Industrial Worker (March 2014)

March 2014 issue of the Industrial Worker.

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Being a woman organizer isn’t easy

An article by Luz Sierra about the gendered expectations she has faced within her family and culture.

This past year I became politically active. I went from being completely unaware of the existence of radical politics to doing organizing work in Miami with an anarchist perspective. It has been both a rewarding and difficult journey, yet gender seems to haunt me wherever I go. I am probably not the first woman to experience this, but I believe that I should demonstrate how this is a real issue and provide my personal insight for other women to have a reference point for their own struggles.

Being raised by Nicaraguan parents and growing up in Miami’s Latin community, I have firsthand experience with the sexist culture in South Florida. Many families that migrated from South and Central America and the Caribbean arrived to the United States carrying traditions from the 1970s and 1980s. Daughters are raised by women who were taught that their goal in life is to be an obedient wife and to devote their time to raising children and making their husbands happy. Latin women are supposed to be modest, self-reserved, have the ability to fulfill domestic roles and be overall submissive. Some Hispanic families might not follow this social construction, but there are still a large number of them who insert this moral into their households. For instance, this social construct is apparent in the previous three generations of my father’s and mother’s families. My great grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and aunts never completed their education and spend the majority of their life taking care of their husbands and children. Meanwhile, various male members of my current and extended family had the opportunity to finish their education, some even received college degrees, and went on to become dominant figures in their households. The male family members also had the chance to do as they pleased for they left all household and childcare responsibilities to their wives. As the cycle continued, my mother and grandmothers attempted to socialize me to fulfill my expected female role. I was taught not to engage in masculine activities such as sports, academia, politics, and other fields where men are present. Unfortunately for them, I refused to obey their standards of femininity. I have played sports since I was 10 years old; I grew a deep interest in history, sociology and political science; and I am currently part of three political projects. Such behavior has frustrated my parents to the point that I am insulted daily. My mother will claim that I am manly, selfish for devoting more time to organizing and promiscuous because the political groups I am involved with consist mostly of men. My father will state that I am senseless for wasting my time in politics and should devote more time in preparing myself to become a decent wife and mother.

Throughout my 20 years residing in Miami, I met women from various countries. In school, at work as a certified nursing assistant, and in politics, I have met women from Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, Nepal and the Philippines who share similar stories. Each one of them revealed how they are oppressed at home. They are forced to conform to gender roles and follow traditional standards of being a woman. Some have tried to deviate from those roles, yet the pressure from their loved ones is so powerful that they often compromise with their families to not be disowned. There are some who are able to fight against the current, but consequentially, they are insulted, stigmatized and can sometimes go on to develop depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I myself have experienced such emotional meltdowns and still do. I recovered from depression in 2013 after receiving therapy for over six months, and I am currently battling with social anxiety and low self-esteem. Nevertheless, I still manage to maintain my integrity and will continue to do so to keep fighting.

Hearing the stories and witnessing the sorrow of all the women who are blatant victims of patriarchy has inspired me to keep moving forward as an organizer. Watching my mother be passive with my father, witnessing my sisters being forced to display undesirable traits, and watching the tears women have shed after sharing their unfortunate stories of living under the oppressive rule of male figures has allowed me to turn anger into energy devoted to creating a society where women are no longer oppressed. I am tired of having to face gender inequality and watching women fall into its traps. We cannot continue to neglect this issue and endure these obstacles alone. As revolutionary women, we must take these matters seriously and find strategies and solutions to overcome them.

One way to start facing this struggle is by sharing our personal experience with one another and recognizing the problems we deal with today. We cannot keep denying and repressing our frustration of gender inequality. It needs to be released. How can we expect to create a social revolution when we rarely lay our personal tribulations on the table? I know it is hard to discuss the issues we face at home, at work or within political circles. It is even difficult for me to write this article, but we need to stop letting barriers obstruct us. I remember I was petrified when I initially spoke about my personal problems with a comrade. I thought she would not understand me and would think I was annoying her, but after exposing my story, I soon realized she faced the same hardships and abuse too and was sympathetic to my situation. This really transformed my life because I thought I always had to wait to talk to my therapist about these dilemmas, but I was completely wrong. There are people out there who are willing to listen and provide support; it is up to us to reach out to them. I came to understand that gender issues still exist and that my hardships are real. Through simple actions like talking and building relationships, I believe we can form a collective of people willing to create tactics to abolish such oppression. This is how Mujeres Libres formed and created a tendency within the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo and Federación Anarquista Ibérica that faced gender inequality. They were able to grow in numbers and seize the power to fight in the forefront of the Spanish Revolution. This could be achieved today if we place our hearts and minds to it. Many of us might say that our current social setting and capacity will make that impossible, but how would we know if we have not tried yet? This is why I encourage all revolutionary women to stop secondguessing themselves and fight. Let’s end the silence now and begin to form the solidarity that is needed.

Around the union: Mobile Rail workers win, Wobblies organize worldwide

Updates on various IWW activity.

“Around The Union” is a new IW feature showcasing the tremendous organizing work of Wobblies throughout the world. Send your updates to iw-reports@ iww.org.

Twin Cities

Canvassers from Sisters Camelot are still on strike. They are mostly concentrating on their food-sharing collective, called the North Country Food Alliance, while maintaining a scab watch. The Chicago Lake Liquors campaign ended in July 2013, with the fired workers taking a monetary settlement, a significant portion of which was given to the Twin Cities General Membership Branch (GMB). There are a couple of non-public campaigns getting off the ground currently. Recently these fellow workers had a branch summit, which revolved around reflections about 2013 campaigns. There are ongoing dual-card efforts in the education, warehousing, and communications industries. Twin Cities IWW members are trying to assist Wobs in Duluth in getting a branch started. Several members are involved in the planning of a 1934 Teamsters strike commemoration event that will take place this summer.

Portland

The local Food and Retail Workers United organizing committee is still very busy, meeting multiple times a month, some in the mornings for night workers and evenings for morning workers. The group has more than 30 active members, as the IWW is active in multiple shops. The GMB’s Industrial Union (IU) 650 workers are still active in multiple shops as well. Two new campaigns have been ongoing: in domestic work and another for $5 minimum wage increases.

Dual-card and solidarity work are being carried out for an expected Portland public school teachers’ strike, as well as a bus workers’ strike. Members are also quite active in the “Defend Wyatt, Defeat Right to Work” campaign. Wyatt McMinn is a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, who was arrested in a protest at a right-to-work political meeting in Vancouver, Wash. More information can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/ defendwyattdefeatrighttowork.

Mobile Rail Workers Union

One more IWW victory, folks! On Feb. 10, Mobile Rail Solutions—a small railroad servicing company based in Illinois— decided to settle out of court for $159,791. As part of the settlement Mobile Rail admitted that the IWW members were unfair labor practice strikers and not economic strikers. The workers went public with the IWW on July 8, 2013.

Los Angeles

Wobblies from Los Angeles, Portland and Salt Lake City held a roundtable public meeting on Feb. 10 for workers in the food and retail industries. Over 20 people attended and great discussion was held.

Kentucky

The Kentucky IWW will file its request for a branch charter soon. At press time, fellow workers in Kentucky said that after about a year of gathering at-large members and signing up new ones, the group will vote on the bylaws and submit paper work to IWW General Headquarters (GHQ) for acceptance at its February meeting. The Kentucky Wobblies have been actively working to become a voice in the community and has been working with Kentucky Jobs with Justice and meeting at the Anne and Carl Braden Center. These fellow workers say they look forward to finally creating an active branch in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky: “We hope to teach the state about that common part. OBU,” they said.

Miami

In the South Florida GMB, members are agitating, mapping, and taking initial steps at their jobs in banking, healthcare, retail and printing. The branch is holding regular meetings to discuss their experiences in organizing and educate ourselves about ideas and action. Every month the branch holds barbeques in the park with soccer matches. IWW posters, cards, flyers and pamphlets are distributed in neighborhoods and working-class districts of South Florida in order to get the word out about our efforts and make contacts with workers ready to work around issues at their jobs, their buildings and neighborhoods.

International (Working) Women’s Day

A statement by the IWW Gender Equity Committee about International Women's Day

The Gender Equity Committee (GEC) is both honored and excited to reflect on the impact working women have had on the labor movement and working-class struggle, contributing to the creation of International Women’s Day (IWD).

IWD, for more than a century, has been and continues to be a day of workingclass women’s resistance and organizing, bridging the women’s movement and the working-class labor movement.

IWD dates back to the garment workers’ picket in New York City on March 8, 1857, when women workers demanded a 10-hour workday, better working conditions, and equal rights for women. Fiftyone years later, on March 8, 1908, a group of New York needle trades women workers went on strike in honor of their sisters from the garment workers’ strike of 1857, in which they demanded an end to sweatshop and child labor, and the right to vote.

In 1910, at a meeting of The Second International, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed that March 8 be celebrated as International Women’s Day to commemorate both previously mentioned strikes and lay a fertile ground for working women’s resistance and organizing across the globe.

Two years later, in 1912, Wobblies went on strike at a textile mill in Lawrence, Mass., commonly referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike. The strike was led by a contingent of mostly women and immigrants in response to the bosses cutting their wages following the passage of a new state law reducing the maximum hours in a work week. While this strike did not occur on March 8, it did occur in the spring and its message has since sparked many other direct actions in which working-class people have demanded the need for both the necessities in life as well as some of “the good things of life.” “Bread and Roses” has continued to be a common theme for the working class on IWD.

On IWD in 1917, a group of striking women textile workers in Petrograd, Russia sparked the Russian Revolution and urged their husbands and brothers to join them. They mobilized 90,000 workers to demand bread and an end to war and Tsarist repression.

Since the early 1900s, workers have, first and foremost, used IWD as a day to resist and organize together, and second to celebrate the hard-fought struggles of working people all across the world. Many countries—including Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, and Russia—celebrate March 8 as an official holiday.

The GEC believes this kind of struggle is important, and the true working-class roots of IWD must not be forgotten. We must not allow its history to be diluted by a bourgeois agenda, much the way Labor Day has replaced May Day as the widely celebrated working-class holiday in the United States. It is crucial that we continue forward, in similar spirit of our sisters who went on strike in 1857 and 1908, fighting to abolish patriarchy and sexism alongside capitalism, as both systems of oppression and exploitation are deeply intertwined.

Therefore, the GEC supports the struggle for gender equity in our union, workplaces, and the world at large. The five voting members of the GEC—elected at the IWW General Convention each year— communicate with each other as well as other members through the GEC listserv, offering their experiences, resources, and solidarity. Any member is welcome to join. If you are interested please visit http:// lists.iww.org/listinfo/genderequity.

Because we recognize that our own union is sometimes the source of genderbased violence and inequity, we are here to seek out and/or offer resources for peer mediation, conflict resolution, anti-sexism training, literature, consent training and direct actions. Our aim is to foster an atmosphere of inclusiveness in the labor movement and the IWW in particular.

The GEC is also responsible for administering the IWW Sato Fund in memory of Charlene “Charlie” Sato. The Sato Fund was started to aid IWW members who are women, genderqueer or trans* to attend important meetings, trainings, classes and workshops, therefore elevating the participation, ability, and presence of noncissexual (“cis”) male membership. If you qualify and this resource would be of help to you, please contact us at gec@iww.org to get started on the application process.

A reader’s response To “Nonviolent direct action and the early IWW”

A response to an article that appeared in the December 2013 IW about the IWW and 'nonviolent direct action'.

If Stephen Thornton’s article on nonviolence in the early IWW (“Nonviolent Direct Action And The Early IWW,” December 2013 Industrial Worker, page 11) was meant as an argument in favor of nonviolence being or becoming a “strategy” (his term) of the IWW, it deserves a response. I am bound to say “if” because it is not clear what the aim of the piece is, whether he means nonviolence as an overall strategy, to apply it to the IWW as an organization or to the class as a whole, or to identify a trend. Unfortunately, the problem here could become more than ambiguity.

First, we should rule out the possible interpretation that nonviolence is or has been an overall union principle. If this were true without restriction, it would mean all other matters, including considerations of class justice and the elimination of the class system, would be subordinate to the principle of nonviolence, which is anathema to everything the IWW has stood for in any of its manifestations.

Not only is the blanket rejection of non-violence true to our historical principles, it is also the right thing to do. While conceding that it is our union’s job to be, to some degree, a leader in working-class thought and conscience, it is also our responsibility to accept direction from the class. There is no class struggle that has not had violence as a factor, even if just as a backdrop alternative. One of the clearest examples is the story of the civil rights movement as exemplified by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Not only was King’s effectiveness enhanced by the specter of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party, not only was King’s nonviolent doctrine eroded by his latter-year involvement with opposition to the imperialist war and the plight of workers in Memphis and elsewhere, but we have also learned that King was shadowed by a force of defenders who did not avoid violence, according to Lance Hill’s “The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement.”

But developing competing lists of examples doesn’t prove anything, except perhaps who is the best empiricist. The point is that we should not involve ourselves in ruling out tactical options, or suggesting that they are passé without reference to their impact on and response to the complicated and unique conditions at hand and our overall strategy of workers’ control. An example of such circumstances out of our Colorado history might help.

In the early 1900s, Colorado was a hotbed of class struggle, especially in the mining industry, largely because coal and metals were becoming a huge part of developing imperialism, new technology, and new forms of manipulating workers in mass-oriented industrialization. Big Bill Haywood, the Western Federation of Miners and the IWW all had their roots in this development. In 1914, the resulting conflict made headlines when women and children were slaughtered in the Ludlow Massacre, which triggered federal military intervention and an imposed peace with some concessions to mineworkers. We are currently in the midst of a spate of 100-year commemorations of these events statewide.

In 1927, after the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) had retreated from the state in the wake of Ludlow and other failed attempts to unionize the coal and hard rock mines, another statewide strike broke out. This one emanated from northern Colorado, just 15 miles or so north of downtown Denver, and resulted in the Columbine Mine strike and massacre where state militia machine gunned dozens and murdered at least six picketing miners. This strike was waged under the banner of the IWW and is the centerpiece of a book which was published in 2005 by the IWW and which I helped edit along with the late Fellow Worker Richard Myers.

What the official histories of both Ludlow and Columbine (actually all part of a protracted miners’ struggle all up and down the Colorado Front Range) reveal is that violence played a pivotal role in their eventual success. At Ludlow in the south and, 13 years later, at Columbine in the north, it was organized workers’ militias that were key in forcing concessions from the bosses and the state. Organized workers’ militias, along with the reputation of the IWW as a militant and perhaps violent union, are what led to the unionization of the coal fields because that’s where the struggles eventually led: to armed standoffs between state militias and miners’ militias (complete with military training camps) which forced not only concessions but union representation as well. The coal capitalists chose to soften the blow by recognizing the UMW instead of the IWW.

The use or threat of violence was neither pre-ordained nor pre-conceived on our side. It grew organically out of the selfdefense and offensive—the line between the two is often obscure—requirements of the situations, implemented by those directly under attack and not for the purpose of inflicting harm per se. There is a place for calculating the appropriate use of force in hindsight; all our decisions should be informed by not just our immediate experience but also by that of our predecessors. In other words, there is a role for intellectuals and historians here. This kind of assessment is not limited to reviewers, however, our culture carries these kinds of lessons within it, available to those directly involved, in real time, and sometimes much more clearly than the analyses of intellectuals. Sometimes the further we are away from the immediate situation the more likely we are to import distorting biases into the process. In this case, and I suspect many others, the IWW’s opposition to the use of this violence would have placed it outside the struggle as it existed, and would have violated our real dedication to the most effective use of class leverage to achieve power.

In general it isn’t the use of violence or the myth of a violent IWW that is at the heart of the matter any more than the employment of nonviolent tactics would be. Both are part of an arsenal of tactics that are available in life-and-death struggle and must be determined as conditions unfold. In this case it was a series of accidents and acts of courage—including the violent seizure of control of nearby towns—that on balance garnered sympathy and a popular feeling that, at least, the miners were justified in responding in kind. It also served, and if our Colorado Bread and Roses Workers’ Cultural Center has anything to say about it, still serves as an inspiration to workers hungry to take control of their lives, even by force if necessary, and a reminder that workers do not have to accept a ruling class monopoly on the use of force. Details on these events are documented in our “Slaughter in Serene: the Columbine Coal Strike Reader,” available from the IWW or online at http://www.workersbreadandroses. org, and Scott Martelle’s “Blood Passion: the Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West.”

As always it’s important to view the Colorado events in the context of the broader political and historical landscape. The struggle of the early 1900s, from which the IWW sprouted, was a scene in transition between the naked authoritarianism of feudal times and modern bourgeois rule. This “new deal” rule was marked by the mythology of capitalism as a universal solution to all woes, and policies that tended to subdue the class by a combination of repression and partial appeasement and (thanks to the intriguing collaborative efforts of the “progressive” reform movement in the United States and the state capitalist communists in the Comintern) the establishment of the state as the overarching mediator of capitalist domination. It follows that a movement designed more toward capturing the hearts and minds of those deceived by this form of rule should become more prevalent, and with it, nonviolence. But again, this is a tactical decision, not a universal principle, based on the fact that times change, time changes, and with them, tactics.

We should, finally, applaud Thornton’s emphasis on the role of women’s involvement in struggle, but, again, we should add some balance to his references. We dedicated a section of our book to the toooften unrecognized leadership of women militants in mineworkers’ struggles. So we noted the leadership of not only icons like Mother Jones, who led marches of mineworkers and their supporters on the Colorado state capitol at the time, but also on much less acknowledged militants like Colorado’s “Flaming Milka” Sablich and Santa Benash, as well as others in Kansas, Illinois and beyond.

A tale of two trainings

A dual card member briefly compares the training programs of the UFCW and IWW.

The IWW’s Organizer Training 101 (OT101) is fundamentally different from any of the union trainings I’ve ever participated in with my business union.

In 2010, I went to the United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) Prairies Youth Activist Retreat. It was five days long and held in a smaller vacation town in Manitoba. We spent the first two days learning the UFCW version of labor history and why we needed to vote for the New Democratic Party (NDP). We had a provincial NDP functionary (the Minister of Justice) come and speak to us about “our” issues. Incidentally, he sidestepped my question about why the NDP cancelled the university tuition freeze. We were told that, because of elections in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, we might be expected to act as volunteers for the NDP’s electoral campaigns and that the skills we learned were going to be put into that project.

The next day was the structure of the Canadian labor movement and a half-day explanation of why Walmart is terrible (seriously, like half a day dedicated to how terrible Walmart is). The next day focused on contract negotiation. We split into two teams and tried to play the roles of employees and employers. It was the only role-play in the week, and it forced half of the workers to identify as bosses. Of course, no one wanted to play the role of the boss because we were all snarky youth attending a union activist training and thus we didn’t identify with the bosses. We didn’t take this activity, seriously and the “bosses’” only offer was “de-certify the union and we will give you a $10 raise or don’t decertify and we will negotiate a contract with the CLAC [Christian Labour Association of Canada] to lower your wages.” It was a pointless exercise.

The final day was the “organizer training” day. After the whole “why we organize” spiel, we were told that our job as organizers was to go find information in order to pass it on to the next level up within the union. Then, as the height of ridiculousness, our next task was to go to local grocery store to fan out and get information on the people working there! Can you imagine a group of 20 youth from out of town or even out of province going to a store all at once? We were instructed to pay really close attention to the workers there as well as to ask them questions about what they did and how they liked it. Of course the bosses found out right away and they called the police. Cops escorted these young organizers off the property. It was a mess and I doubt that anything productive ever came of the activity.

These tactics are fundamentally different from how the IWW operates and how the IWW trains its rank-and-file organizers. The IWW, through role-playing in its trainings, helps to empower workers themselves. Our goal isn’t to pass off information to another layer of the union who does the work for us. The IWW doesn’t see signing cards or being the official certified bargaining unit in a workplace as the ultimate goals of an organizing drive. Our definition of a union is fundamentally different. One learns in the OT101 that a union is “two or more workers coming together to change something in their workplace or industry” and not a statemandated collective bargaining unit. We role-play talking to our co-workers, and since the people we are going through OT101 are our co-workers, it’s much more empowering and uplifting.

After a week at UFCW youth activist retreat, all I felt that I got from it was a week of drinking and a paid vacation (which was fine, because as a minimum wage retail worker, I didn’t actually get paid vacations).

After a two-day IWW OT101, I feel empowered to go out and organize.

Transcona Slim is a dual-card member of the IWW and UFCW, currently working in the retail and education industries.

The challenges of administering misery in the two New York Cities

An article looking at New York City as a new 'progressive' mayor takes power.

The background for our tale is the story of a more laborious problem: class. This appears as a specter haunting the Dickensian narrative emphasizing inequalities within the city which Mayor Bill de Blasio used during his campaign. But it also appears in the impending renegotiation of municipal labor contracts and the broadening social recognition that “stop and frisk” is criminal, as is the entire regime of mass incarceration.

All of the city’s unions are currently working under expired contracts. More gravely, the city’s housing projects (in poor districts) and the prisons are full of people who are treated as a surplus population, ghetto residents whose “contracts” with the city desperately need to be renegotiated. The strategy of de facto eviction through police terror and starvation has failed.

For the last 25 years, New York City has been two cities: a city of dreams for financiers and real estate operators and a lawless police state for the working class. Now the workers and the poor demand a new city. One where they will not be starved, imprisoned, and gunned down, one where they will have dignity on the streets and on the job.

The Tale of Two Cities that de Blasio used to channel the people of New York City into the voting booths is for them the tale of the Restoration City of the last 25 years in contrast with the new city that they demand in order to live with dignity— to live at all in many cases. These people expect changes after the 25-year neoliberal Dark Age in the city’s politics that began in 1989. Will de Blasio deliver that change or be an obstacle to it?

Indices of the character of the de Blasio administration are available for all who would look: the appointment of Bill Bratton as police commissioner and of Carmen Fariña as Schools Chancellor give a disturbing premonition of the way the city’s human capital will be managed in the coming years.

Bratton’s distinguished record as a racist and apologist for police murder is not easily forgotten, nor is his pet theory of broken windows policing and his role as an architect of the “stop and frisk” policies that terrorize the ghettoes. And despite the near-total amnesia reflected in the press coverage of her appointment and the United Federation of Teachers’ pragmatic silence, there is a record of Carmen Fariña’s activities preserved in the memories of all rank-and-file teachers. She was an all-too-compliant appointee of the Bloomberg and Klein apparatus. She is famous for inventing an intense terrorist managerial style (the “gotcha” mentality), lording her power over her subordinates like a high school bully surrounding herself with a pack of sycophants and lashing out against the losers. And she is infamous for her embezzlement of funds and other criminalities. The list goes on…

What, then, can we expect? Neoliberalism 2.0: neoliberalism without neoliberals. Although the de Blasio administration has claimed to offer changes from the way things were done under the archneoliberal prince Michael Bloomberg, they only offer us nominal ameliorations of inequalities, the better to preserve inequality.

Luckily, “expectation” does not equal “fate.” We can act to change the course of things. We are in a particularly strong position to do so at the current time, which brings us back to the working class. The city has a number of issues on the class front: the fast-food strikes, the renegotiation of union contracts, the legal recognition of the need to end the terror inflicted on residents of public housing and other socially neglected zip codes. What is the working class prepared to do? General strike? Riot? Demand the release of our brothers and sisters from the prisons? Demand the end of the starvation of our communities?

A mass strike is the only rational response. Insofar as the working class— from the homeless freezing beneath a bed of newspapers to the wage slave chasing the clock through a fairly wellpadded nightmare—shows itself as being prepared for a mass strike, we can see the birth of a hospitable world. One where we don’t let each other starve, where our friends and neighbors will be emancipated from racist prisons, where our parents and friends will no longer work full time and still have to beg the bosses’ state for food stamps, where our “bosses” will no longer have the power to enslave us with clocks and statistical tables.

Rosa Luxemburg: a true revolutionary

An article by Staughton Lynd about the socialist revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg.

Rosa Luxemburg is the most significant woman in the history of revolutionary activity. For those of us seeking to create a synthesis of Marxism and anarchism, she is also the most significant individual— man or woman—in that tradition.

It is appropriate to remember her on International Women’s Day. If I am not mistaken, it was Luxemburg’s friend and colleague Clara Zetkin who first proposed that there be such a day.

And apart from who said what when, Luxemburg was surely the guardian spirit of the female textile workers who went out onto the streets of St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) on International Women’s Day, 1917, and began the Russian Revolution.

It seems that there were male radicals on the scene who told the women not to demonstrate because it would be too dangerous.

The women disregarded this advice. Emptying the textile factories, they marched to locations outside the metalworking plants where most of the workers were men and called out, “Come on, you guys! What are you doing in there? Join us!”

The authorities sent out Cossacks, policemen on horseback, to ride the women down. In his “History of the Russian Revolution,” Leon Trotsky describes what happened. The women, young and old, without weapons of any kind, approached the riders on their excited horses. Extending their arms imploringly, the women called out: “Don’t ride us down! Our husbands, brothers, sons, who are at the front, are just like you! We all want peace, bread, and land!”

The Cossacks were ordered three times to ride through the women. Three times they refused. Six months later, countless soldiers at the front lines would “vote with their feet” and come back to the cities to help overthrow the Czar.

Early life

Luxemburg was born in Poland. She moved to Germany and became the fiery spokesperson for socialists opposed to the “reformism” of German socialist leaders. Like these leaders, Luxemburg attended socialist conferences at which delegates promised each other that, if the nations of Europe were to declare war, there would be an international general strike. Long before World War I, she foresaw the timid, bureaucratic mindset that would cause German Social Democratic representatives in the national legislature, like almost all their counterparts in the national legislatures of other European countries, to vote for taxes in support of that country’s war effort.

Vladimir Lenin, too, condemned the treason of Social Democracy and took up agitation to turn the war, in every belligerent nation, into a civil war to overthrow capitalism. Those who shared this position came to be called Communists.

But Luxemburg and Lenin had fundamental differences. Toward the end of the 1890s Lenin had been arrested and sent to Siberia. Joined by his wife, Krupskaya, the two spent their mornings translating books on trade unionism by Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

The Webbs wrote about England, and, since England was the most industrially developed economy of the time, Lenin saw in what the Webbs described the future of his own country, Russia. The Webbs described the evolution of trade unionism in England from decentralized efforts characterized by “primitive democracy” and hatred of what William Blake called the “Satanic mills” into nationwide bureaucracies happy to make their peace with capitalism if their members might be provided with improved wages and benefits. Lenin dreaded that Russian workers, as well, would follow the English example and create self-interested, apolitical trade unions. He concluded that only if a “vanguard” party of radical intellectuals persistently spread left-wing political ideas among the workers would a Russian revolution be possible. And he said so, upon his return from Siberia, in a booklet entitled “What Is To Be Done?” published in 1902.

Luxemburg disagreed! She perceived Lenin as a man with many good ideas but secretive, manipulative and distrustful of ordinary workers. She said Lenin had the “soul of an overseer.”

The Russian Revolution of 1905 appeared to vindicate Luxemburg. While the “vanguard” of Russian socialists made their way to meetings in foreign countries where Bolsheviks and Mensheviks wrangled with one another, Russian workers in city after city set that vast nation on fire with a spreading, spontaneous general strike. Moreover, it was an insurrectionary uprising with objectives that were political as well as intellectual. She described all this in detail in a book that every Wobbly should read and re-read called “The General Strike.”

Imprisonment & death

The German government threw Luxemburg in prison because of her opposition to the war and to the German war effort. Her prison letters are extraordinary. When released from her cell for brief periods in which she might walk in a small courtyard, she was careful not to crush the structures made by ants and other burrowing insects.

Meantime in Russia, the Bolsheviks under Lenin’s leadership had called for “all power to the soviets” and overthrown the Czar. From the isolation of her prison cell, Luxemburg wrote a series of remarkable critiques of what was going on in Russia. Fundamentally in solidarity with what Russian workers, peasants, and soldiers had brought about, she nonetheless begged them to remember that “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit fuer den andersdenkenden” (“Freedom is always freedom for the person who thinks differently”).

Luxemburg was released from prison at the end of the war in November 1918. In her first public address after she was freed, Luxemburg said that some changes might have to wait until after the revolution, but something Germany should do right away was to abolish capital punishment.

Workers’ and soldiers’ soviets sprang up all over Germany. Misunderstanding what was going on, Luxemburg’s colleague Karl Liebknecht prematurely called for a revolutionary uprising.

Appalled, Luxemburg nevertheless remained in Berlin.

A gaggle of counter-revolutionary thugs came to the place where she was living. “To what prison are you taking me?” she naively inquired. They shot her, and threw her body into a canal.

A true revolutionary

Barely five feet tall, walking with a perpetual limp because of a childhood hip disorder, a Jew, a woman, and, during her political life and at her death, a refugee; Rosa Luxemburg may well be the most significant theorist of the 20th century labor movement.

The working class self-activity that Rosa Luxemburg chronicled, praised, and advocated has recurred since her death in many places: Italy in the early 1920s, Spain and the United States in the 1930s, France in 1968, Poland in the first flush of Polish Solidarity, and elsewhere. It usually happens locally and perhaps especially among women (think of Walentynowicz and Pienkowska at the Gdansk shipyard).

No one can be sure what the future significance of such activity will be. We can try to nurture in quiet times the horizontal, decentralized organizational forms based on solidarity, which, as Luxemburg showed, may explode from within the working class in moments of crisis.

Toward equal employment for women

Jane LaTour on gendered pay disparities in the workforce.

Now that March Madness—and Women’s History Month—are upon us, we pause for a look at the distance women have traveled since the Civil Rights Act, with its Title VII provisions for equal employment, became law in 1964. As I wrote in “Sisters in the Brotherhoods: Working Women Organizing for Equality,” “[W] omen today enjoy many gains won by the barrier-busting advocates for gender equality. Little girls today grow up thinking they might pilot an airplane; or travel into space like astronauts Mae Jemison or Sally Ride; conquer scientific frontiers; play professional basketball on the court at Madison Square Garden; or argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Report on that Court—or the N.B.A. [National Basketball Association]—for the New York Times.”

We’re a far cry from the days when newspapers ran classified ads in sexsegregated columns and brilliant future jurists like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, despite academic records of excellence, had difficulty finding employment at law firms. The road to greater gender equality was built by the actions of individual activists— acting collectively. “Equal: Women Reshape American Law” by Fred Strebeigh tells one aspect of this story. After the loss of draft deferments during the Vietnam War, which resulted in plummeting enrollments, law schools began admitting women in large numbers. Once inside, women challenged the culture in the classroom, then the employment process, and finally the law—bringing their arguments to challenge unequal practices before the Supreme Court. In the legal profession, the fact that women were able to reach a critical mass and move beyond that point enabled an activist generation—as well as women who followed in that tradition—to have a significant impact on institutions and policy.

Many excellent histories explore various aspects of the women’s movement and the organizing that led to massive social changes—for men and for women. Ruth Rosen’s “The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America” (2000); “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s” by Stephanie Coontz (2011); Nan Robertson’s “Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and The New York Times” (1992); and Susan Brownmiller’s “In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution” (1999), are at the top of my list for illumination. Yet, despite all of the gains documented in these books and other scholarship, true equality is still elusive. While this is true even in the lives of highly accomplished professional women, the barriers to equality are much more dramatic, with more devastating consequences, in the lives of working-class women.

In certain instances, Hollywood succeeds in giving currency to the lives of women working, not in courtrooms or operating rooms (medicine: another field that has opened up to women since Title VII), but in the lower-paid precincts, of which there are many. “Frozen River” (2008) is one such film. It perfectly captures the life of a woman struggling to survive on the wages of a part-time discount store clerk. The movie puts you inside the skin of this newly-single mother, forced to make harrowing choices in order to survive—to pay her bills and feed her children—alongside that of another woman, a Native American. The film shows the two mothers making common cause to face the bleak economic landscape where shrinking opportunities present enormous challenges.

For more than a decade, beginning in 2002, I had the privilege of writing about public sector workers for the Public Employee Press (PEP), the newspaper published by District Council 37 (DC 37) of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). I wrote many articles based on interviews with women working as civil servants. These stories described the lives of women struggling to pay their bills, support their families, find child care without bankrupting the family budget, getting the kids off to school in the morning, getting to work on time so that they could keep the jobs that afforded them health benefits, and at the same time, absorbing all of the vitriol that’s been spreading across the country—in small towns and large; in rural and metropolitan areas—about our so-called greedy, lazy public sector workers.

How are these women doing? The membership of DC 37 hasn’t had a raise in five-and-a-half years. Meanwhile, rents have risen; the cost of riding New York City’s subways and buses keeps rising, as does the cost of food. And for much of that time, the city under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration was saberrattling about union members needing to contribute more to the cost of their health care coverage. As I interviewed mothers, I liked to ask them what time they had to get up in the morning to get their kids out on time; how far they had to travel to get everybody where they were going—to daycare, school, or work, and what time they got to bed at night—before starting out all over again the next day. In short, I was able to describe the conditions and small economies of everyday living as a public sector worker in New York City.

Over and over, the stories turned out to be familiar: women on shoe-string budgets, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, as the expression goes; living with the stresses and consequences of lowwage jobs in one of the countries most expensive metropolitan areas. These are the everyday heroes who contribute to their communities, raise their children, and live invisible lives in an America which provides excessive financial rewards to the rich, while impugning the people whom Mitt Romney referred to as “the takers.” These stories shed light on the reality of the lives of ordinary working-class women. Back in 2010, when some of these interviews were conducted, U.S. Census Bureau information showed the highest overall poverty rate, 15 percent, since 1993. But the poverty rate for single-mother families was an outrageous 41 percent. A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Women at Greater Risk of Economic Insecurity,” showed that women of color were at greatest risk of economic hardship and that single mothers face double jeopardy—lower earnings because they are female and higher financial stress from the costs of raising children.

One possible solution to what social scientists once termed “the feminization of poverty” is to get women out of the female job ghettos. “Looking back to the 1970s, economic evidence was accumulating underscoring the point that concentrating 85 percent of women into a narrow range of employment categories—the economist Paul Samuelson’s ‘female job ghetto’—led to a dampening effect on their wages. Research by economists Heidi Hartmann, Barbara Bergmann, and Barbara Reskin, among others, made occupational segregation a hot topic. Their work on the significance of sex segregation in the workplace described the many factors—cultural, social, and institutional—that together added up to preserving the female job ghetto. During the 1970s, ‘59 cents to every man’s dollar’ became a common refrain.” Today, we’re up to 77 cents for every man’s dollar.

The ongoing attempt to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act has focused a lot of media attention on the Equal Pay Act, a strategy that would revise remedies for gender discrimination regarding the payment of wages. But another important act got little attention while celebrating its 40th anniversary— the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations Act (WANTO). In July 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $1.8 million in grants to improve women’s participation in apprenticeships such as advanced manufacturing, transportation, construction and new and emerging green occupations. Four decades—and yet the option of women training for and gaining access to work in blue-collar skilled “nontraditional” fields (less than 25 percent of the total number employed in that field) is still marginal and almost invisible. Despite legislation such as WANTO and litigation, scores of court cases brought by women and women’s rights advocacy groups, progress on this front is minimal.

One of my favorite illustrations of the difference and the economic consequences of entering fields traditionally dominated by men goes like this:

“Remember when you were a teenager and your very first job was as a babysitter? You were 16-years-old and you found that taking care of two kids sure wasn’t easy. To make sure that all was safe and sound, the parents would telephone you and ask if everything was okay.”

“Meanwhile your brother was mowing the lawn or cleaning out the garage and getting paid twice as much as you were. And for what? You had two children on your hands and the worst he could do was run over the azaleas with his lawn mower!”

“If you had an experience like this, take notice. You are beginning to understand what the movement for PAY EQUITY FOR WOMEN is all about!”

This scenario was written by the AFSCME Women’s Department in 1978. Back then, AFSCME was a leader in the movement for equal pay and comparable worth. AFSCME’s lawyer, Winn Newman, took the lead on these cases in the public sector. His work is featured in books like “Rights at Work: Pay Equity Reform and the Politics of Legal Mobilization.” The face of AFSCME’s leadership was male—and the members working in the higher paid blue-collar jobs were male too. But slowly, women began to enter those jobs. As this author wrote in “Sisters in the Brotherhoods,” “At the first New York Women’s Trade Union Conference in January 1974, Margie Albert made an argument about male-female pay differentials and the power of a union to boost women’s paychecks: ‘There is no God-given law that says a secretary is making ‘good money’ when she earns $180 a week while a sanitation worker in New York City is earning entry-level pay at considerably over that. The difference is clear. He’s organized in a powerful union. We are hopelessly divided in most offices. Women need unions!’ But another argument was looming. Why were all the sanitation workers in New York City men?”

You can follow the stories of the public sector female pioneers going into the blue-collar jobs over the decades online in the PEP…the first women who became Sewage Treatment Workers and Highway Repairers—women who poured concrete and paved roads, who fixed guard rails, who did the jobs referred to as “men’s work”—and got paid for it. And what a difference that could make in the life of a working woman: the base pay in 2012 for a Sewage Treatment Worker in New York City was $73,000. In California, the equivalent salary for a Wastewater Plant Operator Trainee ranged from $61,500 to $71,184—with benefits. This is a job that provides union benefits for applicants having completed the 12th grade, or its equivalent—no experience required. These salaries are double those offered for the average clerical worker in New York City.

A recent study released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research charted occupational segregation since the 1970s. It showed that young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men. While “[w]omen continue to enter some high-paying male-dominated professions, for example, rising from 4.0 to 32.2 percent of lawyers between 1972 and 2009, overall progress has stalled since 1996. Slowing progress, women continue to dominate professions traditionally done by women, which typically pay less, accounting for over 95 percent of all kindergarten teachers, librarians, dental assistants, and registered nurses in 2009…Most troubling, young women experience more segregation today than they did a decade ago; since 2002, their Index of Dissimilarity has worsened by 6 percent, erasing nearly one-fifth of the improvement since 1968.”

What are some of the barriers that endure and keep the numbers of women working in the blue-collar jobs so low? One of the biggest is harassment: private or public sector, this is a topic that never fails to get coverage. Stories of extreme harassment of women working in the blue-collar “nontraditional” jobs show that misogyny persists. There is a constant stream of documentation about workplace discrimination endured by these women. In “Sisters,” there’s a whole section that looks at city agencies. One focuses on the city’s Board of Education, where the carpenter Ann Jochems, the lone female, was sexually harassed to an extreme degree for 16 years. Over time, the numbers of tradeswomen working in city agencies—craft jobs that pay the prevailing rate with the private sector—have been dismal.

A quick look at data provides a reference point: at the Division of School Facilities (DSF), which is where Jochems worked, “a breakdown from 2003 to 2006 indicates the number by trade, title, and gender. However, surprisingly, the DSF does not track these employees by race. In 2003, there were five tradeswomen: one carpenter, one electrician, one machinist, one plumber, and one steamfitter helper. During fiscal years 2004 and 2005, there were four tradeswomen. Fiscal year 2006 saw an improvement: six tradeswomen— two electricians, one carpenter, one machinist, one plumber, and one steamfitter. Working in isolation, they are often targets for harassment and gender discrimination. One by one and two by two, they take up their high-paid, skilled positions in city agencies, still operating on the frontier of gender equality.”

In February 2011, a group of female bridge painters won their bias suit against New York City. Not only did the city’s Transportation Department discriminate by hiring men only, but it allowed the men to “operate like a ‘boys club’ where lewd sexual images and cartoons were displayed at their lockers.” The message that goes out from cases like this is that women are not welcome. Only very tough, thick-skinned individuals need apply.

Getting to critical mass in this realm would require many changes. As long as women are invisible in these jobs; as long as little girls don’t learn about or see any role models—don’t ever spot a woman on a fire truck or see a female plumber—as long as sexism is allowed to run rampant; as long as agencies and the trade unions do not make the issue a priority—then the problem of non-representation will remain. Women may have “come a long way baby,” but in the blue-collar skilled jobs and on many other fronts, they still have a long way to go. There is much to be done to get to real equal employment opportunity. And, as the historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich observed: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Addressing sexual violence in the IWW

An article by Madaline Dreyfus, replying to some of the recent discussion on instances of sexual violence within the IWW. Trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence.

Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual violence.

Recently, within our union, the issue of sexual assault and rape of women members has been proposed to be a primary cause of the women leaving the IWW. As a member of the Edmonton General Membership Branch (GMB) for nearly seven years and a survivor of sexual assault, I wanted to respond to what I perceive to be a disturbing discourse surrounding the issue of sexual violence against women.

I am doubtful that the failure to address sexual and gender-based violence is the leading or even one of the leading causes of women leaving the organization or campaigns. While I do think there are factors which contribute to women leaving that are rooted in androcentric and patriarchal practice, I would absolutely not call them violent in the vast majority of cases. Not all patriarchal acts are acts of sexual violence, and by giving disproportionate attention to assault, we render many of the everyday oppressions of female members invisible, and overlook other contributors to gender imbalances in our union.

In conversations with other sister workers, experiences which I know to have directly contributed to women leaving or reducing their involvement include: being asked out by much older men, having men enter their personal space in a way that made them feel vulnerable or unsafe, and derogatory comments made about their interests/capacity/value in the branch. Additionally, although much harder to track, there are a large number of women who leave the union due to messy personal (not political–and I do differentiate) relationships with other members. I attribute much of this messiness to immaturity, unkindness and the inherent complexity of sexual and romantic relationships. I think we need to intervene when conflict begins to affect the safety or continued involvement of members, and in these cases I think we need to act proactively as often as possible.

There is always a need to be mindful of the enormous difference between situations where we can exert personal or organizational influence and easily interrupt patriarchal behavior and cases of sexual assault. While many of us are rightfully suspicious of state structures, until we have the capacity to deal with all aspects of sexual assault appropriately, I believe the only responsible course of action in the case of a report of sexual assault is to encourage and help survivors to contact sexual assault support services in their area, such as helplines, hospitals, police, sexual assault centers or mental health care. We simply do not have the organizational resources or expertise at this point to assist survivors in the ways that are necessary to prevent awful outcomes, such as re-victimization, unwanted publicity, exposing them to further sexual or domestic violence from the same offender, drug and alcohol abuse, or suicide. Being a member of the IWW is important, but not nearly important as being healthy and safe.

Imagine if a woman reported a rape and instead of taking her (with consent) to the hospital or police station for a rape kit, we “dealt” with it ourselves first and physical evidence of the crime was lost? Or she wasn’t able to obtain an abortion and psychological counseling from a qualified health provider in a timely way? Or her attacker was a person within our community, and she was encouraged to find shelter within that community instead of at a shelter? Those are horrifying possibilities. Whenever I hear suggestions of “direct action” around issues of sexual assault, it becomes clear that the consequences of this course of action have not been fully considered— and that is a far greater danger to women in our organization than anything we are doing now. It is very important that we are honest with members about our limited capacity to address sexual assault within our organization in order to ensure that survivors make informed decisions about whether to access other forms of support and do not feel as though they are betraying the union or their community’s principles in doing so.

Sexual assault is not an issue that can be addressed by direct action for one clear reason: there is no “winnable demand,” which is the key characteristic of any direct action we engage in. The only things that we could win back for a person who has been sexually victimized—their self-worth, happiness, sense of safety, or physical health for instance—are not things that we can ever “win” for someone else. We cannot erase what has happened and therefore we can only take revenge, which puts neither the survivor nor us in a position of power. A worker runs the risk of feeling terribly betrayed if these unachievable aims are the goals of our organizing, because no matter what we win, it will never be a victory.

Additionally, it’s important to imagine the possible danger if we “lose.” Any of us who have been active organizers in the IWW know that any campaign loss can be extremely difficult emotionally, even under the very best circumstances. Can anyone take responsibility for pinning a worker’s hope for recovery from sexual assault on an organizing drive? Can we inoculate against what might happen if we lose, and the perpetrator has accomplished a second victimization of the worker? Any conscientious organizer knows that we must never raise the stakes so high.

This is not to say that a worker who has been sexually assaulted, at work or otherwise, should not be involved in an organizing campaign, if they feel able to be. It means only that the sexual assault should never be considered an organizing issue within the campaign. A worker might feel deeply empowered by successful direct action around other issues, meaningful connections with others, and solidarity, all of which may help that worker to survive an assault. We should ensure the worker guides all of their interactions with the perpetrator in order to protect their physical and emotional safety.

If individuals within the IWW know that it is our policy not to turn over cases of sexual assault to legal authorities or outside organizations, we are creating spaces where perpetrators are protected from the consequences of these acts. Furthermore, we are putting at risk the safety of both assault survivors and other members who may become involved in a conflict with the offender. Restorative justice can be an empowering process for survivors and their political communities, providing a way to move forward from destructive sexual violence. It is important that engagement in these processes be guided by individuals who are knowledgeable, experienced, and supported by others with expertise, such as social workers, etc.

I have participated in several IWW meetings where sexual assault and policies surrounding this issue were discussed for extended periods of time. This particular practice is for me, and can be for others, enormously triggering of difficult memories, thoughts and emotions. While survivors are often very invested in the processes we use to address sexual violence within our branch, making these subjects a regular topic of public discussion is a practice that I strongly discourage. Given that nearly a quarter of all women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, we need to be cognisant of the fact that the practice of bringing these topics up in public meetings may in fact be harmful to the very group of individuals meant to be empowered by it.

I don’t think we can underestimate the complex processes that contribute to sexual violence, in our union or in society at large. The statistical truth is that strategies which rely heavily on punitive rather than preventative strategies are unlikely to be as successful as desired, in part because punitive strategies ensure that a sexual assault must occur before we can take action. For instance, statistics indicate that the vast majority of sexual assaults occur when the perpetrator is impaired by drug or alcohol consumption.

A simple practice which has the potential to reduce the risk of sexual violence, although far less glamorous than violent retaliation, is for IWW branches to be highly aware of drug and alcohol use amongst members attending union events and socials. Having a designated pair (preferably of different genders) of sober individuals at each event allows the event organizers to keep a watchful eye on interactions that seem like they could become coercive or violent, and provides capable point-people who could handle the report of an assault reasonably and promptly. Additionally, all branch officers should be provided with a brief guide for what to do if an assault is reported to them, including numbers of hotlines, local hospitals, and sexual assault centers in the area.

Certainly, it seems clear that under no circumstances should men ever be involved in interpreting, determining priorities around, or writing legislation for women’s issues. No matter how wellmeaning, these acts always serve to silence women. While we may value male allies in our fight, the fight is our own. We do not need male “enforcers” to protect women with macho violence, nor do we need male “protectors” to publicize and act as experts on our oppressions. It is important that while men and other non-female IWW members should remain engaged in these discussions, and recognize that as union members they will have a vote on any legislative changes, women should always remain the sole representatives of their own concerns.

The first priority in all cases of sexual assault should be the physical and mental health of the survivor, second the protection of our members, followed finally by the attending to the needs of the organization. Rather than focusing on the actions of the perpetrator, we must always address physical harm to the survivor, much of which may not be immediately apparent; internal injuries, shock, sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy, for instance.

It is AN INDIVIDUAL SURVIVOR’S RIGHT to decide how she would like others to respond to her assault, including who is made aware of it, what treatment she consents to, and the response of her organization. Policies that encourage any type of “automatic” action, such as the expulsion of members accused of sexual assault, are unhelpful and discourage reporting of sexual violence. Aside from potentially drawing attention to an issue that the survivor may wish to remain confidential, the experience of the assault belongs to the survivor, not the organization— and she should be empowered to make any decisions needed, with an understanding that her organization will provide options and support. Where a worker has had her right to consent violated, we must not repeat the same crime in addressing her assault.

Discussions about the assault should be directed by the survivor, and those confided in with these situations should be made aware of the need for confidentiality. Sexual assault is a form of disempowerment that cannot simply be reversed through collective action. We cannot undo the violence which has been done to survivors, however we can endeavour to provide as safe an environment as possible, as well promote organizational practices that allow for the long and difficult path to recovery.

Invisible work: women’s challenges in the service economy

Lydia Alpural-Sullivan on gendered pay disparities.

In the changed economic landscape of the 21st century global economy, no welldeveloped theory or system for quantifying the value of labor outside the realm of physical goods production exists. The task of quantifying the value of labor as a good itself is complex and abstract. The result of this difficulty is that when determining the value of a worker’s skillset for the purpose of determining compensation, an employer is wont to rely on subjective benchmarks defined by tradition, and in the case of women particularly the sexual division of labor.

The type of work that is available to women (not to be confused with work women choose, as the capitalist class is fond of framing it) certainly has something to do with pay inequality. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013 shows that the great majority of the lowest paying jobs are in the service sector, particularly food service and retail occupations—industries which are largely occupied by female workers. What’s more, women aren’t only over-represented in the lowest paying jobs; they are the lowest paid amongst that section of workers, too.

Domestic labor that women have performed in the home and community has also traditionally been unpaid work. To imagine that those same skills have come to be simply expected from women by employers, essentially normalizing the idea that those particular forms of female capital should come at no additional cost, is no huge stretch. In his 1983 book, “The Managed Heart,” Arlie Hothschild coined the useful phrase “emotional labor,” defined as that which “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others.” Female workers are particularly susceptible to performing emotional labor, both because of the jobs made available to them, and because they have been mercilessly socialized to bear the burden of being pleasant and amicable. Certain sects of Mormonism have even adopted the mantra for their young women—“Keep Sweet,” as a reminder that passive agreeableness is a duty of their sex.

So, what is the precise connection between women occupying jobs that reflect the sexual division of labor and the pay gap? Cultural traditions arising from a history written by the voice of patriarchy seem to suggest that women’s work is simply more worthless. Certain tasks, having been historically assigned to the realm of women, have become in a Veblenian sense “humiliating” (as opposed to “honorific”) employments—or in other words, jobs which have never been and shall never be lionized, appreciated, or respected proportional to their use and value to a society.

To find millennia-old evidence of a gender gap in worth, one might start in Leviticus 27, verses 3-7, which contains a tariff describing the values of female and male slaves. The average worth of a female slave was approximately 63 percent of that of a male slave. Interestingly, the average wage differential for a female worker between 1950 and 1990 was 62.5 percent that of men. Until nearly the 21st century, it would appear, pay for women has lagged amazingly consistently. It is possible the inherent patriarchy of these belief systems was the vehicle across the centuries for a consistent disparateness in worth.

To see how emotional labor is ignored in the workplace, simply imagine which task sounds more exhausting—a childcare worker looking after 20 children, or a technician repairing a car. Include in your consideration that the technician will receive nearly twice what the caregiver will—and he is almost certainly male, and she, female. Alternately, some male-dominated industries (like information technology) will hire “office moms”—women brought on for their interpersonal skills to help offices run smoothly. These women are not paid for their interpersonal contributions to the business, despite the fact that they carry significant emotional and psychological weight in the workplace.

Obviously, closing the wage gap has profound implications for the working class. What we as workers can do to help address this is to first be aware of the emotional labor we do, and understand the unique challenges that female workers face in service jobs. We must also make efforts to consider our fellow workers in this regard. Perhaps most importantly, we must be willing to unify and speak up when we see this condition being taken advantage of. The favorite tool of the capitalist class is to divide workers along lines—by pay, by race, by gender—to tempt us to think some jobs, some skills, some workers are doing more and are worth more than others. To tolerate a gender pay gap is to assist the employing class to that end. The only answer is to be an advocate for any worker who you feel is not being paid for every bit of the labor they are doing, whether that labor is visible or not.

What kind of workers deserve a union?

An article about the common framing of 'who unions are for'.

The standard of living for U.S. workers has been stagnating or in decline for the last four decades despite enormous leaps in productivity. Labor unions, organizing on the shop floor to shut down production to enforce workers’ demands, are a well-proven and direct method of closing the gap between what workers want and what they get from their bosses. Yet labor unions today count less than 8 percent of private sector workers and less than 40 percent of public sector workers in their membership. Furthermore, public opinion often turns against those workers who risk their jobs and reputations to try to start up unions in their workplaces, calling them “undeserving” and a host of other insults. Is there anything in the history of unionism that explains why we see these self-defeating and contradictory behaviors playing out at a time when workers need to come together more than ever to fight for common goals?

Looking back a century or more to the rise of labor unions as a major force in industrialized countries, we see that some of the biggest unions (the American Federation of Labor in particular in the United States) made no bones about setting their priorities on organizing and protecting highly trained and socially privileged workers (native-born white males in particular) not only from capitalist factory owners, but also against supposed threats “from below” in the form of immigrant workers, female workers, workers of ethnic, religious and racial minorities, and other relatively underprivileged workers. The arguable goal of these unions was to create a well-paid, elite class of “deserving workers” who were able, as a unified group, to put their needs ahead of other workers’ needs, sometimes aligning their interests with the employing class in the process. When it suited them, these unions would break each other’s strikes and generally do whatever it took to obtain, as they said, what they considered to be “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” even if it meant hurting other, supposedly less deserving workers along the way.

That is not what we in the IWW would call a broad spectrum working-class solidarity, but a perverse kind of unionism fueled by reaction, racism, sexism, nativism and other prejudices. Most of all, though, it is a unionism that does not get to the root of the problem facing all workers, whether or not we inhabit traditionally privileged racial, gender and other statuses. The root of the problem is that capitalism—in allowing a 1 to 10 percent of social members to control, own, and unduly influence industry, thereby directly or indirectly ruling over the other 90 to 99 percent—creates at a structural or institutional level a permanent underclass of people who have fewer opportunities and greater hardships no matter what they do.

By contrast, the IWW and our similarly radical forebears have fought—even when it was illegal, for instance, for black and white workers to belong to the same unions—to have a totally unified class of working people: skilled and unskilled, male and female, with no one left out. We did this not only because it is just in itself, but also because it is the only strategic or logical method of liberating workers from the capitalists’ domination of modern society. Either we all stand united and on equal footing in opposition to the controllers of industry on the basis of class alone, or we will be divided and conquered from within our ranks and defeated, as has happened over and over again. (The reaction from certain subsets of the white working class against racial equality and integration in the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, was arguably an important part of how the capitalist class was able to regain a strengthened hand after decades of working-class organization and upsurges to bring us the overtly anti-worker, neoliberal regimes of former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and so on from the 1980s to today).

In 2014, more than 60 years after McCarthyism and the institutionalized purging of radicals from within mainstream labor unions, more than 50 years after the near-collapse of the IWW that followed, and more than 40 years after average U.S. wages reached their high point, labor radicals still struggle to overcome procapitalist union ideologies and reverse the class defeats which have plagued workers for far too long. In current IWW organizing campaigns, whether it is around the Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union in Minnesota, the Insomnia Workers Union in Massachusetts, or any number of other active shop-floor struggles, we, Wobblies, still hear criticism regularly from people who consider themselves to be progressive or otherwise left-of-center in comments such as, “I support unions, but not for these people. They work part time and don’t have job skills!” Or they will tell us, “If you want better wages, get out of the fast food industry and go back to school!” We also hear these sorts of remarks around other contemporary struggles going on in the broader Fight For 15 movement at McDonald’s and other large, highly profitable franchise chains.

Comments like these betray almost superstitious beliefs not only in an upward social and economic mobility that always had a low ceiling for the majority and that no longer, in large measure, even exists, but also in a labor division and class system that is based on the notion that some workers deserve to be treated and paid poorly by their employers—and indeed that there should be two separate employing and working classes to begin with (rather than, say, a cooperative system of industry in which this dichotomy is transcended). To the IWW, all workers deserve a union, and we believe that until all workers do organize into One Big Union, we can expect to see continued inequalities between “undeserving” workers who are stuck with jobs comprised of 90 percent disempowering tasks and low compensation and “deserving” workers (or so it is rationalized) who get to do the better jobs that carry more prestige and never involve undervalued but necessary “dirty work” like picking up trash, flipping burgers, or changing diapers. But most of all, there will be a capitalist class above both types of workers, keeping most of the fruits of our labor as their own private property and letting us fight amongst ourselves for the leftovers. The IWW exists to end these injustices and form a democratic society in which industry is operated according to need as determined by workers ourselves. Are you with us?

Short takes of revolutionary women

Brief reviews by Steve Thornton of books and movies about revolutionary women.

The granddaughter of one of the IWW’s most gifted organizers is using art to educate a new generation about Matilda Rabinowitz. Robbin Légère Henderson of Berkeley, Calif., is an artist who has combined her personal recollections of her grandmother, Rabinowitz (who was later known as Matilda Robbins), with the Wobbly’s archived documents in the Walter P. Reuther Library at the Wayne State University in Detroit. Beginning in 1912, Rabinowitz led textile strikes in Connecticut and Little Falls, N.Y. She then helped organize the earliest auto workers strike at the Studebaker Company in Detroit. In 1919 Rabinowitz had a child, Vita, whose daughter, Robbin, is now preparing a graphic novel memoir. Her striking illustrations, a total of 70 prints, are accompanied by a text that begins with Rabinowitz’s immigration from the Ukraine through her extraordinary organizing life. Robbin Henderson is currently looking for a publisher. If you would like information on how to contact her, visit her website: http://www.robbinhenderson.com

Nothing can replace the power of music to raise the fighting spirit of the oppressed. “Songs of Freedom” is a new CD and book celebrating James Connolly, the Irish revolutionary and IWW organizer who was also a prolific songwriter. Many of Connolly’s lyrics were not set to music (or the tunes have been lost), so performer Mat Callahan provides us with contemporary tunes that inspire and rock. His live performances with Yvonne Moore should not be missed. They are touring both coasts of the United States and Europe in 2014. The book and the CD are both available from PM Press, or you can visit http://www. matcallahan.com.

Birth control pioneer or racist eugenicist? Margaret Sanger is celebrated as the former and slammed as the latter. The graphic novel “Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story” by Peter Bagge tries to set the record straight. This is an enjoyable illustrated biography of the activist who began her career as a rebel by working with the children of the Lawrence, Mass., textile workers during the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike (the book gives us two pages on Sanger’s involvement). Bagge takes on the controversy about Sanger’s speeches and policies that some, like former presidential candidate Herman Cain, have used to smear her and Planned Parenthood. Doubters can factcheck that W.E.B. Dubois was one of her many supporters, and that Martin Luther King, Jr. was given the “Margaret Sanger” award in 1966. Pick up “Woman Rebel” and decide for yourself. It’s published by Drawn and Quarterly.

“No Gods, No Masters” has been shouted out and painted on many a banner, even before it appeared at early Wobbly demonstrations. Now a new film, “No God, No Master” (2012) explores 1919, the incendiary year in which the U.S. government brought all its power to bear against the Wobblies and those who opposed capital. Forget the bad Internet Movie Database synopsis; this 2012 film directed by Terry Green is a political thriller where the main character’s “journey into the world of homegrown terrorism proves to be a test of both his courage and his faith in the government he had dedicated his life to preserving.” It stars David Straithairn (known for his role in “Matewan”) and features characterizations of Emma Goldman, Carlo Tresca and Luigi Galleani. The film will start its limited theatrical release in March 2014.

“Shoeleather History Of The Wobblies” Teaches New IWW Stories

A short review of A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut.

Thornton, Stephen. A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut. The Shoeleather History Project, 2013. Paperback, 150 pages, $11.99

Over the last 20 years there has been a small explosion of new books regarding the IWW. This should be welcomed as they are better books for active Wobblies than those works that preceded them. Older histories, riddled with fallacies promoted by Communist-oriented academia and labor bureaucracies, have (fortunately) fallen into the trash heap we call “out-of-print.”

The newer books, such as: “Oil, Wheat and Wobblies,” “Joe Hill: The IWW and the Making of a Revolutionary Working Class Counterculture,” “Harvest Wobblies,” and “Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia” are all books that can be used to inspire new forms of Wobbly activity.

“Shoeleather History of the Wobblies” is an interesting addition to the collection of new IWW histories. Unlike most of the aforementioned books, itis not an academic work. In this way it is more like Franklin Rosemont’s book on Joe Hill. “Shoeleather” is a collection of essays and vignettes about the IWW and its work in Connecticut. It is divided into sections on free speech fights, organizing/actions, repression, and individuals. The entries are usually very short, but interesting and well-written.

I have only two small criticisms of the book. The section on repression Graphic: shoeleatherhistoryproject.com somewhat falls into theold misconception that “the IWW in the U.S. collapsed because of government repression.” This has been disproven and the sooner we move on to analyzing what actually did happen, the healthier we will be as a union. Second, there were major efforts to organize Metal and Machine Workers Industrial Union (IU) 440 in the 1930s in Bridgeport. These efforts were built on successes in Cleveland. I’m not faulting Fellow Worker Thornton for the oversight; it’s pretty obscure and not mentioned in major histories. It would be interesting if any information could be found on those efforts.

The author, Steve Thornton, is a member of the IWW. I thank him for his efforts in this book.

Learning valuable lessons about business unions

An exchange between Kdog and Brandon Oliver on the nature of the reformist unions.

Dear IW,

My Fellow Worker (FW) Brandon Oliver’s excellent review of the play “Waiting For Lefty” (“Valuable Lessons Learned From 1935 Play ‘Waiting For Lefty,’” December 2013 IW, page 3) ended in a critical examination of the state of the official labor movement—what Wobblies often call the “business unions.” I liked that the FW hit the business unions hard (we need more of that in the IW in my opinion). I also generally agree that:

“The business unions aren’t just good unions gone bad; they are literally zombies— shells that appear to still be alive but with all of their internal dynamic and thought process gone, destroyed by repeated doses of the poison known as the National Labor Relations Act. Finally, they have become incapable of acting out of the bounds that their poisoners have set. We can’t ‘recapture’ or replace them (that is, not at administering the contract). Our task has to be to show a different path, as a permanent fighting workers’ organization.”

It would be a mistake however to conclude that there won’t be turmoil and struggle from the ranks of the business unions. Even in their decrepit state there has been a consistent pattern of rebellion emerging from under and against the bureaucracy. This can be seen in the raging class war of the Detroit newspapers strike, the [United Food and Commercial Workers] P-9 strike in Austin, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) strike at Northwest Airlines, the west coast longshore workers and the Chicago Teachers Union.

I see this pattern continuing, not ended. Militant workers will continue to TRY and use the business unions’ structures for class self-defense, and this will inevitably cause clashes with the bureaucracy and bosses. I believe we need to be prepared for these insurgencies and meet them (and/or participate in them) as Wobblies.

Sophisticated bureaucracies will not seek just to repress this militancy, but channel it into controlled protest aimed at adding more chips to the labor bosses hand at the capitalists’ table.

For these reasons, downplaying or dismissing the possibility of militancy emerging from workers in the business unions or from the business unions themselves will disorient people (including our membership and base) if and when that happens. This could in turn build up illusions in the bureaucrats (“This union is different, it IS fighting”). I think this is some of the reason the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has a different image with many radical young folks.

Solidarity,
Kdog
Twin Cities Wob

Response to Kdog

Dear IW,

I’m glad to see the response to the review of “Waiting for Lefty.” I think there were some weaknesses in how I expressed some thoughts, and K did a good job responding to those.

First of all, maybe my “zombie unionism” analogy was kind of stretched. I’m trying to address what I see as a huge blind spot in radical thought since the 1930s, which is that we ought to look at unions the same way we ought to look at anything else in society. That is, we have to look at them as historical objects that change both due to internal and external pressures. So much of the way that unions are discussed on the left is the same as they were discussed in 1934—but even by 1944 unions in the United States had been fundamentally changed into semigovernmental organizations. So much of the discourse is still stuck in 1934 and essentially boils down to two ideas: the first is that the unions are basically good organizations of the working class but with a bad, bureaucratic leadership which we have to struggle against and try to replace; the second is that the bureaucratic unions are bad unions, because they are not revolutionary, and that the working class would be better off going with revolutionary unions that know how to fight. However unions are just like anything else that humans make: they change. Sports, political parties, “art”—all of it has gone through major structural changes in the past 80 years, and so have the organizations that we call unions.

I think the question that we have to ask, in order to understand unions today, is “Who do they depend on for their existence?” Originally unions, even the worst ones, depended for their continued existence on workers who would be willing to pay dues, attend meetings and walk off the job in defense of their positions and their union power. Maybe they had undemocratic leaders, maybe they supported colonialism, maybe they excluded women, immigrants, or Blacks. These problems were certainly also present in the working class, they weren’t invented by the bosses. This led to the classic position that trade unions represented the average of the working class, and couldn’t be expected to be too radical. From a Wobbly perspective this was problematic even in the 1930s, but made sense.

But there is a global tendency that we can see in hindsight of tying unions to the state and employing class, not just ideologically but for their everyday existence. This began in Russia in the 1920s, it was fairly well-perfected in the United States between 1935 and 1947, and employed in other countries in different ways (the one I’m most familiar with would be Spain in the 1977 “Pactos de Moncloa” that paved the way for the return of capitalist democracy). The general common feature is to remove the union from depending on the workers for its everyday existence, making it dependent instead on the employers and the state for planning its budget and cutting paychecks to its staff. A contemporary example would be the money flowing from Democratic Party outfits through Madison Avenue firms into SEIU’s Fight for 15 campaign, and the total lack of dependence on fast-food workers.

So what does this mean for our practice? The key thing to realize is that the two classic approaches—replace the reformist leadership with a revolutionary leadership, or replace the reformist union with a revolutionary union—are both inadequate now. What we need is an organization which can build independently, and outside of the union structure, for a working-class fightback. This organization should organize workers where there is no union, and it should also be a visible tendency within already unionized shops that stands for a real fightback, not just changes of leadership, and which organizes and pushes for militant action on the widest class basis possible, not just symbolic pseudomilitancy.

The IWW is our best bet for this kind of organization, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Looking forward to continuing the debate,
Brandon Oliver

Contracts are not a tool, they’re a trap

Scott Nappalos' reply to 'The contract as a tactic', which appeared in the December 2013 Industrial Worker.

In the December 2013 Industrial Worker an article defending contracts for the IWW appeared (“The Contract As A Tactic,” page 4). The author pointed out the union’s historic hostility to contracts (the General Executive Board [GEB] even expelled a group of workers who signed a contract in the union’s early history), but he missed the reasons for the opposition. The article is useful though because it highlights one of the main issues for the IWW today: what our role is as revolutionaries trying to work around the breadth of working-class life.

I came of age politically in the Portland IWW, the branch that held and still holds the majority of contract campaigns in the whole union. Since then, I have participated in contract shops, a strike, and a few negotiations as a business union member in a handful of unions and with the IWW. For a time I was one of the organizers in the Social Service Industrial Union Branch (IUB), the largest in Portland with 150 people, of which the three contract shops were a tiny section. While historically the IWW had opposed contracts, it was our recent history with them that helped develop our own critique.

When I became a member of the Social Service IUB 650, there were only two members in good standing from the three shops a short time after winning the initial fights. We had contracts, but the workers in two of the shops were actively hostile to the union. They openly told us they wanted nothing to do with us, and that they thought the union was wrong for their work. Our main contact who worked at one of two contact shops under the same company, a capable organizer named Sarah Bishop, ended up tragically dying in an accident while hiking. This left us without any members in those shops for a long time. The third shop went the same direction shortly thereafter. Conditions were bad in the shops, having the IWW only on paper.

Other cities do not do much better. The Bay Area General Membership Branch (GMB) has had contract shops for decades, and while they maintain members in good standing and have done excellent direct action and organizing, the workers have never had any real interaction with the union. The workers historically have not attended the GMB meetings, contributed to the social and political life of the union, run for positions within, etc. This is the real history of contracts within the IWW.

How many people are familiar with the IWW Dare Family Services shop workers in Boston or the tiny clerical workers unit within an already unionized co-op in Seattle? While we’ve serviced contracts in those shops, politically they represent satellites of the IWW without any real interaction or development with the union. Our relationship has been largely to service them, acting as virtual staff and more often than not slipping away from direct action.

Today Portland’s shops do have active members and some admirable actions under their belt. Part of this shift came when we pursued a different strategy; ignored the contracts and focused on developing organizers and direct actions. With complete turnover of the shops we were lucky enough to encounter one or two individuals who wanted to organize and make changes at work. We started over from scratch and organized those shops in exactly the same way you organize without a contract. Through a series of direct actions around daily grievances, we were able to rebuild and bring new organizers into the fold. For some time the organizers in those shops were making arguments against their own contracts and looking for ways around them or even to get rid of them. In the years since I’ve left that may have changed. The bigger picture is that organizing is similar in many different contexts, and the real issue is how we advance the IWW’s revolutionary ideas and organizing on the ground.

Part of the problem is that people feel that our commitments will make the outcome of contracts different. Democracy and direct action are seen as silver bullets. In our limited experiences with contracts and their shops, we saw the opposite. The reality is that unions do not have trouble getting militant contracts because they aren’t militant (which some unions have tried obviously), but because contracts push us away from taking direct action. The real issue with contracts is that it is a framework to settle workplace disputes that changes our role as organizers and the relationship of the workers to the union.

Contracts emphasize the professional roles of lawyers, negotiators, and often politicians, while mediating direct action in getting demands. This is not random; it’s why the capitalists invented the contractual system. Contracts have long labor peace periods, because the capitalists identified in the 1930s the disruptive role of direct action. Unions experience lulls between contracts, because they are intended to. What employer would sign a contract while knowing that workers would continue to disrupt the business every month thereafter? Likewise, workers, in spite of the best efforts of many unions, continue to see the union largely as a service through the contract. Contracts are not a neutral tool for getting the goods; they channel worker discontent into the dominant means of settling disputes, a system that promotes worker passivity and something that in nearly every case has contributed to this vast alienation from workplace activity seen in unions across this country.

What is the difference between our vision of unionism and the dominant one? A point looming large is that we’re a revolutionary union. We want to do something that is fundamentally illegitimate from the perspective of dominant institutions, including the law. So we should be wary of fitting too neatly into the law. There is not an even playing field between us and the unions that want to improve capitalism today. Nor should we expect that employers, the state, and other unions will play fair if we pose a real challenge. Contracts and the legalistic framework for organizing are one tool they use to discipline workers, and it’s our job to find ways to circumvent all the detours from the kinds of organizing that builds people’s will to fight.

This discussion also raises the question of what we think made the business unions turn out the way they did? Is it just that they have personal flaws or aren’t radicals? Many of them start out just as sincere as us, and tons of union officials, organizers and militants begin as leftists. The problem with the methods of business unions is not who is doing them, or even their militancy and democracy, since militant and democratic versions of business unionism have done only marginally better. The real issue is that they struggle within a framework that improves the system and that they are ideological organizations of reform. If we pursue simply a more militant version of this, we risk becoming a business union with red flags only.

All this goes exactly against our basic tasks as IWW members, which is to increase the activity and commitment of workers to a fundamentally new order. Our goal is to expand the amount of people getting involved in fights around their daily lives because those fights can change them. People can find convictions and hope in collective struggle. Contracts restrain that and trade financial gains for restrained activity.

The author endorses the grievance procedure and points to materially improving the lives of people through contracts. The grievance procedure itself is the embodiment of this pacifying effect of contracts. Grievance procedures take the discontent around issues and put it into a labor court to be settled by officials barring direct action. Employers agree to it because it takes workplace problems off the clock and out of the way of their interests. That line of reasoning is exactly how unions become a tool of the oppression of workers with the rise of contractual unionism. During the 1930s workers engaged in slowdowns and fought to control production (for the safety of their bodies, amongst other things) directly on the shop floor. The United Auto Workers’ first contracts began to integrate production quotas, creating a virtual speed up where the union enforced the boss’s workflow against the workforce. Contracts took shop fights and institutionalized them, effectively illegalized prior struggles that kept workers safe, and turned the union into the cop for the boss.

It’s not hard to see the ideology behind contracts—they serve to channel workers into a legislative sphere that mirrors the dominant society. Contracts, union elections, and labor courts are to the world of workers what the state is to society as a whole. Just like we can’t play by their rules in the government, we need to assert our own power on the shop floor directly.

This highlights a basic dilemma that faces revolutionary unionists today: What is our role? Are we trying to secure material gains (and hope people get on our side along the way) or are we trying to organize people and radicalize workers in struggle? Obviously we need both. But the pursuit of material gains is distorting on two levels. First, people are not necessarily convinced just by winning things. Often the opposite happens. In the IWW we’ve seen easy wins evaporate when people get what they want. Likewise, it is often great defeats that spur people on to a lifetime of commitment. The history of labor is filled with this, and many of our best organizers today in the IWW come from failed campaigns. Winning or losing doesn’t happen in a vacuum; people interpret those outcomes based on how they view the world, and what they want to do with it. That can change in struggle, but it’s never as simple as winning or tipping the balance.

Secondly, we should not expect that a union which threatens all those who are powerful will be better at securing gains. No revolutionary workers’ movement ever was. Reformism has the upper hand here usually. It’s much easier for the powerful to give concessions to a collaborative body than an oppositional revolutionary one. To fetishize the winning aspect is to fundamentally mistake it for the reason why people fight.

People fight because they believe in it. I hear again and again from workers organizing that they want justice and to make things right even if it’s worse for them. This is key. People need to believe in something to give them the strength to endure the inevitable suffering that comes with throwing yourself against the capitalist class. Today it is a pretty uneven battle. If we hedge our bets on winning the day-to-day battles, I don’t think we will get very far.

On the other hand, we have been able to inspire committed lifelong militants through workplace fights. People can be transformed in collective struggle. The IWW has a lot to offer here as we offer not only our tactics, but also our revolutionary ideas that help people work through the broader problems of their lives and gives a unique vision of a better world worth fighting for. This is our basic task today: to radicalize people and spread a revolutionary movement that could pose at times a real challenge to capital. That task goes beyond any immediate short-term gains and helps us understand why it is so hard to win at the shop level today. Ultimately we are in the business of organizing individuals: workers through their lives and actions. To have a sustained revolutionary movement takes a particular situation that allows it to flourish. Often reformism just will function better. As we’ve learned through our own experiments with adopting reformist tactics, they don’t give us extra tools for building that movement; they only remove the best parts of our work.