Tag Archives: Marxism

Skype Series Event! Between Spectacle and Resistance: Reflections On Struggling in Greece Today (6/28)

Since 2011, countries around the world have had historic upsurges and have gained serious insight into the dynamics of anti-capitalist 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 fourth session will involve militants from Greece who have been actively engaged in the anti-austerity movement, participated in the From the Greek Streets blog, and have contributed to the book Revolt and Crisis in Greece.  The event will take place on Saturday June 28th, 12:30pm 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!

Between spectacle and resistance: reflections on struggling in Greece today.

The event will include reflections on the current state of affairs of the wider antagonist movement in Greece today: its recent struggles, its shortcomings, its potential ways forward. What lessons do six years of continuous struggle against police and neoliberal repression leave us with? And what may be the potential ways forward?

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Should Anarchists Make Demands on the State?

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Occupy Oakland rally in front of Lakeview Elementary school. Photo Cred: https://oaklandnorth.net/2011/11/19/occupy-oakland-marches-again-sets-up-tents-in-new-downtown-site/

The global movement of the squares (Taksim in Turkey, Syntagma in Greece, Tahrir in Egypt, OGP in Oakland, etc) against capitalist austerity, displacement, and overall inequality has pushed activists around the world to consider important questions of revolutionary strategy.  One of the central contradictions that tended to be posed between “radicals” and “liberals” was that of whether or not to make demands on the state, capitalists, or other institutions.  There have been many anti-state communists/socialists, anarchists, and others who have advocated the perspective that demands should not be made on ruling class institutions.  There is good reason for skepticism and antagonism toward programs of demands, as they have at times been used by more liberal, social-democratic forces to limit the politics of struggle into reformist channels.  

This recent cycle of struggle that we’ve participated in has brought to light some of the limits of “demand-lessness.”  While Occupy Oakland was at its peak, for instance, there was a move by the Oakland Unified School District to close 5 elementary schools, as well as the passing of a “West Oakland Specific Plan” which lays out a program for continued gentrification of a historically (at least since the 1930s*) black neighborhood.   What if there had been a more concerted effort to defeat some of these attacks on black and brown proletarian communities?  Would this have been a reformist deviation from an otherwise militant struggle?  Or could it have been a way of bringing in larger layers of proletarians into struggle against some of the effects of white supremacist capitalism?   It is in this context that Wayne Price, noted anarchist writer and activist, has written a useful essay arguing in favor of anarchists raising a program of demands.  We re-post it here for your consideration and commentary.  

Should Anarchists Raise a Program of Demands?

by Wayne Price

http://anarkismo.net/article/26648

This essay is slightly expanded from one which was rejected by a US anarchist magazine for political reasons. It deals with a disagreement among activists: Should we propose that the movement raise a program of demands? I think that anarchists should, but with a more libertarian-democratic version than the liberals and state socialists. The essay is followed by a response to the political points raised by the editors of the anarchist journal.
During the height of the Occupy Wall Street encampments, a dispute broke out among activists. Various liberals and state socialists advocated that the movement raise a program, a set of demands on the capitalist class and the state. This approach was opposed by a number of anarchists. Given the economic situation, the program-raisers typically called for full employment policies, such as public works projects providing useful services, to be paid for by taxing the rich and cutting the military budget.

While many anarchists vehemently opposed to the Occupy movement raising demands, others were for a more libertarian-socialist approach to raising programs (as I am). To some degree this disagreement among anarchists reflects a long time split, or more precisely, a polarization, since the alternatives are not sharply either/or. Since Proudhon, one anarchist pole has primarily advocated building alternate institutions within capitalist society. These might be worker or consumer coops, bike clubs, community gardens, or block associations. These anarchists hoped that community Occupations would be such “dual power” institutions. These would gradually expand to take over—and replace–the economy and state. Such activities do not lead to making demands on the state or the ruling class—except maybe to be let alone.

From the other viewpoint, all these things are good in themselves and worth supporting, but as a strategy for changing society, they are limited. Most likely they do not threaten the system (can they really replace the auto industry with an alternate national transportation system, or replace the armed forces with a popular militia?). If they do threaten vital institutions, the state will crack down on them. As the state disbanded Occupy encampments all over the country.

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Defend and Transform: Next Steps in the CCSF Struggle

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Two days ago the battle to stop the destruction of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) took another step forward when a protest of 300 students and supporters of CCSF gathered in downtown San Francisco.  The two principal demands of the movement at this point are for the mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, to immediately intervene to stop all sanctions against CCSF by the ACCJC, and to immediately fire the “Special Trustee” dictator Bob Agrella who has been specifically appointed by the ACCJC to carry out their plan for the destruction of CCSF’s existing programs through budget cuts and privatization. They’ve undermined the democratic decision-making power CCSF professors had in running their departments and determining their curriculum, along with the community learning aspect that remains deeply rooted in San Francisco’s working-class culture, all in order to “reform” the school along the corporate, privatized education model: bloated administrative bureaucracies, underpaid and overworked teachers with weak or non-functional unions, a reduced and underpaid staff, and a severely downsized student body with the limited options of a streamlined junior college-type transmission belt to four-year universities for those who can afford the debt, or technical programs for the development of an elite managerial class separated and above the working-class people CCSF still serves. For proletarian communities of color in San Francisco, this is a gutsy frontal attack. If not resisted, it will relegate tens of thousands of youth to low-wage service sector jobs without the chance of social advance, such as fast-food chains; it will exacerbate unemployment and speed-up the gentrification process that has so drastically changed San Francisco from a hub of multi-national/racial working-class neighborhoods to the next chic destination for wealthy Silicon Valley professionals in the high-tech industry.

As of today, we’ve found out that the lawyer for the city of San Francisco, Dennis Herrera, has initiated legal proceedings against the ACCJC for breaking federal regulations and having conflicts of interest, and against the Board of Governors that oversees California’s community colleges because it has ceded its legal authority over standards and funding in relation to community colleges to the ACCJC, a private body.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the City’s announcement of this lawsuit comes a day after the protest and sit-in that we organized. We should continue to demand that the local state, and the mayor in particular, intervene against the attack on CCSF;  this lawsuit and any possible actions on the part of the mayor are are possible only due to the self-organization of the students, teachers, and staff of CCSF. Now that the ACCJC is beginning to be delegitimized largely due to organized resistance, we are in a position to seize the momentum and expand the movement to put a definite end to the ACCJC’s reign of terror and take the struggle forward to expanding and improving the community college in the interests of the Bay Area’s exploited and oppressed.

Currently, the AFT 2121 leadership and a core of active teachers have expressed sympathy for a strike. The staff union leaders from SEIU 1021 have played a reactionary role by acquiescing to the ACCJC’s demands in hopes that teachers, who are actively fighting the ACCJC, receive the brunt of the attack while staff make it through this process unscathed. Rank-and-file staff have remained under the radar as they are unsure of the situation and know that their jobs are the most dispensable and likely to be cut.  As of now, the major strategic orientation of the movement should be the activation of the student body; it is a sleeping giant. However, it is critical we begin to build links with the two other key sectors of the proletariat in education, the teachers and staff. While one important step is for teachers and staff to self-organize within but independently of their union, we need a concrete plan to reach out to these sectors as students to build the links and lay the basis for a unified class struggle that takes up the demands of all three.  It is the social force of those who use the university that can be the backbone of the fight not only defend CCSF against its current round of attacks, but to be the organized body that can reconstruct and transform the CCSF we know now – a college that since the recession in 2008 has faced a total of $809 million in budget cuts, especially to lifelong learning and community programs that are not directly transferable to a four-year university or a technical profession, such as: childcare, ethnic studies, programs for ex-cons, seniors, and immigrants and help change it into the people’s college that we want it to be.

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Notes on ILWU Local 4 Lockout

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.

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Testing, Schools and Class(room) Struggle

The American Government puts legal requirements on educational “standards,” that focused on developing high test scores through the k-12 systems. The standards and testing is to train students to become disciplined obedient workers, loaded with racist, sexist and xenophobic content. A movement has started in Seattle, Washington challenging such tests. We welcome Mamos206 new piece, In the wake of the testing boycott: a 10-point proposal for teacher self-organization that seeks to offer a programmatic perspective of struggle for teachers across the country. This movement, and proposal, links the content of the classroom with class struggle outside of the classroom. Mamos206 argues, “without  a sense of collective labor struggle, multi-cultural educators will only be able to go so far in implementing an anti-racist curriculum; we will start to compromise with the white supremacist system in order to keep our jobs unless we know that our coworkers are prepared to strike over it.”  This central point is laying the groundwork for a political strike, differing from most economic trade-union strikes.

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This proposal offers key positions that are key in developing class struggle in education. One is a clear position against union busting. Two is recognizing that the Seattle Educator’s Association voted to support the boycott in a resolution but not much real practical support.  What stands in the way in broadening this struggle is a set of reactionary laws that hold unions back. As a proposal Mamos206 is proposing to form committees that are independent of the union and anti-union groups. Such committees “can choose to defend the union when it’s under attack from the right wing; for example” but also “we should not wait for the union to defend us, our students, or their families.” Continuing this piece argues that the “committees should work in coalition with union reform caucuses like Social Equality Educators to accomplish specific tasks together.  However, they should maintain their autonomy and should not get sucked into efforts to run for union office.” Mamos206 brings us back to what such class struggle politics means in the classroom, “Instead of simply fighting for our own narrow interests, teachers should realize that our own freedom, creativity, and well-being is linked with everyone else’s, and our best option is to join these movements, making our classrooms and schools hot beds of creative struggle.” As thousands and thousands of social justice minded young college educated people become teachers, the reality of the schools set in real quick. public school teaching, especially in working class violent environment isn’t a walk in the park. Many teachers become burnout after a few years and either become cog in the educational wheel, or leave the industry.

We welcome Mamos206 proposal as an important step forward for the organization and politicization of teachers across the US. This is a solid first step of combining a social justice perspective in the classroom with a class struggle perspective outside of the classroom.

In the wake of the testing boycott: a 10-point proposal for teacher self-organization

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The teacher, student, and family boycott of the MAP test  in Seattle is an inspiring event that has the potential to generate a new wave of organizing in and around public schools.  The boycott signals the possibility of a movement for creativity, not control and learning for life, not labor.

However, for these possibilities to come to fruition, teachers need to organize ourselves so that we can continue to take bold direct action.  We need to unite with students, their families, and the rest of the working class to create more actions like this one.  If we simply return to the same old activist patterns of proposing resolutions at union meetings or lobbying politicians then we will miss the historic possibilities this moment opens.  In that spirit, here are a few proposals for how we can move forward.

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Unions, Ecology and the Contradictions of Our Time

There is a contradiction between workers’ immediate self interest and the broader and more long term interests of other parts of humanity and nature. Forced to sell our labor power to survive, we are deprived of any real ability to control the economy. We love under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Given nothing but lemons, the proletariat – even relatively well-paid parts of it – can only hope to make lemonade. This unfortunate fact leads to many complications in what, to the average radical, seems should be a simple formula of class struggle: class against class.

In fact, both major classes in the USA host struggles within themselves that sometimes make it seem like sections of the enemy class are more friendly to the interests of the proletariat than other proletarians are! For example, Ford hired black workers at a time when black migrants from the South sought economic opportunity and social freedom in the North, only to find that white workers did not welcome them in their jobs. To the black worker, Ford may have appeared more friendly than the white worker. WWII led to a great expansion of industry and unprecedented demand for labor, thus convincing millions of US workers of all colors that the war was a good cause. Meanwhile, US workers in uniform were conquering the globe for imperialism, just as their prior generation had in WWI. In the aftermath of one particularly militant strike, one famous robber baron once boasted that he could hire one half of the working the class to kill the other half (referring to professional strikebreakers). And of course let us not forget that, as Maria della Costa oted, there has never really been a truly “general” strike because even if all the men stopped working, the women still had to cook and clean the home.

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It is a normal function of the capitalist division of labor to combine the proletariat as a class facing the same condition of propertylessness in an uneven manner, causing a tendency for workers to fight one section at a time. The uneven character of the class struggle, allows for victories to be gained in isolation from other sectors, and this way perpetuating the selfish interests at the cost of those sections of the class who stand idle.

Today, many parts of the industrial proletariat have been convinced that growing the economy is in their self interest, and therefore support harmful development projects. This makes it hard for radicals, with our all-around consciousness gained primarily through university education in the social sciences and liberal arts, to identify with workers as workers. After all, worker consciousness tends to focus on wages which are one part of capital. We hate this part of ourselves, of our class, that is dependent upon and under the dictate of the bosses.

There are two clear contemporary examples of blue collar workers supporting the bosses’ vision of the world, plan for development and growing the economy. In these we see the union leadership endorse capitalist projects, presumably with the overriding support from the rank and file.

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Union Debate: Mara Responds to Jocelyn and James

Below is a piece by Mara, a member of Advance the Struggle, in response to Jocelyn Cohn, of Unity and Struggle, and James Frey’s piece, Our Friends with Benefits: On the Union Question.”  This is another very serious contribution to the ongoing debate that has unfolded on this blog.  Considering the critical struggles currently occurring, we’d like to further encourage other groupings and individuals to put forward clear positions on how revolutionaries should relate to the unions in this historical moment.  Let’s continue this principled and thought provoking debate!

Mara

What I appreciate about this piece is it’s aim of historicizing the situation of unions today as being incarcerated within the logic of capital accumulation (keeping a set of workers working for capitalists; keeping workers divided against one another in competition over wages and benefits to the benefit of the capitalists) and state hegemony (restricting worker agency through bourgeois law, keeping workers organized in a legalistic and hierarchical manner that negates changes possible local by local).

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

However, I’ve read analysis like this before. There’s a whole reading list on Libcom that also features excellent analysis of such historical incorporations of unions under the wings of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state. You can find that reader here.

What’s lacking in this piece is a serious engagement with the following question: Do we think that healthcare, education and transportation are important industries for revolutionaries to engage in? If so (and by no means do I think that there is agreement by the authors on this point), then how do we propose to organize alongside these workers (or as these workers for those of us who work in these industries) without interventions in the union? Our debate is back to square one, and revolutionaries from Latin America who we’ve talked to about these debates will continue to have puzzled faces and ask, “is this really what you all are debating? it seems very low-level”

The original positing of the question: how should revolutionaries relate to unions? was not stating, “Unionized workers are the most revolutionary.” Rather, as I understand it, it was saying – once you’re in a union, or once you have contact with unionized workers, what is to be done? This is the question that still needs to be answered, in my opinion, both by looking at the history of revolutionaries attempting to do so and by investigating current efforts to intervene within unionized workplaces.

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