Snake March

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Workers gather over one thousand strong to protest back to work legislation.

Workers gather over one thousand strong to protest back to work legislation.

 

Concluding Phineas Gage’s three-part series on struggles at the Canada Post during 2011, we present ‘Snake march’. In this final installment, he describes the moral as the lockout drags on. Parliamentary filibusters and symbolic occupations fail to turn the tide on contract negotiations. The postal workers return to work, determined to not let management bulldoze them in the shopfloor.

Check out here Part 1 of the series and also Part 2.

 

Snake March

A truck pulled up to the parking lot in front of the main downtown Post Office. Christine and I jumped up and started unloading signs from the back. Camera people were setting up all around the truck and The Local President was going over the notes her people helped her prep for the interviews. Slowly the crowd swelled as people walked in from the bus stops, then a big bus from the Nurses union pulled up and people filed out. Half an hour later the crowd was huge spilling out of the parking lot. Around 1,000 people showed up.

Gil McGowan, the President of the Provincial Labour Federation, took the microphone from a local executive member who was managing the speakers list. The shopfloor committees huddled on the other side of the crowd, largely ignoring the people who had their faces in the television cameras.

Sheila was chairing the committee meeting. “Okay so what’s the plan?”

Christine said, “I hear they may want to stick to the sidewalk”.

Christine and I shook our heads and frowned. We had both knew with 1,000 people sticking to the sidewalk wasn’t just impractical, it would undermine the strength of the turnout.

“Well we’ve got about a dozen of these and people to carry them, Christine held up her red and black flag, a standard IWW fixture at demonstrations. It was about two meters long and on inch and a half thick dowling. “I say we march out into traffic and take a lane, then we take a second one until we completely block the traffic going the same way as we are”.

Sheila had only just started going to street demonstrations and this all new to her. She was uneasy but saw a couple other workers nodding so decided to go with it.

“The local Executive doesn’t really have a planned route, I hear they’re leaving it up to Pete”.

Pete nodded, “yeah, but I’ve never really planned a demonstration before.”

“It’s easy,” Christine said, “just walk around, take a couple loops and wind up back where you started. The crowd will take care of the rest”.

“Okay, let’s do this,” said Christine, “Phinneas and I will take the right side where the more cautious people will likely stay to the sidewalk for a bit”.

“Let’s put it to a vote”, Christine said. All hands went up then down. Sheila breathed a sigh of relief, the unanimous vote made her feel a lot more comfortable.

As we broke, the cameras started moving towards the road to watch us fan out. Soon I saw red and black flags floating over the other side of the crowd as they stepped out into the street. The Local President walked passed and patted my arm, “what are you guys up to?”

“We’re going to take the streets, both lanes, Pete knows where we are headed so you’ll have to ask him about the route”. She nodded and kept walking with a CUPW flag, yellow and blue, slung over her shoulder. The crowd was cautious at first but eventually came out onto the street.

Postal Workers take the streets.

Postal Workers take the streets.

There was a dull murmur as the crowd swelled out into the streets. Soon from the murmur came bursts of chants then the chants drowned out the murmur. Flags and signs floated down the street while young people ran out to cars moving in the opposite direction. The young people usually had a chance to briefly talk to the drivers while they would slow down and look at what was going on trying to read the signs and banners.

Through the crowd I saw Christine nod to her left, probably to the other shop committee members down the line. They took five steps back in a break of traffic and cut off the second lane. Then I saw a police officer walk up to her. She walked and talked casually with him as she followed the crowd. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the officer from the first night of the lockout.

“Where are you guys marching?”, he was being typically cheerful and polite.

“No idea, maybe the president knows. Do I look like I’m in charge here?” I smiled.

“We knew you would say that.” He walked into the middle of the march towards The Local President. He talked to her and soon found himself walking towards the back of the march, not towards Pete.

Craig walked up next to me. “Word is the NDP are planning a filibuster in Parliament. We just need to hold up the disruption a little longer and then maybe we can negotiate a settlement”.

“I don’t think that is going to help us Craig, I still think we need to defy the back to work legislation”. He shook his head and started to say something but held it back. “The goal isn’t struggle without end, the goal is to get a contract Phinneas. People have a lot on the line here houses, families, their life savings.”

“You mean people your age have those things. You can’t get much for a mortgage if you’re my age on this income. The reason for that is because we keep backing down on these fights. One generation has too much to lose and the other generation has very little to risk. ”

“There’s another way though” Craig replied, “we can win a negotiated contract, we have in the past and we will again. The NDP will stall for us, we just need to hold on and keep up the mobilisation until Canada Post breaks”.

I just stared straight forward. I genuinely hoped he was right. It seemed too easy though, we didn’t win anything without tremendous pressure on Canada Post itself. Pressure from the Official Opposition was just business as usual, none of this went off script or did much force them to make concessions.

Craig drifted off into another part of the crowd and I went back to the edge of the crowd with my flag. Later I saw the previous police officer, he had a slight twitch in his eye and was clenching his jaw tightly while awkwardly trying to smile at the same time. He went back to The Local President and she shrugged and pointed to the front of the march. By the time he reached the front of the protest two blocks ahead of where he was, Pete told him that they were one block from the destination. Sometimes holding out and keeping steady pressure can work.

Delivery drivers march on the boss on their first day of work after the lockout.

Delivery drivers march on the boss on their first day of work after the lockout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s An Occupation

“Look I’m kind of worried that it’s mostly just spectacle, you know?” I was on the phone with a CUPW activist in Vancouver. Erin was fixing picket signs while she talked to me on the phone. I could hear her stapling. “Yeah I know. But a bit of spectacle is kind of what we need. People out here are pretty resigned to a return to work, we need to keep some momentum up or we are just going to get trounced when we get back to the floor”.

“Let me think about it, I’ll bounce it off some of the other folks around here and see what people think”. I turned my phone off and walked into the coffee shop. Several other people from the Workplace Mobilisation Committee and the Depot Committees were sitting at a table together talking about the NDP’s promise to filibuster.

“Well, I got a call from some folks in Vancouver that are trying to build a similar committee and they said they were thinking of occupying an MPs office. What do you folks think?”

“I think if we are going to win this we need it to be a struggle that goes beyond just the post office.,” Keith spoke rapidly, “This can do that.”

“I agree,” I said, “I just worry it’s more media hype and symbolism, you know? Like doing this goes after the Conservative party, which needs to happen but it doesn’t actually hurt them in any meaningful way”.

“I dunno I would love to try something like blockading the Purolator building like they did in Montreal last week,” said Christine, “but I ran it by a couple people from the depots and they didn’t make the connection in the way I had hoped”.

“I think we should try and test the waters and see if the occupation at an MP’s office can maybe jump start things?” Said Keith.

Pete looked across the table at Keith. “Great I will talk to the President about it and get the ball rolling”.

The lockout stopped our work and our paychecks, and started several levels of negotiation. The most obvious ones were between higher ups in Ottawa, union and corporate higher ups over the national contract. Those negotiations were the reason we were locked out and were the reason the conventional union infrastructure held off and tacitly supported the militancy on the shopfloor. There were also negotiations with the local management during the lead up to the lockout and the first night of the lockout, negotiations with the police during the various pickets and rallies, negotiations with the staff of the local political officials during the occupations, and negotiations between the shop committees and the union leadership.

On the local level we won most of our fights, mostly by going around the existing local leadership, especially The Local President. “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission,” became mantra among many of us. How the local officials reacted depended on national officials. When the national officers were keen to fight the company, the local leadership stepped aside and we operated more or less without interference. As soon as we tried to fight the bigger fight, to reach outside of Edmonton, the infrastructure on the ground wasn’t there. Because of the limits of our networks we called on the Canada Labour Congress to call a general strike. The union bureaucracy called our bluff. They guessed, correctly, that the sort of organisation we had on the ground in Edmonton at the Post Office didn’t exist outside of Edmonton, or outside of the Post Office. We could achieve symbolic gestures like occupations and marches but more concrete actions like a general strike were outside the experience and confidence of the workforce outside the Post Office at this point. We knew there was similar militancy in the rest of the country, and even other workplaces around ours in Edmonton, but the organisation was just not there to coordinate these struggles and build a program of action out of it.

The strength of our organising approach was that we looked at the structure of the unions and identified where they were inadequate and then built parallel structures outside of them. We needed the solidarity of workers outside of what we had to win a struggle on a national scale. We just didn’t have that. During the lockout we had an opportunity to be less ‘ultra left’, less outside the union and take a step into the mainstream. As soon as we did that not only did we have the same limits as before but we had a much more difficult time distancing ourselves from the catastrophically bad decisions made by the National Executive Board, decisions that were the result of pressures they felt but we didn’t.

In the end we let the dynamic of being a union opposition dominate how we conducted the fight. We had gotten to where we were through independent struggles based on direct action on the floor and coordinated outside the union. When we stopped making that our focus and tried to use the opportunity to work within the conventional union structures – as an oppositional force but still a force moving through those official channels – we became just another bargaining chip. They encouraged us to take action when they needed us. Once we hit the limit of what could be done under the current bargaining regime they simply switched gears. They brought everyone back into work once the stakes were too high and we didn’t have a way to force them to keep struggling.

The House of Parliament and the House of Labour

“Did you hear the speech in Parliament last night?” Jay asked. Pete was dropping off firewood at line outside the Mail Plant. It was cold at night and they were going through a lot of firewood, even in June. Pete shook his head. He had tried watching the news last night but fell asleep after two hours of calling activists trying to get them to come down to the picket lines. Morale was flagging and we had to pull hard just to keep the lines up during normal hours at twelve different locations around the city. The NDP filibuster had begun the night before. The entire NDP caucus in Parliament opted to help us by stalling. They stacked the microphones and gave impassioned speeches, some that went on for hours.

Jay did his best to imitate the New Brunswick Francophone accent of one of the Members of Parliament. “Why do you hate da worker?! Why do you hate da Canada Canada Post Worker!?” Jay smiled as he spoke, “It was great Pete, really firey and all about us. It wasn’t like Parliament usually is”.

At this point even some of the newspapers were starting run some editorials that were mildly in favour of us, mixed in with the usual right wing abuse, like Lorne Gunter calling us “glorified paperboys.” Still, it seemed like when the legislation started to look like it was going to pass we were starting to become symbols in media stories about the Government’s poor treatment of unions across the board. The parts of the media that were criticising us referred to us as “militant” or “radical”; the parts of the media that supported us were probably more honest and referred to us as “formerly militant”.

Jay then asked Pete about the Canada Labour Congress and if there was any word on the motion that was passed at the big assembly. Pete shook his head, “I don’t think that motion went anywhere outside the room it was passed in. I know the local office is saying the motion had no standing under the bylaws as it wasn’t an official meeting”.

Later that day Pete asked a few people around the union office, “any word on stuff happening with the Solidarity Pact? That promise of help Dave Coles from the Communications Energy and Paperworkers had with us? Is CEP going to pull people out?”

The Local President said that there was money coming from them to help with a constitutional challenge. “When will that be heard?”

“Probably five years from now.”

“Is the CLC giving any money for the challenge?”

Pete shook his head. “No”.

Pete then ducked out of the conversation and went upstairs to talk to The Local President about the upcoming occupation.

Pete sat across from the The Local President’s desk and she started by saying “I think this is great and it’s nice to see the Workfloor Mobilisation Committee keeping us in the loop on what is happening”. Sheila was already up there talking about something else.

“Yeah well some folks weren’t sure, I think Keith and Phinneas in particular had some reservations about this.”

“Well the point is still to get the Corporation to negotiate. A strike clearly didn’t work but maybe the political pressure will. National still has a plan and it’s better if we can all play this way.” Pete nodded.

Legitimacy and Morale
An important factor in organising is legitimacy. This word is usually used to describe a few different things. Things like: the faith the workers have in their own struggle; the faith workers in the class more broadly (often called “the public”) have in the justice of their struggle; and the legality of the struggle, the legitimacy in the eyes of the law. Morale is often tied up in each of these factors. If the public is on your side but the law isn’t, the workers are more likely to see their struggle as a just one against an unjust law. If the workers don’t have faith in their own struggle but the law is on their side it’s largely meaningless because laws don’t enforce themselves and labour and employment are rarely enforced unless government agencies feel compelled to do so.

The single most important task for any radical is to build the legitimacy of actions done by working class people in their own interests. Often when people want to get legitimacy for organising they try and build it by appealing to the law. (“they can’t fire you, it’s illegal” or “your boss broke the law”). This is addressing the wrong problem. The problem with gaining legitimacy under the current system is your legitimacy will only ever go as far as those laws will grant you legitimacy. If people weren’t willing to challenge the legitimacy of the law itself there would never be any mechanism for changing the law. Instead the emphasis should be “if they fire you, we will support you” or “what your boss is doing is wrong and we’re here to stand up for each other”.

Christine had a note pad in her hands. “Okay Rachel you lead the charge in the door. There’s a chance they might see this coming and lock the doors so be ready for it. Sheila, you go around back just in case the front doors to the offices are locked, maybe the back doors with be open. Phinneas, you keep your eyes glued to your phone and talk to Winnipeg and Vancouver for us”.

Outside our huddle a crowd of about 200 people had gathered. The Local President was talking to the media. Pete looked over at her and nodded, she nodded back and patted Rachel on the shoulder. She then started walking towards the door while Sheila went around back to the back of the strip mall the office was in. The doors swung open and the twenty-year-old guy behind the desk stared in shock at 200 people gathering outside and a group beginning to pour in through the doors. Soon the room began to fill up as people who were not in on the action decided to join the fun. Then a middle-aged lady in a power suit came striding out from the back saying loudly “The Member of Parliament isn’t in today, would you like to take a message and come back another time?”

“Naw, we’ll wait,” said Rachel.

“It could be days.”

Rachel sat down square in the middle of the floor. “Works for me.”

The lady in the power suit walked across the room and closed the blinds so we couldn’t see the supporters outside. Keith looked at me and winked. As she walked back towards her office, he reached over and opened them again. She winced, turned on her heels and came back and closed the blinds again. As soon as she walked away he opened them again and we all started giggling. For a brief moment a look flashed through her eyes of abject, directionless, rage, the rage of people who expect obedience from their social inferiors, the sort of rage that sends drones to bomb weddings in countries on the other side of the planet, the sort of rage that starves entire countries through sanctions. Then it was gone, replaced by the calm professional indifference that borders on disdain. The kind of disdain that sends entire industries to other continents while people rot without jobs for having the temerity to ask for more money, the indifference that talks about dead children as collateral damage.

A little while later the cops came in, the same Labour Relations cops as always. They walked right up to me sitting on the floor. I guess you could say we had a rapport at this point. “How long are you staying?”

“As long as it takes.” The cop shook his head and smiled. He got on his phone and I checked my texts. The occupations were holding strong in Winnipeg and Vancouver.

As time dragged on our morale began to flag. Sheila was the first one. “Are you sure this is the time we want to get arrested?” Keith nodded like he agreed.

This put me in an awkward position, we had committed to see this through, but occupations like this were largely symbolic and media driven. The cameras were packing up.

“I’m not going to pressure anyone into staying but we do have a commitment to Vancouver and Winnipeg”. Pete nodded at that.

When I checked in with Vancouver, Erin texted back that I should hold out as long as I could but not to push my people. They would hold it down on their end and would talk to Winnipeg for us. At another point when one of the police left we took a quick vote, I voted to stay, Pete abstained (Pete abstained a lot), and everyone else voted to leave. I suggested one last thing.

When the cops came back into the room one of them said: “Okay guys, at 5pm this office closes and you need to leave, that leaves you an hour”.

Rachel then got on her cell phone, “hello? Panago? Yes I would like to order some pizza.” The cops frowned.

As the time came closer and closer we started unpacking sleeping backs and blankets. The police shuffled uncomfortably. Then the pizza came and we started eating. With three minutes left we started packing our stuff up. The police then waited ten minutes past the deadline for us to leave. As we drove home we heard reports on the radio about the arrests during the occupations in other parts of the country.

When you know your cause is just and the law is not on your side legitimacy becomes more important. Part of the task of building a world where the economy is something we use to provide what we need rather than it using us to provide capitalists with greater wealth is building the legitimacy of workers taking control. When we negotiated with the police we were asserting a kind of legitimacy and the law took that legitimacy seriously. When we negotiated with the employer it was not because the law recognised us but rather they recognised our ability to cause damage to their bottom line. However when the law came down and ordered us back to work we failed to put our own legitimacy against the law.

A just cause does not need to argue in favour of itself. It needs to defend its legitimacy, that legitimacy comes from an appeal to the power and interests of working people. We had reached the limit of our power in society and without pushing forward, morale collapsed. Instead of being something that carried a new world forward, the union, by ordering everyone back to work on the government’s terms, became something that was imposing the old world back on the workers. All strikes do have to end but how they end is a very important strategic concern.

BBQ

“Why are we still out here if they are just going to order us back to work?” The member was trying to stay calm but he was obviously upset. Christine looked back at him for a second, choosing her words very carefully.

“We need to hold the line so that we can pressure the corporation to negotiate.”

“Negotiate?! What negotiation?! Before the strike they offered us 2% now they are offering 0%. What the hell kind of negotiations are going on over there?!”

“You going to negotiate with the bank when they come to take my house too?” Another person shouted.

“The back to work legislation is obviously going to pass, why are we bothering now?”

“Well maybe we can do something to take the financial pressure off somewhere else? I know some folks at the other depots are sharing food. Let’s grab a burger and talk this over.” The group all agreed to line up for burgers while someone from the local office started flipping the ones that were done onto people’s plates.

Once they were done eating Christine started her pitch.

“Right now the government and management think they won”.

“You mean they didn’t?” shouted a heckler from the back.

“Well we may not have won the negotiations, I think this contract is going to be a big hit for all of us. But we held ground in this depot, we had control of the floor, we can’t let them take that back from us when we go back. National may have lost the fight over the contract but we can still keep what we won outside of it. We need to go back in with our heads held high”.

Not with a bang…

It was raining and cold in a way that only Edmonton can be. Any time of year in that place there is this cold that stings, not because of the presence of something – no moisture, no early morning mist– but rather because of the total absence of anything. It’s a cold that eats at you. Pawel was at the back gate standing next to a burn barrel that was soaked. Sheila was a quarter mile away at the front gate of the plant standing by herself in the road by herself. Her picket sign was soggy and falling apart so she tucked it under one arm. Between her head and shoulder she had her cell phone while she talked to Pawel.

“You ever been on strike before Pawel?”

“Sort of. When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group that met at a church basement down the road from my house in Gdansk. My cousins were all on strike a few times, so we would go down and throw rocks at the police. How about you?”

“No. But my dad was a postal worker and I walked the line as a kid a few times in the 80’s. I also remember being at some of the rallies at Gainers.” Gainers was a meat packing plant in North Edmonton that had some very militant strikes and strong community support.

“Did you call anyone else, Pawel?”

“Yeah, the only person who picked up was Jenny. She told me we shouldn’t bother, the back to work order is coming any minute now”.

“We still need to hold the line though, Pawel.”

“Hey, I’m here aren’t I?”

An hour later I pulled up in my car. It was still raining. They were singing pop tunes to each other over the phone a quarter mile away from each other.

Sheila told me to take over for Pawel, she drove off as the sun began to rise behind the clouds. It was a dull white circle behind a sheet of grey.


With Heads Held High

In previous struggles like the Winter Campaign, St. Albert Wildcat or the Forceback Fight we managed to pick issues that were scaled to the support we had on the floor. Our network reached into most departments and actions were targeted at the level of management that was able to act on our demands.

Probably the biggest mistake we made was thinking that the lockout was going to be a continuation of this process. In the lead up to the lockout the union moved closer and closer to our positions and even at a few points openly supported our actions. The union also had access to the highest ranks of the Corporation. When we were fighting over piecemeal policies and control of the day-to-day operations, we got to be very good at winning. A comprehensive contract, however, is a matter of Corporation wide policy and required national coordination of a kind we didn’t have in place except through the union officialdom. Plus it’s almost impossible to turn down the institutional legitimacy that comes with support from the official union and its leadership when your ass is on the line, the cops are breathing down your neck and the government is ready to fine people a week of wages for one day of striking.

Conventional unions operate on the principle of being able to turn on workplace militancy in order to get agreements and then turn down that militancy in order to create an incentive on the part of the employer to sign an agreement. When we organised outside that labour relations framework, we tried to take that militancy and put it in the hands of the members. We prioritised fights that put more control over the work itself, as opposed to issues of monetary compensation and benefits, because those were harder to fit into the labour relations framework due to long established rules around the right of businesses to manage and unions to strike only at the appropriate time.

During this lockout the official union had to walk a tightrope. On one hand they needed the militancy to try and force an agreement. On the hand they needed to maintain control in order to shut it down at the point that the government was threatening the existence of the institutional union itself. The stakes were just too high for the union leadership to take the risks needed to win. Defeat was a possibility and the government was probably not bluffing. Ultimately the union leadership made a judgement call and they decided to end the militancy in order to save CUPW as an institution – at the cost of what made the union a living social movement. For our part, we failed to understand how the terrain had changed. We thought there was an opening that came with collective bargaining but realy it was a closing off. There were actually less chances to make real gains because we got swept up in a process and pattern that used our agitation as just one piece on a much bigger game board. We got played.

Sheila motioned for Jay to help her drag the barrels into the middle of the road. They were full of ash from the previous few weeks of burning. Once the barrel was in place she ran over to the woodpile, grabbed some wood and started throwing it in the barrel. Jay looked at her like she was nuts.

“What are you doing? The lines are coming down in ten minutes.”

“Exactly. If those fuckers want us off the line, fine, but they can’t fine a barrel $50,000, can they?” Jay smiled and started dragging the other barrels over and filling them with wood. Sheila brought over the can of gasoline.

She lit a cigarette while Jay poured gasoline in the barrels. She lit a few more smokes and passed them around. Everyone took a few drags off of them and then threw them in the barrels. The fires went up. A guy from one of the waiting trucks shouted at them, “what the hell are you doing? We need to get through there!”

Sheila turned, looked at him, and shrugged. They all made their way to the front of the building as the barrels started to glow red with all the fuel and wood. The deadline passed. The trucks were supposed to go through but the barrels burned for another half hour before they simmered down enough to be moved.

On the other side of the building a large crowd of a few hundred had gathered. Half of them were the first shift to go into the plant. The other half came from the depots and transportation department. As the start of the first shift came closer a bunch of us went to the front by the doors and formed two lines. Soon everyone fell in line behind us. I looked across at Ike and Toni and smiled.

Soon a member of the labour relations team came up to the doors from inside and pushed them open. Suddenly everyone started chanting “General Strike! General Strike! General Strike!” The workers started marching in the building and those of us there as supporters joined them. As we crossed the lobby the labour relations people began to panic. One of them started to close one of the inside doors. Another one started pushing them open and trying to stand in front of Ike.

“Ike, you can’t come in”

“Why not? I’m here on union business.”

“The hell you are”

Soon the crowd was milling around in the foyer and no one could get in. The chants continued. One guy was wearing a shirt that said “Wildcat, not just a beer”.

“You might have just got yourself a $50,000 fine Ike, the strike is over, you can’t just stand there like that. You’re blocking things.” Ike shrugged.

Then the other one got a call on his cell phone. He winced and shouted into the phone “get a fire extinguisher and put them out then!”

Eventually the crowd managed to file through and back in to work carrying orange whistles and wearing strike shirts. A week later I found out there was a series of investigations into sabotage including sending one container of mail bound for Regina Saskatchewan to Inuvik. They never did find out who did it.

Struggle leaves bruises. It is tremendously tempting to simply return to work and lick your wounds. There is also a rush that comes with struggle. That rush always eventually subsides, leaving everyone worn out. It’s important not to think that everything will be over with a new contract and instead to treat everything as part of an ebb and flow of struggle. Successes and victories will wash over the class as time goes on but the job of a militant is to help determine what stays and what is carried out to sea. I’ve written before about the phenomenon of waves of struggles but some waves are bigger than others and not every step is a step forwards. Some waves crash upon rocks, others roll into a beach.

The next morning Toni and I met with everyone in the Transportation Department parking lot. It was two blocks away from the Parcel Hub we worked in. A crowd of about sixty of us stood in a large circle next to a row of red mail trucks. Toni spoke up, “they forced us back to work by law. They can make us go back with threats but they can’t break us! First they locked us out of this place. The only thing that has changed is now they are locked in here with us!” The crowd cheered. It was Toni’s first speech.

The drivers then marched the two blocks with union flags in a large group. As they entered the building as one large crowd, management looked. Sam, who almost punched me before the day before the lockout, looked at us and ran into his office and closed the door behind him. Toni waved to Jay the steward for the loaders and Jay shouted something to his fellow loaders. They all put the boxes down gently and joined us on the floor.

Soon everyone started pounding on the door where management was hiding. Some folks started kicking the metal mail cages and others used pieces of broken pallets to bang on the railings around the highdock for the 5 tonne freighter trucks. The racket was like dropping a drawer full of cutlery down concrete stairs. We kept the racket up for about ten minutes before putting everything down and getting to work. Management didn’t leave their office until most of the drivers were on the road that day.

Across town at Depot 2 Christine stood in front of an assembly from her depot. A bunch of them carried picket signs with them. The doors were about to open.

“I know you all have had a shop steward tell you not to start early,” Christine said, “and I know a lot of you think it’s none of the union’s business when you start. I’m not going to do that here. But I am going to say this, if we start early for the next month going back in it sends the wrong message.”

“Just for this month we need to work to rule. We need to rack up the overtime, we need to make them hurt. Going back in, they are going to try and break us. They are going to try and make up some of the money they lost in the lockout. We can’t give it to them easy.”

Another worker raised his hand and made a motion that the depot committee draw up a roster of workers who would guard the door every morning for the next month to stop early starts. The depot voted overwhelmingly in favour.

Christine tried to make her speech stirring but she couldn’t hide the fact that she felt crushed. One of the old guys came up as they walked in and play punched her lightly on the shoulder. “You did good and this isn’t over, you know, there’s a reason the union has the slogan ‘The Struggle Continues’.”

Communication is a Revolutionary Act: Thoughts on communication and media for liberation

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fight-for-15This week we’re including a piece by Scott Nikolas Nappalos on media and communication where he argues that we need to view them as part of our political process rather than just tools. The IWW has a unique history when it comes to culture, media, and communication in the history of North America. In particular, the IWW experimented with different forms of communication and media as part of its organizing including the famous cartoonssongsthe Industrial Worker newspaper, and the One Big Union Monthly. IWWs used forms of communication as political acts in ways that were innovative for their time such as silent agitators (mass visual propaganda), song and soapboxing tactics, and publications that sustained a working class culture of writers, artists, poets, and working intellectuals. Though good history of this is absent (and indeed of the IWW in general), Salvatore Salerno’s book Red November, Black November explores how culture and community formed a backbone of the IWW. The union went so far as to create a workers university run by IWWs, the Work Peoples College, that addressed a broad range of life under capitalism including basic skills, jobs and home life, as well as training for participating in the IWW, and of course political, artistic, and scientific education. This tradition was picked up by IWWs who started an annual educational and cultural retreat in Minnesota for IWWs by the same name. While focusing on the North American context and the IWW specifically, his points also apply more generally. Nappalos ideas open up a different take on communication that moves away from all the hype and technofetishism of our age, and tries to shift the focus towards understanding our role in sustaining and nurturing political relationships in struggle.


SN Nappalos

Traditionally many radicals have looked at communication and media as tools for implementing their ideas, programs, and lines on populations. Adopting the same model from capitalist marketing theory and propaganda models, communication is thought of as transmitting information from sender to receiver, with most of the thinking centered around how we can best transmit the information to our receivers, how to achieve the greatest numbers, etc. Different media are debated, and today fascination with the emergence of social media and internet culture has captivated political actors of all stripes. After the development of mass industrialized media around a century ago, the model of media and communication as a megaphone still is dominant in the actions and thinking of our time. (more…)

Outline of US Labor History with a Focus on the Role of the Left

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The people involved in Recomposition care a lot about history as a way to reflect on the present and our tasks. With that in mind, below is a rough outline for an introduction to US labor history. The outline attempts to periodize important organizations and broad trends by decade. A particular focus is to also look at the changing relationship of the left within the labor movement. (more…)