A class action

Michael Edwards talks about how we should also consider worker's control even in our actions and organizing that are aimed at disruption.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 9, 2012

In the last “Workers Power” column, “The Pamphlet As Passport,” which appeared in the December 2010 IW, I discussed an information picket that blocked access to a university in Spain and some resulting thoughts on the nature of class power, namely the threat of and willingness to disrupt production. Class consciousness cannot simply be “Oh, my buddy and I at work have the same grievances.” We must acknowledge our collective power and promote our willingness to use it. Exercising that power involves being disruptive, sometimes to a degree that we find uncomfortable. However, workers cannot win demands and improve their position without being prepared to significantly upset the status quo.

As a revolutionary organization, the IWW has a vision beyond just a society where the producers are simply in a better bargaining position. We want to switch the balance of power between classes entirely to ultimately abolish the wage system. Here I think a second event from the action is instructive.

Eventually the cars trying to get through the information picket started getting backed up. Being the foreigner who couldn’t speak the language, a good role for me was to direct traffic. So I directed traffic effectively for a while. When one of the organizers came to check up on me I queried whether we were trying to disrupt traffic or distribute propaganda. I asked because while we were doing an excellent job disrupting traffic I wasn’t sure about the effectiveness of our propaganda. I didn’t think that people really cared about what we had to say when they had to wait 10 to 20 minutes to get anywhere. The organizer told me that our objective was to disrupt traffic and we were doing a good job of it!

If that was the case, why bother with traffic direction at all? Not managing drivers would have created additional havoc that added to our existing disruption, thereby adding to the basis of our class power.

Unconsciously, my comrades and I wanted to prove that we were capable of managing and maintaining some sense of order at the picket because how we act now reflects on how we will act when we become dominant. If the population at large only ever sees us causing a mess then they will inevitably turn to the forces of reaction to defend them from demonized revolutionaries.

I’m not saying a more cautious attitude should stay the cudgel of the working class. We should still come down like a pile of bricks on our target and when the dust has cleared I am happy with leaving the mess for the “haves” to clean up. But managing the unintended consequences of actions should be part of any strategy which has a goal of fundamentally altering the balance of power. In the case of our action, we could have let the drivers eventually cause a traffic accident. Without our intervention it was not a question of if, but of when.

If our objective is to solely cause enough havoc to force bosses and bureaucrats to cede to our demands, then sure, let the cars crash and burn. But the secondary function of revolutionary unions has always been to prepare its membership to assume the duties of a functional society. I’m not sure we are doing that in the IWW. We must be more capable at brinkmanship while simultaneously being able to manage the potential fallout of it. Within revolutionary unions we understand the need and execution of brinkmanship better than mainstream unions, but I’m not convinced we’re preparing ourselves or our fellow workers for control.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2011)