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The Brief Origins of May Day

By Eric Chase - Published on IWW.ORG, written ca.1993.

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers' Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Most Americans don't realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as "American" as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Jack London's The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860's, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn't until the late 1880's that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers' lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.

A variety of socialist organizations sprung up throughout the later half of the 19th century, ranging from political parties to choir groups. In fact, many socialists were elected into governmental office by their constituency. But again, many of these socialists were ham-strung by the political process which was so evidently controlled by big business and the bi-partisan political machine. Tens of thousands of socialists broke ranks from their parties, rebuffed the entire political process, which was seen as nothing more than protection for the wealthy, and created anarchist groups throughout the country. Literally thousands of working people embraced the ideals of anarchism, which sought to put an end to all hierarchical structures (including government), emphasized worker controlled industry, and valued direct action over the bureaucratic political process. It is inaccurate to say that labor unions were "taken over" by anarchists and socialists, but rather anarchists and socialist made up the labor unions.

Anarchist Materialism: Can We Start Having a Revolutionary Labor Strategy?

IWW Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Authors' Disclaimer: This piece is designed to challenge some prevailing attitudes of Class Struggle Anarchists in the US.  The arguments should not be seen as a critique of individual behavior but rather of structural tendencies which hopefully will produce a constructive discussion. 

It should be apparent to anyone viewing the labor movement in the US that it has arrived at a turning point.  Despite economic stagnation and a reduction in comparative household wages, business unions are in a weaker position than they have been in almost 100 years.  Meanwhile there seems to be a lack of discussion about how radical labor militants can seize this opportunity to become relevant… much less win.  If we want a revolutionary change in economic and social structures, then it is necessary to build the power and capacity that can actually achieve it.

However, in order to build power, we must first determine where power lies.  One such way is to map out economic and community structures and find out where anarchist militants can be the most useful.  In labor organizing it is vital to understand the demographics and profit generation of specific industries, capital investment, percentage of GDP, modes of production (the manner and relationships of production), transportation choke points, and important utilities (such as power companies) just to name a few.

From there it is important to develop and prioritize a strategic orientation.  What are the stages that the US needs to go through in order to actually overthrow the system?  First the current period should be thought out.  What are the current realities both in terms of where our strengths are and that of the rest of the left and working class, as well as our opponents?  Is capital in advance or retreat?  Are we in a moment of structural reorganization and if so, where in the country?  Manufacturing may be shrinking in the Midwest but retooling in the Southwest and growing in the Southeast.  There could be increasing mechanization in the ports, but also expansion to keep up with growing population demand.  Food production may be shifting in scale, labor, and products as it becomes industrialized or shifts to accommodate trade agreements.  But this must be researched to determine the exact material conditions that exist.  Only then can we decide how to begin social insertion and develop mature national strategies.

Workers Revolt in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Want to know what a real workers' revolt looks like (as opposed to what happened in Ukraine)?

Watch this video. (No wonder this stuff isn't being reported here). 

For more information, visit this page.

Alternative Unionists and Syndicalists Spark Major Protest in Spain this March 22

By the IWW's International Solidarity Committee

The Andalusian union SAT which is syndicalist-oriented and an ally of the anarcho-syndicalist unions CGT and CNT has sparked perhaps the major protest of the year:

The CGT and CNT are working to turn the protest into a general strike see

http://www.rojoynegro.info/articulo/agitaci%C3%B3n/cgt-participa-apoya-las-marchas-la-dignidad

http://www.cnt.es/noticias/22m-cnt-en-marcha-cnt-en-lucha

Report below from International Marxist tendency, http://www.marxist.com/dignity-marches-everyone-to-madrid-on-march-22.htm

On Saturday, 22 March, Madrid will witness one of the main social and political mobilisations of the year, the March for Dignity. The aim is to gather hundreds of thousands of people in Madrid, from around the country in order to show opposition to the anti-working class and anti-social policies of the past few years. The demonstration will march under the slogans “Do not pay the public debt”, for a “Basic income to all those without resources”, “No more cuts”, “Bread, Housing and Jobs for all” and “Down with the Troika Governments.”

Book Review: Green Syndicalism - an Alternative Red/Green Vision, by Jeff Shantz

By x344543 - July 24, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

I have known of Jeff Shantz now for several years, having been an IWW member since 1995, having also been a subscriber to (and for half a decade the web administrator for) Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (to which he was a frequent contributor), and having run in radical environmentalist circles during the last years of Judi Bari's life (1995-97).

Neither he nor I have crossed paths until just recently, and that is largely due to the emergence of the IWW's Environmental Unionist Caucus (EUC). In forging the IWW EUC, we looked primarily to four sources for our inspiration:

(1) The IWW and its rich history, which--according to our late Fellow Worker Franklin Rosemont--has a good deal of nascent "green syndicalist" tendencies which are not well studied (and Rosemont did a fair share of his own);

(2) The pioneering efforts of Earth First! - IWW Local #1, organized and led by the late Judi Bari, which put what Jeff Shantz calls "green syndicalism" into the most advanced practice known about in the redwood forests of northwestern California from 1988-98;

(3) The Australian Green Bans of the early 1970s; and

(4) Contemporary movements in opposition to fracking, tar sands, and mountain top removal coal mining, with particular attention paid to the indigenous peoples' leadership of these campaigns.

I have also suggested we look to the efforts of three additional inspirations, these being Chico Mendes, Helen Keller, and Karen Silkwood, because there are many insights we can gain from their experiences, and far too little has been written about them.

In his book, Green Syndicalism - an Alternative Red/Green Vision, Shantz focuses primarily on Local 1 and Judi Bari, describing her work as representing one of the only examples of fully developed "green syndicalism" put into practice, even if on a limited scale.

To Shantz, "green syndicalism" succeeds where all other environmental movements and class struggle tendencies fail, because it alone addresses the shortcomings of the others.

Documents by Jeff Shantz

Why revolutionary syndicalism?

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, October 31, 2012

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

1. A Strategy for Workers Liberation

Capitalism is at its heart an oppressive and exploitative economic system. The core is the class structure, in which the majority are dispossessed of the means of production of goods and services, and must submit to bureaucratic production regimes. These regimes control our labor so as to pump out wealth privately accumulated by the plutocrats at the top of the heap (and paying high salaries to the bureaucratic class of managers and high-end professionals), and backed up by the coercive force of the state. Working people are thus an oppressed class, although it is also internally quite heterogeneous and various sub-groups are oppressed in various diverse ways.

The working class can’t be free and can’t ultimately ensure well-being for itself unless it can take over the control of the process of production (which includes transportation and distribution and production of services), and the land and all the means of production, becoming masters of production, in control of our own work of and technological development. To do this means dismantling the institutional power of the bureaucratic/managerial and capitalist classes, so that we are not subordinate to any dominating class. As Ralph Chaplin put it in “Solidarity Forever”:

All the world that’s owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.

Workers self-management of all of social production is thus a necessary condition for working class liberation. If we don’t control production some other class will, and then we’re not free. This means there must be a mass worker movement that has the capacity and aspiration to take over the means of production, and continue social production under direct worker’s management. This takeover of production is not all there is to social emancipation but this is very basic in that the working class cannot liberate itself if it doesn’t do this.

Also, by “takeover of production” I do not mean that the existing workplaces and techniques of production are continued without change, but with workers replacing management. I also mean that the working class then sets up a system of working class control that re-organizes social production, works to change technology, works to develop worker skills to break down hierarchical divisions of labor, changes production to ensure our species survival through a change in ecological impacts, and in general works to make social production more socially beneficial. Breaking down the present class division between subordinate workers and middle management and professionals also requires major changes in the educational system and the way that learning is linked with social production.

But to achieve its liberation the working class needs to have a strategy. Part of the point to the focus on the struggle between workers and bosses is that this provides a lever for changing society. Workers have the potential to exert power here because the flow of profits to the capitalists requires our cooperation in production. Thus the ability to bring production to a halt is a potential form of power the working class has. Again, to quote Ralph Chaplin:

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

A Rebel Worker's Organising Handbook

By Zabalaza - August 2011

Almost everyone in this society is underpaid and over-worked. Many temps, contract and casual workers have very few rights, and permanent workers are still always under the threat of redundancy. Many people are massively exploited and ill-treated, and thousands are killed at or by their work each year. Millions more suffer stress, depression, anxiety and are injured.

The indignity of working for a living is well-known to anyone who ever has. Democracy, the great principle on which our society is supposedly founded, is thrown out the window as soon as we punch the time clock at work. With no say over what we produce, or how that production is organised, and with only a small portion of that product’s value finding its way into our wages, we have every right to be pissed off at our bosses.

At work in a capitalist society, we are forced to labour in return for a wage. Employers hire workers, and pay us less than the value of the work we do. The surplus amount is taken from us and turned into capital - profit for shareholders and corporate expansion. Thus all workers are exploited. Consequently, we all have a shared interest in getting a bigger share of the fruits of our labour, as well as in winning better working conditions and shorter working hours.

We can do this by organising at work. This pamphlet is a resource to assist all workers in improving our jobs in the here and now, and we also believe that by organising to fight, we build the seeds of a new world - not based on capitalist exploitation but on cooperation between workplace collectives where production is democratically decided by worker/consumer councils and working hours are slashed. Harmful or useless industries, such as arms manufacturing, or the banking and insurance industries, could be eliminated.

The real essentials, like food, shelter, and clothing, could be produced by everyone working just a few hours each week. Environmentally destructive industries purely concerned with profit, such as fossil fuel power plants could be converted to use clean, renewable energy sources.

Building this better world, and counteracting the day to day drudgery of today’s wage-slavery we think can best be done using direct action in the workplace. Direct action is any form of action that is taken directly by those infected without relying on union bureaucrats or politicians and which cripples the boss’s ability to make a profit and makes them cave in to the workers’ demands. Different ways of taking action are outlined here.

All of the tactics discussed in this pamphlet depend for their success on solidarity, on the co-ordinated actions of a large number of workers. Individual acts of sabotage offer little more than a fleeting sense of revenge, which may admittedly be all that keeps you sane on a bad day at work. But for a real feeling of collective empowerment, there’s nothing quite like direct action by a large number of angry workers to make your day.

Read More - Download the PDF version of this document.

New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism (David Berry and Constance Bantman)

By David Berry and Constance Bantman - Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010

Recent years have seen an upsurge of interest in the history of European anarchist and syndicalist movements. The rise of alter-globalisation protest borrowing many of its direct-action tactics from pre-World War I anarchism and syndicalism has been important in bringing it on over the last ten years or so. As the anthropologist and anarchist activist David Graeber has commented: “most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism,” and horizontal, acephalous organisation, networks, prefigurative politics and consensus decision-making have all become major themes for debate. The necessity to control international terrorist networks has also rekindled public interest in the anarchist diaspora of the late-nineteenth century, the golden age of “propaganda by the deed”, sparking many debates about the relevance of such comparisons. Within the academy, the study of anarchist and syndicalist movements and their functioning has been greatly spurred by new methodological developments opening up new perspectives. As a result, three essential trends have been developed in this field of study: the move towards transnational or global history; a renewed interest in historical biography and the mapping out of personal networks, and, as a result, new approaches to comparativism.

The current shift towards transnationalism in labour history can be taken to have started in 1990, with the publication of Marcel van der Linden and Wayne Thorpe’s landmark study Revolutionary Syndicalism in International Perspective. Transnational historyʊa term still competing with “new global history”, “connected histories”, or “entangled histories” ʊhas recently been defined as the study of “links and flow...people, ideas, products, processes and patterns that operate over, across, through, beyond, above, under, or in-between polities and societies”. Most areas of the humanities and social sciences have responded to this dramatic change of focus, which is based on the awareness of the entangled and interconnected nature of societies, not only as a result of the most recent period of economic globalisation, but also over the past centuries, and in their very essence. This drive towards transnational revisionism has stemmed from the acknowledgment that historiography has been overwhelmingly written within a national framework and needs to be reconsidered with greater attention for the international context which constitutes, explains, determines or contradicts national developments. This approach is also necessary to provide a much-needed history of globalisation.

Anarchism, syndicalism and more generally labour history provide a case in point for the pertinence of this angle of study, especially as a way of expanding research on working-class internationalism. Internationalism as an ideal and a practical organisational goal has been at the centre of labour activism since at least the universalist proclamations of the French Revolution, and became a prime endeavour after the International Working Men’s Association was set up in 1864. Labour internationalism, in its traditional and most widely accepted basic definition, is the ideology promoting universal brotherhood and solidarity among workers, and the setting up of organisations in order to achieve these aspirations.

Read the book (Link).

The Politics of Climate Change

Author Unknown - 2009

In recent years climate change has loomed large in the public imagination. Scientifically, there is little doubt that it is a real threat to the future of human civilisation. The greenhouse effect has been known about since the early 19th century — gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour trap heat from the sun, causing the climate of the planet to heat up over time. Probably the most spectacular known example of this effect in action is on Venus.

As recently as the 1960s it was thought that Venus might have a climate that could support life. However, in 1962, a US space probe measured its surface temperature at 425°C. Billions of years ago, it had a climate similar to that of earth today — but a runaway greenhouse effect turned it into a ball of fire.

The existence of the greenhouse effect is beyond doubt, as is the fact that humans have been busily pumping large volumes of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. The only matter for scientific debate concerns exactly what effect the greenhouse gases are having on our climate. As scientists have come up with new and better ways of measuring climate changes, an alarming consensus has emerged.

The global climate has been heating up significantly due to human activity and during the course of the 21st century temperatures will rise at least 1°C more and perhaps as much as 6.5°C. This is likely to have a cataclysmic effect on human civilisation.

Most alarmingly, the melting of ice sheets will see rises in sea levels that will threaten coastal settlements, but that is not the only risk. Any increased volatility in our climate is almost certain to leave it in a state where it is much less capable of sustaining billions of people.

In many ways, the identification in advance of the great risks that human society faces from greenhouse gases is a triumph of modern science. Climatic patterns are immensely complex and to arrive at the current scientific consensus on climate change has required a vast range of sophisticated experiments, new means of measurement and exceedingly elaborate computer models.

Were it not for the powerful tools of modern science, humanity would have walked blindly into an environmental catastrophe that might have wiped it out. However, there is a big gap between understanding the problem and coming up with a way of addressing it.

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