Strikes & Chokepoints Workshop, San Francisco Zinn Bookfair, 8 Dec 2019

Durban dockers refuse Chinese arms headed to Zimbabwe

The dispersed system of global production, united by supply chains stretching across the planet, has not only integrated our world but made capitalism more vulnerable to disruption. This workshop will identify and map potential choke points, exposing vulnerabilities where struggles could possibly circulate globally through acts of working class solidarity.

Strikes, Class Struggle and Choke Points

The dispersed system of global production, united by supply chains stretching across the planet, has not only integrated our world but made capitalism more vulnerable to disruption. The tap of smartphones brings goods and services to us instantly, as work increasingly recomposes into more precarious, unstable and temporary forms of employment. Yet capitalist production is being challenged with more frequent and militant work stoppages, like sick-ins by federal workers and wildcat strikes by teachers. Earlier mass and general strikes exploited choke points and effectively paralyzed production. Drawing on these histories, we will brainstorm ways cross-sectoral solidarity might follow workers, goods and services up and down production chains. We will examine the link between local workplaces and factories abroad, as well as how commodities from just-in-time fulfillment centers (like Amazon’s) are delivered to our doors by gig economy subcontractors—a system woven together by academics, logistics planners, and tech workers who design and maintain it. Our workshop will identify and map potential choke points, exposing vulnerabilities where struggles could possibly circulate globally through acts of working class solidarity.

With: Hieronymous and Robert Ovetz,

    Hieronymous, of the Bay Area-based Global Supply Chain Study/Research Group, is an adult educator, labor trainer, working class historian; he’s been a rank-and-file militant in the ILWU and IWW. He has helped organize trainings, workshops and conferences on international cross-sectoral working class solidarity in a dozen locations worldwide, from the railroad hub of Chicago to the Pearl River Delta of China.
    Robert Ovetz is the author of When Workers Shot Back: Class Conflict from 1877 to 1921 (Brill 2018 & Haymarket 2019) and editor of the forthcoming Workers’ Inquiry and Global Class Struggle: Tactics, Strategies, Objectives (Pluto, 2020). Robert is on the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Labor and Society and a Lecturer in Political Science at a university in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him @OvetzRobert

Strikes, Class Struggle and Choke Points

Room 319

4:00 - 5:30 p.m.

Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019: Strike! Discovering Our Power
Mission Campus, City College of San Francisco
1125 Valencia Street
December 8, 2019
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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Supply Chain Re...
Dec 2 2019 06:40

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  • They are not all organized, but then they would not all have to say ‘No’: just enough of them, acting in concert, at vital points in the chain.”

    JoAnn Wypijewski

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Supply Chain Re...
Dec 8 2019 16:41

The above post was edited to show that Immanuel Ness will no longer be participating.

The session before ours will be by some of our friends and comrades. Here's the announcement:

Dockworker Strikes in Durban, San Francisco Bay Area, and Beyond

Often missed in commentary on today’s globalizing economy, workers in the world’s ports can harness their role, by withholding their labor at a strategic choke point, to promote their rights and social justice causes. Peter Cole’s recent book Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area brings such overlooked experiences to light in his comparative study. Dockworkers in each port city drew on longstanding radical traditions to promote racial equality. Moreover, their commitment to black internationalism and leftist politics sparked transnational work stoppages to protest apartheid and authoritarianism. Charmaine Chua, an activist and scholar of logistics, will offer her unique perspective on Cole’s book as well as her own research on this pivotal industry. Stacey Rodgers, an Oakland native and rank-and-file activist in ILWU Local 10 will discuss her union’s history along with her role in the May Day 2015 stop work action against racist police brutality.

With: Peter Cole and Stacey Rodgers

    Peter Cole is Professor of History at Western Illinois University and Research Associate in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP), University of the Witwatersrand.
    Stacey Rodgers is a native Oaklander and member ILWU Local 10.

Dockworker Strikes in Durban, San Francisco Bay Area, and Beyond

Room 319

2:15 pm - 3:45 pm

Supply Chain Re...
Dec 8 2019 16:41

Peter Cole will do further talks in the San Francisco Bay Area on his book, Dockworker Power: Race & Activism in Durban & the San Francisco Bay Area. See the flier below:

Hieronymous
Dec 15 2019 18:09

This is a report back about my participation in the Strikes, Class Struggle and Choke Points workshop at the Howard Zinn Book Fair last Sunday (8 December 2019).

As I walked into the entrance to the City College San Francisco's Mission Campus, I saw an older Trotskyite who was a neighbor of my mom in the 1990s in Berkeley, but back then he and I were also fellow members of ILWU Local 6 (in the warehousing division). He clumsily asked if I was "still involved in that project with the corporate-sounding name?" I replied, "Do you mean Empire Logistics." He blurted back, "Yeah, that one." I told him that I wasn't, nor had I really ever been. I started to tell him that the Empire Logistics project founder based the name on Hardt and Negri's Empire (for which I have very little affinity), as well as the "Inland Empire" logistics hub in Southern California -- one of the world's largest. The Trot dude stopped listening, but it bears telling that it was there, in the western end of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, where the Empire Logistics project was begun by students at nearby universities. Many had parents working in the warehouses and distribution/fulfillment centers that transhipped goods for Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Home Depot, and most major retailers. Being that Empire Logistics was started by students studying art, using that medium to express the hyper-exploitation of work in logistics, its limitation is best summed up by Peter Olney whose critique of Empire Logistics stated that "No amount of artistic mapping can replace the agency, intelligence, and action of those who do the work!" (from his essay, "Beyond the Waterfront: Maintaining and Expanding Work Power in the Maritime Supply Chain," in Choke Points: Logistics Workers Disrupting the Global Supply Chain).[Disclaimer: Peter is the recently retired Organizing Director of the ILWU International -- basically its main strategist -- and was once involved in a study circle of the Supply Chain Research Group]

The history of our group is summarized in the "about..." description in the right column of our blog. Like Peter, we put our faith in the agency of logistics workers themselves and our purpose is encouraging working class self-activity, with the ultimate goal being a world beyond capitalism. The precursor of our project began in 2001 as an attempt to form a class-based response to the events on 9/11 and the subsequent attacks on working class living conditions (one of the founders of Insurgent Notes participated in our germinal gathering). And since the overall theme of this years Zinn Book Fair was "Strike!," our effort was an interactive workshop to strategize how workers can do stoppages to leverage chokepoints in the production process at any workplace. And even if we merely planted the seed of that idea in the attendees, it was a success.

We had around 60 participants in our workshop and were fortunate that a handful had hung around from Peter Cole's previous session, in the same room, based on his book Dockworker Power, since the ideas dovetailed so nicely. Using ideas of workers' power from Beverly Silver's book Forces of Labor, the longshore workers at the 29 ports of the west coast of the U.S. -- from Bellingham, WA in the north to San Diego in the south -- combine both the associational power of their "union shop" conditions at those ports in singular collective organization with their workplace bargaining power in such a strategic location in the global production process. Peter astutely pointed out how much of that was born in the crucible of the 83-day maritime strike along the Pacific coast in 1934, catalyzed into a general strike when two strike supporters were shot to death on "Bloody Thursday," which was July 5, 1934 (a day each year that every ILWU-organized port shuts down to memorialize all the martyrs -- 6 in total -- who were killed in the '34 strike).

During introductions we discovered that attendees worked in industries such as education, health care, childcare, tech, hospitality and included rideshare drivers and other transportation workers, gig economy workers, artists, students, non-profit workers and union staffers, and a few self-employed freelance workers along with several others from various sectors, as well as a couple retired militants.

We set up the workshop by simultaneously handing out the worksheet below to each person as we began, in order to make clear that the activity's purpose was conceptualizing how strikes affect other work sectors both within and without ones' workplace:

Then we solicited definitions of a chokepoint, which were pretty accurate, before reading the following passage from Chapter 1, "Labor and Social Movements' Strategic Usage of the Global Commodity Chain Structure," in the Choke Points book:

Sowers, Ciccantell, & Smith wrote:
Workers can not only disrupt production in their own local workplace, but potentially have the power to do so in the upstream direction (on those workers who receive inputs from other ones) or in the downstream direction (on those workers who provide inputs to other ones). Generally, the functionally integrated nature of the chains endows workers with the ability to disrupt on a large (global?) scale, potentially in all three of those spatial locations. This could lead to successful outcomes for workers—particularly since the interests of capital in global commodity chains require that each stage of the process seamlessly flow into the next one, providing a substantial amount of financial leverage for disruptive actions (or the threat of such) by workers.

Ovetz gave a short, concise overview of militant class struggle and strikes that are depicted in his book When Workers Shot Back: Class Conflict from 1877 to 1921, mostly involving finding vulnerable chokepoints to strengthen railroad strikes. I described how the San Francisco waterfront had been the site of protracted class struggle, often leveraging both associational and workplace bargaining power during various strikes. The first one that drew in groups of workers versus groups of employers was the 1886 Waterfront Strike. In response to the cross-sectoral solidarity of strikers, bosses created a Board of Manufacturers in 1891. The Second Waterfront Strike was in 1893, but the cause of the strikers was lost when a bomb went off on Christmas Day at a non-union boarding house, killing 10. A milestone event on the waterfront was the formation of the City Front Federation, creating unity with a solidarity pact of 13,000 workers in the Sailors Union of the Pacific, Teamsters and various longshoring locals. Teamsters were locked-out by bosses in 1901, triggering the sympathy action of all the other sectors, which dragged on for 3 months and resulted in 5 deaths. The workers held off the bosses' onslaught and in the end, maintained the status quo of work conditions which actually strengthened their solidarity pact. The 1916 Longshore Strike succeeded in paralyzing the port, with the reciprocal solidarity of the Teamsters who remembered 1901, and maintained popular support until the Preparedness Day Bombing killed 10 and seriously injured 40, for which anarchist Tom Mooney was framed and spent 22 1/2 years in prison. It also caused the strike to collapse, setting in a period of major working class defeats -- until the Big Strike that changed everything in '34.

We reviewed this slide (seen before, here, on our libcom blog):

Then we displayed historical examples of associational power in local industries, like in 1941 when 95% of the 2,500 restaurants in San Francisco that were organized. The union that came out of those struggles, HERE Local 2, comes nowhere close to that union density today, but just the same parlays current labor shortages by forcing hotels to pay $10 over minimum wage for some entry level positions (at $15.69 per hour, San Francisco's minimum is among the highest in the country; see below). We explained how the latter is due to a form of structural power, called marketplace bargaining power that comes from tight labor markets.

We showed how a contemporary commodity chain brings containers from China, through the massive complex of the side-by-side Ports of Los Angeles & Long Beach, then heads by train to the final destination, Chicago and its equally gigantic logistics infrastructure. We made clear that the flowchart below is an abstract thought experiment to show a typical supply chain from China to the U.S. heartland.

This was the crux of our presentation because some unions, like Marine Clerks in ILWU Local 63 at the LA/Long Beach ports have been able to leverage their associational power, being members of the longshore union that has organized all 29 ports on the U.S. west coast. Through the relationship with their broader union, the ILWU, they were also able to take advantage of their fellow union member's workplace bargaining power on the docks to decisively win a 8-day strike in 2012 -- that also paralyzed, by a factor of 70%, the busiest busiest port complex in the Western Hemisphere which is also the gateway to 43% of containerized cargo entering the U.S. We also explained the effectiveness of Chilean dockers, over the last few months, striking at 10 major exports ports and like Local 63, multiplying their strength through the application of both associational and workplace bargaining power. They also made their strikes timely, right at the harvest season when the vulnerabilities of crop exporters are at their greatest. We briefly mentioned the contemporary French strike, and how its backbone was the stoppage of transportation -- especially on the rails, like the recent Canadian National strike. Others mentioned struggles elsewhere, like in Hong Kong, Iraq and many other places all over the world.

Having explained have chokepoints can be identified along with the power inherent in the work process, we returned to the Choke Point Strike Map and asked participants to cluster together in groups of 3 of 4 and discuss the questions (below) and write/draw the connections on the Map (above). Fortunately, an app-based gig worker joined the Lyft driver, the health care union staffer was joined by a unionized Registered Nurse, some of the tech workers combined, and a few teachers talked together as everyone attempted to work thought these questions as part of the inquiry activity about strategizing for a hypothetical strike (well, almost everyone; a slightly deranged wingnut tried to badjacket former comrades; two dogmatic Trots just brooded and groaned under their breath about ultra-left "spontaneism"):

    1. What are the potential chokepoints/vulnerabilities in your workplace that could heighten the impart of the strike?
    2. Give examples of way your action could involve other workers/students/patients/clients/etc. in acts of working class solidarity up and down the chain.
    3. what source of power do you currently have in your workplace that can maximize the effectiveness of the strike (i.e., associationalor structural bargaining power?

These discussions continued for 20 minutes, then we called for report-backs from the groups. Some tech workers mentioned the need for solidarity with other sectors, like "bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers," etc., then -- rather unimaginatively in my opinion -- called to "shut down buildings," while other more creatively pondered on how to "block [internet] infrastructure." Another worker from tech bemoaned "deskilling" schemes that led to pay reductions and attempts to offshore jobs, but didn't have any ideas how these issues could be incorporated into the strike. Someone did allude to fighting to eliminate different tiers, and I would add the need to attempt to forge international connections with workers doing outsourced tech work abroad. Mention was made of "communication across tech barriers" and question which forms of tech are "necessary."

A lively report-back discussion ensued around work in the non-profit sector. Since some workplaces have minimal staff, it was suggested trying unite around associational power with "industrial networks." We kind of got bogged down when the ideas went away from striking, into the moral terrain of guilt-mongering and going after "funders" and attempting to tarnish the organizations "reputation." As a facilitator, I made clear I thought that this approach was wrong-headed, and instead employees at non-profits needed to assert their positions as "workers" in clear and unambiguous terms, situating this as a "class relationship" and stop allowing themselves to be cajoled into sacrificing for "the [pseudo] movement." A libcom comrade who was there even proposed non-profit workers "setting their own hours" and refusing to do any work beyond 8 hours.

While the rideshare driver in attendance made some interesting comments about "misclassification" as independent contractors and California's recent legislation, called AB5, that would legally make most gig economy workers waged employees, we weren't able to explore this enough. Yet I was able to mentioned the self-organized rideshare strike in Los Angeles on March 25, 2019, which was able to escalate into a global strike of drivers on May 8, 2019 -- fortuitously, just 2 days before the Uber IPO. Some very brief mention was made about rideshare consumer boycotts, but since this didn't address a strike strategy the discussion fizzled.

Mention was also made about identifying "key industries," the importance of "reproductive labor" like "childcare" and the need to "map physical location in the workplace." The above libcom comrade also pointed out that in hospitals there are various "chokepoints" within a single, massive worksite -- like a hospital -- that are vulnerable targets during strikes, as well as those external ones. One of the nutty Trots tried, unsuccessfully in my humble opinion, to assert an eternal truth which was that the one sole crucial industry was food. While the importance of food is irrefutable, it was offered in bad faith as an attempt to prove that the whole concept of our activity was flawed.

We finished with a the question: "What will you take away from this workshop?" There were lots of sincere answers, most leaning in the right direction about how multiple sectors striking in concert can have a multiplier effect, but there weren't any Eureka moments. Someone did comment that with such things, they personally have experiences where ideas percolate for a while -- and then the concepts become lucid when seen against the contradictions in their work process while on the job. But we didn't end without sectarian friction. The two Trots made clear that our effort was a giant waste of time, for our flagrant violation of their core dogma: we weren't focused primarily on "building a workers' party." When we pointed out that wasn't our intent, we received another hostile diss for being "spontaneists."

But an earnest self-criticism would be that we didn't use an example in our Choke Point Strike Map to walk everyone through and show how solidarity can cross into other workplaces -- and even sectors -- both downstream and upstream. Although we did that about the ILWU Local 63 Marine Clerk Strike in 2012, we didn't do it with any of the industries where participants worked. I'm a teacher myself, so I could have shown how in my sector money and resources come down the commodity chain to me from upstream, and downstream from me is the relationship of teaching to students and those who pay for this commodified service. A clear demonstration of how this thought experiment could be applied to any industry would have strengthened our workshop. Regardless, it was an amazingly rewarding experience and many young comrades talked with us afterwards -- some even joined us for dinner -- and continued discussing how this approach could be applied to their workplaces in order to be able to strike -- and more importantly to do it to win. An admirable goal!

Lastly, at the end we gave out -- for free -- a couple dozen copies of Labor Notes pamphlet How to Strike and Win (click for free pdf download HERE)

AngryWorkersWorld
Dec 11 2019 18:21

Thanks for the detailed report...

Hieronymous
Dec 12 2019 16:08
AngryWorkersWorld wrote:
Thanks for the detailed report...

We appreciate the feedback.

Most of the concepts we apply to class struggle, as practiced in the book fair workshop activities, were expressed in this It's Going Down podcast called "From Automation To The Gig Economy: Mapping Capital’s Networks."