Monthly Archives: May 2011

Once More on Unions . . . Steveo’s reply

Editor’s Note:  Just to clarify:  Steve-O’s position on unions does not represent Advance the Struggle’s official line.  The process of developing programmatic approaches towards concrete realities of capitalism such as unions is something which is not cut and dry, and which needs to be continually clarified through struggle.  We’re posting Steve-O’s reply to Hieronymous on here in order to clarify the terms of the debate and acknowledge the reciprocal process of learning we’re all involved in here.  No fixed dogmas here – rather, we’re seeking to interrogate our positions and learning from debate is a crucial part of this process.  

Steve-O’s reply –

Heironymous said:

“All of us agree that it’s great that the rank-and-file longshore militants have done solidarity actions with Salvadorians, South Africans, Liverpool longshore workers, Palestinians, and in the struggle around Oscar Grant. So is the lack of solidarity with troqueros, workers they interact with on a daily basis, based on a lack of class consciousness? If so, how can they be internationalists and anti-imperialists, but not be in class solidarity with a workforce comprised mostly of Spanish-speakers, but also with many Chinese, Filipinos and even a few Sikhs (with many Sikh troqueros at the deepwater inland ports of Lathrop and Stockton) ? Or am I wrong and is the ILWU a narrowly self-interested sectoral craft union that is truly a “labor aristocracy”?”

ouch… you know what? that really hurts, Hieronymous. it hurts a lot to get blown up like that. You sure are a worthy debate partner. You know you are losing a debate when you start rooting for your opponent because you want to LEARN more! Maybe losing debates should be something more Marxists try to do.

Before I continue further, I do want to apologize for calling Heironymous’ politics racist. That was, as he said “so absurd…” Sorry.

But I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel yet.

In defeating my argument, I forced you to differentiate between radical unionists like Jack Heyman and the bureaucrats they butt up against. If I was defending the bureaucracy in my argumentation, I didn’t know it and maybe got so blinded by  the desire to win the argument that I didn’t even know what I was saying. So as a rejoinder of sorts, I’ll take one last crack at accurately stating my position. Continue reading

Lessons from Domitila’s Experience

The following is less of a book review and more of an interpretation of the lessons which Domitila Barrios De Chungara’s classic autobiography, Let Me Speak, can teach us as a new generation of revolutionaries.  It was written by a Bay Area comrade and we see it as an important testament to the knowledge and wisdom we can gain from engaging revolutionary autobiographies and applying these lessons within our class struggles today.

Lessons from Domitila’s Experience

I just finished reading Let Me Speak!, Testimony of Domitila, a Woman of the Bolivian Mines. The book is a personal narrative by Domitila Barrios, where she explains her life’s struggle against poverty, sexism, exploitation, hunger…and capitalism in general. Domitila Barrios was the wife of a Bolivian miner in a region of Bolivia called Siglo XX. She breaks down their situation, detailing how the lives of miners are cut short due to overwork, bad pay, and silicosis, a lung disease mining people are all too familiar with. It’s a personal story which reflects on the historical situation of Bolivia at the time.

But I’m not planning on writing a summary of the book, but rather point out some of the major lessons Domitila’s experiences offer us.

Theory & Practice

One thing that really struck at me was how critical, undogmatic, and radical she was without having done much theoretical study. Whereas many of us radicals in the belly of the beast understand these conditions through political study, Domitila learned the contradictions of capitalism because they were brutally enforced on her and her people. She didn’t need to read State and Revolution to understand that the Bolivian military and police served the foreign and domestic capitalists, made all too clear through the frequent massacres, arrests, and deportations of people in struggle. She didn’t need to read Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism to see how American imperialism sucked Bolivia’s mineral wealth dry in order to build up its own economy and how this put Bolivia in a state of extreme dependence and subservience to foreign interests. She didn’t need to read the Communist Manifesto to understand that the workers and peasants were in a life and death class struggle against their oppressors. In fact, simply to exist, to eat, to work and to educate themselves required great sacrifices and political commitment. I love how Domitila insisted that if intellectuals and university folks were to come to help guide working people as to the laws of capitalism and the world situation, they’d better speak in terms the people can understand and not in their theoretical jargon. The concepts of class struggle, capitalism, and revolution can  be grasped by the oppressed in resistance if it is done in a way that connects the dots between their personal experiences and the objective laws of our society and is not done in an elitist or condescending manner. Not that she didn’t do any political study; the repeated brutality of the military and police against her, the accusations her of being a communist and liaison to Che Guevara’s guerrillas, and the knowledge that socialism, an alternative to capitalism, existed in other parts of the world during her time, prompted her to study socialism and communism and see it as the only real path towards human liberation.

Women’s Liberation

Continue reading

California Teachers Union Trying to Smother Rebellion

Last week marked a “Week of Action” called for by the California Teachers Association which was supposed to call attention to the “State of Emergency” which public schools are in.  Students, teachers, and workers from across California were supposed to engage in the week of action, which was to include an occupation of the state capitol in Sacramento as part of a Wisconsin-esque challenge to austerity measures directed towards workers.

Now, if you’ve been part of any of the anti-austerity movements on campuses in the past few years, you know that the question of directing protest towards Sacramento has been contentious.  Many have called out the “go to Sacramento” route as being a means to diffuse anger directed towards local institutions of the state’s power structure (university administrations, local school boards, etc) and re-direct it towards the institution that supposedly has the “real power.”

While many of us here have definitely been partisan towards fighting where we’re at – building walkouts, strikes and occupations at the point of reproduction – we were interested in seeing what this “Week of Action” in Sacramento might generate in light of the developments across North Africa and Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, it seems that the union bureaucracy played a predictable role, as outlined in our comrade Jack Gerson’s piece below.  He critiques the “short-term/long-term” strategy used by the union (not to mention many activists in general) as a cover for simply capitulating to the austerity program of the ruling parties – both Democrats and Republicans.

What will it take to develop a revolutionary program that seeks to issue meaningful demands that speak to the needs people are facing, while at the same time challenging the state power structure and calling our organizational and revolutionary attention to the fact that the bourgeois state will never meet our needs as workers?  Jack’s piece reminds us of the glaring inadequacies of protests confined within the parameters of the union officialdom and reminds us of the need to develop left-wing challenges to their co-optation strategies.

The California Teachers Association ‘Week of Action’… What The Heck Was Going On In Sacramento?

Jack Gerson – May 19, 2011

On the evening of Monday, May 9, 2011, 68 Bay Area college students, public school teachers, and their supporters chanting “Tax the Rich! That will fix the deficit!” were arrested for occupying and refusing to leave the state capitol building in Sacramento, California. Although this happened on the first day of a “Week of Action” called by the California Teachers Association (CTA) to protest cuts to state funding for K-12 education, CTA leadership walked away from the occupiers and literally pulled CTA members out of the Rotunda, saying that the protesters were “not on message”. Oakland Education Association (OEA) secretary Steve Neat, one of the arrestees, described it thus:

One of the May 12 arrests outside the offices of Republican leaders in California’s state capitol, Sacramento.”CTA leadership had the perfect opportunity to join a group of students and teachers fighting for real long-term change with direct action. They were very conspicuous by their absence. In fact they left and tried to usher CTA members away when we started chanting ‘Tax the rich!’ I guess that wasn’t quite on message enough.”

Continue reading

Unionism IS a Lost Cause

Steve-o’s post from yesterday raised some important questions regarding the approach Marxist militants take towards understanding and orienting towards the unionized sectors of the American working class.  A reader recommended that we post Loren Goldner’s essay on the questions of unions in capitalism, so we’re reposting it here to continue the discussion in the fullest terms possible.

Goldner’s essay, originally from the Insurgent Notes journal, makes the point that “in this epoch there is nothing positive for the class as a whole to be achieved through the unions,” while briefly touching on examples in which militants have participated in unions and fought with “a perspective beyond unions and of their supersession into class-wide organizations.”

Add your thoughts in the comments.

The Demise of Andy Stern and the Question of Unions in Contemporary Capitalism

by:  Loren Goldner

(This article originally appeared in Insurgent Notes No. 2 (October 2010

For decades, since the beginning of the world crisis in the early 1970’s, militants around the world have groped for a way to turn the relentless attack on the global working class from defensive, usually isolated (however valiant) struggles into an offensive one. The rise and recent fall of Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for fifteen years, illustrate some of the issues at hand. They illustrate, as if through a glass darkly, that in this epoch there is nothing positive for the class as a whole to be achieved through the unions. Let’s first look at the specifics in order to arrive at a general perspective.

Continue reading

Unionism not a Lost Cause


The fresh generation of Marxist revolutionaries of today can’t help but feel confronted with a two sided coin. On the one hand, we are inspired by the elders around us who came out of the period of huge class struggles world wide that is epitomized by the year 1968. The world proletariat produced so many of our local heroes who to this day carry so much of the load of activism and resistance campaigns. At least that’s the case for us in AS here in the Bay Area, where we have a few important elders that have passed the torch to us and still outdo us in many ways.

On the other side of the coin, is a sense that there is a wide gulf between 2011 and the peak years of class struggle that stretched into the mid-70s. None of the histories or biographies that we read seem to contain much evidence of revolutionary thought or action during the whole decades of the 1980s and 1990s. Organizational forms and theoretical content seems to have no continuity, and we feel like we are starting from scratch.

But if we got to know some of these elders a little better and listened to their stories, we would learn a lot. They have been dedicated for their whole lives, and the class struggle never ceases. People like recently retired Jack Heyman of the ILWU is one such figure.

Check out this video which is a succinct summary of one union’s intervention in the political sphere through the best and probably only real means at the disposal of the working class: organized labor action. Voting, petitioning, and the rest of it only have a chance at being relevant within the broader context of direct, organized, labor action. Just to be clear, AS refers to much more than unions or even waged workers when we say “labor”, so although this example we are using focuses on a classic sector of the working class, we do not limit the possibility of class struggle to forms like this.

What better example of the potential of the working class to consciously intervene in the political sphere through organized withdraw of their labor-power from production (aka, strike) than the history of the ILWU here in Oakland and San Francisco? Those Marxists who dismiss the unions, the bureaucracy, and the male-majority industries as reactionary bastions, might take pause and complicate their program with this counterpoint to alleged bankruptcy of Trotskyism, the transitional method, “caste” (race and gender) integrated struggle and other pillars of commonplace marxist praxis (not that Marxist praxis is commonplace at all!).

Much of what has been written on this blog suggests that the new frontier of communist praxis is to be found in the “margins”, in sectors of the working class that in some cases have not even been defined as working class at all (eg, reproductive workers such as mothers). We hold to that assertion, but can’t go so far as to write off the role that unions, productive workers, and men have to play in the revolutionary process. Advance the Struggle is in that category of Marxists who are skeptical of the old formulas, and we are certainly humbled by the historical evidence that at least in one local case, proves that classical formulas can work to a significant degree.

This video should dispel the claim that workers organized as workers are condemned eternally to “economistic” politics, since longshoremen are firmly in the category of “aristocracy of labor”. It is settled: all proletarians can become conscious of their broad, internationalist interests and act in solidarity in militant fashion. The question is how to reconcile the skepticism of union (structured into state apparatus) with counterpoints like the one featured in the video AND how to also strategically coordinate non-union and even non-waged workers struggles with those of militant wage-earners and unionists. When this is figured out in theory and in practice, we will be well on the way to forging a truly unified proletariat.