Submitted by devoration1 on January 12, 2011

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' .

Hieronymous

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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."

She says:

Anyon

"The period of rapid industrialization between the Civil War and World War I was one of intense and often violent conflict between business interests and the new industrial workforce... It might be described as a rebellion by workers against industrial exploitation and economic inequality. From this perspective, one would emphasize strikes and lockouts, focusing perhaps on on those confrontations that were successful from labor's point of view" (p. 372)

But instead, textbooks teach us that working class forms of organization:

Anyon

"[are]... illegitimate organizations that interfere with an owner's right to hire and fire and workers' rights to work where and for whom they please. Adherents of this view might describe the strikes and labor organizing efforts of the period as the result of 'foreign' or anti-American influence, government organization of industry as violating individual rights and principles of free enterprise, and unions making unreasonable and inflationary demands" (ibid.)

The mainstream leftist version, preached by AFL-CIO officialdom today, goes like this:

Anyon

"... labor unions [are] necessary for the protection of the rights of workers in a democracy. The interests of all parties are supposedly served by the peaceful resolution of conflict. Such a narrative might criticize confrontation, such as strikes, and sanction the use of political and social avenues for reaching consensus, emphasizing prevailing arrangements of power and recourse and that were willing to operate within those constraints" (ibid.)

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

"The United States…had the bloodiest labor history of any industrialized nation."

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:

Sombart

"a sober, calculating businessman, without ideals." And that "On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie socialistic utopias of every sort are sent to their doom."

It is against this ideological obfuscation that we must struggle, here in this discussion and in our everyday involvement in the class war.

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

It is against this ideological obfuscation that we must struggle, here in this discussion and in our everyday involvement in the class war.

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 class-conscious German workers have at last grasped the humour of the policemanlike theory that the whole modern labour movement is an artificial, arbitrary product of a handful of conscienceless “demagogues and agitators.”

. . .

If, therefore, the Russian Revolution teaches us anything, it teaches above all that the mass strike is not artificially “made,” not “decided” at random, not “propagated,” but that it is a historical phenomenon which, at a given moment, results from social conditions with historical inevitability. It is not, therefore, by abstract speculations on the possibility or impossibility, the utility or the injuriousness of the mass strike, but only by an examination of those factors and social conditions out of which the mass strike grows in the present phase of the class struggle – in other words, it is not by subjective criticism of the mass strike from the standpoint of what is desirable, but only by objective investigation of the sources of the mass strike from the standpoint of what is historically inevitable, that the problem can be grasped or even discussed.

. . .

If anyone were to undertake to make the mass strike generally, as a form of proletarian action, the object of methodological agitation, and to go house-to-house canvassing with this “idea” in order to gradually win the working-class to it, it would be as idle and profitless and absurd an occupation as it would be to seek to make the idea of the revolution or of the fight at the barricades the object of a special agitation. The mass strike has now become the centre of the lively interest of the German and the international working-class because it is a new form of struggle, and as such is the sure symptom of a thoroughgoing internal revolution in the relations of the classes and in the conditions of the class struggle. It is a testimony to the sound revolutionary instinct and to the quick intelligence of the mass of the German proletariat that, in spite of the obstinate resistance of their trade-union leaders, they are applying themselves to this new problem with such keen interest.

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.

Economic management and political power had in effect been taken over by the strikers. Of course, this kind of transfer of power was not universally understood or approved of, even by those who supported the strike.

-Strike!, p.14.

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:

In Chicago, the movement began with a series of mass rallies called by the Workingman’s Party, the main radical party of the day, and a strike by forty switchmen on the Michigan Central Railroad.

. . .

The day the railroad strike reached East St.Louis, the St.Louis Workingman’s Party marched 500 strong across the river to join a meeting of 1,000 railroad workers and residents. Said one of the speakers, “All you have to do, gentlemen, for you have the numbers, is to unite on one idea- that the workingmen shall rule the country. What man makes, belongs to him, and the workingman made this country.” The St.Louis General Strike, the peak of the Great Upheaval, for a time nearly realized that goal.

The railroad workers at that meeting voted for a strike, set up a committee of one man from each railroad, and occupied Relay Depot as their headquarters. The committee promptly posted General Order No.1, forbidding freight trains from leaving any yard.

That night, across the river in St.Louis, the Workingman’s Party called a mass meeting, with crowds so large that three separate speakers’ stands were set up simultaneously. “The workingmen,” said one speaker, “intend now to assert their rights, even if the result is shedding of blood. . . . They are ready to take up arms at any moment.”

Next morning, workers from different shops and plants began to appear at the Party headquarters, requesting that committees be sent around to “notify them to stop work and join the other workingmen, that they might have a reason for doing so.” The Party began to send such committees around, with unexpected results. The coopers struck, marching from shop to shop with a fife and a drum shouting, “Come out! Come out! No barrels less than 9 cents.” Newsboys, gasworkers, boatmen and engineers struck as well. Railroadmen arrived from East St.Louis on engines and flatcars they had commandeered, moving through the yards enforcing General Order No.1 and closing a wire works.

That day, an ‘Executive Committee’ formed, based at the headquarters of the Workingman’s Party, to coordinate the strike.

-Strike! P.17-18.

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.

petey

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

great cite hieronymous. fundamental stuff.

gram negative

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

http://ifile.it/gt32yim

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I need to re-read Dev's post, but I wanted to comment on this:

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.

Do you think that's true of the early IWW? I've always understood them a distinctly American phenomenon, no?

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Do you think that's true of the early IWW? I've always understood them a distinctly American phenomenon, no?

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).

Hieronymous

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

Goldner

The effect of the entry into the world market of the highly-productive new agricultural sectors of Australia, Argentina, the U.S. and Russia, along with greatly reduced shipping costs, was not merely an agricultural or even economic event. Its social effect was to throw into crisis the agrarian sectors of all the weakest producers, displacing millions of peasants throughout Europe, a displacement which accelerated the emigration of these peasants to North and South America... On a world scale, this drastic cheapening of the cost of food had the additional effect of cheapening the cost of reproducing labor power. In many countries, working-class living standards rose even as nominal wages fell (Ubu Saved From Drowning, p. 28)

Most dramatically, innovations in transportation infrastructure and the mechanization of agriculture caused this cheapening.

Goldner

By 1890 it was cheaper to ship wheat from Buenos Aires to Barcelona than to ship it 100 miles over inland transport (Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today)

Here's an excerpt from a brief summary of the Depression of 1873:

Scott Reynolds Nelson

"The Real Great Depression"

The depression of 1929 is the wrong model for the current economic crisis

... the current economic woes look a lot like what my 96-year-old grandmother still calls "the real Great Depression." She pinched pennies in the 1930s, but she says that times were not nearly so bad as the depression her grandparents went through. That crash came in 1873 and lasted more than four years. It looks much more like our current crisis.

The problems had emerged around 1870, starting in Europe. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in 1867, in the states unified by Prussia into the German empire, and in France, the emperors supported a flowering of new lending institutions that issued mortgages for municipal and residential construction, especially in the capitals of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Mortgages were easier to obtain than before, and a building boom commenced. Land values seemed to climb and climb; borrowers ravenously assumed more and more credit, using unbuilt or half-built houses as collateral. The most marvelous spots for sightseers in the three cities today are the magisterial buildings erected in the so-called founder period.

But the economic fundamentals were shaky. Wheat exporters from Russia and Central Europe faced a new international competitor who drastically undersold them. The 19th-century version of containers manufactured in China and bound for Wal-Mart consisted of produce from farmers in the American Midwest. They used grain elevators, conveyer belts, and massive steam ships to export trainloads of wheat to abroad. Britain, the biggest importer of wheat, shifted to the cheap stuff quite suddenly around 1871. By 1872 kerosene and manufactured food were rocketing out of America's heartland, undermining rapeseed, flour, and beef prices. The crash came in Central Europe in May 1873, as it became clear that the region's assumptions about continual economic growth were too optimistic. Europeans faced what they came to call the American Commercial Invasion. A new industrial superpower had arrived, one whose low costs threatened European trade and a European way of life.

As continental banks tumbled, British banks held back their capital, unsure of which institutions were most involved in the mortgage crisis. The cost to borrow money from another bank — the interbank lending rate — reached impossibly high rates. This banking crisis hit the United States in the fall of 1873. Railroad companies tumbled first. They had crafted complex financial instruments that promised a fixed return, though few understood the underlying object that was guaranteed to investors in case of default. (Answer: nothing). The bonds had sold well at first, but they had tumbled after 1871 as investors began to doubt their value, prices weakened, and many railroads took on short-term bank loans to continue laying track. Then, as short-term lending rates skyrocketed across the Atlantic in 1873, the railroads were in trouble. When the railroad financier Jay Cooke proved unable to pay off his debts, the stock market crashed in September, closing hundreds of banks over the next three years. The panic continued for more than four years in the United States and for nearly six years in Europe.

The long-term effects of the Panic of 1873 were perverse. For the largest manufacturing companies in the United States — those with guaranteed contracts and the ability to make rebate deals with the railroads — the Panic years were golden. Andrew Carnegie, Cyrus McCormick, and John D. Rockefeller had enough capital reserves to finance their own continuing growth. For smaller industrial firms that relied on seasonal demand and outside capital, the situation was dire. As capital reserves dried up, so did their industries. Carnegie and Rockefeller bought out their competitors at fire-sale prices. The Gilded Age in the United States, as far as industrial concentration was concerned, had begun.

As the panic deepened, ordinary Americans suffered terribly. A cigar maker named Samuel Gompers who was young in 1873 later recalled that with the panic, "economic organization crumbled with some primeval upheaval." Between 1873 and 1877, as many smaller factories and workshops shuttered their doors, tens of thousands of workers — many former Civil War soldiers — became transients. The terms "tramp" and "bum," both indirect references to former soldiers, became commonplace American terms. Relief rolls exploded in major cities, with 25-percent unemployment (100,000 workers) in New York City alone. Unemployed workers demonstrated in Boston, Chicago, and New York in the winter of 1873-74 demanding public work. In New York's Tompkins Square in 1874, police entered the crowd with clubs and beat up thousands of men and women. The most violent strikes in American history followed the panic, including by the secret labor group known as the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania's coal fields in 1875, when masked workmen exchanged gunfire with the "Coal and Iron Police," a private force commissioned by the state. A nationwide railroad strike followed in 1877, in which mobs destroyed railway hubs in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cumberland, Md.

[...]

From Chronicle of Higher Education, 2008.

Chilli Sauce

I need to re-read Dev's post, but I wanted to comment on this:

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.

Do you think that's true of the early IWW? I've always understood them a distinctly American phenomenon, no?

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":

Ross

In my own country
amnesia is the norm,
the schools teach us
to unremember from birth,
the slave taking, the risings up,
the songs of resistance,
the first May first,
our martyrs from Haymarket
to Attica to the redwoods of California
ripped whole from our hearts,
erased from official memory…

Here's how Will Barnes describes this tradition in The Working Class, World Capitalism and Crisis: A General Perspective:

Barnes

... on the basis of an oppositional proletarian culture that the various challenges to capital formed in the era of trustification, the twilight era of formal domination. I only need recite some of those challenges… the first national strike along the Baltimore & Ohio in 1877, the social revolutionary development of the mid eighties in Chicago ending in Haymarket, the great strike of the American Railway Workers in 1892, the intense struggles of hardrock miners in Colorado, Montana and elsewhere (Coeur d’Alene, Cripple Creek) from the mid-eighties until after the turn of the century, and all the various struggles of the Wobblies, Wheatland, Bisbee, Butte, Patterson, etc.; and finally, the huge proletarian upsurge in steel in 1919, one of the three, maybe four, greatest class confrontations in U.S. history… to recognize how profoundly casualizing recomposition of the U.S. working class has transformed its awareness and outlook.

In all these events, a uniquely proletarian-oppositional culture of daily life underlay formation of strike committees that functioned as a center of de facto dual power organizing food and fuel supplies, public order in the community, and armed self-defense. On the employers' side, capitalist terror (mass firings, blacklists, pass systems, and the use of thieves, thugs, and murderers as well as private police) reigned, followed by, and once established, simultaneously with, massive state and federal intervention, i.e., State repression and terror (blanket court injunctions, troops, suspension of habeas corpus, round-ups, and imprisonment). All this was in addition to lockouts and the employment of scabs, which are normal, non-terrorist capitalist practices in any struggle against workers.

In these class confrontations, the class antagonism could be no more apparent.

This culture was so pervasive it characterized even organizations if not entirely reformist, then with thoroughly reformist (not to mention arcane) leaderships: In the 1880s, the Knights of Labor included labor assemblies, workers’ club rooms, cooperative factories and stores, workers’ newspapers, social clubs and singing societies, narrowly political organizations, and workers militias and labor courts. The courts settled worker disputes ranging from workplace to family problems, e.g., from scabbing to wife beating, without recourse to the existing, bourgeois judicial system. Spectacularly homogenized, capitalist societal organization no longer admits of this, a distinctive and alternative, proletarian culture of daily life, a class based community that tendentially aimed at societal hegemony.

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.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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").

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

"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.

Steven.

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Chilli, I'm not sure what he changes, but the new version of his book is online here:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uoCNcKLzM_sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=strike+Jeremy+Brecher&source=bl&ots=lqIYBRaw5L&sig=Dyb2ZOHzqwKpGfwLiHO7o_kj760&hl=en&ei=UaExTdPQL8WXhQfO16mVCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Tojiah

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

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").

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....

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

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:

Trivers did not mention Kropotkin, but he later recounted that he learned from exchanges with Soviet bloc scientists that “in their literature, Peter Kropotkin was an early pioneer whom they would have expected me to cite.” However, he seemed to have developed his theory independently for, in a 1992 interview, he mentioned that people “keep asking about Kropotkin. You know, I have never read the anthropologists who write about reciprocity, and I never read Kropotkin.” He also notes that a “very agreeable feature of my reciprocal altruism, which I had not anticipated in advance, was that a sense of justice or fairness seemed a natural consequence of selection for reciprocal altruism. That is, you could easily imagine that sense of fairness would evolve as a way of regulating reciprocal tendencies.” If Trivers had consulted Kropotkin, he would have discovered that his unanticipated feature had been discussed in Mutual Aid decades previously.

http://libcom.org/forums/theory/question-about-max-stirner-16022009

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.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

(all the way from Portland, Oregon!).

powell's? that's where i got my copy of value price and profit.

petey

Chilli Sauce

(all the way from Portland, Oregon!).

powell's? that's where i got my copy of value price and profit.

Indeed! But I guess that's what you get from the socialist left coast....

Hieronymous

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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:

Glaberman

Instead of seeking out the evidence of revolutionary capacity and inherently revolutionary activity, he begins to look for substitutes for it.

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:

Gutman

"Strikes," complained the New York Railroad Gazette in January 1874, "are no longer accidents but are as much a disease of the body politic as the measles or indigestion are of our physical organization." Between November 1873 and July 1874, workers on the Pennsylvania system and at least 17 other railroads struck. Engineers, firemen, brakemen, and track hands as well as shopmen and ordinary laborers resisted wage cuts, demanded salary due them, and opposed such employer practices as blacklisting and the use of iron-clad contracts. None of these disputes was so dramatic or important as the general railroad strike in 1877, but together they prophetically etched the outlines of that violent outburst. The strikes also revealed certain explosive elements in the social structure of post-bellum America. Seemingly pathetic and seldom lasting more than a week or two, the significance of the strikes lay not in their success or failure but rather in the readiness of the strikers to express their grievances in a dramatic, direct, and frequently telling manner. Even though the workers were mostly without trade union organization or experience, they often exerted a kind of raw power that made trouble for their employers. Most of the 1873-1874 disputes, furthermore, took place in small railroad towns and in isolated semirural regions where small numbers of workers often could marshal surprising strength. The social structure and ideology in these areas worked to the advantage of the disaffected workers. Large numbers of non-strikers frequently sided with them. Though the railroad operators put down all the strikes, they faced difficulties that they were unprepared for and that taxed their imaginations and their energies (p. 296) [bold by me -- Hieronymous].

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.

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

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:

Unless you accept a conspiratorial theory of history-that labor organizations are everywhere introduced to restrain and defeat workers-you have to deal with the question of why labor organizations of various types arise.

. . .

What is the significance of these victories for us today, and for the working class? Is it that workers were stupid and tricked and did the work of the bourgeoisie and were co-opted into bourgeois society? Or is it rather that workers showed and developed the capacity to transform society-to whatever extent was objectively possible?

Much of the 'nuts and bolts' of his critique I'd agree with, but his style of criticism/polemic is awful.

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.

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).

devoration1

Glaberman's critique doesn't seem particularly honest at times. His use of the 'either/or' scenario is really lazy:

Unless you accept a conspiratorial theory of history-that labor organizations are everywhere introduced to restrain and defeat workers-you have to deal with the question of why labor organizations of various types arise.

. . .

What is the significance of these victories for us today, and for the working class? Is it that workers were stupid and tricked and did the work of the bourgeoisie and were co-opted into bourgeois society? Or is it rather that workers showed and developed the capacity to transform society-to whatever extent was objectively possible?

Much of the 'nuts and bolts' of his critique I'd agree with, but his style of criticism/polemic is awful.

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:

Rawick

[Endnote #3] Marxists who are familiar with the basis of the Hegelian dialect. In the master-slave discussion in which Hegel indicates that the slaves must struggle against elements of their own class as well as against the masters, will not be surprised by this historical analysis. In Facing Reality (Facing Reality Publishing Committee, Detroit, 1956), C.L.R. James offers the following useful summary of dialectics:

(a) All development takes place as a result of self-movement, not organization or direction by external forces.

(b) Self-movement springs from and is the overcoming of antagonisms within an organism, not the struggle against external foes.

(c) It is not the world of nature that confronts man as an alien power to be overcome. It is the alien power that he has himself created.

(d) The end toward which mankind is inexorably developing by the constant overcoming of internal antagonisms is not the enjoyment, ownership, or use of goods, but self-realization, creativity based upon the incorporation into the individual personality of the whole previous development of humanity. Freedom is creative universality, not utility.

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.

petey

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

when i clicked that rawick url, 'server not found', also when i shortened it for the entire www.marxists.org site.

Steven.

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

N.b., I have just added this review of strike to the library, by Root & Branch:
http://libcom.org/library/strike-review-root-branch

gram negative

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

here is the link to the original class against class file: http://www.reocities.com/cordobakaf/rawick.html

radicalgraffiti

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

its working fine for me, i'm on virgin media at home.

petey

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

it's working now.
well i don't know what all that was, but i'm printing it, just in case.
ta to yiz.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.
.

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'.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This is the Workingman's Party thats referenced, yeah?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workingmen%27s_Party_of_the_United_States

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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...

smg

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

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?

Seemingly pathetic and seldom lasting more than a week or two, the significance of the strikes lay not in their success or failure but rather in the readiness of the strikers to express their grievances in a dramatic, direct, and frequently telling manner.

I like this. I find it optimistic...almost comforting.

A topic for another day could be the historical memory and collective experience of the working class being muted or eradicated

A way to recover from this historical amnesia would be another interesting topic for another day.

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'.

Examples, from either Strike! or other sources?

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Examples, from either Strike! or other sources?
.

Sure:

The day the railroad strike reached East St.Louis, the St.Louis Workingman's Party marched 500 strong across the river to join a meeting of 1,000 railroad workers and residents. Said one of the speakers, "All you have to do gentlemen, for you have the numbers, is to unite on one idea-that the workingmen shall rule the country. What man makes, belongs to him, and the working men made this country." The St.Louis General Strike , the peak of the Great Upheaval, for a time nearly realized that goal.

. . .

That night, across the river in St.Louis, the Workingman's Party called a mass meeting, with crowds so large that three seperate speakers' stands were set up simultaneously. "The workingmen," said one speaker, "intend now to assert their rights, even if the result is shedding of blood. . . . They are ready to take up arms at any moment."

Next morning, workers from different shops and plants began to appear at the party headquarters , requesting that committee's be sent around to "notify them to stop work and join the other workingmen, that they might have a reason for doing so." The party began to send such committee's around, with unexpected results. The coopers struck, marching from shop to shop with a fife and drum shouting, "Come out, come out! No barrels less than nine cents." Newsboys, gasworkers, boatmen, and engineers struck as well. Railroadmen arrived from East St.Louis on engines and flatcars they had commandeered, moving through the yards enforcing General Order No. 1 and closing a wire works.

That day, an "executive Committee" formed, based at the Workingman's Party headquarters, to coordinate the strike. "Nobody ever knew who that executive committee really was; it seems to have been a rather loose body composed of whomever chanced to come in and take part in its deliberations."

Strike! p.17 - 18

And

The party at first had little influence over any politics in the United States on a national or local level. Much like the International Workingmen's Association before it, the WPUS was widely viewed as communistic. During the railroad strikes during the summer of 1877, the party showed some of its power, gaining membership in many cities by acting as an organizational and directive force, most notably in Chicago and St. Louis.

Although the WPUS was largely unsuccessful in the strikes it helped lead, on August 6, 1878 the party had managed to gain enough popularity to capture 5 out of 7 spots in Kentucky state legislature. As news spread around the country of the success of the WPUS, more "Workingmen's Parties" formed in cities around the country, some chartered by the WPUS and some not.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workingmen%27s_Party_of_the_United_States

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

SMG, have yourself or anyone else on this thread read The Maya of Morganton?

smg

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.)?

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

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.)?

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

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.)?

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

Philip Foner

"iron law of wages," which held that the amount paid to a worker was equal to what was "necessary for his subsistence" and would never be any higher. He [Lassalle] also rejected the view that trade unions and strikes were of no importance and that the ballot was the only instrument for lifting the "yoke of capital' from labor, since it alone could enable the workers to establish producers' cooperatives with state aid and thereby raise themselves out of wage slavery into socialism. p. 11

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.

smg

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

-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.

syndicalist

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Sam Dolgoff has some interesting items in his Revolutionary Tendencies in American Labor

http://www.iww.org/culture/library/dolgoff/labor4.shtml

http://www.iww.org/en/culture/library/dolgoff/labor5.shtml

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Hieronymous- I just read a comment you made in another thread in this subforum and thought it's relevant to this discussion:

Perhaps I take a romantic view of such things, but I see Radical America as embodying a tradition that fuses Wobbly-style anti-vanguardist organizing from below together with trying to foment in shopfloor struggles an indigenous American form of council communism.

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

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?

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

devoration1

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?

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.

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.

smg

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Tojiah

devoration1

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?

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.

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 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]

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.

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?

devoration1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

smg

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I actually just started Chap 2 myself so I'm good with whatever....

Hieronymous

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

smg

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

devoration1

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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:

A change is slowly but surely coming over the whole country. The discussion of the labor question takes up more of the time and attention of men in all walks of life at the present time than it ever did before. . . The number of unemployed at the present time is very great, and constantly increasing. Reduction in wages, suspension of men, stoppage of factories and furnaces are of daily occurence. . . Under such circumstances as I have pointed out it is but natural for men to grow desperate and restive. The demonstrations in some of our large cities testify to that fact.

-Strike!, p.25

The same could be (and is very often) said about the international temperment today.

devoration1

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:

A change is slowly but surely coming over the whole country. The discussion of the labor question takes up more of the time and attention of men in all walks of life at the present time than it ever did before. . . The number of unemployed at the present time is very great, and constantly increasing. Reduction in wages, suspension of men, stoppage of factories and furnaces are of daily occurence. . . Under such circumstances as I have pointed out it is but natural for men to grow desperate and restive. The demonstrations in some of our large cities testify to that fact.

-Strike!, p.25

The same could be (and is very often) said about the international temperment today.

Do you see this temperament in the US? I feel like Atlantic Canada is resigned to wage cuts and loss of jobs.

devoration1

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

smg

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Is there anything in 2011 that could galvanise the class like the demand for an 8 hour work day?

Steven.

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

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…

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.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

smg

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Chapter 2 but I just finished reading about the Minneapolis General Strike.

devoration1

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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…
.

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

[email protected]

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.

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?

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

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.

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.

devoration1

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

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.

the obvious place today to look is china/vietnam etc, where i think similar struggles have been winning big concessions.

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.

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" ...

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.

devoration1

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This quote Breacher gives from History Of The Labor Movement In The United States by John R. Commons is very inspiring:

This movement, rising as an elemental protest against oppression and degradation, could be but feebly restrained by any considerations of expediancy or prudence

. . .

Extreme bitterness toward capital manifested itself in all the actions of the Knights of Labor, and wherever the leaders undertook to hold it within bounds they were generally discarded by their followers, and others who would lead as directed were placed in charge. The feeling of 'give no quarter' is illustrated in the refusal to submit grievances to arbitration when the employees felt that they had the upper hand over their employers.

-Strike! p.26.

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.

smg

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Quote:

the obvious place today to look is china/vietnam etc, where i think similar struggles have been winning big concessions.

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.

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

This quote Breacher gives from History Of The Labor Movement In The United States by John R. Commons is very inspiring:

This movement, rising as an elemental protest against oppression and degradation, could be but feebly restrained by any considerations of expediancy or prudence

. . .

Extreme bitterness toward capital manifested itself in all the actions of the Knights of Labor, and wherever the leaders undertook to hold it within bounds they were generally discarded by their followers, and others who would lead as directed were placed in charge. The feeling of 'give no quarter' is illustrated in the refusal to submit grievances to arbitration when the employees felt that they had the upper hand over their employers.

-Strike! p.26.

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.

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.

devoration1

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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:

The Wabash shopmen struck spontaneously the day after they received their wage cuts, and the strike rapidly spread to the shopmen on the other Southwest System roads. By the first week of March the strike had spread to all the important shops of the system in Missouri and Texas, involving 10,000 miles of railroad.

. . .

All K.O.L. on the Wabash struck. The workers on the rest of the Southwest System demanded support from the leaders of the K.O.L., who reluctantly instructed all members to refuse to handle Wabash rolling stock "and if this order is antagonized by the companies through any of its officials, our executive committee is hereby ordered to call out all K of L on the above system without any further action."

The Southwest System was controlled by Jay Gould, known as 'the wizard of wall street', and perhaps the most hated of the robber barons of his day. Faced now with a strike that would equal the dimension of the 1877 railroad strike and close down his entire system, Gould decided to come to terms, at least for the time being. He met with the Executive Board of the K.O.L. and, according to them, Gould advised the general manager of the Wabash to agree to their demands. The manager thereupon agreed to reinstate those fired and promised that 'no official shall discriminate against the K of L'.

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

Is there anything in 2011 that could galvanise the class like the demand for an 8 hour work day?

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

Does anyone have any evidence of earlier representative negotiation and bargaining by other earlier labor unions (craft or trade) in the US?

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.

gram negative

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

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.

March 15th - Chapter 3 , April 15th Chapter 4, if we continue to use the same time table.

Tojiah

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

Hieronymous

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Anyone else interested in continuing to discuss the book?

Tojiah

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

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."

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.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

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?

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.

Maybe...

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.

888

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

Tojiah

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

petey

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Tojiah

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".

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.

Tojiah

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

petey

Tojiah

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".

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.

What's the world coming to when a school teacher wants the Cliff Notes. Jesus wept.

Tojiah

11 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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?

sabot

9 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Tojiah

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?

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.

Hieronymous

9 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

redsdisease

9 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

Hieronymous

9 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.

devoration1

9 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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)?

Hieronymous

9 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

devoration1

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)?

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 [2001]).

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]

Chilli Sauce

9 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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

devoration1

9 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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).

I'd look to countries/regions going through more recent industrialization.

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.

Hieronymous

9 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

devoration1

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.

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.

petey

9 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Hieronymous

Also, for excellent ongoing coverage of workers' struggles in India check out Gurgaon Workers News.

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.

sabot

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

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.