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

By Tommy Strange
Mission District
September 2014

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

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




A Deep Dive Into Identities


Alistair

Queerty.com
October 16th, 2014

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

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


Franco Billy Chenoa2 Duffy
JoEllen Kevin Megan Raven

AJ Doc GraemeTaylor

 


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




What North American Unions Can Learn From Labor Organizers Abroad

By Steve Early
TeleSur
October 6th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

What North American Unions Can Learn From Labor Organizers Abroad

A Left-Wing Idea

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

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

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

South African Miners’ Revolt

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

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

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

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

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

Fast Food Strike Activity

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

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

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

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

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

A Labor Board Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival of Syndicalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom-Up Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much-Needed Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival of Syndicalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom-Up Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much-Needed Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




New Forms of Worker Organization on Center for a Stateless Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival of Syndicalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom-Up Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much-Needed Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival of Syndicalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom-Up Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much-Needed Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

By Eric Dirnbach
Labor Notes
October 6th, 2014

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

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

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

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

Revival of Syndicalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom-Up Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much-Needed Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival of Syndicalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom-Up Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much-Needed Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival of Syndicalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom-Up Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much-Needed Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Paul Di Filippo reviews Norman Spinrad


By Paul Di Filippo
Locus
October 9th, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

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.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

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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