Tag Archives: Unions

Union Debate: Unions a Lost Cause for Revolutionaries

Our Friends with Benefits: On the Union Question” — is a position paper on unions written by Jocelyn Cohn and James Frey of Unity and Struggle. Advance the Struggle is pleased to repost this document. It argues the state has subsumed the role of unions, making revolutionary interventions  for their transformation a dead-end. This position calls into question the revolutionary potential of the existing structure of unions; not the question of union leadership as what the Internationalist Group argued. Consider the following quotes from their piece, “It is the very limits of the trade unions to begin with, their structural incapacity to perform any function other than capitalist protectionism of certain workers, which has led to their destruction in the face of a rapidly changing social relations of production.” This means that revolutionaries have a different set of work ahead, one of  “seizing on contradictions and expanding them to a level where control of political power can be grasped by the working class.” Continuing with the role of revolutionaries, “The call to expand unions is similarly a faulty argument. Revolutionaries struggling for the benefits of unionized workers, and to preserve industries and workplaces that are unionized, will find themselves necessarily in competition with the rest of the class.”

Many argue this is the new reality of our situation after the 70s and 80s capitalist restructuring. This document goes a bit further stating that, “Throughout their history, unions have existed as companies in and of themselves, with investment interests, employees, and a necessity to produce value through the exploitation of their own workers.” They conclude the need for political work to be completely outside the union form, including not engaging in the defense of unions against capitalist attacks, “There are many who argue that the best way to organize in a unionized shop is to defend the union, and work to change its structure, or that working independently of the union and within the union are not contradictory. But given our above findings, it is clear that any threat to the hierarchical, alienating, and bureaucratic structure of unions is a threat to unions as a whole, whether it is from the ‘right’ or the ‘left’.”

This thought provoking argument is not entirely new and we can link such a framework with the KAPD of Germany in the 1920s, who split from the Comintern over several questions including the union one. What is fresh about such an argument is the focus on class composition, and the development of the state structuring of unions. On the one hand, we cannot dismiss this argument and must engage its central points. On the other, we must test such a framework in real world politics. Taking this framework to the Longshore, Washington ILWU struggle, the Wisconsin upheaval, or the Chicago teachers’ strike, how do revolutionaries in such situations seize — “on contradictions and expand them to a level where control of political power can be grasped by the working class”? Answering this question contributes to resolving this debate. With that said, we would like to introduce this essay as one of the great contributions to the union discussion.

Our Friends With Benefits: On The Union Question

Introduction

As communist workplace organizers serious about praxis, the authors find ourselves debating the strategic importance and political composition of trade unions in the United States. We find what could be called “the union question” to be in fact a number of questions surrounding the composition of capital in general, capital in its in its present incarnation, as well as the composition of trade unions and their relationship to capital and the state. Most immediate to our investigation is the question of how this arrangement can be interpreted by revolutionaries, in the workplace and outside of it. After engaging these questions it is our finding that working explicitly within the existing trade union structure to defend, change, or strengthen them is not a compliment to working toward consolidating class-wide organizations capable of effective revolutionary struggle, but rather that these two objectives stand in irreducible antagonism.

graphsurplus

I. The Historical Context

The use of rebellion, for the purpose of developing capital with ‘renewed energy and vitality’ is not new and not confined to women.  For capitalism to co-opt every aspect of struggle, to renew itself with our energy and our vitality, and with the active help of a minority of the exploited, is central to its nature.

Selma James, “Women, the Unions, and Work” 1972

We understand that this debate is re-emerging from the relative torpor it has enjoyed since the 1970s due to the ongoing transformation of the processes of production and reproduction in the United States. This shift is alternatively referred to as “neoliberalism” and “austerity”, but these terms are emblematic of a deep-seated shift in the relations of production, the novelty of which is done no justice by comfortable buzzwords which claim its content as already definable.

Historically speaking, we find the roots of the transformation which comprises our present epoch in the 1950s and 1960s. In this period the state took on the role of regulating the value of labor power through public welfare and unemployment programs which kept unemployed people from uniting with the rest of the working class and allowed for a flexible workforce that could work seasonally and in many jobs, as well as through certain wage and benefit protections provided through Collective Bargaining Agreements and shifts in labor law, which simultaneously coerced workers into de-skilled, repetitive, and unrewarding factory jobs,  and kept a caste of workers slightly above another while styming at least some labor unrest. Most importantly, it kept worker activity contained by union bosses at least as much as by company bosses.

Continue reading

Example of Good Union Negotiating

This piece is a reflection addressed to coworkers by a rank and file militant in the public sector after going through a negotiating process with the employer, East Bay Municipal Utilities District. This is a good example of how one should conduct themselves politically when engaging in struggle within the union form. Good demands, defiant approach, trying to link with other unions, extending interests beyond sector to be class-wide..

http://www.weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com/p/afscme-local-444-negotiations-assesment.html?m=1
Key quote:

The negotiating team recognized that gains are not really won at the table–it is the conscious and organized intervention of the membership that gets results. Historically, working people have made the most gains when we have relied on our own strength which means mobilizing our members and linking up with other unions and the communities in which we live and work and a solidarity committee was set for this purpose.

To the extent that this type of intervention is part of a bigger project of building rank and rile organization, the union is being transformed from a bureaucratic mechanism that stifles struggle, to a proletarian vehicle connecting struggles. If there were 1000 militants like this one in strategic workplaces (factories, schools, hospitals, mass transit, etc) in any given metropolitan area, we would see that the whole field of struggle would be more favorable for the working class. Continue reading

Classroom Struggle Flier: Not One Cut!

OUSD Cuts Flier

Click on image to see full English version.

Click here for Spanish version.

We received the following leaflet from a group of Oakland educators called Classroom Struggle.  The leaflet outlines some information on a recent round of austerity in the Oakland Unified School District of 7.6million dollars.  Prominent among this round of cuts is the entire Adult Education program (which has been severely gutted in the past 3 years, going from $14million to $1million since 2010) and the entire GED program that OUSD offers.  There is a school board meeting this Wednesday where parents, adult ed teachers, classroom teachers in the OEA, and students will come to speak out against this round of cuts, as well as the entire austerity regime which the OUSD school board and Superintendent Tony Smith have been pushing for years.  Just last year, 5 elementary schools were set to be shut down.  On November 19th 2011, at the height of Occupy Oakland, a mass march of thousands helped politicize the issue of school closures, and was followed months later in June 2012 by an occupation of Lakeview elementary school.  Though the schools were eventually closed, the movement against austerity took a step further in politicizing people’s understanding of the cutbacks, and denouncing the role of Tony Smith, a superintendent often touted as being down with the people due to his name dropping of critical race theorists and other social justice related themes.  The struggle that may unfold against this round of austerity has this recent history as its jumping off point, but it will take ongoing organizing of parents, teachers, students, and other school workers at the workplace and community level to really push back on what OUSD is attempting to push down on working class communities of color in Oakland.  This flyer is one artifact of the unfolding organizing happening in real time that is offerred for your analysis and distribution.

Students, faculty, and community members occupy City College of San Francisco!

On Thursday, February 21st, City College of San Francisco students, faculty, and community folks began a day of action against the privatization of their school at the main Ocean campus by rallying, holding signs, and listening to speakers. This comes after weeks of organizing and outreach work by the SaveCCSF coalition which sprung up to rally students against this major attack. After the rally, folks marched into the Chancellor’s building to meet with the Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman and present their demands, just as she promised. To no one’s surprise, she was nowhere to be found. In addition to this, Board of Trustees representatives and lackeys waited at the stairs next to police officers to prevent students from climbing upstairs to confront the institution’s ruling class. This is because William Walker, the Board of Trustees Student Representative, snitched to the police about the plans to occupy the building, even after the student coalition allowed him in their meeting a few days before and called for the plans to remain confidential. Walker remained at the occupation throughout the night, sitting with the other admin henchmen and pigs,  acting like he’s on our side during the occupationists’ discussions by promising our voices would be heard during Board meetings if we emailed him.

Regardless, a core of about 20 students ended up gathering blankets, sleeping bags, and food to remain in the building throughout the night and into the morning. Different media outlets showed up to interview occupiers and police officers. Supporters arrived with pins, food, and other support materials. Several times, occupiers made a circle to discuss their feelings about the actions, talk about why they loved CCSF and joined the struggle, and share anecdotes about their history in this institution. In the intervals, music played, students danced and sang, and debated political approaches to the developing struggle.

The next major event is scheduled for a rally at the SF City Hall on March 14th where SaveCCSF will present its demands to politicians. The forces resisting austerity against CCSF remain very small and  much work needs to be done to build that support by winning over students, faculty, campus workers, and community members. In the weeks prior to rally at City Hall, teach-ins and other forms of outreach are scheduled in order to counter the ideological war the San Francisco Chronicle and the local bourgeoisie wage against the movement, claiming that something is fundamentally wrong with CCSF that requires an accreditation commission to “fix it” by gutting its programs, department, teacher and campus worker pensions and positions, and busting its unions.

The issue for revolutionaries , however,  is not simply how we numerically increase an anti-austerity movement, as important as that is. We need to develop a politic that seeks to expose the reactionaries allied with the privatizers, administrators, and ruling class servants and align school workers, students, and supporters with a militant, uncompromising line when it comes to defending CCSF. Our analysis needs to identify the structural and historical causes of this capitalist attack, and why only unified student and worker (including teacher!) unity can win against these attacks and make gains that increase the scope and resources for CCSF, in addition to implementing measures for them to increase their democratic control over the running of the school.

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Union Debates: John Reimann Responds With Words of Wisdom


John Reimann, a veteran Trotskyist, wrote a solid response to the union question. This being posted in the spirit of trying to get every left group, in the US, Trotskyist, Left-Communist, Ultra-lefts, Anarchists, to write out, and define how they see revolutionaries relationship with unions. John Reimann, a leader of a 1999 wildcat strike of East Bay carpenters, is also very active in the Bay Area regarding social movements, and union struggles.

John Reimann

February 21, 2013 at 11:17 am

I think this sort of discussion/debate is a huge part of what has been lacking on the left, especially holding this out in the open.

As far as the unions: I think we have to start by looking at the objective developments and what mood and consciousness that created.

The 1930s and then again the strike wave of 1946 taught the US capitalist class a lesson: They could not simply steamroll over the working class as they had been accustomed to doing. So they retreated to trying to stabilize class relations. This was made possible by the post war economic boom and the dominant position of the US capitalist class globally. They were easily able to afford concessions.portpicket

There was also the role of Stalinism, which gave “socialism” a foul odor in the nostrils of the great majority of workers.This enabled a sector of the union bureaucracy that was most closely linked with the employers to strengthen their base in the unions and strengthen their grip on the union structures. Any worker who seriously wanted a more militant union was suspected (at the very least) of being a “Commie”, and there were consequences, the least of which was being shunned by one’s fellow workers.

Ironically, the end of the boom and the collapse of Stalinism actually strengthened this state of affairs. The collapse of Stalinism strengthened a huge propaganda wave in favor of the “free” market. We had reached the end of history, you see. Any thought otherwise was simply living in a dream world at best. And the end of the boom accelerated the attacks on the working class, including accelerating the wave of plant closures and runaway plants (to Mexico and then to China and elsewhere). Workers in general, and the union workers in particular, were told that if you fight for higher pay, or even if you fight against cuts in pay, you will end up losing your job altogether. Continue reading

On the Union Debate: Will Critically Responds to the Union Debates

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 it?

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.
                                                                          -Will

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.

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.

Continue reading

Longshore Workers in Struggle Against Maritime Capitalist


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.

asportflier

 

 

On the Union Debate: Abstract Political Differences, Concrete Questions of What Rupture Looks Like

In this series of posts we are attempting to make public some debate that we are having inside of AS around workplace organizing, the union structure and how to approach them.  In the comment thread John Desalin posted some questions that led to a longer response from another voice within AS that we are posting here for discussion, and transparency about any differences in AS around this question.  Looking forward to more engagment from the comrades!

John Desalin said:

Comrades,

I’m glad an actual discussion is going on, and not a dogmatic rehashing of the theses of some obscure communist organization from the 1970s. We are in a new era of recomposition of the militant labor movement, and I for one welcome fresh thinking. That said, the first piece I think fell short of my expectations.

A key contradiction in the first text was a conception of a union that seemed to be more ideal than one rooted in late or decadent capitalism. Here, it is almost as if the author is saying “On one hand, they hold no hope for socialist revolution” while on the other they are elevated to becoming a possible offensive weapon against capital. I don’t see how this contradiction is resolved in the text at all. I was left wondering what exactly is the limit of the union in terms of whether or not we can see any transformation of its very structure as having a correlative impact on its functioning; apparently not.

Regards,

JD

The Fish replied:

I did not read the first piece in the same way, as containing an unexamined/unresolved contradiction….I more saw it as describing an objectively-existing contradiction, built into the union-form within capitalism. Perhaps this relates both to a certain vagueness (or more charitably purposeful simplicity) in the article and different assumptions on both of our parts.

As a somewhat tangential aside, I see no clear political differences between these two pieces, and it seems kind of funny to characterize these different methods of presentation as a “debate”, but hey let’s engage what comes up.

I thought it’s a basic aspect of Marxism, from Marx to Lenin to Luxemburg to Gramsci etc. etc., that unions CAN be an offensive weapon against capital (please see all union struggles for wage increases, union-based general strikes in Egypt, union-based struggle for the 8-hour work day). But that they also are NOT the organs through which the working class will make a revolution (see any critiques of the limitations of syndicalism, anarcho-syndicalism in the Spanish Revolution, the IWW as a viable society-wide revolutionary organization.) I assume we agree that a revolution is not the only kind of offensive against capital. Continue reading

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.

c80dc23073c111e2831222000a9e08e7_7          

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.

  Continue reading

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!
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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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