Co-operatives, capitalism and the IWW

Co-operatives, capitalism and the IWW

Blog entry critiquing a promotional graphic of the revolutionary union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) comparing a capitalist coffee shop with a co-operative one.

I have seen this picture (click on it to see an enlarged version) doing the rounds on Facebook recently, posted by various anarchists and IWW pages.

However, I felt I had to write some sort of response to it, as the politics it contains basically show up quite a profound misunderstanding of the capitalist system. Which unfortunately is very important for people and organisations, such as the IWW, who want to overthrow it.

So this isn't meant as negative criticism of the IWW, or the creator of the image, but is meant in a constructive way to assist us all with our understanding of capitalism and how we can (try to!) supersede it.

The picture compares an exploitative capitalist coffee shop, compared to a happy, egalitarian co-operative one.

Now, the actual problem with this picture depends on what it is meant to represent. So it depends on whether the picture on the left of the "barista co-operative" is meant to be a collective coffee shop in the present day, also in a capitalist system, or if it's meant to be a collective coffee shop of a future anarchist/communist society.

If the former, a co-operative coffee shop today, then the problem with it is that while there would be no external bosses, the co-operative members have to be both bosses and workers themselves.

Their coffee shop will still be existing within a capitalist marketplace, and so will still be subjected to competition and the whims of the market.

So while their boss may not cut Joe's hours, if market forces dictate it they will have to cut their own hours themselves.

Say, for example, a capitalist chain coffee shop we can call Coffeebucks opens down the road from their happy co-op. The co-op will have to compete with it in terms of prices if it is to attract customers.

Coffeebucks only pay minimum wage, with no sick pay, no pensions, no benefits etc. They are also a large chain, so they can use their purchasing power to drive down suppliers' prices to get cheaper coffee and food. So they sell their products much cheaper than the co-op.

Facing going out of business, the co-op members either internalise the capitalist boss, and cut their own wages, conditions or jobs,1 Or they go bust.

In a capitalist economy, we cannot extract ourselves from the market. We cannot self-manage capitalism in our own interests as it is automatically weighted against workers.2 The only way we can really live without exploitation and bosses is not by internalising them but by abolishing capitalism. Which brings me to the second option.

If the barista co-operative depicted is meant to be a co-operative in a postcapitalist society then the problem with it is different.

Firstly, after a revolution which abolishes wage labour (a fundamental principle of the IWW), who in their right minds would want to continue working in their crappy coffee shop?

Coffee shop work is one of the pointless jobs (which artist William Morris referred to as "useless toil", as opposed to "useful work" ) which in a communist society no one would have to do. Basically staff only have to be there to make sure customers actually pay for their coffee and panini.

Not to mention the fact that coffee shops mainly exist to quickly sell coffee and sandwiches to workers doing other pointless jobs in their breaks - a situation which should no longer be the case in a communist society. (That and of course that after the revolution everyone will have a Gaggia!)

Finally, the co-operative picture shows money (wages) being distributed equally to all the workers. The IWW aims for the abolition of wage labour. And if the idea is that after a revolution everyone will have to keep working and just all earn the same amount of money than actually this is not a socialist society at all but will actually be a form of dysfunctional capitalism.3

Another key problem I have with the graphic is that what was good historically about the IWW (and what is still good about elements in it today) is that it is about workers fighting together in their own interests, regardless of the dictates of capital. This idea seems absent from the image, which seems to propose setting up co-ops instead of fighting.

One minor issue is that I would disagree with the emphasis given to the point on unemployment being created by design to hold down the rate of inflation. While unemployment can hold inflation down, that is not why it was created. Mass unemployment exists to keep wages down. It is a weapon to use against workers who demand better wages or conditions, as there is a large pool of people who could take their place. Similarly, inflation can be used to attack workers' wages as well, where if employers grant wage rises they can claw back profits by increasing their prices further.

(As a disclaimer, this does seem like a disproportionately long article to write about a little image on Facebook, but for some reason I just felt compelled to write it. Procrastinating about getting on with more important tasks was probably a factor as well…)

Posted By

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 13:13

Share

Attached files

Comments

honestkaos
Feb 19 2012 05:52

Most Co-Ops are Ultraliberal enterprises that do absolutely nothing to further class consciousness, revolution unionism, organizing shops or anything that the IWW exists to do.

The majority of the Co-Ops that I'm aware of that are 'affiliated' with the IWW are hippy jerk off circles that eventually have to sell out or stagnate because they still have to compete and function in a capitalist economy.

I will be so glad when this cancer is cut out of this Union.

I am a Wobbly currently organizing, with other wobs, in my 800 person shop in Madison, WI.

Solid

honestkaos
Feb 19 2012 05:55

Juan,

None of those shops are held accountable to union standards by anyone in the union either. They are a joke.

I shall be glad when they are reorganized or have their status as IWW shops removed.

solid

medwards
Feb 19 2012 06:41
Juan Conatz wrote:
Co-ops actually would probably have to be utilized if the IWW grew.

And they already are today. The land which is hosting some pretty vital internal education events is co-op land. Not IWW, but stuff going way back (I think pre-70s stuff others have mentioned but honestly I haven't researched it).

These are the kinds of alliances which are hugely beneficial and I worry sometimes that the co-op critiques might get out of hand a poison a relationship which we all benefit from. I'm not saying don't be critical, but lets just be cool with one another.

Juan Conatz wrote:
there were/are other battles to be had. Fighting the 'Joe Hill Appreciation Society' syndrome in branches, combating stock activism in favor of workplace organizing and rooting out problematic old beards who have blocked progress where and are way more important issues that people (very thankfully) have put work into over the last 10 years.

This.

Steven.
Feb 19 2012 10:05

Now, I wouldn't go as far as honestkaos here. I agree with the people who've said that co-ops can be useful infrastructure (and a steady source of income) for revolutionary organisations. But that is a different kettle of fish from being something to advertise to get people to join a revolutionary union, and of course different from an overarching revolutionary strategy.

Jason, that was a great post.

Now, onto the not particularly important but potentially quite fun topic of coffee shops under communism, there have been a couple of points made:

Cooked wrote:
Lot's of people would love to have a cafe with their friends. Just like an extended living room I presume.
Jasonhk wrote:
As for the part about coffee shop work being one of the pointless jobs, however, I don't agree so much. I personally love coffee shops (working at them as well as hanging out at them), and I'd certainly continue work at one after a revolution which abolishes wage labour. Coffee shops provide a place for people to socialize and/or enjoy specially prepared drinks; and in my opinion, no job is useless if it provides a wanted product or service, and no job is toil if it gives you some kind of fulfillment and you enjoy doing it (and that goes doubly for things like expert coffee roasters who treat coffee like wine, such as Frank from Chazzano Coffee, which takes a fair amount of skill).

Don't get me wrong, while I almost never go to coffee shops myself (I have a Gaggia at home, and I just can't bring myself to spend 15-20 min wages on a coffee), I do like good ones a lot. I wasn't saying that these places wouldn't exist. Indeed, I'm sure that a lot more of them would, as you suggest like extended living rooms near peoples homes and places of "work".

But what I do think is that coffee shop "work" would be abolished (as with all other work, but particularly so in this case). What I mean by this is that the principle function of coffee shop workers is to make sure customers pay for their food and coffee. This principle function will no longer exist. Actually making the coffee from the machines I would think would be a skill which coffee shop users would pick up themselves, with assistance from regular users, who might have some sort of rota of being in the place to help people, check stocks and make sure machinery wasn't broken.

Skilled tasks like selecting/roasting coffee could similarly be done by volunteer users. As you say, this is a skilled task but it is something which people enjoy doing, which would be its own reward.

Rats
Feb 19 2012 14:02

"Not to mention the fact that coffee shops mainly exist to quickly sell coffee and sandwiches to workers doing other pointless jobs in their breaks - a situation which should no longer be the case in a communist society. (That and of course that after the revolution everyone will have a Gaggia!)"

FUCKING ACE! This plus the picture was pure class.

gypsy
Feb 19 2012 14:23
Nate wrote:
FWIW it's my understanding that this isn't any official image but rather was made by one IWW member, who put his name in the lower corner of the image. So, this is just one member's opinion in a personal capacity.I'm also just one member speaking in a personal capacity here.
Felix Frost
Feb 19 2012 16:03
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Where I live there's a self-styled 'revolutionary' cafe run by a self-styled 'revolutionary'. It's only been open a few months but it's already shrouded in loads of controversy. In short, I've heard so many rumours and contradictory information from talking to its workers and other gossipy types that I'm not sure what to believe.

For example, it's supposed to be a coop but he's still the boss and holds all the money (apparently the coop element is in that the staff draw up their own rota). I've also heard that it's been making mad losses and therefore attempted a number of schemes to drive up profits, one of which being bringing in volunteer/unpaid staff to undercut the paid employees. On top of this, I've heard whispers that the perilous financial situation within the place means that the threat of closure constantly hangs over the staff, which seems to work as a sort of emotional manipulation into accepting all the shit that happens to them.

Like I say, many of the details are hazy (not least cos the staff members I've spoken to don't appear to be too clear on what's happening themselves, neither what a coop really entails, etc), but it certainly doesn't sound like the more comfortable, more relaxed working environment that we're led to believe coops actually are. I mean, AFAIK, Starbucks, Pret, etc don't use unpaid staff y'know... ;)

It sounds like they could need a union. Perhaps you should tell them about the IWW? wink

Awesome Dude
Feb 19 2012 16:37
revol68 wrote:
Is the IWW not a union, or claims to be, a fighting one at that? What relevance do worker ran co-ops have to them then? They going to organise against themselves? Surely worker ran co-ops are at best irrelevant to the IWW? Or is it like the time they "organised" those clown SSP members up in the Scottish parliament ie they're happy to just be able to claim they've organised a workplace regardless of the content?

This a bit OTT revol. Having a few worker run co-ops is not in the same league as organising members of parliament. The SSP thing was a massive cock up, but not surprising given the reformist and opportunist tendencies in the organisation (a product of it's motto; "a union for all workers"?) . Though having said that there is a valid debate to be had about co-ops and their relationship to the IWW with its stated goal as the "abolition of wage labour". Through our organising efforts some of us have learned that traditional methods of organising some workers aren't appropriate. In some industries it's easier to collectively organise workers through co-ops. A good case being workers in the printing industry and sex workers. Both industries have workers who are isolated by the very nature of the work they do. Forming unionised workers co-ops is a good way for them to collectively organise to address issues which effect all workers in their industry. As more workers become isolated by new advances in technique (working at home through the Internet) workers will need to find new ways of organising to resist wider exploitation which still continues even if your not in a factory or office.

Steven.
Feb 19 2012 17:04
Rats wrote:
"Not to mention the fact that coffee shops mainly exist to quickly sell coffee and sandwiches to workers doing other pointless jobs in their breaks - a situation which should no longer be the case in a communist society. (That and of course that after the revolution everyone will have a Gaggia!)"

FUCKING ACE! This plus the picture was pure class.

I like this poster.

Spikymike
Feb 19 2012 17:05

The weakest defense of this piece of 'propaganda' was put forward in it's most blatant fashion by 'Surtrsflame', but also less crudely by others here, as a sort of 'transitional measure' to ween liberals and leftists, step by step from their open support of capitalism, via mutualism or parecom type proposals, and eventually on to the real thing ie libertarian communism. Funny this as it seems so reminisant of the elitist 'transitional demands' approach of those same liberal leftists which get such a hammering on other threads here!

jasonnhk
Feb 19 2012 18:33
Steven. wrote:
But what I do think is that coffee shop "work" would be abolished (as with all other work, but particularly so in this case). What I mean by this is that the principle function of coffee shop workers is to make sure customers pay for their food and coffee. This principle function will no longer exist. Actually making the coffee from the machines I would think would be a skill which coffee shop users would pick up themselves, with assistance from regular users, who might have some sort of rota of being in the place to help people, check stocks and make sure machinery wasn't broken.

Skilled tasks like selecting/roasting coffee could similarly be done by volunteer users. As you say, this is a skilled task but it is something which people enjoy doing, which would be its own reward.

I see what you're saying. Interestingly enough, my approach has always been the opposite, i.e., to treat the making of coffee drinks as the principle function of being a barista, and the collection of money as a secondary (albeit structurally needed) function.

Steven.
Feb 19 2012 18:42
jasonnhk wrote:
I see what you're saying. Interestingly enough, my approach has always been the opposite, i.e., to treat the making of coffee drinks as the principle function of being a barista, and the collection of money as a secondary (albeit structurally needed) function.

yeah, I would say that is the seed of communism which is already in our psyche! When I have worked in service jobs taking money from customers I would give out freebies when I could, particularly the ones who seemed nice or hot as well.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 19 2012 19:04
Spikymike wrote:
The weakest defense of this piece of 'propaganda' was put forward in it's most blatant fashion by 'Surtrsflame', but also less crudely by others here, as a sort of 'transitional measure' to ween liberals and leftists, step by step from their open support of capitalism, via mutualism or parecom type proposals, and eventually on to the real thing ie libertarian communism. Funny this as it seems so reminisant of the elitist 'transitional demands' approach of those same liberal leftists which get such a hammering on other threads here!

Yeah, I think it's really problematic if we think people need to first become radicalised/politicised to engage in struggle--when in fact the opposite is (more) often true.

But, you know what, when I first became politicised that's what I thought to. My first workplace organising attempts were political: convince people of the necessity of the class struggle and then get them to join the IWW. I actually think Steven's original response is a pretty good method to combat this sort of thinking and getting newly radicalise individuals (Occupy types in particular) to develop a deeper understanding of class society and what struggle means.

I don't think the way to deal with this problem, btw, is byletting non-revolutionaries into a revolutionary organisation which, as someone pointed out, is a big problem of the OBU model of organising.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 19 2012 19:05
Joseph Kay wrote:

I think this an important point. If the IWW (or indeed the wider class) succeeds in becoming an effective fighting body, then it's going to (a) need reliable movement infrastructure (meeting venues, social spaces, print facilities) and (b) going to have to face the prospect of blacklisted militants struggling to find work. Imho it's far preferable to have say, a cafe-bar run as a co-op 'job shop' than have it owned and operated by the IWW itself. that way you get the infrastructure and potential employment for blacklisted militants, without the contradictions of a union owning a business/employing people. In other words, just because co-ops per se aren't a strategy for getting rid of capitalism doesn't mean they can't play an important ancillary role in any anti-capitalist movement.

Good post.

Cooked wrote:
Workplace organizing isn't exactly killing capitalism atm either.

But the point is that it can, whereas co-ops can't. (Although as JK points out above, they may have a role to play in the class struggle movement).

I've only learned about this since moving to the UK, but England used to have a massive co-op movement (banks, funeral homes, supermarkets, barbers...I mean cradle-to-grave fucking huge) that came right from the labour movement. While it did some important thing like make unadulterated food available to the working class, you know what? It was recuperated right back into capitalism. Big style.

Oh, on the artist who created the graphic, he does do some really good shit. In fact, one of his illustrations is the background on my computer screen. cool

Richard Myers
Feb 19 2012 21:44

I designed the graphic, by request from Nick Stonecypher, a Wobbly in the "latte/sandwich" industry.

I appreciate all the feedback about the graphic. I find some if it far afield, but some is also very interesting and worthwhile.

Because there has been speculation about me as the designer, let me offer a little bio information. I am a former factory worker (33 years), and have been in one union or another for more than 40 years. At different times i have been a union organizer, deputy secretary, salt, steward, and officer. I am also an author, and a labor historian.

I first joined the IWW in 1988. I have researched and written scores of articles about IWW history (mostly prior to 1930), most of which are on Wikipedia.

In my capacity as union staff, i have talked to literally thousands of workers (union and non-union) about labor issues. That, more than anything else, informs my use of concepts and imagery in an effort to spread the ideas of revolutionary industrial unionism.

Many workers in the United States (at least) are so thoroughly socialized to accept capitalism that they cannot even imagine any alternative. Thus, when Joseph Kay says (above):

Quote:
"Agitational propaganda is basically about puncturing 'capitalist realism' by getting people to imagine things being different. This image does that using a visual representation of piles of cash for the boss vs equal distribution. Obviously taken literally that's not 'the abolition of the wage system', but agitationally it gets people to question the 'right' of private property, and could lead to questions like 'if all wages are equal, why do we need wages at all?' "

...i would say that is precisely the way i view the graphic. It is an introduction to a concept, and should not be viewed as more than this.

The barista cooperative graphic is patterned after this graphic, which was also my design:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2621376607820&set=a.2187225674318.119830.1057325634&type=1&ref=nf

The graphic was designed specifically for Facebook, which puts some significant constraints on communication of ideas; specifically, visual imagery is the best mechanism by which to quickly catch someone's attention; and, one cannot include too much detail, otherwise the text will be much too small to read.

I'd like to offer some of the Wobbly ideas behind these images.

Bill Haywood was famous for simplifying Marxist concepts into notions that working people could more easily relate to. While designing the gold mining graphic, i had in mind Haywood's observation,

Quote:
"If one man has a dollar he didn't work for, some other man worked for a dollar he didn't get."

Another favorite Wobbly expression is, "Fire Your Boss". Similar concept.

But let us go back a little further. The IWW was birthed in the crucible of the Colorado Labor Wars, in which the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) fought against capital in the Cripple Creek strike (and elsewhere). Both Emma Langdon and Benjamin Rastall have written about the WFM cooperative stores, which were opened as a defensive measure against the onslaught of the Mine Owners Association and the Colorado National Guard. Rastall wrote (in about 1907),

Quote:
"The Federation has grown steadily since its organization. By 1903 its unions numbered 200, and its jurisdiction extended over the Rocky Mountains and far western states, and British Columbia. Five hospitals are owned by it, and several cooperative stores at various mining centers." [Rastall]

and,

Quote:
"The merchants of the district having announced that they would allow no further credit during the strike, the unions organized cooperative stores in Cripple Creek, Victor, and Anaconda. Goods were sold to the miners from these stores at cost, for cash, or upon orders from the union." [Rastall]

source (linking to my own website here):

http://www.rebelgraphics.org/wfmhall/history.html

The cooperative stores were so vital to the strike effort that they were targeted:

Quote:
"In June Major Ellison returned to Cripple Creek and on the 15th day of that month he was present when the mob took possession of the union store and wrecked and looted it. The major swears that he offered to give the names of the mob leaders and those who took property belonging to the union store to their homes to Sheriff Bell. Sheriff Bell said he would call for the information the next day, but the next day never came. Later, he visited the sheriff in his office and repeated his offer to furnish him with the names and sufficient evidence to convict, but Bell refused to receive the information." [Rocky Mountain News]

and,

Quote:
"...the mine owners directed the wrecking of the union store on Bennett avenue... A. E. Carlton and Harry Watters [were accused of] not alone leading the mob, but with directing the deportation of the men employed in the store."

Now, someone will suggest that this was a union supported operation, and not a true cooperative store. But i submit that the WFM did have a history of forming cooperative mining operations, and neglected these primarily because of strikes and other conflicts with capital.

Let us go further. The historical IWW not only believed in cooperatives, but some in the IWW fully believed that these could exist under capitalism. From a Wikipedia article that i wrote about the IWW:

Quote:
Industrial Workers of the World philosophy and tactics

"In one surprising episode of "philosophical warfare" during the strike, the IWW made an attempt to establish a workers' cooperative for striking miners at an abandoned mine. Two coal mine operators sought to demonstrate that such cooperatives were impossible, and they issued a challenge to the IWW to follow through at their facilities. However, they insisted that the IWW had to post a state-required safety bond within 24 hours, before it could reopen the mines. Since the IWW wasn't able to post the bond within the designated period, the experiment was not pursued."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Workers_of_the_World_philosophy_and_tactics#Colorado_coal_strike_.28a_case_study.29

I have shown, i believe, that historically, some cooperatives have played an essential role in the class war. On the subject of cooperatives sometimes distracting from, or diverting organizers from the class war, i concede that this is a concern.

But such discussion is appropriate to our comments about the image. If someone knows how to include such concepts into a single graphic design and still have it presentable and easy to read, then they are a much better graphic designer than i am.

Richard Myers
Feb 19 2012 21:07

Serge Forward commented:

Quote:
...unemployment doesn't exist by design as a check on the rate of inflation. That's just rubbish.

Under capitalism, the rate of unemployment bears a direct relationship to the rate of inflation. In recent history the rate of unemployment has been routinely manipulated via interest rates. If you don't believe that, then i invite you to explain what you do believe.

Steven stated,

Quote:
"One minor issue is that I would disagree with the emphasis given to the point on unemployment being created by design to hold down the rate of inflation. While unemployment can hold inflation down, that is not why it was created. Mass unemployment exists to keep wages down. It is a weapon to use against workers who demand better wages or conditions, as there is a large pool of people who could take their place."

You disagree with the emphasis. I acknowledge your point.

But note that there is a little more clarity about the unemployment/wage relationship in the original gold miners cooperative graphic:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2621376607820&set=a.2187225674318.119830.1057325634&type=1&ref=nf

The adapted barista cooperative graphic suffered from the simple problem that it was difficult to work in an unempoyed worker with the counter taking up so much visual space. And, i wanted a little variation in the messages. I still included a reference to NAIRU simply because i think workers should familiarize themselves with the concept.

Nate
Feb 19 2012 22:30

I don't have this very worked out and it may be totally off topic (sorry if so) but I think there's something worth thinking about here in relation to the stuff in the discussion on 'territorialism' in this article - http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/longview-occupy-and-beyond-rank-and-file-and-the-89-unite-2/

What that made me think of in relation to this converastion is that I think that across types of organization/forms of struggle there's an upward move where we're gaining some ground (building the organizign committee, winning gains in a workplace; building a co-op, expanding the business and range of services it offers), then there's a plateau and some downward pressures set in. Holding ground in the face of those pressures requires transferring some of those pressures into the ground we're trying to hold. So unions have to govern and discipline their members. Co-ops have to compete and so introduce pressures on wages/hours, etc. This is vague but I think I want to say that this part of what it is to exist under capitalism and is a type of the social relationship of negotiation and compromise that's part of life under capitalism. That's not to say that all forms of this are equal, far from it. I think a key issue is how our organizations and institutions relate to those downward pressures. I can't remember where, maybe it's in his article on union shops, but I think Tom Wetzel somewhere argues that unions collecting dues by hand has the effect of makign unions shrink when the members become disengaged. (Something like that, Tom if you're reading I'm sorry if I've got it wrong.) That is, a certain kind of decay may be better than a certain kind of playing the role in governing ground in service of the capital relation. Even there, though, we're still comparing different kinds of negotiations and compromises.

Felix Frost
Feb 19 2012 23:02
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I've only learned about this since moving to the UK, but England used to have a massive co-op movement (banks, funeral homes, supermarkets, barbers...I mean cradle-to-grave fucking huge) that came right from the labour movement. While it did some important thing like make unadulterated food available to the working class, you know what? It was recuperated right back into capitalism. Big style.

I don't know if that proves too much. All the organisational forms of the historical workers movement has been incorporated back into capitalism, whether this has been co-ops, unions or political organisations. I think this has more to do with the failure of the workers movement, than with the specific organisational forms.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 19 2012 23:18

Hmmm...I think "political organisations" and "unions" are a bit too vague to be covered by that statement. Certainly parties and trade unions qualify, but the Anarchist Federation is not the same thing as the Labour Party, nor was the FORA the same thing as UNISON.

If we are talking about trade unions, political parties, and co-ops, I'd argue they are dead ends for the workers movement precisely because they are all institutions that have to internalise the functioning of capitalism to operate.

So they are failures of the workers movement because they're not revolutionary. And the workers movement will always ultimately fail if it's not revolutionary.

This is not say, of course, the legitimately revolutionary organisations can't be co-opted. They can, of course, but if you're building an organisation that seek to exist, compete, manage, or mediate within the logic of capital, or course you're going to fail.

Steven.
Feb 19 2012 23:20
Felix Frost wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I've only learned about this since moving to the UK, but England used to have a massive co-op movement (banks, funeral homes, supermarkets, barbers...I mean cradle-to-grave fucking huge) that came right from the labour movement. While it did some important thing like make unadulterated food available to the working class, you know what? It was recuperated right back into capitalism. Big style.

I don't know if that proves too much. All the organisational forms of the historical workers movement has been incorporated back into capitalism, whether this has been co-ops, unions or political organisations. I think this has more to do with the failure of the workers movement, than with the specific organisational forms.

Felix, you are being too generous here. The reason that co-ops, trade unions, and political parties have been incorporated back into capitalism is that worker cooperatives, trade unions and political parties are not able to overthrow capitalism! So we need different forms of organisation if we're going to be successful

Serge Forward
Feb 20 2012 01:14
Richard Myers wrote:
Serge Forward commented:
Quote:
...unemployment doesn't exist by design as a check on the rate of inflation. That's just rubbish.

Under capitalism, the rate of unemployment bears a direct relationship to the rate of inflation. In recent history the rate of unemployment has been routinely manipulated via interest rates. If you don't believe that, then i invite you to explain what you do believe.

Yes, I explain very badly sometimes. I don't disagree that there's a link between the level of unemployment and the rate of inflation nor do I disagree that there's routine manipulation, it was just the whole 'unemployment by design to check inflation' view that I'm questioning and instead think the notion of 'industrial reserve army' is far more relevant.

Anyroad, you should know I'm a fan of coops and am actually a co-owner a 3000+ member coop myself. I just don't have any illusions in that organisation or coops in general being in any way anti-capitalist and don't think the IWW (yes, I am a member) should be promoting coops as alternatives to capitalism either.

And for certain others posting on this thread, you are indeed using this as a stick to beat the IWW with... but I'd expect no less.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 20 2012 07:59

Revol, I think agree with the almost wholeheartedly. That said, knowing that this is a sensitive issue, it might be better to say that "what passes for American anarchism is really radical liberalism" instead of personalising it to "many so-called anarchists". Just my two cents.

On the space stuff, it's not only escape from the crown, but manifest destiny and the frontier existing as an escape valve for class struggle.

Plus, as someone pointed out on another thread recently, the US was formed when the society was predominated by the yeomanry. Those values of self-subsistence and a very specific conception of "liberty" don't transfer to capitalist (or even industrial) context at all are still held up as fundamental American traits on both the left and the right--hence the constant wanking over the constitution.

gypsy
Feb 20 2012 09:37
Quote:
a promotional graphic of the revolutionary union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) comparing a capitalist coffee shop with a co-operative one.

I think this quite disingenious tbh. Its one guy who done this not the IWW collectively.

gypsy
Feb 20 2012 09:40
Quote:
(As a disclaimer, this does seem like a disproportionately long article to write about a little image on Facebook, but for some reason I just felt compelled to write it. Procrastinating about getting on with more important tasks was probably a factor as well…)

Lolz perhaps having an axe to grind aswell eh. I wouldn't like someone to be taking what one member of solfed or what one member of afed made and say its what the actual organisations think.

Caiman del Barrio
Feb 20 2012 10:47
gypsy wrote:
Quote:
(As a disclaimer, this does seem like a disproportionately long article to write about a little image on Facebook, but for some reason I just felt compelled to write it. Procrastinating about getting on with more important tasks was probably a factor as well…)

Lolz perhaps having an axe to grind aswell eh. I wouldn't like someone to be taking what one member of solfed or what one member of afed made and say its what the actual organisations think.

Fair enough, but it does have the IWW logo on it and it is being shared/spread on Facebook (and was designed for that precise purpose). It's hardly disingenuous of people to responded to branded visual propaganda that's gone (or aims to go) 'memetic' (there's that word again) in such a way IMO.

Ed
Feb 20 2012 12:42
gypsy wrote:
Lolz perhaps having an axe to grind aswell eh. I wouldn't like someone to be taking what one member of solfed or what one member of afed made and say its what the actual organisations think.

Hmm, I dunno, I think that's a bit unfair.. I mean, firstly, until someone said here, I thought this was an official piece of IWW prop (I hadn't noticed the name in the corner and even if I had I would've just assumed he drew it and the IWW literature dept approved it).. I think it's an easy mistake to make that this isn't official IWW prop (similarly, I don't the CNT lets individuals use their logo for personal propaganda)..

Secondly, I don't think it's right to say that it's just "one guy" in the IWW.. it obviously isn't (as Wobs have said). There is a tendency within the Wobs to push for co-ops as a strategy for social change (and not just the Wobs to be fair, co-ops are something that a lot of radicals believe will bring radical social change, but this particular example is something that came up in the Wobs).. just as there is a tendency for non-contractual direct action organising (and pro-contractual organising and probably other tendencies I don't know about and 'membership' of these tendencies is probably pretty fluid, people belonging to more than one, swapping etc)..

So yeah, related to this, I don't think this article should be seen as an attack on the IWW as there isn't a single, IWW-hive mind to attack. It should be seen as a criticism of one piece of prop by someone in the IWW supporting co-ops. As Wobs here have said, lots of people have gotten involved in/around the Wobblies coz of Occupy and they're new to all these arguments.

So rather than being 'anti-IWW', I think this can be used (and I imagine Steven intended it to be used this way, at least in part) by IWWers who want to have these discussions with other members of their organisation. And I actually think that if that can happen then it's a sign of a pretty healthy organisation..

Richard Myers
Feb 20 2012 14:07
Quote:
I don't think it's right to say that it's just "one guy" in the IWW.. it obviously isn't (as Wobs have said). There is a tendency within the Wobs to push for co-ops as a strategy for social change (and not just the Wobs to be fair, co-ops are something that a lot of radicals believe will bring radical social change, but this particular example is something that came up in the Wobs).. just as there is a tendency for non-contractual direct action organising (and pro-contractual organising and probably other tendencies I don't know about and 'membership' of these tendencies is probably pretty fluid, people belonging to more than one, swapping etc)..

So yeah, related to this, I don't think this article should be seen as an attack on the IWW as there isn't a single, IWW-hive mind to attack. It should be seen as a criticism of one piece of prop by someone in the IWW supporting co-ops. As Wobs here have said, lots of people have gotten involved in/around the Wobblies coz of Occupy and they're new to all these arguments.

So rather than being 'anti-IWW', I think this can be used (and I imagine Steven intended it to be used this way, at least in part) by IWWers who want to have these discussions with other members of their organisation. And I actually think that if that can happen then it's a sign of a pretty healthy organisation..

Allow me to describe aspects of two different organizations that i have been involved with. At one extreme, i was teaching at a local community college, and also had a part time job doing some web programming. I had some graphic design experience, and decided to tinker with the school's logo. I developed several variations of the logo that i thought were more eye-catching than the existing versions. I showed these to my boss, who was aghast that i would dare to even consider the possibility that the logo could be improved upon. This organization (or at least this boss) thereby created a rather stifling environment, and i never again tried to volunteer any such contributions.

The Industrial Workers of the World, on the other hand, is much more trusting of the instincts of its contributors. This has always been the case; all those songs and cartoons that Joe Hill wrote or drew were not necessarily solicited by the union; they were, rather, largely volunteered, and their intrinsic worth was appreciated and respected. But Joe Hill wasn't the only such contributor, not by far. I have a collection of cartoons and drawings by scores of working class artists, many of whom are nameless, anonymous, or now forgotten. The quality varies; some look very "professional", some are amateurish in execution, but penetrating in message. All are worthwhile.

I have been creating literally thousands of posters, flyers, graphic images, poems, and histories for the Industrial Workers of the World, for a very long time. Some were for local use; others were adopted by various parts of the organization. I am extremely gratified at the acceptance and encouragement that i have received over the years from individual Wobs, and from those responsible for the IWW website. I have occasionally been invited to create a graphic or to write a book review. More often, i'm contributing in the same manner as those working class artists who anonymously came up with an idea, put it on paper, and months later, saw it reprinted in the GOB or the Industrial Worker.

Certainly, there are risks involved. About two decades ago, i got in trouble with the IWW for something that i created; it was a poster for a local event that some in the IWW might have embraced, but others might have seen as potentially controversial. What was my specific mistake? Not in creating the poster, nor in asserting support by the organization. I was questioned by one elected official because i stated in the poster that the event was endorsed by the "IWW", when in fact it had been endorsed by the "Denver Branch of the IWW". Adding four words to the poster satisfied all.

In brief, i would argue, the Industrial Workers of the World not only respects artistic contributions by class conscious working class individuals, but openly embraces same. It isn't just me; i am one in a very long line of contributors, over the entire history of the organization. I would likewise argue that this openness on the part of the IWW is more a strength than a liabilty.

One could quantify that argument in a number of ways, not the least of which is this: if i am a worker who recognizes that my contribution to the organization is appreciated, then i am much more likely to embrace that organization. With all of its shortcomings, i do embrace the IWW, and consider it worthy of my lifelong dedication. I have seen plenty of evidence that others share a similar dedication.

Now. On the question of coops. Steven himself has acknowledged that he could not tell whether the graphic depicted a barista coop under capitalism, or after the wage system had been abolished. This was a conscious design choice, i intentionally did not clarify that circumstance. Why? Because there is much more to the situation than one graphic image can convey.

I have friends who are actively trying to promote coops; one of these friends asked me to help with an introduction to some union folk just this past week.

I was not willing to expend more than a few minutes' effort to help with this particular request. I have a very specific reason for this: the individual views the coop effort as a means to escape capitalism, rather than to further the effort to abolish the wage system. My knowledge of this circumstance was a direct result of my asking specific questions about motivation. Indeed, she has asked me to become involved in her cooperative building, and i have declined precisely because i don't see the class consciousness that i believe is so necessary to the struggle.

So when there is a suggestion that Wobs see cooperatives as a way to avoid the class struggle, i strongly disagree, at least for my own part. The individual in question is interested in the IWW, but has not joined, and probably will not join. If she were to join, i would work with her much more closely in an effort to help her see the global picture. Absent that, my energy is more productively directed elsewhere.

Ed
Feb 20 2012 14:17
Richard Meyers wrote:
In brief, i would argue, the Industrial Workers of the World not only respects artistic contributions by class conscious working class individuals, but openly embraces same. It isn't just me; i am one in a very long line of contributors, over the entire history of the organization. I would likewise argue that this openness on the part of the IWW is more a strength than a liabilty.

Yeah mate, no doubt this is true.. I think such openness is a strength as well (though in the past I think I wouldn't have). But part of the openness means discussion in good-faith rather than the assumption of people having an axe to grind (not saying this is what you're doing, or even that IWWers do it more than anyone else, I think its a common thing on the left - including libcom - but it has a negative effect)..

Anyway, enough from me..

Richard Myers
Feb 20 2012 14:26

The late Franklin Rosemont was one of the great chroniclers of the IWW. He has been called perhaps "the most productive scholar of labor and the left in the United States." [Wikipedia, from The Surreal Life of Franklin Rosemont by Paul Garon, David Roediger and Kate Khatib.] In a book review in the Industrial Worker, i quoted him on his view of the IWW's attitude about worker contributions. The last sentence here is the most relevant sentence, in my view. Perhaps not all will consider its import; i, on the other hand, consider it a vital key to understanding the IWW:

Quote:
There are now two biographers of
Joe Hill whose work stands above the
rest. Franklin Rosemont’s “Joe Hill, the
IWW and the Making of a Revolutionary
Workingclass Counterculture” speaks
to the meaning of Hill’s life—Joe Hill as
folk hero and symbol of the downtrodden
rising in revolt. But Rosemont’s text isn’t
just about Joe Hill, it is a summation of
the entire Industrial Workers of the World
experience. Rosemont’s Chicago base
and his close association with Charles H.
Kerr Company frequently lend a sense of
“inside baseball,” allowing him to reveal
details of the IWW’s history found in no
other account. His broad grasp of Marxist
theory, as well as of the revolutionary
industrial unionism philosophy of the
Wobblies—what Rosemont describes as
an “anti-authoritarian Marxism”—lends
itself to comparison, with the IWW’s
“hobo philosophers” coming off rather
well. Rosemont observes, “Socialists, Communists,
and Trotskyists published papers
for workers—some of them admittedly of
high quality. The IWW, however, always
published workers’ papers: of and by as
well as for.”

http://www.iww.org/PDF/IndustrialWorker/IWSeptember2011.pdf

Richard Myers
Feb 20 2012 14:31

Although i've had a libcom account for years, i haven't often participated here. But i appreciate the opportunity to discuss this topic.

I must say, i haven't considered that any in this thread have necessarily had an "axe to grind". I appreciate the politeness and participation of all. I think it has been an opportunity for all of us to learn a little something from each other.