oaxaca Commune, a narrow policy victory, or just more repression.

With files from Telesur TV, Popular Resistance, Left Voice, Common Dreams, Roar Magazine, and Abc 7 News.

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May Day reclaimed in Turkey Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:32:25 +0000 Read More]]> By the Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet (DAF)

This year, as in previous years, we celebrated May Day in Taksim Square against all prohibitions of state, all violence of police, and all efforts of capitalists.

One week before May Day this year, the Turkish state declared that it would not allow us to hold demonstrations in Taksim Square (as they did in past years). The Turkish state offered another place for the “celebration of May Day.” This “demonstration space” became a discussion between revolutionary organizations.

Although there was a “legal celebration for May Day” in Bakırköy, the revolutionary organizations went to Taksim Square. In 1977, a bloody May Day event occurred here, so this square has become a symbol of resistance.

As the Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF), we were in the square from the early hours of May 1, 2016. Three DAF members, who are also members of the Construction Workers Union, were in the square with the placard that read “Fight, street, resistance; Long Live May Day” at 8:30 a.m. They managed to get into the square from the building site nearby. They were taken into custody by police.

At 10 a.m., the DAF cortege was in Mecidiyeköy where the march to Taksim started. We walked against the prohibition of the state with our placard that read “To Anarchist Revolution With Action.” We kept walking with the Construction Workers Union against the restrictions of the capitalists. The police tried to block the march with tear gas, plastic bullets, and violence. Three comrades were brutally taken into custody by police.

We have not participated the “May Day celebration of the state,” and we will not. They will not keep us from our struggle. We will keep on struggling against the state and capitalists.

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BLACK LIVES MATTER: Global uprising against police brutality Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:29:35 +0000 Read More]]> By Juan Conatz

After a tumultuous week at the beginning of July 2016, in which police murders of black men were caught on film in Minnesota and Louisiana, and a dozen police were shot by a lone gunman in Dallas, protests against racialized police brutality went ahead in many U.S. cities.

St. Paul, Minnesota
Protestors started an occupation in front of the governor’s mansion. On July 10, Interstate 94 was blockaded and shut down for five hours. Later on in the night, protestors and police clashed. Over 100 people were arrested. Efforts to obtain information and bail money for those arrested is underway at the time of writing.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana
After a 1,000-strong march through the city on July 10, police attempted to keep the march from continuing into the evening. They donned riot gear and forced the marchers out of the road. There were more than 120 people arrested over the weekend. DeRay McKesson, celebrity activist and school privatization crusader, was among those arrested.

Memphis, Tennessee
A large rally took place at the FedExForum on July 9, followed by a march. Hundreds from the march went onto the Interstate 40 bridge, bringing traffic to a standstill. The city’s interim police director was shouted down after he attempted to speak.

Atlanta, Georgia

A “sea of thousands” attempted to march and block off interstate on-ramps on July 8, but were turned away by police. A large crowd gathered outside the headquarters of CNN as well, seemingly to protest the cable station’s coverage of recent high-profile police killings of people of color.

Chicago, Illinois
Traffic was disrupted and the yearly “Taste of Chicago” event on July 9 was interrupted as people marched through downtown. Approximately 20 people were arrested.

Rochester, New York
Around 70 people were arrested on July 8 as police responded aggressively to a march that took up the roads and delayed traffic.

Marches and solidarity actions took place in many more cities in the United States, and even spread to Europe, where rallies occurred in London, Amsterdam and Berlin. Although considerable energy is now being spent supporting people who have been arrested, there is no indication that the movement against racialized police brutality, commonly referred to as Black Lives Matter, is going away any time soon.

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May Day with Nicaraguan workers in Lane, Oregon Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:07:41 +0000 Read More]]> By the Lane IWW

Pictured here is an inspiring moment taken at our May Day concert and celebration, which was on May 1, 2016: Lane Wobblies, labor and community activists from Eugene and Springfield, Ore., standing in global solidarity with members of the Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo of Nicaragua.

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