How do I persuade my students not to cross picket lines on N30?

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Dec 12 2011 18:59

I'm not sure if Boris actually counts as a scab as his union wasn't striking. He certainly should have pushed for a solidarity strike though (even a wildcat one wink). But what are you suggesting? that he should not cross, get disciplinary, then become a martyr?

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Dec 12 2011 19:46

Ramona, how did things go for you (and your students) on the day?

lettersjournal
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Dec 12 2011 20:05
Arbeiten wrote:
I'm not sure if Boris actually counts as a scab as his union wasn't striking. He certainly should have pushed for a solidarity strike though (even a wildcat one wink). But what are you suggesting? that he should not cross, get disciplinary, then become a martyr?

I thought not crossing picket lines was the most basic principle, whether or not one is in a union. Or is it now, 'do not cross picket lines, unless you might get punished for doing so'.

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Dec 12 2011 21:17

I thought it was not crossing your own picket line, but yeah, it is difficult. I mean, I don't want to pontificate too hard on Boris' situation without more context. If he went out on a limb (i.e. nobody in his union supports him) and got fired, I don't see how this would be moving us one iota closer to communism? Solidarity and classes/masses (as apposed to isolated individual actions) are just as important principles.

lettersjournal
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Dec 13 2011 17:07

Very funny that someone with the name Arbeiten is arguing for crossing picket lines to save your own skin (the basic argument of scabbing).

The psychology of the communist scab is curious. I encourage you and Boris to write articles on your views about crossing picket lines vis a vis your 'class struggle' politics.

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Dec 13 2011 19:41

Lettersjournal:

In practical terms, what's so special about a picket line? The scope of a strike, if it is not general, is a subset of workers. In a way you could construe as a scab any worker who does not strike when others do. Is it about the building that they work in? Their specific employer?

I suppose you could say it's about "showing solidarity", but workers in otherwise unrelated buildings next door could show solidarity, are they scabs?

My own understanding is that the "don't scab" rule is to ensure that workers' strikes have the greatest material effect on their employer. So workers crossing the picket line who do the same job as others who are striking can be called scabs unreservedly. But workers doing a different job who cross the line do not ensure that the striking workers' jobs are done and so do not lessen the material impact of the strike.

Thus, putting to one side the arbitrariness of picket lines, the specific circumstances in which picket lines are crossed have different effects on the success of the strike, so you could say there are different degrees of scabbing.

And in Boris' case you'll notice his union had not called a strike so it may have been difficult for him to participate without risking his livelihood, or he may not have know at the time how to go about minimising the risk to it.

EDIT I see arbeiten has already mentioned this. But your response shows poor understanding, or perhaps lack of compassion. My understanding is that the workers who's unions had called the strike and formed the picket line under discussion were not at risk of losing their jobs because they are protected under employment law. Boris, being a member of a different union, not having called a sympathy strike, would have been at risk of losing his. So it seems unfair to pick on him for not risking his job to support workers who were not risking their own.

Finally, I don't think "saving your skin" is the basic principle of scabbing, I think it's "not being willing to lose a day's pay" which is quite different.

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Dec 13 2011 19:50

Considering that the thread is about convincing students (who are obviously not in a union that is striking) not to cross other people's picket lines, I think that lettersjournal's comment is very poignant.

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Dec 13 2011 20:11

It's loosely related but I don't think it's "poignant" as the students are not putting their livelihoods at risk by striking/not crossing a picket line.

A student has nothing to lose by not crossing the picket line, except access to the library for the duration of the strike. They can study at home and catch up later with study they've missed, instead of getting drunk at parties and snogging randoms.

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Dec 13 2011 20:20
Pikel wrote:
They can study at home and catch up later with study they've missed, instead of getting drunk at parties and snogging randoms.

Studying at home and catching up and getting drunk at parties/snogging randoms. Guess which one is the reality for my popular, fashionable, adverage apolitical peers as opposed to un popular, un fashionable, political minded people like for instance tongue

lol I wish

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Dec 13 2011 20:22
Pikel wrote:
It's loosely related but I don't think it's "poignant" as the students are not putting their livelihoods at risk by striking/not crossing a picket line.

A student has nothing to lose by not crossing the picket line, except access to the library for the duration of the strike. They can study at home and catch up later with study they've missed, instead of getting drunk at parties and snogging randoms.

Maybe they don't have internet or the proper textbooks at home? Maybe they don't have another quiet study environment without a cover charge?

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Dec 13 2011 20:23

Pikel, how would you relate the students' use/non-use of the library to your comment about material effects on employers?

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Dec 13 2011 20:26
Tojiah wrote:
Pikel wrote:
It's loosely related but I don't think it's "poignant" as the students are not putting their livelihoods at risk by striking/not crossing a picket line.

A student has nothing to lose by not crossing the picket line, except access to the library for the duration of the strike. They can study at home and catch up later with study they've missed, instead of getting drunk at parties and snogging randoms.

Maybe they don't have internet or the proper textbooks at home? Maybe they don't have another quiet study environment without a cover charge?

Do you need the internet and access to specific "proper textbooks" or quiet study environments every single day of your study calendar? I've been a student, and my answer is no! I've also seen hundreds of students drinking themselves into oblivion every Friday and Saturday night: they can catch up later.

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Dec 13 2011 20:25
Pikel wrote:
Tojiah wrote:
Pikel wrote:
It's loosely related but I don't think it's "poignant" as the students are not putting their livelihoods at risk by striking/not crossing a picket line.

A student has nothing to lose by not crossing the picket line, except access to the library for the duration of the strike. They can study at home and catch up later with study they've missed, instead of getting drunk at parties and snogging randoms.

Maybe they don't have internet or the proper textbooks at home? Maybe they don't have another quiet study environment without a cover charge?

Do you need the internet and access to specific "proper textbooks" or quiet study environments every single day of your study calendar? I've been a student, and my answer is no!

I would during exam season, which is what we're talking about.

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Dec 13 2011 20:34
Tojiah wrote:
I would during exam season, which is what we're talking about.

I don't know about that, I've seen one reference to "studying for exams", but if it really is essential for you to have access to the library, then I would have to categorise your scabbing at the less scabby end of the spectrum, i.e. forgiveable. Presumably you could discuss this with your tutors, so that they might not spit on you as you cross their picket line wink

In a similar way, Boris' scabbing is at the "less scabby" end of the spectrum, i.e. not very scabby. Forgiveable.

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Dec 13 2011 20:41
snipfool wrote:
Pikel, how would you relate the students' use/non-use of the library to your comment about material effects on employers?

I've not tried to draw such a relation. Students' refusal to cross an academic staff's picket line appears to me as an act of solidarity and support, not a worker's strike.

Finally, lettersjournal's input to this thread appears to me to have nothing to do with students' solidarity with the staff at their institutions, but instead is about having a go at people because lettersjournal thinks they are Not As Communist as lettersjournal.

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Dec 13 2011 20:40
lettersjournal wrote:
Boris Badenov wrote:
In any case, the uni is always a problematic place in strike situations because of the very hierarchical nature of the work force. There're tenure profs, junior profs, part-time lecturers, TAs, as well as non-academic staff. At my uni, the non-academics are currently on strike, but the academics aren't and so they're (or rather we're) pretty much crossing the picket line just by going to work (at least it's not as bad as what the "middle management" scabs do). The only solution would be a solidarity strike from the TA union (or even better a general strike that would include all academics), but that's not looking likely right now.

Ah, you are crossing the picket line when you go to work. You are a scab. Surprised that nobody responded to this.

A scab is someone who does work normally performed by a worker who is on strike, and it is technically illegal here (although there are obviously loopholes that allow middle management to perform some of the more "vital" tasks). Crossing a picket line (physical or implied) is bad (although in a context in which the nature of the conflict makes such an action irrelevant, as is the case here, it is bad only in the sense that it contradicts one's political beliefs), but it's not scabbing per se (I know many here will disagree, but I don't see anything wrong with calling things by their proper names).

Quote:
For a communist militant,

I am not a communist militant.

Quote:
It doesn't concern me what you decide, either way, but it should be said explicitly, rather than hinted at.

I've said it pretty explicitly. If you think it makes it more explicit to throw "scab" at me, go ahead, whatever floats your boat.

Arbeiten wrote:
I'm not sure if Boris actually counts as a scab as his union wasn't striking. He certainly should have pushed for a solidarity strike though (even a wildcat one ).

I really am not in a position to push for a strike singlehandedly. There is zero desire amongst teaching assistants and lecturers to see a strike (the union just signed a new contract with the administration actually), and students are overwhelmingly apathetic when it comes to this issue (even the planned raise in tuition fees has sparked only sporadic and not particularly vocal opposition, all of which seems to have dissipated entirely).
Ironically the administration "respects" anyone's "right to not cross a picket line," but this is only in the knowledge that a solidarity strike from any of the other unions is close to impossible in the current climate (talk about the "machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie"...). If I did a one man strike the only real thing I'd achieve is to quickly become broke; the non-academic staff would have absolutely nothing to gain from a moralistic boycott; that is not organized class struggle (the strike has since ended, so it's not even an option anymore).

Quote:
If he went out on a limb (i.e. nobody in his union supports him) and got fired,

I would probably not get fired (given that TA work is part-time and seasonal), I would simply not get paid, but either way this would be a purely individual effort to make a political point. It would not be practical solidarity in any believable sense.

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Dec 13 2011 20:51

Boris, please forgive me for calling you "scabby" in my posts, and I hope it's clear from my posts why I did so (basically the assumption that lettersjournal idea of what constitutes a scab is correct, which as you've highlighted is contentious) and that I do not consider you a scab.

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Dec 13 2011 21:04
Pikel wrote:
Boris, please forgive me for calling you "scabby" in my posts, and I hope it's clear from my posts why I did so (basically the assumption that lettersjournal idea of what constitutes a scab is correct, which as you've highlighted is contentious) and that I do not consider you a scab.

No it's fine, like I said, the word "scab" has taken on a reality that exceeds its purely semantic definition. There are those on the left who will not call actual scabbing scabbing because it interferes with "freedom of choice", and there are those on the ultra-left who believe that everything short of being on strike is akin to scabbing.
I obviously hate being put in a situation where an action or lack thereof (even if it's only symbolic) goes against everything I believe in, but at the same time, I am aware that at the worst I am simply not helping my fellow workers with their strike effort (which as I said becomes impossible when it comes down to a merely individual choice, lacking a context of organized struggle - of course it it still possible to help as an individual by making life easier for the picketers).
The only reason I brought all of this up was to illustrate that the university can be a really confusing place struggle-wise, given the highly hierarchical nature of the workforce. It is very dissimilar from a factory or an office where, in the case of a labour dispute, you are either on strike or actually scabbing (i.e. doing the work of a striking co-worker). Ultimately what this means (vis-a-vis the question posed by the OP) is that students, esp. undergraduates who are not employed by the university administration, will often not be able to understand the significance of a strike when it occurs, because class lines are much more obscured than they would be in a typical workplace given the same situation. And mere propaganda will not achieve what only the urgency of self-preservation can (i.e. workers on strike do not need to be explained why they are on strike).

lettersjournal
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Dec 13 2011 21:20

I am sympathetic to your situation and do not care what you do, but I found it curious that your comment about crossing a picket line was uncommented upon in a thread about convincing people to not cross picket lines. I assumed libcom was opposed to crossing picket lines, but apparently I was mistaken.

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Dec 13 2011 21:42
lettersjournal wrote:
I assumed libcom was opposed to crossing picket lines, but apparently I was mistaken.

I find this is a bit melodramatic and its making an assumption that any one who commented on this thread represents libcom as a whole.

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Dec 13 2011 21:59
lettersjournal wrote:
I am sympathetic to your situation and do not care what you do, but I found it curious that your comment about crossing a picket line was uncommented upon in a thread about convincing people to not cross picket lines.

You really don't care? This is a lot of effort for someone who doesn't care wink.

lettersjournal wrote:
I assumed libcom was opposed to crossing picket lines, but apparently I was mistaken.

Just to clarify, I am not part of the libcom team. Don't make me put a pinocchio picture up!

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Dec 13 2011 22:02

Just a separate comment. But I was on a picket line last week and there were other trades crossing. Lots of people were shouting scab, scab, scab, and I just sort of felt like that wasn't the way to go. I dunno, maybe I am letting my tactics screw with my strategy

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Dec 14 2011 01:24
the croydonian anarchist wrote:
lettersjournal wrote:
I assumed libcom was opposed to crossing picket lines, but apparently I was mistaken.

I find this is a bit melodramatic and its making an assumption that any one who commented on this thread represents libcom as a whole.

Indeed, we have several thousand registered users, of which lettersjounal/whatsinevidence/yoshomon is (at least) three. And yet they all hold a single, identical opinion. Remarkable.

lettersjournal
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Dec 14 2011 02:25
the croydonian anarchist wrote:
lettersjournal wrote:
I assumed libcom was opposed to crossing picket lines, but apparently I was mistaken.

I find this is a bit melodramatic and its making an assumption that any one who commented on this thread represents libcom as a whole.

Well, yes, but, comments about crossing a picket line were put on a thread started by a libcom admin, and nobody commented on them. Now that they have been commented on, the response has been roundly one of defending crossing picket lines.

The psychology of the communist/anarchist picket line crosser intrigues me, and I hope it can be expanded on here. I think this issue is maybe part of a generational split that was also a big part of the Aufheben discussions, where many of those disturbed by Aufheben's actions were much older than those defending.

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Dec 14 2011 12:25
lettersjournal wrote:
Well, yes, but, comments about crossing a picket line were put on a thread started by a libcom admin, and nobody commented on them. Now that they have been commented on, the response has been roundly one of defending crossing picket lines.

The psychology of the communist/anarchist picket line crosser intrigues me, and I hope it can be expanded on here. I think this issue is maybe part of a generational split that was also a big part of the Aufheben discussions, where many of those disturbed by Aufheben's actions were much older than those defending.

Oh for crying out loud letters, it hasn't been roundly defended at all. One poster, me, suggested why this may be so.

Personally, if I was protected from repercussions if I didn't cross (as Boris says he is), then I wouldn't cross. But I can't answer the 'psychology' question (what psychologist would be class struggle enough to undertake this study I wonder wink).

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Dec 14 2011 12:52

Lettersjournal post #34 wrote:

Quote:
‘I thought not crossing picket lines was the most basic principle, whether or not one is in a union.’

I would agree that not crossing a picket line is an excellent general principle, though to call it ‘basic’ as in ‘fundamental’ or ‘essential’, without any reference to the context of a strike/dispute is leaving oneself a hostage to fortune. The right wing strikes, which the fascists in Chile used as a pretext to stage their military coup, surely these strikes do not evoke your sympathy? The workers who went out in support of Enoch Powell’s racist speech should these strikers been shown solidarity? In the 1970s, an anarchist friend once chided me for my lack of support for the Loyalist general strike, ‘The greatest show of working class power since the General Strike.’ That strike successfully derailed the peace process, which led to hundreds of workers futile deaths.

We must look at the content/context of any struggle and leave ‘most basic principles’ to metaphysical philosophy. The circumstance in which an individual (including anarchists/communists) finds themselves when faced with a picket line depends on all the factors relating to them (politically and personally) and the dispute in question. Anyone who thinks they can make a definitive ruling based on a set of abstract principles is delusional.

Talking to students about the issues involved in a dispute appears to me an obvious responsibility of union members and valuable to the student’s general/political education.

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Dec 14 2011 18:20

Just to clarify, as a libcom admin, we are generally opposed to crossing any picket lines (with possible exceptions in the case of very rare racist/right wing strikes such as mentioned above).

I plan to write a blog post on this topic actually as soon as I get a chance, because I think there is an interesting discussion to have. (Boris BTW you shouldn't have crossed!)

In response to the original post, one thing I would comment is that in people's capacity as workers (i.e. separate service users) they should probably be careful about where and when they communicate with service users about this sort of thing to avoid getting in unnecessary trouble with management - depending on your employer of course. In my authority for example we generally only distribute materials to service users outside of our working hours, in our own time, make sure that if we are communicating this sort of thing you don't use your official work e-mail and e-mail signature etc.

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Dec 14 2011 19:54
Steven. wrote:
Just to clarify, as a libcom admin, we are generally opposed to crossing any picket lines (with possible exceptions in the case of very rare racist/right wing strikes such as mentioned above).

I plan to write a blog post on this topic actually as soon as I get a chance, because I think there is an interesting discussion to have. (Boris BTW you shouldn't have crossed!)

In response to the original post, one thing I would comment is that in people's capacity as workers (i.e. separate service users) they should probably be careful about where and when they communicate with service users about this sort of thing to avoid getting in unnecessary trouble with management - depending on your employer of course. In my authority for example we generally only distribute materials to service users outside of our working hours, in our own time, make sure that if we are communicating this sort of thing you don't use your official work e-mail and e-mail signature etc.

Glad you made this post. It's about time someone took a firm and fair stance in all honesty!

From what I've read on this thread, it seems like some(?) people honestly did cross a picket line, which cannot be condoned or be considered ok in my mind. But if one considers the situation, it's not necessarily an unforgiveable offence - from what I can see they are saying they aren't communists or militants, they're posting on here.. so I would give them the benefit of the doubt. They shouldn't ever do it again though, I think that a line has to be drawn underneath it.

lettersjournal
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Dec 14 2011 20:02
Steven. wrote:
In response to the original post, one thing I would comment is that in people's capacity as workers (i.e. separate service users) they should probably be careful about where and when they communicate with service users about this sort of thing to avoid getting in unnecessary trouble with management - depending on your employer of course. In my authority for example we generally only distribute materials to service users outside of our working hours, in our own time, make sure that if we are communicating this sort of thing you don't use your official work e-mail and e-mail signature etc.

Hi Steven, I am not familiar with this language of separate service users. What does it mean?

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Dec 14 2011 22:06

Sorry, I meant "separate from service users".

I.e. I could talk to one of our clients about our strike action, but I shouldn't do so using my work e-mail and e-mail signature looking as if I was talking to them in my professional capacity as a council employee.