Part of our regular practice together is engaging in short term studies of relevant questions coming up on the pro-revolutionary left. One of our recent studies has been centered on the strategic importance of sites of capital circulation as places where pro-revolutionary activists and proletarians should focus our intellectual and practical energies.
We’re offering up a formatted version of various texts that have already been published as well as a powerpoint we’ve used among ourselves to help frame the texts.
The texts in question are from Endnotes, Mute, Degenerate Communism and Libcom. We give props and appreciation to those authors and publications for putting out important theoretical and strategic pieces to help pro-revolutionary activists around the world clarify our thinking.
Let us know what your thoughts are if you’re studying similar stuff, ways in which you’ve formatted study packets, and other thoughts.
Since 2011 countries around the world have had historic upsurges and have gained serious insight into the dynamics of struggle in this period. Advance the Struggle along with La Peña Second Generation proudly presents a monthly Skype series with revolutionaries from across the globe to discuss these massive social movements.
The first session will be with Chilean port workers who were recently on strike for three weeks. The event will take place on Tuesday February 25, 6:30pm at La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA). Below is a description of the event and the leaflets for the series. Hope to see you there!
Join us for a live Skype discussion with Chilean longshore workers who last month ended an intense three-week strike in their fight to end the casualization of labor and obtain retroactive pay from years of unpaid lunch breaks. Their struggle forms part of a coordinated network of Chilean working-class organization and resistance fighting for labor rights, better living conditions and universal public education.
This is the first installment in a series of Skype sessions with revolutionaries around the world, offering an opportunity to engage with their valuable insights and relate it our own tasks.
In Advance the Struggle’sNotes on ILWU Local 4 Lockout, it argued that an orientation toward Asian longshore is necessary in order to challenge the PNGHA and United Grain capitalist attack on ILWU. We are pleased to announce that Japanese National Railway union, Doro Chiba, has now entered the battlefield, organizing international solidarity for the longshore workers. They are mobilizing against Mitsui- United Grain, Friday March 15th. The Bay Area Transport Workers Solidarity Committee (TWSC) is supporting this international day of action, with a rally in San Francisco, Friday March 15th, 4:30PM at 1 Montgomery and Market.
Doro-Chiba asks ILWU members three questions, “Is our protest action against the Mitsui HQ meaningful for your current struggle? If so, what is your opinion about the optimal moment of our action? What are the most important demands?” These questions should be answered by the rank and file of the ILWU to generate a worker resistance with an internationalist perspective. The ILWU officialdom on the other hand is doing the opposite; they are channeling frustration against Japanese capital, or foreign companies that treat American workers badly. Organizing on an internationalist basis, with Japanese and other Asian labor organizations, is the first step to undercutting their anti-foreigner, xenophobic politics that the ILWU beaucracy is promoting.
All out for March 15! Now that San Francisco is organizing a solidarity rally on March 15th in conjunction with Doro Chiba, we call on labor solidarity activists to do the same in San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Hawaii. The more the international solidarity develops contributing to the defense and support of ILWU local 4 rank and file, the more we can demonstrate the working class is in motion against the capitalist attacks that seek to destroy the power of unions, hollowing them out to pave the way for unchecked capitalist profit.
Several hundred ILWU members and supporters marched to Mitsui-United Grain’s Vancouver headquarters on March 8, 2013.
Bay Area Transport Workers Solidarity Committee (TWSC)
RALLY TODEFEND ILWU !
International Day Of Action
Stop Mitsui Union Busting and Concessionary Contracts
Fight the Lockout of ILWU by United Grain in the Port of Vancouver, Washington
Friday March 15, 4:30PM @ 1 Montgomery/Market Sts., SF
On March 15, 2013 there will be international actions and protests against the union busting lockout of ILWU Local 4 members by the Mitsui-owned company United Grain in the Port Of Vancouver, Washington.
Since the concessionary contract at EGT in Longview, Washington, other grain handlers have imposed a similar contract in NW grain ports after longshore workers voted 94% to reject it. The contract eliminated the union hiring hall, imposed a 12 hour day and allowed the replacement of union members if they stopped work for health and safety reasons. The other anti-union grain monopoly Cargill/Temco signed a separate agreement which includes many of these draconian measures which is being heralded by union officials as a “victory” because, they say, Cargill is American-owned. Longshore workers in Portland, the West Coast’s largest grain port, voted that concessionary contract down.
The Grain handlers capitalist coalition PNGHA and the UNITED GRAIN corporation, owned by Mitsui, are at war with ILWU. The crushing of ILWU is a serious defeat for the entire working class. In Vancouver, Washington, ILWU members now face there ninth day of being locked out. The ILWU’s political strategy so far has been to file an unfair labor practice grievance against United Grain Corp. complaining that a lockout is “extreme.” Grain handlers have long prepared for this situation, hiring security guards, and scabs -replacement workers- sub-contracted by union busting firm J.R. Gettier and Associates. On Longshore and Shipping News, a youtube is presented titled ILWU workers reach deal with U.S. company; Japanese company locks ‘em out.
In this, two ILWU workers talk about their situation as if American companies are good, and United Grain, run by a Japanese company named Mitsui, is bad. One of the workers stated, “We’re American workers, trying to get American jobs.” This presents itself as a practical problem for the Marxist left. One of the basic tasks of the revolutionary left is to push for a (working) class against (capitalist) class political perspective, armed with an internationalist view of linking with workers abroad. The West coast longshore is geopolitically and internally racially divided. Los Angeles ILWU Local 13 is largely Chicano, Oakland/SF Local 10 is majority Black, Portland, Seattle and the Northwest are majority White, with the latter having a long history of racism. Beyond the internally divided locals, there is no clear links with Asian Longshore. This international link would be key in isolating Mitsui and the PNGHA. Between ILWU on the West coast and Asian longshore workers, the volume of commodity trade is integral to global capitalism. Domestically, there is a one sided class war, by the capitalist, towards the working class, partly through the crushing of unions.
This video, entitled Wealth Inequality in America, demonstrates the extreme character of inequality of wealth in the US:
The video demonstrates the attacks on ILWU local 4 are getting channeled towards Japanese capital. This modern day xenophobia, which paints a foreigner as the enemy, is poison to the working class. This displaces the class antagonism onto a foreign other, instead of focusing on the common class enemy.
This PNGHA, United Grain capitalist offensive is based on the Longview, Washington ILWU local 21 contract signed in February 2012. This contract is the worst contract in ILWU history. In summary the contract attacks all forms of rank and file power. Below are six central points of the Longview contract.
1) Section Article II 5.05- the union losing the control of hiring hall
2) Article IX 9.01- No strikes or work stoppages of any sort
3) Article IX 9.02- Delegitimizing the variety of picket lines and conservatively narrowing the definition of acceptable picket lines
4) Article IX- 9.03- Requiring the union to behave as agent of workplace discipline to reinforce the capitalist valorization process
5) Article IX- 9.04- Framing the union and the company as a team that needs to unite in a world of competition.
Many in the left were proudly arguing that this contract was a victory for the working class. This includes official voices of Occupy Oakland, coupled with multiple “socialist” groups. The capitalist are quite fond of the contract as well. Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association — said, “We’d be happy to sign the agreement the union signed,” referencing the contract between ILWU Local 21 and Kalama Export Co. and Export Grain Terminal (EGT) in Longview. The content of the contract is the radical increase of the intensity of work, and the elimination of the power of the hiring hall, coupled with an array of changes favoring the boss’ power in determining the rules of the workplace. The PNGHA proposed contract, modeling itself off the Longview contract, contains over 750 changes in the contract. It was voted down by 94% of 3,000 Northwest longshore workers; thus, creating a tense stalemate in the Northwest.
Written by an Oakland teacher and member of Oakland Educators Association. This an introduction to a flyer calling for a rally of ILWU local 4 workers in Vancouver, Washington taking place March 8th.
In this flyer, the “defense of the union” really means “help the union reach a collective bargaining agreement with the bosses.” I think that a collective bargaining agreement is better than none. I’m not convinced that not having a legal recognition of a union and a legal agreement helps workers break from legalism in some type of automatic way.
Certainly in my union, the OEA, being under state-imposition has not lead to any type of worker agency being expressed in radical ways. Quite to the contrary, it’s lead to further demobilization and increased incorporation of the union structure into a company union institution that simply rubber stamps the dictats of the administration of the OUSD. Again, in my situation a legally binding agreement between the union (leadership + workers) and the state that actually contained demands around working conditions, class size, etc would create (and be created by) conditions where teacher workers are taking direct action, pushing the boundaries of the union structure by directly working with parents, students, and non-unionized workers to discuss working conditions of all school workers and school community. This is what should be built.
I have a feeling that to really reach a collective bargaining agreement, the ILWU would need to be organizing all sectors of the waterfront to be in collective discussion and strategizing about conditions at the ports and about how their interests intersect against those of the bosses. Key in this is discussing how their interests have not intersected.
In keeping with this thought experiment, if the ILWU reached an agreement, what would be next? Chest beating about how “American” workers kept their jobs, and reproduction of divisions among all port workers? Simply defending the union (aka, reaching collective bargaining agreement with the bosses) does not answer these questions. Any type of “defense” that we consider and potentially engage in must begin by addressing BOTH the capitalist attacks and the internal contradictions of the waterfront proletariat.
Will offers a serious response challenging the political framework of the debate regarding unions. Will’s piece argues that earlier discussions ignore how we are still trapped by the legacy of 1968 and do not explain the relationship that unions have with the state, coupled with ignoring larger philosophical issues concerning communism. These points have validity. Earlier arguments do not deal with such issues. That has to be done. What we have argued is that unions should be defended against capitalist attacks, and a classwide offensive should be pushed for.
are we trapped in 1917 or 1968? if so, what do we do about This basic position, one of general principle does not deal with specificities of situations, nor larger questions of how to create a marxism for the present. Such union documents did not answer the difficult challenges revolutionaries face in total terms, or engage in the question of communist philosophy, the question of 1968 and the role of the state. This is necessary to form a fully developed revolutionary model. But simply arguing that this has not been done does not help us get there.
Will argues that, “[the] lesson learned from Marx was that not only was he not transfixed on one moment or time but was able to see the developments of capitalism into the future. Lenin was able to do this as well and was able to strategically act on those developments in a way Marx could not.” Yes, this is true. It represents the revolutionary historical agency of marxism. To develop revolutionary marxism today includes theoretical engagement that challenges the limits of marxist theory, as well as taking political positions in the public sphere as an essential practical principle in order to give working class organizing a political direction against the state and capital.
The union question challenges the merits of both the “on the ground practice,” as well as the theoretical and philosophical system grounding for the marxism that created such a position. Or in the other words the question of unions is controversial as it begins to challenge the larger system of politics used to employ its analysis.
Communist philosophy matures when it engages political events; where class and political conflicts take place. These events make public positions necessary by self-identified revolutionaries. To be a revolutionary, one needs to be able to put forward clear public political positions in order to form revolutionary poles of attraction. Once a set of positions and principles have been established, then an organizational form, shaped around the agreement of its political content can attract and form militants that continue to organize deeper into the working class. Many of the philosophers mentioned, have only engaged in interpretation without defining a mode of struggle against the historically specific mode of control, and or character of its structure.
Our revolutionary marxism will be able to change the world by being clear of what political principles are unconditional to generate real political agreement amongst a broad body of left-wing militants, which will form the material force behind a serious mode of struggle. The process of advancing this project develops marxist theory, through the application of an analysis that can help guide a path of struggle. This hopefully partially answers Will’s final question, “What is the communist basis for these discussions?”
We’d like to hear other’s positions on Will’s serious questions, so please feel free to join in the discussion.
We need a moving theory that projects into the future.
As I have been reflecting on the debates over the trade union question, broader questions/ problems also seem to be connected. Below are some brief notes on what those other questions are.
1. The class faces a profound crisis and so does marxism. That warrants deeper investigations. The mainstream currents of 20th century communism have been a bloodbath (against peasants and workers), filled with playing not the vanguard role in fighting for communism, but actually developing capitalism. We are not immune to either of these problems. These stand as shocking counterpoints to probably all the expectations communists had in the beginning of the 20th century.
2. The Hegelian rupture: Hegel and Marxism were tied together for much of the 19th and 20th century. But 1968 stands as a potentially game changing event where Hegel is challenged on multiple fronts: Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Le Febevre, and potentially many others created a new paradigm which has to be taken into account. I used to take fairly uncritically works by David Harvey, Perry Anderson, Aijaz Ahmed, and Alex Callinicos which attacked the development of post-modernism and post-structuralism. I believe I could have been widely off the mark. Very unclear, but I believe to be crucial.
More importantly a return to philosophy is paramount. No discussion of that sort has occurred on AS. Philosophy is intricately tied to methodology. No discussion of method can occur without philosophy.
3. A new generation of militants ranging from the Johnson-Forest Tendency, to Walter Rodney-Frantz Fanon, to the Situationists tried to tackle the problems of 1968. That was the last highpoint achieved. Their strengths and weakness have to be rooted back into the cycles of struggle and the development of capital.
Forging a synthetic analysis of the 20th century cannot be trapped in Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg or any single moment or thinker. That will be the death of communism. We need a moving theory that projects into the future.
What are the antagonistic and complementary threads which connects Marx to Negri today and everyone in between.
This flyer is an agitational tool for Longshore workers across the country. Longshore workers have a strategic position in challenging capitalism, both nationally and internationally. Since the Longview contract that was signed in February 2012, maritime capitalist have been viciously attacking both ILWU and ILA, the unions of Longshore workers. Feel free to distribute.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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. Continue reading →
The Fillmore District in San Francisco was at one time known as “the Harlem of the West Coast.” Its Black population was the base for a vibrant jazz scene that was at the vanguard of a revolutionary culture. Jazz was the product of ancient currents of African music, filtered over centuries through the unique conditions of the Southern US’s plantation economy in which all surface-level traces of the slaves’ autonomy was eliminated and replaced by the dominant White capitalists’ cultural mode. African drums, languages, clothes, language, and symbolism were taken from them and replaced with Anglo counterparts. Despite being coerced to adopt them, African slaves manipulated the Anglo cultural forms to further their own content, inherently (due to their totally proletarian class status and African epistemological roots that were quite opposed to the bourgeois intellectual method) revolutionary.
An analysis of jazz (far beyond the capabilities of this author or the scope of this post) can reveal one of the more accessible examples of dialectics in our history, for it assumed a form that was quite different from its content; jazz’s formalism is always pregnant with improvisation. Jazz was the first Black musical form that European Americans fully participated in, and along with the synthesis of European and African musical styles, came a social synthesis that was a cultural powder keg fueling one of the most militant eras of class struggle in history – the Great Depression and WWII. Black Power, Jazz, and Communism grew up together.
Today, jazz is largely a distorted and fetishized commodity for rich people (white and black) to consume in a manner so as to say “society is in harmony and despite my put-together and classy airs, I am in sync with the salt of the earth folks whose daily struggle gives them – ahem, I mean us – so much soul.” The disconnect between jazz’s racial and class origins and its current status can be seen in one Bay Area institution called Yoshi’s. This author has had the privilege of winning pairs of tickets to the best jazz venue in the Bay several times (hint: listen to KPFA’s music hour on weekday AMs) and been dazzled by the luxury of the place. Both Yoshi’s locations (Oakland and SF) are centerpieces of redevelopment projects that have been pretty hostile to the local proletarian populations.
The most recent example of Yoshi’s bourgeois character is its lack of sympathy for a workers’ struggle at the Hotel Frank in San Francisco, where Yoshi’s sends its out of town performers – even when it means crossing a picket line.
Of course, jazz is not dead. There are quite a few genuine jam sessions throughout the Bay with participation from musicians who struggle daily to pay bills as workers with day jobs or unemployed. There is one brilliant flautist in Oakland who can be found playing at BART stations and has a Marxist analysis as sharp as anyone’s. Advance the Struggle ourselves even have the honor having a talented jazz pianist in our ranks. And of course, jazz has spurred a whole lineage of musical forms that have taken turns at the forefront of revolutionary upsurges in the US and around the world, from rock n roll to hip-hop.
Just as jazz is not dead, it goes without saying that neither is class struggle. The ILWU local 10 is at its militant best once again, as it fights legal persecution for taking workplace action in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin on April 4th. This SFBayview article is a great collection of info on the April 4th action and their employers’ lawsuit. Come through tonight to an emergency organizing meeting to defend local 10! Here’s the meeting info:
Local 10 located near Fisherman’s Wharf at 400 North Point St., corner of Mason, Thursday, April 14, at 7 p.m., in the Henry Schmidt Room.
Lastly, we would like to take this opportunity to promote a show and talk on Friday night called “Jazz and Black Power” at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley this Saturday 8-10pm:
This Saturday from 8:00pm to 10:30pm, La Pena (3105 Shattuck Berkeley) will host a night of Jazz and the Black Power Movement. Come and listen to 5 member band Jazz group Luv U Down and commentary by ex Black Panther political activist Gerald Smith on Jazz’s connection to the Black Power movement. General tickets are $12 and student tickets are $10.
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
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.
Recently the ILWU called for a rally on October 23 and expressed interest in a work stoppage to ensure that Johannes Meserle receive the maximum sentence for the murder of Oscar Grant. The ILWU have a long history of taking a leading role in periods of mass struggle and of engaging in political strikes. The San Francisco General Strike started when state and private police killed 2 longshoremen as they tried to break picketlines that had closed not only SF ports but all of the ports on the west coast for 2 and a half months. In 1973 the ILWU refused to ship munitions headed for Chile following the military coup and suppression of the Cordones (workers councils). In 1984 the ILWU shut down the ports for 11 days in a political strike against aparthied in South Africa.
ILWU Local 10
The ILWU is able to take such militant action without being destroyed by the ruling class because the longshoremen occupy such a strategically strong position in the production of profit – the unloading of the majority of commodities headed for consumption. Harry Bridges, along with a rank-file committee organized and led a strike in 1934, quickly growing into a general strike through all of San Francisco and even Oakland, it continues this militant historical legacy into an array of other struggles long after. The ILWU is now throwing their weight into the struggle for justice during a period of racist state murder and mass incarceration marked by the deepest economic crisis in capitalist history. On May 1, 2008, International Labor Day, they shut down all of the west coast ports in a one day political strike against the war. On June 20 of this year the Longshoremen refused to cross a picketline blocking the entrances to the port to stop an Israeli ship from docking in the wake of the Freedom Flotilla Massacre. Now they are calling for a rally on the 23rd of October at Oakland City hall and may shut down the ports.
When Rodney King was severly beaten by 4 LAPD officers and the police were found not guilty, Los Angeles exploded in rebellion and riots.Thousands upon thousands of working-class residents of all races broke into commercial stores taking commodities for free.
The media tried to paint the riot as angry violent Black people attacking working-class white people and Korean shop owners– they were consciously trying to turn the multi-racial rebellion into a racial war. But the media was not able to supress a powerful radicalization of LA consciousness. Bloods and Crips started having serious discussions about unity, positive revolutionary energy was flowing from the ghettos and working-class neighborhoods; these developments are captured well by the documentary Bastards of the Party.
It’s important to remember that we are all facing the sentencing hearing for officer Mehserle on November 5th. The flyer above is the political effect of the radicalization produced by the ’92 Los Angeles rebellion against the acquittal of Rodney King’s attackers. What do these two struggles, separated by 18 years, have in common? The Oakland/SF local (Local 10) of the longshoreman’s union ILWU is planning to do a job action and/or rally on October 23rd to fight for justice for Oscar Grant, and militant rank-and-file union members have argued that their radical action in isolation will have a very limited effect. One ILWU rank-and-file worker argued that what we need is for BART (lightrail) workers, bus drivers, government workers, private workers, to also shutdown their workplaces in the name of Oscar Grant. This form of struggle can be more effective than breaking windows or pleading with the government through non-profits because it uses the greatest power that working people have: our ability to get organized and control the economy. We’re posting the flyer from ’92 to make these kind of connections with another historical moment where riots began an ascending wave of radicalization. Around the country people look to the Bay as the current front lines of the struggle against police brutality: will we rise to the new possibilities and show ’em how it’s done?
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