This is the first thread for the Libcom Study Group, discussed in the organise subforumHere. The first book we will be reading and discussing is Strike! by Jeremy Brecher.
Strike! is broken up into a first and second part; Part 1 'The History Of American Strikes' contains the Prologue and Chapters 1 - 6. Part 2 'The Significance Of American Strikes' contains Chapters 7 - 9 and the Afterword and Index (this is going by the hardcover 1972 1st Edition). Details concerning which editions of the book are the best (and worst), and where to find a used copy, can be found in the thread linked to earlier.
The purpose of the study group:
There's a large body of work and a very big, largely unknown social history of American communist politics- a large volume of theoretical work and debates, personal histories, which deserve a thorough look. I think the legacy of American communism from 1917-1970 and the history of working class militancy in the US needs to be unearthed and sifted through, discussed and debated, looking for a heritage to add to that of the European communist movement.
Are there American communists interested in engaging in a project like this? Practically I'd imagine it would act like a book club, internet discussion forum or e-mail listserve, study group and political discussion society combined, with the purpose of clarification and theoretical work to be published online in the form of articles, essays, etc. Not linked to any political group or ideology, only a mutually agreed interest in processing, discussing, debating and clarifying the [little known] history of American communist tendencies and working class events.
This will be the first project of the group. Discussion will be centered in this thread- if a participant in the group wishes to discuss or debate a specific topic in-depth, or doesn't feel it is getting the attention it deserves here, can start a seperate thread in the history subforum. If this is the case, please start with the initials "LSG" in the title of your new thread so we all know it pertains to the study group and the discussion and debate around Strike! (example of a new thread would be titled, "LSG - The Importance of Race in the Great Upheavel of 1877").
We will need a time frame to keep things moving along. This can be changed along the way if the participants feel we are moving too fast or too slow, but to begin with let's divide our reading up into 1 chapter blocks with approx. 4 weeks for everyone to read and begin discussions for each block. On the 15th of every month, we move on to the next 1 Chapter block.
Please direct questions and concerns about the study group and project to the thread in the Organise subforum Here so that we may leave this thread for discussion.
Deadline: February 15th for Chapter 1 'The Great Upheaval' .
I made some procedural
I made some procedural comments on the other thread about organizing this, but would like to give some background of why I think this discussion is necessary.
Jean Anyon’s essay "Ideology in United States History Textbooks," in Harvard Educational Review 49, demonstrates that nearly all high school textbooks only mention three strikes ― the 1877 Great Upheaval railroad strike, the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike, and the 1894 Pullman Strike on the railroads ― that were brutally violent and all three ended in bitter defeat. The message is that striking is something that happened in the 19th century and to cast doubt on striking as a valid course of action today. Class-against-class violence was something that ended in the past, so negotiating contracts and arbitration of grievances is not about class struggle but is about "industrial relations." Unions are then seen to be representing workers as a special interest group, with their purpose being the substitution of civilized collective bargaining for "jungle warfare."
But instead, textbooks teach us that working class forms of organization:
The mainstream leftist version, preached by AFL-CIO officialdom today, goes like this:
She points out that the average textbook coverage of labor history is six "unsympathetic" and "narrow" pages. Yet there were well over 30,000 strikes in the period from the Civil War to World War I. In the more radical textbook The Reader's Companion to American History, authors Eric Foner and John Garraty point out that:
Foner & Garraty
Contrasted to this, in defense of the status quo, German sociologist Werner Sombart ― in his Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? in 1906 ― claims that the success of capitalism made the American worker:
It is against this ideological obfuscation that we must struggle, here in this discussion and in our everyday involvement in the class war.
Quote: It is against this
Your final statement quoted above gets at the root of why groups like this are necessary- not just for an intellectual or educational exercise of individuals (which can be valuable in its own right), but to influence our actions on the job and during future struggle. American workers movements, Marxist and anarchist theorists, organizations and parties have largely been 'left out' of the nearly exclusively European club of reference. It seems like a lot of workers and militants largely think nothing new or unique happened in the American labor and revolutionary movements- at least nothing 'big'. The quote you mentioned, "On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie socialistic utopias of every sort are sent to their doom.", seems to me, at the moment, to be largely true of nearly all European Marxist and anarchist theory- not just utopianism. From Proudhonism to Leninism, the American proletariat and its most advanced sections largely take instruction from Europe, and attempt to orient themselves according to a European context and organizationalism. This background was my main motivation in researching and trying to write a paper on the history of American soviets after Red October and the events leading up to it, and with this discussion group to orient some American militants away from the 'distorted lens' through which they largely see their class and its actions- even if just in a small way.
What strikes me the most is how much the Great Upheaval in the US prefigures the ’Mass Strike’ archetype that would become the familiar pattern and means of development for revolutionary proletarian insurrection; particularly with the 1905 Russian Revolution. I think Luxemburg captures the realization of this new content to the class struggle very well (and much earlier than most of her contemporaries):
The Mass Strike, The Political Party And The Trade Unions (1906)
I appreciate very much how Brecher describes the ‘nuts & bolts’ of how the strikers linked up with one another; how the isolated strike actions became mass strikes, and how those mass strikes became insurrections and in some cases ended in the rule of the proletariat for a brief time.
A point that I recently got in an argument over on RevLeft is the idea that the ‘masses’ or ‘the workers’ need radicals, militants, to ‘bring them’ consciousness. Their viewpoint being that the 1970’s were such a militant period in general because there was a greater amount of student and young radicals disseminating militant propaganda and ideas to the workers. This is standard thinking for most Marxist-Leninists, some unionists and most Leftists- and it has been proven false time and again.
Which brings to mind that quote (I think by Lenin?) that in a pre-revolutionary situation, the masses become more revolutionary than the revolutionaries. This phenomenon of the most advanced workers organizing themselves to provide practical support, propaganda, etc to the movement alongside the movement of the workers into increased solidarity and cooperation across geographical and industrial (as well as racial, gender, etc) boundaries would be repeated hundreds of times over internationally. The example of certain cities during the Great Upheaval would prefigure the Seattle General Strike and Tacoma Soldiers’, Sailors’ & Workingmen’s Council:
To me this is a pretty clear description of how I imagine a proletarian revolution. A constant throughout the mass strikes and insurrections from 1877 described above to the Shanghai Commune of 1927 is the presence of an organization of revolutionaries. The Great Upheaval of 1877 had the Workingman’s Party; the Seattle General Strike of 1919 had the Industrial Workers of the World; The November Revolution in Germany had the Spartakusbund, the Ukrainian soviets under the Makhnovschina had Nabat, the Petrograd & Moscow soviets had the Bolshevik Party, etc etc etc.
It’s an excellent sketch (even if very brief) of how ‘pro-revolutionaries’/worker-militants, organized together, act within their class during times of active and open class struggle and confrontation with the state.
great cite hieronymous.
great cite hieronymous. fundamental stuff.
Here's a link to a scanned
Here's a link to a scanned pdf of the beginning of Strike!, including the two chapters to be discussed here, all from the 1973 edition, for those who were not able to get a copy of the book. It is a little rough of a copy but it is readable.
I need to re-read Dev's post,
I need to re-read Dev's post, but I wanted to comment on this:
Do you think that's true of the early IWW? I've always understood them a distinctly American phenomenon, no?
Quote: Do you think that's
From what I've read I think it's a mix- though of all the political currents and tendencies, the IWW was one that was far more 'American' than most. The biggest contributing factor to this was probably the Western Federation of Miners and their particular brand of industrial unionism.
This is what sort of makes the Great Upheaval such a great place to really start a contemporary-minded look into a distinctly American working class culture, organization and theory; it prefigures much later developments that would result in the revolutionary wave almost simultaneously to the development of the first nationally based socialist organization in the US (the Workingman's Party- which would later become the SLP).
The Depression of 1873 set
The Depression of 1873 set into the motion the attacks on the working class that unleashed the anger of 1877. The "long shakeout" (or "deflation") of 1873-1896 led to major changes in the world economy. This social and economic process was articulated by Marx as the move from formal to real domination of capital over labor.
Most dramatically, innovations in transportation infrastructure and the mechanization of agriculture caused this cheapening.
Here's an excerpt from a brief summary of the Depression of 1873:
Scott Reynolds Nelson
Chilli Sauce wrote: I need to
The Bolshevikization of the American left, beginning in the 1920s, has airbrushed out indigenous roots, not only the IWW but precursors to it like the Knights of Labor and the working class self-activity in near-insurrectionary mass strikes like the Great Upheaval in 1877.
Here's another spin on it from an excerpt from John Ross' poem "Against Amnesia":
Here's how Will Barnes describes this tradition in The Working Class, World Capitalism and Crisis: A General Perspective:
And thanks to devoration1 for getting this started and for the extensive comments about Strike!, drawing the parallels with Luxemburg's indispensable The Mass Strike.
I just got finished reading
I just got finished reading the prologue and I'm wondering if anyone who has a later version of the text could let us know if Brecher later changed it? In particular, I'm interested in the especially radical elements--unions trying to "prevent and contain strikes" and his critique of power ("Ordinary people can only have power over social life when power as we have known it--power of some people over others--is dissolved completely").
"I won't call employers
"I won't call employers despots, I won't call them tyrants, but the term capitalists is sort of synonymous and will do as well."
What a beautiful fucking line.
Chilli, I'm not sure what he
Chilli, I'm not sure what he changes, but the new version of his book is online here:
I just finished reading
I just finished reading Chapter I, and I have to say that I am amazed at the social cohesion that the Great Upheaval seemed to express. Whole cities massing to support rail strikes, overwhelming police and military, even turning many of them... it seems unimaginable in the current climate.
Chilli Sauce wrote: I just
If anyone's interested, Brecher expanded the introduction and while leaving in the sections about unions and power, softened the language in both cases.
Thanks for the link Steven. We need to get together so I can give you your copy of Strike! back....
Quote: I just finished
In the current climate sure. But I think, in general, any large-ish scale mass or general strike will show similar characteristics that are always an undercurrent of working class consciousness- including very low points in class consciousness and active class struggle.
The thread on Max Stirner has a lot of good stuff on this point; specifically Feuerbach, Kropotkin and Trivers:
Aside from the idea of a human "reciprocal altruism" or sense of justice/fairness, is a sort of shared recognition of solidarity toward other workers. I live on the border of the town that initiated the Great Upheaval (Martinsburg); which was at that time a very active 'boom town', specifically regarding textiles/mills and the railroad. Today it is an industrial center; full of factories, warehouses, trucking depots, etc. The social cohesion during a big struggle, I think, is born from the shared idea that 1) other local workers are just like you; 2) a respect for other people who work for a living 3) a desire to support the other people in your community during hard times. People often note how nice other people are around here (a feature of just about every blue collar town/city). A kind of 'prole altruism' coming from the same innate sense of human justice/fairness born from living and scraping by in an exploitative, alienating, atomizing class society whether realizd or not.
All manner of strikes have shown these features; such as the Seattle general strike of 1919 where things like milk deliveries and grocery stores were opened back up with permission from the (de facto ruling) mandated strike committee- or the later postal strikes mentioned on here by I think Devrim (sorry if I'm wrong) that during a postal strike in the '70s dole/welfare checks were delivered. This sort of kills the notion that big strikes (or effective strikes) are 'irresponsible' as Cameron in the UK is saying now. If anything I think they largely bring out an unrecognized and dormant consciousness that pulls the best in a lot of people to the surface, leading them to act on it in a way that is revolutionary without being recognized as such in most cases.
My new copy of Strike! (all
My new copy of Strike! (all the way from Portland, Oregon!) arrived today. Score!
Steven, like I said, I need to get your copy back to you...
Chilli Sauce wrote: (all the
powell's? that's where i got my copy of value price and profit.
petey wrote: Chilli Sauce
Indeed! But I guess that's what you get from the socialist left coast....
I finished the chapter last
I finished the chapter last week, but since I've been posting too much I thought I'd ease back and wait for others to comment. But hardly anyone, except devoration1, talked about the text so I thought I'd just go ahead and make some comments.
I also reread Marty Glaberman's critique of Strike! from Radical America in 1973. I mostly agree with him about how race factors into class struggle and also agree with him where he points out that at the end of the book Brecher is grasping for straws and looking for ways to explain the situation of revolutionary consciousness amongst workers in the early 1970s:
And I like Glaberman's dialectical approach to class struggle in his review. But I don't have the same soft spot for Lenin that the Johnson-Forest comrades did, nor do I agree with Marty when he says that teachers aren't working class.
As for Strike! itself, it was inspiring as usual. It's a pleasant shock to be reminded that at the same time as ruthless attacks on living conditions, workers across the continent rose up and took the class war on the offensive; with tenuous means to coordinate their efforts, they nearly accomplished a nationwide general strike. It's also a shock to read towards the end of the chapter (p. 21) that more than 100 people were killed during the strike wave.
I also have copies of the books Brecher footnotes, Robert Bruce's excellent 1877: Year of Violence and David Burbank's Reign of the Rabble: The St. Louis General Strike of 1877. The latter makes the important point that the recently defeated Paris Commune was on the insurgents minds as it had happened just 6 years before. Many of the Europeans in St. Louis had more direct experience with early revolutionary upsurges, like the many refugees of the revolutions of 1848 who came to the U.S. Both books have richly detailed accounts of the inspiring actions of class consciousness and solidarity transported across the continent by the railroads. I've only had time to read the passages referred to in Brecher's footnotes, but I will return to these books in their entirety when I can.
Another text that Brecher footnotes is the essay "Trouble on the Railroads in 1873-1875: Prelude to the 1877 Crisis?" by Herbert Gutman. I read it in his brilliant Work, Culture & Society in Industrializing America, but the reference is specifically the version of the article that was originally in Labor History in 1961. Reading this with the other accounts of the 1877 strike, it reminds me of Luxemburg's accounts in The Mass Strike of strike wave after strike wave, starting in Russian and Poland in 1896 and leading to economic strikes and political strikes that are defeated and how the working class retreats and then comes back again, learning from their mistakes, in another upsurge -- and when the economic and political strikes converge it creates a revolutionary rupture, which it does when it culminates in the St. Petersburg Soviet in 1905.
It's worth including the opening paragraph of his essay:
He goes on to explain that it was mostly machinists who worked in repair shops who were organized in unions, while "track hands, switchmen, fireman, brakemen" and "shopmen and stationary hands" and "most conductors... were free of union ties."
Again it seems parallel to The Mass Strike in that it drew in the class who in the process struggling were able to self-organize.
Quote: The latter makes the
Indeed- the experience and memory of the class seems fairly apparant when analyzing events like those leading up to 1877, 1905, 1917, etc. This concept is common in ICC articles, specifically as it relates to the events of 1968.
A topic for another day could be the historical memory and collective experience of the working class being muted or eradicated; in the same literature, the counter-revolutionary period (1921-1968) is presented as a kind of 'break' in this historical continuity in the proletariats consciousness and memory.
Glaberman's critique doesn't seem particularly honest at times. His use of the 'either/or' scenario is really lazy:
. . .
Much of the 'nuts and bolts' of his critique I'd agree with, but his style of criticism/polemic is awful.
Don't worry about posting too much; jump in however much you like. Keep in mind we just started, and theres still another few weeks before moving on to the next chapter. I'll send some pm's out to see if people who expressed interest still want to participate (and now they don't even need a copy of the book to read the first 2 chapters, which were scanned and hosted by naughtonomist and linked earlier in this thread).
The George Rawick article, "Working Class Self-Activity," mentioned by Glaberman is one of my all-time favorites. The libcom version doesn't have this endnote, but here's how the article originally ended:
I have recently waded through much of CLR James' Notes on Dialectics and personally like his polemical style that defined and influenced much of the writings of Johnson-Forest. And here we might have to agree-to-disagree. I don't find it lazy, but a dialectical way of analyzing working class organizations. Whatever strengths the ICC has, a historical understanding of unions is not one of them; their position on working class organizations (i.e., unions) borders on moral absolutism.
when i clicked that rawick
when i clicked that rawick url, 'server not found', also when i shortened it for the entire www.marxists.org site.
N.b., I have just added this
N.b., I have just added this review of strike to the library, by Root & Branch:
petey wrote: when i clicked
Try this: http://www.marxists.org/archive/rawick/1969/xx/self.html
Hieronymous wrote: petey
same result, "server not found".
perhaps an issue with the system at my work, but i don't think so.
here is the link to the
here is the link to the original class against class file: http://www.reocities.com/cordobakaf/rawick.html
its working fine for me, i'm
its working fine for me, i'm on virgin media at home.
it's working now. well i
it's working now.
well i don't know what all that was, but i'm printing it, just in case.
ta to yiz.
I'm on pg 14 (of the .pdf)
I'm on pg 14 (of the .pdf) and I'm always amazed at how during mass strikes, the workers take it upon themselves to keep up some form of socially responsible production. This shit in PA tho, was nuts. As Brecher says, "Economic management and political power had in effect been taken over by the strikers".
The other thing that strikes me is just how far the statement "action precedes consciousness" actually extends. It doesn't seems to me--at least from my reading of Strike!-- that the PA strikers were consciously revolutionary. I mean, at work I talk about action preceding consciousness when my co-workers sign each other in the morning (thus directly challenging the authority of management) but even in proto-revolutionary moments it still seems to be true.
I'm reminded of Glaberman talking about how the during the two most potentially revolutionary moments of the second half of the 20th century--Hungary '56 and May '68--if one was to interview the workers three weeks before hand the vast majority wouldn't say they were in favor of workers taking over their factories, but yet, that's what they were doing.
Quote: I'm reminded of
This is probably the most important 'nugget' of post-Red October revolutionary theory. I think this study group is a great opportunity to look into these specific events (in an American context) to learn what we can from them- events like the general strikes (Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, etc), the mass strikes or pivotal strikes (Minneapolis '34, Auto-Lite, Lordstown, PATCO, Republic Doors & Windows, etc).
The balance between anti-organizationalism and councilism and recognition of the creative spontanaity of the working class also fits into this discussion. I'm of the opinion that organized militant and revolutionary workers (within the 'working class camp/milieu') have an important role to play in these struggles- the other conclusion often drawn is the former that all organizations regardless of ideology, theory, makeup, etc are reactionary or counter-revolutionary (or 'rackets').
In the case of 1877, especially where it went 'the furthest' (Chicago and St.Louis), the organization of militants and revolutionaries (Workingman's Party) played a very important role complimentary to that of the spontaneous action of the workers themselves- not the role we are familiar with from the 20th century of top-down management style 'leadership'.
This is the Workingman's
This is the Workingman's Party thats referenced, yeah?
Just a nerdy IWW observation,
Just a nerdy IWW observation, but on page 17 "Fellow Workers" is used by the Workingman's Party and they even capitalize the F and the W....i
And, I'm actually a bit curious about that quote. Is this suggest the Workingman's Party suggested "keeping quiet", as in not rocking the proverbial boat, or "keeping quiet" as this is an opportunity to take this further than simple wage demands?
It is just fucking nuts tho,
It is just fucking nuts tho, when you see the way these strike spread--workers wondering around cities calling out workers and closing down shops--you can see why the state developed an orderly system of industrial relations to regulate disputes. To sound a bit wanky, such power and spontaneity, you can see why the state was scared...
Quote: Many of the Europeans
I wonder how constant this phenomenon is through out US History. Are today's immigrants and refugees (legal and illegal) coming to the U.S. with experiences from previous high-points of struggle in their country's of origin? Or is this simply a phenomenon of 1848 or up to another point in the 19th or 20th centuries?
I like this. I find it optimistic...almost comforting.
A way to recover from this historical amnesia would be another interesting topic for another day.
Examples, from either Strike! or other sources?
Quote: Examples, from either
Strike! p.17 - 18
Quote: I wonder how constant
SMG, have yourself or anyone else on this thread read The Maya of Morganton?
Holding mass meetings and
Holding mass meetings and strike coordination sounds like solid stuff for the WPUS. Their participation in local governance probably made more sense in the late 1800s than it would now. The wikipedia article describes them as Communistic, does that mean they where Marxists? If not, what does it mean.
Anyone here read The Workingmen's Party of the United States: A History of the First Marxist Party in the Americas (Studies in Marxism (Minneapolis, Minn.), V. 14.)?
Nope, whats it all about?
Nope, whats it all about?
Oh, it's about these group of
Oh, it's about these group of Guatemalan immigrants who end up in Morganton, North Carolina working in a chicken processing plant and going on strike. The book itself is written so it bounces back between their lives in one particular village in mountainous Guatemala and in Morganton. At one point the author is talking about interviewing some of the workers and questions whether Guatemala's experience of civil war (with leftist guerillas often drawn from the indigenous population) might have affected the how they came to organize in NC. At first he'd get responses like 'no one from our village was involved in the war'. Then he'd say 'well this guerrilla was from your part of the country.' The response was always something to the effect of 'Oh, well you never know what people do after the sun goes down...'
smg wrote: Holding mass
I haven't heard of it; though it sounds like itd be worth the read- especially given the groups prominence in the late 19th century in the US.
The wikipedia article was probably (if I had to guess) written/edited by someone in the SLP; 'Communistic' is probably used in a negative sense, that it had revolutionary socialists who did not suppot electioneering, reformism, etc alongside those who did. I doubt the DeLeon led SLP would have acted in a similar manner as the WPUS did (judging the SLP activity during times of mass strikes, insurrections, etc after De Leon's entry and dominance).
smg wrote: Anyone here read
Yeah, I'm reading it right now. I was about to suggest it to others; this is highly recommended. Chapter 5, "The WPUS and the Great Labor Uprising of 1877," seems excellent -- but so far I've only skimmed it. Lots of detail about events in Pittsburgh, Albert Parsons' agitation as a WPUS member in Chicago, the WPUS involvement in the general strike in East St. Louis, and a proper treatment of how the WPUS in San Francisco followed Denis Kearney's demagoguery into riling the local the working class into racist attacks on the Chinese. Alexander Saxton's The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California is the definitive book on the ugly, reactionary role of the white working class during that period -- which was reborn with the "Yellow Peril" agitation in the teens and 1920s, and again with the widespread support for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.
What's most interesting about the book is how militants like Friedrich Sorge, having been a participant in the failed Revolution of 1848 in Germany, came to the U.S. as a refugee. He became Marx's closest ally in the U.S. and was involved in the First International. Sorge had to fend off the Lassalleans in the U.S. who adopted their deceased leaders false theories, such as Lassalle's
This makes it clear that many on the left who still fetishize electoral reform are pretty much direct descendant of Ferdinand Lassalle. And since the Lassalleans in the U.S. lacked a focus on class struggle or working class self-activity, they played a detrimental role in the 1877 Great Upheaval.
-Hiero, does the book discuss
-Hiero, does the book discuss the concrete political activities of the WPUS? What they did and how they went about it? Any mention of resistance to racism from within WPUS?
-Sounds interesting Chili Sauce. Maybe I can track a copy down.
-The Lassalleans sound similar to the Knights of Labour in practice and philosophy.
-Has there been any recent strikes that where spread in ways similar to the Great Upheaval with workers moving from one workplace to another shutting them down? It seems like this type of activity has been totally quashed by the legal labour movement.
Sam Dolgoff has some
Sam Dolgoff has some interesting items in his Revolutionary Tendencies in American Labor
Hieronymous- I just read a
Hieronymous- I just read a comment you made in another thread in this subforum and thought it's relevant to this discussion:
Such a view was my original drive to research and hopefully produce something worthwhile from that part of American working class history (the tradition of libertarian/left communist/councilist/etc style heritage). As time goes on I'm becoming more and more convinced that the lack of a larger and (more importantly) more coherent militant, revolutionary working class movement in the US is a lack of a specifically American historical and theoretical context from which to build. This is what I was getting at earlier about the largely European aspects of groups and theories in the American proletariat- giving them an idealistic feel; whereas in the countries in question, the groups and ideas are very real and impact day to day activity.
The Great Upheaval seems an appropriate place to begin a comprehensive study into the American proletariat and its organizations, leaders and ideas- for the purpose of hopefully developing ideas that can affect the course of militant activity, organization, theory and direction in the present and future. It certainly seems like the first historical event signalling the movement of the US working class toward revolutionary self-organization and the overthrow of capitalism (and prefiguring events to come around the world over the next 50 years).
Was it the appropriate event for Brecher to begin Strike! with? Is anyone of the opinion that earlier events in American working class history should have been discussed first?
devoration1 wrote: Was it
It feels like at the time of the Great Upheaval, there was a kind of maturity of the US working class, which seems to be based on a history that he doesn't go into deeply enough.
Tojiah wrote: devoration1
I think Strike is good to begin with, however, some supplementary essays--short ones--about the creation of the US working class might be useful. Something that discusses proletarianization and resistance to it pre 1877 might be useful. Workers in Strike! appear almost as if they are perfectly spontaneous and capable of self-organization out of almost nowhere.
Tojiah wrote: devoration1
I think Strike is good to begin with, however, some supplementary essays--short ones--about the creation of the US working class might be useful. Something that discusses proletarianization and resistance to it pre 1877 might be useful. Workers in Strike! appear almost as if they are perfectly spontaneous and capable of self-organization out of almost nowhere.
Not sure why you're asking
Not sure why you're asking this again, but yes... I think understanding the Great Upheaval in light of Reconstruction is a more explicit starting point. Contemporary class consciousness in the US and certain American characteristics of the wage relation cannot be truly understood w/o an understanding of settlerism and the chattel slavery system and the resistance to such.
[email protected] wrote: Not sure why
I don't mean is it an appropriate book to start the study group, I mean what do readers of the book think of Brecher's choice to start with the railroad strikes of 1877 as the starting point of the mass strike (later defined and expanded upon by Luxemburg) in the US? Specifically as many see the mass strike as the main 'motor force' behind the revolutionary, insurrectionary, etc uprisings of the working class in the 20th century (Russia, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Italy, Spain, etc)- were there earlier events in American working class history that point to the same prefiguring of the Mass Strike?
Does anyone think we should
Does anyone think we should move up the timetable before switching to the next chapter? The chapters in Strike! are fairly short. Or is a more organic and less structured change the way to go?
To keep interest I think we should keep pace with the flow of discussion. Maybe once replies start to stagnate on a chapter we move on to the next?
I'm okay with moving forward.
I'm okay with moving forward. Over the last few days I cannot help but connect Strike! with whats going on in Egypt. Particularly, how militias in the United States would be called in to suppress a strike but often refused to, went awol or even joined the strikers.
I actually just started Chap
I actually just started Chap 2 myself so I'm good with whatever....
Yeah, divert your eyes from
Yeah, divert your eyes from the working class self-activity -- what little can be detected -- in Egypt and let's move on to Chapter 2.
Where there any other
Where there any other organizations that like the Knights of Labour where explicitly for breaking down walls dividing the working class and where opposed to wage slaver, BUT not opposed to striking and on the job actions?
smg - The WFM (Western
smg - The WFM (Western Federation of Miners) from 1893 - 1905 (when it joined the IWW) seems to be the heir to the most radical tendencies of the KoL, and then some.
The first page of Chapter 2, May Day contains a great quote from the head of the KoL, T.Powderly, written in the 1880's:
The same could be (and is very often) said about the international temperment today.
devoration1 wrote: The first
Do you see this temperament in the US? I feel like Atlantic Canada is resigned to wage cuts and loss of jobs.
I mean on an international
I mean on an international scale. Even at the height of the revolutionary wave (approx. 1917-1923), large areas of the industrial West seemed as passive, conservative, etc as they do today. I'm sure if we examined many parts of the world it would appear that the working class is defensive or apathetic/passive; but taken as a whole consciousness and combativity/militancy are increasing.
Is there anything in 2011
Is there anything in 2011 that could galvanise the class like the demand for an 8 hour work day?
smg, I think that today is a
smg, I think that today is a very different state of affairs. During the time of the eight-hour movement, the working class was going on the offensive, making demands for improvements.
Right now the employers are massively on the offensive and so far we are not even managing to defend the pay and conditions we have now…
Steven. wrote: smg, I think
I tend to agree with that sentiment. I was asking as a provocation more than anything. However, throughout Strike! (at least up to where I've read) the working class is under constant assault and always seems to rise to the challenge, organize itself and fight back sometimes winning something sometimes not. If anything, Strike! is giving me some hope that maybe we aren't totally doomed despite how unorganized and beaten down we may appear.
So I've jumped way ahead in
So I've jumped way ahead in my reading, are we still on Chap one and the Great Upheaval or has the discussion moved on?
Chapter 2 but I just finished
Chapter 2 but I just finished reading about the Minneapolis General Strike.
Quote: smg, I think that
I don't know if I'm convinced that the form of a universal working class fight (such as the 10 and 8 hour day movements) has to take an offensive character. Or, that such a militant movement can really only take place during a time when the balance of class forces is even or slightly on the side of the workers.
At the moment I really do think that capitalism as a global system and the bourgeoisie as the class in the drivers seat are unable to grant the kind of reforms and concessions they were forced to give up in the 19th century (post-1848). This kind of leads me to doubt whether we will see a similar movement towards forcing lasting and durable reforms and concessions (equivalent to the 8 hour day; the modern equivalent maybe being the Living Wage movement) when the balance of class forces shifts back in the favor of the working class.
devoration1 wrote: [email protected]
I'm boring myself as a one trick pony in this conversation but... yes I wasn't talking about the book 'Black Reconstuction', per se, but rather the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction... the massive refusal to work of slaves, especially as it was generalized during the Civil War, their desertion of the fields, and their enlistment in the Union Army, could be (and has been) construed as a prefiguration of a "Mass Strike" ...
Also beyond (yet historically intrinsic to) questions of racialized class composition ...people have mentioned the 'nature of our period' viz a viz the nature of 'that' period ... I think the victory of struggle over chattel slavery or the victory of struggles against peonage or serfdom (arguably qualitatively different forms of value accumulation than 'capitalism as we know it' - in "real" or "formal" terms) would have different expressions in peoples consciousness (and I think this relates to what people are discussing re: the immigrant experience)
devoration1 wrote: I don't
i've been thinking about this, and i think there's several issues. on the one hand, rapidly expanding capitalism (like in the US in the late 19th century) can more easily bite the bullet and concede big reforms, but as it matures, profit rates stabilise somewhat creating less wriggle room for all concerned. a lot of this is that workers were starting from a very low base, so big % gains were easier to grant. the obvious place today to look is china/vietnam etc, where i think similar struggles have been winning big concessions.*
the second thing, on the balance of class forces. it's easy to look back and say 'well it's easy for them, they had the balance of forces on their side', but these movements faced harsh repression and very hostile organising conditions. it's true that there wasn't a developed labour relations/social democratic machinery to recuperate struggles either, which tended to mean polarisation, but in many ways the conditions for organising and agitating where far harsher than today. certainly very different, and not necessarily in a way more favourable to struggle.
* i don't equate maturity with 'decline', if anyone's wondering, except perhaps as a geographic centre of industrial production.
Quote: the second thing, on
You're right- it seems that the 'historical balance of class forces' is a constant shifting force without that kind of micro, on the ground effect. I'm sure to the striking copper miners being herded into cattle cars to be 'relocated' and miners and their families being massacred by the Pennsylvania Cossacks shit seemed pretty dire, not to mention the average wage earner living and working in atrocious conditions. The only way it could be interpreted as 'better' than today is in the macro, communist revolution 'big picture' sense of what is and isn't on the historic agenda (if you go in for that sort of thing). The higher standard of living, greater leisure time, better communication and technology, etc are all factors that improve the odds of a successful culmination of circumstances the next time all of the factors of consciousness and collective class experience align.
This has been a big debate around certains parts. The problem is figuring out whether or not they are actually durable concessions (like the 8 hour day standardization), and if the East Asian tigers don't implode on another speculation bubble or go the way of the Midwest USA and Guangzhou turns into another Akron or Braddock and all of those bustling industrial centers (because of capital flight or some other as of yet unknown phenomenon) turn into the Asian Rust Belt.
It'd be interesting to find out how important this collective experience was to the black community as it moved into wage labor from slavery- and whether or not this event was transmitted to future generations in the decades following the end of the Civil War.
This quote Breacher gives
This quote Breacher gives from History Of The Labor Movement In The United States by John R. Commons is very inspiring:
This seems to suggest that the concept of mandated and recallable delegates as content need not be preceeded by it (manifested as bylaws, a constitution, etc) as form.
Quote: Quote: the obvious
These struggles that are winning concessions in East Asia do they have mass strike character like we see in Strike!? Some of the strikes I've read about happening in Bangladesh seem comparable to what is going on in Strike!; such as strikers going from factory to factory shutting them down and building the strike. It is easy to see how mass strikes can force concessions from capitalists in a way that we don't see today (in the US, Canada, the West in general) while strikes remain isolated and unconnected.
devoration1 wrote: This quote
Throughout Strike! content seems to precede form. The spontaneous self-directed activity of the working class in struggle appears to give rise to the seeds of something much bigger and more revolutionary than the individual struggle in many cases.
It's interesting that on p.27
It's interesting that on p.27 (of the 1st edition), Brecher describes the dispute involving K.O.L. workers and Jay Gould's Southwest System in 1886-1887:
Brecher goes on to quote Job R. Commons' History Of Labor, which says, "Here a labor organization for the first time dealt on an equal footing with the most powerful capitalist in the country."
It seems that the representative bargaining and negotiating of the 20th century in America (specifically the Wagner Act and later the practice of collective bargaining) begins here, in this instance of a labor organization (acting as a trade union) negotiating terms with a company (in this case the boss, Gould). It's interesting that the dynamic of the labor union as 'Shopfloor Policeman', safety valve for labor unrest, lobbyist for industrial peace, is very distinct in this instance. On the one hand the workers are taking matters into their own hands, based largely on the collective memory and experience of 1877 and subsequent strikes and class warfare, engaging in wildcat direct action following the pattern of an insurrectionary mass strike- and on the other hand, the presence of a labor organization/trade union acting as a representative of the workers in struggle, negotiating above their heads with the boss, to ensure labor peace.
Does anyone have any evidence of earlier representative negotiation and bargaining by other earlier labor unions (craft or trade) in the US?
smg wrote: Is there anything
How about the attempts to break public sector unions that seem to be moving nationwide? I mean, obviously there are huge differences, but it does seem like it could play a similar, albeit more limited, defensive role.
devoration1 wrote: Does
I am not sure if negotiation is the right word, but the Workingmen's party in 1830's New York State would work towards endorsing candidates for State and Federal offices who seemed to lean towards them. The Workingmen party basically cashed in the achievements of fledgling wildcats for the 10-hour day in order to start playing the electoral game between Tammany and the Whigs (precursors to today's State Democrats and Republicans, respectively), with most of the prominent leaders vehemently opposed to strikes. Also, the actual trade union movement eventually became more radical and encouraged strikes, but then collapsed with the 1837 financial panic and subsequent Depression.
When I have the time, I'll have to reread a text I have about the era to be more specific. That may be a while.
what is the target date for
what is the target date for chapters 3 & 4? i don't have any problem throwing the other chapters up, it's just easier for me if i have a time table.
naughtonomist wrote: what is
March 15th - Chapter 3 , April 15th Chapter 4, if we continue to use the same time table.
Resurrecting this thread, I'm
Resurrecting this thread, I'm now about to finish Chapter 4: 1919, and it seems that in two situations, the Seattle General Strike, as well as the Boston police strike, students offered to act as strike-breakers. This seems to show the students as a highly reactionary population. When did it transform into the radical student cliche of the mid-20th Century?
Anyone else interested in
Anyone else interested in continuing to discuss the book?
I am, even if nobody else is.
I am, even if nobody else is. I've found another mention of students as scabs in Chapter 5: Depression Decade, in the section about the 1934 West Coast strike, where employers brought in scabs for the longshoremen, "many of them recruited from the University of California."
Tojiah wrote: I am, even if
At the same time longshore militants were going to the black community in San Francisco and Oakland and promising to integrate the union if they promised to refuse to be scabs. I think it was then that the bosses turned to frat boys and jocks at UC Berkeley.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union was built out of the victory of the San Francisco General Strike -- breaking with Joe Ryan's mobbed-up ILA -- with another successful strike in 1936 to defend a totally union-controlled hiring hall. Since almost no blacks scabbed, they also lived up to their promise to desegregate and today the ILWU local 10, which works the ports of the Bay (mostly the cargo container port of Oakland), is a majority black union -- and has some of the highest industrial wages in the U.S.
I was also uber-shit about
I was also uber-shit about posting on this thread, but I did actually end up finishing reading the book. So keep the convo going....
Tojiah wrote: Resurrecting
This is going to sound cliché, but until the early 60s weren't almost all universities conservative bastions of the rich? (Not that they're not that today when it comes down to it...) Why that happened, and this conjecture here:
- General social upheaval
- radicalization from Vietnam draft
- a turn toward more "social" disciplines on campus
- the effect of the GI bill where you had a situation where working class people actually got into uni. Presumably some of them (not the least Howard Zinn) would have carried some degree of working class politics and an interest in radical topics into academia.
I think that Chilli Sauce is
I think that Chilli Sauce is right about there being a large shift in the class composition of US colleges and universities after World War II. Beyond the GI Bill, there was also the Higher Education Act in 1965 which made it easier for the children of working class parents to go to college.
Although, I remember reading about some really impressive sounding student organizing in the late thirties. So maybe this is all crap.
The situation was the same in
The situation was the same in the UK pre-WW2 with students helping to break the 1926 general strike. I also seem to remember students being a large proportion of the volunteers to help put down the various uprisings in Germany post-WW1.
In Asia, students seemed to be more radical in the same time period, although that's a very vaguely remembered impression I have, so could be wrong.
Well, I was about to give up
Well, I was about to give up on Depression Decade, but a concerted reading effort had me triumph over it. It's amazing to see this repeated pattern: the workers radicalize, self-organize production and the strike, in opposition to the AFL and then CIO operatives trying to calm them down, until the companies end up recognizing the union, which then does the best that it can do to stop the wildcats and self-organization, with its organizers clearly seeing their mediating, industrial peacekeeping role, and the rank-and-file slowly giving up the fight now that they have "representation". What is it about having a union that demilitarizes the workers so well?
Tojiah wrote: It's amazing to
that's perfect. so i don't have to read the book now? :D
actually i will, in about 3 weeks, when i get my life back from the little fuckers.
petey wrote: Tojiah
What's the world coming to when a school teacher wants the Cliff Notes. Jesus wept.
Well, I'm done reading the
Well, I'm done reading the book. It's been quite a ride. There's definitely a change of tone in the last chapter, written more recently, but he still seems to be focused on worker self-organization as the ultimate path for transformation.. how does this differ from the way it concluded originally?
Tojiah wrote: Well, I'm done
I'd like to know this as well. Wasn't the last chapter taken out or replaced and some of the general analysis missing from the second edition. I never read the 1st edition (or could even find it) so I don't know. I would be surprised if someone hasn't blogged about it.
The 1st edition came out in
The 1st edition came out in 1972, so it was written in the midst of a wave of wildcat strikes and at a time of optimism for class struggle. The last chapter of the next edition (put out by Southend Press) is full of all the bitter defeats of the 1980s. I was just thumbing through the newer version at a bookstore yesterday and noticing how the tone had become more pessimistic.
Is the section on the wildcat
Is the section on the wildcat strikes of the 70s still in the newer version? I thought that that section was just as intriguing as the rest of the book. It would be a bummer if it was left out.
Also, since this discussion has popped up again, I'd like to thank Devoration for conceiving the idea for this study group and making it happen. The discussion might not have taken off, but it encouraged me to start reading a book which has had a pretty big impact on my political outlook.
Agreed. Thanks to Devoration
Agreed. Thanks to Devoration in getting some of us, like myself, to reread this excellent book.
Anyone interested in making joint, but brief, summarizations of the book, chapter-by-chapter? I just attended the IWW's Work People's College and presented a 3-part working class history of North America, much of it based on Brecher's account. So I'm ready to discuss some of the high points in class struggle. And also add some others that Strike! glosses over or fails to mention.
I think a major problem is
I think a major problem is successfully tying historical high points of class war/class consciousness and making them seem relevant. Overall Brecher does a good job of weaving it together to paint a picture of where we are in the present day (due to where we've been). But it becomes disconnected when having real life discussions with other people (like co-workers) about socialism/class/labor- an example of workers shutting down a country or a city and running distribution and/or production for themselves seems to lose meaning when it happened 70+ years ago.
It seems important to be able to draw together historical events across different nations and cultures to demonstrate what class conscious workers, or revolutionary workers, can accomplish. At its core Brecher writes how these things happened, in some cases the organizational elements that helped or hindered the event, the economic situation or political situation leading up to an event. Basic strategic questions can be learned from these kinds of historical examples (like what makes a mass strike a mass strike, how do they start, how do they spread; or what makes a worker's council, how they start, how they operate, etc.).
What kind of contemporary (1968-present seems like a good starting point) events, strikes, organizations, etc. do you think would make up the kind of list Brecher uses for historical class warfare, strikes and self-organization, but written to engage and interest people today (in a way that saying, "well they did it like this in 1877. . ." doesn't)?
devoration1 wrote: What kind
I'd look to countries/regions going through more recent industrialization. One example would be the cycle of struggles by workers against the Hyundai chaebol in South Korea. From the nationwide general strike, as part of the 1987 Great Struggle, Hyundai workers had near-continuous strikes that crossed sectoral boundaries within the corporation -- becoming "a solidarity struggle at the group level" until 1990 (from Hagen Koo's Korean Workers:The Culture and Politics of Class Formation ).
At the end of 1988 there was a 128-day strike at Hyundai Heavy Industries, which was the longest in South Korean history. Strikes there again in 1989 became intensely violent and a 109-day strike was broken by a 15,000 cops in a military assault from land, sea, and sky (Ulsan is a coastal city on the Sea of Japan). This drew in thousands of workers from Hyundai Motors and Hyundai Mipo Shipyards, turning the company town of Ulsan into a "war zone." The class war on the streets lasted 10 days, but also led to agitation on the shopfloor and workers formed spontaneous strike committees. These struggles were driven forward by an inspiring degree of class consciousness.
The third -- and last -- phase of the cycle of struggle began with the occupation of the massive Goliat (as in "Goliath") Crane at Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan in 1990. But the struggle exposed the rivalry between revolutionaries calling for militant class-wide action and reformists wanting to limit the struggle to pragmatic and moderate demands only at the firm-level. Yet the former's ideas were confirmed in the solidarity struggles that became a general strike, drawing in 120,000 workers nationwide, from over 146 different different enterprises. The cross-sectoral strike was unable to link the various work stoppages and soon faded, as did the pitched street battles. The Goliat occupation ended in isolation, as 51 "lonely wolves" climbed down from the 82 meter crane in defeat. Despite it's end, it demonstrated how struggles can expand like wildfire when they're driven by class consciousness.
While never again reaching the same level of class-wide action, the Hyundai struggles set the tone for subsequent ones where "it was relatively common for workers to visit other neighborhood plants in order to assist fellow workers' strikes and demonstrations," and do other class-conscious actions like "protest visits, joining street demonstrations, collecting strike funds, and engaging in sympathy strikes" -- as part of "interfirm solidarity struggles."
For a detailed account of this amazing cycle of class war, working class self-organization, and mass strikes, read pages 165-175 in the chapter titled "The Great Labor Offensive" in the aforementioned Korean Workers by Hagen Koo. [There was also a now-lost Korean-language documentary DVD of the 1987-1990 strike wave that I showed to some European comrades while in France in 2008; if anyone has a copy, please PM me as I'd like to get another copy]
Yeah, but I think just as
Yeah, but I think just as temporal distance can make struggles seems out of touch, so too can geographic distance. I don't think it's a bad idea but I don't think anything replaces the power of relating to co-workers materially about small grievances on the job and then uses the space opened up by those (hopefully) escalating struggles to discuss deeper political issues of class and capitalism. Of course, maybe that's where such an introduction may very well be useful
It's been a problem lately
It's been a problem lately specifically related to my conversations with co-workers. A few have been pretty interested in talking about work related issues as well as militant/revolutionary politics. We're just now going through the first round of state budget cuts, which resulted in an internal e-mail from the top boss, a letter from the top boss and HR department outlining why they are going to disregard the long standing payscale (for increment raises based on years of employment) with vague promises to 'revisit the issue' when the political and economic landscape changes, etc. Examples drawn from labor history books (like Strike! and Dynamite) are non-starters; "1908; the plants ironworkers spontaneously walked out and struck after learning of a 10% paycut" doesn't really help motor the conversation about doing anything. Trying to tie together labor history and tactics with a young and inexperienced workforce (in a non-productive, public sector environment) is difficult at times (despite the interest shown by some of my co-workers).
Indeed, what do you think are the best resources for finding such examples? Aside from stuff posted on Libcom, there doesn't seem to be many places (outside M-L type sites like Kasama) about the struggles in the developing world in English.
devoration1 wrote: Indeed,
I'd look to Mouvement Communiste and their accounts of class struggles in China, like the 2010 Nonhai Honda Strike, the class struggle aspects of the uprising in Tunisia in 2011 that launched the Arab Spring, the ensuing movement in Egypt, and the Maruti Suzuki Strike in India in 2011.
Also, for excellent ongoing coverage of workers' struggles in India check out Gurgaon Workers News.
As for libcom, there is always great coverage of class struggle in Bangladesh. Just follow the Bangladesh posts here on libcom by Red Marriot and others. And some of us are South Korea watchers, so we post coverage when struggles are occurring -- like the 77-day Ssangyong Factory Occupation and Strike in 2009.
Hieronymous wrote: Also, for
hadn't heard of that, thanks for the link
as to brecher's Strike, i read about 100 pages and had to stop. in the face of state/capital's ability and willingness and even enthusiasm to summon violence there is a need for truly mass action, action so big it can't be beaten or shot down.
Looks like PM Press is
Looks like PM Press is putting out an expanded edition of Strike! with a new chapter called "Beyond One-Sided Class War." None of the bookstores in my area are carrying it yet though. Despite the shortcomings of the last edition, I would still be interested on his take with workers struggles from where the last book finished till now. If it’s worth the read, let me know.