Responding to the Growing Importance of the State in the Workers Movement

obama_seiuRecent waves of protests in the US have given us useful examples to understand how American revolutionaries can work out our politics in practice. IWW members and branches in particular have witnessed renewed interest and potential in class conflicts, organizing, and aspects of its politics. At the same time, IWWs face a renovated reformist opposition whose tactics and ideas, while not identical, look more and more similar to our own, and pose a challenge for how we can demonstrate concrete solutions to daily issues under capitalism while building a movement against exploitation itself. The declining standard of living, sky rocketing inequality, and grim outlook for workers (if not nearly everyone) presents a challenge and open field for revolutionaries like the IWW who want to organize around the total experience of life under capitalism towards a new society.

In 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin protests and an occupation of the capital erupted in response to a bill banning public sector collective bargaining.[1] Beginning as a defense of established union practice, the protests quickly escalated beyond that and spread calls for direct action, a general strike, and forms of participatory democracy.[2] The Occupy movement, Walmart protests, and retail sector organizing like SEIU’s Fight for 15 similarly adopted a direct action approach. In all of these instances – Madison, Occupy, FF15, etc. – we had a situation where there was some kind of social base for the mass practice of libertarian revolutionary’s tactical and administrative perspectives – direct action, democracy, and confrontation – within a formation where the predominant big picture political perspective was not that of many radicals but rather was one of a more equal, softer capitalism. We can call these movements militant reformism[3], which in the context of the global fiscal crisis aimed (and still aim) at mobilizing the population behind social reforms to improve and save capitalism.

In each case it was tied to a specific class fraction or set of class fractions. These events tapped into but did not articulate, clarify, or advance more fundamental dissatisfaction with the system as a whole. Radicals did little about that, neither putting forward ideas to become more fundamental in its criticisms or more expansive in terms of what class fractions were involved. This is because libertarian revolutionaries have focused too much on those tactical and administrative aspects – basically formal qualities of struggles – and less on actually advancing the ideas they hold among people who don’t already hold those ideas and don’t speak the in-group vocabularies of the libertarian left. The libertarian left in practice has largely put forth/advocated and sought to practice militancy and democracy, and has done much less to convincingly advocate its social vision. This is part of why we were left flat-footed when social movements and NGOs etc., largely adopted similar stances regarding militant and democratic behavior.

kshama-sawantState intervention and mobilizing for reform increasingly is attracting attention and energy.[4] Navigating that and defining an alternative is a distinctly real and immediate problem for the context we are working within. Taking an active position on the State in a union like the IWW has often been seen as something similar to declaring devotion to the teachings of Marx; an abstract issue that doesn’t matter beyond stating group affiliations with some people over others. This is a mistake however because the State and the politics around how groups like the IWW relate to it have a direct and deep impact on day-to-day organizing decisions, and it’s penetration of our work is likely to become increasingly something we face. The political landscape of today is encountering a stead swell of attempts to channel collective actions like those we advocate within statist projects of improving capitalism and helping it overcome the challenges of the past decades. Madison, Fight for 15, Occupy, and recent socialist electoral campaigns have driven our relationship to the State closer and closer, and have made the methods and spheres of action of the IWW increasingly contested.

For many years the mantra of organizing was direct action, direct democracy, and movement building both by revolutionaries as well as the more militant sections of reformists, unionists, and activists. This was held in contrast (within unions, NGOs, political parties, and independent projects) to ideas promoting  strict hierarchies or representation, lobbying and electoral reform, and professional services. While radicals were often the ones calling for direct action, in practice different unformed tendencies existed promoting those tactics and structures, many pro-capitalist. Agnostacism about the State, specifically believing we can ignore it all together and achieve more by avoiding politics, was encouraged by this environment. A philosophy of pure action, uniting organizers to just work on fights and move past the political distractions, was put forward as the antidote for the general passivity and withdrawal of people from politics.

For example, in workplace organizing some call for strikes, democracy, and a working class mobilization against management-labor partnership, political lobbying, and narrowly defending the interests of an individual workplace, company, or industry. These arguments are often made speculatively without much concrete examples or experiences to go off and target people on a general basis. Until recently this occurred with little serious competition for those same positions. It was possible to claim the radical nature of a program of direct action and democracy while there were few public reformist campaigns that contradicted it. In Madison, IWWs and revolutionaries promoted direct action and general strikes with broad support amongst a general climate in favor of expanding action and militancy. That energy was ultimately directed into a defense of traditional union structures and bargaining and electoral efforts, most visibly with the recall of anti-union Republicans. The militancy of liberal politicians and reformists took many by surprise and made maintaining momentum for the IWW’s politics and strategy more difficult. During these events, no serious debate emerged around the State within that struggle beyond the issue of strikes versus winning a more supportive legislature. Looking back, it wasn’t only the recuperative efforts that were destructive to more radical actions, but also the hopes and political organization for the reform of capitalist government that played an important role in disarming more radical perspectives within those events.

Likewise Occupy changed the political terrain of the United States through its challenge to popular discourse, channeling discontent beyond the normal detours the rulers used in previous decades. Populist anger and ideas spread alongside rumblings of more overt anti-capitalist and anti-systemic thinking. In some cities the NGOs were heavily involved in Occupy from early on, but mostly the Democratic Party, unions, and NGOs found themselves on the outside and quickly tried to remedy it. The IWW too had to figure out how to relate to the shifted field. Many people normally alienated by political struggles became interested in revolutionary ideas and ways to address growing social ills spreading in communities. IWWs in cities across the US and Canada were being asked for the how and why of revolution; questions that are not answered exclusively by direct action and democracy.

Discontent with the symbolic nature and isolation of the occupations led to experiments in mobilizing around pressing issues: foreclosures, workplace issues, unemployment, etc.  In some cities the forces of recuperation were a part of this grassroots organizing from the outset, however in other places they moved in only after the popular mood was more clear. Huge amounts of money poured in largely from unions like SEIU, but also likely from Democratic Party sources. Rather than opposing horizontal methods, they embraced them and sought to direct them militantly in the service of reforms. Foreclosures, the minimum wage, and jobs were all demands of different work out there which the reformists used to put pressure on lawmakers from the outside in parallel with proposals by the Democrats for institutional reform.

This created a problem for revolutionaries involved in Occupy. With thousands activated by experiences in Occupy, projects began to pop up around the country often using the alliances crafted within Occupy. Different radicals, unions, and NGOs collaborated to organize in the community and improve the conditions of the working class. When Obama called for increasing the minimum wage, months later it would be radicals hitting the streets within SEIU, HERE, and other fronts to build actions to pressure for such increases.

Revolutionaries  making the same arguments for their methods (such as militancy, direct action, direct democracy, and base building of social movements), shared that same space increasingly filled by people who wanted to improve capitalism not abolish it, and in fact by the elements within the ruling class in some cases. This became sharper with the emergence of the fast food strikes. Though these strikes often became media circuses with little worker participation, the problem remains. What came to the front with the crisis was the need to be able to concretely place movement to save and improve capitalism versus movement to undo it. Literally people began asking revolutionaries how we can create a new society, while the answer of libertarian tactics alone was becoming shown to be not enough on its own.

In the workers struggle this creates immediate issues. SEIU’s Fight for 15 attempts to organize low wage retail workers using direct action to achieve, primarily, a raise in the minimum wage. Today this campaign has hit some initial road-blocks and worker participation has been more limited than hoped. There is speculation that this is a push that, if it gains momentum, would also seek a legislative route to make traditional contracts and union representation viable. Still the opposite could happen. SEIU, if successful, might pursue a non-contractual direct action approach using militant tactics and building a movement of retail workers. Disbelief that any reformism couldn’t be democratic, militant, etc., is likely to be proven wrong at some point even if we aren’t at that point yet. In the IWW, retail workers have a decade or more of experience collectively using similar tactics and as the rhetoric that SEIU has moved onto. If SEIU’s failures to mobilize workers push it further along militant reformism, our agitation as IWWs within the industry will be weakened if not coupled by something that clearly draws out SEIU’s and capitalism’s limitations. If not by direct action, democracy, and militancy, then what distinguishes our revolutionary syndicalism?

As the global situation changes these questions are likely to persist rather than quiet down, even if the crisis recedes. The old political balance and economy has been disrupted, and something new is possibly emerging. The past two years have shown us a glimpse of reformism that is willing to fight directly and challenge power not only within the normal means of struggles, but also beyond that even testing illegality; something a few of us have called militant reformism.[5] We have little idea where it is headed, but as these shifts are contested (from above and below), it’s likely that there will be militant reform attempts to respond to this for some time.

What becomes clear in seeing militant reformism, like that that emerged around Occupy, is that objectives matter significantly. Struggle has the potential to radicalize people, and that should be one of the most important things we keep in mind, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that the system is very good at internalizing its opposition and enemies. Militancy in the service of making institutions of capitalism (and particularly the State) better able to respond to pressing issues becomes a force against addressing the long-standing problems we face. Fighting daily issues within capitalism should be connected by revolutionaries to work against the system itself. Societies have an equilibrium of power, a balance of opposition, wrangling by the rulers, and an ability to divert, coopt, and redirect resistance from below. When possible we should become a force against capitalism’s equilibrium, taking additional opportunities to radicalize people in the spaces that open up in the system’s disequilibrium, allowing for new orders to emerge.

NewDealThis does not mean that we should support the same work for reforms but advocate mere anti-capitalism. The labor movement of the 1930s often had strong currents with an anti-capitalist orientation, but through its work created new circuits for capitalism in crisis, and a new basis for capitalist expansion. The revolutionaries of the 1930s literally paved the way for world war and the golden era of American capitalism, not it’s defeat. Similarly today many forces are mobilizing for social reforms aimed at creating a new basis for expanded capitalism and directing discontent into transforming the State. It is the role of the State in maintaining order and equilibrium that is central to defeating the total system of exploitation and oppression, and it is exactly the State that reformism tries to redirect popular discontent into in order to save capitalism.

This is why the opposition to the State is a concrete necessity of day-to-day work in organizing rather than merely sectarian or ideological position. The State interferes with collective empowerment not only through corralling activity into elections and lobbying. Society as a whole is tied to the relationships of the State that struggle, contest, and constantly redefine power. Failing to oppose the State directly disarms us against militant reformism often channeling the work of revolutionaries into improving capitalism or making it a mere appendage of populist mobilizations. Recent experiences show the central role of the State in our daily work, and the necessity to concretely oppose it to advance a new social order of solidarity. This is why groups like the IWW, solidarity networks, and other projects that directly oppose the system in daily life need to oppose the State practically, and commit ourselves to organizing against the State. At the same time our weakness on these points was revealed in the lack of concreteness we could put into action. This is a key component of the work of our time; to demonstrate in practice and words clearly how to engage in revolutionary action against the State and Capital.

Practical resistance to the State is invaluable through alternatives to and critiques of electoral routes to social change, institutionalizing struggle (which weakens it and pacifies workers), and the uneven playing field of a State within a hierarchical world of power. We need to become capable of explaining steps people can take in line with our politics towards an alternative society. The critique of statist methods is crucial, but our values, objectives, and the content of our proposal are important factors that help define our revolutionary path. There is not a way to do that without opposing the capitalist State, and doing the necessary work of showing another way.


[1] See (Hawthorne, 2011a).

[2] For an overview, discussion of the IWW’s role, and some critical analysis see (Conatz & Sawyers, 2011), (Conatz, 2011a), and (Conatz, 2011b).

[3] For writings on militant reformism Nate Hawthorne’s work in general is invaluable, however the following pieces are a good start: (Hawthorne, 2012), (Hawthorne, 2011b), and (Nappalos, 2013).

[4] The successful election of Kshama Sawant to Seattle City Council in 2013, and close campaigns of other socialists, only add to this dynamic obviously.

[5] See footnote 3 for citations.

References

Conatz, J., & Sawyers, B. (2011). The General Strike That Didn’t Happen. http://libcom.org/library/general-strike-didnt-happen-report-activity-iww-wisconsin

Conatz, J. (2011a). Why a General Strike Hasn’t Happened Yet. http://libcom.org/blog/some-limitations-movement-wisconsin-04042011

Conatz, J. (2011b). Wisconsin: What now? http://libcom.org/blog/wisconsin-what-now-19062011

Hawthorne, N. (2011a). Struggle Changes People. http://libcom.org/blog/struggle-changes-people-06012012

Hawthorne, N. (2011b). Reform is Possible and Reformism is Guaranteed. http://libcom.org/blog/reform-possible-reformism-guaranteed-22122011

Hawthorne, N. (2012). Occupy vs. Eviction: Radicals, reform, and dispossession. http://libcom.org/blog/occupy-vs-eviction-radicals-reform-dispossession-22062012

Nappalos, S. (2013). Bring Fire to the Castle: Crisis, militant social democracy, insurrection, and existing means of settling disputes. https://snappalos.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/bring-fire-to-the-castle-crisis-militant-social-democracy-insurrection-and-existing-means-of-settling-disputes/

 

Meaningful Work: An appeal to the young

cover_elec_01_jmlFrom the time I was a child, I was told to follow my dreams and do something I truly loved. Granted I rarely met an adult who was passionate about their work, but they seemed sincere in their desire for others to take that path. The advice of course usually had a piece of bitterness attached to it. As I came of age, the terrain didn’t look pretty. Most of my personal passions were deserts for employment. Nor did I really know anyone who was living the dream, so to speak, at work. My path began from leaving that advice behind.

Society is littered with talk of meaningful work. The creative class, jobs that means something, doing something with one’s life, work that matters, helping people; we’re inundated with phrases, words, and images that describe our poverty and the future that we are supposed to aspire to.

It’s actually worse for people who commit themselves to making radical change in society. A confluence of pressures pushes down on them year after year through family wondering when they will grow up, friends perpetually moving on to something better, and a gnawing sense of wasted potential. Why bother with the endless meetings, the mindless work, and for what?

Unless you’re born into a situation where work is unnecessary, nearly everyone experiences the modern workplace. Service work in particular serves as a stark reminder of reality and alternatives. The unending drudgery of task after task slinging fatty coffee that literally poisons people’s health, selling useless items created on the backs of abused workers elsewhere, cardboard boxes rolling down the line that just keep coming and coming, forcing a smile when we are cursed at or harassed; Nearly everyone has been forced to participate in the bitterness of having our time stolen. It’s perhaps harder to bare for those who know the widest extent of the misery of humanity and understand how preventable it all is.

The sense of meaninglessness in jobs is a strong current in society. Tv shows, films, music, and other forms of pop culture repeat the comedy, frustration, and depression of spending one’s time on tasks that seem pointless. This isn’t to say that people’s jobs don’t make a difference. Many things we do keep society running and contributes to the social good. The meaninglessness of work in today’s society arises out of the reflection of workers that their time is not really benefiting the people they serve or advancing them as people. As a healthcare worker I can see both sides of this. Obviously healthcare is crucial for societies. At the same time any hospital worker can recognize how it is that the healthcare system not only harms people, but also in general contributes to people staying sick. Meaning is something deeper than just keeping the gears moving and helping our fellow human beings. Meaning is about where we are headed and who we are. This is where youth get squeezed and falter.

Modern capitalism with its base of debt makes everything seem possible. The compulsion to put food on the table is softened by easy credit. We can go back to school, live on credit cards, travel to cheap places, and find means to delay work enough to get by. Young people accumulate useless degrees and insane debts while deferring the future and often slipping into the delusions of jobs that simply do not exist. Choosing what to do with our lives takes on the characteristic of other more banal decisions. We are shopping for an ethical product. Validation stands at the core of this, and plays off the fear of a wasted life, idle efforts, and ending up trapped chasing false ideals. What to tell worried parents who watched their child squander what chances they had for material success? It is better to say that one is employed fighting poverty, educating the youth, or some other remix of Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or perhaps Bono.

The problem is that there is no escape. Professors spend decades moving town to town as itinerant adjuncts teaching the most bland classes, writing mechanical essays in desperation to stay published, and constantly struggling for something more stable. Even at it’s best, University life leaves less time for liberatory thought and action than the part time service worker. Union organizers spend seventy or eighty hour weeks at the service of hostile bureaucracies, and too often find themselves in the position of pimping the Democratic party and selling backroom deals with management to disillusioned workers. NGO staff share the same fate, bending to the will of the funders and forced to represent the interests of the powerful under false flags of social change. Self-employment and cooperatives turn activist efforts into business efforts, and consume more time than any capitalist could ever demand from a job. Good people find themselves lost there, tired of all the worn appearances that hide a rotten structure, yearning to escape too their work and get back to something more authentic.

We need to question and even condemn the pressure on youth to find meaningful work. As long as we live in capitalism, its deep wells will poison all the streams flowing into our cities. With capitalist work, even the most holy pursuit will end up in mindlessness, subservience to stupid management, and in fighting the current trying to make some good out of a hostile situation that constantly tries to undo our efforts. This isn’t to say that some don’t enjoy their jobs. Some do.  Yet on the balance, the vast majority can’t find employment that will engage them, and those who do generally must sacrifice the rest of their lives for the privilege. The real question to be raised isn’t whether you should enjoy your job or not, but whether you should dedicate your life to work. Or better, what is the relation of living to working?

This logic should be turned on its head. It’s not what we’re employed doing that should define, validate, or give meaning to our lives; it’s our life itself that does.  How much brighter does the future look to liberate oneself from the oppressive concept of boundless sacrifice to meaningful jobs? Why shouldn’t youth seek to maximize their lives against this work? There are other roads open to us.  We can work, as we must, but can struggle to find the most time for ourselves and our causes. Better we write, protest, organize, and gather in our workplaces on time off, than to cement that relationship into employment or worse into our identities.

Our lives are defined by what we do, not who writes our paychecks. A political life is an attempt to regain a meaningful life. It is a task for all of society, and not monopolized by a special class employed as professional politicians, bureaucrats, and humanitarians. Meaning is not at work, but in the beauty of daily living, in struggling for a better world, and whatever path your desires take you towards. Our joy is not found in simply imposing our will onto the world, but in the happiness that can only be found in fighting for a more just and beautiful world around us. Dedicating oneself to the struggles of others changes you. Within, we must fight to constantly overcome ourselves against the current, a process that can be deeply enriching. The commitment and work of liberation makes all of society our classroom, our workplaces gymnasiums, and our neighborhoods galleries.

Sacco and Vanzetti remind us of the infinite potential and beauty of life even from within the walls of prison. The two Italian anarchist immigrants dedicated their lives to the causes of their class working as a cobbler and a fish peddler respectively. Their sacrifices were more than just in their professions, as they were framed for murder and executed by the state of Massachusetts. The writings of the pair from prison are inspiring not only for their perseverance and insights, but for their joy. Sacco wrote to his son Dante his final letter before his execution, sitting down as we do, to find words for the path life carries us down. Facing his own death and the life of his son in front of him, he wrote

“Don’t cry Dante, because many tears have been wasted, as your mother’s have been wasted for seven years, and never did any good.  So, Son, instead of crying, be strong, so as to be able to comfort your mother, and when you want to distract your mother from the discouraging soulness, I will tell you what I used to do.  To take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wild flowers her and there, resting under the shade of trees, between the harmony of the vivid stream and the gentle tranquility of the mothernature, and I am sure that she will enjoy this very much, as you surely would be happy for it.  But remember always, Dante, in the play of happiness, don’t you use all for yourself only, but down yourself just one step, at your side and help the weak ones that cry for help, help the prosecuted and the victim, because that are your better friends; they are the comrades that fight and fall as your father and Bartolo fought and fell yesterday for the conquest of the joy of freedom for all and the poor workers.  In this struggle of life you will find more love and you will be loved.”[1]

In spite of all the sadness that surrounds us and plagues this world. Our daily lives can be the work of love. We do not need titles, positions, or to be taken into service to achieve this work. We only need the commitment to set ourselves to the betterment of all and to dive head in to the struggle against power. Against the monotony and pervasive depression we see, Vanzetti offers this:

“I am convinced that human history has not yet begun; that we find ourselves in the last period of the prehistoric. I see with the eyes of my soul how the sky is suffused with the rays of the new millennium.”[2]

Beyond the horizon of today lie potentials for humanity freed from the artificial constraints of society twisted by the contours of power and wealth. We do not need to imagine paradises, utopias, or that any political movement can solve all of humanity’s problems to see how much more is possible. This is the task of youth today, to constantly push further in practice and expose the expanding vista of human potential.

Lost Conversations: Questioning the legacy of anarchosyndicalism

voz de mujerThere is more interest than ever in anarchosyndicalist unions, their history, and lessons for doing organizing in today’s context. During its peak, anarchosyndicalism engaged millions of workers on every continent except Antarctica. Though the Spanish experience through the CNT and 1936 revolution stands out, anarchosyndicalism was perhaps stronger in Latin America and Asia than in Europe. Despite the depth of those experiments and today’s interests, our knowledge of anarchosyndicalism is still poor. Continue reading

On Uneven Ground

bilde“We had a major success with staffing! The company agreed to staffing ratios”. Applause erupts, smiles from the tired faces wearing our glorified pajamas.

Her words swirled about in my brain. I saw images- the faces of patients-, hours of the day- lifting, bending, pressing syringes, rushing down halls-, and all the moments of crisis I’ve carried with me through the years. The weight of the hospital pulls on your soul.

The hall was set with folding tables and cheap plastic tablecloths decorated the sad displays of institutional food. Bizarre textured wallpaper seems wrapped around the whole room, blanketing the scene in dull flesh colors. The union meeting took place in one of the conference rooms of the hospital, the same place where we receive trainings about how to smile, how much money is being lost, and why our work is never enough.

Staffing is a word, but in hospitals it’s everything. It means how many patients a nurse takes care of. Bad staffing can produce situations of such intense work that you literally have no idea where you are, responding second-to-second without any view of what happened or what comes next. Staffing is why we cry in the break room for patients who died in shameful avoidable situations, when we grimace in pain in the bathrooms having suppressed our bodies to complete too many tasks, and when we feel the emptiness of futility to help human beings face-to-face with reasonable needs and nothing to be done. Senseless. Continue reading

Translation of The Resistance to Capitalism

This is the translation of the first chapter of an essay in an out of  print text by Emilio Lopez Arango, one of the premier theorists of the FORA up through the 20s when he was assasinated.

 

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The Resistance to Capitalism by Emilio Lopez Arango

The workers movement is determined by the assembly of moral and material factors that form and give life and reality to the social system, and that in the process of the capitalist civilization enslave humanity to the rule of necessities. But the proletariat, if pushed to struggle for bread, isn’t limited to aspirations of gaining a better wage; they aspire also to break the yoke of economic exploitation and liberate oneself from the domination of the privledged castes in the political sphera; in the struggle against the state.

If for the anarchists every immediate solution is relative, because it is limited by the law of capitalist equilibrium, in consequence syndicalism can’t be a theory of the future. This does not mean that anarchism opposes revolutionary objectives as an expression of the absolute to the contingent reality. On the contrary, it’s about facts and experiences that libertarian theories should create a base for direction, searching in the working masses for the necessary elements to promote the advancement of history and decide social progress against the reactionary currents. Continue reading

Political Leadership or Ideological Orientation of the Workers Movement

I’ve been reading and translating the works of the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, which is a pet interest of mine. There’s almost nothing written of their history, works, and theory in English despite it having been one of the more significant revolutionary movements in South America and within anarchism more generally. I don’t necessarily support all the elements here, but find some threads really interesting. In the work of Emilio Lopez Arango you see a nuanced understanding of the relationship between struggle, ideas, objective conditions of history. The comes out less in this piece, but note that within the whole discussion it is the trajectory of struggle and products of the clashes within struggle that drives his argument. That is significant, and somehow is usually lost in most discussions. 

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Thrown Off Balance: workers struggles against equilibrium.

Recently a debate has arisen around the nature of workers, workers’ struggles, and unions amongst the broad libertarian or autonomist left[1]. The aftermath of Occupy in the United States has corresponded to a number of happenings that have pushed unions to the center of debate. Unions, particularly SEIU, used a series of community front organizations in Occupy to attempt to mobilize sections of the radical left, and ultimately to build up a network behind their electoral agenda. Armed with those relationships, campaigns like Our Walmart, the Fight for 15, and other low wage service organizing attempts utilized the connections and energy from occupy towards experimentations with organizing.

Labor is less in a free-fall than a steady decline which has been aggravated recently by the austerity cuts to government (disproportionately union). Faced with an ever weakening position, the unions have turned to more militant methods to gaining footholds which are derived from a militant past or only recently utilized by the radical left of labor like the IWW. Traditional unions are under renewed attacks to reduce labor costs in a coordinated move against the standard of living in the US. There’s an apparent attack to meet the crisis by increasing profit, jobs, etc., through raw reductions in people’s overall access to social goods and the work environment that reigned for many (but not all) over the past decades.  In this environment unions and/or their members have been turning to radicals to help settle their scores, save their contracts, and often do the leg work. The struggles in the NW ILWU is the most obvious example, but countless others are unfolding.

There’s a couple features worth noting here. First there’s the defensive and sometimes offensive struggles of workers organized in unions happening in response to the changes in the economy. Second there’s the growth of militant experiments within the institutionalized unions. Last there’s the shift in work itself as the economy attempts to gain new footholds and foundations. All these features motivate and form the poles around which new debates are getting worked out.

Traditionally the libertarian left has carved out positions based on arguments around union forms. The range of opinion goes from support for unions as popular sites of struggle where capitalism is challenged, to proposals for constructing or reforming union forms in line with class struggle and/or libertarian principles, to rejections of unions because of their form within capitalism as mediating sites of bargaining. Without going into this in any depth, it’s worth noting that all such positions abstract away historical context, and attempt to create political positions for action based on the structure and form of unions more or less alone.[2]

This contrasts with the present debate taking place that puts the concrete situation in the United States at the forefront of the controversy. At its clearest, the pieces by Advance the Struggle[3] and the response by Unity & Struggle[4] show how the terrain has moved in constructing a position on labor and the workers movement. In their initial piece, Advance the Struggle makes the point that recent attacks against union workers such as healthcare workers, ILWU, etc., provide the basis for furthering the changing conditions in austerity. On the other hand militant responses provide the opportunity, they argue for broader offensives against capital.

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