Join Our Mailing List
Email:

Bookmark and Share


  Home > News > Additional Stories

Redefining Urban Renewal: The City is Ours reviewed in Counter Punch

By Ron Jacobs
Counter Punch
Weekend Edition October 3-5, 2014

Squatting in Europe

British novelist Doris Lessing wrote a novel titled The Good Terrorist. The story revolves around an autonomous leftist cell in London that decides to step up their participation in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism by providing material support to the IRA. Eventually, the cell moves on to taking their own armed actions, which results in the death of one of their members. The main character in the novel, a woman named Alice, has political and moral disagreements with the course she and her comrades have taken but remains committed to the course of action. The cell’s living quarters is in a squatted building in London. Unlike her fellow squatters, Alice takes an active interest in making the squat a livable quarters. Lessing’s descriptions of the squat and the work undertaken to make it livable are why I mention this work of fiction.

Squatting is at least as old as the Digger movement of the sixteenth century. It is a direct response to the practice of private land ownership and a philosophical and practical challenge to the very concept. Journalist Robert Neuwirth (author of Shadow Cities: Seven Million Squatters) estimates that there are currently seven million squatters worldwide. This estimate includes those who live in self-constructed shanty towns on the outskirts of cities around the world (especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America), those who squat abandoned buildings in cities and suburbs of the North in small groups or as individuals, and those who organize collectively and squat unoccupied properties because they need a place to live but also as a way to make a political statement about rentier capitalism.

Recently, PM Press published a collection of essays exploring the wave of the latter type of squatting that began in West Germany in the 1970s and continues in some form to this day.

The book, titled This City is Ours: Squatting and Autonomous Movements in Europe from the 1970s to the Present, looks at the relationship between the European political phenomenon known as the Autonomous movement and squatting, the response by the authorities to squatting in different regions, and the nature of the squatting communities themselves. The essays provide the reader, in varying detail, with histories of squatters’ movements of the past forty years in cities throughout Europe; from those known for their squatter communities like Berlin and Amsterdam to lesser known squats in Poland and Barcelona. Each chapter deals with a particular city while maintaining a general political perspective best characterized as left libertarian. Like the squats themselves, some of the essays emphasize the cultural elements championed by the squatters, while others place the political and economic elements front and center. In general, however, what comes across is that the women and men who organized and occupied the squats in this movement believed that one could change the greater world by intentionally changing the nature of their own daily lives to lives that emphasized anti-capitalist and communitarian values.

As documented in several places and mentioned in the beginning of this text, the first squats in this movement were in Frankfurt am Main in what was then West Germany. The occupied buildings were located in the Westend district of the city and included various apartment buildings and estates, some of which were intentionally abandoned so that their owners could sell them to banks and other speculators for office development. As a teenager living in Frankfurt in the early 1970s, I occasionally found myself at one of these squats with a friend to score hashish or to attend a political or musical performance at the social centers set up in the collective. Although I never spent much more than a couple hours at a time there, the sense of social revolution present stayed with me for days afterwards. When it came time to defend the community from police attacks, I did what I could as a supporter short of getting busted. Like the defense of Berkeley’s Peoples Park or the defense of various Occupy encampments in 2011, the squats were liberated turf, representing another possible world that challenged the domination of the profit motive and demanded one put something on the line to defend them.

This spirit of resistance comes through in this book. Although this reader finished the text wishing there was more detail, more personal narrative, This City is Ours sets out to examine politically and socially the squatters movement in Europe over the past forty years. It performs this task admirably while simultaneously providing a template for the movement’s future.

Urban studies are a discipline growing in popularity and importance. The need for a book that analyzes the organized squatting phenomenon in the context of this discipline is crucial.

Already, too much of the discipline is concerned with the profit seeking element of our world while ignoring those who oppose that element and strive for an alternative. The City is Ours is an excellent introductory counterpoint to that trend.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Buy The City is Ours | Buy The City is Ours e-Book | Back to Ask Katzeff's Editor Page | Back to Leendert van Hoogenhuijz's Editor Page | Back to Bart van der Steen's Editor Page


Blood Lake reviewed on Booktrib

Booktrib
October 17th, 2014

When New York City private investigator Filomena Buscarsela takes her teenaged daughter, Antonia, to see their extended family in Ecuador, it’s more than a homecoming. Filomena hasn’t been back in years, and the trip brings back memories of her previous life as a revolutionary. Before she’s even had time to adjust to her new surroundings, though, a priest is murdered—a man who, years ago, saved her life and helped her escape to the United States. Filomena owed him her life, and she vows to find his killer.

It’s an election year, and the dirty hands of politics seem to be everywhere, perhaps even in this senseless death. Filomena’s investigation promises to lead her back to the very people she escaped all those years ago. As the country is wracked by natural and manmade disasters—landslides, floods, food shortages, protests, crackdowns—Filomena becomes a fugitive from the law, racing across the country toward a climactic confrontation in the Amazon jungle.

This final installment in Kenneth Wishnia’s acclaimed series is rich with the sights, sounds—and dangers—of Ecuador, and offers a compelling look at the provenance of one dynamic heroine.

Buy Blood Lake | Buy the e-Book | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page




This book is NOT satire, it is history. (But it does of course have a bite of Krassner satire to it.)

By Joseph Robert Cowles

5 star review


PAUL KRASSNER has long been known for quick wit and sharp-tongued satire. What isn’t as well known is that the man is also a crackerjack investigative journalst. Throughout his long career, Paul has been on the scene to report on (and sometimes become personally embroiled in) many major news stories of our time.

Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials plus “Why was Michelle Shocked Shell-Shocked?” and “Reflections of a Realist” Outspoken Interview, is a book title that leads the prospective reader to imagine this is another of Paul’s satirical romps. Beneath the covers it quickly becomes evident that this work is not satire, but a down-and-dirty take-no-quarter name names and kick butt masterful treatise of journalistic reporting and historical value.

The 1970s was a period of broad social upheaval, a great deal of which was taking place in or related to San Francisco, California, and Paul Krassner was there in the beautiful City By The Bay to report on it.
   
For a while it seemed as if each day’s newspaper headlines became more shocking, more alarming, and curiouser and curiouser.  Krassner’s book will bring you face to face with significant historical events such as the abduction of newspaper heiress Patricia Campbell Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and her conviction for participation in a bank robbery; the murder spree of San Francisco supervisor Daniel James White, who assassinated supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone at City Hall; the Jonestown Massacre, in which the San Francisco area-based Peoples Temple under the leadership of politically connected and respected Jim Jones, engaged in a “mission” in Guyana resulting in the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan and the mass-suicide or mass-murder of 918 Temple members; the White Night Riots, in which San Francisco’s gay community, outraged by the lenient sentencing given to Dan White for the killing of Moscone and Milk, erupted into street demonstrations that turned brutally violent (and in which Krassner, a reporter for publications including the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Berkeley Barb, Playboy magazine and The Nation, was chased by frenetic police officers, thrown to the ground, and so severely beaten with truncheons that he became crippled for life).

No, this is definitely not a book of satire.  It is a no-holds-barred look back at a time of great unrest that ultimately brought about extensive changes in our society.  In the who-what-where-when-why style of journalistic reporting, Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials offers up salient recollections regarding hundreds of people, places, things, events and circumstances that have influenced the world in which we live today.

Buy this book and read it now.  It is as important as it is spellbinding.

Joseph Robert Cowles has been there and done that for far more years than he cares to discuss.

Buy Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Buy the e-Book of Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Back to Paul Krassner's Author Page




Anarchy, Geography, and Modernity: A Glimpse into the Depth of Anarchism

By Sasha
Earth First Journal
October 18th, 2014

A new edition of Elisée Reclus’s works, Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, edited by the illustrious duo of John Clark and Camille Martin, provides a captivating introduction to the great anarchist’s life and works. This book will drive its readers into the most solitary spaces of reflection—whether the ocean’s rocky shoreline, the forest’s wild expanse, or the deepest reaches of the imagination. It provides a vital touchstone of time and place, a refraction that sheds light on our own ways of seeing the world.

Reclus has long been an understudied figure in the history of anarchism, so the first part of the book, taken up by Clark’s biography of Reclus, seems a welcome first step. A close friend of Bakunin and Kropotkin, it was Reclus who helped rescue, edit, and publish Bakunin’s final and greatest text, God and State. Reclus was among the insurrectionary anarchists exiled from France after participating in the Paris Commune of 1871. Reclus is also one of the greatest, most admired geographers in the world. Ever. With aspirational and voluminous texts on the world and its peoples, Reclus achieved a great milestone in the struggle to liberate scholarship from eurocentric confines.

Clark’s distillation of the major thinker’s oeuvre elicits a generous respect. A world traveler and generous intellect, Reclus carefully observed the ideas and behaviors of what he called “eco-regions” and their specific environs, contributing key insights for the growing understanding not only of environmental sciences and geography, but their effect on human societies—all during an era obsessed with progress and industry.

“Nature is for [Reclus] always an active presence, both encompassing humanity and remaining in intimate dialectical interaction with humanity throughout history,” Clark notes. In his careful reflections on Reclus’s life work, including the 19-volume The Earth and Its Inhabitants, Clark presents to the reader a deep engagement with the “convergence of reason, passion, and imagination—logos, eros, and poesis.” For its soft-spoken nature, which resonates from deep contemplation to romantic gestures of grandeur, this sort of radical thought affords the deepest contemplation on the problems with which Reclus engaged, as they ring true to this day.
This particular edition’s selection of Reclus’s work centers around Reclus’s critique of modern states and the dialectics of civilization and savagery. “A century ago,” Clark comments, “Reclus had already presciently announced an intensifying crisis of the city and diagnosed the crisis as only a symptom of the larger crisis of society.” With regards to the polis, Reclus writes, “the political unity [ensemble politique] of the social body was as simple, as undivided and as well-defined as was the unity of the individual himself.” The city becomes a performance of practical reason (Aristotle’s phronesis), as it actuates the gathering of individuals for the betterment of society. “[It] is in this sense that one must, like Aristotle, consider the human being to be par excellence the zoon politikon: the ‘urban animal,’ the participant [le part-prenant] in the organic city [la cité organique] (and not merely the ‘political animal’ as it is usually translated).” With this deeply philosophical reflection on organic politics in mind, Reclus developed the notion of eco-regions, providing significant insight into wilderness and distinct environments of other continents, finding models of organic political societies outside of and degraded by European thought.

With this introduction into European thought of ecoregions or bioregions, Reclus seeks an “evolution” of the modern nation-states beyond an unhealthy, pathological obsession with “progress.” The city, as an organic production or performance of reason, brings human society together in a political life of equality, liberty, mutual aid, and free association, but the corruption of political cunning inverts socio-organic independence, and transforms the city against nature into a divided state manifested through overconsumption and war. “It is only the free man—who of his own accord joins his strength with that of other men acting out of their own will—who has the right to disavow the mistakes or misdeeds of his so-called companions. He takes responsibility only for himself.” As those “united with a single will” rise up against the master “so that they may be assured from that moment on of their bread and liberty,” revolution of the “free man” will liberate humanity through its growing sense of solidarity into an organic system of self-management.

As Clark notes, by today’s standards Reclus’s gendered language overshadows his activism for women’s rights and against patriarchy, but the editors’ decision to retain the atavistic lingo preserves a sense of confusing and contradictory time and place in fidelity, perhaps, to the text. For Reclus, “every new city immediately constitutes, by its configuration of dwellings, a collective organism,” and it is difficult to see how gender, race, and other identity-forming factors figure in that organism. On the one hand, it could be similar to a “historical bloc,” which is not only a collection of ideologies, but an “organic body,” according to influential leftist thinker Antonio Gramsci. On the other hand, the more mainstream socialist view promoted by Arthur Tansley of the collective unconscious as eminently connected to the ecological surrounds (i.e., the development of the concept of the “ecosystem”) might help construct a view of the possible “collective organism.” To bring things more up to date, one wants through Reclus to return to Bookchin’s ideas of social ecology and his later municipalism, and redefine radical approaches to politics by escaping the sectarianism and condemnations of the ultra-left and returning to the common ground of solidarity. But it’s not that easy; none of these trends and tendencies encompass the enormity of Reclus’s comprehensive thought.

In a way, Anarchy, Geography, Modernity goes “back to basics,” although Reclus is certainly not in favor of a homogenous approach to society. One tribute that Reclus pays to civilization is that the “civilized” maintains a “greater complexity of the elements that enter into its formation.” At the same time, the industrial cities “draped with a funeral veil” of smog appear to us far from “a future state of well-being and beauty” (both requisites for Aristotle’s organic polity), because the modern state “has to adapt to its bad environment, and in order to function, it must do so in a pathological way.” In this sense, “progress” takes on the form of degenerate habits, while the “thousands of tribes and other ethnic groupings, lumped together under the name ‘savages’ by haughty ‘civilized’ people… at least [have] the advantage of being coherent and consistent with [their] ideals.”

We have in Reclus not only a model academic and scholar compelled by field work to both the darkest and most luminous of critiques, but an anarchist and insurrectionary whose connections to other noteworthy anarchists opens up a broader understanding of anarchist perspectives on ecology. The effect is to produce a networked realization of the meaning of anarchist thought over time—not just its outcome, but its contemplative processes (what one may associate with phronesis), its relationship to the classical Aristotelian understandings of the polis and the political that throws into question the weight of philosophy that prefigured but fell short of the great anarchist ideal.

Sasha has been with the EF! Journal Collective since 2009ish, and helped found the Newswire. He has a new book out through AK Press called Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab.


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to John Clark's Page | Back to Camille Martin's Page




scott crow's Black Flags and Windmills reviewed on Mission District

By Tommy Strange
Mission District
September 2014

Another personal history must read. AK Press and PM press are just amazing at this. That’s why you will see most of my reviews from those two publishers. This is not a must read for those that have spent twenty years or so immersed in libertarian/social movement history along with actual organizing (with DAN around Seattle, Summit demos, etc) when it comes to his points about collective organizing, spokes councils, mutual aid. But the rest of the book takes us back to Katrina 2006 the first few months.
       Though for a year around that I spent hours everyday reading everything from the Times Picayune (who had one reporter write a book after a complete horrible breakdown over the years of great journalism he did—gotta find that and review it), to the great investigative articles by a Nation funded writer that laid this fact down: though of course there were many blacks ‘looting’ and in the first days with guys trying to steal boats etc, the complete blackout of news of the roving white vigilantes has gone down the memory hole, along with the fact that hundreds of black corpses with bullet holes were found for months after. Scott mentions this, and immediate confrontations with them, and footnotes the later Nation article.
      The subtitle is Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective so it is a memoir of that short time span. Starting with a first aborted attempt days after to find ex-panther Angola Prison released Robert King,  then to his return a week later to meet with Malik Rahim, and Sharon Johnson. They immediately sat in Malik’s Algiers home (on high ground right by levees that held by a river west of city general) after Katrina and formulated a plan and put it into action. With in one month they had hundreds of helpers and were distributing food, and setting up health clinics. 
       That alone is worth your time. His chapters on his journey to this point and his embrace of anarchism is also interesting. He has already been hassled by the FBI due to activist work. On a side note, he and his friend did the documentary on the Angola 3 who spent the longest time in solitary in history. Thus his friendship with King, who they finally find still on his porch with his dog ten or so days after Katrina. This seems to me to be the only good thing Brandon Darby, FBI snitch and plant, has ever done in his life. Scott describes how Brandon forced a rescue boat to go to King’s address.
      For me I wanted more dirt on Darby and outside vanguardist groups who would attack or attempt to take over common ground. We only get a few sentences about that. Though both instances reflect very tense situations obviously. As for the FBI snitch’s story, Scott leaves that as a link to an article from long ago “Kristian Williams: Witness to Betrayal, Scott Crow…”  Find that and read it please, double please.  As Graeber brings up in Direct Action, and as that article says, it’s women that are the first to raise alarm bells. Men can often discount these alarms on the left. I believe it’s our knee jerk response that ex middle class radical women can be ‘touchy’ about loud and boisterous men. When often we should listen and think, yeah ‘why’ is that guy so suddenly into everything and trying to take command? I don’t have a problem with the latter. Alarm bells have always gone off in my head anytime someone seems just a bit too 24/7 committed and arrogant about it, and just too goddamn responsible. And why the ‘flywheel’ suggestions? This isn’t the 80’s. How much is it just a narcissist personality, and how much does it show a possibility of plant and/or agent provocateur?
       Anyway, sorry for my soapbox. The book is a great read by a great and dedicated activist. It is also an ‘organizing tool’. Put this on the shelf next to Graeber’s book in your flat’s library. As well as the Occupy essay book reviewed later. The intro by Kathleen Cleaver (yes ex panther) is also well appreciated. So glad her head is still so clear and full of love for people who resist.
       The beginning of his arrival has a scary but to me refreshing, bald truth about how they had to use guns to defend themselves. Scott also pertinently describes the complete uselessness of FEMA, the Red Cross, and the immediate militarization of the area, rather than immediate military to facilitate immediate aid. Most of us remember that. But lets go over it again by reading this book.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to scott crow's Author Page




A Deep Dive Into Identities


Alistair

Queerty.com
October 16th, 2014

Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus
 is a project 10 years in the making. It’s pages are pictures of subjects as teens and given time to reflect on their coming out experiences, which is a short journey for some and an especially long journey for many. The book shares the experiences and stories of LGBTQ youth through deeply personal handwritten text and stories of what makes them unique. This collection of youth from all over the world is utterly moving as they show what it’s like to come into your own as part of a community that struggles with its own identity and place in society.

The book by author Rachelle Lee Smith is avaialable for purchase for $15 . Here’s a first-look with exclusive pages from the book itself.


Franco Billy Chenoa2 Duffy
JoEllen Kevin Megan Raven

AJ Doc GraemeTaylor

 


Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Rachelle Lee Smith Author's Page




What North American Unions Can Learn From Labor Organizers Abroad

By Steve Early
TeleSur
October 6th, 2014

Workers can think and act like trade unionists even if they don’t have a union contract, have lost a government-supervised representation vote, or don’t plan to petition for such an election.

In a widely-reported speech last year, AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka declared that the U.S. “system of workplace representation is failing to meet the needs of America’s workers.”  To reverse this longstanding trend, the labor federation leader recommended “new models for organizing workers” that don’t focus exclusively on establishing collective bargaining relationships with employers.

Before the AFL-CIO’s 2013 convention in Los Angeles, Trumka created a committee of labor historians to advise him about how such “new and forgotten methods of organizing” could be implemented. Meanwhile, local central labor councils were encouraged to hold “listening sessions” as part of a pre-convention drive “to come up with more viable union models.” At the convention itself, Trumka pledged labor movement support for “any worker or group of workers who wants to organize and build power in the workplace.”

As one group of AFL-CIO advisors explains, workers have had the legally protected right to form in-plant committees and engage in “concerted activity to improve wages, benefits, and/or working condition” ever since passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935. Such “minority union’ formations don’t have to be “officially recognized by employers or certified as collective bargaining representatives.”

Workers can think and act like trade unionists even if they don’t have a union contract, have lost a government-supervised representation vote, or don’t plan to petition for such an election. And one well-known U. S. labor law expert, Charles Morris, has even argued that the NLRA permits “members-only bargaining” by unions in situations where workers lack the majority support necessary for legal certification—a position rejected by employers and, so far, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as well.

What North American Unions Can Learn From Labor Organizers Abroad

A Left-Wing Idea

The workplace experiments embraced, so belatedly, by mainstream labor in the U.S. reflect a broader conception of unionism long championed by the left. AFL-CIO critics, like sociologist Stanley Aronowitz and radical historian Staughton Lynd, argued years ago that union building should not be defined—or deformed-- by legal certification, employer recognition, or NLRA-influenced union contracts (almost always containing a “no-strike” clause). Now, as Lynd notes in his introduction to a just-published book entitled, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, “alternative unionism” is much in vogue.

As its sub-title suggests, New Forms has a strong left syndicalist slant and tends to be critical of big national labor federations in just about every country covered. Edited by Manny Ness, contributors to the book include shop-floor organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and many others engaged in alternative union formation or agitation in South Africa, India, China, Australia, Argentina, Russia, Sweden, Madagascar, and Colombia. The strength of this eclectic collection, published by PM Press in Oakland, lies in its showcasing of labor organizing, often little known but sometimes fairly large scale. 

Ness himself is a widely travelled and well-informed labor activist, who teaches at Brooklyn College/City University of New York and edits the labor journal, WorkingUSA. His own past research has focused on labor migration and global inequality, including the exploitation of foreign-born workers, by other immigrants, in the “green groceries” of New York City. In his introduction and concluding essay to this book, Ness argues that the fight against “bureaucratic unions” is a cross-border imperative, just as important for workers in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union as it is to an increasingly disillusioned South African working class.

South African Miners’ Revolt

In a chapter entitled “Exploding Anger: Struggles and Self-Organization in South Africa’s Mining Industry,” Cape Town labor educator Shawn Hattingh chronicles that alienation and resulting rank-and-file action. During the anti-apartheid struggle, black-led unions and the broader liberation movement were long influenced by Communist Party cadre within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and African National Congress (ANC). Today, the neo-liberal ANC, COSATU affiliates like the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and their CP allies face a labor revolt from below because of worker frustration with the labor and ANC officialdom, both viewed as corrupt and too cozy with management.

As Hattingh reports. South African miners began resorting to wildcat strikes and workplace occupations in 2009. When they protested unfair pay and unsafe conditions, NUM officials joined mine owners in calling for police intervention, which led to the massacre of 34 strikers at Marikana two years ago. In response, new forms of worker organization have sprung up to resist this repression and coordinate on-going workplace and community organizing.  

“The strength of these workers assemblies and committees has been that they have united workers across unions, they have drawn in non-unionized workers; some have also included the unemployed and community members. The assemblies and workers communities have the potential to become a counter-power to the multi-national mining companies, supported by the South African state. To do so, however, depends on the workers’ building and sustaining these organs themselves. It is apparent that the state, the ruling party, the South African Communist Party, capital and most union officials are going to try to prevent this.”

Two of the book’s most timely and interesting case studies describe fast food and service worker organizing campaigns where left-leaning independent unions took the lead. Jack Kirkpatrick, an activist in the UK branch of the IWW, provides a history of recent organizing among London janitors. There, building cleaners from Africa, Asia, and Central America first tried to win union recognition under the banner of Unite, a stalwart of the Trade Union Congress. When the militancy and outspokenness of some of their leaders—and timidity of some of their TUC union helpers—led to a parting of ways, some of the insurgent cleaners “voted to leave Britain’s biggest trade union and join one of its smallest.”

In this tale of IWW-backed “solidarity unionism,” Kirkpatrick highlights examples of “leadership development through education on the job, empowerment through direct action, and ‘self-ownership’ of that action.” He also describes some left-wing union factionalism and in-fighting that persisted after the rift with Unite and proved to be a less-than-inspiring part of “justice for janitors” campaigning in London.

Fast Food Strike Activity

Back in the U.S.A, Erik Forman, a young veteran of IWW organizing at Starbucks and Jimmy John’s, a nationwide fast food chain, provides a colorful account of inside committee building and collective action by sandwich-makers in Minneapolis.

IWW recruitment there predated the recent fast-food worker mobilization in the US, which has been heavily funded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and oriented toward winning hikes in the statutory minimum wage at the city, state, or federal level.

SEIU has spent a reported $10 million to $15 million so far. It has channeled some of that money into local community-labor organizations assisting fast food workers. Their widely publicized protest strikes in 2013-14 have resembled labor’s pre-NLRA skirmishing with management in the 19th and early 20th centuries, more than post-war disputes leading to a signed contract settlement. Earlier this year, SEIU and is allies brought hundreds of fast food workers to Chicago for a national “Fight For Fifteen” strategy conference. In September, about 500 “Fight for Fifteen” activists were arrested in three dozen cities, as part of the latest escalation of worker-community pressure on firms like McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s.

Lacking financial and staff resources on this scale, the IWW utilized volunteer organizers who focused their efforts on a single-family owned fast food purveyor, with about 1,400 outlets. IWW supporters built a citywide committee with worker representatives from nine Jimmy John’s shops in Minneapolis. Foreman provides a detailed, often very humorous, and self-critical account of their guerilla warfare with management. His campaign memoir is most useful in its recounting of the workers’ creative employment of direct action, a hallmark of Wobbly organizing in both its early 20th century incarnation and reinvention one hundred years later.

The IWW’s imaginative assault on the company’s policy of denying paid sick days successfully linked worker complaints (and illnesses) with customer concerns about safe-food preparation. Six union activists, including Forman, were fired in retaliation for their “Sick of Working Sick” whistle blowing. Three years later, the NLRB finally got around to ordering their reinstatement in a decision issued in August, long after active organizing had ceased.

A Labor Board Vote

Notwithstanding much past IWW criticism of “contract unionism” and reliance on the NLRB, Jimmy John’s organizers came under worker pressure to petition for a Labor Board election. After months of tiring, almost daily battles with management, some union supporters wanted the legitimacy of legal certification and formal bargaining on the many job-related problems that remained unresolved. This highly unusual (for fast food) representation vote was held, in the usual U.S. private sector fashion, after a brutal escalation of management’s anti-union campaigning. The Jimmy John’s Workers Union (JJWU) lost by a vote of 87 to 85. (The IWW’s re-election assessments, based on union card signing and other expressions of union sympathy, put “Yes” voters at more than 100.)

The Forman and Kirkpatrick sections of the book are, by themselves, worth the modest price of New Forms of Worker Organization. Both illustrate the real-world challenges of sustaining workplace activity and building sustainable dues paying membership organizations in a workforce with low-pay, scattered job sites, high turnover, and, in some cases, close relationships between workers and their immediate bosses.

As Forman concludes, the level of militancy sustained over several years by Jimmy John’s workers “can only be built by organizers who are thoroughly embedded in the segment of the working class they are organizing.”

His elaboration on that message should be required reading for anyone involved in fast food worker campaigning or the U.S. retail store workers network known as “Our Wal-Mart,” which is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers. Other readers—even those less enthused about the “syndicalist and autonomist” tradition championed by Ness et al--will find this collection to be a very timely guide to alternative unionism, old and new, home-grown and foreign born.

(Steve Early has been active as a labor journalist, lawyer, organizer, or union representative in the U.S. since 1972. He is the author, most recently of Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress (Monthly Review Press, 2013) For more about his work, see www.steveearly.org He can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com.)

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Immanuel Ness's Author Page




New Forms of Worker Organization on Center for a Stateless Society

By Kevin Carson
Center for a Stateless Society
August 18th, 2014

Immanuel Ness, ed. New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism (Oakland: PM Press, 2014)

In his foreword to the book, Staughton Lynd describes the official model of unionism in the United States, first pioneered by the company unions under the American Plan (especially by the company union in Gerard Swope’s GM), and then codified into law by the Wagner Act:

  1. Unions compete to become the “exclusive” bargaining representative of a so-called appropriate bargaining unit. The employer has no legal obligation to negotiate with a union made up of a minority of its employees.
  2. When a given union has been “recognized,” the employer becomes the dues collector for the union. Every employee has union dues deducted from his or her paycheck automatically.
  3. The union conceded to the employer as a “management prerogative” the right to make unilateral investment decisions, such as shutting down a particular plant or workplace.
  4. The union deprives its members of the opportunity to contest such decisions by agreeing that there will be no strikes or slowdowns during the duration of the collective bargaining agreement.

In short, the main function of Wagner-style business unions is to enforce labor contracts against their own rank-and-file and “let management manage,” in return for productivity-based wage increases, seniority an a grievance process.

This book is about a different kind of unionism, breaking out all over the world today. “It is horizontal rather than vertical. It relies not on paid union staff but on the workers themselves.”

These kinds of alternative unions, editor Immanuel Ness argues, “are more relevant to today’s workers than institutional and bureaucratic compromises with the capitalist class and state.” The new unions are a revived form of a form of labor organization that was dominant before Wagner and similar labor charters with capitalist states around the world. “…[T]he new workers’ organizations are descendants of the socialist and anarchist labor formations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Some of the new formations have a praxis centered on prefigurative politics, envisioning their action in the workplace as part of a larger fight to transform the entire economy.

The book is made up of a series of case studies of independent and democratic unions — drawing on a variety of autonomist, syndicalist and other ideas, but all “fundamentally opposed to bureaucratic domination, class compromise, and concessions with employers” — in the global North and South.

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Immanuel Ness's Author Page




Review: Alt-Labor or Not, It Will Take Rank-and-File Power to Revive Us

By Eric Dirnbach
Labor Notes
October 6th, 2014

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Immanuel Ness's Author Page




Paul Di Filippo reviews Norman Spinrad


By Paul Di Filippo
Locus
October 9th, 2014


Whenever discussion turns to candidates for the next SFWA Grandmaster Award, the name of one author who is fully entitled to such a distinction is notably missing. I refer to Norman Spinrad. After a career that began in 1963—that’s fifty-plus years and counting, folks—and which includes epochal work during the seminal New Wave movement; a continuing stream of top-notch, impassioned, always varied novels and stories thereafter; two stints as SFWA President; and a wealth of critical essays that have helped to elucidate the intellectual and narrative storyspace occupied by fantastika—well, one would think such credits would render the possessor a shoe-in for the honor.

But giving Norman Spinrad the Grandmaster title would be like sitting the court jester on the throne; like taking a rebel leader from the jungle and putting him in the Presidential palace; like making Mother Teresa the Pope. Institutions would be upended, black would be white, and hogs would grow pinions.

Although, come to think of it, this barrier of propriety and conventionality has already been busted with the annointment of Harlan Ellison, a coeval bombthrower and gadfly. So what is SFWA waiting for?

In any case, until that date we shall have to content ourselves with new books from Spinrad—although even that recourse is problematical, since he’s had trouble getting traditional publishing deals lately, and had to self-publish his last novel, Osama the Gun.

But at PM Press, Spinrad has found a congenial home, due to that firm’s progressive politics. His latest offering is part of PM’s Outspoken Authors imprint. Helmed by Terry Bisson, this series now runs to fourteen volumes, and includes work from such luminaries as Ursula K. LeGuin, Rudy Rucker and Bisson himself. Each volume features some particular arrangement of stories, novellas, non-fiction and other material, serving as a good introduction to the oeuvre of each “outspoken author.”

In Spinrad’s case, we open up with a galloping and pugnacious novella titled “Raising Hell.” Plunged as abruptly as the protagonist into the scenario, we discover that union organizer Dirty Jimmy DiAngelo has died and gone to the quintessential Hell of Christendom. Manned by large scarlet demons with taser pitchforks, and ruled over by a discontented Satan, aka Lucifer, the place is fully virtual these days, a kind of MUD with an infinite number of rooms wherein individual tortures can be enacted. For his earthly sins, DiAngelo is sent to an infinite boiler room to shovel coal uselessly for all eternity. He finds himself working shoulder-to-shoulder with Jimmy Hoffa and other labor organizer mentors and peers. In a short time, DiAngelo has convinced his fellow souls to go on strike, enlisted the demon guards in his cause, and, not without a struggle, brought Satan onboard as well. We leave the tale trembling on the edge of further posthumous revolutions.

I seem to recall a story that featured a similar premise, titled “The Devil and Democracy” by Brian Cleeve, appearing long ago in the November 1966 issue of F&SF (where, curiously enough, young Spinrad had a piece as well). But even if the two stories share a humorous theme, Spinrad does something new here, and that is to offer an existential quandary with broader, real-world implications.

DiAngelo has trouble motivating the demons to strike, since they are content with their lot and desire nothing. But then he conceives of teaching them “to want to want.” In other words, to ask for the endowment of free will. At the end, even Lucifer is infected with this new and dangerous meme, and endorses the rebellion.

As the next piece, “The Abnormal New Normal,” makes explicit, Spinrad is offering in his fiction his allegorical take on real life matters, and a prescription for change. This essay is a trenchant analysis of the roots of the planet’s current economic malaise and inequality; a characterization of our current fix as an unsustainable “economic singularity;” and a spotlight on a way out. But that way out involves first a mental paradigm shift: wanting to want to change. We will always live in Hell until we decide otherwise, Spinrad avows.

The third item that rounds out the volume is a dialogue between Spinrad and Bisson fittingly dubbed “No Regrets, No Retreat, No Surrender.” We see Spinrad recalling with pleasure certain glorious highlights of his past, but looking around at the present and the future with equal zest. In his seventies, he remains as feisty, energetic and dedicated to his vision as ever.

If we cast a critical eye back at Spinrad’s career, we see a portrait of an artist-agitator, someone engaged with topical issues and bent on encapsulating them in dramatic form. With novels such as Bug Jack Barron and The Iron Dream and Greenhouse Summer, Spinrad has repeatedly raised his voice to focus our attention on important societal matters. Likewise in his critical essays, where he has held the feet of fantastika to the fire of relevance and craft. But he has not been content to write mere propaganda, because that would dishonor the medium itself. And so he delivers the best of both worlds: engaging tales populated with flesh and blood people that leave seeds of doubt and speculation buried deep in our minds.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and has published almost that number of books. He lives in Providence, RI, with his mate of an even greater number of years, Deborah Newton.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Norman Spinrad's Author Page



Search

Quick Access to:

Authors

Artists

New Releases

Featured Releases


Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash

A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice