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Some Notes On Mass Refusal: Kim Kelly Interview with IGD

By staff - It's Going Down, January 25, 2019

Recently, It’s Going Down was asked by Kim Kelly (who we have interviewed on our podcast) to talk about the history and impact of general strikes within the United States, as well as the possibilities of its current applications for an op-ed in the pages of Teen Vogue. You can read the finished article here. What follows is our complete responses.

KK: Historically speaking, how successful of a tactic is the general strike?

In the American context general strikes have historically been very important, leading to not only the winning of key demands or beating back this or that attack, but also in fundamentally changing society, and at times, creating a potentially revolutionary situation, as workers have used them as a staging point for the taking over of cities and regions, and large sections of industries, and running them themselves.

One of the most successful general strikes, as noted by Black liberation and socialist author W.E.B. Du Bois, was when millions of enslaved Africans during the Civil War in the American south left plantations en masse and headed for the North, crippling the economy and the war machine. This, coupled with mass desertion of poor white Confederate soldiers, led to a crippling of the Confederacy, as many poor whites refused to die for the rich, white planter class, who was excused from fighting if they owned enough slaves. This combined desertion and mass general strike, played a key role in the collapse of the Confederate State, and also highlights the power of mass refusal under a neo-colonial power structure that thrives on a regimented caste system.

In the contemporary period, in 2006, a wave of wildcat strikes and school walkouts began in response to HR-4437, a bill that attempted to criminalize both undocumented people but also anyone that willingly offered them aid; for instance teachers at school could be charged if they did not turn in undocumented students. Starting from schools and growing to include strikes at workplaces, this mass movement that was largely self-organized and not led by political parties and unions, culminated in a massive May 1st demonstrations that saw a general strike of immigrant workers under the banner, “A Day Without An Immigrant.” The legislation was defeated soon after.

The immigrant general strike of 2006 also revived in the US popular lexicon the importance of May Day, which began as a celebration of the anarchist Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed by the State for their role in strikes in support of the 8-hour work day and against violent attacks on strikers. In this struggle, a variety of tactics were used, including mass strikes, which finally secured the right to the 8 hour work day.

But beyond simply attacking unjust legislation or as a means to win a reform, general strikes have also been the kicking off point for workers in the US to go about seizing the means of existence; in some cases, entire cities and regions.

Extinction Rebellion and the Environmental Unionism Caucus

By staff - Bristol IWW, November 15, 2018

Bristol IWW has voted to give it’s full support to Rising Up! and it’s Extinction Rebellion campaign and establish an Environmental Unionism Caucus. Please join us in London this Saturday to demand action on the impending climate catastrophe.

The inaction and indifference of the mainstream unions on this matter is unacceptable. In the face of a global environmental crisis that will affect the most vulnerable first, Unite and GMB have voiced their support for expanding Stansted airport as well as building a third runway at Heathrow. It is vital that organisations like the IWW take the lead on this issue and push the workers movement into urgent action.
For more info please see: ecology.iww.org.uk/node/2849 or this article on Left Foot Forward by one of our members, Alex.

France: ZAD declares victory as airport plan dropped!

By staff - Freedom, January 17, 2018

In a communique the famous horizontal community Zone à Defendre (ZAD) has declared a “historic victory” and called for “expropriated peasants and inhabitants to be able to fully recover their rights as soon as possible.”

The entirety of the land area devoted to the airport project — 1,650 hectares of land declared as being of public utility in 2008 — currently belongs to the State, with the exception of three roads crossing it. the ZAD has argued that this land should be kept in public hands and, rather than turned into an airport, put into forms of public lease for the benefit of the community and wildlife.

Responding to reports that the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project is now officially dead, reps for the ten-year environmental occupation campaign wrote:

This afternoon, the government has just announced the abandonment of the project.

We note that the declaration of public utility [key to enabling large projects to function and compulsory purchases to happen] will not officially be extended. The project will definitely be null and void on February 8th.

This is a historic victory against a destructive development project. This has been possible thanks to a long movement as determined as it is varied.

First of all, we would like to warmly welcome all those who have mobilised against this airport project over the past 50 years.

Regarding the future of the ZAD, the whole movement reaffirms today:

  • The need for expropriated peasants and inhabitants to be able to fully recover their rights as soon as possible.
  • The refusal of any expulsion of those who have come to live in recent years in the grove to defend it and who wish to continue to live there and take care of it.
  • A long-term commitment to take care of the ZAD lands by the movement in all its diversity — peasants, naturalists, local residents, associations, old and new inhabitants.

To implement it, we will need a period of freezing the institutional redistribution of land. In the future, this territory must be able to remain an area of ​​social, environmental and agricultural experimentation.

With regard to the issue of the reopening of the D281 road, closed by the public authorities in 2013, the movement undertakes to answer this question itself. Police presence or intervention would only make the situation worse.

We also wish, on this memorable day, to send a strong message of solidarity to other struggles against major destructive projects and for the defense of threatened territories.

We call to converge widely on February 10th in the grove to celebrate the abandonment of the airport and to continue building the future of the ZAD.

Acipa, Coordination of Opponents, COPAIn 44, Naturalists in struggle, the inhabitants of the ZAD.

Civil disobedience is the only way left to fight climate change

By Kara Moses - Red Pepper, January 10, 2018

Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world. We kicked off earlier this month by shutting down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales.

Last Sunday, around 1,000 people closed the world’s largest coal-exporting port in Newcastle, Australia and other bold actions are happening at power stations, oil refineries, pipelines and mines everywhere from the Philippines, Brazil and the US, to Nigeria, Germany and India.

This is just the start of the promised escalation after the Paris agreement, and the largest ever act of civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement. World governments may have agreed to keep warming to 1.5C, but it’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

With so many governments still dependent on a fossil fuel economy, they can’t be relied upon to make the radical change required in the time we need to make it. In the 21 years it took them to agree a (non-binding, inadequate) climate agreement, emissions soared. It’s now up to us to now hold them to account, turn words into action and challenge the power and legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry with mass disobedience.

Banner Drop Against Columbus Murals at University of Notre Dame

By the collective - Rising Tide Michiana, December 8, 2017

“South Bend, Indiana”—Studying for their final exams, University of Notre Dame students in the library on Friday morning looked up and saw a banner unfurled from the second-floor balcony. The banner proclaimed,

This is Potawatomi land! F*ck the KKKolumbus murals!

The message comes as students have been organizing against murals displayed by the entrance of the university’s main administrative building. According to a pamphlet issued by Notre Dame, the nineteenth-century murals “create a heroic impression” of Christopher Columbus, despite the conqueror’s record of mass enslavement and murder. Moreover the paintings portray indigenous people in ways that Native American students say are stereotypical and insulting.

Students are collecting signatures for a petition titled “Dear Father Jenkins, The Murals Must Go.” Signed by more than 600 people, the petition argues, “The Native persons are depicted as stereotypes, their destruction is gilded over, and their slavery is celebrated. The murals commemorate and laud the beginning of the centuries-long systematic removal of Native American persons and culture from the United States.”

No TAV: feeding the fire of resistance in northern Italy

Images and Words by Frank Barat - ROARMag, November 16, 2017

When I get to Turin airport, on a warm autumn day, the smell of smoke is overwhelming. The weather forecast on my phone shows me a big bright sun, but I can only see clouds outside. It is only when we enter the highway that I realize that this ocean of greyness has nothing to do with clouds. The Piedmont is in fact on fire, and the flames have engulfed the Susa Valley for close to a week.

The Susa Valley is a beautiful strip of land, located between Italy and France, with the Alps on either side overlooking the valley and acting as a protector. Its inhabitants are known for their stubbornness and attachment to the land. A montagnard mentality. For them, leaving is never an option. Their attachment and closeness to the land reminds me of the Native American communities in the US or the Aboriginal people in Australia, as it is both spiritual, physical and practical. People have been evacuated from their homes, and the rest of the inhabitants of the small villages dotted in the valley now live in the fear that they too, sooner or later, will be told to do the same.

When my local contacts — Mina, an activist, and the lawyers Valentina and Emmanuel — pick me up from the airport, they explain that another type of fire has engulfed the valley for more than twenty-five years: the fire of revolt.

Being a key route for trade, business and tourism for two of Europe’s powerhouses, the Susa Valley has attracted many mega-infrastructural projects throughout the years, none of them more controversial and virulently opposed than the Turin-Lyon high-speed freight railway line.

For a quarter of a century, people from all walks of life have fought against this mega-project, a railway line of 270 kilometers with at its core a tunnel of nearly sixty kilometers long, crossing the Alps between Susa Valley and the city of Maurienne in France.

The Italian and French governments together with the European Union, which is funding 40 percent of the 26 billion euro project, laud the railway as something that will benefit both the people and the freight companies, as well as provide hundreds of jobs. The inhabitants of the valley, who were never properly consulted in the first place, say that this new line is not only unnecessary — since the current line has, according to expert surveys and report, room to expand — but will only bring environmental destruction and economic and social disaster to the valley and its people.

This Is Blockadia

By Daria Rivin and Alice Owen - Common Dreams, November 3, 2017

As world leaders prepare to meet in Germany to negotiate climate action at COP23, activists are putting words into action by blockading a nearby coal mine. Their message is that leaders need to grasp the urgency of keeping fossil fuels in the ground, right here and right now. With an increasing frequency and intensity, such direct actions and the associated demands for climate justice are unfolding on every continent.

These interwoven spaces of resistances are Blockadia. Based on the new Blockadia Map of 70 cases, an international team of researchers has observed a significant increase in the frequency of these resistances; all conflicts with a known start date before 2006 amount to 16 cases, whereas there are 48 conflicts starting within the last ten years.

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it

By Ali Tamlit - Red Pepper, October 26, 2017

Today is the 30th birthday of the opening of London City Airport – but there isn’t much to celebrate. Since the airport’s opening in 1987, carbon dioxide levels have increased from 351 parts per million (ppm), around a ‘safe’ level in terms of climate change, to a dangerously high 409 ppm this year.

Politically, discussions around sustainability and climate change were just getting started then, and there was hope that world leaders might find a solution for us. This was 5 years before the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Now, two years on from the 2015 Paris climate agreement – an agreement that on the surface sets an ambitious target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees – there is little sign of action from any government. Top NASA scientist James Hansen described it as ‘worthless words’ with ‘no action’.

While officials prevaricate, we are increasingly seeing the devastating effects of climate change in more frequent extreme weather events: think of Hurricane Irma which hit the Caribbean last month, or the extreme flooding in Bangladesh, which left a third of the country under water.

But a lot of other things have changed since 1987. Firstly, we’ve learned as people and as a movement that although these numbers matter – parts per million and degrees centigrade – that’s not what climate change is actually about. Very recently, thanks largely to the action at London City Airport by BLMUK, the narrative that the ‘climate crisis is a racist crisis’ has been thrust into the mainstream.

Although extreme weather events are increasing, it’s important to examine who is being affected and who is causing it. London City Airport was a perfect target to highlight this argument. The UK has emitted the most CO2 cumulatively per capita since the industrial revolution, has built its wealth on colonialism and now is one of the centres of global capitalism that continues to extract resources and wealth from countries in the global South. All of this while globally 7 out of 10 of the countries most affected by climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa.

How the earthquakes shook Mexican politics

By Edgard Sánchez Ramírez - Socialist Worker, October 2, 2017

WE ARE not cursed, nor do we suffer from divine punishment or mere natural disasters, but from the consequences of a savage capitalism and the policies of the governments that defend it.

Just after September 7, when the first big earthquakes hit southern Mexico, the Senate announced it had opened a bank account to collect donations to support survivors in Chiapas and Oaxaca. They didn't receive a single donation from Mexican citizens, and hardly any from the senators themselves. By contrast, Section 22 of the CNTE [the radical section of the Mexican teachers' union] transported tons of goods and first aid materials from Mexico City and beyond to the affected areas to share them directly with the people of Oaxaca.

When President Enrique Peña Nieto [or EPN as he is known] went to Oaxaca to promise aid, Section 22 had already distributed the better part of what had been collected. And after the earthquake hit Mexico City and central Mexico on September 19, there were widespread calls for the public to give aid directly to social organizations and movements that are independent of the government and the institutional political parties.

Centers have opened all over Mexico City--in ordinary families' homes, union halls like the electrical workers union (SME), and artists' studios such as Oaxacan painter Francisco Toledo--to collect aid, bypassing the state and delivering it directly to neighborhoods, towns, and communities who are in desperate need of it. People have offered food, water, child care and even their electrical outlets so volunteers can charge their cell phones.

Obviously, this brings to mind the tremendous people's response after the earthquake in 1985 that killed up to 10,000 people in Mexico City. Tens of thousands of people have volunteered for brigades to rescue people, remove debris, carry food, clothes and water, reinforce damaged houses, provide tools for digging, etc. The spontaneous rebirth of this tradition is all the more remarkable because the great majority of these brigadistas were not even born in 1985!

It is as inspiring as it is hopeful see a huge number of youth helping rescue people and offering aid to the survivors. Groups of young people--who previously belonged to no organization, but came together as classmates, friends or even strangers who just happened to find each other--are taking to the streets with backpacks slung over their shoulders, their personal information written on their arms in magic marker, and cell phones charged to 100 percent, looking for somewhere to help.

Notes on the Bure ZAD and the politics of eternity/death

By Julius Gavroche - Autonomies, September 16, 2017

Un grand sommeil noir
Tombe sur ma vie :
Dormez, tout espoir,
Dormez, toute envie !

Je ne vois plus rien,
Je perds la mémoire
Du mal et du bien…
O la triste histoire !

Je suis un berceau
Qu’une main balance
Au creux d’un caveau :
Silence, silence !

Paul Verlaine

The ZADs of france (Zone à défendre), at Notre-dame-des-landes, Testet, Roybon and the many others elsewhere (click here for ZAD map: le monde 21/12/2015) have emerged originally as moments of contestation against major infrastructure developments, public and private, typically outside of large urbanised spaces.  The protests have then, in some cases, been followed by occupations of the contested territories with the aim of literally physically impeding the development projects.  It is then bodies against machines, the war machine of the State, with all of its apparatuses of control and repression, and the physical machines that re-make space and life, to serve the movement of capital-commodities.

The very real physical nature of the protest then calls something into play which is rarely, if ever, present in momentary city protests (and perhaps not sufficiently reflected upon): bodies need to be feed, sheltered, clothed, cared for.  To provide for these needs and more, a protest that extends in time must gain roots, it must become to some degree self-sustaining.  The ZADs then become expressions-experiments in other, non-commodified, forms of life.  Organised collectively, horizontally, self-managed without a centre or leadership, open to all who share in its vision, the ZADs prefigure a different world, an non-capitalist world opposed to the kinds of infrastructure investments essential to capitalism’s continuous expansion.

This physical dimension of radical politics has often been set aside or ignored in the heat of demonstrations, riots and insurrections.  But the fragility of the “occupy” movements of post-2011, focused primarily on the occupation of city squares, was in part due to this blindness.  The occupations in fact could not be maintained, because the bodies present needed more than the occupiers could provide for themselves.

This same fragility however can serve as the occasion to remember older forms of radical politics in which needs and desires were consciously addressed: feminism, race-national liberation movements, syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist organisations, workers cooperatives, neighbourhood assemblies, and so on, are all past and present examples (not without weaknesses) of desire become political.  Indeed, the more one explores the history of “anti-capitalist” politics, the more our disembodied politics of protest appear to be the exception rather than the rule.  What were the revolutions of the past (the Paris Commune 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spanish Revolution of 1936, etc.) if not creations born of needs and passions?  And if revolution seems so distant to so many today, is it not because politics has become but one more alienated and ghostly spectacle of consumption?

The ZADs bring us back to the living earth, giving life back to us.

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