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Signal: 01 "Visually delectable and politically pointed..."

signal:01By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
September 4, 2010

Visually delectable and politically pointed, Signal: 01 bills itself as “an ongoing book series to documenting and sharing political graphics, creative projects and the cultural production of international resistance and liberation struggles.” Lofty much?

In all seriousness, all you need to know is that Signal: 01 is a beautiful chronicle of political posters, fliers and rebel art, along with incisive interviews with the artists who made them.

Edited by Alex Dunn and Josh MacPhee, Signal: 01 is anchored by a fabulous interview with Jesus Barraza, Melanie Cervantes and Favianna Rodriguez, three artists creating the most important works galvanizing the movements against Arizona’s SB 1070. No doubt those familiar with other upsurges have seen their efforts, though. From Palestine solidarity to urban farming, Barraza, Cervantes and Rodriguez have created the most iconic pieces since Emory Douglas took up the pen for the Black Panther Party. Though the interview was conducted before the Southwest struggle came to full boil, the trio talk about the process of art development, their diverse range of campaigns for which they have created art, and, as Cervantes puts it, the role of the artist as organizer.

An examination of Mexico City’s visual art inspired by the political movements of 1968 is a potent application about which Barraza, Cervantes and Rodriguez speak. National Public Radio referred to the Tlatelolco massacre of that year as a moment “cracking the system it was intended to preserve at all costs.” Militant and artist Felipe Hernandez Moreno, a veteran of the self-proclaimed ‘propaganda brigades,’ relates what those heady days were like in Mexico, and how the art of this time — a year which also featured the renowned Black Power salute by John Carlos of the Summer Olympics held in Mexico City — came to walls, buses and street lights everywhere. Peppered here are also tactical choices radicals made in production, art placement, actual distribution and evasion of the authorities. Although of a distinctly different time, Hernandez imparts knowledge for those not only making the art, but the craft that composes repression, inspiration and resistance.

Signal: 01 is dotted with stunning photography that will certainly reel in many people who are into unusual art. Political graffiti gracing trains, unique playground designs and the covers of the defunct Anarchy: A Journal of Anarchist Ideas are among the features here. Clocking in at just under 140 glossy pages, Dunn and MacPhee do an impressive job of conveying not only what is new and relevant in political art, but also its history and its presence in the everyday.

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Calling All Heroes on Political Media Review

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
August 19. 2010

“What do you read for fun” is indubitably one of those questions for which answers are reserved for fiction writing, Garfield and celebrity gossip magazines. Fun. Harmless a word, though loaded with assumptions.

How fiction ended up among cartoons and whispering about pop stars in the kingdom of frolic is largely the purview of large commercial presses, more than happy to serve up enough romance hokum, serial killer mysteries and made-for-wannabe- angsty-indie-film pap to keep lots of people happy while besmirching Eduardo Galeano’s presence in the process. Even political fiction, stories of a particular context and story arc, is a victim to profit demands. Thus North American political fiction is generally occupied by FBI staffers, legislators and spies. Chalk the agent/double agent popularity in U.S. political fiction up to authors who seemingly write for the lucrative world of film rights as well as an audience. Patriotism most certainly plays into this genre as well.

Mexican author Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s writing is exhilarating because he demonstrates what great topical fiction can be. Creative, imaginative and textured, The latest Taibo offering in English, Calling All Heroes: A Manual for Taking Power (PM Press, 2010), is equal parts history as fantasy. Here, the Mau Mau converge with Old West gunslingers and anti-colonial guerrillas in a period in Mexican memory ripe with promise as tragedy: 1968, a time of Black Power salutes that would go down in history books and of massacres those in power tried to get Mexico’s people to forget. Here a wounded journalist, two years after the slaughter at Tlatelolco, attempts to scrape from the ashes of the dead new hope for a revolutionary uprising against the oppressive system under which he lives.

Startling in its telling, Calling All Heroes is at times moving at a speed that punctuates the heat of the moment. Images of Musketeers and assorted radicals pass through dreams and delusions, and the prose skips quickly from storytelling to notes to polemical teach-ins. Over his 50 books, Taibo is best known as a political historian and documentarian of struggles. His stories have traditionally been about what could have been as they are about what transpired. In this work, bored militants and dashed dreams find solace among eighteenth century purloined museum pistols, poisoned water and insurrectionary betrayals. Though steeped in the urgency of the times, Taibo, writing in his native Spanish language, has previously composed books that also spoke of melancholy, humor and loss. In this English translation, much of that spirit is gently maintained by Gregory Nipper. Although brief in this telling, Taibo reminds us what a real tragedy Tlatelolco was in the hearts of Mexican youth in 1968. With many liberties, he also gives us a new ending had familiar sprites come to the rescue like a ghostly cavalry over the horizon.

Reading Calling All Heroes requires a release of the known for a moment. Some images here are forever associated with particular places, and their relocation to Mexico in 1970 to cross swords with the country’s authoritarian regime of the period is rather jarring. Political fiction, so often wedded to the grime of reality and human frailty, makes such an effort no light task. If you can step away though, Calling All Heroes will beckon you in, as all great fiction should.

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Solution for the Great Recession? Check out the Sandwich Workers at Jimmy John's

By Daniel Gross

With the political elites and professional pundits awaiting President Obama's proposal to boost the economy next week, a far more compelling path to safeguard the financial health of working families emerged in an unlikely place. Whichever tepid government plan moves forward won't alter, in the long run, the economic decline of America's hard-working men and women. Because the problems facing this country's working class are problems that government can't and certainly won't fix - can't because the problem is a lack of self-organization among working people and won't because the politicians side with the monied interests who fund their campaigns, not with workers.
Look for the Union Label
So the well-intentioned people calling for this or that economic initiative from the President next week, ought to look instead to the good folks who prepare and serve sandwiches at the Minneapolis locations of national fast food chain, Jimmy John's. (If you live in one of the 11 states that the company hasn't expanded to yet and haven't heard of it, you can think of the Jimmy John's brand as Subway with an irreverent, college-town vibe).
The solution implemented by the Jimmy John's workers is both beguiling in its simplicity and stunning in its power. They decided not to petition government, run away from a bad situation and find another bad job, or keep making futile pleas as individuals for change from their bosses. On September 2, in anticipation of Labor Day weekend, workers at nine Minneapolis Jimmy John's stores announced that they had formed a member-run union with the most innovative labor organization in the country, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
The workers are seeking to create good jobs at Jimmy John's instead of the minimum wage gigs with no benefits and fluctuating schedules that currently prevail at the chain. By the way, the corporate public relations-speak for these kinds of jobs was ably demonstrated by Rob and Mike Mulligan, the owners of the nine Minneapolis Jimmy John's locations. The millionaire Mulligan brothers angrily reacted to the workers' decision to organize by explaining that they, “offer competitive wages and good local jobs.” So remember, next time fast food executives talk about “competitive wages”, they mean minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour. “Good” means the jobs are good for the boss's bank account. And “local” means the company executives were kind enough not to outsource the sandwich making function to China or India.
Tea Parties and Class Wars
In February of last year, CNBC's Rick Santelli called for a Tea Party rebellion after he disparaged homeowners who had been duped, misled, lied to, and generally defrauded into sure-to-explode mortgages fueled by derivative trader-gamblers at the likes of AIG, Deutsche Bank, and Goldman Sachs. While Santelli was off the mark of course, his call for an upsurge of dissent would be well-placed in the workplaces of America like Jimmy John's.
Warren Buffet famously remarked, “There’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” He's right. And the only way working people will stop losing this war is if we stop looking up at government and start looking around to our co-workers on the job.
That's what the Jimmy John's workers did and they didn't wait for a union to come around to them.  They were proactive and got organized on their own with the support of the IWW. And thank goodness they didn't just wait around, given the mainstream labor movement's apparent lack of interest and even greater lack of success in organizing the millions of workers in fast food. It's telling that the workers chose to connect with the IWW, a very different kind of union, where rank & file workers on the shop floor do the research, planning, organizing, and actions in a union campaign, rather than the union being run by a professional staff not present in the workplace. This organizing model has been best articulated by legendary scholar and attorney, Staughton Lynd, who also gave the approach its name: solidarity unionism.
Building Forward
Labor Day has become the official day for hand-wringing over the decline of organized labor (just over 7% of private sector workers are union members). And President Obama has chosen next week to announce his new economic stimulus proposals.
But it's the workers at Jimmy John's who have put their finger on the real source of the economic, political, and social problems facing working families today: the lack of sufficient working-class organization and the collective action on the job that comes with it.  Without an organized, mobilized working class, the large corporations and their agents in government will continue their multi-faceted assault on working families with no serious opposition.
Far from hand-wringing, the Jimmy John's workers are organizing, undaunted by the huge swath of unorganized workers in the fast food industry. Indeed, the workers seem energized and excited to enter this largely uncharted territory and assist or inspire others to do the same.
So this Labor Day, I'm not going along with the illusion that change comes from above and I won't be watching President Obama's announcement next week. I'm throwing my lot in with the sandwich workers at Jimmy John's.

Daniel Gross, a member of the IWW, is a workers' rights attorney and the director of Brandworkers, a non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees.

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Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas on

beyond elections

Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas

By Ernesto Aguilar
August 26, 2010

In his film South of the Border, Oliver Stone dreamed of the potential for the progressive movements taking hold in Central and South America to visit U.S. shores. This idea may be far fetched, but it is optimistic.

One has to keep in mind that it is a country’s often middle and upper classes, generally the disaffected groups when populist leaders ascend to power, who have the resources to travel Stateside. The poor aren’t rushing to the U.S. for college, work or because family resources provide for such luxuries. Nice idea, though.
While Stone provides a tantalizing if not pragmatic look at leaders like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva, Cristina Kirchner and Raul Castro, among others, another film worth revisiting discusses how national populism is applied.

Movements in Latin America have drawn curiosity globally for the ways in which they have organized. The film Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas attempts to give understanding to the method of and approach by what is happening in South America particularly.
Shot on location across South America, Beyond Elections is a powerful film that shows the sprawling poverty that wracks many cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Although sadly the film talks less about active struggles against the capitalism that has created such poverty, but does offer a glimpse into some of the daring grassroots reform movements that present interesting though at times politically questionable views. Herein the film’s title is a somewhat of a misnomer in the sense that, by going ‘beyond elections,’ the struggles profiled largely present the implication democracy is a matter of looking at existing political frameworks and using them in a different way rather than an expressly revolutionary fashion or one that sees the dominant systems as needing to go. As well, though less time is spent on the national elections issues that draw international corporate media, much of this documentary is concerned with how democracy plays out on a neighborhood level, which is in itself influenced by city and regional races for political office. A debate in Brazil between the elected mayor and those in an opposition party with demands for services is just one instance here.
Some of the more intriguing bits of Beyond Elections come from how the voices of those from communities and populations affected by political corruption and disenfranchisement are interspersed with those who give the statistical or other views oftentimes presented when people talk about challenging oppression. While intellectual classes always get camera time, and impacted neighborhoods have become the new go-to documentary cameos, Beyond Elections manages to make that dynamic engrossing to watch. The premise of the documentary is not without assumptions. While many of the organizers profiled describe a desire for solutions from below, talking out after the film is over what they are doing reminds the viewer of the relevance to national and international struggles. The message seems to be to focus on how local grassroots activism can change lives, but less time is devoted to ways capital and globalization are fought against. Images of Mexico, Brazil and remote areas of South America are stark in their material poverty as they are ideologically important for the ways people organize.

Green And Red: Diario De Oaxaca

The Comics Journal
September 1st, 2010

Diario De Oaxaca may be Peter Kuper’s greatest accomplishment as an artist.  It flatters all of his strengths as an artist and limits his flaws.  The simplicity of the project and the mere fact that it didn’t start out to be anything other than a journal of his two years spent in Mexico with his family were keys to the book’s understated impact.  Kuper is a wizard with his colored pencils and has a fabulous eye for detail.  His years spent thinking and drawing stories related to his own political activism certainly informs that eye and his writing.  He’s also more than proficient with all sorts of storytelling tricks.

The problem with Kuper is that he sometimes tries too hard and hammers too many points home with text.  It’s as though he has so much to say that he doesn’t trust his ability to convey it visually.  That was sometimes a problem with his striking memoir Stop Forgetting To Remember, where Kuper overwhelmed his visuals by his incessant need to talk through his memories.  Kuper’s at his best in his silent work, but Diario De Oaxaca manages to bring to life the best aspects of all of his comics.  Moving to Oaxaca in the middle of a teacher’s strike that turned into a frightening & violent government crackdown, Kuper provides the audience with background detail through text essays, but really brings them to life in his drawings of burned-out buses acting as barricades and a colorful array of street graffiti protests.  That certainly gave the activist/journalist in him an opportunity to sink his teeth into living history.

For the most part, the Diario was an opportunity for Kuper to exercise his autobio artist muscles.  Other than a few short essays, most of the book is taken up by Kuper’s drawings of the stunning natural wildlife and endless array of insects (a childhood fascination of his).  Much like one of his ComicsTrips stories, it’s another opportunity for Kuper to sink or swim in brand new waters.  This time, however, that experience was greatly mediated by having his ten-year-old daughter with him.  It seems as though Kuper has always periodically needed to make himself uncomfortable physically by turning his environment upside down in order to achieve a different kind of comfort in coming to terms with himself at various points in his life.  Kuper has an uncanny sense for understanding just how and when the routines that make up his life threaten to strangle it and finds ways to create a new steady-state.

The political intrigue and autobiographical nature of what he chose to draw provide a loose framework for page after page of beautiful (and sometimes humorous) renderings.  Kuper was obviously taken by the ruins in the area and the various civilizations they represented; that kind of continuity and history in a single small area is particularly powerful for an American to experience.  Kuper was clear in saying that he wanted to talk about the flames of protest as a way of discussing the recent lives of Oaxaca’s people, but he also wanted to portray the beauty of an area that has, in many ways, remained fundamentally unchanged for quite a long time.  That is certainly true of the luscious greenery and the exotic insects and critters he loved to draw.  The only full-length comics story in the book, “Going For A Walk”, concludes the book and recapitulates Kuper’s view of Oaxaca in terms of its gritty everyday aspects (like fighting off wild dogs), its sense of community, its identity as a hotbed of resistance and its sheer, weird beauty.  In essence, Diario De Oaxaca is a journal of deeply personal aesthetic experiences, rendered in such a way as to record those experiences for himself as much as they would be for any particular reader.

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Signal: 01 on Five Leaves

Five Leaves
September 1st, 2010

Colin Ward keeps getting mentioned in this blog. Fans of his will know he edited the journal Anarchy for ten years. People (well, me and a handful of of others) are still collecting the back issues. Virtually all featured wrap round covers designed by Rufus Segar. For some time now Dan Poyner has also been collecting the series, with a view to something - a book, an exhibition, a website - featuring the covers of the magazines. The new American "journal of international political graphics and culture", Signal, features many of the covers and a long interview with Rufus by Dan, about the design process primarily. He was sent a postcard (oh, those innocent days) listing the articles and given a free hand to produce the cover. This is the first time I've seen so many of them together, other than on my shelves, making a good start on Dan's bigger project, which is about the art, but also the politics that made Anarchy such essential reading, even for those of us who were more interested in marbles than politics when the mag first started in 1961. Copies are available from

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Can We Make a New Haymarket Synthesis?

A Review
by Billy Wharton
Chair of the Socialist Party USA

Waiting for the next big social protest movement can be frustrating. Activists may find some solace, if not inspiration, from Andrej Grubacic and Staughton Lynd’s book Wobblies and Zapatistas (2008). In it, the leading voice for a new Anarchist movement and the veteran labor activist argue for an unorthodox mixture of Anarchism and Marxism. The mutual hostility between the two ideological positions, the two authors suggest, is a debilitating legacy of the 20th century. In short, they argue, if radical politics are to experience a re-birth, Marxism and Anarchism will need each other.

Lynd and Grubacic have not cooked up an entirely novel formula. Instead, they draw inspiration from early 20th century radical movements that worked on the edges of Anarchism and Marxism. The two believe that the structural analysis provided by Marxism and the commitment to prefiguring transformation that Anarchism offers can be complimentary parts of a new radical politics – a “Haymarket synthesis.” This means drawing on the historical examples of the IWW and the Haymarket martyrs while also examining a movement closer in historical time still underway in Southern Mexico.

Zapatismo from Below

For Lynd, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico offers a concrete example of a radical movement that combines the best of Marxism and Anarchism. In the 1970s, orthodox Marxists from Mexico City headed south and encountered the deep history of rural Anarchism and indigenismo practiced by peasants in the region. The resulting synthesis allowed these communities to carry out a mass revolt in 1994 in protest of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But this rebellion departed from previous radical movements in that it rejected the taking of state power as a goal. Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos declared the movement “a political force that does not seek to take power.” Instead, and this is an essential point for Lynd, Marcos “leads by obeying.” This translate into abiding by the will of base communities that are focused on carving out spaces of communal autonomy.

These communities have become experiments in anarchist prefiguration – where people live social change in smaller, often local, contexts before attempting to generalize them. Zapatista activists have engineered democratically controlled schools, housing and food while also mounting non-violent challenges to the encroaching Mexican military. For Lynd, this confirms the notion that Anarchism “has dual power built into it.” Building these community projects provides the community with autonomy from the Mexican state while making solidarity a part of everyday life.

However, the Zapatistas do not understand themselves as an entirely local movement. Instead, Lynd emphasizes the groups’ sharp understanding of the international economic and political moment they are operating in. This structural understanding informed by Marxism allows the group to identify the opportunities and limitations offered by current politics and economics and provide them with the ability to anticipate changes.

This allows the Zapatistas to expand the context in which their local initiatives take place by using tools such as the internet to export them internationally. While early commentators identified this factor as being a part of a “post-modern” revolution, Lynd understands it as being linked to the group’s desire to contribute to the creation of a truly global alternative to neoliberalism. A broader Marxist-informed global analysis is needed for this.

American Examples

Grubacic pushes Lynd to consider how the Zapatista experience relates to previous movements in the US. Not all of the 20th century formations learned the lessons of the Haymarket synthesis that the two wish to propose. This is particularly true of the period of the 60s in the US when militant subjectivities exploded all over the country.

Lynd’s direct experience with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) offers a counterpoint. Lynd refers to SNCC as “the second coming of the IWW.” By this, he means to indicate that this civil rights group practiced the kind of internal democracy and direct action politics that harkened back to previous struggles. By emphasizing action over analysis, SNCC effectively mobilized thousands of activists who practiced solidarity and grassroots democracy in order to break the back of Southern segregation.

However, SNCC ultimately faced a rapid demise after being repulsed at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Lynd identifies the group’s refusal to consider a structural analysis or to take a critical look at broader political developments as a fatal weakness. When the author himself offered SNCC leaders a broader analysis of capitalism, they rebuked him for attempting to impose an ideology onto a movement organically connected to the community.

The intense focus on grassroots activism produced dividends as long as the organizing targets were obvious and the civil rights campaign maintained momentum. Yet, once the political context shifted, SNCC was cut loose from its activist moorings and gravitated to a set of Black Power politics which Lynd termed “humanitarian activism” to express its distance from everyday life. The base communities that had once looked to SNCC for leadership now turned away from the new agenda and the group withered.

Recipe for Social Transformation

Through a critical weighing of these successes and failures, Grubacic and Lynd are able to propose some loose principles of what a Haymarket synthesis of Anarchism and Marxism might look like in the 21st century. Such a new movement would certainly create spaces for radical experimentation. Lynd calls this the process of “traveling without a map” – unleashing the anarchist impulse to fashion creative, often ad-hoc, responses to social ills. The two prefer the metaphor of activism as “planting seeds” – some of which perish and others that grow into full bloom.

Such experiments need to share a similar quality. They must, Lynd emphasized, provide a vision for the future that is rooted in daily life. Here the “high-theory” of Marxism needs the “low-theory” of Anarchism to create spaces for concrete acts of resistance. “I do not think,” Lynd argues, “that ordinary persons bleed and die for a vision that they have not experienced.” Libratory politics must express a determination to allow people to experience some of the future their political actions might help carry forward.

The most efficient way to develop such a movement is to practice the political art of accompaniment. Lynd borrows this term from Liberation Theology and uses it to express the desire to march with the poor and oppressed as equals instead of acting as a vanguard force. This does not mean that political movements fetishize or endorse every action carried out by the oppressed, but that as Archbishop Oscar Romero stated, that we “identify with the poor when they demand their rights.” Accompaniment speaks to the need for horizontal relations as opposed to the vertically organized politics that the authors associate with the dictatorships of the 20th century.

Similarly, Lynd, a committed pacifist, suggests that 21st century movements make a commitment to carrying out non-violent change. One of the negative historical experiences that both Anarchism and Marxism share, he argues, is the use of violence to make social change. Lynd uses the historical example of the self-immolation of Quaker activist Norman Morrison in protest of the Vietnam War in 1965 to demonstrate the utility of non-violence. Lynd invites readers to imagine the consequences if Morrison had carried out a violent act against an Administration official. This would have made the official a martyr, the act would have been spun as one of extremism and national determination to continue the war might have hardened. Instead, the anti-war movement picked up steam after Morrison’s death and news of it spread even into North Vietnam. When Lynd visited, the North Vietnamese told him that they were inspired by knowing that at least one American
cared about their loss of Vietnamese lives.

Finally, Lynd cautioned against falling into the trap of viewing social change as an apocalyptic event. There is no single moment where one system ends and another new one begins. This squares well with the notions expressed in the revolutionary transformations underway in Bolivia and Venezuela where participants view themselves as being part of a “process” of socialist transformation that advances at a steady pace. “A transition will,” Lynd proposes, “…express itself in unending creation of self-acting entities that are horizontally linked.”

Fundamentalists Need Not Apply

As political activists in the US face the continuing economic crisis that ensued in 2008 and the looming security and military state created after September 11, 2001, they may draw strength from fashioning their own Haymarket synthesis. Creating a new movement that draws on the best features of Anarchism and Marxism offers an opportunity to re-connect with 20th century radicalism while transforming our society in the present. Wobblies and Zapatistas effectively delivers this message of radical unity. Fundamentalist thinkers on either side of the political ledger need not apply.

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Billy Wharton is a co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. This article is based on a presentation entitled “Marxist Hijackers and Anarchist Regenerators Unite” made at the 2010 Socialist Party USA National Organizing Conference. He can be reached at whartonbilly(at)

Cadillac Fairview: Where was the Labour Movement?

By Sam Gindin

The Bullet

On March 5, 2010, after a conflict that stretched over almost 9 months, the maintenance and skilled trades workers of CEP (Communications, Energy & Paperworkers Union of Canada) Local 2003 (affectionately known as the CF61) working in office towers in downtown Toronto voted to accept an offer from real estate developer Cadillac Fairview. The victory was bittersweet. On the one hand, the Cadillac Fairview workers had forced an arrogant corporation to return to the table and to do so with a substantially improved severance offer. On the other, the workers went through hell to get there and at the end of the day the jobs and the bargaining unit were lost.

Though the struggle of the workers was inspiring at many levels and could point to a partial victory, the same could not be said for the response of the broader labour movement. In this regard, the outcome was clearly negative. The movement had been tested and found wanting. When a corporation with a portfolio of $17-billion takes on a unit of 61 workers and arbitrarily sacks workers and gets rid of the union, it is the labour movement as a whole that is being challenged. Allowing this to happen without a serious pushback effectively exposes the labour movement as a paper tiger. It encourages corporations to be still more aggressive – if this is happening in unionized plants, it's not hard to imagine what is happening in non-union workplaces and to much more vulnerable part-time and contract workers (a hint of this was evident in the recent lockout of UNITE-HERE workers at the Woodbine Racetrack).

Unless and until the movement collectively figures out how to reorganize itself to match what it is up against in these times, things are going to get a lot worse for working people. Before turning to what such an alternative response might involve, it's useful to summarize some of the background to the Cadillac-CEP conflict.

The Company

Cadillac Fairview is “one of North America's largest investors, owners and managers of commercial real estate.” This includes 84 properties, the most prominent of which are the Toronto-Dominion Centre and Toronto Eaton Centre, the Pacific Centre in the heart of downtown Vancouver, the Chinook Centre in Calgary and Fairview Ponte Claire in Montreal. Cadillac is fully owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP). The Plan's fund includes monies contributed not just by the government as employer but also the teachers, yet its decisions are independent of any teacher or union control.

In May 2009, the company announced it would outsource or get rid of 20-30% of the workforce. It refused to increase severance payments for those whose jobs would be lost beyond the legally mandated minimum levels and – astoundingly even in this era of corporate extremism – it asked all the workers to give up their seniority and reapply for their jobs with six-month probationary periods. If subsequently dismissed, severance pay would be based on their new seniority, not the seniority they previously had. When the workers refused, the corporation waited until the agreement was over and on that day, June 14th, 2009, Cadillac Fairview locked out and replaced all the workers. A month later the company officially fired them. (On December 10, 2009 the corporation went so far as to use a Toronto by-law to force the workers to shut down their shelters outside the TD Centre).

The decisive factors to Cadillac's bottom line are trends in real estate values and corporate occupancy; the labour costs of the workers who maintain Cadillac's shopping malls and office buildings are marginal to its profitability. In the first stages of negotiating the latest agreement with Local 2003, worker concessions weren't even raised. Then the financial crisis hit and Cadillac was under pressure to cut every corner possible. Because it could do very little about the larger economic issues or affect its relationships to other businesses, it looked to place the burden on its workers. That it expected little or no serious response from the labour movement as a whole left Cadillac Fairview more confident in this attack.
Cadillac Fairview's turn to gutting worker's rights wasn't, in other words, about its survival or even about any significant impact on its profitability. It was about leaving more for its executives and stockholders. Ultimately, Cadillac Fairview acted as it did because it could.

The Workers

In 1960, a group of workers separated from their international union and formed the Canadian Union of Operating Engineers and General Workers. That union was subsequently a founding member of a new national body, the Canadian Council of Unions in 1968. In 2003, they joined the Communication, Energy and Paper Union of Canada – itself the product of a merger between three unions that had broken away from their U.S.-based parent in the 1970s to move beyond the limits of American-style unionism.

In the thirty years before the last round of negotiations Local 2003 had many conflicts with their employer but no strikes. In this round of bargaining and especially as the implications of the financial crisis became more apparent, the local's demands were extremely modest. The corporation was obviously not looking for a settlement but a chance to break the union and even before the lockout began, the union had filed a bad-faith bargaining charge against the corporation - a charge that the courts subsequently decided merited a labour board hearing. The local set aside any new demands and accepted the corporation's decision to outsource work, concentrating its bargaining on getting decent severance packages for those losing their jobs. The local of course rejected transferring existing work to lower-wage categories and the outrageous corporate demand for everyone to give up seniority and ‘re-apply’ for their jobs.

While the union rejected the company agreement, it did not look to go on strike; it offered to keep working until a new agreement was reached. Cadillac Fairview wasn't however interested. As for the union's labour board complaint, the company's lawyers were able to get this put off until April 2010 (another example of the thin justice the law offers workers and a contrast to the speed with which companies get injunctions and bankers get government attention).

Once on the street, the local ran 24-hour picket lines for six months and then continued picketing Monday-Friday through the rest of the lockout. It organized some 15 solidarity rallies with folk and freedom singers including over 1000 supporters during the OFL Convention and a morning rush hour blockade. Knowing full well that the residents of the TD Centre in the heart of Bay Street were not going to respond sympathetically – the local organized a series of creative disruptions in the TD Centre – from launching huge banners and messages on helium balloons to parading through the crowds with giant grim reaper puppets and a daily barrage of air raid, ambulance, and police sirens. And with its limited resources, it spread its leafleting to other Cadillac properties.

The Settlement

On February 26, 2010 – more than eight months after the lockout began – the national union, CEP, informed the workers that the company had come around to a bargained end to the dispute and that an agreement (details withheld) had been reached which would be voted on the following week. What got Cadillac Fairview to the table was first, the stubborn determination of the workers to continue fighting and keep the issue alive. Second, it was pretty obvious that the now approaching labour board hearings would concur that Cadillac Fairview had blatantly disregarded the province's labour laws. Though this was coming late in the day and a ruling restoring workers to their jobs seemed out of the question, the expected ruling and its publicity did put some pressure on the company to end the conflict.
That pressure was primarily manifested through the owner of Cadillac Fairview, the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. The Pension Plan administrators had been increasingly criticized for their anti-social investments on a number of fronts (from water privatization in Chile to investments in the arms trade) and so it was sensitive to the additional negative attention it would receive as the hearings proceeded. Reliable sources suggest that the Pension Plan administrators basically told Cadillac Fairview to settle before the April hearings.

The ratification meeting was held on March 5, 2010. Though a minority of the workers remained angrily opposed, a clear majority voted to accept it. This was not surprising. By then almost half the workers had other jobs and were not interested in returning. Others simply didn't want to work for Cadillac Fairview anymore and preferred to get a good severance package. Of those who did want the jobs again, few considered getting them back as being realistic at this stage. And the severance the corporation had been forced to offer was in fact quite significant: basically triple and in some cases more than four times the legislated minimums. The workers could therefore leave Cadillac Fairview with the dignity that comes with having taken on the fight, forced an insensitive corporation to retreat, and made – albeit qualified – gains.

The Labour Movement

The failures of the labour movement didn't lie in any lack of sympathy for the Cadillac Fairview workers or unwillingness to demonstrate periodic support. The CEP continued to pay strike pay. The Teachers' unions publically expressed their anger and frustration at the involvement of ‘their’ pension fund in attacking Local 2003. The OFL highlighted the lockout at its convention and brought its delegates out to an impressive demonstration at the TD Centre. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council (TYRLC) – one of the most progressive in the country if not on the continent – tried to generate further solidarity. And a small number of individual union activists regularly came down to the TD Centre to join the picket line.
None of this, however, spoke to the imbalance in power confronting a particular group of workers, the changing context in which workers are struggling, or to the serious implications of such conflicts for all workers. The movement seemed to be going through the traditional gestures of solidarity, rather than moving to the kind of creative and radical collective actions that might actually represent a winning strategy.

There was, for example, no clear determination on the part of CEP (perhaps overwhelmed by massive job losses and demands for concessions elsewhere) to make this struggle into a province-wide crusade against Cadillac Fairview, especially at a moment in time – the financial and housing crisis - when financiers and large developers were so discredited. Nor was there any strategic determination on the part of labour that the weak link was the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan and the consequent need to raise the stakes by joining with others also fighting the narrow use of the Plan to maximize returns (including dealing with the need, at a minimum, for workers to be able to block their pension money being used to break unions).

There was no tactical consideration given to how to overcome the media's disinterest in a struggle that was becoming invisible. This could only have been addressed with the kind of direct actions that the media couldn't ignore and the local couldn't pull off on its own – such as sit-ins backed by mass outside support, at the tenants of Cadillac Fairview that might be most sensitive to public opinion (like the TD Bank), or directly at the offices of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. Though Cadillac Fairview could comfortably ride out the occasional protest, there was no plan for sustained and escalating tactics to get the message across that far from fading away, the conflict would be escalated and become increasingly prominent.

Toward Class-Based Struggles

The conflict revealed not only the fragility of union rights in the province and the weakness of one local going it alone, but pointed to a broader strategic failure in the labour movement. The crisis we've been experiencing is not only about plant closures, concessions and attacks on public sector workers and social programs; it's also about a crisis within the labour movement. The movement has been under attack for some three decades now and has emerged with lower expectations and a narrower sense of possibilities. That it was working people, rather than the economic elite, that is coming out of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-10 on the defensive speaks volumes about the state of our movement. We have not come to grips with is that what we face isn't just a series of specific problems confronting particular workers, but an assault on workers as a class and the corresponding need for a class response.

What might this mean? To begin with, this is not just a Canadian problem: it is one facing workers everywhere. It goes far beyond ‘bad leaders’ and gets to the most difficult and intimidating questions. Not only do we need to figure out how to defend ourselves in a new context but – because defence is not enough (those with power will eventually wear you down) – how we simultaneously organize ourselves to transform a society that has become a barrier to human solidarity and progress.

History puts this in some perspective. In the 1930s, workers came to the conclusion that the main form of unionism then, craft-based unionism (which only organized skilled workers), was inadequate to what they faced. They essentially invented a new organizational form that brought all workers in a sector together: industrial unionism (‘reinvented’ might be the better term since such unionism had earlier roots, but it was only in these years that industrial unionism came into its own). Industrial unionism, including its extension to the public sector, was always limited by the fact that, while it brought groups of workers together, it didn't organize workers as a class. This didn't prevent workers from making major gains, especially when economic growth could be taken for granted and the fight was over the distribution of that growth. But once growth slowed down and in response corporations and governments became more aggressive, the limits of this form of organization were exposed.

The labour movement did not, however, move on to new forms and this is what must now be placed on the agenda. Fragmented as we are, we're sitting ducks. We need to develop new organizational forms that see workers as members of a larger class. Workers have interests that go far beyond their workplace - class is expressed in all aspects of our lives from the schools our children attend to the health care we receive to access to public transportation, to the environment. Moreover, those in the same boat as us are not just unionized workers but all those who don't have capital to live off – non-union workers, the unemployed, new workers coming to Canada, the disabled and the poor.

It is not obvious what such new forms might be. But one such form – now being experimented with under the auspices of the Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly – tries to bring workers together on a class-based, community-rooted basis. This means gathering activists from across unions and community campaigns with the hope of linking up to other such formations that might subsequently be built in other cities and communities.

This does not mean that unions are irrelevant: unions continue to have a vital role and in the context of broader organizations like the Assembly, the relevance of unions can even be greater. But that can only happen if unions are themselves transformed. This is not just a matter of replacing leaders and introducing more radical rhetoric. If unions are to act to build class power, then everything about them will have to be changed. Unions will have to re-examine their priorities, and strategies, how they conduct strikes and campaigns, the focus of their research departments and the content of internal education.

They will also need to rethink the relationships of leaders to their members and the depth of internal democracy, as well as links to other unions and potential allies in the community. And it means expanding customary visions of social justice to naming what we are fighting against – capitalism.

Experience suggests that few union leaders are ready to take on the risks and responsibilities this entails. It also suggests that on their own and in the face of economic uncertainties, rank-and-file workers are unlikely to develop the confidence to force such internal changes. Such revolutions inside unions can only happen through worker activists drawing strength from the creation of networks across workplaces (and across unions) and with support outside the unions. Part of the work of the new class organizations raised above is to facilitate and support such networks.


Looking back to the struggle at Cadillac Fairview, Steve Craig – the Chief Steward of the unit – concluded that “people need to realize that we do have power. Corporations need to feel the heat and workers need to crank it up.” The Cadillac Fairview struggle showed that groups of workers will and can fight but also that this is not enough. We need a new kind of labour movement that can amplify Craig's sentiments. If the left doesn't develop new organizational forms and strategies, corporations and states will exhaust the best in the working class and unions will drift toward simply accommodating to what they face – getting the best deal in the circumstances without challenging the ‘circumstances’ – while workers adjust their private lives, out of necessity, to individual survival. The status quo is disappearing as a choice. We will either make the leap into new forms of class mobilization or find ourselves continuing to slide into ever more ineffective stances to defend the gains of a receding past. •

Sam Gindin is the Visiting Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University, Toronto.

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Public Sector Austerity Unreasonable and Irrational

By Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin
Toronto Star
July 20, 2010
Provincal Finance Minister Dwight Duncan speaks to the media at Ryerson University prior to delivering his March budget that focused on debt reduction. This week he meets public sector union leaders to discuss a wage freeze.

The 2007-8 financial crash was, in terms of its global impact, the greatest in history. It was only prevented from immediately triggering another Great Depression by governments in so many countries taking on the enormous private debt of their banks. 

Nevertheless, the economic fallout was immense. Even while tax revenues fell as businesses closed and workers were laid off, many governments felt compelled to maintain their spending. Looking for safety in numbers, the G20 (an entirely marginal group until George W. Bush convened it in late 2008) proved useful to coordinate a global stimulus.

Two years later, with the banks having dumped so much debt on the public sector and their profits on the rise, bond traders were feeling confident enough again to dispense the bankers’ old orthodoxies on the evils of public debt.

Even though the growth in state deficits was directly the product of bailing out the banks, the loss of revenue and the emergency spending, governments were expected to shift their policy priorities to public sector austerity. The G20 was reconvened in Toronto to reassure financial markets that they heard the message.

All this serves as a better definition of chutzpah than the old joke about the kid who, after killing his parents, begs the judge for clemency on the grounds he is an orphan.

The hammer is about to hit right here in Ontario. 

Despite the relative insulation of Bay Street from the financial collapse, the provincial economy took a major hit. With its deficit projected at $21.3 billion, the Liberal government’s March budget focused almost entirely on debt reduction. Apart from putting on hold essential public transit expansion and reducing food assistance for the disabled (while keeping corporate tax cuts in place), it also imposed a two-year wage freeze on 350,000 non-unionized government workers.

This week, even though data on first quarter economic growth has shown the deficit projections were too high, the other shoe dropped. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan summoned public sector union representatives to Queen’s Park to discuss a broader public sector freeze. 

If implemented, the immediate effect of this can only be to cut the feet from under the economic growth that has occurred. Rather than cooperate in this, it is very much to be hoped that the unions will undertake a broad campaign to expose how unreasonable and irrational, let alone unimaginative and unjust, is public sector austerity in this crisis.

The possibility that the worst is not over, and we could yet face a long stagnation if not a global depression, does indeed make it incumbent on the Ontario government, like every other, to take the crisis very seriously indeed.
Its effect on government revenues is the real immediate problem, and since we are dealing with a crisis of once-in-a-life-time dimensions, the remedy should be an emergency once-in-a-life time emergency tax on those who accumulated the most wealth over the past quarter century from asset inflation while workers’ incomes stagnated in both the public and private sectors.

The Ontario government should also be expected to take advantage of the lowest interest rates on public debt in memory and use its borrowing capacity to keep economic growth going in the face of the banks’ hesitancy to lend to businesses and consumers, alongside industry’s own reluctance to invest.

One would have thought that a government of a liberal stripe that was at all creative might want in this context to emulate Franklin Roosevelt and undertake the rebuilding of our public infrastructure through direct expansion of public employment.

This is all the more important given the demands of the environmental crisis and the closure of plants and waste of skills that could be converted and applied to productive use.  Rather than freezing the public sector, this moment should be an opportunity to address the crisis in the transportation sector that is so vital to Ontario’s whole economy, as measured not only in auto industry shutdowns and layoffs but in notorious traffic congestion on our roads.

This would mean converting auto assembly and parts plants to the production of energy efficient mass transit vehicles and using the tax revenues from the jobs generated thereby to fund free public transit. If there was ever a time to use Ontario’s capacity to raise funds in bond markets for this, it is now.
Far from placing a burden on future generations, it would guarantee them a future.

Of course, one would expect a union campaign to set out a vision for what a more radical government would do. This crisis has proved — by the state’s guarantee of deposits in Canada, and by its acting as lender of last resort almost everywhere — that finance effectively is a public utility. The argument that financing an economy is too important to be left to private banks is waiting to be heard. 

What must be brought onto the agenda in face of the pressures that unelected bankers, with astonishing chutzpah, are putting on governments is the need for banking to be turned into a democratic public utility.  The money the people of Ontario entrust to their banking system could then be used to meet our society’s real needs.

Leo Panitch is Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and Sam Gindin is the Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University. Their recent book, with Greg Albo, In and Out of Crisis, is available in Canada from
Fernwood Books.

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The Angry Brigade on Anarchist Studies Journal

By Lucy Robinson
Department of History, University of Sussex
Anarchist Studies Journal 18.1, 2010

One of Britain’s few home-grown terrorist groups, the Angry Brigade, found innovative ways of embarrassing the Heath government for the year following August 1970. The Brigade were the impetus behind the establishment of the Bomb squad, and the centre of a conspiracy trial that was of record length; and the case fuelled a public belief in police corruption, and the role of personal vendetta in prosecution and investigation. Always diverse in its engagement, the Brigade’s claimed successes included attacks on the boutique Biba and the BBC outside-broadcast van at London’s Miss World competition. This DVD of a documentary from 1973 was therefore broadcast on a channel that had earlier been targeted by the Brigade.

The release of the documentary on DVD is timely. In a post-9/11 world, Europe and America are re-evaluating their own past flirtations with terror. The Angry Brigade documentary, made in 1973, makes explicit the links between past state violence and contemporary acts of terrorism. It also fits well with the current growing interest in the 1970s. Historians are currently turning towards the 1970s as a period in its own right rather than as an addendum to ‘the sixties’, so discussions of the Angry Brigade can act as a counterweight  to previous nostalgic celebrations of popular culture, wide surveys of the ‘long sixties’1or the recent revisionist return to top-down histories of Dominic Sandbrook.

If we want to know about the impact of the Angry Brigade and the conspiracy trials, the aftermath is a useful place to start. For those involved, and those accused, the real politicisation occurred through the experiences of being identified, investigated, prosecuted and incarcerated. The conspiracy charges became self-fulfilling, as the networks around the court cases built up lines of support and defence and hardened political positions. When Angie Weir and Kate Maclean were interviewed in Time Out shortly after being found not guilty, they made it clear that their experiences of the trial had encouraged them to move towards a Marxist analysis.3John Barker was sentenced to ten years in prison, and his account of his time inside shows how his experiences in prison solidified what had previously been an abstracted class-based analysis.

Furthermore, through the inclusion on the DVD of Persons Unknown, a short documentary about the prosecution of sections of the anarcho-punk scene in 1980s Britain, the Angry Brigade are no longer placed at the end zone of a long sixties, proof that the dove of peace and peacock of counter-cultural performance are inevitably turned towards the black hawk. Instead, the Angry Brigade, and with it the 1970s, are presented as historically significant in and of themselves, with legacies and hangovers of their own. The legal threat represented by conspiracy charges continued, as did the Angry Brigade’s style of Situationist and anarchist influenced resistance. Persons Unknown shows us how both the charges, and the resistance, were translated through punk rock, by bringing together rare footage of Crass, cut against interviews with the Angry Brigade’s Stuart Christie on his island retreat.

As a documentary Angry Brigade is very much a product of its time, more Blue Peter than Boy Scouts guide to Situationism. What this DVD does, however, is show us documentary norms and aesthetics within their historical context – it provides a study in producing a politically engaged documentary from within, raising a key issue from the trial. The accused, largely connected through their involvement in the underground or counter-cultural press, were confronted with press silence, or bias, during the trial. And the controversy around the trial also focused on a central issue shared by documentary theorists –what constitutes a document (or evidence)?

In parts The Angry Brigade was a re-educational project, providing accessible explanations of communal living and collectivised childcare, or the difference between communism and grassroots direct action. The section that uses the trial to summarise Debord’s Society of the Spectacleturns the critique back on the documentary producers themselves. However, much of this is not new to today’s viewer, largely because the style and content have been picked up in other forms since.

The same images are used in the existing books on the Brigade–for example The Guardian cartoon of the Stoke Newington 8–as are the same photos of protagonists (some of the photos of the defendants had reproduction royalties held by the accused –so reporting the trials unwittingly supported the defence team). There are already two sets of documents, chronology and commentary on the Brigade
available in printed form: Jean Weir’s 1978 pamphlet Angry Brigade, 1967-84: Documents and Chronology is still regularly reprinted, as is Tom Vague’s contribution to English Psychogeography, Anarchy in the UK: The Angry Brigade. This isn’t a criticism based on repetition;actually it seems wholly appropriate. These shared images, symbols and aesthetics, in their shared cut-and-paste style, exemplified British Situationism’s ‘look at the cracks’ approach to narrative.

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