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Let’s Get to Work

By Erik Forman - Jacobin, February 7, 2017

The Left has a long tradition of asking ourselves, “What is to be done?” Ever since Lenin posed this rhetorical question, it has served as the hook for an ever-expanding genre of think pieces and calls to action on every imaginable social-movement dilemma.

“What is to be done?” bounces from movement to movement, crisis to crisis, and occasionally illuminates more foundational existential problems of the Left. In that spirit, Jacobin’s recent “Rank and File” issue examined one of our more urgent contemporary questions: what is to be done to revitalize the labor movement?

Contributors offered up numerous diagnoses and prescriptions. Charlie Post pointed out the crucial role the militant minority played in labor’s twentieth-century successes; Jane McAlevey called for “whole worker organizing,” Joe McCartin urged unions not to squander the brief window between the Friedrichs decision and the next attack on collective bargaining rights; and Sam Gindin proposed the “class-based left” as an alternative to social movement unionism.

Since publication of these articles, labor’s crisis has deepened. The right wing now controls all three branches of the federal government and the majority of states. The sequel to Friedrichs, Janus v. AFSCME, is headed for the Supreme Court, threatening to decimate public-sector unions nationwide. Talk of a national right-to-work law is spreading.

Figuring out “what is to be done” has only become more urgent. But there’s a problem with this question, evident first at the level of grammar. “What is to be done?” commits every writing teacher’s cardinal sin: the passive voice. Who is the subject here? Who is going to do what needs to be done?

The absence of an active subject is more than a grammatical problem — it represents the problem of the labor left. The militant minority is small to nonexistent, and it’s not even clear who is going to do the work to rebuild it. There is a large gap between the intellectual left and the working class it discusses.

Working-class voices are rare among the talking heads who dominate left discourse. Most theorists on the Left write of labor from the perspective of intellectuals who stand above the class struggle, rather than workers in the thick of it.

The decision-makers for labor are often literal miles away from their own rank and file. As a result, we more often talk about unions organizing workers than workers organizing unions. Workers are positioned as the objects rather than the subjects of their own organizations.

This alienation manifests in a variety of ways: members don’t participate in meetings, are unready or unwilling to strike, accept concessionary bargaining, and as the recent election made clear, express alarming levels of support for right-wing candidates.

Labor liberals believe these problems can be corrected with small-picture fixes: social media, paper coalitions with community groups, narrow campaigns against this or that particular right-wing legislation, and other tactical shifts that leave the structure of the union unchanged. The present moment shows that this band-aid approach has failed to reverse labor’s decline.

And even if they could, they would not go far enough. The labor left must seek not just to salvage labor’s existing institutions but to transform them and build new ones. Our goal should be to make workers the subjects rather than the objects of their own organizations — and of history.

Our prescription for the labor movement’s renewal needs a new grammar. Instead of asking “What is to be done?”, we could start with a different question: “What should I do?”

As it turns out, the right-wing hecklers we’ve all encountered are half right: we should get jobs. And then we should do what we tell workers to do all the time: organize our workplaces.

This tactic has a name and a history. It’s called “salting,” and it was foundational to the development of the American labor movement.

IWW Resolution Against DAPL and KXL

Resolution passed by the IWW General Executive Board - January 28, 2017

Whereas: Neither the Dakota Access Pipeline nor the Keystone XL Pipeline will provide anywhere near the number of permanent union jobs the promoters of these projects promise they will, and

Whereas: Far more permanent union jobs can be created at comparable wages by repairing existing pipeline infrastructure, such as water mains in Flint, Michigan, or repairing leaks in existing pipelines (which, if unfixed, release harmful amounts of methane, a known greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming); and

Whereas: Far more jobs currently exist in the growing renewable energy sector than in the declining fossil fuel sector; and

Whereas: Though these renewable energy jobs are currently, typically nonunion, unions if so determined, could easily develop a successful organizing program, using solidarity unionism, that could revitalize the currently struggling labor movement; and

Whereas: Neither pipeline project will deliver the promised "energy security" or "energy independence" promised by their promoters, including the Building Trades and AFL-CIO Union officials among them; and

Whereas: oil pipelines, such as the aforementioned pipelines tend to leak and create unnecessary risk to the surrounding environment both through methane gas leaks and crude oil spills; and

Whereas: such pipelines endanger the communities along their routes, including many indigenous communities whose tribal sovereignty has been often ignored or violated during the permitting process by agencies subject to regulatory capture by the capitalist interests that promote them; and

Whereas: the construction of these pipelines will contribute to the acceleration of already dangerous levels of currently existing greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to the already dangerous levels of climate change, which could lead to a dead planet with no jobs of any kind; and

Whereas: many unions, including the IWW, have already publically stated opposition to one or both the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Whereas: President Donald Trump's "executive orders" that ostensibly "clear a path" for the completion of the aforementioned pipelines  and mandate that they be constructed using US manufactured steel are contradictory in nature and are designed primarily to divide workers and environmentalists over the false dichotomy of "jobs versus the environment", which is utterly false as previously described;

Be it Resolved that: the IWW reaffirms its opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and officially declares its opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW stands in solidarity with the First Nations, union members, environmental activists, and community members who oppose both; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW urges rank and file members of the Building Trades, Teamsters, and other unions who have declared support for these pipelines to call upon their elected officials to reverse their support; and

Be it Finally Resolved that: the IWW demands that the promoters of these pipelines develop a "just transition" plan for the pipeline workers that would be affected by the cancellation of these pipeline projects.

Video: How to Organize a General Strike

By New York City IWW - January 14, 2017

IWW blockades Street in front of Whole Foods Demanding Reinstatement for Worker

By DC Direct Action News - It's Going Down, January 14, 2017

Julia Flores is a 15 year employee of the P St Whole Foods who was fired from her job for organizing workers and informing them about such laws as the minimum wage. On the 13th of January, the IWW escalated the campaign demanding her job back by blocking the streets in front of another Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom.

Whole Foods is trying to claim that Julia stole an item worth less than $10 after working there for 15 years. Nobody is believing this spurious claim, but this is how Whole Foods is attempting to stave off legal proceedings for violating labor laws. Firing workers for attempting to organize a union is illegal but a common practice, employers always make up some other reason for firing and dare workers to prove otherwise in court.

In addition to the legal proceedings, the IWW is holding Whole Foods accountable to the public with actions like the Jan 13 street blockade and picket that educate the public, drive away business, and create public relations problems with the surrounding neighborhood. There is a strong probability that Whole Foods will be hearing from other businesses in the area whose customers had trouble getting to them.

Activists from DC Stampede (an animal rights group) joined the IWW in this protest as a solidarity matter. Whole Foods has come to the attention of DC Stampede and Direct Action Everywhere (XDXE) in the past for ripping off their customers with meat alleged to be “cruelty-free” that was proven by a video to be from ordinary factory farms. Still earlier, the P st Whole Foods (the one that fired Juilia) played a role in the gentrification of Shaw. They were the first grocery store in that area to keep dumpsters locked up and use compactors. They absolutely refused to give a single scrap of discarded food to homeless service organizations in that time period (circa 2007). Finally. anarchists raided the P st Whole Foods during the October Rebellion (fall 2007 IMF protests), expropriated a large amount of food, and served it to the needy. In short, Whole Foods should be considered a repeat offender, a “frequent flier” for social justice campaigns.

Labor History: The Centralia Massacre

By Richard Mellor - Facts For Working People, January 7, 2017

Facts For Working People is grateful to Esther Barnett Goffinet for sharing  her father's story about the Centralia Massacre that took place in Centralia Washington in November 1919. Ripples Of A Lie tells of Eugene Barnett's life and how he came to witness these important events in US labor history. There is also contact information for those who wish to purchase the book.

When the American Legion attacked the [IWW] union hall in Centralia, Washington on November 11, 1919, it was the first time in history the union men fought back, leaving four soldiers dead. Innocent and unarmed, union man Eugene Barnett stood in the window of the hotel next door, a witness who could not be allowed to talk. “We know you had nothing to do with this,” the prosecutor said, “but unless you keep your mouth shut, we’re gonna send you up.”

Ripples of a Lie is a biographical/labor history of my father, Eugene Barnett. Written as a narrative that makes history come alive, it is the only book available that tells the true story of the Centralia Massacre and the aftermath. The only book written by a family member of the prisoners, from the prisoner’s perspective, and the only book written by someone who actually knew those involved. It is 468 pages not counting the index and bibliography, and has 96 pictures with footnotes so facts can be checked. It is academic quality and every word is true.

Born in the mountains of North Carolina to poor share croppers, Gene was the oldest of eight children. His father was also working as a carpenter making five cents per day. Encouraged by the promise of “good pay and good schools” for the children, Gene’s father moved the family to West Virginia to become a coal miner. The “good pay” was 50 cents a day for 14 hours work, 200 feet under-ground, in deplorable conditions. In many families the children starved to death while their fathers worked those long hard hours. They could expect to lose at least one in four children.

In most families, like mine, the oldest children were sent to work to help support the family. Some working children were as young as five years old. They were rock-pickers, hired to pick rocks off the rail tracks inside the mine so rail cars wouldn’t wreck. Many children died in accidents, those who didn’t were treated very cruelly, beaten by the guards if they stopped to play, or didn’t produce the work expected. This left a lasting impression on my father. Eugene Barnett was not quite eight years old when he was sent to work in the mines. As one of the “older children” he was a trapper boy, opening and closing a big tarp to keep air in the mine.

When my father ran away from home at age 14 he had already worked 6 years under-ground. By then his sisters, ages 10 and 12, were working in a laundry ironing sheets in a hot steamy room with no ventilation. They too, worked 14-hour days, 6 days in a row, for which they were paid $3 a week.

Gene met Mother Jones, the union supporter and activist who protected union members from anti-union thugs, and hearing her speak a few times he became interested in the unions. He proudly joined the United Mine Workers at age 14 and worked toward better and safer working conditions for the rest of his life. The book includes wages, prices, working and living conditions throughout those years.

My father worked his way west in 1910 and took a homestead in the mountains of Idaho. During WWI President Wilson put out an edict that “all miners return to the mines.” Coal was needed for the war effort. Gene leased his homestead and moved to Centralia, Washington and the coal mines. He got a second job in the lumber camps. He had a wife and baby so they lived in a tiny house near the mine. Most men lived in the bunk houses at the camps where they slept with lice and bed-bugs, 16 men in one room with no mattresses, no windows, no place to even wash after work. Jobs were bought and sold to the highest bidder. If someone offered the job-boss a dollar for your job you were finished. That was nearly a day’s pay. There was no job security. You didn’t know from one day to the next if you even had a job. So the men joined a union.

That is how Gene happened to be there when the American Legion, led by the area businessmen, attacked the union hall. They had succeeded before in running the union out of town and planned to do it again. The union secretary lived in the back of the hall, it was his home. When the soldiers broke through the door of the union hall the men shot back and four soldiers were killed. There is a monument in the Centralia City Park to honor those men who attacked the union hall.

Gene was not involved in the shooting, but he was a member of the union, and an eye-witness who could not be allowed to talk. Therefore he was arrested and accused of being the actual killer of the soldier who led the raid. There were eleven innocent men originally arrested for the deaths of the soldiers and that is them behind my father on the cover. Those who were actually guilty of the murder were never punished and lived out their lives as “respected” citizens. My book names names.

Gene refused to lie about what he had seen so he was framed and along with seven other innocent union men, was sent to prison for 25 to 40 years for first-degree murder. The life span in 1920 was 54 years so that was life in prison.

The prisoners became close friends for life and I was fortunate to know some of them and their children. They have given me their father’s papers, pictures, and letter and believed in me that I would write this book. We want one book out there that tells the truth. My father spent a lifetime labeled as a “convicted murderer” for a crime he didn’t commit. The effects of that label on his life and ours is the rest of the story.

‘An injury to one is an injury to all’

By Angela K. Evans - Boulder Weekly, December 1, 2016

Since July, thousands of people have joined the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota as they protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which is slated to carry up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil every day for 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. The protesters, who call themselves “water protecters,” have been joined by members of other Native American tribes, environmentalists, international sympathizers and members of several labor unions.

Liam Cain, a card-carrying member of Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, first traveled to North Dakota after he heard that large trade unions such as LIUNA and AFL-CIO called on the governor of North Dakota to protect union members working on the pipeline by sending in the National Guard.

“If anyone knows anything about the labor movement or labor history, they know it’s a deeply hypocritical and soulless thing for them to do. It aligns them as the junior partners in capitalism and divorces them from whatever was good with the labor movement in terms of the working-class and fighting for the working-class population. …

“This is actually a union I’m a part of,” he continues. “I may have philosophical disagreements with people who are in this union but this isn’t a philosophical disagreement. This is a soulless, disgusting thing that the International [Union] signed off on and the rank and file is not all on board with.”

Originally from Humboldt County, California, Cain first joined LIUNA in 2008 to work on a major pipeline being built through Cheyenne, and he has worked on several mainline pipeline construction projects since. Lately, he’s spent more of his time fighting wildfires around the country but still picks up jobs on pipelines during the off season.

In North Dakota, Cain joined up with the Labor for Standing Rock delegation, a group of workers in a variety of unions who have traveled to Standing Rock to show their solidarity with the Native Americans and environmentalists protesting the pipeline.

We Still Stand With Standing Rock

By Labor for Standing Rock - Labor for Standing Rock, December 14, 2016

Editor's Note: Many IWW members have been and continue to be involved with this mobilization. One of the three founders of Labor for Standing Rock is also a founder of the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus.

Labor for Standing Rock salutes the Water Protectors, whose courageous resistance has forced the Obama administration not to grant a final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to drill under the Missouri River.

We thank all those who have already joined us on the ground; helped purchase and deliver supplies to winterize Standing Rock camp; and organized support in their own unions and communities. We appreciate the thousands of military veterans whose recent presence has played a key role in fighting DAPL. This is what working class solidarity looks like.

Now, we must keep the pressure on until the Black Snake is dead and gone.

As indigenous activists point out: "This fight is not over, not even close. In fact, this fight is escalating. The incoming Trump administration promises to be a friend to the oil industry and an enemy to Indigenous people. It is unclear what will happen with the river crossing. Now more than ever, we ask that you stand with us as we continue to demand justice." http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/…/whats-next-wate…

While supporters are not being asked to come to Standing Rock at this time, the coalition "support[s] those who choose to stay, if they are able to live comfortably and self-sufficiently through a winter in the Great Plains." In addition, indigenous activists have asked Labor for Standing Rock to continue providing support for those who remain through the bitter winter.

In this context, we reaffirm that workers' rights are inseparable from indigenous rights. An Injury to One is an Injury to All! -- Mni Wiconi: Water is Life! There are no jobs -- or life -- on a dead planet; we need just transition and full employment to build a sustainable world.

Airport expansion is a racist policy

By Jo Ram - Red Pepper, November 2016

On 19 November, activists blockaded one of the key access roads to Heathrow airport with a banner saying ‘Climate Change is A Racist Crisis’. More groups had interventions planned but the police foiled their attempts. 15 arrests took place throughout the day. 100s also took part in a nearby demonstration despite heavy police presence. This action was coordinated by Rising Up! and comes a few weeks after Theresa May gave the green light to the building of a third runway at Heathrow.

For the climate and everyone who doesn’t belong to the global political elite, May’s decision doesn’t make sense. Thousands will see their home demolished to make way for the new runway. Only 15% are responsible for 70% of UK’s international flights - so airport expansion doesn’t really benefit the average person who goes on holiday once or twice a year. Plus, a large proportion of Heathrow flights are short haul, whose routes could be better serviced by improved rail infrastructure. More crucially, flying is the most emissions-intensive form of transport and the fastest growing cause of climate change. It is not possible for the UK government to expand airports and meet existing commitments on climate action.

The subtext of this decision is loud and clear: the government’s doesn’t care either about the local community, who are fiercely opposed to the expansion, or about the vast majority of the world’s population, for whom climate change is truly an existential threat.

DC IWW Resolution on Standing Rock

Official Statement by the DC IWW General Membership Branch - November 19, 2016

The DC General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World wish to express our solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock who are resisting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on their tribal lands. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and those fighting alongside them, are on the front lines of environmental struggle in North America, standing against corporate power and greed, against government collusion with private interests, and above all against the planet-killing depredations of the industrial capitalist system.

To the water protectors at Standing Rock, we say the following: Your struggle, to defend your own communities, health, dignity, and livelihoods, is a clear lesson to all who love freedom and justice: there is not, and must not be, any separation between fighting for Mother Earth and fighting for our lives. Protecting the Earth from destruction is an act of collective self-defense. The Sioux phrase, “Mitakuye Oyasin” -- “All Are Related” -- is similar to the old IWW slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” reminding the working class of its common identity. By fighting the Dakota Access pipeline, the water protectors-our fellow workers- at Standing Rock protect not only themselves but millions of fellow workers who could potentially be impacted by the Dakota Access Pipeline.

By taking action to defend your water and land, you have struck powerful blows against the corporate action exploitation of the Earth. Your struggle is supported and appreciated. We encourage all groups and all peoples concerned with the exploitation of our Earth for profit to support the water protectors at Standing Rock.

In Harmony with the Earth! Mni Wiconi! Water Is Life!

To Escape Trump’s America, We Need to Bring the Militant Labor Tactics of 1946 Back to the Future

By Admin - Life Long Wobbly, November 12, 2016

Back to the Future, Part 1:

The last general strike in the US was in Oakland in 1946. That year there were 6 city-wide general strikes, plus nationwide strikes in steel, coal, and rail transport. More than 5 million workers struck in the biggest strike wave of US history. So what happened? Why haven’t we ever gone out like that again? Congress amended US labor law in 1947, adding massive penalties for the very tactics that had allowed strikes to spread and be successful – and the business unions accepted the new laws. In fact, they even went beyond them by voluntarily adding “no-strike clauses” to every union contract for the last 70 years, and agreeing that when they do strike in between contracts it will only be for their own wages and working conditions, not to support anybody else or to apply pressure about things happening in the broader society. When we allowed ourselves to lose our most important weapons 70 years ago, we took the first step towards Trump’s America. We’re stuck in the wrong timeline – if we want to get out, we have to bring the militant labor tactics of 1946 back to the future!

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