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strategy and tactics

Rebel Cities, Urban Resistance and Capitalism: a Conversation with David Harvey

By Vincent Emanuele - CounterPunch, February 1, 2017

Emanuele: You begin your book Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, by describing your experience in Paris during the 1970s: “Tall building-giants, highways, soulless public housing and monopolized commodification on the streets threatening to engulf the old-Paris… Paris from the 1960s on was plainly in the midst of an existential crisis.” In 1967, Henry Lefebvre wrote his seminal essay “On the Right to the City.” Can you talk about this period and the impetus for writing Rebel Cities? 

Harvey: Worldwide, the 1960s is often looked at, historically, as a period of urban crisis. In the United States, for example, the 1960s was a time when many central cities went up in flames. There were riots and near revolutions in cities like Los Angeles, Detroit and of course after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 — over 120 American cities were inflicted with minor and massive social unrest and rebellious action. I mention this in the United States, because what was in-effect happening was that the city was being modernized. It was being modernized around the automobile; it was being modernized around the suburbs. Now, the Old City, or what had been the political, economic and cultural center of city throughout the 1940s and 50s, was now being left behind. Remember, these trends were taking place throughout the advanced capitalist world. So it wasn’t just in the United States. There were serious problems in Britain and France where an older way of life was being dismantled — a way a life that I don’t think anyone should be nostalgic about, but this old way of life was being pushed away and replaced by a new way of life based on commercialization, property, property speculation, building highways, the automobile, suburbanization, and with all these changes we saw increased inequality and social unrest.

Depending on where you were at the time, these were strictly class-inequalities, or they were class-inequalities focused on specific minority groups. For example, obviously in the United States it was the African American community based in the inner cities who had very little in terms of employment opportunities or resources. So, the 1960s was referred to as an urban crisis. If you go back and look at all the commissions from the 1960s that were inquiring what to do about the urban crisis, there were government programs being implemented from Britain to France, and also in the Untied States. Similarly, they were all trying to address this ‘urban crisis.’

I found this a fascinating topic to study and a traumatic experience to live through. You know, these countries that were becoming more and more affluent were leaving people behind who were being secluded in urbanized-ghettos and treated as non-existent human beings. The crisis of the 1960s was a crucial one, and one I think Lefebvre understood quite well. He believed that people in urban areas should have a voice to decide what those areas should look like, and what kind of urbanization process should take place. At the same time, those who resisted wished to roll back the wave of property speculation that was beginning to engulf urban areas throughout the industrialized capitalist countries.

Can Trade Unions Become Environmental Innovators?

By Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, and Dave Elliott - Soundings, December 2010

Learning from the Lucas Aerospace Workers

The attempt by workers at Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s to develop a plan to convert production in their company from weapons to socially useful goods has recently been invoked in debates on creating low-carbon societies.[1] As Hilary Wainwright and Andy Bowman have argued, a renewed Green New Deal that involved a similar level of painstaking attention to grass-roots participation ‘would be a worthy successor indeed’.[2] We agree with this view, and we would like to make the additional argument that the Lucas example is particularly helpful for international trade union debates on climate change.

The Lucas workers were way ahead of their time in recognising the need for sustainable development - even if such a concept did not exist at that time. But their project also demanded a radical revision of the ways in which society determined its priorities. In today’s terms, their argument was for a ‘Just Transition’. In other words, in adapting production for different needs, it was important to make sure that any new strategies would take workers’ interests into account. And it is this notion that is important in trade union debates today.[3]

Trade unions are not commonly regarded as being on the frontline of the climate change battle. Many people (including not a few trade unionists) see unions as being on the side of climate sceptics, or as being a constituency for whom other concerns are more important. But many national and international unions are currently seeking to develop policies through which their industries can help to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change; and unions do have a long history of struggling for environmental issues - even if this history is not given so much attention today. For example, in the early years of industrialisation trade unionists fought against air and river pollution in their communities. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that safe workplaces - an issue where the history of trade union involvement is more familiar - are also an environmental issue. One reason why the trade union record is often overlooked is that environmental issues have often been raised by environmental movements, which have paid little attention to social and work issues. Equally, trade unionists often reject environmental arguments, for example claiming that it is more important to preserve and create jobs than to ‘save a few trees’ - as was the kind of dismissive remark sometimes made in the course of our interviews. However, things are changing dramatically and fast.

The Evolution of ELF After "Operation Backfire"

By an anonymous IWW Member - ca. 2010

Media reports claim that several alleged ELF eco-warriors turned snitches, including Briana Waters, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, William Cottrell, Darren Todd Thurston, Ian Jacob Wallace, Jacob (Jake the SNAKE) Ferguson, Jen Kolar, Kevin Tubbs, Lacey Phillabaum, Lauren Weiner, Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, Ryan Lewis, Kendall Tankersley, Frank Ambrose, Zachary Jensen, Suzanne Savoie, Aaron Ellringer and Katherine Christianson.  They reportedly all caved in and "cooperated" with authorities.  But, more than twenty ELF activists did not have to lose their freedom in order to wage an effective battle defending the Earth.

They could have learned by another person's experience:  Thirty six years ago, in 1977 (around the time when Chelsea Gerlach was being born), an arrest occurred which showed that arson and the use of explosives is counterproductive to the environmental movement.  John Hanna of Santa Cruz, California, was the first ELF "ecommando" to be arrested for underground guerrilla actions done in defense of the environment.  He ended up facing a federal judge in 1978 where he was convicted of placing fire bombs on seven crop dusters, sent to prison and spent years rebuilding his life.

Technology, Workers' Control, and the Environmental Crisis

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, Fall 1989

IWW EUC web editor's note: Alien Nation was an anti-civ and/or primitivist oriented green anarchist "caucus" within Earth First!, active around the time that Judi Bari became active in both Earth First! and the IWW (ca. 1988-90). Alien Nation was not affiliated with either Dave Foreman or Judi Bari, though they most often drew animosity from Foreman and his "wing" of that movement. They didn't last very long within Earth First!, though their ideas would later inform those of Live Wild or Die (LWOD) as well as Deep Green Resistance (DGR).

"…We…like your publication even though we disagree with your "technology" position. Our position is—simply put—that technology is not a neutral tool and until technology is being created by a classless society, any superstructure that attempts to maintain the infrastructure of class technology will be doomed to retain hierarchy. Just as we are anti-statist, we are anti-"specialized, hierarchical technology". Worker owned and controlled pollution is still pollution.

- Alien Nation"

Alien Nation's brief note raises a number of tough questions. Questions which cannot be answered very briefly, alas. The following remarks are my own, but I believe the views set forth here are similar to those of others in Workers Solidarity Alliance.

Contrary to what Alien Nation seem to suggest, we certainly do not have the position that "technology is a neutral tool," independent of the social structure In which It develops. As we said in our leaflet "Bhopal and workers rights"· (Ideas & Action #6):

We should question the assumption that technology is neutral or value-free in its moral or political content. The high-risk technology that went wrong at Bhopal did not spring from nowhere. It has a history a history inseparable from the emergence and development of the large, bureaucratic corporation, the central institution of big business.

"Technology" is know-how based on systematic bodies of knowledge. The available technology refines the limits of what is feasible at a given point in time in the modification of natural materials to make things useful to people. Note that "technology," in this sense, is not identical with the actual techniques that are implemented at a given time. That's because there may be alternative methods that are each "technically possible" at that time. The path of technical development that actually takes place is not determined by "technology" alone, but by the human priorities and social structures that govern technical decision-making.

A Union For All Railroad Workers (IWW Railroad Workers)

Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield from an original kindly lent by FW Steve Kellerman, Boston GMB. Some misprints silently corrected. Reformatted slightly for easier reading.

Last updated 8 March 2004.

A Foreword About Those Who Wrote This Booklet

This booklet, like the movement to organize railroad workers into the One Big Union of the I. W. W., comes from actively engaged railroad workers themselves. The authors do not make their living by writing or by organizing. For over thirty years each of them has made his living by working in the railroad industry. They were selected as a committee by their fellow workers who wanted the best possible working conditions and who realize they will need the best possible unionism to get them.

For this reason they selected the I. W. W. because of its structure, policies, principles and its 43 years' clean record of no sell-outs, no crossing of picket lines, no scabbery and continuous working rank and file control.

They have made rapid progress. At the present time they have delegates in the following departments of railroad transportation: Engineers, Firemen, Conductors, Trainmen, Car Inspectors, Dispatchers, Switchmen, Signal Operators. Not one of these is drawing pay from the union for his work. They give the necessary hours to their boss on the job and the other hours are devoted to rest and organization activity. This shows their sincerity and determination. Every delegate has years of experience in railroad transportation and in the more than twenty unions that keep railroad workers divided. It is their firm determination to organize all who work for the railroads.

In making this booklet to explain why they want industrial unionism, and what they hope to accomplish with it, they have picked up whatever good idea they could find anywhere, without concerning themselves with crediting the originator, certain that a good idea should be circulated.

They propose Tentative Demands. They are tentative because a democratic organization does not get its demands shoved down its throat. It is not enough to re-organize railroad labor industrially. An industrial union with the policies of the present craft-union leadership, while it might be better than craft unionism, is not good enough. The men who have sat up nights to prepare this booklet want you to read it, to think about it, and circulate it.



 LISTEN, RAILS!

 Every click of the rails is singing to you,
"Get more, get more, get more !"
Every exhaust of every engine is saying,
"You can do it, you can do it, you can do it !"
And the deep-throated wampus says:
"Organize, Organize, Organ-i-i-ze!"

Chapter 5 - Two Kinds of Unionism And How They Work Out

The inadequacy of craft unionism on the railroads has long been obvious to every thinking worker in the industry. Many efforts have been made to transform it into something more serviceable. These efforts, like those in other industries where workers faced similar problems, have wound up in failure. In general one may observe that the leadership of unions is powerfully entrenched. Constitutions and prevalent practice give the rank and file little to say about major decisions. The business we have with our employers is handled in such unions rather by officers than by workers themselves.

Chapter 4 - Some Questions Answered

Many discouraged railroad workers, dissatisfied with past and present conditions, are looking askance for relief in some new order. Some have declared for an independent organization. Careful analysis will prove such independents can only revert back to their same old ills. Fat jobs and false promises.

Others have heard vaguely of the I. W. W. and are asking—What is the I.  W.  W.?

Chapter 3 - Some Proposed Tentative Demands

The Industrial Workers of the World Railroad Workers Industrial Union No. 520 unites all railroad workers from the section men upwards to dispatcher in order to secure protection and economic equality for all.

Chapter 2 - How the I. W. W. Functions

The I.  W.  W. has no President nor Vice-Presidents, no lobbyists in Washington nor politicians to clutter up or obstruct the workers in running their union and economic affairs. A General Secretary-Treasurer is nominated and elected by General Referendum ballot, voted on by all members of the I.  W.  W. The G.S.T. is elected for only one year and cannot serve more than three terms in office. The G.S.T.

Chapter 1 - Why This Booklet

The vast majority of railroad workers of all crafts are dissatisfied with their present form of organization, with leadership, and most of all, with their wages and working conditions.

In office and round-house, in switch-shanty and caboose, there is constant grumbling and "beefing." But obviously grumbling and beefing, though they may relieve the feelings, don't help much on payday.

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