The Intermediate Moment

This week we bring you a piece from our friends at Unity and Struggle. They’ve written a longer assessment of trying to navigate a revolutionary path in our time. Engaging ideas of some of us in Recomp and others around the country, this strikes us as important conversations to have as things are still up in the air from the events of 2008, 2012, and continuing. The intermediate moment is the first part of a two part series, the second of which is likely to be about their experiences organizing a solidarity network that has worked on housing issues in largely immigrant neighborhoods in Houston. We’re looking forward to it. 

by Adelita Kahlo and Tyler Zee

*The perspectives advanced below are those of the authors and do not represent an official “line” of U&S. U&S, as will be seen below, does not have formal positions. While many of the ideas will be common starting points for U&S, there will be nuanced differences and perhaps some disagreements according to individuals and locales.

PART ONE

Introduction

This piece is the result of many conversations and has been informed by engagement with a cross section of various nodes of activity. We, the authors, have learned so much through these conversations; many assumptions we held prior to this effort have now been either thrown out or complicated. While a number of questions remain, a few starting points have been clarified.

As a consequence of these conversations, the scope of this piece has also changed from one tailored primarily to debates within the solnet milieu, since the two of us have been doing aspects of solnet organizing for a while now, to being fundamentally about the intermediate concept and its strategic merits for revolutionaries in the current moment that takes the solnet (and others) as a kind of case study. While the scope has shifted we very much want to enter into more systematic exchange with the above folks and others that are grappling with these and parallel questions.

Part one of the piece is geared toward making sense of the current moment and elaborating on concepts the writers have used to do so. This also means a discussion that might appear as tangential but what for us represent an attempt to have a holistic, systematic, and rigorous approach. The conclusions drawn here are of necessity temporal and are toward the ends of building the bridge between the present and the medium-term future. So as “scientific” as we have tried to be, there are limits to this piece both in scope and in the factors entering our analysis.

Furthermore, this isn’t an exhaustive treatment of the possibilities and measures for militants to undertake (and certainly not the limits of the life of revolutionaries as a whole) since it deals more exclusively with the relation of revolutionaries to “advanced” workers that we have tried to understand using the intermediate concept. Advanced is in quotes because we use it in absence of a more precise term though we try to be as accurate and lucid as possible in our presentation of the intermediate concept. (Though we are familiar with Lenin’s conception of the advanced worker, we do not use it here in the same way. Hopefully in the comments folks can help flesh out this concept of “advanced” in the contexts in which we use them). We are hedging our bets, so to speak, on this relation as a primary strategic necessity of the contemporary period. We hope that whatever needs clarification can be done through further discussion in the comments section and elsewhere. We know that ultimately the conclusions we’ve drawn and have the ability to draw are tentative and partial and that we can only reach toward something more total through conversation, association, and collaboration with others.

Shouts to Nate Hawthorne, IWW-Minneapolis and Recomposition, for the initial inspiration for this piece. Continue reading

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The truth about the million dollar coffee company

swuThis week we bring you a second piece from a Starbucks worker about a firing, following Work to Rule. Part of struggle is not only the lessons and strategies, but also the experiences and the real life costs that occur when we start to take action. This submission succinctly takes us though one woman’s experience that ended too soon. 

By: Lyssa 

I think back to the last I worked at Starbucks on 80th and York, and recall what a beautiful day it was outside, that day was a nice break from the harsh winter we had this past year. As I walked into the store that day, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. However I still clocked in for my shift at 2:15 pm to close the store with one of new supervisors, put on the “happy barista persona” required of me, and went on the floor to work. About 15 minutes after I had clocked in I watched my supervisor Margret waltz in (15 minutes late and out of dress code) with her sister (another Starbucks partner) in tow, she had the most confused look on her face at the site of me. She said to me “Lyssa are you closing?” I looked at her with an even more confused face and responded to her. “Yeah I am. Why?” To which she replied, “So why did Jennifer have me bring my sister in to close?” At her response I simply shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and thought to myself, so this is how it’s going to go down. A few minutes later my other shift supervisor Julian pulled me to the side and said to me, “Jennifer asked me to write a statement about the incident that occurred on Saturday even though I wasn’t here, but I told her that I wasn’t going to write it because I did not witness anything. After I told her I wouldn’t write it, Jennifer instead asked me to write a statement about what a bad partner you are, stating that you give me an attitude and that your insubordinate.” I asked her if she was serious, and she said, “Yes”. I told her I didn’t feel comfortable writing a statement like then when we work well together and that I’ve never had any problems with you. I also told her that I think your shift material, and it’s unfair for her to treat you the way she does.” All I could say to Julian was thank you. It almost brought a tear to my eye to know that I her on my side, especially because I know that I’m fighting a losing battle. I told her it’s okay, that I know Jennifer wants to get me out her store because she can’t control me, I’m a strong partner who will not let her walk all over me, and I’m not afraid to voice my opinions or my concerns. It just hurts that Jennifer will get the satisfaction of firing me, for a situation I had no control over, and handled to the best of my ability.

Around 2:35 Jennifer and Katrina (the district manager) asked to see me in the back; it’s not like I didn’t already know what was coming. I knew it from the moment I walked into the store on that beautiful March day, from the moment I saw my supervisor Margret and her sister walk into the store, from the moment my shift Julian pulled me to the side to clue me on Jennifer’s sneaky plan, and from that final moment I looked at the front door and saw Katrina walk into the store. They had finally figured out a way to give me the boot, and I had no control over what was about to happen. I took my time and finished the task I was doing before I waltzed to the back and sat down between the two of them. Jennifer broke the silence first by saying, “Based on the investigation (that lasted three days) and the statements we collected from partners and customers (falsified reports, one of the statements being her own), we’re going to have to separate with you”. I thought to myself, separate? That’s an odd word to use; I didn’t know we were dating. She continued with, “Although you may not have done anything wrong, you didn’t protect yourself and you put your partners as well as customers at risk by not saying anything to your supervisor (who witness the situation and didn’t do anything to prevent it) to prevent the situation from arising”. I said, “So I’m getting fired for handling the situation the best way I know how, even though my supervisor was present and didn’t do anything to help or stop it?” She shook her yes and proceeded to ask me to sign the separation papers (which by the way I refused to sign). She then tore off a carbon copy of the separation paper which was so faint I couldn’t even read the reason she wrote why I was being “separated” from the company, handed it to me and said, “I wish you the best of luck”.

As I sat there looking at these two women there were so many things running through my mind, things I felt I should say, things I know I had no business saying, violent things I wanted to do to Jennifer because of what she was doing to me. While I sat there I recalled the number of times that I had come in to cover shifts for her, working 6,7,8 days straight while going to school full time, working 13 hours shifts, coming in early or staying later because she had no coverage, this was the same women who had turned against me. I had done countless favors for her, looked out for her when no one else had her back, and this was what I got in return. Jennifer knew that this job was my only means of supporting myself, of paying my rent, feeding myself and paying for transportation to get to school, but she didn’t care. I was fired to protect the brand. A brand that feels their partners are replaceable, and if a partner won’t do everything they say, well they can find someone who will. This is what Starbucks does, once they feel threatened in any way by a partner, they find a way to get you out, because your replaceable and they figure someone else who will do anything and everything for your job. In that moment I had come to accept that this was the reality of; this was why the corporation is sosuccessful and why Baristas cannot come together to organize, and fight for their rights. By the time partners come together to organize, they are so broken down by the corporation that they have nothing left in them to fight. So Instead of doing something rash I kept my composure, I thought if I’m going to go, I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me break. I got up handed them my hat and apron, cleared out my locker, packed my bag, said goodbye to partners and took my last mark out. As I walked out that I door I took one long last look at the store, winked at Jennifer and said, “Don’t worry I’ll be back.”

 

 

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Work to Rule

swuThis week’s piece comes to us from a Starbucks worker and member of the IWW. She describes what happened when an incompetent bosses crossed the line, and the workers came together to assert themselves. The author describes the tactic of working-to-rule, or following all of managements often incoherent rules that inevitably slows work to a crawl without disobeying any directives. Key to this experience was not only the grievances or tactics which are worth discussing in their own right, but also the perception of power and inspiration that the workers expressed. This is a common theme in worker organizing and often passed over when it remains at the center of the hearts and minds of people standing up against perceived injustices.  Continue reading

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May 1st 630pm EST Lines of Work Book Launch Live in Miami!

PrintThe South Florida IWW and Recomposition present a live online launch of the new book Lines of Work on 630pm EST May 1st. Two authors will present the book at a Miami bookstore, Books & Books, with readings from the text and discussion. For those outside South Florida, you can tune in by checking the Live stream address the day of the event. The text brings together stories of work and workers from the US, Canada, and the Uk reflecting on their experiences grappling with what they do to earn a living, and struggling for something better.

“Half our waking hours are spent on the job, consuming the lion’s share of our time. Our years are woven with stories of work told around the dinner table, breakroom, and bars. Yet these stories are rarely put into print, investigated, or seen as they should be; as part of workers’ activity to understand and change their lot under capitalism.

LINES OF WORK offers a rare look at life and social relationships viewed from the cubicle, cash register, hospital, factory, and job site. Drawn from the writings of Recomposition, an online project of worker radicals, the text brings together organizers from a handful of countries sharing their experiences with the trouble of working and fighting back.

Rather than professional writers or activists, the authors are workers reflecting on their experiences, aspirations, and how to improve our situation. Through storytelling, they draw out the lessons of workplace woes, offering new paths and perspectives for social change and a new world.” Continue reading

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Beyond “F*ck You”: An organizer’s approach to confronting hateful language at work

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The people we work with usually reflect what the dominant culture of our society is like. This includes some of its worst aspects, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism. For worker-organizer’s, these present their own difficulties. They impede our short term goals such as being able to withstand the drudgery of a job, as well as exist as obstacles to uniting our coworkers against management. In addition to these problems, they stand in stark contrast with our long-term goals of creating a new world free of oppression and exploitation. But how do we deal with this? Here is an account from Coeur de Bord about their response to hateful language at their workplace.

Continue reading

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Being a woman organizer isn’t easy

LaborMarch was International Women’s Day and the IWW celebrated it with a special issue of the Industrial Worker. It’s worth reading the whole thing via the Industrial Worker here and you can get a subscription via this link if you want to support it and see more writings like that. Much of the time discussions around organizing center on what keeps us from winning or building the union up to those fights. There’s less discussion around things that prevent workers from becoming their own radical agents, particularly in gendered terms. The article we’re running today comes from Miami, Florida and was published in the Industrial Worker. It’s a personal account of one organizer’s journey to becoming a committed IWW, and how she has seen race and gender play a role in her life. Though only one snapshot of these big issues, contributions like this give us a window into deep forces at play in our work and neighborhood lives, and are things we hope IWWs can continue thinking around and fighting for an alternative. 

from Luz Sierra

This past year I became politically active. I went from being completely unaware of the existence of radical politics to doing organizing work in Miami with an anarchist perspective. It has been both a rewarding and difficult journey, yet gender seems to haunt me wherever I go. I am probably not the first woman to experience this, but I believe that I should demonstrate how this is a real issue and provide my personal insight for other women to have a reference point for their own struggles.

Being raised by Nicaraguan parents and growing up in Miami’s Latin community, I have firsthand experience with the sexist culture in South Florida. Many families that migrated from South and Central America and the Caribbean arrived to the United States carrying traditions from the 1970s and 1980s. Daughters are raised by women who were taught that their goal in life is to be an obedient wife and to devote their time to raising children and making their husbands happy. Latin women are supposed to be modest, self-reserved, have the ability to fulfill domestic roles and be overall submissive. Some Hispanic families might not follow this social construction, but there are still a large number of them who insert this moral into their households. For instance, this social construct is apparent in the previous three generations of my father’s and mother’s families. My great grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and aunts never completed their education and spend the majority of their life taking care of their husbands and children. Meanwhile, various male members of my current and extended family had the opportunity to finish their education, some even received college degrees, and went on to become dominant figures in their households. The male family members also had the chance to do as they pleased for they left all household and childcare responsibilities to their wives. As the cycle continued, my mother and grandmothers attempted to socialize me to fulfill my expected female role. I was taught not to engage in masculine activities such as sports, academia, politics, and other fields where men are present. Unfortunately for them, I refused to obey their standards of femininity. I have played sports since I was 10 years old; I grew a deep interest in history, sociology and political science; and I am currently part of three political projects. Such behavior has frustrated my parents to the point that I am insulted daily. My mother will claim that I am manly, selfish for devoting more time to organizing and promiscuous because the political groups I am involved with consist mostly of men. My father will state that I am senseless for wasting my time in politics and should devote more time in preparing myself to become a decent wife and mother. Continue reading

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Industrial Unity: A Response to “Locality & Shop”

foodservworkWe received a number of replies and great discussion from the piece by S Nappalos on the IWW’s locality versus industrial structures. E.A. Martinez has sent a lengthy response raising points of criticism and agreement that is worth engaging. While the discussion centers around structures of the IWW, bigger issues are at hand. In reality the debate centers around the role of the workplace organizer, how they relate to their job and neighborhood, and where we situate their struggles. We’re glad to see this thoughtful reply, and hope it generates some reflection and responses.

E.A. Martinez

The division between local organization and industrial organization – and which should prevail over the other – has been a hot topic of debate within revolutionary unions for decades, and the IWW is no exception. Locality and Shop Inside Revolutionary Unions provides one perspective on whether the local form (the General Membership Branch, or GMB) or the industrial form (the Industrial Union Branch, or IUB) is superior.

After examining attempts by the Portland IWW to build a patchwork of IUBs in the early 2000s, the author concludes that industrial organization is not suited for the present socio-economic conditions in which we find ourselves, or for the present state of the IWW. Rather, we should look to build the IWW as local groups of militants and political radicals who “take [their militancy] with them through their jobs.”

The author points to many Wobblies’ opposition to activism as one of the chief causes for the preference of industrial units over local units, which is not untrue. Many Wobblies have argued that locality-based IWW branches are often mistaken for merely another acronym in a city’s alphabet soup of revolutionary groups, book clubs, NGOs, and non-profits. To combat the perception of the IWW as anything but an industrial union, Wobblies have pushed for more workplace- and industry-based organization, as this will demonstrate to activists that we are in fact a union, and not one of many political clubs. Continue reading

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Joe Burn’s review of Lines of Work

our jobs our storiesJoe Burns, author of the influential book Reviving the Strike put up a review of our new book Lines of Work on his blog. We want to direct to the discussion to the Reviving the Strike blog where he posted it. His comments are flattering and we aspire towards and contribute to the sort of revival he advocates. “Although written in terms of stories and experiences, the book’s approach offers a different approach to union revival, one deeply rooted in the workplace and rooted in the daily experience of workers.” This Saturday we remind our readers near Miami, Florida that there will be a Lines of Work worker story workshop.

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Review of Lines of Work

lines of work boxesOur friends at Unity and Struggle reviewed our new book Lines of Work. We want to direct to the discussion on their site linked above. The review makes us proud of our work and thankful for all the great people who engage with this project, contribute, read, and make Recomposition what it is. At the same time there’s some seeds for us to think about as we keep moving forward with organizing, writing, creating, and reflecting. The friendly critical thoughts at the end are worth thinking about and could help improve all of our work “a more robust theory of the moment is needed in order to inform these struggles and prepare them for the next level. And not just for the theoretically inclined of the volume, who work tirelessly to this effect — for every would-be workplace organizer. This means a vision of what society is and what it needs be, beyond bosses and workers, justice and injustice, freedom and unfreedom, coupled with an analysis of the conditions under which we can reasonably strive to get there.” Likewise there’s an exploration of the relation between the contributors experience of work and thinking around how workplace struggles have been changed or possibly weakened with broader social shifts put forward by folks like Endnotes. We share the author’s critique of aspects of those pieces and that there are elements in those debates that are important. Looking forward to seeing discussion around the themes JF from Unity & Struggle has raised, and a reminder that on April 4th there will be a Lines of Work worker story workshop in Miami, Florida.

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Locality and shop inside revolutionary unions

autoplant iwwThere’s been a long debate within the revolutionary union movement about structure and specifically about the relationship between locality-based units and workplace/trade/industrial based units. Though not well known, the IWW also had battles with these concepts with different factions trying to abolish the General Recruiting Unions, the predecessor of the General Membership branch uniting all workers based on a local who lacked a Industrial Union Branch, and other trying to support it. The recruiting unions were banned at some periods of IWW history and had to be brought back though not without controversy. Other revolutionary unions such as the CNT of Spain and FORA of Argentina maintained both locality based grouping and workplace based ones. This piece explores the debate around these issues within the IWW and experiences both with locality-units and workplace-units from recent activities, and attempts to get at the issues of our tasks and objectives beyond only looking at structures.

Area, Shop, and Revolution: a case for both locality and workplace unitary organization

Scott Nikolas Nappalos

In the early 2000s a series of experiments were carried out in the IWW that led to the formation of Industrial Union Branches (IUBs). Alongside the handful of IUBs emerged ideas around why IUBs should be prioritized and their superiority to other structures. The IUBs primarily were initiated in the Portland IWW after a series of struggles that produced the largest and most dynamic area for IWW workplace organizing in the union for decades. The Portland IWW ballooned to its peak with membership in the hundreds in the early 2000s after a decade of organizing attempts in the 1990s, and some high profile contract campaigns, strikes, and actions at the turn of the century. As membership grew, Portland moved from a General Membership Branch (GMB) towards IUBs in areas where there were a concentration of members: social service, construction, education, restaurants, grocery/retail, and transportation.

General Membership Branches were created late in the IWW’s life. At it’s peak, the IWW was built on active workplace branches centered in industries. The IWW arose in a time different from ours in which workers were actively seeking out alternatives such as the IWW. Before the IWW existed, groups like the German brewers, Western Federation of Miners, La Resistencia of the Tampa cigar workers, and others openly moved to revolutionary anti-capitalist ideas, and workers struggles moved towards insurrectionary militancy in conflicts with the police, militias, and military. Workers ended up far to the left of the unions through their aspirations for a better world, their actions, and the necessity of confronting a hostile system. The IWW often organized by going to these wildcat strikes, and attempting to organize the striking workers. In other cases radicalized workers would move to the IWW as part of their trajectory against the political and union establishments. In an environment where there was already active workers struggle that outpaced both the political parties and unions of their day, centering the structure of the IWW on workplace structures made sense. Though other formations existed such as Industrial District Councils (where multiple IUBs coordinated in a city, which the Portland IWW also had in existence) and General Recruiting Unions[1] (similar to GMBs today, where workers without IUBs could begin to plan their IUBs), it wasn’t until after the total collapse of the IWW’s workplace presence and in a new regime of State-Labor-Capitalist collaboration that GMBs were proposed. Continue reading

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