Monthly Archives: October 2010

Forgotten Classic: Workers’ Movements in the United States Confront Imperialism

The Progressive Era Experience

by David Montgomery.

 

This was the subject of one of Advance the Struggle’s first posts, which was reported to be viewed by only one person. How is that possible? It demands a re-release! As a new working class struggle simmers under the surface, we should educate ourselves by learning our labor history and seeking out the best traditions and authors in that discipline. David Montgomery was a machinist before he was a professor. He wrote Workers Control in America about how the Taylorized method of production was more than just a method for economic efficiency; it was a mode of control and domination over the labor process which undercut workers’ power and autonomy at the point of production.

US Special Forces with Iraqi Prisoners

US Occupation forces in Iraq: Does organized US labor benefit from imperialism?

Most view the organized labor movement as being a static, conservative body that was often hierarchical and racist. Much of it was. David Montgomery investigates the opposition and internationalism that nonetheless persisted in the bodies of organized labor at the turn of the century, illuminating a powerful counter movement with internationalist principals. The American Federation of Labor from 1886 to 1955 and the AFL-CIO from 1955 to the present have worked and do work with the CIA and US foreign policy, from the pragmatic view that helping maintain the US’s share in the world will produce jobs for US workers. This essay shows on the one hand that the Pan-American Federation of Labor was more a product of diplomatic imperialist maneuvering than of class solidarity, and on the other, that there was still a militant internationalist movement that cross-fertilized in US, Mexico, Cuba , Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Specifically in Mexico, where major US investments shaped the economy, Montgomery states, “anarcho-syndicalists enjoyed strong support on both sides of the border, and the path to union growth was opened by revolution.” Continue reading

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Fight Police Brutality With the ILWU – This Saturday 10/23!

ILWU Local Ten is shutting down the port on October 23rd, calling for justice for Oscar Grant, with a rally taking place at noon on 14th Broadway. This is significant! The array of organizing that took place — media outreach, thousands of flyers handed out in the streets,

ILWU say Jail Killer Cops

ILWU say Jail Killer Cops

several union endorsements, several community and political organizational endorsements — has now developed a critical momentum for the Oscar Grant movement that was not present on July 8th 2010, January 7th or 14th of 2009. Those rebellions were expressions of raw anger from Oakland youth and young Bay Area working class people of all races. Since then, there’s been a labor-centered development of struggle, where ILWU local ten has publicly stated over and over that their means to fight against injustice will be to shut down the port.

 

In 1912 two IWW organizers, Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovanniti, were framed for murder. Witnesses saw the murder of the striker committed by the police. But the 30,000 worker strike in Lawrence Massachusets, often referred to as the Bread and Roses strike, was led by Wobblies Ettor and Giovanniti and needed to be stopped by the state. The first phase of the strike won wage increases. The workers went back to work, but then restruck later in 1912, with around 20,000 participating, as a political strike to free Ettor and Giovanniti, as they were politically framed for a murder they did not commit. Philip Foner, the American Communist Party historian, claims this was the first political strike of such kind in American labor history.

It should be seriously noted when the labor movement shuts down part of the industry of commerce as a political means of defending itself as a class against racist state oppression. The ILWU has pushed the theoritical concept “an injury to one is an injury to all,” in practice. If this can develop as a trend throughout the country, then new formations opposed to state oppression and based in labor can rise, giving working people in ghettos and barrios through out the country a method for fighting back against police brutality.

Arturo Giovanniti, an Italian immigrant IWW organizer, was considered one of the best poets of the movement. In 1914, he wrote “The Walker,” that carries within its description of incarceration coded messages of liberation:

I hear footsteps over my head all night.
They come and they go. Again they come and they go all night.
They come one eternity in four paces and they go one eternity in
four paces, and between the coming and the going there is
silence and the Night and the Infinite.
For infinite are the nine feet of a prison cell, endless is the march
of him who walks between the yellow brick wall and the red
iron gate, thinking things that cannot be chained and cannot
be locked, but that wander far away in the sunlit world, each
in a wild pilgrimage after a destined goal.

Continue reading

Bay Area Class Struggle History: Women INC. & Women’s Liberation

Women INC and Women's Liberation

Click here to download a 0.5MB PDF of the original article from the February 1970 issue of Radical America magazine

There has been a failure in both the women’s movement and the labor movement to provide a holistic revolutionary perspective on women’s oppression and liberation in this country. The largely white, middle class, mainstream women’s movement has neglected working class women and women of color and the particular ways race and gender impact their class position within the division of labor. A huge basis for contemporary black feminism was this lack of race and class analysis by the feminist movement. Groundbreaking pieces, such as Michele Wallace’s Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman and the Combahee River Collectives Black Feminist Statement provided an analysis of race, gender and class that was missing from both the women’s movement and the civil rights and black power movements.

The labor movement, which did have women workers in it, also failed in its analysis and demands to recognize the particular way women were exploited as women workers. Often their experiences as female proletarians were neglected through sexism and class reductionism.  Issues that women faced, such as sexual harassment, unequal pay, and job security, were ignored by union bureaucrats, organizers, and fellow male rank and file workers. When women’s involvement in labor struggles is discussed in history it is usually when they are playing supportive roles as housewives, and organizing in housewife committees and women auxiliaries. This work is important and should be historically recorded and analyzed, but this work often still reflects a gendered division of labor. Women’s role in class struggle is shown to be supporting the male proletariat by doing the necessary reproductive labor to sustain strikes. A historical account of women organizing as women workers is harder to come across, even though women have always been a part of the proletariat, and have engaged in militant class struggle.

Radical America Women Issue

Click here to download a 4.7MB PDF of the entire February 1970 women-focused issue of Radical America magazine

Below is a very important historical account of women’s liberation struggles that focuses on two bay area women organizations from the 1970’s. One is a caucus of women paper workers in a rebel union called Women Inc., which formed as a response to the union’s refusal to address the women workers’ demands and grievances; the other, Women’s Liberation evolved out of the student and racial movements as a response to the male-dominated leadership. Although both organizations came out of different demographics, Women Inc. a working class group and Women’s Liberation a middle class student group, both organizations formed on the basis of sexual identity to organize against sexism, oppression, exploitation and discrimination that permeated the labor struggles and social movements. A close study of both of these organizations will be helpful in our own analysis of the particularities of women’s oppression under global capital, and will help us as we wage revolutionary struggle for women’s liberation, and that of all oppressed people!

Please check out this rare and fresh bay area feminist history!

Women’s INC. and Women’s Liberation

Over the last few years and until recently unknown to each other, there have arisen in the Bay Area two groups of women whose goals are the end of discrimination, exploitation and oppression of women.  One is a general, the other a specific social movement. One has evolved out of the middle-class radicalizing student milieu, the other out of a rebel trade union. They have their inception in a widespread condition of unrest reflecting the cultural drift of women’s emancipation, dissatisfaction with things as they are and hopes for a new scheme or system of living. Having adopted values of equality and self-determination, women have formed new conceptions of themselves which are incongruent with the positions they occupy, their inferior social status relative to men. Some aspects of the movement strongly resemble those of nationalism. ‘Those who initiate the movement usually have had distressing personal experiences in which they have been made to feel inferior and as not privileged enough to enjoy a respectable status. Their wounded self-feelings and their desire to re-establish self-respect lead them to efforts to improve the status of the group with which they are identified.’ (1) I believe that these two groups have a far-reaching significance; that one represents the form, the other the essence of what will be a fundamental part of the socialist revolution and must be understood as such. I believe that the exploitation of women in the production and reproduction of life is a basic cause, the essence, of discrimination which in turn is a form of psychological oppression. Continue reading

Bay Area Class Struggle History: Panthers at Peralta Colleges

The roots of the Black Panther Party (BPP) lie within student struggle for fully-funded public education reflecting Black history, culture, and struggle. The founders of the party, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, met at Merritt College in Oakland and began to struggle for education together with other black students. But unlike liberal forces in the movement, Newton and Seale saw the necessity to connect their struggle as black students to structural oppression in working-class black communities. Police murder and beatings combined with a deadly lack of jobs, healthcare, food and affordable housing; the BPP saw that the struggle for control over our schools must be connected to the revolutionary struggle for control over our communities. Looking to the present not a whole lot has changed in Oakland: the BART police murder of Oscar Grant and the numerous murders committed by OPD before and after him demonstrate that state-sponsored racism and violence continues to oppress and kill us; East Oakland has some of the highest rates of foreclosures in the state creating more and more homeless families; health clinics and other vital social services continue to get cut back or completely eliminated; free after-school youth programs and daycare centers continue to close down placing more burdens on working-class mothers, who struggle to find ways to make sure their children are cared for when they attend work and/or school. A central difference between then and now is the lack of an organization like the BPP striving to connect these issues and build community control. There is however a growing student movement, which is trying to fight the budget cuts and demand affordable quality education. There are also BPP sun, flag, fistindividuals and organizations who, like Bobby and Huey, are trying to connect the student struggle to broader issues affecting the working-class as a whole. One of these is the militant student organization Student Unity & Power (SUP), which exists at San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, and Laney College. The Laney College branch has put forth a very important analysis demonstrating their radical perspective while drawing from the rich local history of one of the most inspiring and influential revolutionary organizations of all time, The Black Panther Party. This analysis will be useful as we move forward in our struggles for freedom, peep game!

 

Panthers at Peralta

by Laney College Student Unity & Power

SUP draws inspiration from the birth of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966 when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale met as students on 57th and Grove St. (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) at Merritt College. Unliketoday’s view of Peralta as a job training hub, the Panthers saw the campus as “not a typical institution for so-called higher learning. Grove Street College is what is called a community college: a place where, for a variety of reasons, people who don’t have an opportunity to attend larger colleges and universities go to seek knowledge and hope for a better life.” The Grove Street campus also represented a base for organizing the neighborhood and a place to demand self-determination for Black and all oppressed people via community control of the curriculum, operations and facilities of the College. While engaged in militant resistance to the District, rank-and-file Panther women built counter-institutions to reproduce their culture of struggle.

This piece is an effort to remember the lessons of their struggle. Continue reading