Solidarity is Not Enough

By Northumbria IWW - Organise!, May 26, 2023

Up to half a million workers in the biggest industrial action in a decade; the number of days lost to strikes biggest since the Thatcher era; largest strike in the history of the health service; worst year for strike action since 1989. Calls for indefinite strikes, hashtag #generalstrike trending. 

There’s an image been going the rounds of left circles for a while – four identical photos of a woman sitting, head down and miserable, by a production line – the captions, “before Brexit, after Brexit, before the election, after the election”. It could as well say, “before the pandemic, after the pandemic” and I’m surprised I haven’t seen someone do that. 

The pandemic gave focus and force to a movement against the intensification of work. The four-day week, the 6-hour day, rising complaints about work-life balance and burnout, demands for hybrid work, all threaten employers’ attempts to recoup the financial cost of Covid. For some there has been a reintensification of work after a period of relative ease working from home. For all of us, realities of life before and after the pandemic have given the lie to the tentative freedoms many of us felt and cautiously explored during the lockdown. The significance of the resistance against work discipline could be seen by the slew of articles in the business and right-wing press in the past year condemning an irresponsible and selfish horde of quietly quitting, millennial serial quitters. After the lockdown, there is a swell of feeling for a deintensification of work. 

Threats to the value of shareholder returns must be dealt with so in response to these sentiments, we have a manufactured crisis – the Bank raised interest rates to trigger an artificial recession to reimpose work discipline via the cost-of-living. This has sparked widespread anger, and the traditional organs of the Left have mobilised to take the reins. The fightback against austerity has been union-led. Public sympathy for the strikes has been strong, but moral support, coins in collection buckets or posts on social media won’t address the wider issue, and nor will marches and rallies. Last summer, an RMT comrade from Bristol AFed commented, If passengers, staff and all workers across the country come together … but despite those early, heady days of chatting to fellow workers on picket lines, there is a vanishingly small chance of this now. The government’s anti-strikes bill is likely to keep future union demands – and action – modest.

The hashtag #generalstrike is over-optimistic and workers’ self-management is not on the table. The current wave of strikes is not about how the economy is run, but about workers having some say in how the proceeds of the economy are distributed. Union bureaucracies will settle for a few gains, retain authority over their members and then want to see this wave of solidarity and militancy fade into the background routine. Meanwhile, pay rises can be absorbed by productivity deals and changes to conditions so that returns to shareholders are maintained. Away from the workplace, pay rises can be absorbed by inflation until the anti-work wave is deemed to have dispersed, discipline has been reimposed and we’ve been put back in our box – and then the recession will magically go away. 

Chapter 16 : I Like Spotted Owls…Fried.

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“Then…Oh! Baby! Oh!
How my business did grow!
Now, chopping one tree at a time was too slow.

“So I quickly invented my Super-Axe-Hacker,
which whacked off four Truffula Trees at one smacker,
We were making Thneeds four times as fast as before,
And that Lorax?…He didn’t show up any more.”

—excerpt from The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, 1971

Bill Bailey had a problem. The longtime Laytonville resident owned a logging equipment shop and mail order catalog from there and made hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, butfor him that certainly wasn’t a problem. [1] It wasn’t a lack of connections that plagued him. His wife Judith Bailey was the sister of Becky Harwood, who was married to young Art Harwood, whose father ran a profitable, local sawmill in nearby Branscomb. [2] It wasn’t a lack of wealth. Bill Bailey claimed to be just another working stiff, but this description was betrayed by the fact that he owned expensive furniture and several luxury cars, including a $50,000 Jaguar and a $100,000 Morgan. [3] It wasn’t even a matter of political perspective. Bailey had presented himself as conservative, but had been successfully pegged as one of the financial backers of recently exposed neo-Nazi and Mendocino supervisorial candidate, Jack Azevedo. [4] Bailey took a lot of heat for backing him, but refused to back down, even after being exposed as supporting the reactionary would-be candidate in the local press, but Bailey didn’t even that as a problem. [5] No, indeed, Bill Bailey had a real problem. It seems that in April of 1989, Bailey’s eight-year-old son, Sam, had recently come home from school one day and told his father that, “when loggers fall trees they are taking away the little animals’ homes, and they can’t live.” [6] That, for Bill Bailey was a huge problem.

Storytelling on the Road to Socialism: Episode 10: A Trackman Speaks

Chapter 15 : Hang Down Your Head John Campbell

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

You came from Australia, You married one of the Murphys,
They owned Pacific Lumber, And all of the redwood trees…
As soon as you hit the big time, You made good your life,
You didn’t need the Murphys, So you divorced your wife.

—lyrics excerpted from Hang Down Your Head John Campbell, by Darryl Cherney, 1990. [1]

While the G-P and L-P mill workers faced uncertain futures in Mendocino County, Charles Hurwitz was having his way in Humboldt County. Indeed, the first third of 1989 did not go well for the adversaries of Maxxam. For his services in helping facilitate the takeover and convincing the Texas raider to boost lumber production to help service the takeover debt, Hurwitz promoted John Campbell to the role of Pacific Lumber president, effective January 1, 1989, replacing the retiring William Leone. Campbell would remain in Scotia, thus making it the first time in almost 15 years that the P-L president would have his office in the capitol of its lumber operations. Executive vice president for sales and marketing at the company’s Mill Valley site and Hurwitz supporter Thomas B Malarkey was promoted to company vice chairman. Both Campbell and Malarkey were elected to the board of directors. The moves signified Hurwitz’s determination to retain his hold over Humboldt County. [2] It no doubt appealed to Hurwitz that under Campbell’s watch, P-L’s operating income had increased to approximately $54 million in 1988. [3] Hurwitz himself had made a hefty sum that year, earning over $3.95 million—up from $723,150 the year before—and the total didn’t even include an additional $668,345 he received when he terminated P-L’s bonus plan or the $309,375 worth of stock he received on top of everything else. [4]

Reuse, Recycle, Unionize!: Urban Ore workers win union election, get ready to negotiate contract

By Peter Moore - Industrial Worker, May 17, 2022

The Urban Ore workers of Berkeley, California won their union election with a two-thirds majority of workers’ votes on April 7, 2023. 

The union received confirmation of their certification from the NLRB as a bargaining unit on Thursday, April 20. The campaign went public on February 1. 

While one of the employers had told local media he objected to some of the ballots, he did not file any objection before the deadline with the regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) office.

Urban Ore is a 3-acre for-profit salvage operation in Berkeley, California, founded in 1980 with its goal “to end the age of waste.” Workers describe it as an essential part of the Berkeley community. 

“They have a reputation in Berkeley as one of the longstanding hippy businesses that people love. The owners are also a bit power obsessed and don’t want to let go of control of their little baby,” said one of the workers who helped organize the drive, Benno Giammarinaro.

Storytelling on the Road to Socialism: Episode 9: A Janitor Speaks

Review - The Lucas Plan: A New Trade Unionism In The Making?

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, May 11, 2023

As the climate crises continues to deepen and as climate justice movements continue to rise to meet it, the concept of a just transition and/or a just transformation continues to be an ever present topic of discussion. However, most of these discussions remain in the abstract "what if?" realm, rather than the specific. Further, many workers and unions, even more revolutionary workers and unions, express skepticism due to lack of concrete examples of a just transition in practice.

The burning question is, do examples of worker crafted, specific concrete transformative plans exist and what do they look like?

Indeed, they do, and one of the best known examples is the Lucas Plan.

(From Wikipedia) The Lucas Plan was a January 1976 document produced by the workers of Lucas Aerospace Corporation. The shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace published an Alternative Plan for the future of their company. The plan was in response to the company’s announcement that thousands of jobs were to be cut to enable industrial restructuring in the face of technological change and international competition. Instead of being made redundant the workforce argued for their right to develop socially useful products.

In the most basic sense, the Lucas Plan was an example of green syndicalism in practice. 

What's even better, is that it's actually a well documented example, and The Lucas Plan: A New Trade Unionism In The Making? (Second Edition, Spokesman: 2018), by Hilary Wainwright and Dave Elliot, covers it all in rich, thorough detail. The book documents how the Lucas Aerospace, Shop Stewards Combine Committee, devised the plan, formed workplace committees, and devised a strategy to achieve it.

The workers possessed the necessary skills and determination to realize the plan, and they overcame many challenges, including craft divisions within the various unions that represented the Lucas Aerospace workers, as well as different left political tendencies among the rank and file workers and their shopfloor leadership. What these workers were unable to overcome were the inevitable refusal of the capitalists to agree to their demands, made all the more immobile by opposition from the workers' unions' officialdom, lack of support or interest from the various organized left parties and movements and obstruction from both of England's major political parties (Labour and Conservative).

The authors rely heavily on interviews and testimony from many of the workers who participated in the struggle, and as a result the account offers a variety of perspectives and honest self-criticism. The authors and the workers interviewed offer much advice on how to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Review - A Planet to Win:Why We Need a Green New Deal

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, May 11, 2023

In spite of this book's straightforward sounding title, A Planet to Win, Why We Need a Green New Deal (Verso, 2019), by Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and The Riofrancos, this relatively short and concise book would be much more accurately titled, "Why we think our version of the Green New Deal is the best one of the lot," because there isn't a single "Green New Deal", but several, as we have noted here on ecology.iww.org. This, however, is not necessarily a negative aspect of this book.

The authors, all of them ecosocialists with a transformative approach, are quick to explain that the particular Green New Deal they seek is one that addresses most critiques of the Green New Deal in general. 

  • Would the Green New Deal repeat the mistakes of the original New Deal and exclude BIPOC people? Not the authors' version.
  • Would the Green New Deal rely heavily on social democratic Keynesian state intervention? Not the author's version!
  • Would the Green New Deal perpetuate endless growth in hubristic ignorance of the natural limits to growth, not if these authors have any say in the matter;
  • Would the Green New Deal further the continued exploitation by the Global North of the Global South? Not if the authors have anything to do with it!
  • Would the Green New Deal merely be a case of the capitalists saving themselves, with a putatively green branding? Absolutely not, the authors say.

Certainly, if given the choice, that sounds quite good to me. Clearly these authors aren't content with a naive faith that just because something is called a "Green New Deal" it will actually be a good deal.

Storytelling on the Road to Socialism: Episode 8: A Spinner and Weaver Speaks

Chapter 14 : Mother Jones at the Georgia Pacific Mill

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“Greed is a noble motivator, when applied in the right context.”

—T Marshall Hahn, President, Georgia-Pacific, 1983-93

At least the workers at the Georgia-Pacific Mill in Fort Bragg had a union who would protect their jobs and working conditions—or so they thought.

The lumber mill that adorned the California coast in Fort Bragg was the largest employer in town, a town whose economy depended on timber. The mill employed more than 600 workers whose wages began at around $7 per hour and ranged up to $18 for long time veterans. Remote from any major highways or rail lines, and lacking a deep water port, the only other industries of any significance in that area were fishing and tourism (though the wine trade was just beginning to gain some pertinence as well).[1] The large mill had been owned by the Union Lumber Company until it was purchased by Boise-Cascade (B-C) in 1969, at which point, IWA Local 3-469 unionized the workers. B-C suffered financial difficulties and subsequently their California holdings were purchased by Georgia-Pacific (G-P) in 1973, in a hostile takeover. B-C filed a successful anti-trust suit against G-P, which had to spin off another company (which became Louisiana-Pacific) to comply with the terms.[2] G-P retained ownership of the Fort Bragg facility. Mendocino County environmentalists had tangled with Georgia-Pacific for many years—most notably over the expansion of the Sinkyone wilderness. Though not actually a company town like Scotia, Fort Bragg was essentially a company town in practice, and that would be proven for all to see. G-P Mill workers were still reeling from their concessionary contract in 1985 and from the loss of their union loggers in the woods—who had been replaced by Gyppo logging crews—when an incident happened on February 11, 1989 that would further expose what went on behind the Redwood Curtain.

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