Industrial Worker (April 2014)

Articles from the April 2014 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

For paper subscription info, please visit iww.orgor the Literature Department website.

For a PDF copy of issue, check here.

Other articles in this issue, already available on libcom, include:

-Portland Solidarity Network: Things Are Heating Up at Fubonn
-For the long haul by Colin Bossen
-The early IWW, the preamble and the break with political socialism by Klas Batalo

Striking workers at Boston Insomnia Cookies win settlement

An article by Jake Carman about a settlement between IWW strikers and a Boston area retail cookie shop.

On March 3, Insomnia Cookies and four striking workers agreed to a settlement of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charges, officially ending a sixmonth strike. The four workers, Chris Helali, Jonathan Peña, Niko Stapczynski, and Luke Robinson, struck on Aug. 18, 2013, demanding changes at work, including higher pay, benefits, and unionization, and were fired immediately. According to the terms of the settlement, they will all receive back pay totaling close to $4,000, and have their terminations rescinded from their records. Insomnia Cookies will post a notice in their Harvard Square store promising not to fire or otherwise retaliate against workers for union activity, including going on strike.

Additionally, Insomnia revised a confidentiality agreement which improperly restricted workers’ rights to discuss their conditions of employment with one another and third parties (including union organizers and the media).

According to organizers for the IWW, the union representing the strikers, “This settlement is another small victory in a long struggle to bring justice and a union to Insomnia Cookies.”

When the four workers, comprising the entire night shift at the Harvard Square Insomnia Cookies, voted unanimously to close the store after midnight on Aug. 18, 2013, they served cookies to the customers already in line, and then locked the doors. The workers put protest signs in the windows, wrote up a strike agreement and informed their boss they were striking for a raise, health care and other benefits, and a union.

Jonathan Peña, one of the strikers, said he remembers “feeling real conservative that August night, but something told me to stand up for what I believe in. I had nothing to lose but I had much to gain.”

The following morning they returned to set up a picket line, and reached out to the IWW, which sent union organizers to help. Within the first few days, all four were fired, and all four signed union cards. For the next six months, strikers, IWW members, allies, and student organizations at both Harvard and Boston University held pickets, marches, rallies, forums, phone blitzes, and a boycott, while workers continued organizing at both the Cambridge and Boston locations. The union also pursued legal charges through the NLRB. The settlement reached on March 3 came two days before a scheduled NLRB hearing on the charges.

“Since the first utterance of the word ‘strike’ that late August night, it has been an uphill battle for all of us,” said striker Chris Helali. “The Industrial Workers of the World answered the call when no other mainstream union was interested in organizing a small cookie store in Harvard Square. We picketed, we chanted, we sang. I thank my fellow workers, the IWW and all of our supporters for their continued work and solidarity through this campaign. I am proud to be a Wobbly!”

Other outstanding issues remain unresolved between workers and the company. Wages, benefits, break time, scheduling, safety, “independent contractor” status of delivery workers, the November 2013 firing of IWW member and Insomnia baker Tommy Mendez, and police violence against a picket line and resultant charges against IWW member Jason Freedman, top the list of grievances.

The union vows to continue organizing efforts at Insomnia Cookies. Helali said, “I am extremely pleased with the settlement, however, it does not end here. This is only the beginning. The IWW, along with our supporters, will continue to struggle until every Insomnia Cookies worker is treated with respect and given their full due for their labor. There is true power in a union; when workers come together and make their demands with unified voices and actions.”

But for now, union members are celebrating. “Being a part of the IWW means something to me,” said Peña.

“I will never forget the four amigos, Niko, Chris, Luke, and I. We actually made a difference. Being a Wobbly can change your life! I just want to really thank everyone for their solidarity and commitment to crumbling down on this burnt Cookie,” Peña added.

UPDATE: Six days after the settlement, on Sunday, March 9, Insomnia Cookies suspended bicycle delivery driver and IWW organizer Tasia Edmonds. Edmonds was disciplined for speaking out against workplace injustices, which the boss called “insubordination.” According to Edmonds “I was suspended for my union involvement. I have never been disciplined before. I was not served any paper work detailing why I was suspended. I want to get back to work, and I want back pay for the days I missed.” Two dozen IWW members and allies picketed the Boston Insomnia Cookies location, where Edmonds is employed, on Friday, March 14. Organizers planned another rally for Saturday, March 22, after student allies from the abutting Boston University return from spring break. The IWW demands that the company follow through on its promise to cease targeting union organizers.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2014)

New evidence shows U.S. government spied on Wobblies, activists

An article by Brendan Maslauskas Dunn about military infiltration of an anti-war group around the Port of Olympia.

Ian Minjiras walked out of the anarchist community space Pitch Pipe Infoshop in Tacoma, Wash., and ventured to an anti-war demonstration at a weapons convention where military personnel and law enforcement were in attendance. It was not his first protest, but it was the first protest where many activists met “John Jacob,” who would later be uncovered as a spy for the U.S. Army.

As the demonstration wound to a close, Ian left and walked a distance to catch a bus to the other side of town. Police were later heard saying they sent undercover officers to follow Ian. He was arrested and accused of scrawling graffiti on a wall. While he was being booked, the police confiscated all of the anarchist literature in his backpack that he had just picked up at Pitch Pipe. He spent the night in jail but was eventually let out.

This is a common story at demonstrations—the rally, the arrest, the time in jail. What is not so common is what happened to Ian in the aftermath. In 2007, his name, along with the names of at least three other activists, was entered into a Domestic Terrorism Index. His crimes were that he attended an anti-war rally and had some anarchist literature.

Ian is not alone. He is one of many activists who have been targeted and spied on by the U.S. military in what is perhaps the most expansive surveillance network targeting radicals in the United States since the tumultuous days of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) COunter INTELligence PROgram (COINTELPRO). That secret FBI program was created to destroy the Civil Rights and New Left movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Since it was uncovered, it has only evolved in more secret ways. Currently, a team of lawyers is taking on the U.S. military with the landmark civil liberties case Panagacos v. Towery. This story, however, starts well before the U.S. government labeled Ian as a terrorist. It starts in the streets of the small port city of Olympia, Wash., in 2006.

I remember the feelings of excitement, anxiety and uncertainty that surrounded the Stryker Brigade military shipments that came through the Port of Olympia in May 2006. What started off as just several protesters getting arrested for standing in the road and blocking Stryker military vehicles rapidly grew into hundreds of people, day and night, descending on the port, attempting in vain to stop or slow down the war machine.

Activists came up with the name Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) to describe the network of people who started to take decisive action against these shipments. Dozens were arrested and many more were attacked by the police. PMR was one of many organizations that took part in the port protests—the IWW was another.

Although we were not successful in stopping the shipments, there was no turning back. We had ignited a spark in the anti-war movement, one that suggested that civil resistance and directly confronting military shipments was a more logical approach to ending the wars. To this day, activists reminisce about the time 200 of us marched to the port entrance chanting, “War machine! Tear it down! War Machine! Tear it down!” It was an electric feeling, one the military did not want to spread.

Deployment after deployment, the military changed its tactics to avoid us. Instead of shipping convoys in broad daylight, they used the cover of night for future shipments through the more desolate Port of Tacoma. The Port of Grays Harbor was also used before the military, again, came back through the Port of Olympia in November 2007 with returning shipments. Perhaps military officials thought that there would be no resistance as these were not outbound shipments. They were wrong. Activists saw the ports as revolving doors. We knew that these Stryker vehicles would be repaired and shipped right back out again to continue in the senseless slaughter.

The model that PMR created was contagious. Activists in New York City shut down a military recruitment center in solidarity with one of our actions. There was a short-lived attempt to start a New Yorkbased PMR. Unionists in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in the Port of Oakland made connections with us to organize their own actions while Hawaiian activists were in regular discussion with us as well. Olympia and Tacoma became the epicenter of the antiwar movement. All eyes in the movement were on the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to the resistance in the ports and streets, there was a parallel resistance evolving in the ranks of the military. Lt. Ehren Watada refused to serve in what he saw as an illegal war in Iraq. Suzanne Swift went AWOL (absent without leave) when she was asked to ship back out and remain under the command of a superior who had raped her and put her on suicide missions whenever she refused his advances. PMR activists helped build political movements supporting Watada and Swift and made their stories national news.

Many other soldiers refused to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some did it publicly, asking for our support and going to the media with their stories. Most did it quietly. At least one soldier who went AWOL joined PMR. For the first time, these soldiers realized who their true enemy was. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) became very active in the Northwest. The group established an anti-war G.I. coffeehouse called Coffee Strong just across the street from the massive military base Fort Lewis (now called Joint Base Lewis- McChord). It was not uncommon for soldiers to show us peace signs and clench their fists in the air as they drove by during military shipments. Off duty, soldiers approached us in tears, telling us they were preparing for their third or fourth tour of duty and thanking us for taking action. One soldier, in what might be called an act of mutiny by his commanding officers, refused his orders to ship more vehicles and marched out of the Port of Olympia to a jubilant crowd of protesters.

The situation was becoming a threat to the war efforts. Militant, raucous demonstrations followed the Army wherever they went. Soldiers and workers at Fort Lewis joined PMR. More and more soldiers refused to fight. Public opinion was not only turning against the wars but was turning into direct action to end the wars. The Army had to do something to put an end to this so their mission could continue unabated. This is where John Jacob entered the scene.

John said he worked as an information technology (IT) specialist at Fort Lewis and was an Army veteran. He was around 40, donned a beret and wore IWW and anarchist buttons. He was welcomed with open arms into the anti-war and anarchist movements. He became very active with PMR and spent much of his time hanging out at the Pitch Pipe Infoshop in Tacoma. I considered him not only a fellow activist but a friend. We gave a workshop together on community organizing at the Tacoma Anarchist Book Fair in 2007.

Suspicious individuals came onto the scene. Many of us were routinely harassed. My house in Olympia, where I lived with several other activists, was under almost constant surveillance by police. They regularly parked their cars across the street, facing our house, and often came onto our property to harass us. I also discovered that the police at the college I attended kept a picture of me on their wall alongside that of another PMR activist for reasons I am still unaware of. In Tacoma, a surveillance camera was secretly installed on a utility pole across the street from Pitch Pipe. In September 2007, and again in the same month in 2009, I was detained and interrogated by Canadian border officials on trips to British Columbia. The first time, they threatened to put me in a Canadian jail without charge, temporarily confiscated my passport and deported me. The second time, I was informed I had an FBI number. A criminal trial called the Olympia 22 that stemmed out of the 2006 port protests was also sabotaged by law enforcement (and later, we learned Towery was in on this) when they hacked into our attorney-client listserv. Former IWW General Secretary-Treasurer (GST) Sam Green and I were both in this case. But there was one thing that tipped us off and made the Olympia IWW branch decide to file a public records request.

In April 2008, the Olympia Police Department stole the IWW newspaper box located downtown. The box was given back only after a lawsuit was threatened. In response, I filed a public records request for any information on the IWW, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and anarchists. The hundreds of documents that were released included one that was an email sent by a John J. Towery II. It did not take long for a small group of activists to research and discover that John Jacob was in all actuality John Towery, Army informant. The jig was up for John but this revelation was only the tip of the iceberg.

Other activists filed more public records requests and over the next few years we would receive hundreds upon hundreds of documents that provided fragments of information detailing a vast surveillance network. Not only was the Army spying on us, but the Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force were as well. We also learned that countless federal agencies, including the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security were spying on us. Even Air Force personnel from as far away as New Jersey and the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, D.C. were part of the network. Not to mention the seemingly endless list of local and state police departments that were involved.

We discovered that at the core of this network was a fusion center that Towery worked for. Fusion centers are a shadowy post-9/11 development created to monitor “terrorist” activities and “threats to national security.” They blur the lines between local and federal law enforcement agencies and the military. There have been congressional hearings on fusion centers in the past for overstepping their boundaries and trampling civil liberties. Fusion centers have gone so far as targeting Planned Parenthood and peace groups. Occupy Austin was also infiltrated by a fusion center informant. The danger of course is that fusion centers do intelligence gathering on “threats” to U.S. national interests and in doing so see peace groups, Occupy and Al-Qaeda as all part of the same monolith bent on destroying the government. The only thing fusion centers have been successful at is helping prop up a national security state. Civil liberties and constitutional law are simply viewed as annoying inconveniences to fusion centers. There are currently almost 80 such centers in the United States.

Towery’s exact role within the fusion center is still unclear but he did prepare threat assessments on local activists. He was not alone in his work. Clint Colvin was outed as a spy for the Coast Guard. Sandy Kortjohn, whose husband, Mike Kortjohn, worked in the same circles as Towery and spent his time gathering intelligence on SDS and PMR, infiltrated an anti-imperialist group in Olympia and was outed by another activist. Towery’s superiors not only knew what he was doing, they encouraged it and gave him orders. To this day, however, Joint Base Lewis McChord maintains that he was a rogue individual and did not have clearance from his superiors to spy. Documentary evidence that has come in the form of public records requests states otherwise and turns their lies into a thin veil they are finding harder to hide under.

Knowledge of this surveillance went way up the chain of command, all the way up to the Secretary of Defense. It started under the Bush administration and continues, to this day, under Obama’s presidency. Towery’s role as a spy gives us a glimpse into the dynamics of this vast surveillance network. Although I cannot speak about the details yet as I signed onto a protective order, the Army recently gave my attorneys nearly 10,000 pages of discovery documents. Hopefully, the day will come when we can share these and other documents. I’m really curious about the details of this program and am confident that we will get a better picture during trial this June.

The parameters of this surveillance network could fill the pages of a book. This should of course concern everyone in the union. Not just for the obvious reasons that Wobblies were spied on, including former GST Sam Green, or that our union was targeted by an institution which has the main goal of neutralizing and killing threats to U.S. governmental interests. I plan on writing more on this, on who John Towery was, and on what practical things we can take from this experience. There are some new revelations I am still wrapping my head around. I recently learned that while Towery was spying on us, he carried a concealed gun with a bullet in the chamber. I also learned that he tried to convince a friend that anarchists and fascists had much in common, that we should work together. It also seems likely that the U.S. Army was planning an entrapment case on my friends, on fellow anarchists in Tacoma. These are stories for another day.

What we need to do is turn our rage over these revelations into love, into action. To take the words of one Wobbly that was murdered by the state of Utah years ago, “Don’t mourn, organize!” That’s precisely what we need to do in moments like this. Yes, repression is real. But we need to use the story of Army spy John Towery to agitate and organize other workers. We need to educate workers that this government will take excessive measures to ensure that big business accumulates as much profit as possible through perpetual warfare and propping up a national security state.

You can help with this case by giving a donation to our legal defense fund. We need it. Thankfully, we have a brilliant team of lawyers representing us, including Larry Hildes, who joined the IWW during our union’s Redwood Summer campaign with Earth First! Dennis Cunningham is also helping us. He represented radicals the FBI targeted for neutralization, like Black Panther Fred Hampton and Wobbly Judi Bari. It is however a grassroots legal defense on a shoestring budget.

Like Ian Minjiras, I am considered a domestic terrorist by the U.S. government. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of this fact. The bigger question is: Does the government consider the IWW a terrorist organization? This would not be the first time that the government labels those fighting for freedom and liberation as terrorists. And it won’t be the last, unless of course we continue in our struggle to create a society rooted in true freedom, in mutual aid, cooperation, and dignity and abolish the system that shackles the poor of the world. That’s a system the military, law enforcement, both the Republicans and Democrats, the rich, and the national security state that protects all of them are deathly afraid of. We have a world to win! Let’s keep on fighting for it.

Donate to the legal defense fund by visiting

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2014)

Fighting back in high-end hotels: an interview with a Miami Wobbly

An interview with an IWW member in Miami about working in hotels.

In November 2013, the Miami IWW interviewed one of its members, Eduardo Segundo, about his organizing and experiences in a high-end hotel in Miami.

Miami IWW (M): Describe your workplace. Who were the clients, workers, and how was the environment when you got there?

Eduardo Segundo (E): It was a very draconian-style workplace, so for example, if the boss didn’t like the stubble under your chin, or didn’t like the dirt on your socks, that was considered a heavy burden. They would call you out on it—it was that kind of workplace. It was so trivial at the time; I didn’t really know what to make of it, but I knew what I was getting into (i.e. high-end hotels have an orthodox view of how particular employees should look).

I mean, right from the very start, I saw all kinds of things: degradation of female workers, atrocious treatment of immigrants, management being unorganized in every aspect (from the kitchen to the pool). During that time, I didn’t really know anyone, and even when I did, which was only a few people, they didn’t have much of a reaction to the abuse (most of the workers had years of experience under these conditions and were already ingrained into the system).

As for patrons, they were mostly CEOs, and their families, celebrities, all those sort of people. In fact, whenever a big-shot venture capitalist showed up, they’d make a big fuss out of it by printing a shot of his face, his biography, the kind of foods they liked, what time they wanted their alarm to be rung, all kinds of interesting things.

M: What about the workers like you? Mostly young? Immigrants? Low wage? Or more of a spread?

E: Yeah, it was mixed—old, young, immigrants, gays, etc. I can’t say it was low wage, because in my opinion, all wage is intolerable, but I guess there’s a so-called thing as humane wages. I think the wages were fair, to some extent, but no one’s ever content with any kind of wage. Look, whatever the wage was at the time, it didn’t matter, we wanted more. I mean, why should the manager be paid more when all he ever did was stop by the kitchen and pick out fries?

M: In that situation, were workers talking about the problems or was it just something you noticed?

E: They were, but the guys who were talking about it were ones who came from a union background; in fact, there were two brothers who spark my memory, both from Chicago, and they were the ones who had some idea of how helpful a union would be. Again, most of the workers—I know from experience— are already ingrained into the system: they speak when only they’re spoken to. That kind of militarized-style of hospitality only leads to the worst kind of conformity. So there was a ton of isolation, mainly because of the competitiveness, but there were sectors of the pool and beach who spoke out against it, but it was nothing too noticeable. If you were lucky, like these two brothers, then you already knew the situations at hand.

M: What got you to start organizing there? Was there some spark or cause that made you think it was time to start doing something?

E: It’s the service sector, why waste a second not to organize? This is an industry that takes you nowhere, unless you want to reach the level of management, but even there, you’re someone else’s boss.

But to more accurately answer your question, the spark comes at the very second you walk into work and punch in: you’re working for someone else at that point.

M: When did you start to think you could fight back though? From the beginning?

E: My gut feeling was that there was something I could do, it’s just that I didn’t know how to, hence I joined the IWW. And the IWW was helpful. For instance, the IWW provided workshops that were tremendously helpful in assisting me in ways to work and combat these systems of power. And I used them, to the best extent I could, but if it weren’t for the IWW, I would have had zero knowledge about the interventions of a business union (and I was approached by them, too). So from a revolutionary perspective, it gave me an open eye—fighting back, that is. Fighting back doesn’t mean throwing yourself into the pit; it means getting along with others and doing things collectively.

In fact, another worker and I fought for better pay and we managed to get $10.50 an hour for food running, up from $10. But if it weren’t for my co-worker, that wouldn’t have happened. I had to convince him to fight for better pay. He was fine with $10 an hour until the workload picked up. It took him a while but I got him to fight with me.

M: How did you convince him to fight? And how did you all win that raise?

E: He was the food-running veteran. He was hired as a barback but eventually they forced him out and into food running. When I got there, it was just him doing the work by himself, but at the beginning, it was slow. I maintained loyalty with him, but I was always persistent and I wanted him to know that he was worth more than what he was bargaining for. Every worker is worth more than what they’re paid. That’s not even an argument; you have to be a fascist to argue otherwise.

But anyway, when we were hired, they were paying him $9 an hour as a food runner; another runner and I were getting paid $10. It wasn’t until he found out about the pay disparity that he really became angry. We didn’t know it at the time, but they eventually back-paid him all the dollars for that month.

M: How did that happen? Just by confronting management individually?

E: No, collectively. He was getting paid the wages he worked as a barback. When they transferred him as a runner, they just kept him at $9 (the wage actual wage for a runner is $10).

M: Did that include the raise to 10.50? Or did that come later?

E: That came later.

M: How’d you get that?

E: Same, we went to the manager. The managers promised us a raise, but it wasn’t easy. We had to ask every week, reminding them...The managers had so much to do, because of the busy season, and just to find time for us...I thought we got lucky. I mean, managers were clocking in at 7 a.m. to help whatever way they could (of course, all the real physical labor was on the workers), but they were stressed out.

M: And eventually they gave in?

E: They did, but only with that issue. We had other issues, all completely ignored, as usual.

M: Were there ever times when your co-workers confronted management together?

E: Oh, yeah, of course. I remember one time, a female pool server was demanding promised pay or something, but it was only involving the servers (the majority of whom were females). I was at my lunch break, and I saw this pool server confront the boss, I had never seen anything like it. But she was demanding better pay or something like that.

M: Anything come of it?

E: No, nothing. Just promises.

M: Anything you would do differently a second time around?

E: Doing things a second time around means learning from your mistakes—and there were mistakes, without a doubt. Personally, I’m someone who goes through SAD [social anxiety disorder] so just talking in groups or whatever is a tough task in and of itself. Having joined a syndicalist union has helped me to break these fears, it’s helped me to jump into situations which I would have never dared to do. Furthermore, just having a base of solidarity has played a critical role in my politics, which is why I joined the IWW in the first place (I’ve been anti-authoritarian since I was a kid).

Originally posted: January 6, 2014 at Miami IWW
Republished in the Industrial Worker (April 2014)

Around the union

An update on various IWW activities around the world as of April 2014.

• The Boston IWW is in a celebratory mood because Insomnia Cookies has agreed to pay four Wobbly strikers back pay after they were illegally terminated for union activity. The Boston General Membership Branch (GMB) has been busy signing up new members, especially in the many fast food joints in and around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass. Conditions in the area are ripe for organizing, with rampant injustices such as the routine denial of premium overtime pay, refusal to pay workers their compensation, and managers’ insistence that employees should work off the clock. Harvard Square could emerge as the site of a new “corridor campaign” for our branch, with the goal of making this trendy neighborhood a hotbed of unionization. We’ve produced a new flyer for outreach to retail and service workers that is targeted at employees of Insomnia, where the campaign to unionize local stores continues. Our Insomnia Cookies IWW Organizing Committee has been holding productive and well-attended meetings. We are also making store visits (when managers are elsewhere) to introduce workers to the One Big Union. All fellow workers are invited to please come to Boston and visit our vibrant and growing branch! And what better place to come “salt” than our city by the sea, plagued by gentrification but also simmering with barely contained class rage?

• The Denver GMB will be hosting commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre in both Boulder and Denver, Colo. There is renewed interest in the IWW along the Front Range of the Rockies with members in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, Ft. Collins and Pueblo. The Denver GMB is investigating holding an organizing training in the next couple of months.

• Lithuanian IWWs are forming a Regional Organizing Committee.

• Belgium IWWs will be attending Work People’s College in Berlin this summer.

• The Portland IWW and Portland Solidarity Network activists won several wage theft cases in February. They are still working on the campaign for back wages against a large Asian grocery store. An IWW-led campaign to raise the minimum wage by $5 per hour is going into neighborhoods with IWW and supporters canvasing. IWWs also helped blockade scabs at the Port of Vancouver, Wash., and again against a Guatemalan vessel.

• An organizer from West Scotland reports that Wobblies in the United Kingdom are sending £1,200 for the European Work People’s College in Berlin. The Clydeside GMB is also subsidizing travel for two delegates to Berlin in July. The Sussex branch was unfortunately dechartered. There are 802 members in all of the United Kingdom (with the 90 members in Scotland included in that number). The IWW National Conference will be held in London late May, but the exact date is not yet finalized. A workshop for trainers will be held in Birmingham in April.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2014)

What went wrong with the organizing: the elephant in the room of political will

An article by Scott Nappalos about how organizing has taken a new direction in our current society where we have to build movements rather than join, and that a new level of commitment is needed.

Organizing has taken a new direction in our current society where we have to build movements rather than join. A new level of commitment is needed. Miami IWW member Scott Nikolas Nappalos provides a great analysis and critique of organizing today in the piece below.

When people hit a brick wall organizing today they are very quick to look at big picture aspects to explain their failures. For many of the tiniest fights we see calls for large revisions of structure of social organizations, committees, and demographics in countless versions. Ideology is also popular with a deep drive towards critique and adopting new ideologies as technical fixes for hurdles in organizing; forms of born-again ideology. The worst of this is relying on large-scale analyses of the economic environment to explain away concrete daily problems that seek to persuade people not to fight in vast sections of society and the globe because of often amateurish crystal gazing and doit- yourself political economy. The focus is generally on us, likely because of how demobilized society is, which shifts the view away from the people struggling.

There is a basic element of organizing people to fight around their daily interests that rarely is discussed and yet is a fundamental aspect of nearly everything political happening today. A question we should ask ourselves perpetually is: do these people want to organize? As revolutionaries we ask people not only to engage in their immediate problems, but also to take on the system itself; to abolish the wage system and hierarchical exploitation and oppression. Even people’s immediate issues, say low wages, take a significant commitment of time and emotional energy to deal with. People have to be willing to plan, meet, and exert their resources towards something they may already hate (their job, their conditions). There are lots of detours that allow people to avoid this stuff. We move jobs, we change buildings, move to different cities and neighborhoods; try to avoid the police, take matters into our own hands, etc.

The forces against sustained action are powerful, especially today when there is no liberatory social force that intervenes consistently within society. People are working in isolation with bad odds when there are more pleasant things they could probably be doing. Simply put, it’s often better for people not to fight than to fight in the immediate. Organizing involves sinking more of one’s life into something that makes you miserable with little prospect for big successes, and more than likely you may end up worse off. Organizing goes against the current both of overt oppression and coercion, and tactics that allow people to delay, defer, or avoid the nasty stuff in society. This is something that should be recognized, understood, and inspires us to put minds together to deal with it.

In the film “The Wobblies,” an old IWW member retells the story of a recruit who asked “What does this membership card entitle me to?” to which the IWW delegate said “Fifteen years in the penitentiary.” The recruit signed up. That example provides good contrast to common thinking about how this all works. Today people often fixate on victories, material gains, and winning something for people. The problem is that fighting often involves losing more on a social level than any immediate gains we might achieve. Even when we have all-out wins, it’s not clear that it is actually a win for those people. This Wobbly who signed up did so not because of concrete gains they might have gotten, but in spite of the misfortune that would ensue. Put politics aside and think of all the meaningful, pleasant, and important social things someone has to sacrifice in order to do the tedious, tense, and often hostile work of organizing. Attempts to understand commitment to political projects in terms of a cost-benefit analysis will trip up here consistently.

To build movement we need sustained long-term action on a consistent basis— something that is not likely to be enjoyable, filled with victories, or motivating by itself. What allows people to maintain this action is bigger. A will to struggle in spite of everything comes from deeper inspiration; ideas and ethics that carry people through misery. Union contracts and campaigns usually focus on breadand- butter issues like wages, healthcare, retirement, etc. Yet when attending union meetings where grievances are aired and you talk to workers organizing, you hear distinctly different discussions. Workers persistently raise issues of respect, dignity, and injustice as their primary motivating force. The union often channels that anger into those wage fights, but the issue is different. To carry things out, people need to be inspired to work towards a better world. In doing so, they become willing to do things that do not make sense on a strict dollars and sense basis, and even can make them happy having contributed to something bigger in life.

Just do the math. I once participated in a four-month strike allegedly for a $1.50 per hour raise. At the workplace, turnover was high with most workers lasting less than a year and nearly all less than three years. The costs of being on strike immediately went beyond anything the workers would ever see. Likewise the workers were willing to occupy board members’ businesses and be arrested to help win the strike, incurring more personal harm, both financial and otherwise. When the union pressed to settle the strike it was for 25 cents per hour, and after the negotiating of the contract nearly everyone quit. A few likely were disillusioned, but for many it was an eye-opening experience. Some co-workers went on to become active in unions and more committed to working in their industry. The logic of this scenario makes no sense unless we look to the motivations of the workers that go beyond their immediate demands. In fact the demands seem to matter very little beyond the will to address injustice, work against management that is perceived to be tyrannical and wrong, and a willingness to work for something better.

I call this the “collective mood” or “political will.” Rather than an appendage to our work, it should take a center role in our thinking about how things play out. Today there are countless opportunities to organize and potentially motivating issues, and yet given the circumstances people often choose not to. That is a reality we have to deal with, and that should be pointed out in our work. When you pull that element out, it becomes apparent why people are not ready at any moment to dedicate the bulk of their life to politics. Without the collective mood to fight, the best organizing will ebb and flow with the amount we are asking from people and their level of frustration with short-term issues. This is in keeping with most recent fights. Places heat up, people mobilize, and then life goes back to normal with the exception of a few individuals who become more active for years, and a smaller minority for their lives.

Coming to act can change people even when they lose. Some come to see the possibility of a better life through experiences with organizing, and this can open space for revolutionaries. Our job is not just to help open that mental space, but also to offer our analysis, ideas, and values that can carry people from immediacy to the bigger picture. For those who are interested, we need to work hard to both prepare them for future fights and inspire them to carry on and go deeper. With others who don’t want to continue, our focus should be on planting seeds and understanding that there has been an increase in the social experience of struggle; things which may ripen at other times. If we can sustain individual militants and work towards networks of organizers who come out of struggle, those linkages and experiences can form a backbone of social organization that isn’t identical with our projects or groups, but that can in crucial moments bear fruit.

This is part of why it is so demobilizing when people try to hide, remove, or actively prevent revolutionary politics from the day-to-day work of organizing. Without engaging people politically we are abdicating our ability to provide tools that can motivate potential militants. It also gives us clarity as to why apolitical and neutral organizing is such an idealistic approach; the very basis for action comes out of how people think about the world and their actions. All action is inherently political, and our response can contribute to or stunt its trajectory.

In the present environment we have to take into account that likely only a few will want to commit themselves to sticking it out for the long haul. That doesn’t mean necessarily we change what we do, but it should change our expectations and how we respond to difficulties. When we can contribute to making organizing happen, it does have an impact on people’s lives and thinking even when they return.

This situation could change. There are times when broad swaths of society catch a wind and hunker down for social change. By recognizing the role of political ideas and ethics in motivating and the force of political will within social action, we arm ourselves to understand and act on different situations that may come at us. Today this means finding ways to plant seeds, spread collective activity that can help transform people, and investing in people who rise above and become willing to commit to something bigger.

Originally posted: Febuary 2, 2014 at Miami IWW
Republished in the Industrial Worker (April 2014)

The best brick you’ll ever read: why Wobblies should read “Capital”

A short review by Lou Rinaldi of Capital, which he advocates for Wobblies and the like-minded to read.

Karl Marx’s “Capital” looks like a brick and weighs about the same. And it’s an old brick, from 1867. Seeing it, you might think, “I can’t do this, it’s too long, too boring. Plus, it’s so old, this cannot possibly be relevant.” You’d be wrong. And you’d be wrong to think that “Capital” is too hard for you to comprehend. I think a big problem is that, as working-class people, we doubt ourselves and our ability to be intelligent. After all, we’re told we’re stupid nearly every day by our bosses! You should be assured that although a work like “Capital” may seem like a wall that cannot be scaled, it is possible to get through it. There are even various guides out there to help you along the way that might be worth looking into!

Another reservation you might have is thinking of it as something only for academics. If Marx had intended for his work to be relegated to the universities, he would never have done the work he did. Instead he presents us with a tool: an in-depth study of capitalism, a critique of capitalist ideology, and strategy and vision for a new society. Although parts are undoubtedly difficult to read, there are others that are extremely readable. Don’t let a few tough pages hold you back, read at a pace that is comfortable. Skip parts you have trouble with and come back to them later. But don’t give up on it, it’s a book you’re supposed to read—it’s not just for European professors.

We should give “Capital” a chance, especially as members of a revolutionary union like the IWW. In the past, Wobblies have taken “Capital” and Marx’s writing seriously. So seriously that our Preamble nearly quotes Marx verbatim when it proclaims we ought to replace the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” with the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.” The founding convention of the IWW in 1905 included discussion of Marx and his ideas and after the union was formed, some IWW branches formed reading groups to study “Capital.” The IWW’s political education pamphlet “An Economic Interpretation of the Job” from 1922 was essentially a short synopsis of Marx’s ideas in “Capital.” And from the 1910s to the 1930s the IWW Work People’s College repeatedly offered courses on Marx’s critical understanding of capitalist economics. There is a history within our own organization of taking this book seriously, of studying, and using it as a tool in our work. However, there are many ways to read “Capital.” The way we should think about it is reading it politically, that is, reading it as a weapon in our hands. If we can think of it this way, then it becomes an invaluable tool, a practical book that is important for all revolutionary, class-conscious workers to read.

A Description of Capitalism Like No Other

The breadth of “Capital, Volume 1” is simply unmatched by other works on the economy. Marx was relentless in his research on how the system of capitalism functions. He researched history, economic figures, and philosophic works in order to complete the book. Each chapter in “Capital” is another piece of the puzzle for understanding how the capitalist economy functions.

“Capital” touches on everything that has become part of our everyday lives, things which every working person experiences. Why we work, how we work, how we are exploited: Marx takes these subjective experiences and puts them into a larger view of things, in the perspective of a class and class struggle. An important component of the book is a history of working-class struggle against capital and the system it tries to implement. This makes the book an important weapon for revolutionaries. It helps to know this history, and to know how the capitalist system works overall.

Take chapter 25, for instance, which is about “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation.” This chapter describes the effect that creating profit has on working people in terms of wages and employment, but also the lengths that businesses must go in terms of monopolizing an industry. This describes an important element of capitalism: its flexibility and its ability to be dynamic. It has the ability to make wages and standards of living rise, to make them endurable. At the same time, it can increase the levels of exploitation and increase the amount of misery we experience. These fluctuations can create space for militant reform movements, movements like Fight For 15 that seek only to win reforms and keep capital intact while using some radical forms or strategies, to make their demands and even win them as long as the value-form is not challenged, or in other words, so long as the circulation of commodities does not stop.

A Critique of Capitalist Ideology

“Capital” becomes a weapon for revolutionaries in two ways: as a lesson on struggle and on ideology. The subheading of “Capital” is “A Critique of Political Economy.” What does Marx mean by this? His work not only shows us the technical processes that are performed in capitalism, but also the ideological war on the working-class consciousness. Namely, Marx looks to famous early economists, names that many of us will recognize: Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo.

Marx contends that while these thinkers seem to “get” capitalism, they have absolutely no understanding of the real, social processes that occur in the system. Their analysis of capitalism is only a crude interpretation of what is happening in the daily lives of workers. The result is gross dismissals of the horrors of the system, and their so-called “science” thinly veils a true disdain of the poor and exploited. In particularly damning phrases, Marx summarizes and condemns all that capitalism truly stands for, from degrading a worker “to the level of an appendage of a machine” to dragging our partners and children “beneath the wheel of the juggernaut of capital.”

A Strategy and Vision for a New Society

“Capital” is a weapon for workers, not merely a trophy on your bookshelf or an academic thought experiment. Because it chronicles the history of the implementation of capitalism and workers’ resistance to it, we learn something about ourselves when we read it. We can see ourselves in the processes and struggles that Marx describes. This is class consciousness.

The description of the working day, in chapter 10, shows how the day was lengthened and shortened through struggle. This chapter is of enormous relevance to us today as the gains of the old labor movement are torn apart and today, like then, “Capital [is] celebrating its orgies.” Recently in Poland, the eight-hour workday was taken away from the workers, and in the global South the working day remains similar to Marx’s time: 12 or more hours a day. If Poland, whose loss of privileges won through struggle, is an indicator of anything, it may be that this is the direction the West is going. Without a combative movement to fight for something better we will see more places go in the direction that Poland has gone in.

In identifying the features of capitalism, “Capital” gives us some heading. It shows us that our workplaces are battlegrounds of conflict. It shows us that our lived experiences are important and worth fighting for, to improve them, to live in a truly human community. It shows us, conscious revolutionaries, how to examine the economy to choose the best places to strike and advance the struggle, to make gains for our class.

In reading “Capital” it’s important to remember that in the struggles of workers we can see the beginning of the creation of a new society, a classless society. “The only way to understand the system is through conceiving of its destruction,” as the Italian radical publication Quaderni Rossi put it in 1962 (as quoted in Steve Wright’s “Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism”). Or, as Marx once put it, we need to “imagine, for a change, an association of free men (sic), working with the means of production held in common.” As IWW members and members of the working class, this is our struggle. “Capital” describes in detail what we’re fighting against and enriches our fight to achieve a new society.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2014)

The IWW should fight to win – by any means necessary

An article by Matt Muchowski that is part of an ongoing debate on the use of labor contracts.

Previous articles in this discussion include:

-The contract as a tactic by Matt Muchowski
-Contractualism should be avoided by Juan Conatz
-Contracts are not a tool, they're a trap by Scott Nappalos

I wrote a piece in the December 2013 Industrial Worker (IW), “The Contract As A Tactic,” which appeared on page 4, discussing the IWW’s relationship with contracts, and I encouraged the union to see them as a tactic that can be used when it makes sense.

I’m glad to see that it has sparked some conversation, with separate response pieces printed in the January/February and March 2014 issues of the IW.

I wanted to write another piece to keep this conversation going, and perhaps clarify my views on the topic.

Overall, the decision about which tactics and strategies to use is up to each workplace, and I’m glad that our union is big enough to support workers with different views on strategy and tactics .

I agree with Fellow Worker (FW) Juan Conatz, who wrote in “Contractualism Should Be Avoided” (January/February IW, page 4), that organization is the base of the IWW’s strength, but at times a contract can be used to organize—whether it be offensively to mobilize workers around their demands, or defensively as a shield to keep union supporters employed when the boss tries to fire them.

We should not make our strategies or goals revolve around a tactic—whether it be contracts, strikes, or picketing. Using any given tactic does not prevent us from using other tactics either at the same time, or at a different time.

“Contractualism” is something that should be avoided just as much as “‘strikeism,” “electoral politics-ism,” “OSHAism,” or “picket-ism.” Turning any tactic or tool into an ideology or strategy leads us to build towards an action or event, with no follow-through. Our goal is have workers democratically control the means of production, and it’s not my intent to compare “contractualism” to “all-out-revolution;” rather it is my intent to encourage any and all tactics necessary to build our union so that we have the strength to follow through on our “unfinished business” as former IWW General Secretary-Treasurer (GST) Fred Thompson put it.

FW Conatz makes the point that if a shop were strongly organized enough to get a contract without certain promanagement clauses, we could be strong enough to simply impose the will of the workers without a contract. I feel like this is a slippery slope argument—if we are strong enough to do X, we are strong enough to do Y and Z. The fact is that workers’ organization isn’t always strong enough to get X, Y and Z, but if they can get X and Y, why shouldn’t they take it, and use those extra resources to fight for Z as well? The reality is that workers in each shop and throughout the IWW and the labor movement have to assess their strengths at the moment and make decisions that will allow them to build off of that strength. Having an “all or nothing” approach will hurt our ability to get it all.

In his article “Contracts Are Not A Tool, They’re A Trap,” which appeared on page 11 of the March IW, FW Scott Nappalos described a bad experience with contracts at his branch’s shop—where workers became apathetic because, despite having a contract, there was a lack of organizing. Unfortunately, sometimes the union loses battles.

Workers are fired and unable to get their jobs back, strikes end with the workers returning to work to keep their jobs without obtaining the goals they set out on strike for, and occupied factories can be evicted by force. In FW Nappalos’s example, a contract was an end in itself and wasn’t used to organize and mobilize workers.

The fact that these tactics sometimes fail to achieve the union’s goals is not a reason for us to swear to never use them under any circumstance. Rather, it’s a reason for us to examine the particulars of why that tactic in that circumstance didn’t lead us to our goal of better and stronger organization of the working class, and what we can change about it in the future.

In some ways, FW Nappalos’s article actually supports my point. The contracts gave the union a foothold in the shops, and when effort was applied, the union was able to organize in these shops. No matter what tactic is used in organizing, effort is necessary to make it successful.

Some “tactics” are always bad, as they do not even try to lead us to our goal—any tactic that undermines union democracy or pits workers against each other for example. However, tactics that are used to advance us towards our goal, even if they might not succeed, are up to workers to decide on a shop-by-shop and industry- by-industry basis, and eventually as a whole social class.

Granted we need some standards to make sure that a particular shop doesn’t do something which is inconsistent with the values and goal of our union. Some of these are hard-line standards, some are “best practice” standards, and some will be left up to shops to decide on a case-bycase basis.

Historically our union set standards for contracts by requiring that they be approved by the General Executive Board, and that they be consistent with the values of the union. The IWW has also rejected contracts that had “specified lengths of time” or required workers to state their demands before taking action on them. You can read more about these standards in a pamphlet that the union put out in the 1920s that examined how the union can organize around bread and butter issues’ in a revolutionary way called “The Immediate Demands of the IWW,” at: http://www. immediate.html.

FW Nappalos said that we shouldn’t expect our opponents to play fair, and that they often use legalistic framework to keep us from organizing. Our opponents won’t play fair, and they will use any means and any tactic to keep us from organizing—not just legalistic ones.

With that said, we don’t have to “play fair” either.

We’re not required to tell the boss our strategy, tactics or intentions—in fact sometimes it may be useful to mislead the boss. We can talk to them about contracts while we are organizing direct actions. We can make the boss think that we are conceding something big, when we didn’t have it to concede in the first place.

The boss can feel free to mistake our tactics as reformist, and give in to some immediate demands of ours. However as a democratic union we are required to be honest with each other—that we will fight to end against the system of wage slavery, no matter what we take from the boss, or what they give to us in the meantime.

I think it is important that the IWW fights to win in a big picture way. We need to win against capitalism. There will be ups and downs in that fight, day-to-day battles, as well as struggles that last months, years and decades. But just as the boss leaves every tactic on the table—including contracts that they don’t like, including legalizing strikes, including force, etc., we too need to leave every tactic on the table.

Contracts, like any tactic—including strikes, if done in a reformist way—can be a trap for workers, but if done in a smart, revolutionary way, it can help set traps for the boss.

I’ve commented on some of the related posts on Libcom, and fellow workers interested in the conversation can follow or contribute there in addition to the IW.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2014)