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.

The Intermediate Moment

| Filed under For discussion

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. (more…)

Work to Rule

| Filed under life on the job

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.  (more…)

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

| Filed under Administrative/housekeeping Our writings

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.” (more…)

Being a woman organizer isn’t easy

| Filed under For discussion

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. (more…)

Industrial Unity: A Response to “Locality & Shop”

| Filed under For discussion Our writings

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. (more…)

Joe Burn’s review of Lines of Work

| Filed under For discussion Our writings

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.

Locality and shop inside revolutionary unions

| Filed under Our writings

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. (more…)

Lines of Work Event: 5pm April 5th Miami, Florida

| Filed under Administrative/housekeeping

our jobs our storiesEvents 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.”

Solidarity Networks: Innovations, recomposition, and questions

| Filed under Our writings

seasol mosaic (1)-editorial by SN Nappalos. The  development of Solidarity Networks, based largely to our knowledge on the example of Seattle Solidarity Network, has led to experiments and debate not only in the US, but internationally as well. At its simplest, a solidarity network is a grouping that uses direct action to sway fights of individuals and groups typically of workers and tenants. Different from traditional union organizing, Seattle Solidarity Network (also known as Seasol) began by bringing together a milieu willing to mobilize to support issues working class people have independent of where they work or live. This includes fighting in situations where a union is already there (as was the case with an SEIU shop), where it is a lone individual, or more recently amongst groups of tenants and workers. A thorough discussion of these experiences would be long indeed. Here we provide some of the main points of discussion and pieces looking at solidarity networks to keep those in circulation, and for us to learn as we carry forward.

(more…)