Libcom Study Group - Strike! Discussion

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Jan 21 2011 22:49

Just a nerdy IWW observation, but on page 17 "Fellow Workers" is used by the Workingman's Party and they even capitalize the F and the W....i

And, I'm actually a bit curious about that quote. Is this suggest the Workingman's Party suggested "keeping quiet", as in not rocking the proverbial boat, or "keeping quiet" as this is an opportunity to take this further than simple wage demands?

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Jan 21 2011 22:56

It is just fucking nuts tho, when you see the way these strike spread--workers wondering around cities calling out workers and closing down shops--you can see why the state developed an orderly system of industrial relations to regulate disputes. To sound a bit wanky, such power and spontaneity, you can see why the state was scared...

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Jan 22 2011 01:39
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Many of the Europeans in St. Louis had more direct experience with early revolutionary upsurges, like the many refugees of the revolutions of 1848 who came to the U.S

I wonder how constant this phenomenon is through out US History. Are today's immigrants and refugees (legal and illegal) coming to the U.S. with experiences from previous high-points of struggle in their country's of origin? Or is this simply a phenomenon of 1848 or up to another point in the 19th or 20th centuries?

Quote:
Seemingly pathetic and seldom lasting more than a week or two, the significance of the strikes lay not in their success or failure but rather in the readiness of the strikers to express their grievances in a dramatic, direct, and frequently telling manner.

I like this. I find it optimistic...almost comforting.

Quote:
A topic for another day could be the historical memory and collective experience of the working class being muted or eradicated

A way to recover from this historical amnesia would be another interesting topic for another day.

Quote:
In the case of 1877, especially where it went 'the furthest' (Chicago and St.Louis), the organization of militants and revolutionaries (Workingman's Party) played a very important role complimentary to that of the spontaneous action of the workers themselves- not the role we are familiar with from the 20th century of top-down management style 'leadership'.

Examples, from either Strike! or other sources?

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Jan 22 2011 23:58
Quote:
Examples, from either Strike! or other sources?
.

Sure:

Quote:
The day the railroad strike reached East St.Louis, the St.Louis Workingman's Party marched 500 strong across the river to join a meeting of 1,000 railroad workers and residents. Said one of the speakers, "All you have to do gentlemen, for you have the numbers, is to unite on one idea-that the workingmen shall rule the country. What man makes, belongs to him, and the working men made this country." The St.Louis General Strike , the peak of the Great Upheaval, for a time nearly realized that goal.

. . .

That night, across the river in St.Louis, the Workingman's Party called a mass meeting, with crowds so large that three seperate speakers' stands were set up simultaneously. "The workingmen," said one speaker, "intend now to assert their rights, even if the result is shedding of blood. . . . They are ready to take up arms at any moment."

Next morning, workers from different shops and plants began to appear at the party headquarters , requesting that committee's be sent around to "notify them to stop work and join the other workingmen, that they might have a reason for doing so." The party began to send such committee's around, with unexpected results. The coopers struck, marching from shop to shop with a fife and drum shouting, "Come out, come out! No barrels less than nine cents." Newsboys, gasworkers, boatmen, and engineers struck as well. Railroadmen arrived from East St.Louis on engines and flatcars they had commandeered, moving through the yards enforcing General Order No. 1 and closing a wire works.

That day, an "executive Committee" formed, based at the Workingman's Party headquarters, to coordinate the strike. "Nobody ever knew who that executive committee really was; it seems to have been a rather loose body composed of whomever chanced to come in and take part in its deliberations."

Strike! p.17 - 18

And

Quote:
The party at first had little influence over any politics in the United States on a national or local level. Much like the International Workingmen's Association before it, the WPUS was widely viewed as communistic. During the railroad strikes during the summer of 1877, the party showed some of its power, gaining membership in many cities by acting as an organizational and directive force, most notably in Chicago and St. Louis.

Although the WPUS was largely unsuccessful in the strikes it helped lead, on August 6, 1878 the party had managed to gain enough popularity to capture 5 out of 7 spots in Kentucky state legislature. As news spread around the country of the success of the WPUS, more "Workingmen's Parties" formed in cities around the country, some chartered by the WPUS and some not.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workingmen%27s_Party_of_the_United_States

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Jan 23 2011 00:13
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I wonder how constant this phenomenon is through out US History. Are today's immigrants and refugees (legal and illegal) coming to the U.S. with experiences from previous high-points of struggle in their country's of origin? Or is this simply a phenomenon of 1848 or up to another point in the 19th or 20th centuries?

SMG, have yourself or anyone else on this thread read The Maya of Morganton?

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Jan 23 2011 21:20

Holding mass meetings and strike coordination sounds like solid stuff for the WPUS. Their participation in local governance probably made more sense in the late 1800s than it would now. The wikipedia article describes them as Communistic, does that mean they where Marxists? If not, what does it mean.

Anyone here read The Workingmen's Party of the United States: A History of the First Marxist Party in the Americas (Studies in Marxism (Minneapolis, Minn.), V. 14.)?

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Jan 23 2011 21:22

Nope, whats it all about?

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Jan 23 2011 22:19

Oh, it's about these group of Guatemalan immigrants who end up in Morganton, North Carolina working in a chicken processing plant and going on strike. The book itself is written so it bounces back between their lives in one particular village in mountainous Guatemala and in Morganton. At one point the author is talking about interviewing some of the workers and questions whether Guatemala's experience of civil war (with leftist guerillas often drawn from the indigenous population) might have affected the how they came to organize in NC. At first he'd get responses like 'no one from our village was involved in the war'. Then he'd say 'well this guerrilla was from your part of the country.' The response was always something to the effect of 'Oh, well you never know what people do after the sun goes down...'

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Jan 23 2011 23:28
smg wrote:
Holding mass meetings and strike coordination sounds like solid stuff for the WPUS. Their participation in local governance probably made more sense in the late 1800s than it would now. The wikipedia article describes them as Communistic, does that mean they where Marxists? If not, what does it mean.

Anyone here read The Workingmen's Party of the United States: A History of the First Marxist Party in the Americas (Studies in Marxism (Minneapolis, Minn.), V. 14.)?

I haven't heard of it; though it sounds like itd be worth the read- especially given the groups prominence in the late 19th century in the US.

The wikipedia article was probably (if I had to guess) written/edited by someone in the SLP; 'Communistic' is probably used in a negative sense, that it had revolutionary socialists who did not suppot electioneering, reformism, etc alongside those who did. I doubt the DeLeon led SLP would have acted in a similar manner as the WPUS did (judging the SLP activity during times of mass strikes, insurrections, etc after De Leon's entry and dominance).

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Jan 24 2011 02:19
smg wrote:
Anyone here read The Workingmen's Party of the United States: A History of the First Marxist Party in the Americas (Studies in Marxism (Minneapolis, Minn.), V. 14.)?

Yeah, I'm reading it right now. I was about to suggest it to others; this is highly recommended. Chapter 5, "The WPUS and the Great Labor Uprising of 1877," seems excellent -- but so far I've only skimmed it. Lots of detail about events in Pittsburgh, Albert Parsons' agitation as a WPUS member in Chicago, the WPUS involvement in the general strike in East St. Louis, and a proper treatment of how the WPUS in San Francisco followed Denis Kearney's demagoguery into riling the local the working class into racist attacks on the Chinese. Alexander Saxton's The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California is the definitive book on the ugly, reactionary role of the white working class during that period -- which was reborn with the "Yellow Peril" agitation in the teens and 1920s, and again with the widespread support for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

What's most interesting about the book is how militants like Friedrich Sorge, having been a participant in the failed Revolution of 1848 in Germany, came to the U.S. as a refugee. He became Marx's closest ally in the U.S. and was involved in the First International. Sorge had to fend off the Lassalleans in the U.S. who adopted their deceased leaders false theories, such as Lassalle's

Philip Foner wrote:
"iron law of wages," which held that the amount paid to a worker was equal to what was "necessary for his subsistence" and would never be any higher. He [Lassalle] also rejected the view that trade unions and strikes were of no importance and that the ballot was the only instrument for lifting the "yoke of capital' from labor, since it alone could enable the workers to establish producers' cooperatives with state aid and thereby raise themselves out of wage slavery into socialism. p. 11

This makes it clear that many on the left who still fetishize electoral reform are pretty much direct descendant of Ferdinand Lassalle. And since the Lassalleans in the U.S. lacked a focus on class struggle or working class self-activity, they played a detrimental role in the 1877 Great Upheaval.

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Jan 24 2011 02:37

-Hiero, does the book discuss the concrete political activities of the WPUS? What they did and how they went about it? Any mention of resistance to racism from within WPUS?

-Sounds interesting Chili Sauce. Maybe I can track a copy down.

-The Lassalleans sound similar to the Knights of Labour in practice and philosophy.

-Has there been any recent strikes that where spread in ways similar to the Great Upheaval with workers moving from one workplace to another shutting them down? It seems like this type of activity has been totally quashed by the legal labour movement.

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Jan 24 2011 16:56

Sam Dolgoff has some interesting items in his Revolutionary Tendencies in American Labor

http://www.iww.org/culture/library/dolgoff/labor4.shtml

http://www.iww.org/en/culture/library/dolgoff/labor5.shtml

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Jan 26 2011 00:18

Hieronymous- I just read a comment you made in another thread in this subforum and thought it's relevant to this discussion:

Quote:
Perhaps I take a romantic view of such things, but I see Radical America as embodying a tradition that fuses Wobbly-style anti-vanguardist organizing from below together with trying to foment in shopfloor struggles an indigenous American form of council communism.

Such a view was my original drive to research and hopefully produce something worthwhile from that part of American working class history (the tradition of libertarian/left communist/councilist/etc style heritage). As time goes on I'm becoming more and more convinced that the lack of a larger and (more importantly) more coherent militant, revolutionary working class movement in the US is a lack of a specifically American historical and theoretical context from which to build. This is what I was getting at earlier about the largely European aspects of groups and theories in the American proletariat- giving them an idealistic feel; whereas in the countries in question, the groups and ideas are very real and impact day to day activity.

The Great Upheaval seems an appropriate place to begin a comprehensive study into the American proletariat and its organizations, leaders and ideas- for the purpose of hopefully developing ideas that can affect the course of militant activity, organization, theory and direction in the present and future. It certainly seems like the first historical event signalling the movement of the US working class toward revolutionary self-organization and the overthrow of capitalism (and prefiguring events to come around the world over the next 50 years).

Was it the appropriate event for Brecher to begin Strike! with? Is anyone of the opinion that earlier events in American working class history should have been discussed first?

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Jan 26 2011 01:24
devoration1 wrote:
Was it the appropriate event for Brecher to begin Strike! with? Is anyone of the opinion that earlier events in American working class history should have been discussed first?

It feels like at the time of the Great Upheaval, there was a kind of maturity of the US working class, which seems to be based on a history that he doesn't go into deeply enough.

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Jan 26 2011 12:26
Tojiah wrote:
devoration1 wrote:
Was it the appropriate event for Brecher to begin Strike! with? Is anyone of the opinion that earlier events in American working class history should have been discussed first?

It feels like at the time of the Great Upheaval, there was a kind of maturity of the US working class, which seems to be based on a history that he doesn't go into deeply enough.

I think Strike is good to begin with, however, some supplementary essays--short ones--about the creation of the US working class might be useful. Something that discusses proletarianization and resistance to it pre 1877 might be useful. Workers in Strike! appear almost as if they are perfectly spontaneous and capable of self-organization out of almost nowhere.

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Jan 26 2011 12:34
Tojiah wrote:
devoration1 wrote:
Was it the appropriate event for Brecher to begin Strike! with? Is anyone of the opinion that earlier events in American working class history should have been discussed first?

It feels like at the time of the Great Upheaval, there was a kind of maturity of the US working class, which seems to be based on a history that he doesn't go into deeply enough.

I think Strike is good to begin with, however, some supplementary essays--short ones--about the creation of the US working class might be useful. Something that discusses proletarianization and resistance to it pre 1877 might be useful. Workers in Strike! appear almost as if they are perfectly spontaneous and capable of self-organization out of almost nowhere.

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Jan 26 2011 16:27

Not sure why you're asking this again, but yes... I think understanding the Great Upheaval in light of Reconstruction is a more explicit starting point. Contemporary class consciousness in the US and certain American characteristics of the wage relation cannot be truly understood w/o an understanding of settlerism and the chattel slavery system and the resistance to such.

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Jan 26 2011 19:39
prec@riat wrote:
Not sure why you're asking this again, but yes... I think understanding the Great Upheaval in light of Reconstruction is a more explicit starting point. Contemporary class consciousness in the US and certain American characteristics of the wage relation cannot be truly understood w/o an understanding of settlerism and the chattel slavery system and the resistance to such.

I don't mean is it an appropriate book to start the study group, I mean what do readers of the book think of Brecher's choice to start with the railroad strikes of 1877 as the starting point of the mass strike (later defined and expanded upon by Luxemburg) in the US? Specifically as many see the mass strike as the main 'motor force' behind the revolutionary, insurrectionary, etc uprisings of the working class in the 20th century (Russia, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Italy, Spain, etc)- were there earlier events in American working class history that point to the same prefiguring of the Mass Strike?

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Jan 31 2011 02:48

Does anyone think we should move up the timetable before switching to the next chapter? The chapters in Strike! are fairly short. Or is a more organic and less structured change the way to go?

To keep interest I think we should keep pace with the flow of discussion. Maybe once replies start to stagnate on a chapter we move on to the next?

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Jan 31 2011 14:32

I'm okay with moving forward. Over the last few days I cannot help but connect Strike! with whats going on in Egypt. Particularly, how militias in the United States would be called in to suppress a strike but often refused to, went awol or even joined the strikers.

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Jan 31 2011 18:30

I actually just started Chap 2 myself so I'm good with whatever....

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Feb 7 2011 18:38

Yeah, divert your eyes from the working class self-activity -- what little can be detected -- in Egypt and let's move on to Chapter 2.

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Feb 8 2011 02:31

Where there any other organizations that like the Knights of Labour where explicitly for breaking down walls dividing the working class and where opposed to wage slaver, BUT not opposed to striking and on the job actions?

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Feb 9 2011 11:29

smg - The WFM (Western Federation of Miners) from 1893 - 1905 (when it joined the IWW) seems to be the heir to the most radical tendencies of the KoL, and then some.

The first page of Chapter 2, May Day contains a great quote from the head of the KoL, T.Powderly, written in the 1880's:

Quote:
A change is slowly but surely coming over the whole country. The discussion of the labor question takes up more of the time and attention of men in all walks of life at the present time than it ever did before. . . The number of unemployed at the present time is very great, and constantly increasing. Reduction in wages, suspension of men, stoppage of factories and furnaces are of daily occurence. . . Under such circumstances as I have pointed out it is but natural for men to grow desperate and restive. The demonstrations in some of our large cities testify to that fact.

-Strike!, p.25

The same could be (and is very often) said about the international temperment today.

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Feb 9 2011 15:17
devoration1 wrote:

The first page of Chapter 2, May Day contains a great quote from the head of the KoL, T.Powderly, written in the 1880's:

Quote:
A change is slowly but surely coming over the whole country. The discussion of the labor question takes up more of the time and attention of men in all walks of life at the present time than it ever did before. . . The number of unemployed at the present time is very great, and constantly increasing. Reduction in wages, suspension of men, stoppage of factories and furnaces are of daily occurence. . . Under such circumstances as I have pointed out it is but natural for men to grow desperate and restive. The demonstrations in some of our large cities testify to that fact.

-Strike!, p.25

The same could be (and is very often) said about the international temperment today.

Do you see this temperament in the US? I feel like Atlantic Canada is resigned to wage cuts and loss of jobs.

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Feb 9 2011 20:28

I mean on an international scale. Even at the height of the revolutionary wave (approx. 1917-1923), large areas of the industrial West seemed as passive, conservative, etc as they do today. I'm sure if we examined many parts of the world it would appear that the working class is defensive or apathetic/passive; but taken as a whole consciousness and combativity/militancy are increasing.

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Feb 12 2011 02:37

Is there anything in 2011 that could galvanise the class like the demand for an 8 hour work day?

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Feb 12 2011 10:53

smg, I think that today is a very different state of affairs. During the time of the eight-hour movement, the working class was going on the offensive, making demands for improvements.

Right now the employers are massively on the offensive and so far we are not even managing to defend the pay and conditions we have now…

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Feb 12 2011 12:18
Steven. wrote:
smg, I think that today is a very different state of affairs. During the time of the eight-hour movement, the working class was going on the offensive, making demands for improvements.

Right now the employers are massively on the offensive and so far we are not even managing to defend the pay and conditions we have now…

I tend to agree with that sentiment. I was asking as a provocation more than anything. However, throughout Strike! (at least up to where I've read) the working class is under constant assault and always seems to rise to the challenge, organize itself and fight back sometimes winning something sometimes not. If anything, Strike! is giving me some hope that maybe we aren't totally doomed despite how unorganized and beaten down we may appear.

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Feb 12 2011 19:09

So I've jumped way ahead in my reading, are we still on Chap one and the Great Upheaval or has the discussion moved on?