Category Archives: US Labor

On the Union Debate: A Reply to John Garvey

John Garvey has made several important and critical comments on the unions. He was the first to point out that only 14 million workers are in unions, highly located in the public sector, and including police and jails. Under the surface it appears we have differences dealing with the existing unions, and apsire to continue to have a public dialogue and public debate on the matter.  In order to come to a better understanding of this particular juncture and the work that should be done, we must dig deep into the politics of the matter, and see who proposes what, in the concrete, concerning unions, and the class conflict unions members have with capital.  We present John Garvey’s comments first and a response by a member of AS who works in both unionized workplaces and non-unionized workplaces. We encourage John Garvey to put forth any central documents that further outline his position on the unions to gain clarity on the matter.

 

John Garvey

Sorry for the interruption! Grandchildren interfered. Let me turn now to the unionized protective service workers. Their unionization rates all but completely are a reflection of their status as public employees and, in that regard, they are no different from other public sector employees–dependent, for the most part, for the quality of their contracts on negotiated deals with city or state elected officials dependent on union support. But, other than firefiighters because of their role as protectors of the existing state of affairs. unlike other public sector officials, they should be deducted from the numbers of unionized workers–making the overall rates of unionization even lower–for our purposes.

So, what does all this mean? I think it means that we should stop obsessing about unions–a reality that means almost nothing in the life or potential of the American working class that’s available for revolutionary politics. Why? First, only a tiny number of workers are in unions. Second, many of the members are older and not easily able to break with the circumstances that make their lives tolerable. Third, more than half of union members are in the public sector where, in spite of the battles of Wisconsin and Michigan, the members’ well-being is more dependent on support of politicians than anything else. And, furthermore, a whole lot of those public sector workers are cops and prison guards.What to do instead? Mostly, let’s learn a lot about what workers are faced with and what they’re doing. And let’s keep in mind that the end is the abolition of wage labor and the self-emancipation of the working class–a very distant dream in these dark times.

Response by Farabundo

Response: John Garvey begins and end his proposal with “let’s learn a lot about what workers are faced with and what they’re doing.” We are workers. No one in Advance the Struggle can live without working. By definition, we all have to sell our labor-time for wages to make a living. This implication that we are divorced from the working class is a faulty beginning. Considering only a small section of people we interact with, mainly retired people, don’t have to work, every person we engage with are workers. Everytime we talk with someone we know, we usually ask, “What have you been up to?” So we can get idea of they are doing. Our workplaces, which includes schools, hospitals, transportation, restaurants are both unionized and non-unionized. Some of us work as substitute teachers, both at non-union charters and unionized schools, making the issue of unions are real one. The biggest issue we face, is our comrades who agitate in non union workplaces who can be fired at will. We know this first hand because they have been fired for organizing. There was nothing we could do besides call a labor lawyer. Our organization is too small to be able to organize a wildcat when our comrades get fired. So the real world experience is our comrades do get fired at non union workplaces. Our comrades that do have union jobs, have much more real room for agitation and organizing. We can bring up concepts of class struggle in a much more real way. This also doesn’t mean we don’t talk about other non-union political issues with our co-workers. Every chance I get, I talk to my co-workers, who are school workers, and Oakland teachers, about social movements, class struggle in other countries, the role of violent and racist state, the real gendered violence that penetrates the streets, and how the class as a whole needs to move against capital. I also have similar conversation in non-union workplaces I work at. But when I do, I have to think, will this person tell the manager what I am talking about? If they do, I could get fired simply for that reason. As a result, I am more reserved, because I would like to pay rent, and eat food. Continue reading

On the Union Debate: The Internationalist Group’s Response to “The Problematic of the Union in the U.S” (1 & 2)

The Internationalist Group, a revolutionary Trotskyist organization, has written a serious response to Advance the Struggle’s two documents on the unions. Many readers will probably be a little put off by the hyper Trotskyist language of the piece, nevertheless the content of the argument is one of importance. It offers sympathy with the first union piece Unions – How do We Intervene?” And believes the other document, Revolutionaries, Unions and the emerging Class Struggle, has some serious problems, and anarchist tendencies. We appreciate the Internationalist’s serious response to both documents, and agree that all revolutionary formations must start to put out a public positions on how to relate to the unions. As the public can see, Advance the Struggle is still figuring out this question. That is why we published two pieces.

If all American left groups can clearly explain what role revolutionaries should play regarding unions, we can heighten the political discussion of what revolutionary work means in this historical moment. The Kasama blog wrote a critique of Fire Next Time’s flyer regarding the bus strike in New York as it was not clearly explaining what communist work means in the present. What we found missing from the Kasama critique is a proposal for how to relate to the unions in a way that is communist. The ultra-left critique of Trotskyism is this issue on unions is ignoring value, the essence of capitalist social relations. Ultra-lefts charge trotskyist of reproducing and managing value, as appossed to moving towards its negation. This movement, that some call communization, is stuck in a similar position as Kasama, as it can’t translate macro concepts such as value, communism, and communization, within real day-to-day class struggle situations. They are stuck in the abstract and cannot, as of yet, concretely explain what communist work (Kasama), or what communization means in day to day practice regarding the immediate tasks of political work that relates the class struggle and unions.

Luxemburg and Lenin were the first to seriously do this after Marx, this being an untapped theoretical/practical potential point of convergence. Luxemburg and Lenin were the first to develop a revolutionary Marxist practice, concretizing Marxist theoretical categories. Yet historically, they have been violently separated by the crystallized ideologies of the Marxist left; uncritically committed to limited traditions that have now faded into retirement. Just as labor and production were separated forming alienation in Marx’s 1844 Philosophical manuscripts, and labor and land were separated in Marx’s concept of the so-called primitive accumulation, Lenin and Luxemburg have also been separated creating an anti-organizational ultra-left that fetishizes wildcat strikes, or linear party builders in the name of Leninism. Both Luxemburg’s “The Mass Strike“, challenging the bureaucratic method of union political work in Germany, and Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” of building professional revolutionaries that insert revolutionary politics beyond unionism and economic struggles, are the two foundational works that can shed light on the union question.

LeninRosa

Advance the Struggle will continue to write on the relationship revolutionaries should have with unions in this unfolding public discussion. We encourage all revolutionary groups to also write out documents, or pinpoint existing documents that clearly lay out how revolutionaries should relate to unions. All serious comments from your part are studied and recognized with such seriousness on our part.

Trade Unions and Revolutionary Struggle in the United States

The two pieces posted on the web site of Advance the Struggle under the heading “The Problematic of the Union in the U.S. – What Is To Be Done?” are a definite improvement on other recent statements and articles from activists in and around the (greatly reduced) Occupy movement. Both AtS texts start with the affirmation of the need to defend the unions against attacks by capital and the state, in contrast to the arguments of supporters of the Black Orchid Collective in the Pacific Northwest who have vociferously opposed calls for defense of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Those arguments were raised in a dispute that broke out in a “port working group” in Portland last November when comrades of the Internationalist Group put out a leaflet calling for defense of the ILWU and raised this as one of the basic points for solidarity action. This was in the face of the employers’ offensive aimed at gutting basic union gains, such as the hiring hall, and preparing to bring in scabs to bust the ILWU, the bastion of West Coast labor. Our stance was ABC for any Marxist, but those who objected were anarchists and liberals. Basically the arguments against us cited betrayals by the ILWU bureaucrats as a reason not to defend, and possibly to oppose, the union, for example in the article by Pete Little, “One Year After the West Coast Port Shutdown,” in CounterPunch (21-23 December). We responded in an article titled, “Why We Defend the ILWU and All Workers … Including Against the Sellout Labor Bureaucracy”.

The AtS pieces are grappling with one of the key issues facing communist revolutionaries in the U.S., which has been fought over for decades. While making a number of valid points, both pieces are basically empirical where what’s key is the overall theoretical understanding and programmatic conclusions. Both locate the problems with unions in their structure, and in the elaborate web of legal restrictions woven by the bourgeoisie to contain workers’ struggles. Therefore, they focus on alternative organizational vehicles as the solution, whether “class-wide organizations” or “revolutionary cells” in the unions. This misses the key point, that the failures and betrayals of key labor struggles are due at bottom not to union structures or capitalist laws, but to the lack of revolutionary leadership capable of overcoming those obstacles.

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The Problematic of the Union in the U.S. – What is to be Done? (Part 2)

Many people reading the blog have only the read the first position paper on unions and not the second. We are releasing the second to make clear there are two position papers being discussed in Advance the Struggle. We wanted to share both so people can see the discussion going on. Please feel free to comment, and or critique both pieces.

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Revolutionaries, Unions and emerging Class Struggle.

“Trade Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachment of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”  -Marx

Thesis:

So few revolutionaries are implanted in the landscape of over 14 million US union members,  making a key task the formation of revolutionary cells amongst the rank and file of unions, which would  engage in three types of political work; 1) day to day organizing and base building amongst the rank and file of that union, 2) form new working class organizations outside of the unions (like solidarity unionism or independent committees) and, 3) in rupturing  moments of capitalist attack, like the “Wisconsin moment,” to lead classwide offensives against capital.

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The Problematic of the Union in the U.S. – What is to Be Done?

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(Editor’s Note:  The 2nd piece in this post has been updated on a separate blog post.  The original piece was a late draft.)

The Advance the Struggle Collective is currently engaged in high level discussion around the central political question of the unions and how revolutionaries interpret its history, its present, and how communist intervention can help develop a much-needed revitalized labor movement. The experience of the Chicago teacher’s strike, the battle in the Northwest over the fate of the ILWU, and the mass uprising of public sector workers in Wisconsin stresses both the need to defend unions from bourgeois offensives and the limitations of rank-and-file activity within actually-existing unions; on the other hand, the struggles of Wal-mart, Mi Pueblo, Hot & Crusty, and fast food workers reveals a strong rank-and-file desire for the unionization that might provide some dignity, security, and a greater platform from which to organize and increase rank-and-file confidence against the bosses. What’s the analysis and what’s the program?

In light of this, we are providing two separate pieces on unions written by AS comrades. We don’t pretend to have a uniform line on this important question yet, but we believe that by public, transparent debates we can create a healthy culture of revolutionary debate and dialogue, embracing differences while striving for higher levels of principled unity through our practice in the school of class struggle. 

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Classroom Struggle with their latest Newsletter!

The TEACH Committee (formerly Occupy Oakland Education Committee) has been in existence since Nov. 2011. From their inception they have led marches for public education, created & circulated curriculum with class struggle content, built resistance to rampant union busting by Oakland Unified School District, and led an occupation of a shuttered elementary school from which they ran a free People’s School summer program.  This committee, composed of unionized and non-unionized educators, organize independently from hierarchical institutions (namely unions) while also intervening within unions to advance the struggle for quality public education.
They offer their 4th and latest Newsletter which is now called Classroom Struggle. This publication is comprised of articles on: the decision behind the name change, the effect recent elections had on public education in Oakland, the importance of contracts for education workers, analysis of teacher strikes in Sri Lanka and Namibia, and an after-school worker experiential piece. All these articles appear on this committee’s blog —  classroomstruggle.org (formerly education4the99).  Issues 1-3 are also archived as well education struggle articles from around the web. Thanks and ALL POWER to the PROLETARIAT!
Please Print and Distribute!

88oo School Bus drivers strike in NYC! NYC organizers reach out to SF!

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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.

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An Open Letter to Members of the SEIU 1021 who work at the Port of Oakland

Striking clerical workers carry pickets outside the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles.  (David McNew / Getty Images / November 30, 2012)

Striking clerical workers carry pickets outside the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. (David McNew / Getty Images / November 30, 2012)

To our fellow workers,

We understand that this Wednesday, December 5, you will be voting on a contract for your labor at the Port of Oakland. We do not know the details of this contract, and only you can decide if what they offer is worth your labor at this point in time. However, as people who have and will continue to fight alongside you, we would like to respectfully ask that you consider some points before you cast your ballot.

The entirety of this letter is to argue that you are in a position of great power in this situation that is unparalleled in recent history.

The strike action taken at the Port of Oakland on Tuesday, November 20 was powerful. The Port Commission was undoubtedly shaken by your willingness to withhold your labor, the fierce support of your coworkers on the ports, and the larger  community. The fact that they wanted to revisit negotiations after nearly a year shows that they do not want this type of tactic to continue or to escalate. This is still the most powerful weapon that an organized workforce has. We were glad to help organize and carry through two shut downs at the Port of Oakland last year.  This collaboration and solidarity is quite obviously a threat to those who profit from the work that we do.

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Apartheid and Class Struggle: Comrade Gerald’s Presentation Notes

Our comrade Gerald Smith will be presenting tomorrow, Friday September 7th, 7pm @ La Pena (event sponsored by 2nd Generation La Pena).  He’ll join Zach Levenson in presenting on the current situation in South Africa (see Zach’s piece which was posted a few days ago) and the history of resistance to apartheid and post-apartheid oppression & exploitation.  Here are Gerald’s presentation notes for your study/discussion.

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Apartheid—a system of legislated racial oppression which literally means apartness—grew out of the requirements of British mining interests at the end of the 19th century. After grabbing the land of the indigenous African population (thereby destroying the basis of their agrtcultural and pastoral, pre-capitalist economy) the colonialists consigned them to the role of migrant laborers hired only for short-term contracts and forbidden to settle in the vicinity of their jobs.

This poses a profound contradiction for the South African ruling class. Historically they (and their international investors) have paid only a fraction of the labor costs of their competitors. Their rate of return on invested capital has been proportionally higher—even after deducting the military and administrative costs of running a police state. This differential represents the ‘‘secret’’ of the vitality and dynamism of South African capitalism. The rulers of this bestial system, who have profited from it for generations, are determined to retain their competitive advantage and are adamantly opposed to granting real equality to the black population. But they are deeply divided over how to best protect their privileged position.

A key strategic question black workers in South Africa confront in their struggle for power is the ‘‘white question.’’ In North America ‘‘white supremacy’’ is primarily a form of false consciousness with which the master class deludes white workers into imagining that the racist oppression of blacks is somehow in their interests. In South Africa however, the white population as a whole has substantially benefitted from over a century of white supremacy in a direct material fashion. Whites are the object of considerable generalized hatred by the oppressed black masses. Nonetheless a revolutionary leadership of black workers would seek to ensure that the social polarization which must accompany the struggle for power occurs as much as possible along class lines—not racial or national ones. This is why communists have raised the slogan: Not black against white, but class against class.

The spirit of the 11-day 1984 San Francisco longshore boycott against South African cargo (in solidarity with the struggles of black workers and youth in Botha’s racist hell-hole) was continued on March 10, when twenty-five longshoremen refused to cross a militant picket line set up at Pier 80 in San Francisco. The Campaign Against Apartheid (CAA), a Berkeley-based student group, called for this blockade to prevent the unloading of the Nedlloyd Kembla’s South African cargo. The CAA timed the action at Pier 80 to coincide with a week of international labor protest against apartheid called by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

The development of powerful trade unions rooted in South Africa’s black proletariat is one of the brightest chapters in the recent history of the international working class. Nowhere on earth have workers struggled against more desperate conditions or faced a more powerful, intransigent opponent. In the face of a fiercely racist state, armed to the teeth and supported by the overwhelming bulk of the privileged white population, black workers in the apartheid hell-hole have organized themselves into one of the most powerful trade-union movements in history and wrested a series of concessions from the white rulers. Their struggle has inspired workers and the oppressed around the world.

Occupy, ILWU, EGT and the Coming Class Battles

What follows is a controversial contribution to the discourse around the past year of struggle that Occupy forces have been involved in regarding the various port shutdowns on the West Coast, the relationship to the ILWU, and the challenge to capital’s attack on the proletariat – waged, unwaged, unionized, non-unionized, identifying as workers and not identifying with work.  There are many discussions and debates which the content of this intervention has already started – in person, behind closed doors, on list-serves, and at national conferences.  Our expectation is that publishing it here will allow for these debates to become more accessible to all revolutionaries, activists, members of organizations, and independent radicals.  Please add your thoughts in the comments section. All criticism, disagreement, appreciation and further lines of questioning are welcomed – we only ask that you do so in principled ways that avoid strawmanning the arguments presented here, as well as the arguments put forward by new writings and comments which will be forthcoming.  Enjoy.

Occupy, ILWU, EGT and the Coming Class Battles.

Union agrees to support the Employer in maintaining operations, including: promptly advising the Employer that any Work Stoppage is unauthorized; declaring publicly that such action is unauthorized, if questioned; and promptly ordering its members to return to work notwithstanding the existence of any wildcat picket line.

                                                                                 -EGT & ILWU local 21 contract

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth.

                                                                                                -Karl Marx

I. Introduction

II. The Fight for ILWU Jurisdiction

III. ILWU Class Struggle History

IV. Occupy, Surplus Populations and the Spectacle of Blockades.

V. Social Movement Unionism

VI. Automation, Accumulation and the State

VII. Rank-File, Union Leaders and Capital

VIII. Contract Time

IX. Labor White, Black and Brown, Shut the Ports Down!

X. The December 12th, 2011 experience

XI. Classwide Organizing

XII. Our Future

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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

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

lrgoldner@yahoo.com

(This article originally appeared in Insurgent Notes No. 2 (October 2010 http://insurgentnotes.com)

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.

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Unionism not a Lost Cause

Steveo

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.

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