Tag Archives: workplace organizing

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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ILWU Local 4, How Do We Defend?

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. 
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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.

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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Rank-and-File Marxist Theory: The Sojourner Truth Organization Workplace Papers

A new generation of students and workers has inherited the crisis of capitalism.  Capital must always expand, but now it finds itself in one of its inevitable crises of reproduction that annihilates “the future and constructs the youth as a subject of social protest.”1 A new generation is seeking tools for coping with crisis and cuts, and some are turning towards political struggle as a solution.  The question then arises: what political method do we use for battle?  Which traditions do we draw from heavily and which do we mostly leave aside?  Huey Newton for instance dealt deeply with this question when he found no group he wanted to work with and decided to create a new method.

Click on the image to download the Full PDF

Reading revolutionary militant and decolonial theorist Frantz Fanon as well as Karl Marx and Mao Zedong transformed his political thinking, providing a framework for why and how to build the Black Panther Party.  The Panthers spread like wildfire through the US because the fighting history and readiness of the Black working class met its reflection in an anti-imperialist Marxist theory developed and propagated by Black militants.

Another US attempt to build a new approach was the Johnson-Forrest Tendency (JFT) started in 1940 by Trotskyist militants CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya.   Continue reading