Monthly Archives: October 2012

Turning the Tide: 1st Issue of Bay Area Port Workers’ Newsletter

Cover of Port Workers Newsletter

Click on this image to view or download the newsletter.

We published Occupy, ILWU EGT and the Coming Class Battles to point out the limits of a militant alliance between Occupy and ILWU rank-and-file.  As the former came into being as a radical force with its own wild contradictions, and the militancy of the latter carried a tradition of struggle from 1934  to the present, there still needs to be a framework for port class struggle.

Occupy, ILWU EGT and the Coming Class Battles offers a critique of 1) social movement unionism, 2) surplus population insurgency, and proposes to form class-wide committees, which we also call multi-sector committees.  A rank-and-file newsletter that contains articles written by port workers is a first step towards bridging the craft divides in the port. It breaks jurisdictional logic ingrained by existing unionism, orienting towards the whole space of the port. The idea is to lay the basis for a multi-sector unity that offers serious leverage against the employers and a potential model for workers in struggle throughout the US.

This newsletter is a product of combined work between different tendencies of revolutionaries, the Occupy Oakland Labor Solidarity Committee, and workers from different parts of the port.

Enjoy, and bring it down to the docks in your city!

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Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism by Loren Goldner

The below piece was originally posted in the hot-off-the-presses latest edition of Insurgent Notes, an excellent Communist journal published by some of our comrades.

In this moment the US revolutionary left is attempting to rebuild from being murdered, exiled and corrupted into practical nonexistence.  As part of this process, we have to take a hard and utterly nondogmatic look at the history of various revolutionary traditions…..unfortunately this is not very common.  What is more common, and infinitely more boring and useless, is a gutter-level political culture that includes one-sentence name-calling summaries of traditions and idealized versions of ones’ own, leading to brain-dead strategic thought often based in knee-jerk rejection.

BUT

We are also not going to win by implementing broad left unity, or by rejecting theory and strategic thought as “academic” or “overintellectualized“.  This could only work if our ideas for approaching the world, and the strategies we make with them, don’t matter for whether our struggles win (if only for a few years) or are drowned in blood.  I’ve yet to hear someone directly defend this thesis, but by all means the comment thread is open for you if you’re interested!

What nondogmatic means in this case is MORE intellectual, in the sense of a deeper look into the reality of complex historical events, figures, strategies and tactics.  It also means “No Cheap Shots“, i.e. we’re trying to learn about the applicability of certain ideas to reality, and the consequences of their use, rather than GET someone in some kind of boxing-like debate.

The following piece is an example of the kind of sharp debate that we need, and the readable historical summations of different tendencies we’ll need to develop and debate in order to understand our history and its impact on today.

The Fish

Introduction by an Advance the Struggle Comrade:

A Marxist critique of Maoism

Were living in a historical moment where anarchism, Trotskyism and Maoism have not proved to be powerful revolutionary systems nor totally obsolete. They hang on to the left. Become reproduced in a variety of ways. Maoism in particularly is an important movement. It claims to be the most serious Marxist movement that is grounded in a non European setting. Such a dynamic makes Maoism an attractive force for young militants of color who align themselves with third world struggles. The Black Panthers were highly influenced by Maoism and Fanon. Movies often depict Panthers selling the Mao’s little red book. The key inspiration for the Panthers, Malcolm X, also was influenced by Maoism. In his Message to the Grassroots, 10th Nov, 1963: Malcolm states: 
“…The Chinese Revolution — they wanted land. They threw
the British out, along with the Uncle Tom Chinese. Yeah,
they did. They set a good example. When I was in prison, I
read an article — don’t be shocked when I say I was in
prison. You’re still in prison. That’s what America means:
prison. When I was in prison, I read an article in Life
magazine showing a little Chinese girl, nine years old; her
father was on his hands and knees and she was pulling the
trigger ’cause he was an Uncle Tom Chinaman, When they had
the revolution over there, they took a whole generation of
Uncle Toms — just wiped them out. And within ten years
that little girl become [sic] a full-grown woman. No more
Toms in China. And today it’s one of the toughest,
roughest, most feared countries on this earth — by the
white man. ‘Cause there are no Uncle Toms over there.”…

As 1500 strikes take place in China everyday, and China being a center of global capitalist accumulation within the world system, many in the Chinese left will try to redevelop Maoism. We need a clear analysis of the political character of Maoism from a marxist perspective. One that can trace its historical development from 1911 to the present. With that said, we welcome Loren Goldner’s essay, a Marxist critique of Maoism.

***

Note to the Reader: The following was written at the request of a west coast comrade after he attended the August 2012 “Everything for Everyone” conference in Seattle, at which many members of the “soft Maoist” Kasama current were present. It is a bare-bones history of Maoism which does not bring to bear a full “left communist” viewpoint, leaving out for the example the sharp debates on possible alliances with the “nationalist bourgeoisie” in the colonial and semi-colonial world at the first three congresses of the Communist International. It was written primarily to provide a critical-historical background on Maoism for a young generation of militants who might be just discovering it. —LG.

Maoism was part of a broader movement in the twentieth century of what might be called “bourgeois revolutions with red flags,” as in Vietnam or North Korea.

To understand this, it is important to see that Maoism was one important result of the defeat of the world revolutionary wave in 30 countries (including China itself) which occurred in the years after World War I. The major defeat was in Germany (1918–1921), followed by the defeat of the Russian Revolution (1921 and thereafter), culminating in Stalinism.

Maoism is a variant of Stalinism.[1] Continue reading

Health Care Workers on Strike for the Whole Class

A striking public health worker at a demonstration outside the Ministry of Health headquarters in Kenya’s capital Nairobi (REUTERS)

On September 12th of this year, 3,000 Kenyan public doctors and health workers voted to strike in solidarity with medical students demanding to be paid for their volunteer hospital work.  This is the second time in one year health workers have staged a strike.  On Friday the health workers called off the strike, with some initial indications that it’s a serious victory for the Kenyan working class, health workers and consumers both.  (We’re also hesitant to crow victory too quickly in these complex situations.)

From allAfrica.com:

After talks with the union officials, Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o announced that he had revoked all disciplinary measures that the government had taken on the medics for taking part in the strike.

At a joint press conference with union officials at Afya House on Thursday evening, Nyong’o said the government would also release the salaries that had been withheld from the striking doctors.

The meeting agreed to set up a committee that would address the doctors’ grievances, which included demands for fastracking of a return-to-work formula that had been signed to end a similar strike late last year.

Kenya is a country in which politicians make about $130,000 a year, while doctors receive a $36,000 a year salary that doesn’t even let them visit private clinics. Health workers in Kenya struggle to meet the needs of their poor and working-class patients with a dire lack of basic resources like drugs and surgery tools. In the meantime, Kenyan legislators hop on flights to America or Europe to kick it with their imperialist puppet masters and get their surgeries and check ups.

Continue reading

The bourgeois media says Egypt is ‘back in business’, but the people say strike!

While the world had its eyes on an inflammatory film made to mock the Prophet Muhammad, The US Chamber of Commerce was brokering a midday Cairo brunch in the Four Seasons between American and Egyptian businessmen.

The US Consulate in Cairo has been the target for many actions before this moment – in response to the Iraq War, in protest of the Mubarak regime’s relationship to the US, etc. This time the trigger might have been the film, but concurrent actions happening across the country prove that Egyptians have a much broader agenda.
Continue reading

Indonesia: First general strike in 50 years

The International Marxist Tendency – a Trotskyist organization – has printed an important article about the general strike that is unfolding in Indonesia. We normally do not repost other marxists groups literature, but we thought it important to highlight the explosive class struggle that is currently taking place throughout the world.  As committed internationalists, it is important that we study the developments of Asian and Pacific Islander class struggle, with the political aspirations to develop direct links with workers and to spread the revolutionary potential that these strikes hold.

The Indonesian economy is the world’s sixteenth largest by nominal GDP. Therefore, we can see the clear implications that this strike can have on the world economy.

These struggles have direct effects on our own political terrain as well.  The ILWU struggle is bound up with trade with Asia. Chinese class struggle could change the whole global political landscape. In the US there is a rising xenophobia against China that we must begin to prepare to challenge with internationalism.

For further coverage see:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2012/10/201210333637274537.html

http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/jakarta/labor-groups-to-hold-mass-protest-in-greater-jakarta/547827

Indonesia: First general strike in 50 years

Written by Ted Sprague Tuesday, 02 October 2012

Tomorrow, October 3, will witness an important event in the history of the labour movement in Indonesia. For the first time in 50 years, Indonesian workers will carry out a national general strike which will involve an estimated 2 million workers in 21 different cities. Three demands serve as the basis of this general strike: increases in the official minimum wage, an end to all outsourcing arrangements, and universal national health care for all.

This general strike is not something that falls from the sky. It is the culmination of the radicalization process in the workers movement for the past one year. Radical actions of hundreds of thousands of workers who have gone on strike and blockaded industrial areas and major highways; the leadership of the workers in the movement against the fuel price increase this March that forced the government to back down; the largest May Day rally with 160,000 workers on the streets, followed by the formation of the MPBI (Council of Indonesians Workers and Labourers) that united 5 million workers; all these form a continuing process that leads to this general strike.

Workers have also started to fight for demands that go beyond the confines of their factories, from workers in Gresik, an industrial area in East Java, who fought for free education for the people to all-Indonesia workers’ actions against a fuel price increase this year. Workers’ struggles have gone beyond “day-to-day demands in the factory” to “day-to-day demands of the wider masses”. This in turn will touch on the questions of politics and power. To win “day-to-day demands in the factory”, it is normally enough for workers to strike in the said factory to press the boss. However, to win “day-to-day demands of the wider masses” (free healthcare, free education, etc.), the struggle has to be brought to a wider political stage. It is here that the question of state power is posed, where economic struggle is linked to political struggle. It is also here that workers find their leadership role in the struggle for the general well-being of the masses.

The Indonesian working class has gone through a number of important phases in the past 50 years, ones which are filled with ebbs and flows, advances and retreats:

1. Period of Glory (late 50s to early 60s)

The labour movement is at its peak in the late 50s and early 60s, with SOBSI as the largest workers’ federation at that moment, claiming a membership of 3 million workers, even more than any federation or confederation today.

2. Defeat (1965)

In 1965 the labour movement suffered its biggest defeat, destroyed physically and ideologically in the hands of the New Order regime.

3. Rebirth (mid 1980s)

The shift in the Indonesian economy from oil-gas exports to manufacturing in the mid-1980s created a new layer of proletariat. This new proletariat, thrown into the factories in their thousands, was one of the forces that shook the Soeharto regime. The number of recorded strikes in the 1990s increased significantly, from 61 in 1990 to 300 in 1994.

4. Reformasi (1998)

The 1998 Reformasi Movement, even if it didn’t bring about a fundamental change, opened the democratic gateway for the workers. Independent trade unions mushroomed in the aftermath of 1998. Meanwhile, SPSI workers, awakened by the Reformasi, also started to shake this New Order trade union. (The SPSI, the state sponsored union and the arm of the regime in the workplaces, was until 1998 the only recognised workers’ organisation.) The stranglehold of the SPSI was weakened and splits took place. In this period, workers were re-learning their long-lost fighting traditions.

This general strike will be the next phase in the history of the Indonesian labour movement, a turning point whereby the working class becomes a real political force that is not only recognized and respected by the wider masses but also feared by the ruling class. Workers with their national strike, for the first time will enter the national political arena. In the eyes of the toiling masses, they will no longer just be “tens or hundreds of workers in factories demanding wage increases”, but they will be seen as the Indonesian working class who fought for the welfare of the whole people of Indonesia. In the period of Reformasi, this position was held by the students who became an extension of the voice of the people. Today workers will start claiming their historical role as the class that leads the struggle of the whole of the oppressed masses.

The complete victory of capital over labour during the Soeharto dictatorial regime made the Indonesian capitalist class somewhat arrogant. For the past 50 years since the destruction of the labour movement, they have never felt seriously threatened by the working class. They even believe themselves that there is no longer any such thing as the working class, that there are no longer classes in society, in other words a “bourgeois classless society” has been attained. This national general strike will wake the capitalists up from their sweet dream and make them learn to fear once more the might of the working class.

One thing that has to be noted by all revolutionaries is the fact that this general strike has been initiated by the MPBI, which can be generally described as a reformist or even yellow trade union. This emphasizes once again the fact that when the workers move they will use whatever organizations they have in their hands, regardless of how reformist or even corrupt their organization or the majority of their leaders are. The bulk of the workers are still in these reformist organizations. It is therefore the task of revolutionaries to orientate to these organizations. Attempts to isolate oneself in red trade unions will only separate the revolutionaries and their ideas from the wider layer of workers.

Statements of support from many red trade unions for this general strike, and even the involvement of some of them, are a correct step. This step has to be deepened and should not stop here. The task of the most advanced workers is to orientate toward workers whose consciousness is lagging behind, no matter where they are. We have to be able to work in any workers’ organizations, from the reddest ones to the reactionary ones if need be. There shouldn’t be obstacle in principle raised against working in reformist workers’ organizations.

This first general strike will not immediately bring about successes. Like a baby who is learning to stand for the first time, it will fall numerous times. But we know that at the end of the day the baby will stand, and then walk, run, and jump. Also when the baby stands up for the first time, the world will look very different to him/her. This general strike will shake the consciousness of a wide layer of workers. They will start seeing beyond their factory gates, that out there are millions of workers whose fate and interests are the same as theirs. They will start seeing themselves as a class for itself. They will start seeing themselves as the class that can – and must – lead the struggle of the whole oppressed people.

The Indonesian working class has begun to stand up and walk upright with confidence. Those who in the past denied the revolutionary potential of the workers are now faced with hard facts. They can no longer close their eyes to the might of the working class. And for those who will still continue to deny the role of the working class after this general strike, we will leave them to the dustbin of history as the workers move forward toward their historical task: the overthrown of capitalism and the building of socialism.