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revolutionary unions

More Juice?

By x364181 - Industrial Worker, October 19, 2023

Is that all labor needs?

Ever since the sharp decline of unions in the latter half of the 1900s people have been scrambling to “revive” the labor movement. The call to action gained momentum recently during the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopes were rekindled with new Amazon and Starbucks organizing attempts. People shout for more unions, more certification elections, more contracts, more workers organizing, more oomph –We mean it this time, dammit!

Uncovering the little-known life of Frank Little: a review of Always On Strike

By Juan Conatz - Wobbly History, April 23, 2023

A review by Juan Conatz of Always on Strike: Frank Little and the Western Wobblies. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker (July/August 2015)

Among the list of legendary figures of the historical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Frank Little stands out as one of its most tragic figures. Although known more than some others, such as Vincent St. John, Matilda Rabinowitz or Frank Cedervall, he didn’t leave behind a cultural legacy like fellow martyr Joe Hill. Nor did he live long enough to write a memoir, like Ralph Chaplin. We remember Little mostly as a victim; a victim of wartime hysteria and anti-union violence. Secondarily, we might remember him for being biracial, the son of a white Quaker husband and Cherokee wife. But his activities as a member and organizer for the IWW are mostly little known.

“Always on Strike: Frank Little and the Western Wobblies” by Arnold Stead aims to change this. Published by the International Socialist Organization-affiliated Haymarket Books, it is the only book-length work on Frank Little. Although relatively short, it does offer some information that is hard to find elsewhere.

Overall a sympathetic account of both Little and the Wobblies, much of the book covers territory previously incorporated in other histories of the IWW. The IWW’s efforts in the Western United States, its mixed opposition to World War I, and the repression it faced during the first Red Scare, are all given ample room.

The author also concerns himself with refuting certain myths about the IWW. Whether from hostile historians, foaming- at-the-mouth-press, or friendly, if condescending, writers, Stead defends the union, its Western sections in particular, from a number of slurs, assumptions of motivation and unhelpful categorizations.

Overcoming Capitalism: Strategy for the Working Class in the 21st Century: Reviewed

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 8, 2023

While the IWW is not an explicitely anarcho-syndicalist organization, much of its praxis fits comfortably within the anarcho-syndicalist tradition. It's not the only revolutionary organization or union that does, either, and it's evident that anarcho-syndicalism as a living, breathing revolutionary practice is alive and well in the first couple of decades of the 21st Century. It's therefore somewhat puzzling that nobody has bothered to write a book that provides an updated overview of anarcho-syndicalism for a modern audience in well over seven or eight decades.

While there have been no shortage of books that have updated the history of anarcho-syndicalism, including the much covered (but contentiously debated) Spanish Revolution of 1936, as well as numerous revolutionary union organizing efforts throughout the last century; and there have been many books detailing the history, workplace and industrial organizing campaigns, methods, and praxis of syndicalist and/or syndicalist-adjacent unions, such as (but not limited to) the IWW, the IWA-AIT, and many others, there hasn't been an English Language book laying out the basic ideas of anarcho-syndicalism since Sam Dolgoff's and Rudolph Rocker's works of the mid-20th Century.

Fortunately, Overcoming Capitalism: Strategy for the Working Class in the 21st Century, by Tom Wetzel, AK Press, 2022 finally attempts to fill that void.

Revolutionary unionism and the Industrial Workers of the World

By CC Gwalia - Red Pepper, January 14, 2023

Founded in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, Or ‘Wobblies’) was once considered the protagonist of the American class struggle. The union emerged out of a conflict with one of the largest worker’s institutions at the time, the American Federation of Labor. Radical thinkers affiliated with the Socialist and Socialist Labor Parties, along with leading trade unionists, felt that the union had taken a reformist stance toward capitalism and pursued an exclusionary policy toward “unskilled” labourers and migrant workers. What was needed was a fighting union, that wouldn’t make needless concessions to the ruling class. A union that would try to bring all workers into the struggle, regardless of profession or race. This historical necessity is also a present one. We still direly need a radical and cohesive instrument of class struggle.

The union’s first ten years proved considerably successful, so much so that it took massive state repression to quell the movement. Though its numbers are now diminished, the IWW retains strongholds around the world, its theory and practice retaining relevance for contemporary struggles. In 2016, IWW activists organised the largest prison strike in American history, and as strikes hit nearly all major industries of the UK, the possibility of building one cohesive movement for justice again raises its head. The task of creating a coordinated workers’ movement will demand unity, solidarity and a mutual recognition of the structural and cultural modes of oppression confronting each worker personally and collectively. To effect this, we need a basis for understanding the shared injuries inflicted on the working class by capitalism, a democratic body to coordinate our efforts, and a method for the critique of half-measures and compromise. Ultimately, we need one large union to link up the smaller struggles.

Green Unionism and Human Rights: Imaginings Beyond the Green New Deal

By Chaumtoli Huq - Pace Environmental Law Review, January 2023

Web Editor's Note: This publication contains an error, identifying the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), a CIO union, as an IWW affiliate. This is inaccurate. The IWA was cofounded by many radical workers, including (but not limited to) members of the IWW, but it was never an IWW union itself.

The Green New Deal harkens us back to the nostalgia of the New Deal era when a diverse and comprehensive set of federal legislation, agencies, programs, public work projects and financial reforms were implemented between 1933 and 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to promote economic recovery. Among them, relevant to this essay’s focus on labor, was the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which provided legal protection to organizing, and supporting unionization and collective bargaining. However, due to political compromises, categories of workers including domestic workers and agricultural workers, who were mostly Black and immigrants were excluded from the NLRA’s coverage. Despite these exclusions, it was a time when the New Deal state seemed to be a strong ally of workers and the labor movement. Industrial peace and security were dominant narratives fueling much of the New Deal legislation. This industrial peace and security rhetoric suppressed the radicalization and rising militancy of the labor movement of the time such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Moreover, the law was actively used to prosecute criminally radical unionists and through other extra-judicial means.

New Deal policies solidified one form of unionism, referred to as business or contract unionism which is based on the idea that the union or labor movement brokers wages, benefits from its members, through collective bargaining agreements, and unions become servicers or administrators of those benefits. Such an approach heavily defers to law, state and legislative spaces as the protector of labor rights; thereby, ceding power away from worker or community control. In contrast, social unionism espoused the view that the role of the labor movement was to build worker power which gives them greater control over their livelihood, workplaces and environment. This view encompassed a wide spectrum of political ideologies and strategies. Social unionism broadly advanced that unions should address the economic interests of its members, encourage them to be active on broader issues of social justice and engage with the state to pass protective worker legislation.18 Under the social unionism view, syndicalists like IWW were skeptical or at most contemptuous of the legal system and emphasized the direct role of the union as agents of social change and governance.

Read the report (PDF).

Conservatives back down on anti-worker law in face of general strike threat. Rank and file resolute

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, November 17, 2022

Ontario’s Conservative government officially repealed its anti-worker, anti-union legislation, known as Bill 28, on November 14.

The Keeping Students in Class Act suspended human rights in an effort to prevent education workers in the province from striking. The government had introduced the bill only two weeks earlier — on October 31 — sparking a wave of union mobilisations and protests.

When word began to circulate about cross-union plans to launch a general strike across Ontario — with a tentative start date, coincidentally, of November 14, the government backed down.

21st Century Unionism

Amazon Workers Speak Out About How to Win at Work*

By Eric Blanc, Angelika Maldonado, Michelle Valentin Nieves, and Chris Smalls - Jacobin, April 11, 2022

* The video also features Bernie Sanders, and the original title headlines this fact, however, this video is mainly about the union and its organizing drive.

Let Nature Play: A Possible Pathway of Total Liberation and Earth Restoration

By Dan Fischer - Green Theory & Praxis, April 2022

Many argue that we are running out of time, but perhaps the problem is time itself. Or rather, it is the alienated time that we spend working on the clock, obsessively looking at screens, letting consumption of commodities dominate our free time and even invade our dreams. And it is the perception we often have of the universe as a giant clock, an inert machine to be put to work. Too often, there is no sense that nature, ourselves included, has a right to relax, a right to be lazy, a right to play.

While Autonomist Marxists define capitalism as an “endless imposition of work” on human beings (van Meter, 2017), we could add that the system also imposes endless work on nonhuman animals and nature. Moving even beyond van Meter’s broad conception of the working class as inclusive of “students, housewives, slaves, peasants, the unemployed, welfare recipients and workers in the technical and service industries” in addition to the industrial proletariat, Jason Hribal (2012) describes exploited animals as working-class. He points to animals’ labor for humans’ food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and medicine. Corroborating such a perspective, capitalists themselves label exploited ecosystems as “working landscapes” (Wuerthner, 2014), exploited farm animals as “labouring cattle” (Hribal, 2012), genetically modified crops as “living factories” (Fish, 2013), and extracted hydrocarbons as “energy slaves” (Fuller, 1940). As summarized by Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth (2015) the dominant worldview posits that “Mother Earth is a slave.” This endless work has been disastrous for the planet. Humans’ long hours of alienated labor contribute to deeply destructive economic growth (Hickel & Kallis, 2019; Knight et al., 2013). So does the exploited labor of animals, with livestock taking up some 76% of the world’s agricultural land (Poore & Nemecek, 2018). Working landscapes “suffer losses in biological diversity, soil health, and other ecological attributes” (Wuerthner, 2014). And even the cleanest “energy slaves,” wind and solar power, can require large amounts of resources and land in the context of a growing economy (War on Want & London Mining Network, 2019).

Convoys, Rallies, and a Three-Way Fight Approach within a Union Context

By DZ and Three Way Fight - It's Going Down, February 23, 2022

The author, DZ, has opted to use his initials because he is discussing active union business at his local. This article details actions and analysis in Vancouver. Meanwhile, as we go to publish, the police in Ottawa have stepped up the banning of the Convoy from areas around Parliament and the city. Attempts to stop the Convoy protests by police have now seen the police using chemical sprays and flash grenades with a growing number of the Convoy supporters being arrested – 3WF

The ongoing trucker convoy, which has occupied parts of downtown Ottawa and other neighborhoods for several weeks, has been met with a widespread sense of demoralization among the left (an equivocal term that I will disambiguate below). Participants in the convoy present themselves in opposition to vaccine mandates, but we must note that these actions are the latest iteration of a strategically and tactically fluid covid-denialist movement, which has manifest over the last two years as anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination, anti-mandate, and anti-mask. It is a movement which has also, from its very beginnings, drawn membership and support from far-right movements.

The Convoys

In what I follows, I will look at three smaller events that took place in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first two events I will examine are convoys. They were organized by a group called Action4Canada. On February 5th, a convoy billed as the “Langley Freedom Convoy” was disrupted by counter-protestors and cyclists, who blocked the convoy at several different intersections. The counter-protest was one of several actions organized to meet the smaller, mostly mobile trucker convoys in various cities across Canada. The express intent of the counter-protestors was to block intersections in order to reroute the convoy away from the hospitals in the Vancouver core. (Some intersections might also have been chosen to subsequently reroute the convoy away from the Downtown Eastside). Perhaps the most effective chokepoint occurred when cyclists blocked the convoy as it headed westbound on Terminal Avenue. As a local journalist pointed out, there’s a two-kilometer stretch of Terminal where drivers can’t exit down side streets, and at the end of that stretch they were blocked and deadlocked. The convoy had to reverse out with assistance of police. Some of the convoy made it downtown, and I have seen social media posts showing that they were blocked or rerouted (with different degrees of success) at no fewer than four different intersections.

Interestingly, the destination for the “3rd Lower Mainland Freedom Convoy” on February 12th was the 176 St. border crossing in Surrey, BC, far from the Vancouver city core. The change in destination may be an attempt to avoid the disruptions of counter-protests. The fact that these groups target border crossings and challenge the RCMP—at this particular event several vehicles successfully broke through police barricades—shows that while police sympathies for the covid-denialist movement are frequently documented in, for example, Ottawa, these convoys are willing to engage in system-oppositional actions.

Perhaps the safest observation—one made by many—about these events is that there is a stark contrast between the police response to convoy actions and those of leftist or Indigenous movements, which are typically suppressed long before they would reach a similar critical mass. On that note, the counter-protest action on February 5th might have been the strongest leftist action in the Vancouver region since the Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades two years ago—though it did not match the scope or intensity of those actions.

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