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 –
“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.
What I’m trying to say is that the very difference in Jack Heyman’s line from that of his bureaucratic antagonists is his Marxist intervention. His criticism of Local 30’s lack of militancy is probably connected with his anti-imperialist commitments. Combine those two factors (economic and political struggle) and I think you have a de facto Marxist of some type, whether they call themselves that or not.
I don’t know if Jack considers himself a Marxist but he says the term ‘working class’ and ‘class struggle’ and ‘capitalism’ and by some measures, that meets at least the lowest common denominator for Marxist in the US, so I’ve been sort of ascribing the label ‘Marxist’ to him and think it works for the purposes of this discussion. Im saying that if he, a rank and file worker become non-union bureaucrat leader within an American union, subject to all the same state co-optation moves and legal restraints as any other union, can impact the consciousness of thousands of other proletarians (in the ranks of the ILWU, throughout the Bay Area working class in general, and even on other continents, albeit perhaps not, according to you Heironymous, not on the troquero proletarians right next door)… if he can intervene in unions from within the union movement – aka engage in UNIONISM- why can’t the rest of us??
My position has been and remains that unionism is not THE central component of a Marxist program, but that it deserves to have SOME place in it. IN 2011, it remains one ingredient, not the staple, not even the icing on the cake, but certainly not a lost cause either. I’d place it somewhere in the 3-5 range on a scale of 1-10 (10 = real high priority) of dimensions of Marxist program.
Since there was some confusion, I’ll clarify that by unionism, I mean more than simply orienting to the rank and file as individuals. I mean orienting toward the union as a union, struggling for power within the structure of the union, fighting for formal positions of leadership within it, attempting to define and redefine the mission and perspective of the union, and working to build and extend the influence of the union. That, to me, is the definition of unionism.
There are alternatives to the unionist strategy. Some of these alternatives are antagonistic (incompatible) with the unionist strategy. Some are not. I personally prefer some of the alternatives to unionism, and have for most of my Marxist life seen unions as more of a problem than a help to the working class. But I’m starting to believe that this was a little to ultra-“leftist” and am exploring the boundaries of my own analysis with regard to acknowledging some positive role in Marxist unionist praxis.
The only two things that I can find are a) better living standards for union workers, which only really helps us get toward communism if the second thing is present too: and b) unions as the “schools of the working class”, which are only teaching the working class good lessons if they are led by good teachers. I consider the likes of Clarence Thomas and Jack Heyman to be good teachers, and have learned a considerable amount just by watching them for a few years and listening to them speak at rallies. By far, the most conscious and outspoken people in any way associated with a union and in any kind of union leadership position (bureaucrat, rank and file, or otherwise) that I have ever heard/seen/met.
The working class would be better off if there were more Jack Heymans, Clarence Thomas’, ILWU Locals 6 and 10 (SF and Oakland). I don’t know if their wages would be any higher, but their proletarian consciousness would be.
Thanks for the extensive education Heironymous. It was a pleasure to have my butt whooped by a principled debater and learned scholar, presumably an organic working class intellectual, organizer, and unsung hero of our class.