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(en) NEA #8 Pissed Off Projectionists Bringing The Class War To A Theater Near You

From Northeastern Anarchist <northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com>
Date Fri, 24 Oct 2003 21:32:10 +0200 (CEST)

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> by Class Against Class (NEFAC-Boston)
Boston has a rich history of anarchism and class warfare. Unfortunately, at
least until recently, the days of anarchist influence within labor struggles
was exactly that: a relic of the past. The last time an anarchist had played
an influential role in a successful Boston-based labor struggle was in 1938,
when Rose Pesotta led a strike to organize over a
thousand women dressmakers. Since then, anarchism has
been defined mainly as a counter-culture or form of
identity politics, with very little relevancy to the
everyday struggles of the working class in this city.

Over the past few years anarchists in Boston have
begun to retrace their class war roots by taking a
more proactive approach to local labor struggles --
mainly in the form of solidarity work. Recent labor
disputes (NECCO factory workers, SEIU janitors, etc.)
have seen principled support from the local anarchist
community, whether it be solidarity on the picket
line, benefits to raise strike funds, distributing
strike literature, mobilizing people to attend
rallies, or else taking direct action where unions are
prevented from doing so themselves.

Labor solidarity, in and of itself, can be crucial in
assisting class victories against the bosses. However,
in terms of how much influence anarchists are able to
have over strategies and tactics or overall direction
of a given struggle, it can be limiting. After all,
principled solidarity requires total respect for the
self-activity of the direct participants -- the
rank-and-file workers -- to determine their own means
and ends during the course of a struggle. As
anarchists we should be up front about our politics
and prepared to argue for anarchist alternatives to
the dead-end reformism and bureaucracy of traditional
trade unionism. However, so long as we are providing
solidarity for other workers' struggles, we should
accept our role as outside supporters and not overstep
our boundaries.

Earlier this year, a handful of us from NEFAC took our
activity a step beyond supporting the struggles of
others, and set out to organize our own workplace. For
the first time in nearly seventy years anarchist
militants would be at the forefront of a class
struggle in the Boston area, successfully leading a
campaign for unionization using explicitly anarchist
strategies, tactics, and methods of organizing.
Although we are humble to the fact that our efforts
fall far short of the scale and magnitude of Rose
Pesotta's work with the International Ladies Garment
Workers Union, we recognize that the success of the
'Pissed Off Projectionists' to organize workers at the
Somerville Theatre represents an important turning
point for class struggle anarchism in our city.

With A Workplace Like This, Who
Wouldn’t Be Pissed?

The story of the 'Pissed Off Projectionists' began
over a year ago in Somerville, a traditionally
blue-collar city just north of Boston. At the time,
there were only two projectionists working at the
local theater. Both were making minimum wage
($6.75/hr), receiving no benefits, and consistently
putting in 50-hour weeks. The projection booths were
dimly lit, poorly ventilated, and extremely hot.
Repeated pleas for equipment repairs, control over
scheduling, or even minimal pay raises were
consistently ignored, or else outright refused. To top
things off, the boss had recently instructed the
manager to hire more projectionists and cut back hours
in an attempt to avoid overtime pay.

It was obvious that things could not get much worse,
and conditions were certainly not improving under the
new manager who had taken over in mid-summer. Even
though the time seemed ripe for action, the
opportunity quickly passed as new projectionists began
to be hired, leaving those who were ready to fight
back as a minority amongst question marks. Over the
next few weeks, the original core of projectionists
attempted to feel out their new co-workers, making a
point to see how they reacted to low wages and piss
poor working conditions that were all too familiar.

By the end of the summer, there appeared to be some
promise amongst the group, but the time was not right
to pop the question. Further hirings and firings in
the fall and winter changed the complexion of the
workforce once again. This high turnover rate appears
to be typical of
“independent” movie
theatres that take advantage of young and
inexperienced workforces. All too often, these small
corporations can be the most exploitive, and they take
full advantage of the reluctance of younger workers to
be involved in workplace struggles (a reluctance that
represents, at least in part, a reflection of the
larger disconnect between organized labor and young

It should be said that the nature of the projectionist
trade tends to attract some fairly interesting
characters: film students, punks, social misfits, etc.
The Somerville Theatre was no different, and,
unfortunately for our boss, as open positions began to
be filled by personal recommendations by one of the
original projection workers, almost half of the
projectionists would now be revolutionary
anarcho-communists. Suddenly the prospects for
organizing in the workplace became much more
interesting. With a solid core now in place, the
process of organizing would soon be in full swing.

Trade Unionism vs. Workplace Resistance Group:
Bridging A False Dichotomy

Before moving forward with the organizing campaign and
actually seeking out representation from a union,
there were many important political and strategic
discussions to be had amongst ourselves. Those of us
who identified as anarcho-communists obviously had
strong criticisms of trade unionism (and still do!),
and acknowledged the potential for compromising
ourselves if we were to uncritically embrace an
orthodox trade union strategy.

At the most basic level, joining a union implies that
workers have different interests from the boss. Unions
have traditionally acted as defensive organizations
for working people under capitalism, and in the best
of times (that is, during periods of heightened class
struggle) have maintained an antagonistic relationship
to capitalist social relations by posing a direct
challenge to the interests of the ruling class.

Unfortunately, the reality of the labor movement today
is one of compromise, and often collaboration, with
capitalist exploitation. Instead of acting as
defensive organizations, unions play the role of
business organizations that negotiate the sale of
their member's labor power to employers. They seek a
fairer form of exploitation under capitalism, rather
than an end to capitalist exploitation itself. Most
unions are structured as a top-down hierarchy, with
unaccountable bureaucrats calling the shots from
above, often restricting the self-activity of the
rank-and-file membership. This bureaucratic
stranglehold, along with years of backward labor
legislation, has led to labor unions often becoming
roadblocks for serious class conflict in North
America, rather than fulfilling their historic role as
effective vehicles for class struggle.

However, unions still represent the largest organized
pole within the working class, and like any mass
organization, it is essential for anarchists to
develop a program for how our activity relates to
them. The issue is not whether unions are
revolutionary, but rather how we as anarchists work
within unions towards a revolutionary end.

It should be noted that the labor movement in the
United States is currently a shell of what it once
was, with only a fraction of its former membership
strength (in 1958 nearly 39% of the private sector was
unionized, as compared to 2000 where membership fell
to under 9%... the lowest level since 1902!). But,
after a long retreat, there now seems to be something
of a progressive shift within the labor movement. An
increasing number of unions have embraced, at least to
some extent, experimental forms of organizing and a
strengthening of rank-and-file democracy. This leaves
interesting possibilities for class struggle
anarchists who are serious about building militant
rank-and-file workers' movements.

Aside from the theoretical arguments to be made in
regards to unionism, there were also some very real
factors to be taken into account in our situation. We
eventually agreed that, at least in terms of a
long-term strategy, it made the most sense to join an
established projectionists' union. However, there were
serious contradictions that needed to be addressed.
All unionized theaters in the Boston area are
organized through the International Alliance of
Theatrical and Stage Employees, a very conservative
trade union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Historically,
this union was formed under the pretext of "combating
the socialistic tendencies of industrial unionism" and
from there only got worse. Red baiting, black listing,
and mob ties were all standard features for this union
at one time, and an air of conservatism still reigns
to this day.

For us this was almost too much to swallow. But, after
holding our noses and doing some further research, we
eventually warmed up to the idea of organizing through
IATSE. Most important for us was the fact that,
despite the overt conservatism on an international
level, the actual structure of the union allows for a
high level of autonomy and independence for the
locals. Also, the particular local we would be dealing
with (Motion Picture Operators' Local 182) had
suffered a serious defeat the previous year after a
severe labor dispute with Loews Cinemas. With
relatively few resources, no paid organizers, and the
recent defeats, the local seemed very open to a
self-managed campaign using experimental forms of

So, it was agreed. Officially we would be organizing
under IATSE Local 182. But, having made this decision,
a few of us went a step further and decided to
organize ourselves into a workplace resistance group
('Pissed Off Projectionists'), so as to better be able
to coordinate our activities as an explicitly radical
pole within what we considered to be a limiting trade
union framework. We felt this to be necessary for a
number of reasons:

(1) Independence and Self-Activity

As anarcho-communists, we believe very much in the
necessity of pushing struggles as far as possible, so
as to not only challenge the immediate exploitive
relationship between ourselves and our employer, but
to challenge the systematic class exploitation
embodied within capitalism as a whole. The very nature
of trade unionism is one of class mediation within the
existing system, making it insufficient as a vehicle
for systematic challenge. It is only through the
revolutionary self-activity of the working class that
isolated class struggles can be generalized into a
genuinely anti-capitalist movement, and in order to
achieve this we must continue to build forms of
self-organization that are able to go beyond existing
trade union structure. (How's that for some dense
theoretical reasoning?)

On a more practical level, let's face it, there will
be periods of class conflict where rank-and-file
workers will need to be prepared to fight not only the
bosses in the workplace, but also the union
bureaucrats who seek to hold them back (and often sell
them out). Why wait for the inevitable to happen
before establishing alternative structures within the
existing union body? It is important for radical
workers to band together in order to effectively
assert themselves among the rank-and-file, and create
a "dual power" relationship with the official union

(2) Militancy

The most crucial aspect of independence is how you
exercise it in action. Trade unions are very much
bound by existing labor laws, and limited in their
ability to take effective action against employers.
They can be sued for libel or slander; they are unable
to call for secondary boycotts, and any form of direct
action that crosses the line of legality is obviously
out of the question. A workplace resistance group has
no such legal dilemma, as it is not a legally
recognized body, has no financial assets, and is not
accountable to anyone outside of the workers directly
involved in a given workplace. Slow-downs, sabotage,
sick-ins, non-cooperation, unsanctioned pickets,
anti-boss actions, and direct action against scabs
should all be on the table as possible tactics to be
used during labor disputes, and it is through
workplace resistance groups that such tactics can be
carried out and applied to a larger strategy for
developing workers' autonomy.

(3) Political Identity

We accept that conscious anarchists are an extreme
minority within working class movements today. But we
feel strongly enough about the validity of our ideas
to actively build support for them. Traditionally,
anarchism has been a fighting ideology that developed
through class struggle, and we believe that anarchism
still has a lot to offer the labor movement in terms
of strategy and vision (direct action,
self-management, rank-and-file democracy, mutual aid,
etc.). Throughout the duration of our organizing
campaign at the Somerville Theatre it was important
for us to be honest about our political affiliations.
We wanted to win using explicitly anarchist tactics
and strategies, and we wanted to do so in a tactful,
yet very public, way. Basic
propaganda-through-example. However, we had to use
caution in how closely these affiliations were linked
directly to our union. This was another area where it
was important for us to be able to coordinate our
activities semi-autonomously.

What was interesting in our particular campaign was
how easily the lines between seemingly contradictory
forms of organizing became blurred and developed into
a highly effective labor strategy. Official
representation from an AFL-CIO trade union certainly
gave our struggle a sense of legitimacy in the eyes of
the larger labor community, which was extremely
important (ex: unionized UPS drivers would not cross
our picket line to make deliveries). Also, we had
access to legal protection that would otherwise have
been unavailable to us. Fighting it out in labor court
with our boss was hardly the road we wanted to take,
but it was definitely to our benefit to have a union
lawyer able to file 'unfair labor practice' suits,
challenge the legality of hiring unlicensed scabs to
run the projectors, and eventually negotiate a fair
contract on our behalf. This helped to keep our boss
constantly on the defensive and allowed us to sustain
an aggressive fight and keep the upper hand at all

While this was all taking place, those of us from the
'Pissed Off Projectionists' were more or less left to
ourselves and given a free hand in running the
day-to-day aspects of the campaign. We organized our
own pickets, rallies, leafleting and phone actions. We
developed our own support networks, distributed our
own propaganda, and maintained our own public
relations. Towards the end of the campaign, when
negotiations began to break down, because of the
semi-autonomous nature of our organizing we were able
to step up the antagonism against our boss in a big
way and eventually pushed him to the point that he
agreed to cave on practically all the union's demands
so long as he would be free of the anarchist menace!
(More on that later).

>From The Projection Booth To The Picket Line

During the early meetings with the union rep from
IATSE, it was clear that they wanted us to follow a
'traditional' path to unionization. This would entail
filing for an election with the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) once a majority of the
workforce had signed cards for representation, waiting
at least 42 days, then voting at an election that
would take place at the theater. On the surface, this
tactic sounds like a straightforward, safe bet, but
there are many other factors that generally come into
play in the real world.

According to NLRB statistics, only half the elections
filed result in a victory for the union. As a result,
it is becoming increasing popular for unions to seek
card-check neutrality agreements and other alternative
methods of recognition. The most glaring reason for
the failure of the NLRB route is the lengthy
opportunity it opens for the employer to run an
anti-union campaign, stick-and-carrot style. Employees
can be psychologically and physically harassed (a
tactic that could be easily used in an isolated
projection booth with only one worker on at a time) or
fall for false promises and bribes. In addition, the
whole process can be dragged out indefinitely with
litigation. Facing an employer with a reputation for
being rabidly anti-union, this was a scenario that we
wanted to avoid. However, these concerns were not our
main reasons for wanting to take an alternative

If anything radicalizes, it's a hard-fought struggle
that results in victory. Even if we were to win
through an NLRB election, it is hard to say what
exactly would be won. Without a real fight and the
opportunity to show what we were made of as an
organized workforce, the prospects for fruitful
contract negotiations would be dim. We would remain
untested, unaware of our capabilities, and lacking the
experience to know where our power lies. In sum, the
NLRB process largely divorces those involved from the
possibility of engaging in tactics that directly
impact the day-to-day operations of the boss and truly
change the balance of power.

By the time we got it together to unionize it was
obvious that a majority of the workforce was pissed.
There was little fear in losing our jobs because most
of us figured the conditions could not be all that
much worse in other theaters. Things had to change and
we were ready to make it happen. We began meeting
independently of the union rep to discuss our options,
and then something happened that forced us into
action. It was announced that the Independent Film
Festival of Boston would take place at the Somerville
Theatre from May 1-4. For us, this meant about five
times as much work, for four days, at the same shit
pay. It was all sprung upon us on very short notice
and definitely the last straw. We met once again and
came up with a plan. We would pressure our boss into
voluntarily recognizing the union, or else we would
strike on May Day! Naturally, the union was opposed to
this because it was outside of the normal course of
action. When told, "You can't just walk out", we
replied, "We're the workforce. We can walk out. It's a
question of whether or not you're going to support

The risks of striking for recognition were not lost on
us. We were aware that any scab could be told that
they were being hired as a 'permanent replacement' and
they could legally take our hours in a post-strike
period. There was also the chance that one of the
pro-union projectionists could get cold feet at the
last minute and scab on us. However, in our eyes, the
positives outweighed the potential negatives. The film
festival appeared to present a great starting point
for the campaign. We would walk out and begin a
campaign of direct action, with the majority of the
projectionists now free to devote all of their
energies in struggle against the boss.

On the night of April 30th, the demand for union
recognition was presented to the manager along with a
strike deadline of 6pm the next day. Although it was
entertaining to watch the manager lose his shit,
fumble his words, and threaten us with termination, we
would have to wait for the final say from the boss,
who is rarely present at the theater. The next day the
union lawyer received a message that voluntary
recognition would not be granted, and the strike was
on. It should be noted that we agreed to allow the
union rep to simultaneously file an NLRB election,
even though we had no faith in this process. This was
for the purposes of tying our boss up with legalities
(for instance, you cannot legally fire striking
workers or offer financial incentives to scabs after
an NLRB election has been filed), and allowing
ourselves some space to be able to more effectively
plan for a nasty and prolonged fight on the picket
line. We also filed reports with the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the
Department of Health for good measure.

Utilizing our existing networks from years of
activism, email, word of mouth, and independent media
we were able to turn out at least seventy-five people
for the picket line on the first night. There was a
high level militancy that evening, with a lot of the
support coming from a cross-section of local
anarchists (NEFAC, BAAM!, IWW, etc.). The night was
marked with scuffles with the cops (shoving,
de-arrests) and shouting matches with wannabe
Hollywood stars and hipsters who were inconvenienced
by our picket line. Those who honored the picket line
were mostly blue collar Somerville residents who,
incidentally, make up a large chunk of the theater's
business throughout the year. The festival would go
on, thanks in large part to the free scab workforce
brought in by the festival organizers, but the
groundwork would be laid for a sustainable economic
boycott and a long-term campaign of direct action.

If we were to win, it would require the ability to
adapt to the many twists and turns of the campaign. In
the days following the film festival we would make our
next tactical move by unconditionally offering to
return to work. During the course of a strike, so long
as an NLRB election was filed there is a 30-day window
during which the employer is legally required to take
back any employee that offers to return. Having no
other choice, the management agreed to take us back in
theory, but, as expected, we were never put back on
the schedule. Fine by us, because now our campaign
would officially be transformed into a lockout. This
would eventually result in back pay for all the
locked-out projectionists, and more importantly, it
would prevent the hiring of more scabs. In addition,
the words "locked out" seemed to add weight to our
call for a boycott.

Week after week, we tirelessly walked the picket line,
held weekend rallies, and handed out thousands of
leaflets. It's hard to say exactly how many people
honored our boycott, but attendance appeared to be
half of what it normally was. In addition to turning
away would-be patrons, we began to contact promoters
and artists scheduled to have live performances at the
Somerville Theatre. We were successful in convincing
Jonathan Richman to cancel an upcoming performance and
received promises from other artists and promoters
that they would not return until the dispute was

Being members of NEFAC, an anarchist federation that
spans the northeast of the US and Canada and has ties
to the international anarchist movement, also had its
perks. On a regional level, members were able to
publicize our struggle in their respective cities and
unions, put together strike fund benefits, and most
importantly, offer strategic advice. Calls to the boss
flooded in from throughout the region (and some from
halfway across the globe!), and letters of solidarity
arrived from a variety of North American unions
(including a rather memorable one from the Canadian
Auto Workers) and internationally from anarcho-
syndicalist comrades affiliated with the CNT-Vignoles
(France) and FAU (Germany), among others.

On the picket line, we began to form solid ties with
other union members, activists, and most notably,
members of the surrounding blue-collar community.
Folks would stop by on their lunch break to share a
story about an angry phone call they made to the
owner, talk about their own union experience, offer
advice, or just ask about what was going on. Often
conversations would go beyond our strike, and people
would discuss issues such as gentrification of the
area, or the weakening economy, or how much of an
asshole they thought George Bush was. Older folks,
having seen the past gains of labor movement wither
away during their lifetime, were enthusiastic over
seeing a new generation of workers getting involved
and essentially carrying on where their generation
left off. This strong showing of solidarity we
received would lead to larger and larger rallies
(special thanks to Jobs With Justice), keep our
spirits up, undermine the boss's red-baiting attempts
(see below), and eventually land us at the negotiating

Anarchists In The Workplace

>From the start, we always made a point to be open with
our politics. To be honest hardly anyone seemed very
shocked by the fact that we were anarchists (including
members of IATSE). Anarchists or not, it hardly made a
difference to most of our working class supporters, so
long as we were giving the bosses hell on the picket
line. And why should it? Many of them have just as
much disgust for politicians, bosses, rich people and
the general state of the world as we do! I doubt that
any of us will forget a retired ironworker in his
seventies who said, "Every workplace could use a few
anarchists to ensure that the boss gets an ass kicking
every now and then."

However, about midway through the lock-out, a series
of events took place which led to our anarchist
politics being placed center stage by our boss. On two
separate occasions the windows at the Somerville
Theatre were smashed in, resulting in thousands of
dollars in damages. Were any of the projectionists
involved in these actions? Absolutely not. Our
activity was focused on building community support and
applying public pressure on our boss to end the
lockout and recognize the union. If any of the
projectionists could have been connected with illegal
activities against the theater it would have been
grounds for immediate lawful termination. We were
certainly not going to give our boss that
satisfaction. Whether or not some of our supporters
carried out these actions on our behalf was completely
unknown to us. Nor did we care. Our basic position was
that it was the theater's problem, not ours, and
although we did not necessarily advocate for such
tactics to be used on our behalf, we certainly weren't
going to condemn them either. Every action has a
reaction, and if an illegal lockout by our boss
resulted in anonymous acts property destruction to his
theater, so be it. Welcome to the class war.

Although the theater never attempted legal action
against any of the locked-out employees for these
actions (indeed, despite their now constant presence
at our daily pickets, the police never even took a
statement from us), our boss used them as a pretext
for red-baiting certain projectionists who they deemed
the leading agitators in the organizing campaign.
After some investigation, the boss's lawyer determined
that a handful of us were "dangerous anarchists" and
began compiling information packets which were sent to
local politicians, our union, and who knows where
else. Each packet contained an extensive collection of
police records, published writings, and print outs
from the NEFAC website. Any references to workplace
organizing, anti-capitalism, or direct action
(especially sabotage) were highlighted in an attempt
to somehow connect the locked-out projectionists with
the recent vandalism at the theater and dismiss the
organizing campaign as "political trouble-making".

Unfortunately for our boss, by this time our politics
were already fairly well known, and no one was
especially fazed by the information contained in the
packets. Obviously our union was concerned as to
whether or not we knew anything about the windows, but
once it was established that we had absolutely no
knowledge of these actions, nothing else was ever said
of it. Aside from our immediate supporters, our boss's
attempts at discrediting the organizing campaign
through red-baiting completely backfired with local
politicians as well. On June 12th, the Somerville
Board of Aldermen responded by passing a resolution
unequivocally supporting the locked-out
projectionists. One local politician who spoke at a
public rally in support of the locked-out
projectionists went even further, publicly condemning
the "disgusting red-baiting tactics" used by our boss
to try and defame our struggle. She ended by stating
that "all workers, including anarchist workers, have a
right to join a union and fight for a living wage in
the city of Somerville".

Negotiating Victory

After two months of sustained pickets, an effective
boycott, hundreds of phone calls of support for our
demands, and the total failure of an attempt to
red-bait us, the boss finally agreed to sit down at
the negotiating table. However, we quickly learned
that his anti-red sentiment would cloud the whole
process. It was clear that, in no way, did he want to
negotiate with "the anarchists".

Once we were at the table, the process was not moving
along in a positive direction, and threats of closing
the theater were repeatedly made. It appeared that we
were heading for a rather nasty stalemate until a
last-ditch option presented itself. We had become such
a thorn in the side of the boss that he could barely
mutter names without losing it. The
‘Pissed Off Projectionists' and the
union had now become separate entities in his mind.
The concerns over having a unionized workforce became
secondary to him compared to the campaign unleashed by
"the anarchists". He wanted us gone one way or
another. After much debate, the 'Pissed Off
Projectionists' agreed that we would step aside as a
gesture of solidarity with our co-workers and take
employment through other theaters represented by IATSE
if it would ensure union recognition and a fair
contract for the others.

The idea was discussed and negotiations began to look
hopeful by the end of the week. We agreed, after much
prodding from our lawyer, to call off our pickets as a
show of good faith. However, when everyone reconvened
on Monday things took at turn for the worse. It looked
like we were back to the same stalemate, and talks
were put off again. We discussed the state of affairs
with our union rep and came to the conclusion that the
owner had pulled out of the negotiating process. If
this was the boss's decision, then it would be all out
war from our end. Within hours we began to publicize
that the regular picketing schedule was back on and
that a "Rally Against Union Busting" co-sponsored by
Jobs With Justice and the Central Labor Council was
going to take place the next weekend. A trip out to
the boss's posh little neighborhood to post some nice
little 'Wanted' fliers (for union busting, poverty
wages, etc.) took place the next day.

Well, it turns out that there was a bit of
miscommunication between our lawyer, the union rep,
and us, and the negotiations were actually going to
resume after a two-day break. Oh well, we thought it
was a good idea to put the heat back on. Despite the
boss's claims that this was the last straw, our
willingness to go on the offensive at the drop of a
hat, made us look like rabid dogs not to be toyed with
(as our lawyer put it). Negotiation did in fact resume
and within a couple of days we emerged victorious with
both union recognition and a two-year contract. Under
the current contract, the starting wage for
projectionists is now in accordance with (and fixed
to) the Somerville Living Wage Ordinance (currently
$9.55/hr), which is a 40% increase; all full-time
employees will be offered health benefits and
vacation; and most importantly, the Somerville Theatre
is now a 'union shop' for projectionists, which allows
for more control over the work environment by the
workers themselves and preference for hiring new
employees in the hands of the union.

Class War Conclusions

On the surface, the success of our organizing campaign
represents an incredible modest class victory.
Although any victory of workers over a boss is
significant in its own way, there is nothing to be
gained by inflating the importance of this particular
struggle. Now that it is over, and the dust has
settled, it is in order that we look back and evaluate
certain aspects of our activity with critical honesty.

(1) Challenging the Elitism (and Class Isolation) of
"Skilled Labor"

One aspect of the campaign that should be criticized
is the fact that, despite repeated attempts, we were
unable to connect our interests with the interests of
"unskilled" concession workers, and thereby failed to
unify all theater workers in a generalized struggle
against the boss. Incidentally, we were also equally
unsuccessful at linking up with fellow workers
(including projectionists) from a sister theater owned
by the same boss.

In our particular situation there were a number of
factors that led to this failure. For starters, the
very nature of our work as movie projectionists is one
of isolation. Even pulling together meetings with
fellow projectionists proved to be a difficult task,
as we rarely saw one another during shift changes. For
obvious safety reasons, a licensed projectionist is
supposed to be on hand at all times while films are
showing. During our shifts we are not allowed to leave
the projection booth for more than a few minutes at a
time, so our ability to talk with fellow workers in
other parts of the theater was obviously very minimal.
A passing comment against the boss or the pay
conditions while getting a soda refill was pretty much
the extent of our ability to agitate among the
concession workers.

Other factors included issues of age, experience,
turnover rate, and most importantly, trust. Many of
the concession workers at the Somerville Theatre (like
most theaters) were young, and had little job
experience. For some, working the concession counter
or taking tickets was merely a summer job until the
school year started, and they had little invested
interest in the long-term conditions of the workplace.
The bottom line for any workplace organizing campaign
is trust in your fellow workers. The fact that we were
unable to build a solid relationship with any theater
workers outside of the projection booth meant that
trust could not be established, and therefore we could
not risk bringing them in on our plans to unionize
before we went public with the campaign.

The experiences we gained through our organizing at
the Somerville Theatre only reinforce our support for
industrial unionism. Industrial organizing, within the
same location and sector, clearly affirms that a union
is the sum of its workers. Trade unionism, which
allows each location, profession, or sector to be
represented by different unions, is an ideological
construct that weakens class identification and
solidarity. Functionally, trade unionism not only
divides workers by skill, profession, or type, but it
creates divergent interests among workers. It is most
strategic for the employees of single boss to belong
to the same union and that certain worker's gains must
not be made at the expense of others.

The future for movie projectionists (ahem, motion
picture technicians!) is one of uncertainty. With
increasing levels of automation, the work has become
much less of a skilled trade as compared to fifteen or
twenty years ago. Gone are the days of carbon arc
lamps, multiple film reels, and manual changeovers.
Some of the larger corporate theaters are moving away
from analog film projection altogether, in favor of
digital, which will all but eliminate most of the work
currently preformed by projectionists. A sharp decline
in union membership and increasingly weaker contracts
for projectionists in recent years only confirms this

Beyond the theoretical arguments to be made in favor
of industrial unionism, our very future as
projectionists will depend on our ability to organize
beyond our craft and build a strong union that
embodies all theater workers. You can bet that a
long-term goal of the 'Pissed Off Projectionists' will
be to fight for an industrial organizing strategy
within our union.

(2) The Union Makes Us Strong?

Although we were able to effectively challenge certain
tactical orthodoxies employed by trade unions, we
never posed a serious challenge to trade unionism as
such, and ultimately some would argue that our efforts
only served to reinforce an institution that has
become an integral component of the capitalist social
order. Fair enough. As has been already stated, we
share many of the anarchist and ultra-left criticisms
of trade unions, and would agree that they are
insufficient vehicles for future revolutionary
activity. However, despite these criticisms we still
consider trade unions to be important areas for the
development of class-consciousness and struggle. For
this reason alone, it is important for anarchists to
develop a program for how we relate to these
organizations and the workers who participate in them.

For as long as class exploitation has existed, workers
have organized themselves into class defense
apparatuses. From trade guilds to modern labor unions,
workers' organizations have been at the forefront of
the class struggle. When certain forms of defensive
organization have proven themselves to be ineffective,
new forms have emerged. The very nature of class
struggle rests on the ability of the working class to
be able to effectively resist the exploitation of the
ruling class. We have a strong faith in the ability of
workers to move beyond obsolete forms of class
organization during advanced periods of struggle and
develop new forms of revolutionary self-activity (such
as councils or action committees) able to subvert the
capitalist social order. But let's not fool ourselves.
We are not there yet.

(3) Rhetoric and Reality

Militant rhetoric aside, it should be said that we
never really pushed for demands beyond union
recognition, basic workplace democracy, back wages and
a fair contract. Okay, so we did not touch off a
militant workplace occupation, or lead a workers'
insurrection from the Somerville Theatre. No bosses
were lined up and shot, no workers' soviets were
established, and last we checked, the wage system was
far from being smashed. However, the significance of
this struggle was not necessarily in what was gained
in the end, but the means for which these gains were
made. What was particularly unique in our campaign, as
compared to most other struggles for union
recognition, was the fact that we were able to win
primarily through direct action and community pressure
rather than relying on the official channels of the

All the militancy in the world won't radicalize anyone
if it isn't backed up by tangible victories. As
anarchists arguing for self-organization and direct
action in our struggles, we must be able to back up
the talk with results. In order to build a mass base
of support for anarchism, we need to be able to not
only identify and express working class discontent,
but also have the ability to fight for (and more
importantly, win) material class gains using
explicitly anarchist tactics and methods of
organizing. Instead of attacking what we see as
dead-end strategies from the comforts of our magazines
or newsletter, we put our alternative strategies to
the test. Our success laid in making our ideas
relevant to our co-workers and the community. Hundreds
of conversations in the workplace, in meetings, and on
the picket line culminated in victory because we were
able to explain, logically and in terms not filled
with jargon, why we could win by striking, boycotting,
etc. It wasn't always easy, but our persistence paid
off. In end, we were successful in convincing fellow
workers that our power exists at the point of
production and in solidarity of our struggles, not in
the courtroom.

The fact that we were able to develop working class
relevancy for anarchism in our city is, in itself, an
important victory.


Class Against Class is a member collective of NEFAC.
All of us are pissed off workers who are active in
local labor agitation and housing struggles. We also
homebrew beer and run an occassional anarchist
pub-night called 'Black Flag Tavern'. Oh yeah, and we
fucking hate rich people!


This essay is from the forth-coming issue of The
Northeastern Anarchist, which will be out by November
1st. The theme this issue is 'Anarchists in the
Workplace' with essays focussing on class war
strategies and analysis for anarchists that go beyond
orthodox syndicalism... Anarcho-communist approaches
to labor organizing, strike solidarity, workers
autonomy, base unionism, flying squads, and much more!


To order a copy of this forthcoming issue, please send
$5ppd ($6 international). For distribution, bundle
orders are $3 per copy for three or more copies, and
$2.50 per copy for ten or more.

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"Northeastern Anarchist" and sent to:

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