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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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Mind Control, American Style

By Joseph E Green
Dissenting Views
October 16th, 2014


"I really lost it that day."
                     -Dan White



“Sometimes paranoia is just having all the facts,” William S. Burroughs once said. For his part, Paul Krassner once pointed out to television host Tom Snyder that “conspiracy and paranoia are not synonymous.” In his new book, Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials, counterculture Hall of Famer* and former Realist publisher Krassner gives us an inside view on two incidents that prove out both those statements. Both were enormous public sensations at the time.

The first began on February 4, 1974, when Patricia Hearst, the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, (newspaper king and thinly disguised subject of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane), was kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. The SLA, led by Donald DeFreeze, traumatized and brainwashed the young college student until she eventually joined them in committing crimes, including a spectacular bank robbery that captured the attention of the country. Eventually the FBI caught up with them, and after a shootout DeFreeze and five others were either shot or burned to death. Hearst herself eluded the police for a while longer before being apprehended on September 18, 1975 in San Francisco.


Picture
Patty Hearst, finding her beach.

However, as Krassner points out in his rollicking and frequently hilarious prose, there were signs of more than casual government involvement in this one. John Judge always told me to find people who connect one event to another, who pop up on the timeline, linking atrocities. It has served me well. Krassner points us to a certain Charles Bates of the FBI. Bates was an FBI special agent in the Chicago office when Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in December 1969, but ended up in Washington D.C. in 1971, just in time to be put in charge of the investigation into Watergate the next year. Two years later, in 1974, Bates was placed in charge of the hunt for the SLA and Patty Hearst. (36)

Also interesting can be the locations. Before Donald DeFreeze became ‘Cinque,’ the leader of the SLA, he spent 1970 at Vacaville Prison in California, following a stretch as a police informer for the LAPD. His handler, a man named Westbrook, Krassner notes, worked for the CIA. (18) Vacaville has a notorious reputation, having been named in the mid-1970s in the Senate investigations into MK-ULTRA as a result of the testimony of Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. The prison had been the site of numerous psychological tests on the inmates, some including LSD, going back to the 1950s, when a young Charles Manson also had been incarcerated at Vacaville. Krassner notes that an investigator found that DeFreeze had set up a conjugal visit program while in prison and had received visits not only from future kidnappers but also by Patty Hearst herself, under an assumed name. (32) (Later, Hearst testified that she was "struck by a terrible fear of being kidnapped" just before she was kidnapped.)

California congressman Leo Ryan, who had leaked information and spearheaded inquiries into government experimentation, including into the development of Donald DeFreeze, was shot to death while visiting Guyana where he ran afoul of a certain Jim Jones. Jones forms part of the background for the second essay in this book, as Krassner details his experiences sitting in on the trial of Dan White, the man who shot Harvey Milk and George Moscone on November 27, 1978, just a couple of weeks after the Jim Jones Guyana ‘suicides.’ (It should be noted that the Guyanese coroner, Dr. Mootoo, found no suicides had occurred; his report documented them all as murders. See The Black Hole of Guyana by John Judge.) Also, Milk and Jones enjoyed a close relationship right up until their deaths, as demonstrated by their frequent correspondence.

The madness of both trials is underscored when Krassner contrasts the sentencing of the two subjects, Patty Hearst and Dan White. Hearst, who had been kidnapped and brainwashed, received 35 years. (This was later commuted.) Dan White, who first murdered Moscone in cold blood (shooting him in the body and then twice in the head, after which pausing to reload) and then walking over the Harvey Milk’s office to shoot him there. White got 7 years.

White received such a relatively minor sentence because of the ‘Twinkie defense,’ provided by his attorney Martin Blinder in a phrase that Krassner himself helped to popularize. (71) The defense stated that White had been depressed and eaten too much sugary junk food, which put him in a poor mental state. After the verdict was announced, there was (understandably) a riot in the neighborhood, which resulted in Krassner getting beaten by a cop and receiving permanent injuries that affect him to this day (77-78). When Krassner reports the news, it’s as an eyewitness and participant.

Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials is a must-read for anyone interested in the period, in the dirty realities behind the illusion of large media, or in political research in general. The book is fast, funny, memorable, and sharp as hell; and like all great satire, it makes unappetizing truths easier to swallow.


*I don't mean this poetically. There is a Counterculture Hall of Fame, and Krassner's been elected to it. In 2001.

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Paul Krassner on Dangerous Minds

Cognitive Dissonance: Paul Krassner’s ‘Fuck Communism’ banner, 1963

Fuck Communism

 
Dangerous Minds
October 10th, 2014

Paul Krassner started his trailblazing periodical of radical countercultural satire, The Realist, in 1959 as a reaction to what he saw as a lack of humorous political commentary targeting the sometimes ridiculous, often ominous issues of the day.  His intention was to create sort of an adult MAD magazine, a publication to which he was frequent contributor.  The Realist became one of the most celebrated underground publications of all time and, with the exception of a hiatus between 1974 and 1985, remained in print until 2001.

Krassner himself was not only the driving force behind the The Realist but was also a child violin prodigy, a founding member of the YIPPIES, a stand-up comedian and an all-around pretty damned funny guy. If you’re not familiar with Krassner’s sense of humor, you could find worst places to start than The Realist’s “FUCK COMMUNISM” poster published in 1963.

The poster in question designed by long-time MAD magazine art director and Realist contributor John Francis Putnam was meant to be not only hilarious, but also a linguistic conundrum to the knee-jerk set.  You know “Better dead than red and all, but the F-word is just so filthy.” 

Here’s Kurt Vonnegut addressing the poster in his forward to Krassner’s 1996 collection entitled The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race: The Satirical Writings of Paul Krassner:

Paul Krassner …  in 1963 created a miracle of compressed intelligence nearly as admirable for potent simplicity, in my opinion, as Einstein’s e=mc2.  With the Vietnam War going on, and with its critics discounted and scorned by the government and the mass media, Krassner put on sale a red, white and blue poster that said FUCK COMMUNISM.

At the beginning of the 1960s, FUCK was believed to be so full of bad magic as to be unprintable. COMMUNISM was to millions the name of the most loathsome evil imaginable.  To call an American a communist was like calling somebody a Jew in Nazi Germany.  By having FUCK and COMMUNISM fight it out in a single sentence, Krassner wasn’t merely being funny as heck.  He was demonstrating how preposterous it was for so many people to be responding to both words with such cockamamie Pavlovian fear and alarm.

 
Realist Krassner Interview
 
A FUCK COMMUNISM bumper sticker was also released. Krassner said if anyone had a problem with it, the critic should be told to “Go back to Russia, you Commie lover.”

You can find the entire Realist Archive Project, a veritable treasure trove/rabbit hole of underground press glory, here. The site indicates that “The Mothers of the American Revolution,” listed as a contact at the bottom right of the poster, was a fictitious organization deployed by writers at The Realist when they needed to get in touch with individuals that wouldn’t otherwise respond to somebody affiliated with the controversial rag. 

Now in his 80’s, Krassner is currently working on his first novel about a performer modeled after Lenny Bruce. His new book is Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials.

In the clip below, we find Krassner in an interview with pioneering conservative TV talk show host, Joe Pyne—Bill O’Reilly’s “papa bear” as it were—in 1967. Pyne berates Krassner about his persistent use of the “filthiest four-letter word in the English language,” Krassner’s deep respect for Lenny Bruce, and a front-page headline in The Realist that asks what kind of deodorant Lyndon Johnson wears.  Pyne is beside himself with disgust. Despite the annoying text overlay on the video, it gives a great sense of the kind of visceral hatred that Krassner could inspire amongst those who just couldn’t get down with his unrelenting irreverence.

 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Paul Krassner wins PEN lifetime achievement award
Paul Krassner: How a satirical editor became a one man underground railroad of abortion referrals

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Prince of Gadflies on Our Man in Boston

Mather HS /Chicago- my alma mater
By Robert Birnbaum
Our Man in Boston
October 15th, 2014

Mather HS /Chicago- my alma mater

Looking back at my education in the 60’s era Chicago public schools, I am struck by how little I learned (although because of certain teen age biological imperatives regarding my long-legged history teacher, I can still identify the British monarchy’s succession from the Stuart’s on up.)Now this ought not be taken as a condemnation of that system as clearly multitudes have benefited from their school experiences. But it does speak to my process of edification sans erudition. Not a bad way to go.

Given the scarcity of gadflies,contrarians, truth tellers, iconoclasts and such—dare I call them prophets (maybe wise men and women works better), I hold the few that I have come across in very high regard. I am tempted to offer that conversing with that small but persistent cadre as a necessity of a well lived and mindful life but I suspect that may fall on the deaf ears of the new and mobile media transfixed of my fellow citizens,

Paul Krassner a patriarch of the radical “new journalism” of the 1960s is one of those wise people. I first ran in to him at a University of Illinois (Chicago)lecture and there after became an appreciative reader of his incendiary and satirical magazine, The Realist. And that discovery was at a moment when having your “mind blown” was still a novelty.

The Realist Issue No. 44 - Lenny Bruce arrested (1963)

The Realist Issue No. 44 – Lenny Bruce arrested (1963)

The second time I ran into Krassner was at the legendary Alternative Media Conference in 1971. Somewhere I have a photo of he and poet and Fugs member Tuli Kupferberg sitting on a park BMW motorcycle.Twenty something years passed and Paul Krassner came to Boston for the publication of publication an anthology of Krassner’s writing, The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race

We had a nice chat. Here’s sampling

RB: What would Lenny Bruce have gone on to become? If he had reached a ripe age of even fifty, what do you think he would have…?

PK: I think he would have continued to evolve as an icon. When I first interviewed him and asked him what’s the role a comedian and he gave a very formal answer: “To get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds.” And then as he got more and more involved in the world, he would get more serious sometimes in his performances. Instead of yelling out, “Lenny, you’re funny,” people would say, “Lenny, you’re honest.” And I said to him, “You remember you said the role of a comedian is to get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds? That’s not happening now.” And he says, “Well, I’m changing.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “Well, I’m not a comedian; I’m Lenny Bruce.” So he knew that he had become a symbol, and I think he would have continued in that vein. He would have spoken out.

Here’s kindred spirit, Kurt Vonnegut on Krassner:

I told Krassner one time that his writings made me hopeful. He found this an odd compliment to offer a satirist. I explained that he made supposedly serious matters seem ridiculous, and that this inspired many of his readers to decide for themselves what was ridiculous and what was not. Knowing that there were people doing that, better late than never, made me optimistic.

So, Paul Krassner has a new book Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials (courtesy of the fine people at PM Press) contains his acute absurdist understanding of two odd headline events of the late 20th century the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army and assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay leader Harvey Milk. There are a couple of other tidbits in this book including an Outspoken Interview with Krassner

Paul Krassner [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Paul Krassner [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Currently reading Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford (ECCO)

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Newer Songs: "Venceremos" reviewed on Red Wedge

By Alexander Billet
Red Wedge Magazine
October 14th, 2014

What does the story of slain Chilean folk-hero Victor Jara have to teach today's young left?


The shadow of Victor Jara looms large, and it’s only gotten larger with time. Just last month it was announced that a court in Chile had indicted three retired army officers for their involvement in the legendary folk-singer’s death in the wake of the coup that overthrew then-President Salvador Allende. Certainly, the open-endedness of Jara’s saga (more than forty years after his murder, nobody has been brought to justice) has contributed to his legend, intertwining his impressive skills with songwriting. The beauty of one combines with the horror of the other; like it or not, the two have become inseparable.img_6327

All of which is to say that if there is anyone whose stature approaches that of a modern martyr-saint for the social justice set, it’s Victor Jara. Why then, at this juncture in time, would it make sense to release a pamphlet on him? Venceremos, penned by Gabriel San Roman and published by PM Press, is just such a pamphlet.

It runs a scant 23 pages, and there is little here that will be news to those familiar with Jara’s story. A comprehensive tome on the musician’s life this isn’t. It is, however, a solid and sympathetic overview: the social struggles and conflicts in Chile in the decades leading up to Allende’s election, the gestation of the Nueva Cancion movement, Jara’s rise through that movement along with the groups Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun, the intrigue against Allende’s government, the coup that overthrew him and finally Jara’s defiant last moments before his gruesome death in the Estadio Chile.

San Roman relates all of this in the broadest of strokes (he would have to if he can do it in only 23 pages!) and though it may not seem apparent at first, there is a virtue in this kind of story-telling. That virtue is of straightforward agitation.

Naturally, a pamphlet can’t be read in a vacuum. As the author points out toward the pamphlet’s end, Chile’s own legacy of protest has been revived in recent years with the movement against neoliberal education measures. Across the continent there’s been a similar revival over the past several years. And of course to a greater or lesser degree it’s also played out in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and beyond.

As recently as five years ago the lay of the land seemed calm enough that we could distinguish between those spurred into activism via the songs of a left-wing artist and those whose activism would introduce them to left-wing art. Now the distinction has been blurred; art and politics are both moving too quickly for either to be neatly separated to one side or the other. One hopes that readers will walk away from a pamphlet like Venceremos having confirmed their own instinct that there is no separating politics from culture, protest from art.

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This is particularly prescient, seeing as how despite a great many significant recent upsurges, there seems to be little collective memory of art movements that take hold as a result of and in tandem with mass movements. There are certainly plenty of people for whom the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960’s are synonymous with the Beatles and Stones, Dylan and Joan Baez. But past that there is a broad lack of awareness of just how deep the interconnectedness ran, how many artists saw their words and sounds as directly responding and calling back to the events in Paris, Saigon, Chicago and Mexico City, even seeking to influence the participants.

Victor Jara was part of this same broad epochal breaking of cultural barriers. “The strength of the NCCh [New Chilean Song movement] as a phenomenon at the time is, in part, attributable to the strength of the Chilean Left,” writes San Roman, “particularly of the Communist Party, and the peculiarity of la via chilena al socialismo (the Chilean path toward socialism).”

The author doesn’t spend much time elaborating on the strengths or shortcomings of this path that may have contributed to things turning out differently (its overemphasis on electoralism, the bureaucratization and so on). To do so would admittedly pull away from the illustration of how Jara, Nueva Cancion and the NCCh weren’t just products but at times part and parcel of a pitched social battle over the future of the country and its people. San Roman continues:

Changes in the overall political climate of Chile during the 1960s and seventies are extremely important in fostering an understanding as to why the NCCh resonated with many Chileans and arguably became the strongest political folk music movement in Latin American history. The historical impact is lasting as Isabel Parra, daughter of [folksinger and Nueva Cancion innovator] Violeta Parra, has said, “‘La Nueva Cancion’ was a movement and still is one that has a tremendous importance to make a connection with Chile.”

In fact, what the author lays out is that as an artistic ethos Nueva Cancion — and Jara in particular — consciously shared a historical viewpoint with the movement that gripped it; both possessed balanced sense of acknowledgement toward what Chile’s elites thought better left in the past and the role of such elements in a radical future. One of the pamphlet’s most interesting sections is “The Rural Roots of Nueva Cancion,” in which the music of the Chilean countryside is elucidated upon. Like much rural popular music, it was looked down upon by “respectable society” precisely because, quoting San Roman again, it “highlighted the symbolic imagination of the poor, in effect making them a cultural interstice where the ruling elite did not establish full hegemony and where and where future counterhegemonic cultural movements such as NCCh could spring forth.”

This notion of the “cultural interstice,” the physical and expressive spaces that capitalism has neglected and underdeveloped is certainly, and not coincidentally, key to understanding popular culture in times of inequality and struggle. Jara clearly understood that this exact culture, the art created in the cracks and crevices and empire, can easily find itself launched into the position of vanguard during such times of struggle. In some ways he and the rest of NCCh consciously fostered this dynamic in songs like “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” which combined instrumentation instantly recognizable in 1960’s American psychedelia over rural folk arrangements:

San Roman’s description of these musico-cultural realities are what make his brief story cohere. They provide a foundational depth one might not expect to see in an introduction to Jara’s tale, through the way in which Quilapayun poked fun at the right-wing opposition to Allende in songs like “The Little Pots” to his tragic last song performed in front of fellow leftists rounded up by Pinochet’s soldiers right before they summarily executed him. The idea of music being “dangerous” is bandied around quite a bit, but this was an artist and a musical movement that, because of what it represented, was quite literally viewed as a threat.

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Which brings us back to the original question: Why bother publishing a pamphlet on all this? San Roman provides an extensive bibliography at the end of the booklet for those interested in more in depth reading, which means there is clearly the intent of readers learning more. Why then, doesn’t PM Press just recommend these other books on Jara, Chile and Nueva Cancion on its website?

There is, I would think, a hope that copies of these pamphlets would make their way into the “freshly initiated,” the young MC who has recently read his first Chomsky, the aspiring poet who got a job at a coffee shop to make ends meet and now finds herself walking out to demand a living wage.

What these folks would glean from Venceremos is often unacknowledged: that art doesn’t just have a role to play in agitating people, but that it can be agitated over. It’s not hard to find attempts on the part of less-than-honorable elements to take over the “cultural interstices” on society’s margins, from the push by record labels to figure out “the next big thing” to Nazi boneheads showing up a punk gigs. But, as with everything, this can be resisted.

Hammering this home seems to be in the wheelhouse of a pamphlet like this. But again, only if it gets into the right hands. That so many of Jara’s killers still have avoided punishment seems to underline the importance of this happening. San Roman ends the pamphlet by pointing out that one of the men charged in 2012 with the artist’s death, Pedro Barrientos, is residing in Florida. The US government has no plans of extraditing him so that he might face a court. It is worth wondering what might happen if more musicians, artists or just artistically-inclined workers were to demand that Barrientos finally stand trial. A cultural movement like this isn’t as far-fetched as it might have once seemed.


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Towards Collective Liberation, or Why We Won’t Stop Talking About Racism

By Dawn Haney
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
October 9th, 2014

Race was a central theme at BPF’s National Gathering, with offerings like:

  • The Invisible Majority: Will the Real Asian American Buddhist Please Stand Up?
  • Revisiting the Middle Passage Pilgrimage
  • Black Rage, Black Healing
  • The UNTraining: Healing Personal and Social Oppressions

Some have called our focus on race “divisive.” Rather than a divisive topic, direct discussions of race are essential for our liberation. Buddhist feminist social critic bell hooks writes “Until we are all able to accept the interlocking, interdependent nature of systems of domination and recognize specific ways each system is maintained, we will continue to act in ways that undermine our individual quest for freedom and collective liberation struggle.”

My friend and mentor, Chris Crass (pictured above), speaks directly to our quests for truly collective liberation in his book, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy. He dreams, “We need liberation movements of millions of people, from all backgrounds, from all walks of life, with a wide range of experience, playing many different roles.”

One of things I most appreciate about Chris is how he models what feminist anti-racist leadership can look like in the form of a white, straight, middle class, cis-gender man. As a former organizer with The Catalyst Project, he has trained other white people (including me!) about how to be in alliance and solidarity with liberation movements led by communities of color.

Guilt and shame often come up for white people when we learn about how racism has harmed people of color, whether through historical processes of slavery, genocide, and colonialism or through present-day versions like mass incarceration of Black men, ecological devastation of Native lands, and immigrant children detained in dehumanizing conditions. But staying stuck in guilt and shame serves no one:

Like many white anti-racist activists in our generation, some Catalyst Project members came into our early anti-racist consciousness and commitment weighed down by a lot of shame and guilt. These feelings made sense in response to the horrifying history and ongoing violence of white supremacy.

Within a collective liberation vision, white people work to end racism not for or on behalf of the interests of people of color, but because our lives and humanity depend on the eradication of racism as well. ….

One way to move through guilt and shame is to get clear on what we have to lose if white supremacy continues, and what we have to gain by choosing the side of justice and humanity, and locating ourselves alongside the people of the world struggling for liberation.” – Catalyst Project Collective

It is in discussing racism and the logic of white supremacy that I learn not only how these systems dehumanize people of color, but how they limit my own humanity as well. I learn that it is the systems of racism and white supremacy that are divisive, as they pit us against each other. It is in hearing multi-dimensional stories at the BPF gathering of Asian American Buddhists refusing to be invisible and of pilgrimages made by people of African descent retracing slave routes that I am able to get outside of what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story” and locate myself alongside people who seek liberation from oppressive structures.

If it is true, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, that “the next Buddha is Sangha,” then our work is to learn how to be in community together. To do this, we must understand how racism (along with other dimensions of oppression) divides us so that we can dismantle this system piece by piece. As King says, “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

If you feel unsure where you fit in when discussions of race – or gender, class, sexuality, or disability — take center stage, I invite you to read Chris Crass’ book and seek out other folks with similar privileges who have explicitly aligned themselves with oppressed people. We aren’t talking about racism to alienate you, but because we need your help to dismantle these systems.

If systems of domination are interconnected, then systems of liberation are also interconnected. If systems of liberation are interconnected, then we must help white people, men, and middle- and upper-class people create and win these systems and go through a transformative process of change while working for systemic change. While personal transformation has always been part of anti-oppression politics, interconnected liberation brings with it a vision that creates more space for possibilities of who we are becoming, as opposed to just knowing what and how we do not want to be.” – Chris Crass

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Crime Fiction and Political Activism: Where They Meet and How

By Peter Handel
Truthout
October 4th, 2014

Crime fiction is in many ways a perfect lens through which to view contemporary society. From the crime novel's mainstream inception in the early 20th century in the United States, numerous authors have explored a wide range of politically charged themes, including class distinctions, government corruption and the oppression of women and people of color.

The tradition carries on, and award-winning novelist Ken Wishnia is one of the best and most perceptive practitioners today. His series, featuring the irrepressible, tough-talking and street smart Latina private investigator Filomena Buscarsela, tackles a range of social injustices including environmental crime, corporate greed and revolutionary upheaval over the course of five books, the latest of which, Blood Lake, is currently being reissued by PM Press as a trade paperback with a new introduction.

Peter Handel for Truthout: You have an academic background – you're a professor of English at Suffolk Community College with a doctorate in Comparative Literature. You also write crime novels. Can you connect the dots for us?

Ken Wishnia:
Yeah - I needed a day job. Next question.

Oh, you want more, eh? OK. A couple of years in soulless office cubicles convinced me to go back to graduate school while I did my writing on the side. So I wasn't that moderately pathetic cliché - the graduate student in English who wants to write a novel. I was a novelist who went to graduate school.

I've learned a great deal about writing from teaching literature in college. A lot of contemporary literature depends on ambiguity to create dramatic tension: If a married couple are having a disagreement that gradually escalates in intensity, the best authors will skillfully embed details that show the audience that she's part right and part wrong, and he's part right and part wrong, too. In the best crime novels, the line between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" is similarly blurry.

Why is it that crime novels, which take on myriad guises including detective stories, police procedurals and studies of serial killers, often reflect deeper subtexts such as class-consciousness, racism in everyday life and general alienation from society at large?

As far as I'm concerned, contemporary American crime literature begins with Dashiell Hammett in the 1920s, not just because of his brilliant style, but because his experience as a detective for the Pinkerton agency forced him to confront the rampant corruption of the Prohibition era and the inequalities of our justice system. Aside from some of the great SF novels, crime fiction is the popular genre with the longest history of this awareness of the "mitigating circumstances" that lead to so much crime. It's embedded in the DNA of the American crime novel from the very beginning.

There are plenty of bestselling thrillers that deliver escapism - that spine-tingling "rollercoaster ride" that harried readers crave, but they never really engage with terribly serious issues. (When was the last time anyone thought about a serious issue while plunging six stories at 50 mph?)

A lot of serial killer novels are like that: You're supposed to just keep turning the pages while thinking, "Oh my God, they've got to catch this sicko before he kidnaps another victim!" And there's nothing wrong with that. But I'd love to read a thriller that actually dares to probe the issue of why the US happens to lead the world in serial killers. Surely there are some underlying social, historical and even economic reasons for this. But don't try selling that idea to a commercial publisher looking for the next blockbuster beach read.

In the context of the question above, how does the work of an author who writes detective novels compare to the writer of police procedurals? Isn't the detective a classic "loner" while a cop is part of the power structure?

That is broadly true: Sherlock Holmes is certainly a classic "loner." Although he often works with others (Watson, Lestrade, etc.), he frequently asks not to be disturbed so he can solve the puzzle in his head. And police procedurals like Ed McBain's classic 87th Precinct series stress the group dynamics involved in solving a crime.

The individualistic crime fighter has a long, strange history, going back to such romantic figures as Robin Hood in England and the six-gun-toting stranger who's just passing through town in the American Wild West, who are, paradoxically, forerunners of the modern PI. Many westerns take place at the limits of the frontier, in a land where the justice system is fragile or lacking, and it's up to the hero to make his own justice.

Even an iconic figure like Hamlet fits this tradition: He is simultaneously an insider and an outsider, viewing the "official story" with considerable skepticism, even though he is part of the power structure that perpetrated the story in the first place. A lot of today's police procedurals combine these elements as well: The protagonist is a member of a more-or-less trusted official institution, but often functions as an "outsider on the inside," reporting back to us that there is no reason to trust the "official" version of events. Ian Rankin's Edinburgh Police Inspector John Rebus is a perfect example of this.

Give us a few examples of your favorites, or authors who particularly excel in this key aspect of the genre,

Let me cite an unusual example: Thomas Harris. There's a great scene fairly late in the action of Silence of the Lambs when Clarice Starling is closing in on the killer, and the whole audience is on her side, and she stops into a high-tech crime lab to get some crucial information - and the male scientists are snotty and dismissive of her.  It's a total gut punch. She's trying to save lives, and these morons are treating her - and therefore us as well -with complete contempt. This scene isn't in the movie, and yet it was so emotionally powerful that I still remember it years after I read it. Harris doesn't come right out and say, "Gee, men shouldn't treat female investigators badly because that's male chauvinism." He puts us in her shoes and makes us feel the helpless outrage at the way they're treating her. He makes us want to strangle those idiots.

Lee Child, author of the hugely popular Jack Reacher series, is brilliant at this type of emotional manipulation as well. For example, in Gone Tomorrow (2009), a bunch of gung-ho NYPD cops and federal agents deprive Reacher of his basic rights, detaining him in an underground cell and treating him so badly ("No ID, no names, no Miranda, no charges, no lawyer. Brave new world, right?") that we can't wait for him to let loose and kick their collective asses - and these are supposed to be the good guys who are charged with protecting us! (Lee told me he got tons of nasty emails for merely depicting the awful conditions at a VA clinic in Nothing to Lose [2008]).

Do you think there's been a "golden era" of crime fiction addressing social ills and issues, or is it an ongoing aspect of the genre?

It's an ongoing aspect, but it seems like writers who explore such issues have always been in the minority.

Are there any crime writers outside of the US that you also read or are aware of who critique their own social realities?

My broadest experience is with Latin American authors (I've translated numerous crime stories from Spanish for publication in the US), so I'll just say that when I told an Ecuadorian literary scholar that I've been criticized for being a "political" writer, she said that "there's no other kind of writer" in Latin America. "Every writer here is political."

You've said that many of the great works of literature in the Western canon are in fact murder mysteries. Can you elaborate on this theme?

I've read widely (though never widely enough) in world literature from all epochs, and it's clear that some of the greatest works of the Western canon are in fact murder mysteries. Oedipus Rex is about a man trying to solve a terrible crime through a series of interrogations of witnesses who are brought before him. It even has a "surprise" ending: The detective discovers that he is the guilty one. Hamlet is also about a man trying to solve a murder, which has been revealed to him through supernatural means. Poor Hamlet is often described as a world-class ditherer who can't make up his mind. But the problem he confronts is quite practical: He can't very well assassinate the current king of Denmark based on testimony from a ghost, now, can he? So he has to find a way to uncover the truth in a manner consistent with at least some of the basic laws of evidence - not an easy thing to do in the days of absolute monarchy.

How does your series protagonist, Filomena Buscarsela and the cases she gets involved in reflect your own analysis of political and social realities in the country today?


Every one of the novels in the Filomena series deals with the challenges of being a woman in a man's world - or more specifically, a Latina immigrant in a white man's world. But there are always major subthemes taken straight from the headlines: environmental crime, the poor treatment of immigrant workers, the lack of affordable housing (and of corporate accountability), unjust drug laws, and the fact that the law often applies to the poor and marginalized, but not to the rich and well-connected. I guess you could say she's a modern Robin Hood.

Is it fair to say there's a bit of Ken Wishnia in Filomena Buscarsela?

My parents belong to that well-known demographic, Marxist atheist Jewish academics. (My mom is one of the founders of the Women's Studies Program at SUNY Stony Brook.) So naturally, even as a third generation American, at times I felt somewhat alienated from mainstream US culture when I was growing up. Example: even back in 7th grade, I found the idea of mandatory attendance at pep rallies rather fascistic (this was during the Nixon Administration, after all). When I got married to a Latina Catholic (and first generation immigrant), we spent our first two years together living in Ecuador; I decided that writing from the point of view of a Latina immigrant would be the perfect way of plausibly using my own sense of alienation and emotional vulnerability in a way that readers would accept more easily than if I modeled the character more closely on myself. In other words, when confronted with the prospect of writing in the voice of a wimpy man or a strong woman, the choice was obvious. So yeah - you could say that, in many ways, Filomena is just me in drag (except that she gets to do some of the stuff I'd like to do, but can't get away with).

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




DK Maxxx.

by Kris Needs
Classic Rock Magazine
September 2014

Five years in the making, this first major work on America's massively influential punk band will be pounced on and devoured by the huge Dead Kennedys global fan-base.

After forming to instant controvesy in San Francisco in 1978, Dead Kennedys were the first hardcore punk band to gain a major following in Europe after their 1980 debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables was released by the UK's Cherry Red Records. It eventually gained a US outlet on frontman Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles imprint. Since then the band's legend and influence has ballooned, while Biafra has become one of America's most high-profile activists.

With Jello's approval and input, noted punk author Alex Ogg captures vividly the group's formation and story, focusing mainly on the debut album. The book's authenticity is further enhanced by interviews with main players, photos from the archives of Search & Destroy's Ruby Ray, and rare memorabilia diligently sourced from the global underground punk network by designer Russ Bestley. The band's original artist Winston Smith supplies his ininmitable cover designs and flyers, crucially allowing the famous DK logo to adorn what will stand as the ultimate document on this seminal band. 8 out of 10.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page



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