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(en) US, The Agitator Index* Work Place Organizing: Labor and the Left

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 11 Mar 2005 10:01:10 +0100 (CET)


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A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
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This issue of the /Agitator Index /is focused on workplace organizing.
Many of the articles are centered on the restructuring
proposals and strategic discussions taking place
within the AFL-CIO that have been triggered by SEIU
and the (now defunct) New Unity Partnership. The
debates have seen the reemergence of the craft vs.
industrial unionism and could very well lead to split
within the AFL-CIO reminiscent of 1935 when United
Mine Worker's President, John L. Lewis, left the
AFL along with several of the largest unions, to form the CIO.

Much of the left has long been divorced from workplace
struggles and organized labor and, as this
issue's article At War With Calendula shows, are
sometimes openly hostile to worker struggles. We hope
this issue of the Agitator Index sparks debate on the
current discussion within the labor movement and
relationship of left organizations to the labor
movements and worker place struggles.

http://www.agitatorindex.org/

Articles This Issue:

At War With Calendula

By Peter Little

The Decline of Labor Unions and the Current Debate
within Organized Labor:
What does this mean for Radical Politics?
By Mathias

Black Unionist Warn: Don't Restructure Us Out
From the Black Commentator

Jim Forman and the Liberal-Labor Syndrome
By David Swanson

Twelve Women in the Twelfth Year:
The Moment of War
By /Subcomandante Marcos///

*/At War With Calendula/***

*/By Peter Little/*

A month ago a call came into the Industrial Workers of
the World (IWW) Hall in Portland. The front-end staff
of a small, recently opened restaurant had struck the
week before. The owner's immediate response was
to fire all four of the strikers. Although this was
the IWW's first contact with these workers, the
union decided to support these workers in negotiating
a settlement to the strike.

The negotiating committee of four workers and union
representatives arrived at the restaurant at 9:15pm on
a Sunday, approaching the owner on the sidewalk as he
returned from taking an order on the patio.
Catching his attention, they waited until he was
through taking his order, and notified him that the
IWW would now be representing the fired workers. When
the union representatives requested a meeting be set
up
to discuss resolving the strike, the owner replied,
"You are trespassing. If you don't leave my property
right now, I'm calling the police." Although
this response may seem typical, this was not your
typical
employer.

*Revolutionary adventures in petit-bourgeois
capitalism*

* *

For those who are not aware of him already, Craig
Rosebraugh has made himself into a household name in
the Pacific Northwest. About the same time the
Portland Police department broke his arm during a
rally to free
political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, Craig was the
press spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front-Earth
Liberation Front. For years, his house was regularly
raided and openly surveilled by the FBI, and he was
eventually subpoenaed, first to a federal grand jury
in Portland, and later to testify before Congress,
both times regarding 'ecoterrorism.'
A number of local organizers, (including myselfa
member of the IWW assisting the striking restaurant
workers) supported Craig, organizing a local support
committee to combat the grand jury. Craig took a
principled, political stand in the face of the attacks
against him from the state, refusing to testify before
the grand jury, and openly defending actions against
property in front of Congress. Although always
controversial both personally and politically, his
principled stance won
him the respect of many local revolutionaries, even if
there were numerous disagreements with his
understanding of revolutionary politics.

Most recently, Craig himself decided to launch a small
capitalist venture to continue to fund his
'revolutionary' projects. His upscale vegan restaurant
in SE Portland was billed as Portland's progressive
eatery, with the menus and ads touting organic food,
recycling, and well treated workers as the base of the
business. The workers who appeared at the IWW Hall
soon after the strike told another story, however.
They
had applied at Calendula excited at the idea of
helping to promote healthy, vegan food. After working
for eight months to build the business, they
repeatedly found the promises made upon employment
primarily health care
and a respectful work environment&#8212;unfulfilled.
After two rounds of wage cuts left them back at
minimum wage, the workers decided to act. The striking
workers made it clear that their primary issue was not
wages, but the lack of respect for the workers within
the restaurant.

Abigail, was one of the striking waitresses. She
posted this to Portland's Indymedia site in
response to attacks from the owner and by other
Rosebraugh supporters,&"There is no doubt that
Craig worked hard,
he did, however it often felt like he was working
against our collective flow. His ego often blocked
communication, when our lead server voiced our
collective concerns he pronounced that if we were not
happy then we should all leave, and she was sent home
on one of our busiest nights. We had to cover for his
egotistical decisions always. He made rash decisions
like laying off our awesome busser, while lowering our
wages and changing the menu. So that we were working
harder, with lower morale, with less wages. Instead of
lowering prices and seeing results first.&"

Jimmy Ray, another striker, responded to criticisms of
the strikers on Indymedia in this way, "As an
employee on strike from Calendula, I would first like
to state that this entire debate is not about money.
In Craig's advertisement he rants on about the mad
cash we were making at his floundering business. The
issue at hand is not about Craig lowering our wages,
but is about respect and a concerted desire to retain
our dignity. Furthermore, the issue could have been
quickly resolved had Craig agreed to listen to our
grievances. Instead, he chose to treat us with
disrespect, accusing us of trespassing and calling the
police when we peacefully approached him to negotiate.
In the long run, this has
forced him to take out expensive full-page ads and
hire high profile lawyers to speak on his behalf.
Ironically enough, had Rosebraugh simply listened to
us and responded tactfully and with respect, his money
could
have been saved. Additionally, after free meals and
beverages were eliminated, the floor manager attempted
to discuss the staff's grievances with Rosebraugh,
only to be sent home &#8216;for having a bad
attitude' on the night of our extremely busy
grand re-opening party.
That set precedence for the rest of us, and we became
fearful of discussing our concerns with Rosebraugh.
Indeed, when I did attempt to discuss my own issues
with Craig (being passed up for a promotion which
had been promised to me), he accused me of having a
bad attitude and insisted that, unless it was 'in my
heart' to work for him, we'd separate. If Rosebraugh
believes these conditions constitute a "respectful
work environment," he has a very skewed definition of
the
term.&"

Recognizing that Craig was a favorite target of the
boss' press, right-wing groupings, and the state
itself, the IWW approached the strike at Craig's
restaurant carefully. The union decided to withhold
publicizing the struggle, denying press interviews and
attempting to persuade the owner to negotiate through
contact with various members of the local left, rather
than using the more common approaches of pickets,
media, and bad publicity&#8212;thus avoiding giving
right wing groups, the press, and the state more
fodder against an individual who had taken brave
stands against them.

*Rosebraugh counterattacks*

* *

For three weeks, the union attempted to get Craig to
negotiate. During this time, both the striking workers
and the union denied the press interviews or
information, not wanting to play into right wing blood

lust for the former ALF/ELF spokesman on the other end
of the dispute. Craig's response was to hire a
lawyer, and in conversations with community members
attempting to mediate he declared he would
"close the business before he would hire those
workers back.&" Finally, after three weeks of
stonewalling from the owner, the workers went to the
press. Three local papers covered the story, and Craig
responded by spending almost $3000 on a full-page ad
in the two local weekly papers. His
advertisement names the four workers and one IWW
representative with full legal names, and accuses the
IWW of trying to shut down Portland's "Most
Progressive Business.&" In a string of lies, the
ad accuses IWW
representatives of bringing a mob to intimidate and
harass Craig during his peak business hours.

The most visible gauge of the debate within the
"activist community&" in Portland revolved
around the Portland Indymedia site. From accusations
of the IWW being a part of a COINTELPRO operation
(carried as far as naming specific striking workers as
cops) to condemnation of the IWW because it allows its
members and organizers to eat meat, a rather
entertaining discussion ensued.

ARISSA is an organization launched by Craig a few
years back, ideologically driven by Craig's
first book, "The Logic of Political
Violence.&" Rosebraugh's supporters and
members of ARISSA went on Indymedia to post numerous
accusations of police infiltration and state
collusion, specifically naming the IWW and striking
workers as provocateurs and agents. The posting of
unfounded and unverifiable accusations in a public
forum goes beyond the obvious attempts at displacing
responsibility for the strike on Craig's behalf.
It enters the dangerous, irresponsible realm of
snitch-jacketing: opening those truly struggling for a
better world to manipulations by the state. Following
the thread of debate on Indymedia, the accusations
quickly became picked up and repeated as fact,
although no individual or organization had produced a
shred of evidence to verify them.

*Where does the activist 'left' stand on class?*

* *

Craig himself has been a very visible and vocal name
within Portland's activist community. Because of
this, the Indymedia debate was largely split along two
lines. In the minority of those posting, there were
those who recognized that workers' struggles
against boss-imposed
direction and discipline against the alienation that
capitalist work relationships foster, regardless of
good intentions, is at the base of the struggle for
the new society. These folks supported the IWW and the

strike. On the other, there were those who argued that
for a broad range of reasons--Craig's past work,
the media's blood lust for him, the fact that
the restaurant was all organic and vegan and locally
owned, or that Craig's intention with the
restaurant was to, "fund social change
ventures&"&#8212;that the union should not have
involved itself in the strike. To those on
Craig's side of the fence, the IWW was guilty of
undermining
the community, the struggle, and the revolution itself
by supporting these workers. A number of people, Craig
included, even argued that the workers had no right to
protest because with tips they were making a better
wage than other workers in the area.


These responses from Rosebraugh, ARISSA, and the
Portland activist community provide an excellent
demonstration of a number of limitations of a
class-less "progressive&" politics. Even
when playing lip service to worker's struggles,
to liberation, and to revolution itself, the
"activist&" left is dominated by petit
bourgeois voices. This is not meant as a simplistic
assessment of individuals based on class
background. What this actually reflects is how the
activist left, which has often the people who have the
most access to resources. Because class and class
interests have not been at the fore of the "new
anti-globalization&" activist movement, it has
not been capable of developing a politic capable of
assuring that leadership and voice will be given to
social groupings currently disenfranchised within this

system. In missing this critical
understanding&#8212;an assessment of which class and
which portions of that class are most likely to push
struggles into revolutionary directions&#8212;this
movement has missed the target entirely. The voices
currently dominating the discussion have class
interests incapable of bringing a meaningful criticism
of capital and the social relationships that result
from capitalism.

This is a significant reason why this "new
activist left&" does not have a mass base or
appeal within the working class. Due to its lack of
class position, it is those who have access to
resources that get to define
the politics of this movement. When those resources
and the privilege that come with them come are
questioned in struggle (no matter how small), real
principles go out the window. It's fine to talk
about saving forests, monkeys, and fighting
imperialism outside of the Empire
itself. It is also tactical to host, "Ending
white supremacy&" trainings and sessions
deconstructing privilege. But when real struggle comes
to these leaders' own backyards and they find
themselves in a position where their own relationships
to capitalism are seriously questioned, class
interests themselves speak louder than revolutionary
sloganeering.


This small strike brings to the fore why the
"activist left&" has little interest to
that broad, stratified and diverse mass we call the
working class. In challenging the alienation that is a
necessary by-product of work under capitalism, the
struggle against that alienation is the actual basis
of struggle for a new world. The voices leading the
"activist left&" are incapable of allowing
a criticism that answers to the daily struggles of
workers and to their alienation. This is in part
because they cannot grasp the real meaning of these
struggles but even more, they can't grasp the
actual experience of that alienation. Their class
positions guide their actions, regardless of their
theoretical understanding (or misunderstanding) of the
struggle we face.


Particularly telling are some of Craig's
arguments in his paid advertisement: that the workers
were well paid (a debatable assertion), or that his
actions in the restaurant were justified because the
restaurant was going to fund his "social change
ventures.&" The
statements made on Indymedia by the workers themselves
are arguments that a meaningful revolutionary politic
must be based on the rejection of capitalist work
models themselves. This politics is a yearning for
worker control and not simply a struggle for wages.
It's a struggle to reclaim that large portion of
their lives working for someone else and to reorganize
it in a manner that suits their own inclinations,
regardless of the "revolutionarily
consciousness&" of their boss.

*Workers' struggles are struggles against work*

* *

It is the struggle and rejection of work itself, and
the alienation that is inherent in wage labor, in
which the seeds of the new world lie. Any
"revolutionary&" movement incapable of
seeing the rejection of work
itself as the basis for struggle will find itself
unable to relate to the daily struggles of the only
class of people who are capable of bringing this
decrepit system to its knees, regardless of whether
the
facet of struggle is against police brutality,
environmental devastation, prisons, poverty, or any of
the other potentially explosive contradictions that
our society confronts. It is within the struggles
workers are constantly waging to reclaim control of
the workplace itself that revolutionaries must learn
to recognize the potential revolutionary force in
those portions of the population so often dismissed by

activists as "backwards&" and inept.

Lessons in intersections

The situation with Craig Rosebraugh and his little
adventure in petit bourgeois capitalism have only
brought a suppressed contradiction within this new
activist left to the fore. The activist community is
comfortable fighting for rights for animals, for an
end to clear cutting, for more bikes, and even
sometimes advocating armed struggle as an avenue for
social change. As a white-led and largely privileged
strata, there is a massive disconnect between reading
Ward Churchill and writing your thesis on armed
struggle and actually being a part of organizing a
movement capable of asserting its own power and
defending itself. Craig's inability to recognize
how truly relinquishing power and privilege are
necessary in creating the space for revolutionary
leadership is an excellent example of this stumbling
block. This same political trend is good at holding
trainings and workshops on deconstructing privilege
and speaking the language of "communities of
color&" and &"revolutionary feminism,&"
but as a movement it is incapable of opening spaces
where theses communities and perspectives can actually
lead a movement. It will continued to be incapable
until it not only speaks of, but puts into play a
recognition of class, and how it interacts with
racism, sexism, and all of the other destruction
reaped upon our planet and our lives. This is not an
argument that the long
sought after unity of the working class across racial,
sexual, and other boundaries will simplistically come
about as a result of workplace struggles. It is simply
an acknowledgement that to even begin to confront the
central questions of race, class, and gender in
building a revolutionary movement, a recognition of
the limitations and misleading nature of the activist
left's politics must be given.

What happens when the interests of those truly
disenfranchised (and the only class capable of making
the revolutionary change we envision) come into
conflict with a fearless leader who is using a
capitalist enterprise to further his revolutionary
projects? There is no longer a fence for
"anti-capitalists, anarchists, radicals, or
progressives&" to sit on when it comes to class.

The activist left's defense of Rosebraugh's actions
against wildcat activity by workers within his
restaurant provides a long-needed clarification of the
position of a number of organizations and individuals
within this milieu. Craig's thousands of dollars
of
advertising are a great opportunity for the IWW to
define itself as clearly committed to a revolutionary
model that is led by workers themselves. In doing so,
it has placed the IWW in a position of alienation from
portions of the activist left but opened itself to an
explicit commitment to supporting workers in their
struggle to regain control of their workplaces and
their lives. (Four new workers called to
join the union in the two days after
Rosebraugh's ad was published.) Not only is this
clarification useful, it is necessary if we are to
build a mass movement with class and race at the fore.
What this small struggle
has done is force the activist left to declare its
alliances--on one side the workers, and on the other,
an opportunist, underdeveloped politic. This
opportunistic side of the left's own class interests
leave it unable to see how the struggle of workers
against not only poverty but for control of the
production process itself is the only basis on
which we can begin to build a new society.

For those not in the IWW, or not engaged in organizing
around workplace struggles, this is an opportunity to
reflect on how we must break with this class-less left
if we are to develop organizations capable of
interacting with the real struggles of oppressed and
potentially revolutionary strata within the United
States itself. There is a massive segment of the
population forced to struggle daily against numerous
contradictions, which threaten to open this state to a
real revolutionary upsurge. A movement led by petit
bourgeois class interests will at best co-opt these
upsurges, and at worst be entirely incapable of
engaging them. If we plan to be a part of those
struggles, to engage with them, or to work alongside
them, we must drop the baggage of the existing left,
and forge a new movement with an explicit commitment
to
developing leadership and analysis outside of that
milieu.

*/Peter Little is an organizer with Bring the Ruckus
and the IWW. /***
..................................................................

Bring the Ruckus!
http://www.agitatorindex.org
Updated regularly
Yahoo! Groups Links/
=========================
* By the antiauthoritarian anticapitalist revolutionary
Bring the Ruckus! initiative.


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