Black Orchid Collective takes on criticisms leveled at them by the International Socialist Organization, a Trotskyist influenced group in the United States.
In the past few months the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has gone out its way to associate Black Orchid Collective with being divisive, ultra leftist, anti-union, and even defenders of CEOs according to one member on the Occupy Purdue Facebook page. All of these accusations can be dispelled by reading our pieces on our blog. Of course if there is confusion or criticism we have an email address and a comment section, unlike the Socialist Worker, the ISO’s publication. I want to respond to some of these accusations. These articles and comments, as a whole, develop a broader picture of the differences between the ISO and BOC i.e., the fact that the ISO believes that all proletariat should be organized into union in order to advance to the next stage struggle. To verify my claims I will be utilizing the same writings used to slander BOC in which the ISO clearly states their position repeatedly.
In an article in the ISO’s Socialist Worker called, “Confronting the Debates in Occupy”, our collective along with Advance the Struggle (AS), and Bay of Rage are dubbed “ultra-leftist” within the Occupy Movement.
Ultra-leftism is described as,
“a political practice that substitutes the desire of a small group of radicals for revolutionary change for the reality of the self-activity of the working class”
“a hardened political theory that rejects strategies aimed at involving the greatest number of workers, students and community members in the fight to win their rights and improve their conditions in favor of the actions taken by a self-selected minority of activists.”
The authors make these accusations in response to articles by all three groups and argue that each is hostile to unions thus divisive to the workers’ struggle.
The ISO has put forward two (related) critiques of BOC, inaccurate as they may be. The first, criticizing the 89% framework and our alleged anti-unionism. The second labels BOC as substitutionist and opposed to mass mobilization. I will attempt to address the misrepresentations of BOC’s politics around the 89% framework, unions, and other forms of mass struggle. Further I will explain the difference in BOC’s approach to struggle and the ISO’s. The accusations of the call for a Global General strike as substitutionist I will mostly leave for another time but the implicit dogmatic and shortsighted nature of the ISO’s general position must be confronted and exposed.
The 89% framework put forward by BOC and AS refers to our position of supporting the struggles of the 89% of the working class that is not currently unionized. In “Confronting the Debates in Occupy” the reader is told that BOC and AS are, “directing this slogan against unionized workers and positing that the real radical movement must be composed of non-unionized workers”. In addition, the 89% framework would, “take no account of the fact that their 89 percent, by excluding unionized workers, would necessarily include a higher percentage of the richest 10 percent of the population than the 99 percent slogan, but that is another matter.”
The authors argue that our alleged hostility to unions and supposed lack of outreach to broad layers has lead to what they call substitutionist tactics and strategies e.g., the Oakland Communie on Jan. 28th and the call for a May 1st Global General Strike. Substitutionism can be defined as the act of substituting the actions of a radical minority with that of the class. To ascribe this definition to BOC is wholly inaccurate, where’s the evidence? We have always advocated for mass mobilization.
The difference is that when we organize for this aim we attempt to bring a revolutionary Marxist analysis behind our calls for mass movement. Is engaging our fellow workers with an analysis of capitalism and the reasons for our conditions substitutionist? We strive to engage in dialogue and to challenge ourselves and others in the class to create actions that are based quality rather than quantity. Our interventions (via our blog, consistent debates, and organizing) attempt to give clear analysis against any forces, such as unions, democrats, and right wing or populist groups that try to channel or deform the energy of mass action into legislature and other means to soften potential radical class activity.
In practice, the ISO tends to mobilize people to events where bureaucrats and politicians take the stage and talk people’s heads off. Often problematic positions or perspectives are not challenged due in large part to the ISO’s belief that workers need to be convinced to join unions and other established left institutions, a point that will be returned to in more detail.. Some of the leaders in labor, educational, non-profit, or political institutions, who include women and poc, are not challenged for the positions they take which often are pro-capitalist. Does the ISO ever back the voices of radical people of color, queer folks, and women who challenge the perspectives of these established (left) leaders? From our experience, no. No doubt this is a sign of how bad the ISO’s race and gender politics are due in large part to their stagist approach to struggle. The ISO’s positioning of itself as looking out for the interest of mass mobilization and reaching to broad layers is just an attempt to lure people into a scripted form of struggle where they would rather remain silent to achieve their goal then challenge head on the road blocks facing the struggle. This is the importance of our assessment of the divisions within the class. We can’t trail so called POC “ leaders” or union leaders who do not push class struggle forward. We want to be part of situations where masses of people learn and grow together in struggle, and aren’t just “mobilized,” managed, and shuffled around.
89%: Sobering Reality or Decentering Organized Labor?
We use the 89% framework to describe a real phenomena in our society: the vast majority of workers in the U.S. and the world are not unionized. We also openly acknowledge it’s potential problematic implications. (89% includes the petit bourgiouse . BOC and AS’s articles call for two-way solidarity between the 89% and rank and file trade union members, but the ISO intentionally misquotes us, leaving this out so they can slander us as anti-union)
ISO member, Bill Mullen, goes as far as saying to an Occupy Purdue member on facebook that, “in defending the BOC you are encouraging people to get behind an organization that is fighting for Bill Gates’s right to make millions? And you want workers and the unemployed to sign on?”, an accusation along the same lines as his comrades in the article in question. Mullen and his comrades intentionally leave out this quote from our piece:
“we recognize that there are limitations with the concept of ‘the 89%,’ most notably in its implicit populism. The number reflects the percentage of employed people in the US who are not in unions. This means it includes people ranging from CEOs to Harvard professors to the majority of food service workers. When we talk about the 89%, we are referring to the percentage of the proletariat that is not unionized — including unemployed people and prisoners. We use the term “89%” throughout this piece because it has resonated with many militant proletarians around us for the reasons we discuss, but we are open to changing our language in the future.”
For us, the 89% is just one small part of our analysis, and we’re open to changing it – it is the ISO that turned it into a hardened slogan, in order to attack it.
The main point is we’re committed to supporting struggles of nonunionzied WORKERS, not CEOs, managers, cops, etc. Anyone in Seattle knows that we are not for blurring the difference between workers and “petty bourgeois” managers, business owners, etc. We have collaborated with other radicals to prevent middle class populists from dominating Occupy Seattle. We made this clear in previous articles, Occupy to End Capitalism and the Radicalization of Occupy Seattle.
Furthermore, we never imply that there should be a separate movement involving only the non-unionized working class, or the unemployed. We recognize there are still production workers in the U.S. and even more abroad and we want to unite their struggles with the struggles of workers in reproductive industries and the unemployed and imprisoned. We recognize that there are groups who advocate organizing the unemployed over the employed workforce, some of whom we have affinity with on some political positions but this division between the employed and unemployed is not something we agree with. We did advocate for non-unionized workers, the unemployed, the imprisoned, and homeless to organize so that we can not only assist and work with the rank and file of unions more effectively but also to fight for our own liberation, and to ask rank and file union members to fight in solidarity with us.
We wish to bring light to the reality that the proletariat, though unified in its relation to capitalism in a broad sense, has divisions within it and therefore different interests exist within the class. These divisions are based on sex, race, and gender, To expose what these categories really are under capitalism we will call them castes since sex, race,and class affects who gets what by each castes’ relationship to capital. In a nutshell we have seen how historically white workers were given more access to capital, in order to thwart multi-racial revolution. (Of course this change in relations was not felt equally by all white workers. There was more access to certain aspects of capital or liberties given, much of this was ideological as current trends may indicate. This then, has been an attempt to hide the class division amongst whites and thus the access to capital among them. A key point to remember.)
These differences in each caste’s relationship to capital vary and for this reason we can expect differing interests to emerge in terms of what is fought for in struggle. Hence, the Black Movement which shook world during the fifties and sixties seemed to be only about race but it really exposed the caste position of blacks based on race within the international division of labor as argued by Selma James in her piece Sex, Race, and Class. This advanced the class struggle.
We follow the trajectory of James’ argument in saying Black Power and therefore power to the proletariat, power to sisters and therefore to the class.
Our statements around some unions and union members being “privileged” is true in terms of wage and benefits in comparison to other layers of the class. We recognize that this is not true of all workers in all unions.
Not all women, immigrants, and people of color are non-unionized, and not all union workers are white men. But sometimes these racial and gender caste divisions in the class do correspond to divisions of labor that are codified and maintained by the union/nonunion divide. This is certainly true on the Seattle waterfront, where ILWU local 19 is majority white men, and the majority of them voted against us picketing in solidarity with non-union port truck drivers who are majority Black immigrant workers. They also criticized a multiracial, majority non-union crowd for asserting our anti-austerity and anti-police brutality demands on Dec 12th. So when we talked about the racialized divisions here we weren’t trying to make a generalization to all unions nationwide, we were dealing with specific obstacles to class struggle solidarity here in Seattle, and were attempting to overcome these. We also know that there are rank and file ILWU local 19 members who challenge these divisions in the name of racial and gender equality and broad working class unity, and we support their struggles.
It is important to point this out because we can and should expect that capitalism will attempt to co-opt layers of the class whose interest and the concessions they gain around these interests may not reflect the majority of the class, let alone benefit it. At the same time, class struggle and class analysis is crucial. Can anyone seriously argue that the Black Movement with all its advancements in class struggle was hindered by not only sheer repression but also the co-optation of middle class layers within it with access to a different relationship with capital (the American Dream)? This was all the more successful because a class analysis of the black caste itself was not advanced on a broad scale.
The ISO says we should use the 99% slogan instead of attempting to highlight and overcome the divisions between the 89% and union members. To say we need to continue pushing a slogan such as the 99%, with its powerful implications notwithstanding, furthers this illusion of harmonious class unity without addressing the material bases that actually hinders this unity and the potential for co-optation/repression because this disunity is problematic. Hence, the ISO’s calls for mass mobilization should be accessed on their lack of recognition and action upon these divisions and how they play out in unions and other institutions.
The 89% concept was an attempt to address this reality, one which we have to develop along the lines of dealing with what I have laid out above. Also, our advocating for unions, primarily rank and file workers within them, to assist other layers of the class and stating that unions may not represent a force for change for many layers of the class now because of lack of interaction and intervention by the former shouldn’t be brushed off nor ignored. The authors of the piece point to May Day 2006 were unions came out to support immigrant workers but really supporting in actions on a day isn’t a response that answers our concern. Being present at rallies and marches alone isn’t stopping poor youth, especially those of color from being incarcerated, ice raids, sexual assault, and trans folks being unemployed. The fact that unions can’t play this particular role may be in their orientation toward labor and negotiating how labor will relate to capital. This is what unions do; therefore it is not crazy to advocate other layers who don’t precisely fit into these negotiations for a certain part of the class to organize outside a union framework. Furthermore, it is the workers within the union that make it powerful and we should not lose sight of this.
The Proof: The ISO’s position on class consciousness and organization.
Comments by ISO members on the Occupy Purdue facebook page and a subsequent article in the Socialist Worker called, “A Strike Call That Won’t Call a Strike” by ISO member Dan Trocolli further elaborate the key issue between the ISO and BOC. The comments on the Occupy Purdue page are as follows;
1) Is the BOC organizing the unorganized in to unions? The reason we need more unions is precisely because the majority of people are un-unionized. It is the confidence people gain at fighting their boss that builds bigger struggles. This is the historic experience under capitalism. It is the weakness and/or absence of unions that have given confidence for (a) the right wing to attack, as well as (b) reformism of the union bureaucracy.”
2) Just as a side note, all workers are precarious under capitalism. Their comfort within the system depends on how hard they fought in the past to reach that position, but more importantly, how willing they are to fight to defend those gains. It is also worth remembering that today women make up almost exactly half of union members, while Black, Latino and Asian workers are almost a quarter of organized labor’s ranks.
3) The unions, organized labor, DESPITE THEIR SEVERE LIMITATIONS, are still the first defense for workers against capitalism. Weakened unions in ANY context, make it harder to organize anyone, even the unorganized. If this were not the case then union-busting legislations such as RTW would not be problem. We would simply move on and organize the unorganized. We need unions because they are the first step to the collective expression of worker’s power. We can move to subsequent steps of taking on the state, but only if we have that essential first one. Our job as activists is to argue for strengthening unions, to recruit MORE people to unions, to make unions more militant, rather than to organize around them.
In the article by Troccoli, he argues against an Occupy Seattle General assembly proposal to act in solidarity with the Occupy Movement’s call for a general stirke. Troccoli consistently points to what we don’t have: a mass of people in unions. A basic break down of a vast part of his argument is that we need to organize people in unions and get existing unions on board before we can call a general strike. Troccoli reasons that a call for a general strike,
“might be a bit too far out of the comfort zone for most people in the U.S., where last year, there were fewer than 20 strikes involving 1,000 workers or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
Troccoli then goes into an analysis on the consciousness of the proletariat by making an analogy between the later and his students.
“As a teacher, I learned that in order to challenge students effectively, we need to consider whether what we are teaching is beyond the students’ Zone of Proximal Development. That means if we ask them to try something that is too far out of their comfort zone, we risk losing their attention or interest, as they may feel it’s beyond their comprehension or ability.”
What do Troccoli’s piece and the Purdue quotes by Tithi Bhattacharya and Bill Mullen of the ISO respectively, have in common and why is it relevant to this discussion? What we see from this is that the ISO and its members believe that workers, non-unionized or otherwise, need to be taught how to engage in the class struggle primarily by organizing the whole of the class into unions. This is a patronizing argument that underestimates the capacity and self-activity of the working class.
Unlike BOC, the ISO claims to be Leninists, following the ideas of Lenin, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution. Lenin is famously, and we think correctly, criticized for saying that workers can only develop trade-union consciousness outside of the party, that they can’t develop revolutionary consciousness on their own ( a position he apparently repudiated later on in his life). But at least Lenin DID think workers could achieve trade union consciousness. The ISO takes a position toward workers that is even more patronizing than Lenin- they suggest that workers won’t even learn how to strike and struggle on the job without the ISO and the Occupy movement showing them how. They suggest the way to do this would include prioritizing class struggle mainly from the workplace and through the union structure suggesting that if Occupy fails to teach this lesson correctly with a reasonable action on May 1st then workers might not strike after that. This gives Occupy way too much credit, and the rest of the working class way too little. Mullen and Trocolli don’t recognize that there has been an unprecedentedly large wave of mass strikes around the globe since 2007; the working class as a whole is already in motion and it doesn’t need Dan Trocolli or the revolutionaries in Occupy to teach it how to fight.
We agree that struggle in the US is not as developed and there is a good chance the May 1st action won’t become a full general strike, but it’s arrogant to assume that workers in the U.S. will therefore give up the idea of striking just because Occupy’s call for a strike didn’t materialize. They are just as likely to say, “well that wasn’t a strike, but it’s a good step towards a strike, now let’s organize to make a real strike happen.” Or they might say 100 other things, because all workers don’t think alike and being in the ISO doesn’t give someone the power to read their minds.
Lenin’s point was that revolutionaries should help build strikes but should not have any illusions that this should be their only task because A) our fellow workers CAN in fact organize strikes without us leading them and B) if we spend all our time organizing strikes for other workers then we fail to do other crucial things revolutionaries should be doing like intervening in these strikes with strategies for how they can extend beyond narrow sectoral interests (“my job”, “my wages” only) to become struggles against all forms of oppression, struggles for a new society (“everything for everyone, the revolution has begun”). On that point, Lenin was correct, and so are many anarchists. The solidarity built in struggling to build a union or to fight the boss on the job is the basis that revolutionaries should build upon, telling fellow workers “look if we can get each others’ backs against our boss, why not get other folks’ from our community’s backs against police brutality, against sexual violence, or against this war that is leading to anti-Muslim racism.”
To be fair, the ISO does agitate around these issues, but they do it in a very mechanical, stage-managed kind of way. They assume there needs to be a mass movement lead by unions and then they will pass out their newspapers within it to promote broader issues. So when this mass movement fails to develop along the trade union lines they expect, they start lecturing everyone about the need to refocus on building and supporting the unions, teaching workers to strike. This has been what we have seen in the ISO’s practice which speaks louder than what one claims in words and papers.
The ISO is right that strikes and militant union struggles can build much needed working class confidence, which is a key basis for fighting all forms of oppression. However, they are flawed in making it a prerequisite for fighting all forms of oppression. They fail to see that the struggles working class people build today might not take a trade union form, and workers might build up our confidence in other ways. Instead of telling workers to redirect their struggles into a proper union form, revolutionaries should be looking at the strengths and limitations of the actual struggles workers’ are engaged in today, and should figure out how to build off of these strengths and overcome these weaknesses through broader and deeper solidarity and revolutionary consciousness. Building more militant unions might be part of this, but not the only part.
But according to the ISO, apparently, we can’t move to the next stage of struggle without first taking this “step”, as Mr. Mullen calls it, of organizing everyone into unions. There are major flaws with this argument. To be fair in our piece we called Occupy a union for the 89%. Our call or vision if you will, to make occupy a union for the 89% was in a different vein than the ISO position in the sense that we still aimed to address the division within the class and were open to other forms of organization that could emerge outside of the union structure based on identity, etc with the potential to broaden class struggle. Upon further assessment and debate this may have been a bad position. Because occupy wasn’t a union and took on a less constrained form of organization than some unions it was able to organize and mobilize in a very dynamic way. The attempt to make it into a union could have bogged this structure down. The points below detail the possible problems with our past position as well.
The efforts toward change by the proletariat are not seen in their complexity. For example they ignore the Occupy movement’s potential to be a precursor to new forms of struggle and organization taken up by the class and how these new forms can give insight into the phase of capitalism we’re in. What does the democratic nature of Occupy and it’s no-leadership ethos mean in terms of organizational forms? How is this mass movement fighting alienation? What division are within it and how do we deal with them? Does this nature of organization and ethos express a possible “program” in the making? We have no illusions about Occupy. We know it is not automatically revolutionary, and it is still necessary for revolutionaries to intervene within it to challenge reactionary ideas, middle class dominance, sexism, racism, or cooptation efforts that might come up.
Struggle and revolutions are a messy project. People can’t be expected or be convinced to fall into this one-size-fits-all plan for change. What would you think if someone came up to you and said, “make a union so your consciousness can be on the right level for the next stage of struggle! It’s the most effective way based on my analysis!!” It’s unrealistic, downright insulting, and it is a position which allows for an excuse to hold back any and all forms of creative struggle.
When have statistics been an end-all prerequisite for revolutionary potential? And are we really going to play majority versus minority? Instead, it should be framed as try, fail or succeed, reflect and move on more effectively based on the new knowledge we’ve gained. We don’t know what will reach people so we have to engage and be flexible/ adaptable as organizations and organizers assessing the objective and subjective conditions and looking for potentialities within the madness of the movement.The fact that we don’t have a majority of workers in unions or unions on board with every plan does not mean that developing organizations outside of them and calling for actions will fail. Instead of Trocolli’s gradual “zone of proximal development” approach, we need a Freirian method of learning and teaching what we know so that the student becomes a teacher and the teacher becomes a student. Never assume people don’t have the right consciousness. The mental and manual divide between professed revolutionaries and the rest of the class must cease.
The ISO’s position focuses too much on defending certain historical forms of class struggle rather than promoting revolutionary content that’s relevant to our current moment. It has been argued that the Left’s inability to recognize the nature of capitalism at key historical moments has led it to assist in capitals recomposition from formal domination to the real domination of capital. Formal domination means the phase in which capital forced workers to work longer hours out of a need to gain surplus value. Real domination means the phase in which capital’s technological innovations could allow for shorter hours but the gaining of more surplus value through higher productivity. When it incorporated more and more real domination, the system could give into workers’ push for such things as the eight hour work day and could recognize unions as representative of the class for negotiation. Capital was still able to control production and human beings by compensating for their losses by speeding up the production process through technology.
The ISO fails to see how this change affects workers’ sense of identity. They attribute the lack of broad, mass union struggle to the actions of other revolutionaries in the Occupy movement they deem anti-worker instead of asking deeper questions about why fewer workers in the US identify with trade unionism.
We don’t agree with everything that Bay of Rage wrote, but they did attempt to address this question. They point out that many workers are unemployed because our jobs have been replaced with technology. Other workers who are employed are employed in service industry jobs, not production jobs like factory work or mining, so we don’t have the confidence that we can strike or occupy our factories to shut the system down. This layer of workers is sometimes called the “preacariat” because our employment is precarious and unstable. This, plus the fact that many of us work in divided up, small industries makes it hard for many of us to identify as “working class” in the classical sense. Instead of striking to take over our jobs, we may need to think about striking to destroy them especially when some jobs are a total waste of time and serve no social purpose. Do we really want a workers’ council at WalMart or McDonalds where we self-manage this kind of socially meaningless and destructive work? These kinds of questions raise profound problems for both Marxist and anarchist theories.
We’re not arguing that there is no working class anymore. We’re part of the working class. But our struggles are simply not the old school struggles to make sure our class gets a seat at the negotiating table under capitalism. Increasingly, our struggles are to abolish work as we know it and to build a society where this socially destructive work is no longer necessary. Many of us keep our heads down trying to get through the workday, dreaming of one day spending our lives doing something more meaningful. Actions like the port shutdown give us a chance to express this by saying if the ruling class is going to destroy our lives like this, we’ll destroy their profits by barricading the means of production and distribution of goods. This, more than anything else we’ve experienced so far, is building our confidence.
This is not to say that the 89% is somehow more revolutionary than union workers – both have their share of contradictions, reactionary ideas, lack of solidarity amongst each other and with other layers of the class, etc. In both cases revolutionaries need to challenge and learn from all of this while we build together in struggle. The point is simply that today the system is so decadent that the idea of abolishing alienated labor, not just reforming it, seems like a greater possibility, with wider mass appeal. I’m sure that even workers in production industries think about this sometimes – what is the historical mission of workers at factories in the U.S. that produce nuclear weapons, or factories in China that produce useless plastic souvenirs? We need to take over the means of production, but many of these means will need to be dismantled, recyled, and newer, healthier means built out of their parts.
As we argued in our piece, there does need to be more organzing by rank and file longshoremen and other workers who are still employed in actual productive industries because they have the strategic ability to do things the rest of us simply can’t do. Also we need to organize the unorganized in the precarious service industries like the IWW is trying to do. Bay of Rage and others who argue that we need to abolish alienated labor are correct, but the only group of people in the world who can actually do this is the working class, and to do it we need to organize on our jobs. Yes, we need to stop being workers and become human – but the only ones who can abolish our status as workers are ourselves. But struggles to do this will not necessarily take a union form. What form they will take is yet to be seen, though struggles in other countries give us hints.
Of course, we’re not ruling out the possibility of a new wave of militant, direct, class struggle unionism struggles that bypass legalistic procedures as part of this process. If they happen we’ll support them. We’re simply against telling everyone to wait to up the ante until this happens because if we do that we might end up waiting until all the polar icecaps melt.
Given these changes in our work experiences, to argue to make more unions is vague. We can have class consciousness but what are we fighting against? Is this just another period of Dan Trocolli’s history class? An ongoing historical drama where in we get more power to negotiate our oppression never dealing with why we are oppressed in the first place? I ask to clarify.
From this perspective Tithi states that the weakness/or absence of unions is the reason for the classes lack of confidence. This gives to much credence to what has become a institution in the maintaining of capitalism through Taft-hartley and the NLRB. What has always given workers the upper hand has been their potential to organize and destroy the system by not complying to the rules of capital i.e.not producing surplus value. Confidence comes from the proletariat and whatever form of resistance we take on that resonates with other proletariat. Forms of organization and content can spread and be taken on by broad layers of the class given certain factors as we have seen with occupy.
We recognize that revolution isn’t necessarily around the corner and that people need to eat and have economic concerns met but the way we fight for this should be very conscious of how demands for concessions, which may inevitably be fought for, are framed. Demands just for proletariat folks who are working or simply from the angle of labor vs. capital is a position in itself which fails to get at the complexities of the international division of labor and the changing of a system of production and distribution based around exchange value and the accumulation of surplus value. We should see unions as one of many potential forms of organized struggle where “consciousness” can be gained from. But, we should also recognize that within this system people struggle daily, collectively and alone, to resist the effects this system reaps upon them often based on sex, race, sexual orientation, etc, which, as stated above, is crucial in determining ones relation to capital. This is a crucial component of the Marxist method; theory is a reflection of the struggle and experience put into a broad context with deep analysis. Certainly there is a difference in the knowledge someone like myself may have because of my ability to read, access to books, and people around me to help digest information, and we need to build organizations that can share these tools as widely as possible. But experience can also breed a sharp class analysis. Together theory and action, which reflect each other is powerful. Thus Troccoli’s position on the consciousness of the class is an assumption not based on the current movements we see taking place.
As flawed as it may be, we have seen the strengths in organizing outside of unions to fight capital. In an article in the Salon by Josh Eildelson the reader is reminded that ILWU members in Longview were forced to comply with labor law even after they put life and limb on the line. The action the ILWU members took against EGT according to the author caused the union to be fined and have injunctions placed upon it because the actions worked. Because Occupy was not a union constrained to the same laws, we could increase militancy along the same lines as the rank and file ILWU members in Longview.
The fact that this struggle did force EGT to negotiate builds working class confidence not only inside Occupy but among other layers of the working class. Building off of this and the publicity around the Dec. 12th port shutdown, the Seattle truck drivers went on strike. As each layer of the class moves, it opens up room for others to move – this process is complex and messy and can not be stage-managed step by step like Mullen requires. In fact, it’s fair to say that in Seattle, the actions of a minority of rank and file union members and a majority of non-unionized proletarians during the Dec. 12th port shutdown actually gave confidence to union workers organizing on the job in Longview and among Seattle truckers striking so they can organize themselves on the job here. Mullen argued that unions can give precariously employed service industry workers and unemployed folks confidence. In fact, in Seattle, it was just the opposite – precarious service industry workers and unemployed folks made up the majority of the people on the barricade at the port, and this gave port workers confidence to defend or build unions on the job. The key thing now is to make sure these workplace struggles don’t get co-opted into bureaucratic union forms instead of militant union struggle that can continue to expand and advance the struggles of all sectors of the class. In addition, this is a clear example of how the class can work together to inspire further action in various layers. In the future we never know how rank and file workers may come through in a major show of solidarity with the non-unionized, homeless,and unemployed nor what the actions of one layer of the class may inspire others to do.
To navigate all this complexity in a sustainable way, we need to build and promote a proletarian organization with clear principles around sex, race, and class, humility and the engagement with the movements of the class while bringing in a sharp analysis on capital. In some ways, Occupy has given a context for building this as seen in actions such as the port shutdown, farm worker solidarity struggles, and port trucker strike support, and the ongoing painstaking organizing that goes into building for these actions and maintaining relations afterward with workers from various layers of the class (a feat the ISO seems to not recognize). While we must have slow patient base building it doesn’t have to be to build unions, but organization in general and networks.
As a revolutionary organization BOC is committed to engaging the class with our politics and promoting the use of the Marxist method. We are not a separate entity with knowledge for the masses proscribing forms of organizing like the ISO. We learn from theoretical study and constant engagement with the rest of the class, asking questions and learning from the experience of others and our own. Having read Marx or being in a union is neither a prerequisite for consciousness nor the recognition for the need to struggle.
I hope this has clarified BOC’s position and made visible the problems inherent in the ISO attacks against us as well as the flaws within the analysis they utilized to make these attacks. These questions are crucial whether or not one subscribes to our methods or approach. In that sense this isn’t a dogmatic battle between political sects but the start of a debate on how to address the crisis of the left and the proletariat while battling capital as it sinks further into its crisis grabbing at every loose end to recompose itself which will affect us all in ways we can’t foresee. Please respond and spread widely. I’d love to get feedback and critiques!
Originally posted: March 20, 2012 at Black Orchid Collective
1) “The Solidarity We Need” by ISO members Sam Bernstein, Darrin Hoop and Dan Trocolli (1/19/12)
2) “ILWU Leaders Shouldn’t Get a Pass” by ISO member Dana Blanchard (1/23/12)
3) “Longview, Occupy, and Beyond: Rank and File and 89% Unite” by BOC, Advance the Struggle, members of Hella 503 in Portland, as well as friends in various cities (1/30/12)