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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.

Labor’s Route to a New Transportation System: How Federal Transportation Policy Can Create Good Jobs, First-Rate Mobility, and Environmentally Sustainable Communities

By staff - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, July 2011

Federal transportation policy is set every five to six years through the Surface Transportation Authorization Act. This policy largely shapes investment in our nation’s transportation system. Currently, only unions whose members are employed in the transport sector play a role in trying to influence federal transportation legislation, but the Reauthorization Act is hugely important to all union members and working people. The current legislation, Safe, Accountable, Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA -LU ) expires September 30, 2011. The reauthorization of federal transportation policy presents an important opportunity for union leaders and members to advocate for key policy reforms that will create good union jobs, defend and expand the role of the public sector in transportation, provide safe and affordable mobility to working families and reduce the transport sector’s contribution to air pollution and climate change.

The state of the U.S. transportation system determines working families’ access to affordable, high-quality mobility and, in turn, their ability to meet essential needs such as getting to work, school, medical services, recreation and more. The maintenance and operation of private vehicles consumes a growing portion of working families’ household budgets and puts owning and operating a vehicle completely out of reach for some. The impact of rising gas prices on working families’ mobility exacerbates the fact that only 50% of Americans have access to public transit. (need citation) Furthermore, in response to budget shortfalls, local governments have increased fares, laid off workers, reduced transit services and offered up public transit systems to privatization.

Read the text (PDF).

Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905–1925

By Lucien van der Walt and Peter Cole Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011 (the citations are not included in this version)

In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable for their commitment to anti-racism. The broad anarchist tradition, including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

The fully annotated version of this essay was published in 'Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011, 69–96

Now that the comparative and transnational turns are well under way, it seems high time to apply these methods to one of the modern era’s most internationalist movements, the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies). While framing histories within national boundaries is understandable and useful, many subjects benefit from repositioning them comparatively as well as transnationally. Reframing labor history within a global, comparative, and transnational framework directs attention to cross-border linkages, activities, and processes that a ‘‘methodological nationalism’’ obscures.

For far too long, labor historians—even of the obviously internationalist Wobblies—have straitjacketed the history of the IWW into a series of separate national stories, rather than one global history. Yet the Wobblies were overtly internationalist, their movement operated across borders, and their traditions spread globally, across the Americas and into Africa, Asia, and Europe. The IWW was a radical current in the globalized world of the early twentieth century, part of an international upsurge of anarchism and syndicalism that challenged Marxism for leadership of the revolutionary left into the late 1920s, ‘‘the dominant element in the self-consciously internationalist radical Left’’ from the 1870s and ‘‘the main vehicle of global opposition to industrial capitalism, autocracy, latifundism, and imperialism.’’

There is much more to be learnt from studying the Wobblies using both comparative and transnational approaches; this essay will largely utilize comparative methods. There is very little work along either of these lines, but what exists demonstrates the utility of such analysis in examining how IWW politics played out in different contexts. The IWW can be seen as a precursor of some of today’s social justice movements, whose affinity with the anarchism and syndicalism that inspired the Wobblies—and their commitment to participatory democracy, direct action, and prefigurative organizing–is striking.

While the small body of comparative literature on the IWW has raised some questions about its gender politics, it has not examined race matters. How did the IWW evolve in highly racialized societies? Moreover, to what extent might the IWW tradition have differed in colonial and imperial countries? This article develops an innovative comparative analysis of IWW racial politics in the United States (US) and South Africa (SA), with particular attention to activities among workers of color.

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.

Coming Now to a Job Near You! Why Climate Change Matters for California Workers

By Jeremy Brecher, Brendan Smith, and Lisa Hoyos - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2020

California is at the forefront of driving the expansion of the clean energy economy. California’s groundbreaking climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act — AB 32 — is the most comprehensive climate legislation enacted anywhere in the US. But this law is at risk from political interests, backed by oil company resources, which are trying to overturn it.

AB 32 opponents are using a job-loss argument, creating a false divide between job creation and climate protection. They’ve done this is spite of the fact that green jobs have grown by 5% during a recessionary period where net jobs in our state fell. California already has 500,000 green jobs. We’ve got 12,000 clean energy businesses and we hold 40% of the US patents in solar, wind and advanced battery technology. Sixty percent of all clean energy venture capital is invested here (the runner-up state, Massachusetts, has 10%), with a large spike coming in the years after the passage of AB 32.

Climate change is a global problem. The AB 32 opponents who are working to stop the implementation of California’s climate law argue that our state shouldn’t try to address this problem on its own. However, California is the world’s eighth largest economy, and what we do here carries global significance, both politically and economically. We passed AB 32 in 2006. Four years later, at the national level, it is proving difficult or impossible to pass comprehensive climate policy. If California fails to build on our leadership in this arena, we will be playing into the hands of those, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, who are spending millions of dollars to thwart national action on climate change.

While the foot-dragging on climate protection continues at the national level, everyday’s news brings new evidence of the varied and devastating impacts of climate change happening around the world and within the borders of our own country.

Read the text (PDF).

Untapped Wealth: Offshore Wind Can Deliver Cleaner, More Affordable Energy and More Jobs Than Offshore Oil

By staff - Oceana, September 2010

In Oceana’s report Untapped Wealth: Offshore Wind Can Deliver Cleaner, More Affordable Energy and More Jobs Than Offshore Oil, our comprehensive analysis shows that focusing our investments on clean energy like offshore wind would be cost effective, more beneficial to job creation, and better for the environment and ocean in a variety of ways than offshore oil and gas exploration and development.

On the Atlantic coast, an area targeted for expansion of oil and gas activities, offshore wind can generate nearly 30% more electricity than offshore oil and gas resources combined. In addition, wind development would cost about $36 billion less than offshore oil and gas production combined, while creating about three times as many jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuel production.

Based on conservative assumptions for offshore wind and generous assumptions for offshore oil and natural gas, this study found that by investing in offshore wind on the East Coast, rather than offshore oil and gas, Americans would get more energy for less money while protecting our oceans.

Read the report (PDF).

Transport Workers and Climate Change: Towards Sustainable, Low-Carbon Mobility

By ITF Climate Change Working Group - International Transport Workers’ Federation, August 4, 2010

This report, now more than a decade old, was remarkably forward-thinking for its time (except for the uncritically positive assessment of Carbon Capture and Storage and Cap-and-Trade, positions the authors would likely now no longer hold. It also, interestingly, includes in an appendix, the delegate of one union affiliate, Robert Scardelletti, President of the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU), an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), from the US, who dissented from this report's conclusions, because it's green unionist orientation would "destroy jobs", a position held by the most conservative unions in the AFL-CIO.

From the introduction:

Climate change is the biggest single challenge ever faced by human civilization. Human economic activity has put so much carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere that serious global warming is already happening. As a society, we have no choice but to reduce these emissions drastically in order to stand a good chance of avoiding potentially catastrophic changes in our climate. Moreover, emissions from transport are rising faster than emissions from any other sector and in some cases the increase in transport emissions is counteracting emissions reductions achieved in other sectors. Lowering transport emissions presents a series of unique and formidable challenges.

The good news for transport workers is that a serious approach to emissions reductions will create new opportunities for quality employment, particularly in public transport, railways (both passenger and freight), transport infrastructure, road repair, and in developing clean transport technologies. But failure to act on climate change will have the opposite effect.

Read the text (PDF).

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).

Apply the Brakes: Anti-Immigrant Co-Optation of the Environmental Movement

By Jenny Levison, Stephen Piggott, Rebecca Poswolsky, and Eric Ward - Center for New Community, 2010

From the Introduction: - This report is intended to explore how antiimmigrant forces have corrupted the dialogue on population and the environment, and will examine the anti-immigrant environmentalist network that has influenced the environmental movement for the last 14 years. In 2009, an article in the Population Special Issue of the Earth Island Journal1 mentioned a new organization and website named Apply the Brakes (ATB hereafter). A few months later, the Center for Immigration Studies2 — an anti-immigrant organization known to trade in racism — cited ATB in a memorandum denouncing Sierra Club leadership for not addressing the issue of immigration. At a time when more people of color, labor and human rights organizations are engaging in environmental concerns such as climate change and “green jobs,” ATB could very well threaten those fragile coalitions.

Read the entire report here (in PDF form).

Crisis in California: Everything Touched by Capital Turns Toxic

By Gifford Hartman - January 2010

In California toxic capitalist social relations demonstrated their full irrationality in May 2009 when banks bulldozed brand-new, but unsold, McMansions in the exurbs of Southern California.

Across the United States an eviction occurs every thirteen seconds and there are at the moment at least five empty homes for every homeless person. The newly homeless are finding beds unavailable as shelters are stretched well beyond capacity. Saint John’s Shelter for Women and Children in Sacramento regularly turns away 350 people a night. Many of these people end up in the burgeoning tent cities that are often located in the same places as the ‘Hoovervilles’—similar structures, named after then President Herbert Hoover—of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Read More - Download the PDF version of this document.

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