Jocelyn and James submitted a piece that challenges the notion that an orientation towards the unions is productive for contemporary revolutionaries based off a serious analysis of the shifting nature of modern capitalism. Advance the Struggle apologies for the title, “a lost cause” as an introductory title. We would like for the audience to read this response to get more clarity on Jocelyn and James’ position on the unions. More submissions to come.
We appreciate the engagement with our piece. There has been a breadth of engagement in the comments on Advance the Struggle’s blog that we are unable to address in the time and space provided, but are grateful for the height of the debate. We apologize for comments left unaddressed, but we plan to respond to much of what’s left unsaid (especially Nate’s challenging points) in subsequent writing. Also we tried to address multiple questions in our responses to particular questions. Other comments seem to reflect a lack of thorough reading or misreading of our piece, and we urge their authors to give our piece a charitable reading before attempting to engage.
We are responding in three parts: the first addresses misunderstandings or mischaracterizations, the second addresses a few of the questions raised in the comments sections, and the third is a series of general responses which help elucidate the purpose of the piece. All of this points to a need to critically interrogate the present moment in its generalities and particularities, toward concrete activity. We staked out a clear theoretical domain, as a position piece requires, but it was our intention to raise questions rather than make pronouncements. The discussion so far has borne this out very well.
Below is a piece by Mara, a member of Advance the Struggle, in response to Jocelyn Cohn, of Unity and Struggle, and James Frey’s piece, “Our Friends with Benefits: On the Union Question.” This is another very serious contribution to the ongoing debate that has unfolded on this blog. Considering the critical struggles currently occurring, we’d like to further encourage other groupings and individuals to put forward clear positions on how revolutionaries should relate to the unions in this historical moment. Let’s continue this principled and thought provoking debate!
What I appreciate about this piece is it’s aim of historicizing the situation of unions today as being incarcerated within the logic of capital accumulation (keeping a set of workers working for capitalists; keeping workers divided against one another in competition over wages and benefits to the benefit of the capitalists) and state hegemony (restricting worker agency through bourgeois law, keeping workers organized in a legalistic and hierarchical manner that negates changes possible local by local).
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
However, I’ve read analysis like this before. There’s a whole reading list on Libcom that also features excellent analysis of such historical incorporations of unions under the wings of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state. You can find that reader here.
What’s lacking in this piece is a serious engagement with the following question: Do we think that healthcare, education and transportation are important industries for revolutionaries to engage in? If so (and by no means do I think that there is agreement by the authors on this point), then how do we propose to organize alongside these workers (or as these workers for those of us who work in these industries) without interventions in the union? Our debate is back to square one, and revolutionaries from Latin America who we’ve talked to about these debates will continue to have puzzled faces and ask, “is this really what you all are debating? it seems very low-level”
The original positing of the question: how should revolutionaries relate to unions? was not stating, “Unionized workers are the most revolutionary.” Rather, as I understand it, it was saying – once you’re in a union, or once you have contact with unionized workers, what is to be done? This is the question that still needs to be answered, in my opinion, both by looking at the history of revolutionaries attempting to do so and by investigating current efforts to intervene within unionized workplaces.
This flier was written by an AS comrade in San Francisco in light of the ongoing school bus drivers strike in New York City. Transit workers play a central role in the reproduction of our labor-powers on a day-to-day basis by moving working-class people to and from the sites of production and reproduction like our workplaces, schools, hospitals, groceries and other spaces we frequent to meet our needs. The current crisis of capital demands the continued disinvestment of the state in public commons like transportation, schools, and hospitals in favor of their destruction or replacement by privatized entities that provide the same services but at higher costs and lower quality. Since unionized workers continue to be a significant factor in these industries, the ruling class is on an offensive to remove these working-class organizations in so far as they represent an obstacle to continued capital accumulation, all at the expense of drivers, teachers, students, custodians, fast food workers, and all workers in general. Please aid our efforts to build rank and file solidarity and establish communication between rank and file workers in SF and NYC by printing this flier and distributing it to MUNI operators in San Francisco, or by joining us on one of our regular outreach sessions.
Flier NYC strike solidarity ATU 1181
From NYC to SF!
Many transportation workers are facing bosses that are attacking their benefits, eliminating seniority, adding restrictive work rules, speeding up the pace of work and so on. One way to respond to this is to roll over and keep quiet, accepting it without a fight. Another option is to organize and go on strike, which is exactly what 8,800 school bus drivers of Amalgamated Transit Union 1181 in New York City are doing as of Wednesday, January 16 at 6:00 am.
When Rodney King was severly beaten by 4 LAPD officers and the police were found not guilty, Los Angeles exploded in rebellion and riots.Thousands upon thousands of working-class residents of all races broke into commercial stores taking commodities for free.
The media tried to paint the riot as angry violent Black people attacking working-class white people and Korean shop owners– they were consciously trying to turn the multi-racial rebellion into a racial war. But the media was not able to supress a powerful radicalization of LA consciousness. Bloods and Crips started having serious discussions about unity, positive revolutionary energy was flowing from the ghettos and working-class neighborhoods; these developments are captured well by the documentary Bastards of the Party.
It’s important to remember that we are all facing the sentencing hearing for officer Mehserle on November 5th. The flyer above is the political effect of the radicalization produced by the ’92 Los Angeles rebellion against the acquittal of Rodney King’s attackers. What do these two struggles, separated by 18 years, have in common? The Oakland/SF local (Local 10) of the longshoreman’s union ILWU is planning to do a job action and/or rally on October 23rd to fight for justice for Oscar Grant, and militant rank-and-file union members have argued that their radical action in isolation will have a very limited effect. One ILWU rank-and-file worker argued that what we need is for BART (lightrail) workers, bus drivers, government workers, private workers, to also shutdown their workplaces in the name of Oscar Grant. This form of struggle can be more effective than breaking windows or pleading with the government through non-profits because it uses the greatest power that working people have: our ability to get organized and control the economy. We’re posting the flyer from ’92 to make these kind of connections with another historical moment where riots began an ascending wave of radicalization. Around the country people look to the Bay as the current front lines of the struggle against police brutality: will we rise to the new possibilities and show ‘em how it’s done?
Greece has been featured heavily in the news lately because of its ‘dire’ economic situation and the steps the European Union has taken to ‘bail it out’. Here is our comrade Sycorax’s analysis of why the economic situation in Greece actually shares some similarities with what’s going on in California.
Here’s the first post on the parallels:
Parallels between Greece and California: Understanding the Budget Cuts Means Understanding the Way our Global Economic System Works
Greek Farmers Blockading the Border Between Greece and Bulgaria
There’s also some coverage of the General Strikes that have been going on in Greece, which are also very applicable to the situation in California. Greece has had serious austerity measures placed on it, and there is tremendous pressure from the entire EU being put on Greece to cut its government spending.
In response, Greek public sector workers are not backing down. Their declaration? We did not make the crisis and we will not pay for it. This is a war on workers and we will respond with war.
Greek Public Workers on Strike
Check it out: Greek Public Workers on Strike!
So, what do ya’ll think? Parallels between Greece and California, is the comparison valid or not? What can we learn from both the crisis and the resistance to it, here and abroad?
Something to marinate on.
As economies crumble, we can expect political structures to as well. Both Mexico and China have received a fair amount of US outsourcing, and get blamed by protectionists for taking American jobs. It behooves the US working class to pay attention to what’s going on in those countries, because in some ways, the US, Mexico, and China are one extended economy, with one extended (though fractured) proletariat.
Imagine a general strike starting in a plant in Guangdou that makes micro chip parts, spreading to workers in a plant in Mexico, where workers set the China-made parts into processing units to be shipped to LA for final assembly and stamped with a Made in the USA label. Could such a tri-country workers’ movement ever take shape?
In Mexico, the peso crisis of the early nineties and the passage of NAFTA have left the economy in a shambles. Massive emigration, social upheaval (Zapatistas, Oaxaca uprising, 2006 elections, etc) and increasing privatization drives (especially against the state-owned oil company PEMEX) all indicate political instability to match the economic. The latest tragedy to hit the country is the opening of a ruthless drug war that exposes the Mexican state’s vulnerabilities and shows that there is no total monopoly on the means of violence. The Mexican state is under attack and could be said to be slowly breaking down.In China, the political system had been very stable since the Tiannamen Square protest of 1989, thanks in large part to a booming economy. With the onset of the global economic crisis, China’s manufacturing based economy has contracted, leaving 10s of millions of chinese workers unemployed. The boom itself opened up a rift between haves and have-nots that was much less acute prior to China’s meteoric economic rise, but the bust holds the potential to revive China’s Marxist legacy. It remains to be seen what the destiny of China’s rising left is, but conditions are ripe for its growth.
Workers in Maputo
International capital, in its search for outlets for investment in these times of worldwide stagnation, turns increasingly toward Africa. China, which itself had become the focus for foreign investment a couple decades ago, now has enough capital of its own to unleash on the world and Africa is one of its favorite targets. It is encouraging to see that Mozambiquan workers stand up to the exploitation and oppression that comes with this investment, as they have throughout the history of their interaction with the capitalist world system. As African ruling classes try so desperately to attract capital, the workers defend themselves from the consequences. As our president, partly of African heritage, takes steps to establish African Command – a regional military mega-center – and encourage capital to flow into the region, US workers have a new opportunity to develop international proletarian consciousness and to express solidarity. Solidarity is best expressed through being inspired to resist the system and do a fair share of the fighting. Are we fulfilling our duties to our class? African workers are.
Read about the Mozambique strike here.