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.
March 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. (more…)
We 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.
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. (more…)
Joe 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.
Our 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.
There’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 (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. (more…)
Events around the release of our new book,Lines of Work by Black Cat Press, are coming together. 5pm April 5th the South Florida General Membership Branch of the IWW will be hosting a Lines of Work event at Sweat Records, 5505 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33137. In coordination with Lines of Work launches, this event will be exploring workers stories and their lessons with readings of pieces worker narratives and collective discussions. The official Miami book launch will happen on May 1st, with details to follow. Contacts us if you’re interested in hosting a book launch or event with workers stories in your town.
“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.”
What is the relationship between the objectives of the revolutionary union movement and its actions? Ever since unions were first integrated into the State and its legal framework for collaborative industrial relations, the revolutionary union movement has had hard questioned pressed upon it. At crucial moments revolutionary unions defected to back policies destructive to the working class such as the CGT in France supporting WWI, the leadership of the CNT joining the government during the war, and Mexico’s Casa del Obrera Mundial taking up arms for the state against the rural Zapatista movement in its revolution. The post-war labor movement has been defined by trying to navigate the integration of unions within the State and often management, and the subsequent dismantling of those relationships. Today we still grapple with these issues as we try to find ways to fight around daily issues while building a powerful movement of working class people towards a new revolutionary horizon.
This piece comes to us from our brothers and sisters in the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists CRAS-AIT in Russia. Vadim Damier, historian of the seminal work Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century (published and translated by Black Cat Press) writes about the experiences of the spanish anarchosyndicalist union the CNT from a critical perspective, and gives an alternative followed by CRAS-AIT today inspired by experiences in anarchosyndicalists in Argentina. Whichever position you take, this discussion is crucial now as the basis for unions is being transformed, and uncertain possibilities and challenges are unfolding.
Anarchism and Syndicalism: the «CNT model» and its dilemma
-by Vadim Damier
One philosopher has once told that the one, who doesn’t study history, is doomed to repeat its errors. The problem consists just in looking for what was made may be not correctly or not very well in the past. This can give a possibility to avoid some mistakes in the present and in the future.
Of course, it would be unreasonably and conceitedly to give advices to comrades living in a country removed in thousands of kilometers, with quite other situation and with differing conditions of social and workers struggle. But when I turn around back on history of anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain, I see not only brilliant victories and the Great Revolution, but also certain internal problems. And these problems remain the same throughout all history of heroic CNT.
This entry is the second part in a two-part story from contributor Phinneas Gage about a wildcat strike by contractors at the Canadian postal service, and continues our coverage of struggles within Canada Post.
The phone rang irritatingly early, early enough I ignored it the first time. Apparently Lise-Anne called several other executive members after she left a message for me. I later found out the message she left me said: “they’re cutting our pay by 30%, we had a coffee break meeting and we vote unanimously to walk out in response, what do we do now?”
The phone rang again, this time I picked up. “We just walked out, we’re sitting across the street in the Tim Horton’s”. Eight months prior I had talked to the workers at this depot about racial discrimination and harassment one co-worker was facing. They marched on the boss with eight people that sent a strong enough message it put an end to that issue. Even if the racist supervisor was still around he was a lot quieter. The workers became more assertive, and very strong on the floor. A series of small actions built the solidarity among the rural workers to the point where they felt strong enough to fight a change to the work measurement system that was going to cut their pay by almost a third.
“Did you make any demands?” I asked groggily, sometimes folks are so angry they forget to say what they want.
“Yeah, we wanted a repeal of the policy and he told us that the union was going to be upset we did this”.
“What did you say to that?”
“I said we didn’t need their permission to do this, but the local President and Sharon are coming down to talk to us and see what they can do to help”. (more…)
This entry is a two-part story from contributor Phinneas Gage about a wildcat strike by contractors at the Canadian postal service, and continues our coverage of struggles within Canada Post. In the course of the strike, union workers had to figure out how to relate to contractors and where scabbing starts and solidarity ends. The experience of life under capitalism can reveal both the potential divisions that destroy struggles and the commonalities that can overcome them. These next two pieces can help us understand and try to go beyond the barriers class throws at us.
Abraham looked down the row at everyone else sorting mail. Their heads were bowed, occasionally rubbing their eyes they worked slowly but steadily- the only way you can when you work fourteen hours every day. He reached over to the letter that was left on his desk for him by a Canada Post Supervisor, he was in late because his daughter was up all night with a cough. The letterhead was from Reynolds Diaz, the private contractor that hired him on behalf of Canada Post.
August 3rd 2010
Due to recent business developments you will now be compensated 24 cents per point of call per route, the previous rate of 26 cents will no longer apply. This pay reduction will be implemented retroactively last Tuesday and your pay stub will reflect this. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call.
Reynolds Diaz (more…)