Category Archives: Unions

Other Revolving Doors

It’s more than doors between government and the businesses that they supposedly regulate that go round and round.  One of the other swinging doors is between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

A second door

Perhaps the best known case is when Al Gore ran for president in 2000, he picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate.  Then, in 2008, Lieberman showed up at the Republican national convention to endorse John McCain for president.  Between those two campaigns, John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, was rumored to be leaning to ask Republican John McCain to be his running mate.

Had Al Gore won, Lieberman would most likely have been the subsequent Democratic nominee for president.  Had John Kerry won with McCain on the ticket, McCain would have been the heir apparent to the “Democratic Party” crown.  Whether Lieberman or McCain, Democrats across the country would have been told to bow in reverence to their party’s red-blue nominee for president.

This was hardly the first time such a switcheroo blossomed in American politics.  In 1864, Republican Abraham Lincoln dumped his sitting vice-president to ask Democrat Andrew Johnson to be his running mate.  After Lincoln’s murder, US voters, who had selected a Republican to be their president, found him replaced by a Democrat.

Though such examples at the presidential level may be enshrined in history books, they happen all the time at the local level.  In 1963, the Texas Young Democrats allowed high school chapters for the first time.  I was 15 years old then and organized the state’s first Young Democrats chapter at Lamar High School in Houston.  We invited a teacher who had been elected to the Texas Legislature to speak to our chapter on “Why Am I a Democrat?”  His answer was simple.  He was a Democrat because that was the only way to get elected in Texas of the early 1960s.

The next year, he came out as a Republican.  That was the time of the exodus of southern Dixiecrats from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

Fast forward half a century and I was the 2016 Green Party nominee for governor of Missouri.  I participated in the debate with Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens.  Greitens, riding the election on Trump’s wave, has since become internationally infamous for an affair in which he allegedly tied his victim to his basement exercise equipment, hit her, took nude photos of her, threatened to publicize the photos if she ever told anyone what he did, and continued various sex acts without her consent.

During the campaign, both the Democrat and Repubican made TV ads showing themselves with automatic weapons.  Besides being partial to gun violence, they had something else in common.  Both had switched parties.  The Republican Greitens was a former Democrat and the Democrat Koster was a former Republican.  Like most others greedy for power, they decided which way the winds were blowing, calculated where they could most effectively hustle votes, and adjusted their public images and party affiliation accordingly.  (Greitens resigned as governor in May 2018.)

Flip-flops between the corporate parties are hardly peculiar to Missouri.  Evan Jenkins was the runner-up in the May 2018 Republican primary for the West Virginia US senate seat.  Jenkins had been elected as a Democrat to the West Virginia legislature, but hopped to the Republican side to win the third district US house seat in 2014. During the 2018 race, the former Democrat boasted a perfect rating from the National Rifle Association as well as a 100% “pro-life” record saying, “I am a West Virginia conservative who is working with President Trump each and every day for our shared conservative values.”

That was nothing new for the state.  Its billionaire governor Jim Justice started out as a Republican, became a Democrat in 2015 to win the governor’s race and switched again to the Republicans in 2017 to bask in Trump’s glow.  These people are as dedicated to the colors of their party as a chameleon is to staying green when it’s opportune to turn yellow.

The original door

Do you remember when the “revolving door” was first noticed?  It was due to people like Michael R. Taylor who rotated between regulatory agencies and the corporations they were supposedly regulating.  Taylor began as a Monsanto lawyer.  Then he became a staff lawyer for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and helped it to hassle Amish farmers for selling whole milk while giving companies like Monsanto the green light to sell genetically contaminated products without labeling them.  Then, he cycled back to Monsanto, becoming its Vice President for Public Policy.  In 2010, he flipped back to being the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

The scenario was quite a bit different for Richard Gephardt, former speaker of the US House and darling child of business unions and anti-NAFTA coalitions in the early 1990s.  When I was working with Public Citizen to oppose NAFTA, a friend who had just been to Mexico told me that Gephardt had spoken in Monterrey promising to get NAFTA through the US House.  So I spent several afternoons at the Washington University library until I found the Mexican paper Excelsior recording his comments.

I documented Gephardt’s statements in an Op-Ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of June 1, 1993 and reported his two faces during the next Public Citizen conference call.  There was stony silence for several seconds.  Then Lori Wallach let everyone know “Dick Gephardt is the best ally in Washington that we have.”

Though Gephardt gave clear warnings of his true colors, leftists paid to lobby politicians had a devout faith that an ally scheming to stab you in the back is better than no ally at all.  A few years later, the left did turn on Gephardt – but only after he publicly displayed his contempt for progressives.  In 2005, he abandoned his distinguished career as public servant and formed Gephardt Government Affairs which allowed him to pocket almost $7 million lobbying on behalf of clients such as Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Visa Inc and Waste Management Inc.

Of course, Gephardt was not the typical revolving door guy.  Instead of being an agency bureaucrat      he was elected to public office.  And he did not wait to resign from his governmental post to serve industry because he was apparently working both sides regarding NAFTA at the same time.

A third door

This brings us to a third way the door revolves  – the way that policies and practices get tossed from one corporate party to the other.  When I was a kid, the saying went “The Democrats bring war and the Republicans bring recession.”  But no more.  With rapacious Wall Street increasing its appetite for expansion as its human host decays, the Democrats and Republicans shadow box to see which can simultaneously be more violent and make the quality of life deteriorate faster.

Perhaps the old saying stemmed from the way Woodrow Wilson won the presidency with the slogan “He kept us out of war” and then proceeded to take the US into WWI.  A few decades later Lyndon Johnson ridiculed Barry Goldwater’s threat to bomb Viet Nam back into the stone age.  After LBJ won the election, he did his best to carry out Goldwater’s plan.

For about half a century, the Republicans won the reputation of being the most anti-Communist.  Yet, it was John and Bobby Kennedy who tried to invade Cuba, went off their chain to pit bull Fidel Castro, and began the very long series of attempts to assassinate him.

Years later, the rapidly anti-Communist Richard Nixon ascended the throne, recognized China, and visited Beijing.  In case you missed it, the right-wing Nixon reversed course and realized a progressive idea.  It was hardly the only positive event that happened during the reign of one of the most degenerate presidents of all time.  The following occurred during his presidency: end to the Viet Nam war, beginning of the Food Stamp Program, creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, passage of the Freedom of Information Act, formal dismantling of the FBI’s COINTEL program, decriminalization of abortion, creation of Earned Income Tax Credits, a format ban on biological weapons, and passage of the Clean Water Act.

One of the crowning achievements during the Nixon era was the April 28, 1971 founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  Shaun Richman describes in The Unionist how OSHA “has the authority to promulgate industry-specific workplace safety rules and to fine companies that violate them. The law also provides for workplace safety inspectors, whistleblower protections for workers who report potentially unsafe conditions and legal protections for workers who go on wildcat strikes to put an end to a dangerous situation.”

Do Democrats in power provide some sort of assurance because they “call for” more environmental protection than do Republicans?  During the 1990s, St. Louis environmentalists were trying to block the construction of a dioxin incinerator.  There was a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic Governor of Missouri, and a Democratic County Executive.   We persuaded the Democratic majority on the County Council to pass an ordinance requiring dioxin incinerators to operate according to EPA standards, which seemed like a victory since no incinerator can meet those standards.

We stopped going to County Council meetings because we thought we had “won.”  Then the Council repealed the ordinance we had lobbied for.  Bill Clinton got his Missouri dioxin incinerator.  When do Democrats stab you in the back?  Whenever your back is turned.

In 2018, Donald Trump is justly despised because of his racist hate campaign against people of color, especially his ripping immigrant children apart from their parents and putting them in cages.  But let’s not forget the continuity between Obama and Trump.  As Tina Vasquez writes in Rewire News:

When he first announced DACA in 2012, President Obama boasted of ‘putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history.’ Obama sought to ‘centralize border security’ on the pretext of deporting violent criminals and gang members—now Trump’s cause … The anti-immigrant zeal that Trump used to get elected is in many ways closely aligned with the history of America’s immigration system, which gave priority to white immigrants and sought to limit entry by other groups. Every administration, Republican or Democrat, has maintained this system’s injustices.

A major difference between the two presidents is that press outlets like MSNBC tended to ignore actions by Obama but shrieked in horror when Trump followed suit.  Clearly, the outrage against Trump positively lessens the attacks, but it makes one wonder: If a Democrat replaces Trump and commits the same atrocities against immigrant children, will media again muffle its anger?

These examples of Democrats and Republicans swapping platforms and policies do not even scratch the surface.  Their views are so interchangeable that one could write a 10 volume collection of the way they imitate each other and still barely cover the tip of all the stories out there.

Progressive Democrats?

Does this mean that there is no one running for office as a Democrat who sincerely wishes to move in a more progressive direction?  Of course not.  There are many, many candidates who start out running for local office as a Democrat and stay at the bottom of the Party’s hierarchy because it is structured to keep them there and use them as bait to lure and defang other progressives.

Progressive Democrats at the base level do not script the Party’s major directions, which is as firmly controlled by big business as is the direction of the Republican Party.  While they may propose reforms in their communities, they must march in line with candidates for national office if they are to get funding to run at a higher level.  Those higher-up Dems are the ones most skilled at collaborating with Repubs, echoing their policies, and even fluttering over to the GOP side if the time is right.

While the Republicans and Democrats are able to twist and turn on any dime lying in the street, there is at least one item for which they have a mind-meld.  The top concern of their corporate benefactors is “How do we reverse the gains of the New Deal?”  Bosses of both parties seek to undo the New Deal – the biggest difference between them is how to pull it off.

The Dems generally use finesse with a stiletto, carving out gains one-by-one, weeping and sobbing as they do so.  The public face of the Repubs screams in delight as it whacks off gains with a meat cleaver.  The difference in rhetoric is vastly greater than any difference in the end result.  So many politicians can alternate policies and, at times, party affiliation because they see elections as a thermometer measuring if it is the hour for the delicate blade or the butcher knife.

The great virtue of the Democrats is creating hope.  The great virtue of the Republicans is being a bit more honest about their long term goals.  The perception of vice or virtue in either depends on the mood of the observer.

Do Democrats and Republicans quarrel with each other in front of TV cameras?  Obviously yes – but it’s merely a mock lovers’ spat crafted for public consumption.  Once the cameras are off, they embrace in excited passion while collapsing onto the bed of cash provided by corporate donations to both parties.

In our darkest hour

Understanding that the unified goal of both parties is to turn back New Deal gains leads us to ask how those victories were won.  It was because of the massive strikes, exploding labor movement, and unprecedented growth of the Socialist and Communist Parties that made a New Deal necessary.  Key corporate players decided that it was more discreet to allow some demanded changes than to suppress mushrooming mass movements.

Hop forward to the Nixon years.  The many accomplishments won during his term were not because that vicious anti-communist fell on his knees, beheld a shining light, and vowed to tread the path of righteousness.  It was due to a strong labor movement, a massive anti-war movement following on the heels of the civil rights movement, and a growing women’s movement demanding reproductive freedom (along with many other more radical movements).

Hop forward again to the depravity of the Trump administration.  As humanity faces extermination from increased production of fossil fuels, opposition bubbles up at an equal rate.  Even though Republican state legislatures agreed to continue undermining public schools, in Spring 2018 teachers decided that they had had enough.

West Virginia had a Republican governor and a Republican majority in both houses of the legislature.  But West Virginia teachers went on strike anyway and were followed by teachers from Oklahoma and other states likewise dominated by anti-labor Republicans.  Even though illegal, the strike won because teachers stood together with janitors, bus drivers, food service workers and other state employees.

As Bruce Dixon laid it out in Black Agenda Report:

…successful strikes are possible wherever an overwhelming majority of the workforce is committed to it, whether or not those workers are in a ‘right to work’ state, and whether or not the strike is endorsed by their union if they have a union at all. Neither of West Virginia’s two teachers unions endorsed the strike, and the leaders of both unions initially and repeatedly attempted to ‘settle’ it for far less than the striking workers demanded.

The three revolving doors are just other ways that big business manages government while pulling the wool over people’s eyes.  Corporate flunkies transfer between their bosses and agencies to ensure agencies do their bidding.  Professional politicians go back and forth between parties according to their career opportunities.  Parties grab policies from each other to see who can hoodwink the most voters.

The Democrats and Republicans are parts of a single gestalt that creates the illusion of meaningful difference when there is none.  If you are part of an organization that gets caught up in the revolving door, don’t keep going around in circles – find another way out.  In times of the darkest despair, solidarity is still the road to victory.

Charter School Promoters Terrified of Teachers Organizing to Affirm Their Rights

In recent weeks and months Americans have seen large teacher strikes and protests erupt in several states simultaneously. These unprecedented strikes are sharply bringing to the fore the long-standing poor and humiliating working conditions faced by millions of teachers in America as a result of the destructive neoliberal agenda of the rich.

While such strikes and actions always terrify the ruling elite, they have struck a bitter chord with charter school promoters in particular, including the Center for Education Reform, the American Enterprise Institute, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

These and other school privatization forces are dedicated to undercutting teacher pay, benefits, voice, unity, security, and working conditions while promoting the illusion that they are deeply committed to the well-being of teachers. Charter school promoters deliberately distort thinking so as to make it seem like their antisocial offensive is human-centered, serves the general interests of society, affirms the rights of all, and is the only way forward. Their goal is to conceal the real context of things and overwhelm modern social consciousness with anticonsciousness and dogmatism.

The desperate extremes to which charter school proponents have recently gone to in order to demonize and discredit teachers, and normalize their antisocial agenda, is remarkable. The right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI) goes so far as to derogatorily declare that there is no problem with teacher pay. Indeed, teachers are supposedly over-paid. The AEI even treats teachers as a derogatory “cost” so as to “argue” that they should not even have pensions and security in retirement. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools conceals its assault on teachers and retirement security by calling for “innovation” in teacher pension plans. By “innovation” they mean neoliberal restructuring to pay the rich. For its part, the Center for Education Reform continually presents teachers as lazy, self-serving, and divisive, and as having the opposite interests of parents and students.

To render phenomena in this fashion is not simply a matter of “a different perspective” or “another way of looking at things.” It is a form of violence against consciousness and the human factor. It is an attempt to sabotage the ability of humans to cognize, think, investigate, and draw warranted conclusions. Charter school promoters frequently repeat anticonscious absurdities to protect and “justify” their ability to annually siphon billions of public dollars from the public purse.

A big part of what worries charter school promoters about militant protests by public school teachers is that these bold actions may also inspire charter school teachers to organize to defend their rights. Charter school teachers typically work longer days and years than their public school counterparts, are often younger than the average public school teacher, and also have fewer credentials and fewer years of experience than public school teachers. They are also paid less on average and generally leave charter schools within the first 3-4 years. Their working conditions are far from great.

The rich and charter school proponents rightly see the fight for teachers’ rights as a contagious one. Teacher unions have always represented a serious, if not existential, threat to charter schools, which is why more than 90% of charter schools are not unionized and why charter school promoters regularly intimidate any employees who try to unionize.

There are two worlds in combat: a human-centered world and a capital-centered world. The latter, which includes charter school supporters, is laser-focused on blocking the emergence of the former.

“May Day” Militancy Needed To Create The Economy We Need

The Popular Resistance School will begin on May 1 and will be an eight-week course on how movements grow, build power and succeed as well as examine the role you can play in the movement. Sign up to be part of this school so you can participate in small group discussions about how to build a powerful, transformational movement. REGISTRATION CLOSES MIDNIGHT APRIL 30.

Seventy years of attacks on the right to unionize have left the union movement representing only 10 percent of workers. The investor class has concentrated its power and uses its power in an abusive way, not only against unions but also to create economic insecurity for workers.

At the same time, workers, both union and nonunion, are mobilizing more aggressively and protesting a wide range of economic, racial and environmental issues.

On this May Day, we reflect on the history of worker power and present lessons from our past to build power for the future.

May Day Workers of the World Unite, Melbourne, Australia, in 2012. By Johan Fantenberg, Flickr.

In most of the world, May Day is a day for workers to unite, but May Day is not recognized in the United States even though it originated here. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs for the first May Day in history. It began in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed at their convention that workers themselves would institute the 8-hour day on May 1, 1886. In 1885 they called for protests and strikes to create the 8-hour work day. May Day was part of a revolt against abusive working conditions that caused deaths of workers, poverty wages, poor working conditions and long hours.

May Day gained permanence because of the Haymarket rally which followed. On May 3, Chicago police and workers clashed at the McCormick Reaper Works during a strike where locked-out steelworkers were beaten as they picketed and two unarmed workers were killed. The next day a rally was held at Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of workers by police. The rally was peaceful, attended by families with children and the mayor himself. As the crowd dispersed, police attacked. A bomb was thrown—no one to this day knows who threw it—and police fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing several civilians and wounding forty. One officer was killed by the bomb and several more died from their own gunfire. A corrupt trial followed in August concluding with a biased jury convicting eight men, though only three of them were present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. Seven received a death sentence, the eighth was sentenced to 15 years, and in the end, four were hanged, one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned six years later. The trial shocked workers of the world and led to annual protests on May Day.

The unity of workers on May Day was feared by big business and government. That unity is shown by one of the founders of May Day, Lucy Parsons, who was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American Descent. Parsons, who was born into slavery, never ceased her work for racial, gender, and labor justice. Her partner was Albert Parsons, one of those convicted for Haymarket and hanged.

Solidarity across races and issues frightens the power structure. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland severed May Day from its roots by establishing Labor Day on the first Monday in September, after pressure to create a holiday for workers following the Pullman strike. Labor Day was recognized by unions before May Day. The US tried to further wipe May Day from the public’s memory by President Dwight Eisenhower proclaiming “Law and Order Day” on May 1, 1958.

Long Shoreman march in San Francisco on May Day 2008 in the first-ever strike action by U.S. workers against U.S. imperialist war. Source: The Internationalist

Escalation of Worker Protests Continues to Grow

Today, workers are in revolt, unions are under attack and the connections between workers’ rights and other issues are evident once again. Nicole Colson reports that activists on a range of issues, including racial and economic justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights, a new economy of worker-owners, transitioning to a clean energy economy with environmental and climate justice, and a world without war, are linking their struggles on May Day.

There has been a rising tide of worker militancy for years. The ongoing Fight for $15 protests helped raise the wages of 20 million workers and promoted their fight for a union. There are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour. Last year there was also a massive 36-state strike involving 21,000 mobility workers.

Worker strikes continued into 2018 with teacher strikes over salaries, healthcare, pensions and school funding. Teachers rejected a union order to return to work. Even though it included a 5 percent raise, it was not until the cost of healthcare was dealt with that the teachers declared success. Teachers showed they could fight and win and taught others some lessons on striking against a hostile government. The West Virginia strike inspired others, and is followed by strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. These strikes may expand to other states, evidence of unrest has been seen in states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Puerto Rico because courage is contagious.

Graduate students have gone on strike, as have transit and UPS workers and low-wage workers. The causes include stagnant wages, spiraling healthcare costs, and inadequate pensions. They are engaged in a fight for basic necessities. In 2016, there wasn’t a single county or state in which someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.

Workers are also highlighting that women’s rights are worker’s rights. Even before the #MeToo movement took off, workers protested sexual harassment in the workplace. Workers in thirty states walked off the job at McDonald’s to protest, holding signs that said “McDonald’s Hands off my Buns” and “Put Some Respect in My Check.”

Last year on May Day, a mass mobilization of more than 100,000 immigrant workers walked off their jobs. This followed a February mobilization, a Day Without Immigrants. The Cosecha Movement has a long-term plan to build toward larger strikes and boycotts. There will be many worker revolts leading up to that day.

The Poor People’s Campaign has taken on the issues of the movement for economic, racial, environmental justice and peace. Among their demands are federal and state living wage laws, a guaranteed annual income for all people, full employment, and the right to unionize. It will launch 40 days of actions beginning on Mother’s Day. Workers announced a massive wave of civil disobedience actions this spring on the 50th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, at a protest where they teamed up with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for Black Lives.  Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in cities across the country.


Unrealized Worker Power Potential Can Be Achieved

The contradictions in the US economy have become severe. The wealth divide is extreme, three people have the wealth of half the population and one in five people have zero wealth or are in debt. The U.S. is ranked 35th out of 37 developed nations in poverty and inequality.  According to a UN report, 19 million people live in deep poverty including one-quarter of all youth. Thirty years of economic growth have been stagnant for most people in the US. A racial prism shows the last 50 years have made racial inequality even wider, with current policies worsening the situation.

May 5 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of economic philosopher, Karl Marx, the failure of US capitalism has become evident.  Over the last fifty years, in order for the few to exploit the many, labor laws have been put in place to weaken workers’ rights and unions.  Andrew Stewart summarizes some of the key points:

First, the National Labor Relations Act, signed by FDR, that legalized unionization. Or more precisely, it domesticated unions. When combined with the Taft-Hartley Act, the Railway Labor Act, and Norris-La Guardia Act, the union movements of America were forced into a set of confines that reduced its arsenal of tactics so significantly that they became a shell of their pre-NLRA days. And this, of course, leaves to the side the impact of the McCarthy witch hunts on the ranks of good organizers.

In addition, 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws that undermine the ability of workers to organize. And, the Supreme Court in the Janus case, which is likely to be ruled on this June, is likely to undermine public unions. On top of domestic laws, capitalist globalization led by US transnational corporations has undermined workers, caused de-industrialization and destroyed the environment. Trade must be remade to serve the people and planet, not profits of the few.

While this attack is happening, so is an increase in mobilizations, protests, and strikes. The total number of union members grew by 262,000 in 2017 and three-fourths of those were among workers aged 35 and under and 23% of new jobs for workers under 35 are unionized. With only 10 percent of workers in a union, there is massive room for growth at this time of economic insecurity.

Chris Hedges describes the new gig economy as the new serfdom. Uber drivers make $13.77 an hour, and in Detroit that drops to $8.77. He reports on drivers committing suicide. One man, who drove over 100 hours a week, wrote, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” This while the former CEO of Uber, one of the founders, Travis Kalanick, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. The US has returned to pre-20th Century non-union working conditions. Hedges writes that workers now must “regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists.”

Solidarity across racial and economic divides is growing as all workers suffer from abuses of the all-powerful capitalist class. As those in power abuse their privilege, people are becoming more militant. We are seeing the blueprint for a new worker movement in the teacher strikes and Fight for $15. A movement of movements including labor, environmentalist, anti-corporate advocates, food reformers, healthcare advocates and more stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This shows the potential of unified power.

In recent strikes, workers have rejected proposals urged by their union and have pushed for more. Told to go back to work, they continued to strike. The future is not unions who serve to calm labor disputes, but unions who escalate a conflict.

The future is more than re-legalizing unions and raising wages and benefits, it is building wealth in the population and creating structural changes to the economy. This requires a new economy where workers are owners, in worker cooperatives, so their labor builds power and wealth. Economic justice also requires a rewoven safety net that ensures the essentials of healthcare and housing, as well as non-corporatized public education, free college education, a federal job guarantee and a basic income for all.

The escalation of militancy should not demand the solutions of the past but demand the new economy of the future. By building community wealth through democratized institutions, we will reduce the wealth divide and the influence of economic inequality over our lives.

Challenging Capitalism through Workers’ Control

Workers’ assembly at Officine Zero, a former night train repair facility, in Rome (Photo: Officine Zero)

A common feature in every crisis situation, from the upheavals of the early 20th century to the neo-liberal re-structurings of the late 20th century, is the emergence of workers’ control – workers organising to take over their workplaces in order to defend their jobs and their communities. We interviewed Dario Azzellini* to talk about this issue in depth: the emergence of new values and social relations not just in the recuperated workplaces but also in the communities, the need to re-orient production, the overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, and the role of workers’ control in the larger struggle against capitalism.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: Why is workers’ control an important issue?

Dario Azzellino: It is an important issue because if we look at what is socialism, what Karl Marx described, the living example for him is the Paris Commune. It is the people taking matters into their own hands, and the state as such disappears because power is no longer delegated.

But I would say that workers’ control is one first step on a path to socialism, in the sense that control over production and workplace should not be only on behalf of the workers but also of the communities, the self-organised people in general. And even that is still not the last step, because as Marx says, the commune is the finally discovered political form, so it is still a political form. Socialism, or communism, is about going beyond politics, achieving the self-organisation of life.

So these are all intermediary steps, and even the commune would not be the final form, but we cannot even imagine the final form, because we are trapped in the imagination of what we know and what has been done. What has to be developed is probably beyond our imagination now.

RV: Nevertheless it is important also in the immediate context…

DA: Yes, because if workers take charge of their workplaces and decide on production, the labour processes, the values, everything changes. We have seen that in worker-controlled places. Security and health questions become central, and they are far from it in capitalist workplaces. For example, many worker-controlled workplaces start working with organic, or less toxic, production, because they are exposed to it.

Workers’ Control Poster

So once workers can decide, these questions become central. The struggle is no longer only about wage raises, which is the only struggle more or less allowed in the framework of capitalist society. Instead workers’ control is automatically challenging capitalism. We have a central field of conflict, and obviously all the other fronts, like gender, race, etc., are equally important. But labour and production are not only fundamental for society but also a field we all have in common and that is absolutely fundamental for our survival and to the structuring of the whole society. In this field all other contradictions obviously have to be tackled too.

We should not forget that the predominant way in which the economy and production are organised reflects on the rest of society. For example, as long as the dominant form of production was Fordism, the rest of society (universities, schools, bureaucracy) was organised in a Fordist way. So there is some kind of leverage if we are talking about labour and workers’ control.

RV:  In both books you have edited you describe lots of historical scenarios where workers’ control comes into play. What was the purpose of bringing together all these different experiments?

DA: We try to show, with the books and the research, how workers’ control is an important and recurring question, and we have to dig and make it known, because nobody is really interested in making it known. Unions have no interest in showing that workers can organise by themselves. Parties, which are based on the principle of representation, are also bypassed if the workers organise themselves. And, of course, capitalists would have even less interest.

But it is interesting that workers’ control comes to the fore in every kind of crisis, political, economical, in anti-colonial struggles, during the revolutions of the early 20th century, after WW2 or other wars, when capitalism is not able to develop because capitalists will invest into speculation and commerce and not into production. It happened during the neoliberal re-structurings of the early 80s, etc. So it happened always, not because the workers knew of previous experiments, but because it was something anthropologically present in the workers – get together, self-organise in a democratic way and try keep up the production, benefiting themselves and the people around them.

RV: What are the common features among all these different workers’ control attempts?

DA: This is the first common aspect, that in any situation of crisis, there are always workers that take responsibility for their jobs, for their workplaces, and for the people, for society. The second thing is that they choose democratic structures that are based on equality. They do not simply elect a new boss. Hierarchies disappear. It does not really matter what position was previously held in the production chain. That does not determine what one is able to do in a crisis.

For example, there is the Junin clinic that is now under workers control in Córdoba, Argentina. I visited it and the head of the cooperative now is the former janitor and technician, because he was the person who was most able to organise the struggle.  So he was elected as the formal head of a cooperative, which is still deciding everything in assemblies on a democratic base. This shows that the skills or capacities that are seemingly important in a capitalist hierarchy are not the same ones in a democratic and workers’ assembly-based structure.

Rally in support of the Junin Clinic which was taken over by the workers in Córdoba, Argentina (Photo: Junin Clinic)

Another common feature is that the workplace switches from a hierarchically organised workplace where the central aim is to produce as much surplus value as possible, to a place where the well-being of the workers and the purpose of production, what you produce and for whom, become the central question. So the social relations in the factory change, especially if these places go through a process of struggle or occupation, against former bosses, or political struggles. There is a trust that is built during these struggles which inevitably forces a change in the social relations.

One example of this is that it becomes less rigid that people have to fulfill the same amount of work. Or if people are sick or cannot come to work because their kids are sick, it is not a problem. It is understood by the other workers because of this relation of trust that I mentioned. This naturally contrasts with workplaces with a boss. But also in many traditional cooperatives, which do not have to go through this trust-building struggle, there is also more of a tendency to demand that everyone has to fulfill the same amount of work, there are conflicts about work hours, internal conflicts, etc.

RV: So recuperated factories/companies do not just go back to reproducing the old logic…

DA: Precisely. Especially if they have had a length of struggle, they do not go back, they do not re-install the hierarchies they got rid of. It is a bit different in places that did not have a long struggle. There was a bit of contradictory phenomenon, for example, in Venezuela1, where you had a government that was (supposedly) in favour of workers’ control. Workers would occupy a workplace and after two weeks the government would step in, expropriate the workplace and put in some provisional administration to then supposedly pass it over to the workers. At first glance this sounds great, but at the same time the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to build this conscience.

So very often you end up having conflicts among the workers, or you would never get to workers’ control because the administration was reluctant to do so. I say it is contradictory because you do not wish that people have to struggle for years without an income for their workplace, but on the other hand it is what then makes these worker-controlled companies really democratic and successful.

Ford Motor Company assembly line (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

RV: You mentioned cooperatives, and this is an important point to discuss. Most of these worker-controlled or worker-recuperated companies register legally as cooperatives. But as you have said, they are not like usual cooperatives. What are the main differences?

DA: The first main difference is that traditional cooperatives usually mean that people that already have similar ideas and values come together to build the cooperative. A workplace recuperation is very different, because everyone is involved. Everyone that is working there is also potentially there when the recuperation takes place. It is something that Gramsci describes when referring to the workers’ councils. He says that they are the real class organisation, because the whole class is there, not just political tendencies.

Another very important difference is that traditional cooperatives tend very much to base the right to decide on property, on being an owner of the cooperative. And that is problematic because it is the same logic as capitalism. Recuperated workplaces have democracy on the shop floor, and their starting point is to question private property of the means of production, so capitalism is immediately questioned. At the same time, almost none of these recuperated workplaces have models based on individual shares, or unequal shares, or even outside investors, or employ wage labour, features that are common for cooperatives.

So you have all these differences. Most of the time it is still more pleasant to work in a cooperative than in a pure capitalist private company, but what I stress is that cooperatives as such are only a democratisation within the framework of capitalism. Many cooperatives are driven by entrepreneurial or ownership logic, and by doing that they lead workers into what I call a “class limbo”. Workers no longer know that they are workers. This is especially strong in the US, where cooperatives are presented as an alternative business model, and not as an alternative model for society, or communities, or part of the workers’ struggle, which is what cooperativism historically meant. But given the way they live, the way they work, they are not entrepreneurs. They are workers!

This is in high contrast with the recuperated workplaces, where workers, having gone through these struggles, see themselves of part of the workers’ movement. There are a lot of recuperated companies in Argentina, for example, that have the rule that one day of the month they go and support other workers’ struggles, and it is part of their work. In Uruguay when companies in a given sector go on strike, workers in recuperated companies of the same sector go on strike as well so as to not undermine the struggle of the other workers.

Assembly in the recuperated Cerámica Zanon company in Argentina (Photo: La Izquierda Diario)

In a nutshell, cooperatives wage a struggle for survival in a capitalist system. Recuperated workplaces wage a struggle against the bourgeois law, often manifested in state repression, against the capitalist owners and private property. So workers are reinforced in their subjectivity as struggling workers, and as workers without a boss, and that is a fundamental difference.

RV: How would you characterise the relationship between recuperated workplaces and labour unions?

DA: It varies a lot.  It depends on how the unions work. There have been examples of unions that have supported worker takeovers, and this is very good because they can reach out to a broader public. But most of the times the unions either ignore or intervene in a negative way in these struggles, unfortunately.

In any case we should not see trade unionism and workers’ control as antagonistic projects, They are simply two different things, two different fronts of the struggle. One thing is a self-organisation in the workplace that allows for struggles that would not be possible with unions. Unions have their formal recognition and are interested in sticking to rules and laws to keep up this status of a “reliable partner”, so they will not do certain things, like wildcat strikes or occupations. They are not as flexible and not as fast in their decisions as the workers’ assemblies obviously are.

Rimaflow plant in Milan. Formerly a manufacturer of air-conditioning pipes for BMW, its activities under workers’ control now range from recycling of household appliances to producing artisanal liquor (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

RV: You mentioned how new social relations are produced in the workplace, but recuperated companies also create new social relations with their communities. Can you talk about that?

DA: Yes, the relation with the community and with other social movements is fundamental. In fact, we can put it the other way around. Of the examples of recuperated workplaces (factories, restaurants, print shops, hospitals, etc.) it is usually the ones that have a strong relationship with communities and other social movements that tend to be successful. The ones that tend to be isolated and do not have these strong relationships, often with time either turn into more or less traditional workplaces or cooperatives, withdrawing from the larger struggle, or they simply fail, because they did not have the necessary support.

And there is one question that is central to that. In the capitalist system closing down a workplace is simply a legal question. It is not a social question. It is not a political question. The law of the land is a bourgeois law that is based on property. Within these boundaries the chances of achieving something are minimal. So the main challenge for all these workers is to turn a legal question into a political question, and for that you need as much support as possible. You need the support of the communities, of other movements, of unions, maybe even of institutions and political instances. And with that you can win everything.

One example is the Republic Doors and Windows, the factory now called New Era Windows in Chicago, which is producing eco-friendly windows. When it was closed down and occupied for the second time, together with Occupy Chicago in 2010-11, the occupation got the workers the possibility to be at the negotiating table about the future of the factory, which they later agreed to buy. And the workers did that by forcing the banks that had taken over the bankrupted factory to pay them 1.5 million dollars for lost wages. Usually if there is money left (e.g. from selling machinery) it goes to the creditors. But the workers managed to do a political campaign that generated so much public support that the banks saw themselves forced to pay the workers 1.5 million dollars, even if legally they were not obligated to do that.

Workers of New Era Windows (Photo: workerscontrol.net)

RV: So they managed to turn a legal question into a political one…

DA: Exactly, and once you do that you can win everything, even things that seem completely impossible or that are not in the existing legal framework. That is one of the big reasons why it is important to have bonds with other movements and communities. The second one is that you create new values. Factory work is usually not fun, not even in a recovered factory. What keeps you working in capitalism is money, but in a recovered workplace the workers find new values, and one of the values is to be useful for society, not just for capitalism.

Many of these workplaces, if we are talking about industrial workplaces, are usually situated in poor communities. There are no factories in Beverly Hills! One usual feature of these poor communities is that they lack space. They lack space for social, collective activities. In Argentina, for example, where there are more than 400 recuperated workplaces, more than 60% give permanent space to community activities, from bachilleratos populares; i.e., the possibility for adults to re-do their school, to community radio stations, libraries, even just community festivities. So they become an important focus of community life, and the spaces in a certain way become commons, because they are used for other activities which are not immediately linked to production.

RV: Can you talk about the need for recuperated factories to re-orient production? Because if these factories are closed because they are not profitable any more, workers cannot just go back to what they were producing before.

DA: Indeed, often it is simply not possible to continue the production that existed before. One example is Officine Zero 2, a former night train repair facility in Rome. Night trains are almost gone in Europe. There is only one facility left which is enough for the few night trains that still run. Most of the trains are fast-track trains now, so you cannot continue planning to produce or repair night trains. The workers that took over the factory now engage in a number of activities, such as recycling domestic appliances or furniture, and have continued the workshops they had – upholstery, carpentry, iron works and others.

Another example is Rimaflow in Milan3 which was producing air-conditioning pipes mainly for BMW cars. The owner took out the machines, but even if he had not, BMW was not going to buy air-conditioning pipes from an occupied factory! So you have to re-invent yourself. But that is good, because then the workers start thinking about useful production. Rimaflow started with a mix of activities, for example, upcycling and recycling of household electric appliances and computers.

Later they raised money for an air-conditioning system and set up a hall to recycle industrial pallets. So they collect industrial pallets from all kinds of factories, put them back together and sell them back. They also started an artisanal food and liquor production, cooperating with organic cooperatives. They produce Rimoncello, which is a lemon liquor (originally Limoncello), together with cooperatives from Southern Italy which pay fair wages to immigrant seasonal workers, and they produce Amaro Partigiano (a digestive liquor) together with the Italian Institute for Partisan Studies.

A traditional economist might call this “patchwork”. But I would disagree. This does make sense. We have to transform our society in every sense, so these successful examples of industrial conversion make sense, because naturally we are not occupying the workplaces to simply go on with the same capitalist production we had before. We do not want to take over everything and then keep producing military helicopters!

RV: Along these lines: in capitalist societies, in liberal democracies, there is a separation between economic, social and political spheres. How do worker recuperated companies, by themselves and through their relations with communities, challenge this separation?

DA: Yes, I think that is a central aspect of what we can call “council democracy” as a model for communes, worker-controlled workplaces, etc. Capitalism, and bourgeois society, is always based on the division of spheres. The first step is the division between the political and social spheres, which is never justified. It is there to be accepted a priori. Because there is no reason why some people should be governing and others should be governed.

The second separation is that the economic sphere is supposed to be separate, autonomous, often likened to living organism that society has to keep feeding. We get to this point where it sounds mythological, like the market is this kind of dragon that needs to be fed all the time otherwise it will get angry and destroy everyone! Which is also totally absurd, because the economy should be serving society, it should be serving the people, not the other way around.

The recuperated workplaces are obviously an overcoming of that. First of all because usually there is no representation, there are only spokespeople. The decisions are taken by the people concerned with the issues and not delegated, which is the foundation of the separate political sphere. Secondly, the economic decisions are also taken directly by those involved in the production process, and subject to their political decisions and social needs. So this separation of spheres is tendentially overcome.

Officine Zero in Rome. A former night train repair facility, it is now under workers’ control, and its activities range from recycling appliances and furniture to holding workshops (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

There is a second division of spheres which is characteristic to capitalism and bourgeois society that is also tendentially overcome, namely, the division between intellectual and manual work. The person that is unloading the pallets from the truck has as much to say in the assemblies as the engineer that is adjusting the computer-led production process, for example. It is also quite common to have much more job rotation, people learning new tasks and developing new ideas; therefore there is much less of the traditional division of labour and particularly between intellectual and manual work.

Also when we talk about overcoming the division between political, social and economic spheres, we should always stress that this is a “tendency towards…”. Because as long as we are in a capitalist system it would be an illusion to think that we can be totally move beyond that.

RV: You cannot just create an island…

DA: You cannot create a happy island in the capitalist system. You can work towards overcoming the system, which means you have to expand. One of the things they always stressed in Rimaflow was that they needed to build a new economy because the economy of the bosses is not working anymore, and we can be successful if examples such as Rimaflow occur 100, 1000 times. A happy little island will not survive. The system will crush it.

Many cooperatives had a lot of idealism concerning this issue, and their ideals faded away with the age of the members and immersion in capitalism, or the cooperatives got big and got bought up. That is why I am always speaking of a tendency towards building a new economy, overcoming the separation of spheres, etc.

RV: With globalisation and the evolution of capitalism, there is a fragmentation or an atomisation of the production chain. Does this present new challenges for workers’ control, or make this question more urgent?

DA: Yes, it presents new challenges but also new opportunities. For example, the necessity of building local and regional economies is growing. Because of the ongoing globalisation, capital is concentrating more and more in ever fewer metropolitan spaces. So the necessity to build local and regional economic systems, and to keep wealth where it is produced, is becoming more urgent. This represents a chance for workers’ control and more localised production and distribution.

The fragmentation of the production chain is itself a very contradictory issue. For example, in the US, there is a tendency of insourcing again. Car manufacturers in the US are insourcing again a lot of production steps that they had outsourced before. This proves that the outsourcing was never about saving money or being more efficient, it was simply about the destruction of the workers’ power. So now that they have destroyed the unions in the car sector, that used to be some of the few strong unions in the US, they are insourcing again all these production steps.

Artistic rendering of the Fiat Factory in Longotto, Turin (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But the fragmentation, which is not only a fragmentation of the production chain but also inside the workplace itself, makes it a much more subjective act to be collective and to struggle than it was before. You had companies like Fiat, which had 70 or 80 thousand workers which were automatically organised because 95% of them had the same contract and the same work conditions. You look now at the same Fiat factory, It has 12 thousand workers that have probably 40 different kinds of contracts, from part-time contracts, to sub-contracted labourers, to insourced work, or seasonal labour, and at the same time you have another 70,000 workers in the greater region of Turin which are working in different outsourced, independent companies, or even as independent workers.

So in Fordism the factory was the entity doing the workers’ movement a “favour” by homogenising the workers, in some sense creating the class and class conflict (the class constitutes itself as conflict, it does not exist as such or derive from a certain position in the production process). Now work is fragmenting and differentiating people. That makes it much more difficult to create a collective vision and struggle, to avoid turning against each other. Because capitalism will then point to a group and tell them they cannot earn more because of the privileges of the other group over there…

RV: It becomes a race to the bottom…

DA: Exactly, it becomes a race to the bottom, in the form of part-time contracts, or temporary work, and with all these divisions among workers. It is creating a very problematic situation, also from the point of view of production, and that is why I think it is very important to take over as many workplaces as possible, and to use these workplaces, as well cooperatives that place themselves into a political/labour/class struggle logic, to build production chains.

For example, in Argentina, a study of about 80 recuperated factories showed that over 16% of the commercial activity, sales or buying resources and parts, was done with other recuperated workplaces, and almost 2% was with the solidarity economy or other kinds of cooperatives.4 This means that almost 20% of what they are doing is in a cycle that, while not being complete out of capitalism, does not strictly follow the rules of capitalism. You are supporting different labour relations and social relations by having these economic relationships. Therefore I think it is important that we have as many worker-controlled workplaces as possible and that we also start thinking about creating production chains.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Rimaflow launched “Amaro Partigiano” in 2017 (Photo: Rimaflow)

RV: To finish, do you want to tell us about the website workerscontrol.net that you helped found?

DA: What we are trying to do is to create a virtual archive with workers’ control experiences from all kinds of epochs and different languages. We have functioning Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Portuguese and Greek. The idea was to build a network of researchers and activists from recuperated workplaces, to make available as many experiences as possible. Because up to now there was nothing like that. You only had websites or sources dedicated to specific authors or to specific recuperated workplaces.

We founded it also as a decentralised network. There is no central group reviewing what can be on the website or not, so all the nodes are autonomous and free to publish whatever they think is useful in the framework of workers’ control. It is an interesting network of collaboration between people with different political orientations, people that consider themselves council communists, or more anarcho-syndicalists, others Luxemburgian or Gramscian, others Trotskyist, others might be more workerist/operaist, others more traditional Marxists.

What we all have in common is that we support workers’ control and want to create access to as much information as possible. We are now in a process of redesigning the website, which will be relaunched in a few months with a new design and more visibility.

• First published in Investig’Action

*Dario Azzellini is a sociologist, political scientist, author and documentary filmmaker. He has worked and written extensively on the issue of workers’ control, including two recently edited books, Ours to master and to own. Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present (with Immanuel Ness) and An Alternative Labor History: Worker Control and Workplace Democracy. He has also produced a series of documentaries on this issue called “Occupy, Resist, Produce” (with Oliver Ressler). More information about his work can be found on his website.

  1. A second interview with Dario Azzellini on the issue of communes and workers’ control in Venezuela will be published shortly.
  2. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Officine Zero is available here.
  3. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Rimaflow is available here
  4. Information from this report, pages 35-36.

Why is Workers’ Control an Important Issue?

Workers’ Assembly at Officine Zero, a former night train facility in Rome (Photo: Officine Zero)

A common feature in every crisis situation, from the upheavals of the early 20th century to the neo-liberal re-structurings of the late 20th century, is the emergence of workers’ control – workers organising to take over their workplaces in order to defend their jobs and their communities. We interviewed Dario Azzellini* to talk about this issue in depth: the emergence of new values and social relations not just in the recuperated workplaces but also in the communities, the need to re-orient production, the overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, and the role of workers’ control in the larger struggle against capitalism.

*****

Ricardo Vaz:  Why is workers’ control an important issue?

Dario Azzellini:  It is an important issue because if we look at what is socialism, what Karl Marx described, the living example for him is the Paris Commune. It is the people taking matters into their own hands, and the state as such disappears because power is no longer delegated.

But I would say that workers’ control is one first step on a path to socialism, in the sense that control over production and workplace should not be only on behalf of the workers but also of the communities, the self-organised people in general. And even that is still not the last step, because as Marx says, the commune is the finally discovered political form, so it is still a political form. Socialism, or communism, is about going beyond politics, achieving the self-organisation of life.

So these are all intermediary steps, and even the commune would not be the final form, but we cannot even imagine the final form, because we are trapped in the imagination of what we know and what has been done. What has to be developed is probably beyond our imagination now.

RV: Nevertheless it is important also in the immediate context…

DA: Yes, because if workers take charge of their workplaces and decide on production, the labour processes, the values, everything changes. We have seen that in worker-controlled places. Security and health questions become central, and they are far from it in capitalist workplaces. For example, many worker-controlled workplaces start working with organic, or less toxic, production, because they are exposed to it.

Workers’ Control Poster

So once workers can decide, these questions become central. The struggle is no longer only about wage raises, which is the only struggle more or less allowed in the framework of capitalist society. Instead workers’ control is automatically challenging capitalism. We have a central field of conflict, and obviously all the other fronts, like gender, race, etc., are equally important. But labour and production are not only fundamental for society but also a field we all have in common and that is absolutely fundamental for our survival and to the structuring of the whole society. In this field all other contradictions obviously have to be tackled too.

We should not forget that the predominant way in which the economy and production are organised reflects on the rest of society. For example, as long as the dominant form of production was Fordism, the rest of society (universities, schools, bureaucracy) was organised in a Fordist way. So there is some kind of leverage if we are talking about labour and workers’ control.

RV: In both books you have edited you describe lots of historical scenarios where workers’ control comes into play. What was the purpose of bringing together all these different experiments?

DA:  We try to show, with the books and the research, how workers’ control is an important and recurring question, and we have to dig and make it known, because nobody is really interested in making it known. Unions have no interest in showing that workers can organise by themselves. Parties, which are based on the principle of representation, are also bypassed if the workers organise themselves. And, of course, capitalists would have even less interest.

But it is interesting that workers’ control comes to the fore in every kind of crisis, political, economical, in anti-colonial struggles, during the revolutions of the early 20th century, after WW2 or other wars, when capitalism is not able to develop because capitalists will invest into speculation and commerce and not into production, It happened during the neoliberal re-structurings of the early 80s, etc. So it happened always, not because the workers knew of previous experiments, but because it was something anthropologically present in the workers – get together, self-organise in a democratic way and try keep up the production, benefiting themselves and the people around them.

RV: What are the common features among all these different workers’ control attempts?

DA: This is the first common aspect, that in any situation of crisis, there are always workers that take responsibility for their jobs, for their workplaces, and for the people, for society. The second thing is that they choose democratic structures that are based on equality. They do not simply elect a new boss. Hierarchies disappear. It does not really matter what position was previously held in the production chain. That does not determine what one is able to do in a crisis.

For example, there is the Junin clinic that is now under workers’ control in Córdoba, Argentina. I visited it and the head of the cooperative now is the former janitor and technician, because he was the person who was most able to organise the struggle. So he was elected as the formal head of a cooperative, which is still deciding everything in assemblies on a democratic base. This shows that the skills or capacities that are seemingly important in a capitalist hierarchy are not the same ones in a democratic and workers’ assembly based structure.

Rally in support of the Junin Clinic which was taken over by the workers in Córdoba, Argentina (Photo: Junin Clinic)

Another common feature is that the workplace switches from a hierarchically organised workplace where the central aim is to produce as much surplus value as possible, to a place where the well-being of the workers and the purpose of production, what you produce and for whom, become the central question. So the social relations in the factory change, especially if these places go through a process of struggle or occupation, against former bosses, or political struggles. There is a trust that is built during these struggles which inevitably forces a change in the social relations.

One example of this is that it becomes less rigid that people have to fulfill the same amount of work. Or if people are sick or cannot come to work because their kids are sick, it is not a problem. It is understood by the other workers because of this relation of trust that I mentioned. This naturally contrasts with workplaces with a boss. But also in many traditional cooperatives, which do not have to go through this trust-building struggle, there is also more of a tendency to demand that everyone has to fulfill the same amount of work, there are conflicts about work hours, internal conflicts, etc.

RV: So recuperated factories/companies do not just go back to reproducing the old logic…

DA: Precisely. Especially if they have had a length of struggle, they do not go back, they do not re-install the hierarchies they got rid of. It is a bit different in places that did not have a long struggle. There was a bit of contradictory phenomenon, for example, in Venezuela1 where you had a government that was (supposedly) in favour of workers’ control. Workers would occupy a workplace and after two weeks the government would step in, expropriate the workplace and put in some provisional administration to then supposedly pass it over to the workers. At first glance this sounds great, but at the same time the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to build this conscience.

So very often you end up having conflicts among the workers, or you would never get to workers’ control because the administration was reluctant to do so. I say it is contradictory because you do not wish that people have to struggle for years without an income for their workplace, but on the other hand it is what then makes these worker-controlled companies really democratic and successful.

 

Ford Motor Company assembly line (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

RV: You mentioned cooperatives, and this is an important point to discuss. Most of these worker-controlled or worker recuperated companies register legally as cooperatives. But as you have said, they are not like usual cooperatives. What are the main differences?

DA: The first main difference is that traditional cooperatives usually mean that people that already have similar ideas and values come together to build the cooperative. A workplace recuperation is very different, because everyone is involved. Everyone that is working there is also potentially there when the recuperation takes place. It is something that Gramsci describes when referring to the workers’ councils. He says that they are the real class organisation, because the whole class is there, not just political tendencies.

Another very important difference is that traditional cooperatives tend very much to base the right to decide on property, on being an owner of the cooperative. And that is problematic because it is the same logic as capitalism. Recuperated workplaces have democracy on the shop floor, and their starting point is to question private property of the means of production, so capitalism is immediately questioned. At the same time, almost none of these recuperated workplaces have models based on individual shares, or unequal shares, or even outside investors, or employ wage labour, features that are common for cooperatives.

So you have all these differences. Most of the time it is still more pleasant to work in a cooperative than in a pure capitalist private company, but what I stress is that cooperatives as such are only a democratisation within the framework of capitalism. Many cooperatives are driven by entrepreneurial or ownership logic, and by doing that they lead workers into what I call a “class limbo”. Workers no longer know that they are workers. This is especially strong in the US, where cooperatives are presented as an alternative business model, and not as an alternative model for society, or communities, or part of the workers’ struggle, which is what cooperativism historically meant. But given the way they live, the way they work, they are not entrepreneurs, they are workers!

This is in high contrast with the recuperated workplaces, where workers, having gone through these struggles, see themselves of part of the workers’ movement. There are a lot of recuperated companies in Argentina, for example, that have the rule that one day of the month they go and support other workers’ struggles, and it is part of their work. In Uruguay when companies in a given sector go on strike, workers in recuperated companies of the same sector go on strike as well so as to not undermine the struggle of the other workers.

Assembly in the recuperated Cerámica Zanon company in Argentina (Photo: La Izquierda Diario)

In a nutshell, cooperatives wage a struggle for survival in a capitalist system. Recuperated workplaces wage a struggle against the bourgeois law, often manifested in state repression, against the capitalist owners and private property. So workers are reinforced in their subjectivity as struggling workers, and as workers without a boss, and that is a fundamental difference.

RV: How would you characterise the relationship between recuperated workplaces and labour unions?

DA: It varies a lot.  It depends on how the unions work. There have been examples of unions that have supported worker takeovers, and this is very good because they can reach out to a broader public. But most of the times the unions either ignore or intervene in a negative way in these struggles, unfortunately.

In any case we should not see trade unionism and workers’ control as antagonistic projects. They are simply two different things, two different fronts of the struggle. One thing is a self-organisation in the workplace that allows for struggles that would not be possible with unions. Unions have their formal recognition and are interested in sticking to rules and laws to keep up this status of a “reliable partner”, so they will not do certain things, like wildcat strikes or occupations. They are not as flexible and not as fast in their decisions as the workers’ assemblies obviously are.

Rimaflow plant in Milan. Formerly a manufacturer of air-conditioning pipes for BMW, its activities under workers’ control now range from recycling of household appliances to producing artisanal liquor (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

RV: You mentioned how new social relations are produced in the workplace, but recuperated companies also create new social relations with their communities. Can you talk about that?

DA: Yes, the relation with the community and with other social movements is fundamental. In fact, we can put it the other way around. Of the examples of recuperated workplaces (factories, restaurants, print shops, hospitals, etc.) it is usually the ones that have a strong relationship with communities and other social movements that tend to be successful. The ones that tend to be isolated and do not have these strong relationships, often with time either turn into more or less traditional workplaces or cooperatives, withdrawing from the larger struggle, or they simply fail, because they did not have the necessary support.

And there is one question that is central to that. In the capitalist system closing down a workplace is simply a legal question. It is not a social question, it is not a political question. The law of the land is a bourgeois law that is based on property. Within these boundaries the chances of achieving something are minimal. So the main challenge for all these workers is to turn a legal question into a political question, and for that you need as much support as possible. You need the support of the communities, of other movements, of unions, maybe even of institutions and political instances. And with that you can win everything.

One example is the Republic Doors and Windows, the factory now called New Era Windows in Chicago, which is producing eco-friendly windows. When it was closed down and occupied for the second time, together with Occupy Chicago in 2010-11, the occupation got the workers the possibility to be at the negotiating table about the future of the factory, which they later agreed to buy. And the workers did that by forcing the banks that had taken over the bankrupted factory to pay them 1.5 million dollars for lost wages. Usually if there is money left (e.g. from selling machinery) it goes to the creditors. But the workers managed to do a political campaign that generated so much public support that the banks saw themselves forced to pay the workers 1.5 million dollars, even if legally they were not obligated to do that.

>Workers of New Era Windows (Photo: workerscontrol.net)

RV: So they managed to turn a legal question into a political one…

DA: Exactly, and once you do that you can win everything, even things that seem completely impossible or that are not in the existing legal framework. That is one of the big reasons why it is important to have bonds with other movements and communities. The second one is that you create new values. Factory work is usually not fun, not even in a recovered factory. What keeps you working in capitalism is money, but in a recovered workplace the workers find new values, and one of the values is to be useful for society, not just for capitalism.

Many of these workplaces, if we are talking about industrial workplaces, are usually situated in poor communities. There are no factories in Beverly Hills! One usual feature of these poor communities is that they lack space. They lack space for social, collective activities. In Argentina, for example, where there are more than 400 recuperated workplaces, more than 60% give permanent space to community activities, from bachilleratos populares; i.e., the possibility for adults to re-do their school, to community radio stations, libraries, even just community festivities. So they become an important focus of community life, and the spaces in a certain way become commons, because they are used for other activities which are not immediately linked to production.

RV: Can you talk about the need for recuperated factories to re-orient production? Because if these factories are closed because they are not profitable any more, workers cannot just go back to what they were producing before.

DA: Indeed, often it is simply not possible to continue the production that existed before. One example is Officine Zero2 a former night train repair facility in Rome. Night trains are almost gone in Europe, there is only one facility left which is enough for the few night trains that still run. Most of the trains are fast-track trains now, so you cannot continue planning to produce or repair night trains. The workers that took over the factory now engage in a number of activities, such as recycling domestic appliances or furniture, and have continued the workshops they had – upholstery, carpentry, iron works and others.

The second separation is that the economic sphere is supposed to be separate, autonomous, often likened to living organism that society has to keep feeding. We get to this point where it sounds mythological, like the market is this kind of dragon that needs to be fed all the time otherwise it will get angry and destroy everyone! Which is also totally absurd, because the economy should be serving society, it should be serving the people, not the other way around.

The recuperated workplaces are obviously an overcoming of that. First of all because usually there is no representation, there are only spokespeople. The decisions are taken by the people concerned with the issues and not delegated, which is the foundation of the separate political sphere. Secondly, the economic decisions are also taken directly by those involved in the production process, and subject to their political decisions and social needs. So this separation of spheres is tendentially overcome.

Officine Zero in Rome. A former night train repair facility, it is now under workers’ control, and its activities range from recycling appliances and furniture to holding workshops (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

There is a second division of spheres which is characteristic to capitalism and bourgeois society, that is also tendentially overcome, namely, the division between intellectual and manual work. The person that is unloading the pallets from the truck has as much to say in the assemblies as the engineer that is adjusting the computer-led production process, for example. It is also quite common to have much more job rotation, people learning new tasks and developing new ideas. Therefore there is much less of the traditional division of labour and particularly between intellectual and manual work.

Also when we talk about overcoming the division between political, social and economic spheres, we should always stress that this is a “tendency towards…”. Because as long as we are in a capitalist system it would be an illusion to think that we can be totally move beyond that.

RV: You cannot just create an island…

DA: You cannot create a happy island in the capitalist system. You can work towards overcoming the system, which means you have to expand. One of the things they always stressed in Rimaflow was that they needed to build a new economy because the economy of the bosses is not working anymore, and we can be successful if examples such as Rimaflow occur 100, 1000 times. A happy little island will not survive, the system will crush it.

Many cooperatives had a lot of idealism concerning this issue, and their ideals faded away with the age of the members and immersion in capitalism, or the cooperatives got big and got bought up. That is why I am always speaking of a tendency towards building a new economy, overcoming the separation of spheres, etc.

RV: With globalisation and the evolution of capitalism, there is a fragmentation or an atomisation of the production chain. Does this present new challenges for workers’ control, or make this question more urgent?

DA: Yes, it presents new challenges but also new opportunities. For example, the necessity of building local and regional economies is growing. Because of the ongoing globalisation, capital is concentrating more and more in ever fewer metropolitan spaces. So the necessity to build local and regional economic systems, and to keep wealth where it is produced, is becoming more urgent. This represents a chance for workers’ control and more localised production and distribution.

The fragmentation of the production chain is itself a very contradictory issue. For example, in the US, there is a tendency of insourcing again. Car manufacturers in the US are insourcing again a lot of production steps that they had outsourced before. This proves that the outsourcing was never about saving money or being more efficient. It was simply about the destruction of the workers’ power. So now that they have destroyed the unions in the car sector, that used to be some of the few strong unions in the US, they are insourcing again all these production steps.

Artistic rendering of the Fiat factory in Lingotto, Turin (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But the fragmentation, which is not only a fragmentation of the production chain but also inside the workplace itself, makes it a much more subjective act to be collective and to struggle than it was before. You had companies like Fiat, which had 70 or 80 thousand workers which were automatically organised because 95% of them had the same contract and the same work conditions. You look now at the same Fiat factory, it has 12 thousand workers that have probably 40 different kinds of contracts, from part-time contracts, to sub-contracted labourers, to insourced work, or seasonal labour, and at the same time you have another 70.000 workers in the greater region of Turin which are working in different outsourced, independent companies, or even as independent workers.

So in Fordism the factory was the entity doing the workers’ movement a “favour” by homogenising the workers, in some sense creating the class and class conflict (the class constitutes itself as conflict, it does not exist as such or derive from a certain position in the production process). Now work is fragmenting and differentiating people. That makes it much more difficult to create a collective vision and struggle, to avoid turning against each other. Because capitalism will then point to a group and tell them they cannot earn more because of the privileges of the other group over there…

RV: It becomes a race to the bottom…

DA: Exactly, it becomes a race to the bottom, in the form of part-time contracts, or temporary work, and with all these divisions among workers. It is creating a very problematic situation, also from the point of view of production, and that is why I think it is very important to take over as many workplaces as possible, and to use these workplaces, as well cooperatives that place themselves into a political/labour/class struggle logic, to build production chains.

For example, in Argentina, a study of about 80 recuperated factories showed that over 16% of the commercial activity, sales or buying resources and parts, was done with other recuperated workplaces, and almost 2% was with the solidarity economy or other kinds of cooperatives.3 This means that almost 20% of what they are doing is in a cycle that, while not being complete out of capitalism, does not strictly follow the rules of capitalism. You are supporting different labour relations and social relations by having these economic relationships. Therefore I think it is important that we have as many worker-controlled workplaces as possible and that we also start thinking about creating production chains.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Rimaflow launched “Amaro Partigiano” in 2017 (Photo: Rimaflow)

RV: To finish, do you want to tell us about the website workerscontrol.net that you helped found?

DA: What we are trying to do is to create a virtual archive with workers’ control experiences from all kinds of epochs and different languages. We have functioning Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Portuguese and Greek. The idea was to build a network of researchers and activists from recuperated workplaces, to make available as many experiences as possible. Because up to now there was nothing like that. You only had websites or sources dedicated to specific authors or to specific recuperated workplaces.

We founded it also as a decentralised network. There is no central group reviewing what can be on the website or not, so all the nodes are autonomous and free to publish whatever they think is useful in the framework of workers’ control. It is an interesting network of collaboration between people with different political orientations, people that consider themselves council communists, or more anarcho-syndicalists, others Luxemburgian or Gramscian, others Trotskyist, others might be more workerist/operaist, others more traditional Marxists.

What we all have in common is that we support workers’ control and want to create access to as much information as possible. We are now in a process of redesigning the website, which will be relaunched in a few months with a new design and more visibility.

• First published at Investig’Action

 

 

 

 

  1. A second interview with Dario Azzellini on the issue of communes and workers’ control in Venezuela will be published shortly
  2. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Rimaflow is available here. The one dedicated to Officine Zero is available here.
  3. Information from this report, pages 35-36.

Pakistan: 11 Coal Miners killed in Spate of Deadly Accidents

A series of deadly accidents has claimed the lives of 11 coal miners in Pakistan since late March. The tragic deaths of the miners once again demonstrates the dismal state of worker safety in the country. The accidents also highlight the deeply exploitative character of the mining industry, which after years of privatization is now dominated by private corporations.

The most recent accident occurred on the night of April 4, when 6 workers were suffocated by poisonous gas at a coal mine in the Sikandarabad area of Kalat in Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest province. According to reports, the miners were digging deep inside the mine where a lethal amount of methane gas had accumulated, causing them to lose consciousness. Workers outside the mine tried desperately to rescue their friends and colleagues, but to no avail. They had all perished by the time rescue teams arrived. The mine was operating illegally, without the requisite government license, according to the Mines and Minerals Development Department of Balochistan’s provincial government.

A few days earlier, on April 1, 4 coal miners were killed at Ali Mines in the Jhelum district of Punjab. They were among 6 workers trapped under debris when an explosion caused a roof to collapse. Those killed included, Rehmatullah, Sabir Rehman and pair of brothers, Naseebzadah and Naseebullah, all of whom hailed from the Shangla district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, another coal miner, Faiz Ullah, was killed in an accident at the Sharigh Coal Mine in Balochistan on March 27.

Poverty-stricken Pakistan has a long history of industrial accidents, which have claimed the lives of countless workers across various industries. According to sources familiar with Pakistan’s coal industry, at least 275 coal miners have been killed in accidents since January 2010. While mining is a dangerous job anywhere, it is especially perilous in Pakistan, where working conditions are deplorable and miners are made to follow outdated procedures. In addition to the threat of lethal accidents, miners are also exposed to toxic chemicals and dust that take a toll on their health. They are forced to endure these conditions while earning a pittance.

The country’s coal mining industry is unregulated. It is also plagued by the illegal ownership and operation of mines, lack of implementation of existing safety and health laws and a severely overburdened mining inspectorate. Mine owners routinely flout the existing regulations, fully cognizant of the fact they won’t suffer any consequences.

Pakistan’s coal miners are also insufficiently organized, with many lacking union representation. The existing unions, meanwhile, tend to limit their activities to appeals directed at the country’s crooked politicians and various domestic and international NGOs.

Last month, IndustriALL Global Union, an international federation of unions, launched a campaign to improve worker safety in Pakistan’s mines. The campaign was launched in partnership with its 10 Pakistani affiliates. IndustriALL has called on the government of Pakistan to immediately ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 176 on safety and health in mines. First adopted in 1995, ILO Convention 176 establishes a framework for countries to create safer mining conditions and provides miners with increased rights. Most significantly, it recognizes the right of workers to participate in workplace safety through independent representation and acknowledges the right of workers to refuse to perform dangerous tasks. While the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 176 would significantly improve worker safety in mines, only 32 countries have ratified it over the past 23 years.

If history is any guide, the call by IndustriALL to ratify ILO Convention 176 will fall on deaf ears. Successive governments in Pakistan have proven that the country’s elite is utterly impervious to the plight of the working class. Indeed, the response of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the opposition parties to the recent accidents has been one and the same—silence.

The exploitative mine and factory owners will continue to take advantage of this state of affairs until workers unite across industries to fight for safe and humane working conditions.

Brexit, Corbyn and Trade Unions

RMT demonstration at King’s Cross Station in London (RMT Photo)

A broken-down consensus and a resurgence of socialist ideas – this is how Steve Hedley describes the current political landscape in the United Kingdom. Hedley is the Senior Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the RMT. In this interview he guides us through the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the turmoil in the ruling Conservative government and the leftward steer of the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The RMT is also one of the most militant trade unions in the UK, and Hedley tells us about the attacks against trade unions and the recent struggles of the RMT, particularly in the rail sector.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: How would you describe the current political situation in the UK?

Steve Hedley: We’re in a period of transition. For the best part of 30 years we had a Labour Party that was following neoliberal policies and at the minute we’ve got a leadership of the Labour Party, in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, that is reverting to left-wing social-democratic policies. And there is a lot of resistance within the Labour Party, because most MPs (Members of Parliament) are wedded to neoliberalism, although they think of themselves as left neoliberals. Corbyn and the Labour Party did much better than expected in the last election, so in order to maintain power the Conservative government has been relying on the votes of 10 Democratic Unionists, which are a far-right party in the North of Ireland.

I think everyone expects Corbyn to be the next prime minister. The country is in turmoil, no one really knows what’s happening with Brexit, there seems to be no clear strategy coming from the government. The last estimate was that it’s going to cost 50 billion pounds to exit the European Union, and the indications are that the government will be trying to maintain a place within the European single market. And that was not what people voted for when they voted for Brexit.

The ruling party at the minute, the Conservatives, are in absolute turmoil. Because they’ve got about 30 MPs who won’t accept anything rather than a hard Brexit, they’ve got a large moderate section who are business-friendly and want a very soft Brexit, and those positions are irreconcilable. So these are very tumultuous times in British politics. I think we’ve now had a breakdown of the consensus between the two main political parties, and we await to see the results.

RV: On the subject of Brexit, the RMT, during the referendum campaign, argued for exiting the EU. Why was that?

SH:  Very simply, because the European Union was, and is, a rich man’s club. It was set up as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. NATO was the military arm and the European Union was the economic arm. It’s a trading bloc that is competing against other trading blocs. If you look at the history of the European Union, it has free movement of capital, free movement of labour, and a neoliberal economy written into the treaties. Therefore to be part of the European Union is to accept all of those things.

Steve Hedley addressing an RMT picket (Photo from Steve Hedley’s Facebook)

In a socialist society we would have no problem with the free movement of labour. But we’re not in a socialist society. People have been shipped around Europe to work on less wages and worse conditions than national workers. That’s not the kind of immigration we want. We want people to come freely and work on the same conditions as people who live here. But, of course, that doesn’t suit the neoliberal project.

Closer to home we have the Fourth Railway Package, which has now been delayed until the coming year. What that does is it compulsorily privatises, or at least imposes private competition, in all the rail networks in Europe. We’ve had a disastrous rail privatisation in Britain, and they simply want to legislate and export the worst possible system out to the rest of Europe. So for those reasons, we were against membership in the European Union.

RV: Let’s hold off on the rail privatisation and go back to Corbyn for a second. What does it mean to have someone like Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader?

SH: First of all, I should say that our union is not affiliated to the Labour Party. We’re not affiliated because we’ve been through a process where we actually got thrown out for supporting socialist candidates in Scotland. We’re now considering re-affiliation, and the only reason why we are considering re-affiliation is because we have hope that Corbyn can lead the party in the right direction. There are still many people within our union who are very suspicious, because they see Corbyn and the leadership as a minority within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

RV: When there were all these attacks from the media and from within the Labour Party against Corbyn two summers ago, there was a slogan “Defend Corbyn! Fight for socialism!”. Can you explain what this slogan entails?

SH: I think that Corbyn, for the first time in some 30 years, has broken the neoliberal consensus between the two parties, he’s pushing left-wing social-democratic ideas. He’s not talking about socialism in the sense that we would understand it, that we take the commanding heights of the economy and seize the means of production. But he is talking of what we could call 1970s social-democracy, which was a far better system than the neoliberal system we’re living in at the moment. So we would support Corbyn so far as he’s going to push those policies, and as a union we encourage our members to take part in their local Labour Party branches, to support Corbyn and McDonnell.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks in a NCAFC picket against education cuts and fees (Photo: NCAFC)

RV: The fact that Corbyn is viewed as such a radical, isn’t it also a testament to how far to the right the consensus has moved?

SH: Indeed. If you look back at the consensus after the war, the Conservatives were in favour of national ownership of railway and utilities. Not for any particular ideological reason, just because it made business sense that all those revenues would go into the budget. Then starting off in the late 70s we had neoliberalism, adopted in this country from the Chicago school of economics, we had basically a robbery of the national purse by rich individuals, and politicians who were supporting those rich individuals. That’s what we had, a period of people enriching themselves from the system, that’s neoliberalism in a nutshell.

That wasn’t the consensus until about the late 70s, early 80s. The turnaround came because of the defeat of a major struggle in this country, the miners’ strike, and in an international context where the Soviet Union was no longer the force it had been, so there was no ideological opposition either.

RV: And why is this consensus breaking down now?

SH: That consensus is now breaking down because people are not seeing their lives get better, their children’s lives are not getting better. We’ve now got job insecurity, millions of people are in precarious jobs, nearly a million people are using food banks. The majority of these are actually employed people, it’s just poorly paid employment.

There’s also a housing crisis. Walking past King’s Cross station you can see people lying on the streets. This is the fifth richest country in the world, I believe, and we can’t even house people. There are thousands of people on the streets. Young people have to stay in the house now until they are 30, 35 years of age before they can move out, because there’s no affordable housing. The position of the average person in this country has got worse and worse over the past 10, 15 years. That’s why there’s now a resurgence in socialist and social-democratic ideas.

RV: But while there is this resurgence of socialist ideas, the media, even those supposedly on the left like The Guardian, keep lobbying for a Macron-type centrist or giving a platform to Tony Blair. What do you think of that?

SH: Well, The Guardian is not a left-wing paper, it’s a liberal paper. They’re slightly to the left of the mainstream capitalist class and they act as a good shield for them and their policies. Even when Labour was a little bit left-wing in the 1980s the Guardian attacked them and supported the right-wing breakaway, which was the Social Democratic Party. But the mainstream media have not got the power that they once had in this country. They’ve still got a huge sway, there’s no two ways about that, but I think the internet and other electronic/alternative media have made it so that the mainstream media can no longer dictate to people like they used to. When people’s reality conflicts so deeply with what they’re being told in the media it jars people into having their own thoughts.

RV: Let’s go more in detail into the issue of trade unions. This neoliberal dogma has also seen a relentless attack against trade unionism. Can you talk about these attacks, and of legislation such as the Trade Union Act of 2016?

SH: The attacks have been coming since 1979, with the election of the Thatcher government, and they’ve increased in severity, particularly since the crisis of capitalism and the meltdown of the banks and financial institutions. This has meant a long period of austerity, where people’s living standards have fallen. I think it’s one of the longest recorded periods where people’s living standards have got continually worse.

This has led to a situation where even moderate trade unions have been forced to defend their members. The government, to stop that fightback and that resistance to their policies, has brought in new anti-trade union laws. In our own industry we now have two stipulations to meet after this latest legislation. The first stipulation is that for a ballot to be valid, 50% of the people that are entitled to vote have to vote.

For example, imagine a workplace with 100 people, if 49 people vote for action, and no one votes against it, then that ballot is not valid. If 49 people vote “Yes” and one person votes “No” then it is valid. That’s the kind of nonsense that we deal with. The second stipulation is that even when do get a 50% vote, then 40% of people have to vote “Yes”. Thus in this scenario you could have a situation where 39 people vote “Yes”, 30 vote “No”, which is nearly two-thirds participation, but still that would be ruled as an invalid ballot. That’s the reasoning behind it, they want to stop people struggling and fighting back against their economic policies.

RV: In effect they are imposing barriers on democracy inside unions…

SH: Absolutely. If they imposed the same barriers, the same stipulations upon themselves, there would be very few MPs left. There certainly wouldn’t be any local councillors left! But obviously they want to attack the institutions of the working class, they want to attack the trade unions, because they’re frightened that they will disrupt their economic policies.

“The Hand That Will Rule the World” by Ralph Chaplin in the IWW magazine Solidarity (1917)

RV: And is there any pledge from Corbyn and his team on how they would act regarding this legislation?

SH: Yes, Corbyn has said that he’s going to scrap the anti-trade union laws, all of them. That’s a really good aspiration; however, I’m not sure if the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party would agree with him. They’re probably very happy to see them in place…

RV: They are responsible for some of them!

SH: Indeed, yes! One of the analogies we’ve been giving and I think is useful is the following: we can stand on the sidelines and shout “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“, or we can get on the pitch and start playing, because if we become re-affiliated to the Labour Party we can support the Corbyn movement within the party, the constituencies, and the councils, get people there that are worthy of the name Labour politicians.

RV: In other words, move the struggle forward not just in parliament but also outside…

SH: Exactly. It’s always going to be a dual strategy, even if we had a Corbyn government. There’s no way that our union is going to lie down and accept that our members are going to have to sacrifice for anybody else. We will always be pushing that the bosses, not the workers, be the ones to make the sacrifices. We will push the Corbyn vehicle as far as we can and, if we reach a point where it’s no longer a suitable vehicle for us, then we’ll get out of it and get another one, or take over the vehicle!

RV: Let’s go back to the issue of privatisation. If you look up today any mainstream media outlet, any “responsible” policy maker will tell you that the services and utilities are better run and more efficient in the hands of the private sector. From your experience with the British rail, what’s your take on this issue?

SH: Well, in 2010 the Labour government commissioned a report called the “McNulty Report”.1 This study said that the privatised system was claiming more than three times the subsidies that nationalised system had. We have the highest fares in Europe, we have immense customer dissatisfaction with the system right now. After it was first privatised we even had a period with a series of rail accidents that killed many people. I think that privatisation has been an absolute disaster.

We have the French, Dutch, German national rail companies all making money from the British system, they’re shareholders making profits from the British rail operation. For example, you had the German department for transport issuing a statement where they clearly admitted that they were subsidising fares in Germany from the profits that they were raising in Britain! But we’re told that the British government can’t have a national railway in this country, they must be the only government in Europe that can’t make money from the British system! It’s an incredible position.

Greater Anglia picket line at Ipswich on Jan 10 for strike over safety and keeping the guard on the train (Photo: RMT)

RV: There have been some RMT strikes in the recent past. There was a strike on the Virgin Trains, there was a strike on new year’s eve, and there’s the issue of driver-only operated trains. Can you give us an overview of the current struggles in this sector?

SH: To increase the profits, the private companies, with the help of the government, are trying to get rid of guards from the trains and station staff. This has major impacts. There’s a safety impact, because if there’s a problem on a train or an emergency, the guards are in charge of safety on the train. They evacuate the train in an emergency, get people to safety, turn off all the electric components, make sure that there are no trains running anywhere near that train, etc., and that’s the first aspect of it.

The second aspect of it is accessibility, particularly for disabled people. Unless there’s a guard, they find it very difficult to get on and off the train. We have a situation now in Southern Rail where disabled people have to book their tickets 48h in advance if they want to be escorted on and off the train, we find this to be a clear discrimination. So for those reasons we’re opposing it. Obviously there are jobs involved, we want to keep jobs. Stations are being de-staffed, not major stations but smaller ones, with staff there only during peak times, so we’ve had situations with disabled people left stranded at stations. Those are the main two reasons why we’re opposing driver-only operated trains.

RV: In the face of these attacks against unions and privatisation of services, is there also some responsibility from some union leaders in accepting these changes too easily? For example, the role of ASLEF in the driver-only operated trains…

SH: The ASLEF leadership have been absolutely appalling, a glaring example of collaboration with management. The TUC, ASLEF and the management of Southern Rail met up2, in a meeting of which we were excluded, and tried to stitch up a deal. They tried to do a deal which affected our members, the guards, because they don’t have negotiating rights for the guards. And they twice put that to a referendum to their members, and it was twice rejected. So it was a humiliating process for the leadership of the TUC and ASLEF. It was third time lucky for them, the third time came with a huge “bribe”, a multi-year pay deal which gave their drivers a 28.5% raise, and unfortunately on that occasion the drivers accepted it. But both the TUC and the ASLEF leaderships played an absolutely treacherous role in this whole process.

RV: But this is a common strategy, right? Of trying to divide the union movement? This also happened during the miners’ strike.

SH: It’s a common strategy, but it also has to do with what kind of union you are. We’re an industrial union, we organise everybody from the person who makes the sandwiches, to the person who cleans the train, to the person who cleans the stations, the guard, the driver, the signaller, the technician, everyone. Unions like ASLEF are craft unions, they believe they are labour aristocrats, they’re only interested in getting money, and terms and conditions for their own members, even if it means selling out their workmates.

RMT campaign to keep the guard on the train

RV: This will be a very obvious question, but I assume you’re in favour of (re-)nationalising rail?

SH: Absolutely. We want re-nationalised rail, but we don’t just want to go back to the old system of British Rail. We want democratic control and accountability. We want workers to be a genuine part of the decision-making process, together with elected individuals from the community and transport groups and obviously members of Network Rail, or a similar public body, which would be accountable to the public and not just to a government bureaucrat. We don’t want to go back to the top-down system of British Rail that took strategic decisions without consulting with the communities and the people that it was supposed to serve. We want a democratic system, one that’s decided upon after full negotiation and consultation with the trade unions and the passengers.

RV: And this was in the Labour manifesto?

SH: The nationalisation of rail is in the manifesto, but not in this form. Not yet!

RV: One final question, concerning strikes. Whenever you read about strikes, they are constantly demonised in the media. You hear that strikers are “creating unnecessary disruption”, or that they “don’t care about commuters”. How do you react when you see these portrayals? What do you tell people?

SH: Well, first of all, no one wants to go on strike. 99.9% of people would rather go to work and earn a day’s money because they don’t get paid when they go on strike. Strikes are always a last resort, when the negotiations are finished, when we’re not making any progress negotiating. Or when management are pretending to negotiate with us on one hand, and implementing the policies that we are opposed to at the same time. So it’s like trying to negotiate with a crocodile while your head is in the crocodile’s mouth! You’ve got to first struggle and get your head free, and then you can negotiate. Because otherwise you’re going to be eaten!

That’s what we’ve got to get through to the public. Of course, the press are run by the capitalist class or the government, they are opposed to everything we do. They hate us particularly as a union because we’re a militant, class-conscious union, and everything we do is going to be pilloried and demonised. But that’s part of the territory, we expect that.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. This report, called “Realising the Potential of GB Rail”, was commissioned by the Labour government of Gordon Brown in February 2010. The Conservative Party won the election in May 2010 and endorsed the study, which would be published in May 2011. See here for a summary report and here for the full study.
  2. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is a trade union representing train drivers. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) is a federation of trade unions in England and Wales. Southern Railway is one of the multiple private rail companies operating in the UK.

Making the 2018 Elections a Struggle for Peace, Jobs and Justice

As we head into a pivotal mid-term election year, it is clear the Democratic Party establishment has not learned a key lesson from the 2016 election. That is, that many of the party’s former and current constituents reject the party’s establishment leadership and its lackluster program. These voters are looking for alternatives. In 2016, en masse they deserted the party for a new kind of politics they found in Bernie Sanders and some saw in Donald Trump.

Voters passed judgment on the leading figures of both parties. Distrust and discontent disrupted politics as usual. The opportunity to fill this void with left-of-center electoral initiatives abound. It starts with building on the momentum of Bernie Sanders’s campaign that resonated with tens of millions. In some fashion or another, ready or not, the 2018 midterm elections must become an arena of struggle for peace, economic security and racial justice.

Sanders’ leadership in 2016, and still today, falls short in two key areas to meet this challenge. First, during his campaign he did not offer Americans a bold new foreign policy. To start with, a plan to end the war on terrorism and the foreign military adventures that have made us less safe and destabilized and laid waste to a dozen nations. Secondly, after November, instead of calling for discussion on forming a new political party he and his advisors chose to form yet another 501c entity, Our Revolution, primarily as a vehicle to move the Democratic Party to the left. It would behoove Sanders to reconsider both choices. The Democratic Party’s electoral structure is certainly a vehicle for advancing progressive and even left candidates, but the party’s owners are not likely to hand over its bank accounts to Sanders, labor unions and people’s organizations.

Months after the elections the Clinton-Obama-Pelosi centrists still hold the reins and drive a shameless hubris as they scramble to blame someone for the party’s declining appeal and its 2016 losses. No, it was not Obama and Clinton’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Bill Clinton’s betrayal of labor unions on NAFTA.  It was not due to Hillary’s use of the term “super predators” in 1996 to describe black youth involved in criminal activity. No, it was not the shortcomings of the bureaucratic, insurer-friendly Obamacare.

No, it was the Russian television network Russia Today brainwashing its 8 million American viewers. No, it was Russian cyber meddling in the election, for which months later we have zero evidence. Same goes for alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. No, the loss was due to FBI director James Comey’s late in the game letter to congress about Clinton’s emails. No, it was WikiLeaks alleged release, in collaboration with Russia, of emails showing the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sought to derail Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Which, as we learned was the case.

After a full-court media campaign to convince Americans of Russian meddling, many remain skeptical. In a May 2017 CBS poll, 55 percent of Americans considered the allegations a distraction that “get in the way of getting things done.” In October, 41 percent still agree they were a distraction.1

Clinton again blamed Bernie Sanders in her post-election book tour, dubbed by some The Denial Tour.  “His attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election….” Not exactly the kind of message designed to heal and unify the party going into 2018 elections. Since polls show Bernie is the most admired politician in America, topping 70 percent, to say her grumbling is a political misstep for the party is an understatement.

Yet, even as Clinton’s own poll ratings dropped to 30 percent, she continued to maintain the loss was due to something other than an uninspiring campaign and the neo-liberal, anti-working class politics the Democratic Party’s centrist leadership has pedaled for 30-plus years. Clinton even blamed the Democratic National Committee (DNC), led by a loyal Clinton supporter, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, saying it “…was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong.”2

A crisis of legitimacy

Both Sanders and Trump’s campaigns rode on a crisis of legitimacy in the two parties. Today, only 18 percent of voters consider themselves strong Democrats. The no longer Grand Old Party is slightly worse off at 15 percent. So far, Trump maintains most of his loyal voter support, which we should keep in mind, is only around 25 percent of the total electorate.

The attendant political volatility arising from the 2016 election combined with numerous international crises, presents an opportunity for demagogic appeals to patriotism, xenophobia and racism to deepen and spread. At the same time, it is an opening to advance a working-class political and economic program to provide meaningful, concrete solutions to address people’s grievances and discontents. A program, we might call a Sanders plus program, the plus being a plan for peace.

The Sanders wing of the Democrats is hesitant, waiting. Will Sanders break with the party? Be sidelined? Clearly, Sanders is taking on the establishment, pushing his economic program of social benefits, but it appears his aim is to reform or take over the party. A tough job when those hanging on to power, did not mention Sander’s program until September, when 15 Democratic senators finally endorsed single-payer national health insurance. In the House, progressive Democrats have signed on Bernie’s program for free post-secondary education, paid parental leave and expanding social security. However, there is little evidence of serious actions being taken on the part of the leadership to rally Americans behind the legislation. After Sanders introduced his single-payer bill, Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders, notably Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, told voters they do not support single-payer. Again, the failure of the leadership to learn the lessons of 2016.

Understandably then, Americans give the leadership low marks when it comes to presenting alternatives to Trump’s reactionary program. A Washington Post – ABC News poll in late October this year found only 28 percent of voters thought the Democrats were offering real alternatives.3 Nearly one half of Democratic responders and 65 percent of independents said the leadership was just criticizing Trump. One attempt to launch an alternative program failed miserably.

The Democrats “Better Deal” falls flat

In July, a Pelosi–Schumer road show unveiled the party’s alternative to the Trump-GOP program: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” In a Washington Post, Op-ed, Pelosi said the Deal, “represents a renewed Democratic commitment to the hard-working men and women across the United States who have been left out and left behind for too long.” It rained hard in Berryville, Virginia that day, the site of show. Reviews rained even harder on the Democrat’s proposal. It made no mention of Sanders’ far-reaching social benefit program that would lift up the left out. Their effort to make a splash with the working class was drowned in empty words, rhetorical promises and contrived apologies for abandoning working-class voters.

If Schumer, Pelosi, Clinton et al wanted to rebuild the party they only need reach out to the millions who responded to Sanders program for expanding social benefits at the expense of the billionaire class. Instead all we hear is Russia, Russia, Russia. Some pundits allege the Democratic leadership is tone-deaf to political reality, but their silence is due to an unwillingness to break with their corporate sponsors any more than are the masters of the once Grand Old Party. Instead both parties, and institutions in their orbits, are worried Americans are losing faith in the long-standing institutions of the limited “democracy of the few” embodied by the two-party capitalist system.

In January, Linda Chavez, a former Reagan cabinet member turned media pundit, put it this way in her New York Post column: “Democracy can only exist as long as the people trust its institutions. The greatest calamity of this election cycle has been the weakening of that trust.” Another reading of her statement is both Sanders and Trump upset the well painted façade of democratic governance. Neither candidate could be trusted to be loyal administrators of the bi-partisan imperialist foreign policy and neo-liberal economic program of capitalism.

While Chavez may lament this decline, those seeking a more just, peaceful society have an opportunity to step into this vacuum and begin building a new political party responsive to, and with, our nation’s multi-national working class, white and blue collar, youth and students. The massive discontent with politics as usual offers fertile ground. The first step is to agree on a working-class program for economic security, peace and racial justice. The next is to bring it into the 2018 mid-term election and beyond.

Resolutions at the AFL-CIO Convention in October showed emerging sentiment among labor union leaders for independence from the two parties and for renewing the idea of a Labor Party. A resolution calling for a pro-worker agenda and “an independent political voice,” stated: “The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”4

According to the People’s World reporting from the convention, 50 delegates met for a discussion on the idea of a Labor Party.5 Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein led a convention floor discussion and roused an applause when he said: “The Democratic Party was not delivering anything even when it had control of the White House, the Congress and the Senate.” This echoed the position of another resolution on electoral politics that concluded that: “continuing to follow the same model, expecting different results, is not an effective strategy for labor.”6

Help wanted: political leaders who stand for something

Propelling the urgency for bold alternatives in 2018 and beyond is that another capitalist economic crisis is looming on the horizon. Absent an alternative such a crisis will enlarge the opening for demagogic solutions like those offered by Trump’s GOP, as well as, austerity measures authored by the corporate allies of both parties. Might it be possible that Our Revolution will find an independent political footing to meet this challenge? Might progressive labor unions unite with people’s movements and Our Revolution to meet this challenge? These possibilities deserve urgent attention if we are to prevent Trump’s new GOP from consolidating power.7

Single-payer advocates welcomed senate Democrats finally getting behind Medicare for all legislation, but there is a steep hill to climb to win over skeptical workers fed up with just about every establishment Democrat. Democratic Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio said, in a New York Times interview in June, following the loss of Jon Ossoff in Georgia, that the party had become “toxic” in much of the country as voters see Democrats as “not being able to connect with the issues they care about.”8

In the same article D. Taylor, the president of the union Unite Here, representing hospitality workers across the country said, “Millions of Americans are desperate to be led by political leaders who stand for something, are willing to take risks, and are willing to tell the truth and engage Americans where they live. That just isn’t happening.” Labor unions and people’s movements who wait for the Democratic Party to make it happen will still be waiting in 2024. Now is the time to build and organize the mass sentiments revealed by the Sanders’ campaign. It’s no time to hesitate or go slow. It is time to take bold risks with confidence and trust that people will respond.

Although the Tim Ryans of the Democratic Party are not likely to call their own foreign policy “toxic,” 2016 showed millions of voters were concerned about Hillary Clinton’s aggressive support of military interventions. Sanders’ repeated criticism of her record resonated broadly with young people, progressives and among the working class. In the fall, Trump even told his voters at rallies that a vote for Hillary would be a vote for more war.

Yet, since the election the Democratic leadership has lent tacit support to Trump’s military budget increases and his ratcheting up of aggression against Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and China. Particularly egregious is the support of both parties’ leaders, for Saudi Arabia’s murderous war against the people of Yemen. Aggression that began with support from the Obama Administration. Not a word of criticism, except for a handful of progressive Democratic officials.

An electoral counter to such dangerous jingoism requires fielding dozens of congressional candidates on a program for peace. This is the glimmer of rationality that peace-loving, oppressed and war-torn peoples around world desperately await U.S. activists to initiate in the citadel of imperialism. Left and progressive organizations that avoid this work shirk their international responsibilities.

A good place to start is to press candidates and incumbents to support a new direction in foreign policy as advanced by AFL-CIO resolution: War is not the Answer.9 It calls on the president and congress “to bring the war dollars home and make our priority as a nation rebuilding this country’s crumbling infrastructure, creating millions of living wage jobs and addressing human needs such as education, health care, housing, retirement security and jobs.  Furthermore, it calls “for a foreign policy based on international solidarity of all workers, mutual respect of all nations and national sovereignty…”

If candidates won’t sign on, challenge them. Pressure them. Americans are tired of war. The AFL-CIO resolution reflects this sentiment. Make 2018 a struggle for peace. General election and primary challengers running on a plan for peace may not win, but such a presence is urgently needed to elevate the struggle for peace, economic security and racial justice.

  1. Americans worried about Russian influence on elections,” October 30, 2017. SurveyMonkey poll conducted from October 23 to October 26.
  2. CNN, Chris Cillizza, Editor-at-large. “In election blame game, it’s time for Hillary Clinton to take her share,” June 1, 2017.
  3. Washington Post. “Trump’s approval rating remains historically low and confidence has declined.” Washington Post-ABC News poll, October 29-November 1, 2017. November 13, 2017.
  4. Resolution 2: “An independent political voice.” Resolutions, 2017 AFL-CIO Convention.
  5. John Wojcik and Mark Gruenberg. People’s World, “AFL-CIO calls for a break with “lesser of two evils” politics,” October 25, 2017.
  6. Resolution 48: “Exploring new directions for labor in electoral politics.”
  7. See my analysis of this danger in the December 2017, Adonde Press pamphlet, “The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and Task Ahead.”
  8. Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin. New York Times. “Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump.’”, June 21, 2017.
  9. Resolution 50: “War is not the Answer.” Resolutions, 2017 AFL-CIO Convention.

Counter Intuition, False Dichotomies, Zeig Heil for the Siloed Manufactured Causes/Consents

A change in Quantity also entails a change in Quality.
Friedrich Engels

No one can define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.
Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

If it seems self-serving and pedestrian to chronicle my own slice of heaven called Working as a Precariat USA, then so be it. I have read so much lately on climate science, on the science around the toxic earth, around the political-billionaire-millionaire miscreants, both male and female (Trump commuted this Kosher Millionaire Rabbi, in jail for bank fraud, 27 years, today, so expect other chosen people of the white collar criminal variety to be pardoned, let go, praised), and the on-going Scarlet Letter Outing of Men, therefore,  coming down out of the ether of punditry and mainstream-and-not-so-liberal-media to get my own ground-truthing framed in what is dog-eat-dog predatory capitalism turbo charged seems like sanity to me.

I could get all British Lit on my reader by quoting John Donne, since inherently I am an entrenched systems thinker, a giver in the Ishmael sense, and understand the principles tied to cooperative evolution:

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

— John Donne

And I could get all deep ecology on you, and cite a simple but profound set of laws tied to the notion of biomimicry by Janine Benyus:

9 Basic Principles of Biomimicry

Nature runs on sunlight.
Nature uses only the energy it needs.
Nature fits form to function.
Nature recycles everything.
Nature rewards cooperation.
Nature banks on diversity.
Nature demands local expertise.
Nature curbs excesses from within.
Nature taps the power of limits.

But my own little world coming into the Year 2018 (year of the dog) centers around my identity, or part of it, as assigned to me by Capitalists: my age, my gender, my sexuality, my race, my upbringing, my education, my wallet, my political affiliations, my religion, my abilities, my disabilities, my blind-spots, my enlightened self, my weight-height-strength, my IQ’s, my credit report, my military record, my criminal record, my work record, my health record, my belief system, and, well, my Google rating. There is no room in Capitalism for holism, seeing and talking about the “philosophy-ethos-spiritual me”!

There’s so much more to us, most human beings, even deplorables, yet, in USA and the Matrix, it all boils down to what you do for a living, and what do you show materially from that living.

I am still seething from a sacking, almost two months ago, which I have chronicled here and here and here, and part of that sacking was my questioning vaccine safety. My stories have gone viral, in a sense, tied to the educated and safety seekers looking at the vaccination movement. I am clumped into the realm of a large swath of people and organizations looking at the injuries, incapacitation and deaths caused by the forces of genetics in one’s self and vaccines. I am also connected vis-à-vis WWW to those groups doubting the legality and ethics of forcing people to get shot-up with drugs, from the US Air Force pilots protesting the so-called anthrax vaccine, to nurses against the latest flu shot, and those parents and advocates who do not want to be forced to have children pumped up with untested vaccines – 19 or more by age five (32 by age 15!). Many kids are getting shot up without parental (informed) consent. CDC’s dictum:

The CDC has just launched a program that will calculate a catch-up schedule for children who were not vaccinated on schedule. A 5-year-old child who was not previously vaccinated would be required to receive 19 vaccines in one month, including 6 doses of aluminum-containing injections! This catch-up schedule was NOT tested for safety to determine the immediate or long-term risk of neurological or immunological damage.

Let me back up. What happened to me, in a nutshell, is my right to free speech, my right to a safe, open and embracing classroom environment, and my right to be heard in regard to a complaint made by Planned Parenthood were ripped from my hands and vocal chords, so to speak, and ripped from myself as a human trying to do good as a social worker and make a living.

I was in a class, at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest in the city of Seattle, two bastions (sic) of liberalism and supposed respect for diverse opinions. I’ve lived and worked there, Puget Sound, Seattle, and I have chronicled that sometimes nauseating place and the select citizens I call “unpeople” here at DV and other places. It is not the nirvana of liberalism, and it’s a place overcrowded, full of citizens who are homeless, and more precarious than success stories, with the rich and the Amazon and Bill Gates groupies high on their own flatulence. That’s another story.

Mine now, as I go to interview after interview since my termination, to get back in the saddle, to get a job to survive, goes like this: I was told I could not finish day two of this almost mindless 16-hour class (we practiced saying vulva and penis in a circle while passing around stuffed animals!), because of the supposed crime of not believing all the news fit to print from the PR/propaganda engines of Big Pharma, Western Medicine and the vaccination makers (I was so much more contrite and reserved in my statements in the classroom of 45 people, four men and 41 women, than maybe the reader can imagine, but it’s true . . . and I have coworker witnesses to attest to it).

I was also told (not directly, but through my employer, a non-profit in Portland) by three Planned Parenthood teachers (sic) that my broaching of Chinese traditional medicine and native American and other cultural systems of healing in a brief aside solicited by the teachers was not just NOT allowed but inflammatory and dangerous to the other students. Finally, these three PP people (and I suppose several supervisors behind the scenes) labeled me as a disruptive force to the learning environment, which is obscene since I was the picture of comportment and low-key engagement!

I expected some decency from my bosses to get my story and my coworkers’ stories, but instead, I was railroaded out of the job. I did not work for Planned Parenthood, it must be stressed. Imagine the conflict of interest tied to Planned Parenthood making millions off of giving boys and girls and young adults the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, marketed by Merck. Planned Parenthood’s $350 million yearly budget is fed through Big Pharma donations and, of course, taxpayer grants/funding. The sex ed classes Planned Parenthood delivers to my clients and to social workers is funded by public coffers. Planned Parenthood also has an international division, and teamed up with Bill and Melinda, Big Pharma and those killer philanthropists who want the great white hope of their messed up lives to be the every glowing smile of Third World victims of structural violence, agricultural rape, mass drug/vaccine experiments, and a new form of Facebook happy meal eugenics. Planned Parenthood also has a political arm, lobbying for their own special interests, some worthy, other nefarious.

Even though I never got into a vaccine debate with Planned Parenthood, really, truthfully, the trainers took a couple of off-the-record anonymous comments written down by me around not appreciating Planned Parenthood taking the side of pharmaceutical hook-line-and-sinker as proof of my heresy and radical view. Hell, how hard is it to surf the internet and find peer-reviewed and millions of anecdotal stories about vaccine injuries and incapacitation and death, tied to the HPV vaccine? There are huge issues tied to the rotten lies of the vaccine makers and distributors here:

Vaxxed Movie
HPVVaxxed Movie

Greater Good Movie
Sacrificial Virgins – Not for the Greater Good –

Part 1, 2, 3 Sacrificial Virgins.
TV3 HPV Documentary
Does anyone need Gardasil?
Colombia 2017: “Fue el Gardasil” (Gardasil Did It) – Abridged version

A hard look at the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and the families desperately trying to navigate their way through it.

The Vaccine Court looks at the mysterious and often unknown world of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), the only recourse for seeking compensation for those who have been injured by a vaccine. The NVICP, better known as the ”Vaccine Court,” however, is not without controversy

Medical Doctors Opposed to Forced Vaccinations: Should Their Views be Silenced?

Bill Gates $10 Billion Vaccine Scam

Mandatory Swine Flu Vaccination Alert

The Washington Vaccination Ploy: Puerto Rico And The Zika Quandary

Making The HPV Vaccine Mandatory Is Bad Medicine

Supreme Court Pulls Up Government Of India Over

Licensing And Trials With “Cervical Cancer” Vaccines

Readying Americans For Dangerous, Mandatory Vaccinations

Judicial Watch HPV

Vaccine McCarthyism. What if the Vaccine Paradigm itself is Deliberately Flawed?

Did 2014 Mark the Collapse of the Vaccine Establishment?

Dr. Gary Null – Archive, Vaccines, Global Research

This is the world we are in a nutshell – liberals attacking independent thinkers, radicals on the left like me. The Politically Corrective forces of the liberal class and the big businesses like those outfits run like Planned Parenthood have the power to tell my Portland, Oregon, bosses I am dismissed from a mandatory training, and then, my job as social worker ends in termination with a sham of an investigation.

It’s easy to be resentful of the powers that be, in this case, Democratic Party females who wanted me shut up, shut down, out of social work!

Two and two put together, in a simple sense, is that my few words voiced in a calm, respectful manner at a Planned Parenthood course (repeat, tax payer funded training) on the Fundamentals of Sex (sex ed) precipitated a termination, and now a bruise on my reputation is growing like a hematoma of gigantic proportions. Does anyone think finding a job, a replacement job, is easy now that I was terminated and now that I have voiced all of this on the worldwide net?

Readers must know the particular nature of employment in the Portland, Oregon, area, which is now becoming Califi-cadia, and the fact many people from bigger cities, back east, too, have been coming out here for the evergreens, rivers, snowboarding, beer and (back a few years), more millionaire-affordable-friendly homes and income rentals. The competition for rare jobs with my background, and for someone like me – radical and dissident — is steep.

I know a lot of writers who are more or less safe economically or job wise that could never understand and maybe empathize with my predicament. “Damaged goods, and why have you stagnated in this lowly field with so much going for you in your thirties and forties? Graduate degrees and writing awards. What’s up with that? It must be something about you – your big mouth, something.” Variations on that theme.

Now in the scheme of things, I am reminded daily, I am not a head of a family in Yemen, or journalist in Myanmar, or working as a teacher in Mexico, or plying my trade as social worker in Honduras, or living the dissident’s life as a Palestinian activist in Gaza, so I should count my lucky stars.

All of that goes without saying, for sure, and in the global scheme of things, this is merely a bump in my life inside the United States of Israel’s financial and surveillance hall of mirrors (read Robert Fisk’s smart take on the United States of Israel rather than the cartoon prophecies above linked)

Yet, for me to have any traction on my thinking about how screwed up America is, from the towers of the three men who own half of all USA wealth, to the drone shops helping immolate wedding parties and sleeping babies, to the absurdity of the duopoly political class, to the ever-eviscerating communities from shore to shining shore, I have to go personal, in the now, as the idiocy and injustices unfold for me, from my pennyante perspective. I understand how to make those allusions and comparisons to my brothers and sisters in arms in much more dire circumstances.

This bizarre situation at a Planned Parenthood training demonstrates the power of the forces of stupidity and lock step thinking running certain parts of America’s grand illusion kabuki show; and for me, a rare male in the business of social worker, this has been a reckoning with an upside-down world of social services run by women, some of whom are as uncaring and dictatorial and unethical as their male counterparts who they dis all the time.

Here I am, on a second lawyer listening to me and contemplating the veracity of some wrongful termination suit, looking at whistle-blower laws, and positing possible gender-age-religious discrimination. The first legal outfit I dealt with is a non-profit and stated they were spread too thin to handle my case.

“If only you were disabled, African-American, a veteran, homosexual, and living with PTSD and a speech impediment.” In so many words, that was the prognosis.

The new lawyer says, “Look, you were terminated for being ‘argumentative’ and ‘aggressive.’ For a white heterosexual man, that’s a no-no. But, if you were a woman, and were ‘combative’, they’d see that as passionate and demonstrable of being a great advocate for her clients, as an honorable thing showing you are willing to be there fully supporting clients. They’d say ‘aggressive’ for a woman would be justified and more akin to being smart, focused, confident and ready to take on challenges and advocate for your clients and a worthy way to make real changes for the female gender. And, one man’s arguing is another woman’s opining. ”

This coming from a female lawyer . . .

The world according to the felons running the show, whether it’s political, private capital, big business, and big non-profit and big government, well, my mother told me at a young age, 16: “Your mouth and your passion and your sense of justice and your anti-authority character and constant questioning will get you fired . . . expect a lonely path to old age and a rocky series of rites of passage . . . make family important, friendships key, and follow that vision quest and obsession with putting nature right. As long as you continue understanding why you are where you are, why there are no laurels awaiting you, and why the powers that be do not want you in the same room, then you are possibly more realized and actualized than most.”

Something along those lines, Mona from British Columbia used to say, but alas, the story is never ending, and the gifts that capitalism and elitism and Empire just keep on giving are those that really give it to us. Daily and second-by-second-by-nanosecond.

As the daily diet of perversions and accusations of perversion, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and all things in between rape and coming on to a woman, it is a wonder anyone can think straight about what it means to be men and women working toward justice, toward universal human rights.

I’ve read over at the World Socialist Website stories about how the #MeToo movement is a witch hunt, and while perusing the comments sections, I am feeling as if I am living in the 1950s, or in the Trump-Billy Bush-Howard Stern locker-room with the outward misogyny:

All of this is being ignored in the campaign over sexual harassment. Class divisions are covered up beneath the claim that all women, regardless of their income, share the same “experience” of being oppressed by men, who, particularly if they are white, enjoy the benefits of the “privileged.”

The sexual harassment campaign is right-wing, antidemocratic and politically reactionary. It has nothing to do with the interests of the workers, men or women.

Some of WSWS writer Joseph Kishore’s points are well taken, like there has to be a delineation between something said versus something done, and that there has to be a fair airing of accusations, fairness, and of course, innocence before guilt and a fair answering to allegations. But, are there more important things in the world than a Saturday Night Live comic groping women at state fairs as his role as senator? Isn’t this what we have succumbed to, this cult of celebrity? And, are we really all crocodile teary about millionaires and multi-multi millionaires losing jobs in entertainment (who could count a Charlie Rose as a journalist, or a classical conductor as anything more than entertainer?).

Lost in the entire defense, of course, is that having these creeps masturbate in front of you is a crime, really, public exposure, to say the least. How many of my clients, homeless, living in shit cities with no public restrooms or toilets, get arrested for public urination, and if seen by someone who complains, it’s three times and you are labeled a sex offender.

Lost in this millionaires’ game of exposing genitals and spreading semen, is that who in hell would want their nieces, daughters, wives and sons and brothers put to this test: capitalist men in power, or some form of power stretched down the line far from the corridors of the political and arts and entertainment domains, exposing themselves in front of loved ones? Who wants some actor or director or editor grabbing their loved ones and friends, or mauling girls and women in public or private against their wills? Is this the nature of some of these so-called leftists rebuffing the calling out of the perverts? Any manner of stupidity tied to lecherous behavior in the workplace, and this power dynamic of keeping a job or getting one or a better position based on some male actor’s or journalist’s or CEO’s demented sexual game or worse, sexual assault, should be called out and dealt with.

Is there presumed innocence? Come on, in an at-will state, in a world of precarity, we are all guilty, hence the mandatory background-credit-work history-drug-medical history checks, even before employment.

The fact that these conservative money-grubbing outfits like PBS or NBC or Uber or Walmart are sacking people before a fair trial or investigation, it does speak to the power of Capitalism. All of that is unethical, and unfair, but I see no massive wave of people defending the rights of the worker, the rights of maids and hotel workers and fast-food workers and restaurant servers or anyone working in you-name-the-field to not only not have to live with sexual harassment and quid pro quo but also with unlivable wages, precarious jobs, wage theft, and lack of say in the workplace.

But here, again, blaming the victims, as if women or men ever had the rights and backing to confront bad bosses and bad decisions and harassment and workplace dangers and on and on, but we have the “well if women are going to be Playboy bunnies, then all women are game . . . .”

Kim Kardashian is famous for one thing – her opulent and well-televised derriere. Miley Cyrus has a music video where she swings around buck naked on a wrecking ball, Beyonce is applauded for her “daring feminine rights” song, during which she and her backup singers dress like strippers and dance around poles, the Russian group, Pussy Riot, who have done performances in which they use raw chicken parts to simulate masturbation, were invited to visit the US Congress and were given a standing ovation when they did so, rappers make millions with music videos where women are denigrated and used as props to dance around showing their behinds to the camera, hundreds of women in the US have participated in so-called “slut riots” where they stalk down major thoroughfares in their undergarments just to prove they can and they are lauded for their “daring bravery”, and tens of thousands of Americans routinely enroll their daughters in beauty pageants each year, where they will be judged on their physical attributes.

And yet, anonymous decades-old allegations with vague references to some sort of “something offensive” (not offensive enough for the accuser to have taken action when the “something” occurred, however), are horrifying and can wipe out careers overnight.

This is absurd, and we are also not in some revolutionary moment, some civil rights for women movement stitched into Hollywood’s obvious depravities on many levels.

The stinking world I live and work in is all about political correctiveness, about demeaning HR folk, about top-heavy administrations, about supervisors who could care less about turnover of employees, who are there to berate or control. Daily, the stupidity of people in my profession – social services – belies a compliant field and brow-beater middling people in positions of authority.

They will fawn over Obama or Hillary. Imagine, calling black youth “super predators” (Clinton, Trump). Imagine, bragging about being a good killer and laughing about using “drones on any of my daughters’ boyfriends that get out of line” (Obama). Imagine Madeline Albright saying a million dead Iraqis as a result of US-imposed sanctions was just the business (as usual) of the United States, LLC (collateral damage in keeping with the USA’s economic security). Imagine the bayonet rape of Libya both figuratively and literally with Qaddafi and the smirk from Mrs. Clinton!

I get canned – kicked out of “liberal” Planned Parenthood’s Seattle offices and then fired from a female-run and largely female-staffed non-profit that pays marketing firms to PR their reputation as caring leaders in mental health services?

I just mentioned briefly a vaccine and alternative forms of medicine.

As brief as three sentences written and thirty spoken words.

Sacked, frog-marched out of work, and my young clients, left hanging, many in crisis.

We live in an upside-down world, where this Obama gets laughs and giggles joking about using drones on his daughters’ boyfriends if they get out of line, yet, if the great pretender Obama were to mention the bust and butt of Beyonce after her Super Bowl performance, Obama would have been derided, chided or worse, censored.

Maybe!

I think I started this post around what it means to be a man, a father, a son, a grandson, and, partner/significant other/husband.

Man, in the 1980’s, I was teaching Robert Bly, Iron John, and got attacked on all sides of the issues around mentoring boys into men, around the general thesis Bly was impregnating that book with. He talked about the inner boy in a screwed up family may “keep on being shamed, invaded, disappointed, and paralyzed for years and years.” Bly talked about how boys and men in the USA feel like victims in that messed up family. Bly was attempting to close the door to that victimhood. He talked about the inner warrior to defend “their soul houses” from invasions. It was that warrior, for both men and women, people lambasted Bly, yet, come one, look at today, 2017, 13 years after the book was published. Talk about bad people!

BAD PEOPLE

A man told me once that all the bad people
Were needed. Maybe not all, but your fingernails
You need; they are really claws, and we know
Claws. The sharks—what about them?
They make other fish swim faster. The hard-faced men
In black coats who chase you for hours
In dreams—that’s the only way to get you
To the shore. Sometimes those hard women
Who abandon you get you to say, “You.”
A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed.
It doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it takes
A lot of Depression to get tumbleweeds moving.
Then they blow across three or four States.
This man told me that things work together.
Bad handwriting sometimes leads to new ideas;
And a careless god—who refuses to let people
Eat from the Tree of Knowledge—can lead
To books, and eventually to us. We write
Poems with lies in them, but they help a little.”
― Robert Bly, Morning Poems

What is it about American Men, about this country’s 70-plus approval of all soldiers, all military, all mercenaries in our armies and navies and air forces and marines? What is it about this country’s women either defending Hillary as the best role model for girls, or those women who voted in the Moore-Jones election, for Moore, of course?

What is it about white women and loving Trump, those that do, and those who love Hillary? They have no inner warriors.

What is it about the white males holding the purse strings, many of them Jewish, as the Jewish web sites and newspapers and columnists continue to glower over. Reading the Israeli and the Jewish voices in print, I am seeing how an untenable Zionism and Judaism is, more concerted and extreme in xenophobia than the ultra-Christians in this country.

I end with this interesting look at father-son:

The changing times are evident in the debate about a current piece of legislation that could be the biggest change to labor law since the days when Marcus’s father was working as a carpenter. The Employee Free Choice Act, which was introduced in both the House and the Senate in March, would change labor law from the 1930s in order to make it easier for unions to organize workers.

Today, as in the ’30s, there are a number of influential Jewish union leaders supporting the legislation. But unlike in the ’30s, a few Jewish voices have surfaced as among the most influential opponents of the legislation. Marcus is frequently mentioned among the leading voices opposing the free choice act. In a famous phone call discussing the legislation with other business executives, he said, “This is how a civilization disappears.” That echoed the words of another child of poor Jewish immigrants, Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and Jewish philanthropist who told The Wall Street Journal that EFCA is “one of the two fundamental threats to society,” along with Islamism.

Marcus also has worked closely with the lobbyist leading the anti-EFCA charge, Rick Berman, who has waded into Jewish communal waters to make his argument that the current unions have no connection with the old ones to which Berman’s father belonged.

Many on both sides of the current legislation say that a traditional sympathy for labor that existed in the Jewish community has given way to antipathy in a number of very prominent quarters, with sometimes complicated consequences. Amy Dean, who is active in both the labor world and the Jewish community, says she often encounters people “who have this very warm spot for the labor movement, but it’s sort of romantic and historical. They have these warm feelings for the role of the garment unions, but they think it’s not a modern movement that they want to embrace. We have a huge dissonance within the Jewish community about the labor movement.”

For Berman, this dissonance has appeared in his own family: His son David Berman, a founder of the rock bands Pavement and the Silver Jews, has vociferously attacked his father’s stance on labor unions.

Jews should always identify with the disadvantaged,” the younger Berman (David) wrote to the Forward. “You cannot ‘graduate’ to a life of self-interest and exploitation.”

Berman, Marcus and Adelson appear to have played a role in halting EFCA’s progress through Congress. While passage looked like a sure thing earlier this year, when Barack Obama took office, the bill’s prospects have dimmed as a number of key senators have announced their opposition to it. It is perhaps fitting that the senator whose opposition represented a turning point was Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, the child of Jewish immigrant parents. People such as Specter and Marcus do not see the issue of EFCA in Jewish terms, but they acknowledge that they are frequently contending with history when they take up the current legislation or any other labor issues.

This meant that rabbis would often mediate labor disputes between Jewish workers and bosses, and many of the most prominent Jewish business owners at the time — names like Macy and Gimbels — worked closely with unions. Back in 1935, when the National Labor Relations Act was passed, the influential, and heavily Jewish, garment unions in New York City rallied working men and women to provide crucial popular support for the legislation. Historians note that Jews had hardly any presence in groups that opposed the legislation; they were often barred from entering the national business associations.

Since that time, of course, the Jewish community has largely followed the route of Marcus out of the tenements and into the business class. The 2001 National Jewish Population Survey found that 36% of Jewish households reported income above $75,000 — twice the percentage in the population at large.

Nowhere is the dissonance on these points more evident than in the rather personal battle being waged by Berman, the leading lobbyist against unions and EFCA in Washington.

Berman has long been a lightning rod for criticism, thanks to the work that his firm, Berman and Company, has done on behalf of such corporate interests as the tobacco and alcohol industries. Berman’s recent work against unions — his firm has spent $25 million on advertisements against EFCA — has won him enemies not only within the labor movement, but also within his own rather prominent family.

In January of this year, his son David announced in an Internet post that he was leaving his latest music project, the Silver Jews. He took the opportunity to launch an attack on his lobbyist father.

Former lobbyist-turned-advocate Rick Berman's six non-profit groups all funnel business to his for-profit PR company

My father is a despicable man,” the younger Berman wrote in the January 22 post on the message board of his record label, Drag City. The first specific charge that Berman levied against his father was that he is a “union buster.” In an e-mail interview with the Forward, David Berman said that his father — and his father’s generation — had become disconnected from the hardship of their grandparents. Both of Rick Berman’s grandfathers worked in the New York garment industry.

My grandparents are good people, raised by good Jews,” the younger Berman wrote to the Forward, “but their children are just living lives of meaningless acquisition. Within two generations, all memory of injustice is forgotten.

See the source image

What is lost in all of this sadism created by both parties, all the movers and shakers with millions stuffed in pockets, the billionaires like the following have set up empires of shame with their billions upon billions. Like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg ($35.5 billion), Mark Zuckerbeg ($33.4 billion), Sheldon Adelson ($31.4 billion), and Shari Arison, like Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page ($29.2 and $29.7 billion); investors George Soros ($24.2 billion), Carl Icahn ($23.5 billion) and Len Blavatnik ($20.2 billion), and Dell Computer Founder Michael Dell ($19.2 billion);  like Larry Ellison ($54.2 billion), Russ Weiner, the founder and CEO of Rockstar energy drinks, Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox sports franchises, and Ken Grossman, a co-founder of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Weiner is the son of prominent conservative radio talk show host Michael Savage (born Michael Weiner); like Seth Klarman, an investor in the Times of Israel, is also on the list, with a net worth of $1.5 billion.

Within two generations of those death camps, David Berman states, his family and tribal line have become despicable in many cases, taking advantage of power, tax dodges, military-pharmacy-finance-computing-legal-retail larceny on a very global scale.

Those sins of the father, ugh?

Daddy

Sylvia Plath, 1932 – 1963

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time—
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

Socialist Planning Circles

Common objections to socialist planning from below

In my last article, “Do You Socialists Have Any Plans? Why We Need Socialist Architects“, I argued that the only way 21st century socialism is going to get any traction with working class people is to not only have a socialist vision, but also to have feasible plans which suggest transitions in between the current capitalist crisis and our ultimate vision.

In that article, I presented the following objections along with their rebuttal through a dialogue between two workers: an older worker, Andrew, and a young, anarchist worker, Sean. The objections of Sean to socialist planning transitions were:

  • Marx said a plan isn’t necessary—the workers of the future will figure this out.
  • Workers are only capable of dealing with survival needs. Planning is too remote from every-day life for them.
  • Plans are rigid and can’t do justice to the complexity of social life.
  • Plans aren’t implemented as politics gets in the way. (Stalin’s chaotic five-year plan)
  • There is something inherently revolutionary about collective spontaneity.

Let’s examine some small but hopeful moments that could benefit from and be deepened by socialists who have collective experience making socialist plans.

Disaster socialism as a precursor

In his book Introduction to Collective Behavior and Collective Action, David Miller cites convincing research demonstrating that natural disasters bring out the best rather than the worst in people. Contrary to centrist newspapers’ mantras about “looting”, most people respond to a crisis heroically. Instead of mainstream newspapers’ warmed-over version of a Lord of the Flies scenario, if we examine the mass behavior in the recent hurricanes to hit Florida, Texas, Mexico and Puerto Rico, we find stories of people acting altruistically, in socialist ways. From a socialist point of view, the problems with the crowd’s altruistic response to these disasters is that after the storm people have not built socialist institutions that can help them extend their altruism longer before the return to a rapidly collapsing capitalism. Yet the behavior of masses of people in natural disasters is very close to how people behave in revolutionary situations. How can we preserve and deepen the memory of such collective creativity?

Workers cooperatives

Capitalists have done a good job of convincing people that there is “no alternative to capitalism because all socialism is Stalinism – and that has failed. This ignores the fact that workers’ self-management, workers’ control, and worker cooperatives currently exist and many are surviving with better production records than capitalist businesses or workers under state socialism. (Seymour Melman’s book After Capitalism provides a wonderful description of this). In the case of worker cooperatives, they are managed and run by workers themselves, most of whom have ownership in the company. Through regularly held general assemblies, workers decide together what will be produced, how much will be produced, how long and how hard they will work and what they will be paid. They also decide what tools and resources they will purchase and what they will do with the surplus. This is a radical departure from companies where workers have no say in any of these matters. John Curl’s book, For All the People documents the history of workers’ co-ops.We don’t expect miracles from any worker co-op because they still have to exist within a decaying world capitalist system. However, worker co-ops and the flashes of “disaster socialism” are promising.

Rank-and-file union democracy

As many of you know, radical unions in the early 20th century in the United States like the Wobblies used to talk about workers running things on their own, having “One Big Union”. Now unions have given up any vision of workers running anything. Instead, they preside over the most myopic concerns at sparsely attended meetings. In fact, when my partner once asked her shop steward at the university where she worked, “why don’t all these separate unions unite under one union instead of having numerous small ones? Wouldn’t we be stronger united?”, the steward looked at her like she was from another planet. Despite this, one small bright spot in the United States is Labor Notes, a monthly publication which tracks union activity around the US from the point of view of the rank-and-file. These monthly reports are union workers’ experiences with the strategies and tactics they used to combat employers and were largely independent of union leadership.

What is missing from these scenes of “disaster socialism” workers’ co-ops and rank-and file union democracy is a unified political party which coordinates, synchronizes, deepens and expands all these activities and spreads them to wider sectors of society with some kind of transition program. We don’t have such a party, but if we did the party would need a coordinated plan to link these experiences together in time and space.

Limitations of Trotskyist transition programs

Unlike anarchists, Leninists have experience with state power and understand the importance of a socialist transition program which takes years and decades to implement. In the United States, the Socialist Workers Party used to lay out a transition program as part of their presidential runs. We think this was a very good idea. The problem here is that all the imaginary planning was done by the vanguard party. “The workers”, as Lenin said, “can attain only a trade union consciousness”. They need to be injected with the collective imagination of the vanguard. But the workers of Russia during the first four years of the revolution and the Spanish workers during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939 showed more collective imagination than any vanguard party. They developed general assemblies, workers’ councils, and direct democracy by politically mandating delegates rather than representatives. Optimally, these delegates were rotated and were strictly recallable. These were the inventions of working class collective creativity that were not imposed on them by any socialist leadership. In the case of Russia, it was the Bolshevik party that reacted and supported these councils or “soviets”, for a time. But the origin of these political forms were workers, peasants and soldiers.

Filling in the Gaps

As I said in my previous article, socialists are very good at criticizing capitalism. You can get us to argue about what would and wouldn’t be allowed in our ideal socialist society: whether or not to abolish inheritance; how people should be compensated for their work or whether we use labor vouchers or dissolve all mediated exchange of products and services. But the moment you say “what about the messy transition from the current capitalist crisis to our ideal conditions?”, almost everyone disappears.

There are a few visionaries who propose scenarios about what socialist futures might look like and how to get there, including David Schweickart, John Romer, Michael Albert, and Erik Olin Wright. But do radical organizers use these plans? No. They either don’t know about them or they do know, and they dismiss them because the theorists are academics. But worse, they don’t even think plans are necessary. At best, radical organizers go from socialist principles directly to strategies, tactics and then to collective actions. My claim in this article is that between principles and actions there needs to be socialist plans that inform strategies and tactics. Plans mediate between principles and strategies. They ground principles, making them more tangible while they give wings to strategies by keeping the long-view in mind.

Here is what I don’t understand. Socialists have no problem starting and sustaining book clubs in which they discuss and learn what the great theorists say. There are book clubs about politics, economics, history and anthropology. But there are no meeting groups where socialists are forced to write detailed plans to answer questions such as:

  • Give me a snap-shot version of how a socialist future will work in terms of politics, economics, the workplace, housing and education.
  • How long do you project it would it take, and by what process are you going to get there?

If I weren’t already a socialist these are the questions I would expect most socialists to be able to answer readily. If they couldn’t do this I’d never take them seriously. If fiction-writing groups get together and write stories, why don’t socialists get together and share their dreams as architects of socialism?

My Personal experience with socialist planning circles

About three years ago, four of us got together for over a year and engaged in what we called a “socialist planning circle”. We met for three hours once every two weeks. We each developed our own plans for the most basic social institutions that would need to be reorganized as part of the revolution – food production, basic housing, energy harnessing, transportation systems, and workplace organization, to name a few.

The kind of controversies we addressed were:

  • Economic allocation systems: who is entitled to what under what conditions?
  • What does a transition out of the wage system look like?
  • How do we institute a global minimum wage to keep capitalists from leaving a country?
  • How to we abolish finance capital? Is there a place for “socialist banks?”
  • How might food cooperatives reorganize food production?
  • If we want to abolish the prison system, what do we do with people who continue to engage in anti-social activities?
  • By what process would shortening the work week be institutionalized?
  • Which social industries can afford to be localized and which, say, energy system might need to remain centralized?
  • How to coordinate workers’ councils from the local to regional level?
  • Will we still have a need for political parties and if so, how would they be organized?

Our procedure in socialist planning circles

We agreed on an area in social life from our master list, say economic allocation. Over the next two weeks we each created our own vision of the future about economic allocation. We each made a table entitled “The Current Crisis of Capitalism” and followed it through in six phases:

  • Transition one phase
  • Justification for transition one
  • Transition two phase
  • Justification for transition two
  • Ideal condition
  • Justification for ideal condition

Once the phases were identified:

  • Each of us presented our plan for economic allocation at the next meeting
  • We criticized and discussed each other’s plans
  • Two weeks later we synthesized the plans into a written document
  • We picked a new topic and repeated the steps

What was invigorating about this process was how often we already had ideas about these topics but we didn’t know we had them because we never asked ourselves, let alone anyone else. We also learned a great deal from the criticism from other members. Some of us were hesitant about our own plans but we could be critical of the plans of others. These criticisms in turn led us to look at our own hesitant plans in a new way. What was also interesting was the need to prioritize in what order we would restructure things in a socialist manner. It’s like a parody of the old show “Queen for a Day”. If the gods said you had a week to build a socialist system, what would you do first, second and third?

Justification for socialist planning circles

A socialist planning circle is a small group of 4 to 8 people formed with the intention of:

  • Giving socialists confidence that we can plan the future now while living under capitalism. This involves learning and practicing our skills at planning transition programs for the infrastructure, structure and superstructure of socialist society among ourselves. We rehearse our scenarios in the hope that when capitalism collapses we have some semblance of a collective, structured understanding as to what is to be done because we have shaped, criticized and refined our plans through thought, discussion, writing, criticism and revision over weeks, months and years.
  • Once we have experienced this process in a pilot group, we establish new groups to provide a supportive atmosphere to help working class people build confidence that they are smart enough to coordinate production across their workplaces.

There is a need for working class visionaries who learn to collectively imagine socialist futures, not by reading books, but by writing and sharing our imaginations now, before capitalism completely collapses. We need to rehearse, rehearse and rehearse our socialist plans with each other. We need to begin to cultivate our social imaginations now, rather than waiting for leaders or vanguard parties to do this for us. We have to have the nerve to say, “I can imagine transportation systems could be run this way, or food distribution should be run that way”. This project requires us to take seriously our socialist claim that we know how things could work in an ultimate sense, as we imagine how we navigate in the immediate future through the muddy, murky waters of getting from the crisis to our ideal conditions.

Objections

Why don’t you just start a reading group of socialist visionaries like you mentioned earlier rather than reinventing the wheel?

For the same reasons that you don’t begin scientific research with a literature review. You begin with your hypothesis and what the reasons are you think will support it. Then you do the literature review. Otherwise what you think is buried by the literature review. The same thing is true for art. You don’t begin drawing the figure by measuring it with a ruler. You begin with a gesture drawing, so you bring life into the drawing. You measure later. In the case of socialist planning, I’m convinced that people have an unconscious knowledge of how social organization could be. It is currently buried within them and needs to become conscious and worked on. The scenarios of scholars would only bury this unconscious knowledge. In the revolutionary situations that are coming, we are going to have to figure this out by ourselves anyway.

Socialist planning circles are too abstract and not connected to the working class. Getting together and spinning socialist plans pulls us away from the daily struggles of poor and working-class people. It will draw people who just want to talk and not act.

This is a danger in a discussion group in which there is no reading and where no preparation is required. It is less of a problem in a structured reading group because the individuals must make the effort to read the book in order to discuss it. A socialist planning group requires imagination and preparation, just the way a painting group would require people to bring two paintings to show for the next meeting or a songwriters’ group would expect people to come up with two songs for the next meeting. In some ways planning is more difficult than imagining ideal conditions. Ideal conditions ask you to imagine how things could be in an ultimate sense. Socialist planning groups ask, “How are you going to get there”. In my opinion, the second requires a far more active commitment. A socialist planning group would very quickly shed ‘dead weight” people who just wanted to talk.

These plans will dissolve once they face the realities of real social life

Any socialist who participated in these groups would know that when they return to their political practice much of the plans they learned to cultivate in the group would crumble and dissolve. However, the collective memory of some of these plans would remain and grow stronger by continuing in the socialist planning hot-houses over weeks, months and even years.

For example “participatory budgeting” is a way for people to become involved in local economics by having a say in the prioritization of the city’s budget. This exercise is designed to give residents practice in how to plan economically. But years ago, anarchist Murray Bookchin argued that the basic unit of city governance should not be city council, but neighborhood assemblies. City budget priorities were proposed at these local assemblies. Does that mean the city council in a capitalist city would accept that local neighborhood assemblies should exist at all? Of course not! Neither are they likely to agree if these assemblies decided that they wanted real estate “developers” kicked out along with a reduction of the police force. The important thing is to awaken in working class people a taste for planning and running things independently of the outcome.

The subtitle of this article was very carefully chosen. I am not advocating a static blueprint. I am advocating building scaffolds. In a technical sense a scaffold is defined as a temporary structure outside a building used by workers while constructing or repairing a building. Scaffolds are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for buildings. Scaffolds are not buildings. But without scaffolds there would be no buildings. The buildings themselves are like the socialist institutions of the future. The scaffolds are the means by which we build that future. There will be no socialist “buildings” without scaffolds.

As capitalism continues to decline, we will have more “disaster socialism” situations because the chickens are coming home to roost in capitalist ecological policies. Workers’ co-ops may spread because they will pay better entry level wages than capitalists and they are less likely to fire people in times of crisis. Rank-and-file democracy in unions will spread as workers become increasingly disgusted by a union leadership wedded to the Democratic Party. In all these circumstances the memory and enactment of socialist planning circles’ scaffolds could only deepen and organize what is already going on.

Optimally socialist planning circles would be an institutionalized, ongoing structure within a working-class party. It could certainly be implemented within the Green Party. But we can’t wait for these organizations to do this. Socialist planning circles should begin now. If organizations form later to house socialist planning circles, fine, but we cannot afford to wait for them to see the light. We must be our own light. If they these political forms emerge later, they will be lucky to have us!