Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Articles from the November 1995 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Around the union

A round-up of IWW activity. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Wobblies in Wales

The IWW was invited to send delegates to what was called a "Peoples Parliament" at the former Welsh Parliament at Owain Glyndwr House, Machynlleth, Dyfed. Bob Mander went as our delegate on 16 September, armed with a poster and some IWW leaflets.
About 40 people turned up representing various left wing organisations throughout Wales. The speakers on the platform included a Scottish Nationalist, a campaigner against open cast mining, and a campaigner against water privatisation. The meeting was chaired by a member of Faner Goch (Welsh Socialists) and bilingual translation facilities were provided. There were many Welsh nationalists in attendance, some seeking a Welsh Assembly with the United Kingdom and others seeking total independence.

After the official speakers the meeting was thrown open for discussion. A green anarchist gave a very good speech more or less saying "Why delegate to politicians what you have the ability to do for yourselves" and advocated direct action.

Bob spoke on behalf of the IWW:

"Bob Mander, delegated on behalf of the Aberystwyth IWW,

"Comrades, the evils the speakers have described are the evils of capitalism. That is the enemy we must eradicate. You believe that you can do this through the medium of a Welsh Parliament, but I would warn you that if you are granted a Welsh Parliament, it will only be because the ruling class see it as an expedient that in no way threatens the underlying social system.

"In considering a Welsh Parliament you must take into account the nature of so-called representative government and the corrupting nature of power, for you will be bringing into being a mechanism whereby every political opportunist and con man will be enabled to jump on your back.

"If a society is to be run in the interest of its people it necessitates their active participation in the decision making, for you can only trust what you can control. Therefore to achieve a truly socialist form of society it must be built from below up, it cannot be conferred by politicians, that is why we in the IWW say we must build the framework of the new society in the shell of what we have got, and this must be built industrially.

"Political rights and social justice do not originate in parliaments, rather they are forced upon parliaments from the outside, and even with their enactment into law there is no guarantee of security, for as the Mexican revolutionist once said:

"'Remember whatever a government gives you it can just as easily take away, but what you take by your strength you can hold by your strength"

"Hasn't your experience of the English parliamentary system taught you anything? All politicians are con men and racketeers."

Here the meeting broke up for a tea break, the second session was to discuss practical measures to bring about a Welsh Parliament so Bob left.

Footnote: Bob is a 75 year old veteran of class warfare. He was one of a handful of revolutionaries in Britain who launched the revamped British section of the IWW in 1947, and was active in the dockers strike. Bob was also involved in the Syndicalist Workers Federation and the Direct Action Movement. On Thursday 12 October, national Poetry Day in Britain, Bob was found outside a local bookshop in Aberystwyth reciting IWW poetry to the assembled masses.

Lehigh Bingo Owners Settled

Ten minutes before a NLRB hearing on unfair labor practices was to begin, the operators of Boulevard Bingo offered a settlement, under which they are to pay $6,800 in back wages to the three fired workers and drop their harassment law suit against IWW organizer Lenny Flank. The workers agreed not to demand reinstatement. This marks the end of a two-year struggle by workers at the bingo parlor to win decent conditions, a struggle in which one of the co-operators was barred from continued involvement in running the bingo parlor, and in which the suviving partner repeatedly demonstrated his complete contempt for workers' rights.

Joe Hill, Political Song Celebration

A celebration of Political Song celebrating the power of music and song in struggles for liberation, equality and justice and commemorating IWW songwriter Joe Hill on the 80th anniversary of his death will be held November 17-19th in Sheffield, England. The program includes a series of labor films and a play, The Dream of Joe Hill, beginning Nov. 8, and two days of music and workshops on Saturday Nov. 18 and Sunday Nov. 19. Day time programs - including Cor Cochion, Eurydice, Leeds People's Choir, Nottingham Clarion Choir, Raised Voices, Rotherham Red Choir, Velvet Fist, Wendy Corum, Annie Dearman & Vic Gammon, Dave Douglas, Claire Mooney, Mick Parkin, Liz Ounstead and Janet Wood - are free, while there is a charge for featured performances by Leon Rosselson, Frankie Armstrong, Dick Gaughan, Quimantu, Roy Bailey, Labi Siffre, Abdul T-Jay and the Rokoto Band. Workshops will be led by the IWW's own Fred Lee and others. For registration, tickets or information, write: Raise Your Banners!, 106 Osgathorpe Road, Sheffield S4 7AS or telephone 0114 253 4453.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Leading us to defeat - Fred Chase

An article by Fred Chase about the issues in the Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

I'm feeling frustrated. I'm trying to figure out the proper roll for a militant rank and filer in a major labor struggle when the union "leadership" is less than militant. As a Wobbly I of course believe and advocate that only direct action can produce results. There I part ways with the "leaders" of the unions involved in the Detroit newspapers strike. They seem willing to play by the laws established to protect the interests of the ruling class against those of the working class.

As a Wobbly I also believe and advocate that only the workers directly involved in a struggle can and should determine the appropriate tactics. As a supporter of the striking newspaper workers, I can only do what they want me to do to help them. There I part ways with the "leaders" of a leftist sect who are trying to set themselves up as the vangurd of the struggle.

A court injunction has been imposed against mass picketing at the Sterling Heights plant where most of the scab Detroit newspapers have been printed. Prior to the injunction thousands of strikers and their supporters blocked trucks from leaving the plant to a point where the Detroit Newspaper Agency was not meeting its contract with its advertisers for timely delivery of the paper. Some weekends home delivery of the Sunday morning paper didn't occur until Sunday evening when most readers found the Saturday sports scores more than a little stale. Even prior to the injunction Teamster "leaders" were out on the line telling the militant picketers to let the trucks roll rather than risk a confrontation. Then the picketers basically told the "leaders" to go to hell; and the trucks didn't roll for a long time. Since then the injunction has been imposed and the "leaders" have agreed to honor it, without any vote from the rank and file. And a rank and file used to following "leaders" has acquiesced.

A sizeable support coalition has developed consisting of rank and filers from other unions including the Wobblies, students, political activists, and church people. It has overwhelmingly called on the leadership of the six striking unions to defy the injunction. I have to believe that the membership of the striking unions would hold the same position if they were asked. Hopefully pressure from the coalition will force the union "leaders" to rethink their position or better yet to ask what their members think.

The other set of would-be "leaders" is called the Strike to Win Committee, a front group for a vanguard political sect, not to be named here because they have already been the victim of red-baiting by Teamster "leaders" and I don't want to play into that game. They would determine the course of the strike by putting themselves out front, again with little input from the strikers. They call for defying the injunction. So do I. They've engaged in some militant but foolish actions such as throwing things at the Vance security guards and taunting the cops when they didn't have the support of the rank and filers. Some of their actions have given the DNA fuel for a propaganda campaign about the "violence" of the strikers. Of course the DNA propaganda doesn't speak of the use of clubs, tear gas, and pepper gas by the cops, of arbitrary arrests, of the police lieutenant in Sterling Heights who was forced to resign when he was filmed kicking a picketer who lay helplessly on the ground. But the actions of the Committee have not helped in a struggle where consumer support is still a crucial factor and where many a consumer may decide to buy or not buy the paper, to shop or not shop with scab advertisers based on which side looks like the victims and which the culprits. Until the militance and solidarity of the strikers is such that it can stop production, the good will of the consumers is vital.

These same vanguard "leaders" leafletted inside schools in Sterling Heights calling the students to the picket line to trash the goons and the cops. This alienated parents, both consumers and strikers.

In an effort to distance themselves from these characters, and finding a convenient patsy to take the heat for some confrontations in which the participants were in fact militant unionists, "leaders" of the Teamsters have taken to red-baiting, even suggesting that the Committee is infiltrated by Vance Security agents provocateur. "Leaders" going after "leaders," neither group thinking about what's best for the members.

So I plod along on the picket line. I'm "polite" to customers shopping at the stores of scab advertisers as I try to persuade them, with fair success, to shop elsewhere. And I'm muttering under my breath as I think of words attributed to Emiliano Zapata which should ring in the ears of the strikers. "You've looked for leaders. There are none. There is only yourselves."

[The Detroit News is owned by Gannett Publishers, the same company which produces USA Today. If our readers chose to visit their local USA Today box and leave them a message about the strike, it's doubtful that the striking newspaper workers would have any objections. The Union "leaders" have made no comments about expressions of consumer outrage.]

--Fred Chase, General Secretary-Treasurer

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Newspaper bosses feather their own nests - Michael Betzold

An article about the changes at the Detroit Free Press by Michael Betzold, a striking columnist. Originally appeared in The Detroit Union. Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

I laugh when Detroit Newspapers spokesmen moan about how union featherbedding is holding their profit to $1 million a week. Unions get accused of featherbedding when companies automate jobs and workers fight to keep positions. At production plants, newspaper unions have offered to cooperate in job reductions, but management wants quicker cuts.

My Webster's says featherbedding occurs when an employer is forced "to pay more employees than are needed for a particular operation or to pay full wages for nonproductive labor or unnecessary or duplicating jobs."

Detroit Free Press management has made a science of that. About 15 years ago, when I first stuck my nose into the Free Press city room, there was an army of people reporting and portraying the news and a handful of decision-makers. News drove the paper and news filled the paper.

In the 1990s, reporters and photographers are overwhelmed by an army of suits who massage and package the news. New species of managers spawn every week, all with a single imperative: to meet. Only the pushiest news can get through the meeting blockade.

It starts with a morning news meeting, where top editors concoct story ideas that often involve minor events in their pricey neighborhoods. That's why you see stories about fish flies in Grosse Pointe but rarely read about fights over land use in Romulus.

In mid-afternoon, the same editors meet again to spin out bizarre variations on their morning ideas, often based on what they overheard at lunch at the Detroit Club. At other times, they meet to plan weekend stories and project stories, to devise new types of training for staff members, to reorganize beats and departments, to kiss the right cheeks and to dream up new reasons for meeting. They frequently disappear for weekend retreats and return abuzz with new agendas.

To get a major story into the paper, a reporter must engage in "team building," an endless series of meetings whose purpose is to massage the egos of various department heads and subheads. Stories get in the paper not on news values, but because the proper twits were tweaked. Good stories get killed or trimmed for lack of face time with the right people. While union members are working to get news into the paper, in the bloated ranks of middle management the only mandate is to meet management goals. It's a huge make-work project.

A while back the Free Press created the inventive position of Editor for Change. About nine months later, I bumped into her. I asked he what she did on her job. She replied: "I haven't figured it out yet." And they say unions make the paper inefficient.

I have a solution to the strike: Put all the managers in a huge conference room with plenty of feathered beds, lock the door and throw away the key. Give the rest of us a fair raise, get out of our way and let us put out a paper again.

Originally appeared in The Detroit Union. Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Industrial Worker #1586 (December 1995)

Articles from the December 1995 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Review: Rebels Against the Future by Kirkpatrick Sale & Addison Wesley

A review by John Gorman of Kirkpatrick Sale & Addison Wesley's Rebels Against the Future. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1586 (December 1995).

Rebels Against the Future, by Kirkpatrick Sale, Addison Wesley, 1995 $24.

Kirkpatrick Sale is writing, first of all, about the English Luddites of the early 19th century and, secondly, of their successors today. But the title is a bit misleading. Both groups represent not "rebels against the future (emphasis mine)," but rebels against a future; one for which they never voted, and one where their interests were never seriously considered. As Sale puts it, "They (the Luddites) were rebels against the future that was being assigned to them by the new political economy taking hold in Britain, in which... those who controlled capital were able to do almost anything they wished."

With inflation, brought on by a 20-year war with Napoleon, raging, crops failing, wages falling and unions illegal, craftsmen in the heart of England from Manchester to Nottingham to Leeds rose in carefully coordinated assaults on factories and the machines they contained. Faces blackened and armed mostly with their own tools, they struck terror into the hearts of the newly powerful industrial capitalists.

Secrecy and surprise were the Luddite watchwords. Although not every raid succeeded, England was in an uproar from the first attacks in 1811 until the movement petered out in 1815. Many suspected Luddites were arrested, some were hanged, and others transported to penal colonies. The authorities finally succeeded in restoring order only by sending more troops to the heartland than they had sent against Bonaparte in Portugal. But they never succeeded in penetrating the movement, finding its leaders or understanding its structure. Indeed the convolution had no parallel since the mysterious "Great Society" of the 14th had plunged England into turmoil.

The history of the Luddites was, of course, written by the movement's enemies and "Luddite" entered our language as a synonym for a blind opponent of progress. Sale corrects that picture, helping us to understand that these "machine breakers" were not merely trying to keep their own incomes up, but were also fighting against the destruction of a way of life that had sustained them and countless other craftsmen for centuries. The skilled worker who had provided "good gods" at a fair price working at his own pace in his own house was being replaced by the wage slave toiling his life away in horribly unhealthy factories for 12 or more hours a day for a pittance that was his only alternative to starvation. In a few decades, the Industrial Revolution reduced a third of England's population to a destitution that saw 57% of the country;s children dead before the age of five and a laborer's life expectancy reduced to 18 years.

On the practical level, Sale notes, the Luddite movement was a failure. The new machines proliferated, skilled craftsmen were economically destroyed, and Dickensian misery stalked the land. But the Luddites did succeed in raising the "machinery question" which has never gone away - i.e., what is the cost of "progress," and who shall pay it? Ever since the Luddites took up their hammers, blind faith in the "onward and upward" has been tempered by a realism that sees, as Sale says, that "whatever its presumed benefits... industrial technology comes at a price, and, in the contemporary world, that price is ever rising and ever threatening."

While Sale's history is interesting and enlightening, the most useful part of his book for those who want to understand the present comes in the discussion of the neo-Luddites of our own time. Like Ned Ludd's bands, they too are rebelling against a future they never made, one where the cost-benefit ration of technology is heavily weighted in favor of the already rich and powerful with machines that have left 40% of the work force in disposable jobs, devastated the Earth and reduced much of the Third World from poverty to abject misery.

The neo-Luddites reject the myth that any technology is politically and morally neutral, holding that technology that goes beyond the laboratory into the world is the technology that benefits the ruling class. Therefore, the introduction of any technology, the neo-Luddites demand, must be subject to the consent of those who will be most affected by it. If the machines are economically, ecologically or culturally destructive, alternatives must be sought. If none can be found, the old ways continue.

Where Sale becomes uncertain, however, is in his advice on what is to be done to win this veto power. In this sense, he ends where he should begin. Perhaps because most unions have been so slow to recognize this threat, let alone combat it, Sale sees little value in mass action, believing that "the nation state, synergistically intertwined with industrialism, will always come to its defense, making revolt futile and reform ineffectual." Yet many of the instances he cites when the onward rush of "progress" was stopped or diverted, as in France and India, depended on mass protest and mass action, often of the more drastic sort.

Sale seems to prefer a kind of individualized philosophical resistance founded on spiritual traditions of long standing, such as those that have protected the Amish and some Native American tribes from being sucked into a culture of greed. But he does not tell us how the rest of us not so blessed are to acquire the ideological ammunition to fight this war. Books like Sale's are clearly part of that supply, but even the author is far from certain they are enough.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1586 (December 1995)