On Bluffing

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Rage

Rage – contribution by M. Kostas

 

This week’s piece comes to us by fellow editor at Recomposition, Phineas Gage. In it, he analyzes three instances in different organizing scenarios where bluffing, whether premeditated or spontaneous, helped leverage reactions that would not have otherwise happened. A running theme through these experiences is the desire to struggle, but to struggle together, paired with the glaring fear that people won’t have each other’s backs when push comes to shove. His insight not only lets us in on the small details that can make or break actions, but also shines a light on how every step we take in our organizing, as in our life, is a gamble.

 

 

 

On Bluffing.

by Phineas Gage

All warfare is based on deception.
                                     -Sun Tzu

I.

I was standing there shaking with rage. I was chosen by a few co-workers to try and go upstairs and talk to the supervisors about a problem we were having. Management, in their benevolent and eternal wisdom put us on a floor that was being renovated. It was twenty below zero outside and all that stood between us and outside was a few strips of plastic sheeting. All of us were mad but most of us, including me, were pretty timid. We were all in our late teens and didn’t want to get in trouble.
We were keenly aware that the company was taking us for a ride, but some of us were young single parents, others thought if we just held on another better job would come, and all of us didn’t think we would get much done by trying to fight back. Our hands ached from the cold and our joints were getting stiff. We had to dial three times just to get the numbers right, our fingers were so numb they just weren’t doing what they were supposed to do.
While talking to each other something snapped inside all of us. We worked ourselves into just enough of a frenzy to call the ‘team leader’ over. Jeff the pimply, lanky introvert who monitored our calls came over and recited some platitudes about not being able to move any of the equipment to a warmer floor and returned to his desk at the end of the row. After some bullying on our part he agreed to call up stairs on our behalf. This led to him being told what he just told us.
We went back to our seats and started calling again. After a few minutes we started grumbling again, this led to us agitating each other. Eventually we decided we should send someone upstairs to talk to management. A few people suggested me because I drank on the weekend with the burly skinhead who was the call centre supervisor.
When I entered the office I opened my mouth, my supervisor cut me off and asked me not swear. He was putting me in my place. I started to explain the situation downstairs in a now calm and reasonable manner. He explained to me the same thing we’d been told twice before downstairs. Something inside me snapped. I stayed calm but I started spouting total bullshit.
I cited legislation that didn’t exist, I told him I would call government agencies on them (for the record getting people to work in the freezing cold is perfectly legal in Alberta), and then I said that if they didn’t give us what we wanted we would walk. None of us discussed this, and few of us were ready to do something like that.
He flinched; I winced. He made a call to the owner at her home, at eight o’clock at night. Half an hour later we got moved upstairs to a warmer floor. For the next couple weeks we all held our heads a bit higher at work.

 

II.

Andy and I sat in the Tim Horton’s drinking our coffee and talking to an East African worker by the name of Binyam. He worked at a courier company we were trying to organise. We were explaining the process of unionizing his company to him. He was obviously not against the union; he had a few kids and a wife at home. I told him that it would help his family if they were able to negotiate with the employer. He was still nervous. I told him he had nothing to worry about in signing the card, that he was legally protected and that no one would know he signed the card unless he told someone.
Andy smiled, leaned back in his chair and said that everyone was already on board. The worker asked us why no one told him they had signed, Andy said because they were scared just like him. Binyam could relate to this and understand this so he took the card out of Andy’s hand and said he was in if everyone else was. The thing is they were not already on board. The drive was going well but to say ‘everyone’ was on board was a stretch. We needed more than 50% to sign cards for us to get card check certification, we had just over half what we needed with a few months to go. That put us at bout 30% not 50% and certainly not everybody.
Somehow after that word got out that the campaign was taking off and spreading like wildfire, shortly after that it did. Once word spread that everyone was signing up everyone started to join. Before Andy’s bluff everyone sensed each other’s fear and so they wouldn’t sign a card.

 

III.

Malwinder and Linda walked out of the supervisor’s office; they were frustrated as hell and ready to escalate. They went in trying to address staffing issues, they left the supervisors office and immediately started planning how to put more pressure on management. When they went to the floor with the issues the workers were pissed too, right until they asked them to do something about it. While Malwinder was trying to talk to Pete about the problem, Pete wouldn’t look Malwinder in the eyes.

“Look if we just slow down for a couple days the overtime will drive them crazy and they’ll have to give in”.

“Yeah, but you know not everyone will slow down”, Pete said as he prepped his flyers for the next day.

“Look, all we have to do is stand together you know they’ll buckle after a couple days”.

Pete looked over his glasses, and looped his thumbs through his suspenders and thought about it for a second. “They sure will, if we all stick together, but we won’t, this ain’t the eighties any more’. Pete was referring to a time in the recent past when Letter Carrier depots were a hotbed of militancy. Pete had enough and continued his work turning his back on Malwinder.
As Linda worked the rows of letter carrier cases it became clear that everyone was angry with management, and everyone thought that a slow down would work as long as everyone participated. No one ever said they thought it was a bad idea their big problem was that they thought that nobody else would be on board.
Malwinder and Linda talked about this on their coffee break that afternoon and they hatched a plan. They decided to tell everyone they had a lot of support for the action and that they were going ahead with it.
The next morning they began to work the letter carrier cases and people were much more receptive. Lots of carriers slowed down and they all recorded their overtime, management had a hard time singling people out because so many were on board. It also covered for the newer, slower and more timid letter carriers; they were getting static for taking time to learn the routes that they weren’t familiar with. The budget for the depot soared and management relented, after all it is cheaper to hire more carriers on straight time than it is to squeeze everyone for overtime.

 

Confidence and Class-Consciousness:

Most people are uncomfortable with dishonesty and some of the tactics used above are definitely dishonest. Telling everyone there is strong support can also backfire if you don’t have it and someone calls you on it. There is a fine line between bluffing and lying, and while I am comfortable with a bit of deception towards the boss, like in the first example, the other two examples are different in that they were deception towards co-workers. However it is worth noting I have yet to see a boss call a militant’s bluff; the shadow of an all out workers revolt lurks in the back of the mind of any boss. The fact that a scenario like that seems so hard to get to for most workers is actually pretty plausible to most workplace supervisors is very telling indeed.

The fact that these examples were effective points to something important about the nature of class struggle. Confidence is at least half the game, workers actually want to struggle and they know they are being screwed. What keeps them from struggling is not ‘ideology’ or being brainwashed, they don’t struggle mostly because they are responsible adults and do not want to struggle if nothing will come of it. Most workers at very least have plans for their life that don’t involve work and don’t want to screw these plans up by doing something rash. A lot of people have other people depending on them, spouses, kids and other family members and other dependants and they aren’t going to risk being able to provide for these people if it isn’t going to pay off.

Its easy to be hard on progressives for their dim opinion of workers and no one has a dimmer view of the typical worker than one of those workers themselves. Our society boasts a lot about how democratic it is out of one side of its mouth but it never quite manages to hide a darker side: a deep seated hatred of the ‘ordinary person’. This holds us back as much as anything else; there is no doubt that there are a lot of idiots in the world. There are also a lot of lazy selfish people, but the thing about class struggle is you don’t have to be a genius or a saint to get it. Everyone knows what is going on, the single most important thing a militant can do is not convince workers of the need for a better world. The single most important thing a militant can do is convince workers that the only thing that stands between them and that world is their own fear and distrust of each other.

Scabs! Part II: The St. Albert Wildcat

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Image 2014-01-30 6-2This 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…)

Scabs: part I

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Image 2014-01-30 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.

He read:

August 3rd 2010

Dear Abraham,
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.
Regards,
Reynolds Diaz (more…)

What Happened in Edmonton this Week

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What Happened in Edmonton this Week

An Appeal for Solidarity from a Letter Carrier in Edmonton

 

This week we have seen hundreds of letter carriers in Edmonton take a stand. They took a stand for health and safety, they took a stand for their ability to provide for those who depend on their income, and they took a stand in defense of a public institution that is under attack.

 

Background:

For over three years now Canada Post Corporation has embarked on a project that they call “Postal Transformation”, or the “The Modern Post”. This experiment has taken a public institution that made hundreds of millions in profits for the Canadian public and driven to the point of ruin. There were countless minor confrontations over this issue, with some stewards taking a courageous stand and refusing, countless carriers sneaking the mail into their cases and many, many management staff choosing to turn a blind eye to the sortation methods.

(more…)

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Let me sleep on it

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Our series on work, sleep and dreams continues with a story about a sleepwalking postal worker.

Let me sleep on it
By Phinneas Gage

I woke up and rubbed my eyes, Saturday was a long time coming this week. My aching body stumbled towards the fridge. I swung the door open and my eyes focused on the first clear object of the morning, a bottle of Catsup. I grabbed the bottle and stood up, straightening my aching back. I opened the freezer and my eyes focused again on a frozen bag of breakfast sausage. (more…)

Interviews with organizers: Canada’s postal struggles & the New School occupation

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Beginning with the crisis of 2008, a series of community, labor, and education struggles have unfolded across the world, in the US, and Canada. As experienced organizers face new challenges, and new people are brought into the movement, the challenges and problems posed by building powerful radical movements confronts us.

Today we present two interviews with organizers that helped build struggles against problems they faced in the crisis, and reflect on those experiences and lessons for radicals in these movements.

First, we share an interview with Phinneas a Canadian postal worker. Last year, a series of direct actions exploded across Canada in response to attempts to rationalize and mechanize production, and around the labor contract in negotiation. Phinneas’ article Waves of Struggle, is his account of the actions and problems they faced.

Next, we share an interview with Marianne a student organizer active in Occupy and the New School occupation that happened during the most active period in Occupy Wall Street. As more people were brought into that movement, students across the city began to bring the struggle back to their universities, culminating in the spontaneous occupation of a building in the New School last year. Marianne reflects on the successes and shortcomings of that process, and makes suggestions for how we can move forward in the future.

For different perspectives, you can read two additional accounts of the occupation, though we don’t endorse them, here and here.

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Class War on the Work Floor – Audio Recording

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We’re pleased to repost this from our comrades at Common Cause.

Rachel speaking flyer


Between October 22 and October 25, Common Cause organized a speaking tour entitled “Class War On The Workfloor” in four Ontario cities (Hamilton, Toronto, Kitchener & London). The speaker was postal worker, anarchist and rank-and-file trouble maker, Rachael Stafford, from Edmonton.

Below is the audio recording from the Hamilton stop of the tour, held on October 22, 2011. The talk outlines a perspective on workplace organizing not dependent on union executives, but rather on empowering workers to fight their own battles. In the audio recording Stafford explains why it’s important to deal with issues as they arise on the floor through direct action, worker education, and participatory decision making in order to build the kind of struggle that can aim for the whole pie — not just a bigger piece. The talk also offers first-hand context to the recent CUPW struggle, which saw postal workers go from being on strike to being locked out and quickly legislated back to work. This bitter experience was a clear example of the bosses’ ongoing campaign to claw back the very rights workers fought for (and won) decades ago. Because postal workers are not alone in facing cutbacks, exploitation, greedy bosses, and the like, they have a lot in common with other workers — and we all stand to learn a lot from one another’s struggles.

Listen to Part One:

Listen to Part Two:

RACHEL STAFFORD:
A postal worker, anarchist, and rank and file trouble maker, Rachel Stafford has been organizing to build worker power within and outside of the post office. Applying skills and perspectives developed as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), she has organized for direct action at her job and supported others as a trainer in the IWW’s Organizer Training program. Rachel writes about and reflects on her experiences as a member of the editorial collective of the Recomposition blog.

Interested people should also check out Rachel’s article “Postal Worker Solidarity Defeats Compulsory Overtime” and other articles about Canadian postal worker struggles here at Recomposition.

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