Radical media, politics and culture.



South Africa Union refuses to touch Zim arms 2008-4-17 22:48 Durban - Opposition to a shipment of arms being offloaded in Durban and transported to Zimbabwe increased on Thursday when South Africa's biggest transport workers' union announced that its members would not unload the ship.

SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) general secretary Randall Howard said: "Satawu does not agree with the position of the South African government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons.

Kevin Keating writes:

Muni Social Strikeout

Kevin Keating

A critique of our efforts to foment a mass "self-reduction" movement on San Francisco's Muni public transit system.

In early 2005, bureaucrats in San Francisco's Municipal Transit Authority announced plans for a fare increase and service cuts for Muni, SF's main public transit system. Fares had been hiked in 2003 from $1.00 to $1.25, and the 2005 fare hike, slated to begin Sept.1st, was to be from $1.25 to $1.50. Several dozen bus lines would see drastically reduced service; other lines would be cut altogether. Plans were also announced for mass layoffs of Muni employees, focusing in particular on bus drivers.

In response, a small group of anti-authoritarians initiated an effort aimed at uniting Muni riders and drivers in large-scale action that could spike the attacks.

Our effort, modelled on similar actions in other parts of the world, especially Italy during the unrest of the 1970's, aimed at fomenting a city-wide "social strike" where Muni drivers and riders would act together, drivers would let people ride for free, and the fare collection system would collapse until the fare hike, cuts and threats of layoffs had been rescinded. The events would jump off on the date the fare hike and cutbacks were to begin, Sept. 1st, 2005.

An action like this around mass transit would be an arena of conflict between proletarians and capitalism that hadn't yet been colonized by the left, the left-wing of capital; the pro-wage labor, pro-state, culture of leftist failure that is what passes for an opposition to the powers-that-be in this part of the world.

Unfortunately the people behind the action, in the typical manner of contemporary US anarchists, lacked backbone and nerve, practical solidarity with one another and political cohesion.

The result was that the spineless anarchists ceeded the political initiative in the Muni action to the first Leninist-led/culture of leftist failure group that came along to hustle them. The culture of leftist failure crowd, with the anarchists sheepishly trotting along behind them, couldn't catalyze enough widespread and decisive resistance to defeat the austerity measures.

The fact that the fare strike didn't stop the service cuts and the fare hike wasn't in itself a failure. The failure was that the people behind the fare strike succeeded in turning the Muni action into a single-issue campaign, robbing the effort of any potential to be something new under the sun. The efforts of the leftists went ignored by the overwhelming majority of Muni employees and riders. In a much more important sense, an arena of potential autonomous working class resistance to ever-increasing exploitation and impoverishment has now been colonized by the leftist culture of failure crowd.

This article examines this failure. These problems aren't etched in stone. A rigorous critical examination of what happened with the failed 2005 Muni effort can contribute to a better, more aggressive, more far-going effort next time.

Cerámica de Cuyo: A Profile of Worker Control in Argentina

Benjamin Dangl

From Upside Down World

In the worn out meeting room of worker-run Cerámica de Cuyo, Manuel
Rojas runs a rough hand over his face. The mechanic recalls forming the
cooperative after the company boss fired the workers in 2000: "We didn’t
have any choice. If we didn’t take over the factory we would all be in
the streets. The need to work pushed us to action."

After working at the ceramic brick and tile factory for nearly 35 years,
Rojas joined the other two dozen workers at Cerámica de Cuyo and began
to organize into a cooperative. These workers were part of national
movement at a time when Argentina was in an economic crisis. Across the
country, hundreds of factories, businesses and hotels shut their doors
and sent their employees packing. Many workers, like those at Cerámica
de Cuyo, decided to take matters into their own hands. As the stories of
these workers illustrate, the cooperatively-run road hasn’t been easy.

Cerámica de Cuyo is surrounded by vineyards and artists' homes in the
bohemian community of Bermejo, Argentina, right outside Mendoza. Dust
blows around the sun burnt factory yard as I sit down with Rojas and his
co-worker Francisco Avila. Rojas wears a weathered blue plaid shirt
while Avila has a baseball cap resting on a head of gray hair. We’re in
the Cerámica de Cuyo meeting room. The ancient chairs have crumbling
foam cushions. Phone numbers and Che Guevara slogans are scrawled on the
walls. It’s easy to sense the wear and tear that lifetimes of labor have
had on the place.

Starbucks Settles Case with Barista Over Anti-Union

Starbucks has agreed to
reinstate Chicago barista Gloria Sykes and pay her a
confidential amount to settle charges filed with the
National Labor Relations Board earlier this year.
Starbucks fired Sykes after she told her store manager
that employees would reach out to the IWW Starbucks
Workers Union
(SWU) if management did not address age
discrimination and work schedule issues. The
Starbucks manager responded in clear violation of
federal law that any talk of the Union was prohibited
and would result in termination. Ms. Sykes, 55, was
undeterred and subsequently did join the SWU.

"This settlement is a victory for every barista, older
and younger, who are fed up with the lack of
guaranteed work hours at Starbucks," said Ms. Sykes.
"We have a right to demand a secure work schedule with
a union and this settlement proves it." Ms. Sykes was
led to speak out at work after incidents of age
discrimination including being told that "even 16 year
olds" could learn to make coffee drinks quicker than
her. Starbucks denied wrongdoing in the out-of-court

"What's The Economy
For, Anyway?"

John de Graaf

"If they can get you asking the wrong question, they don't have to worry
about the answers" — Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow {1}

Suggest any alternative to the status quo these days — greater
environmental protection, for example, or shorter working hours — and
the first question reporters are likely to ask is, "But what will that
do to the economy?" Immediately, advocates must try to prove that their
suggestions will not adversely affect economic growth or the Dow Jones
industrial average.

It's long past time for a new framing offensive, one that turns the
obligatory question on its head and shifts the burden of proof to those
who resist change. Imagine bumper stickers, posters, internet messages,
a thousand inquiries visible everywhere, asking a different question:

"What's the economy for, anyway?"

It's time to demand that champions of the status quo defend their
implicit answer to that question. Do they actually believe that the
purpose of the economy is to achieve the grossest domestic product and
allow the richest among us to multiply their treasures without limits?

For in practice, that really is their answer.

[Continued from the first part, of this essay, here.]

CHAPTER FIVE: Considerations on the Causes of the Advances and Retreats of the Workers' Assembly Movement

"In what concerns our war, it is a great truth that, when men are fighting, they imagine that they are in the greatest of wars and, once peace has returned, they prefer to admire the wars of yesteryear. Without a doubt, a simple examination of the facts will make us see that we have here the most important conflict ever." Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War.

The workers' assemblies, defended by pickets and co-ordinated through revocable delegates, were not only the weapon of the social revolution but also its signal. They implied that the working class, dispersed into a multitude of organisations that divide them into a thousand parts, had joined together and that no one part existed independently. They meant that the entire class was preparing for its communal existence with equal interests, formulating its own ideas from its own practice. The assemblies were not born as organs of power but as a stronger and more representative form of organising strikes, in which workers dealt with their own concrete and immediate problems, and negotiated with management. Before exercising power, they acted as defensive organs for their everyday existence. At this stage of struggle, the proletariat did not concern itself with an assured and permanent organisation of industrial sectors and branches, areas, and provinces or at the level of the State. This indicates that it had not planned a systematic large-scale offensive against the dominant power. But by beginning simultaneously at various points, the historical logic of struggle changed the assemblies into organs of power whose enormous strength the proletariat was not fully conscious of. When assemblies existed as a real power alongside the fictitious power of the unions, opting for one or the other became the order of the day. It was a knife-edged balance. Either assemblies or unions! The unions were too weak to oppose the assemblies but the proletariat was not sufficiently conscious to feel the need to destroy the unions. All throughout the first half of the year, an immediate alternative was posed: either the autonomous affirmation of the proletariat or the defeat of the movement. For the unions an inverse alternative was posed — either lose their dominant position conferred on them by the bourgeoisie and the State as spokesmen for the workers or finish with the assembly movement by enframing the workers within the unions. The unions had to accept the workers' conquests and recognise the power of the assemblies, thereby hoping to smash them in a moment of reflux that the workers, in order to hold on to their gains, were obliged to follow through; they had to extend the movement to every sector and every town, and defend it. The end of one fight could only be regarded as the beginning of a more tenacious and decisive one. If this was not to be, if the working class did not use the victories obtained to radicalise and consolidate its struggle elsewhere — and after a more or less favourable outcome to strikes, just let the assemblies dissolve and all communication channels along with them — then one had to regard this as one of those unusual situations in which a victorious army abandons the field to a conquered one, as happened in May 1937. The unions would recover lost positions and the workers would begin the next strike in worse conditions than before. A victory never can have repercussions if it is not exploited. The pursuit of a conquered adversary must begin at the moment when, abandoning the struggle, it leaves the field of combat. The assemblies had to go on until the unions were smashed. The proletariat must know how to end a strike, keeping open its path of retreat — which is the same as that which it had advanced along — so that it can begin the next one in the best possible circumstances.

NOT BORED! writes:

Commentaries about Wildcat Spain in the Run up to the Second Revolution

By Workers for Proletarian Autonomy and Social Revolution

"There is nothing more improbable, more impossible, more fantastic than a revolution one hour before it breaks out; there is nothing more simple, more natural, more obvious than a revolution when it has waged its first battle and gained its first victory." — Rosa Luxemburg, Der Kampf (7 April 1917)

CHAPTER ONE: The Social and Political State of Classes in Spain in the Hour of Francoism's Relief

It is somewhat trite these days to say that the general crisis in Spain is caused by the democratic evolution of Francoism. It is the same crisis facing every country of the world, bourgeois or bureaucratic, which is exacerbated for instance in Portugal, Greece or Poland — by a long period of stagnation resulting from a counter-revolution, as well as by the accelerated breakdown of the dominant political forms. We shall not, therefore, be examining the formation of a new society but rather the senile Iberian rebirth of a society that is everywhere in the process of dying. Francoism was the extreme defence of the Spanish bourgeoisie threatened by proletarian revolution, a triumphant counter-revolution that, through a state of siege, provided the first urgent rationalisation of Spanish capitalist society; and saved it by incorporating the State under its wing. But when Francoism became the most costly form of maintaining it, it was forced to leave the stage for the benefit of stronger and more rational forms of the same order.

The Institute for Anarchist Studies presents

The Chicago Couriers Union: Challenges and Potentials

A talk by Colin Bossen of the IWW

Friday, June 8 at 7pm

Provisions Library, Washington, DC

(Dupont Metro, above Ann Taylor Loft on Connecticut)

$5 suggested donation

For the last four years, courier Colin Bossen has been
organizing with the Chicago Couriers Union, a minority
labor union of primarily bike couriers affiliated with
the Chicago General Membership Branch of the
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Due to both the
nature of the courier industry and the ideological
orientation of the union’s organizers, the CCU has
been organized using what Staughton Lynd has called
"solidarity unionism." Solidarity unionism is the idea
that workers have the most power when they organize
around specific workplace grievances rather than
struggle for legal recognition and the right to
negotiate a contract. Using this model, the union has
met with modest success, and over the past three year
it has built a small but stable base of militant
workers in the industry and won several small
victories including a wage hike effecting
approximately 100 workers at the third-largest courier
company in Chicago.

This talk will examine the CCU as an example of
solidarity unionism, chronicle its success and
failures, and suggest the lessons the union has to
offer anti-authoritarian and anarchist workplace

Peter Waterman writes:

Labour After the World Social Forum, Nairobi, January 20-25, 2007
Can the Unions Become Again a Sword of Justice?
Peter Waterman

"It seems clear that in many countries, unions have lately come to be widely perceived as conservative institutions, primarily concerned to defend the relative advantages of a minority of the working population. One of the challenges which confront trade unionism in the twenty-first century is therefore to revive, and to redefine, the role as sword of justice." — Richard Hyman, UK (1999)

"Transformative politics needs to be firmly anchored in ethics. We need to rethink our strategy, our structures of organisation, our goals… everything, in relation to a radical ethics of equality. This means an ethics of care for the other. This is important because so much left politics has traditionally rejected the relevance of ethics. In the past, dominant traditions of left politics were more about organising and struggling for the sake of a Truth, than for the sake of myself and my equals. Left politics was – and still often is – more inclined to be faithful to an Idea (or to a programme or party) than to the people around us…For obvious reasons, this faithfulness to ideas and not to other people creates serious problems when it comes to co-operation for shared political goals." — Ezequiel Adamovsky, Argentina (2007)

"Reality is for people who lack imagination." — http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/2052/grafitti.h tml


The increasing participation of the ‘old, institutionalised, inter/national trade union organisations’ within the ‘new, networked, World Social Forum’ raises problems for the latter as well as the former. This report and reflection on the Nairobi WSF, January 2007, argues the existence two trends in labour’s participation. The major and dominant one comes from the traditional international unions, promoting ‘Decent Work’. The other comes from new unions, base organisations, labour networks, or other left bodies, for which the name proposed is the ‘Emancipation of Labour’. It is not difficult to trace the dependence of Decent Work on the hegemonic International Labour Organisation, on 20thC West-European notions of social (i.e. capitalist) partnership, on Keynesianism and collective-bargaining unionism. But the relationship of the Emancipation of Labour concept to a few recent, marginal and minor projects at Nairobi remains speculative. It is proposed that any EofL project would need to advance not simply new policies and a networked form but a new ethic. Whilst considering such elements to be present within the WSF, it is argued that these and other necessary elements are here only ambiguously present. There is also a certain complicity between the traditional unions, mediating between workers and inter/national hegemons, and a WSF dominated by non-government organisations (NGOs) of a mixed and often ambiguous nature. Whilst placing hopes on the WSF and on the emerging labour projects, the paper ends with reference to a Global Labour Charter Movement of a radically-democratic and utopian nature.

Anonymous Comrade writes:

Fazel Khan Solidarity
Letter from Fazel Khan to his Comrades in his University Workers' Union (COMSA)

The Dismissal of Fazel Khan

On Wednesday 25 April, 2007 Fazel Khan was summarily dismissed from his position as a lecturer in the Sociology Department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban South Africa. He is not the first academic to be forced out of the university for political reasons in recent months. He had been charged with ‘bringing the university into disrepute’ after he had made comments about the authoritarian climate at the university. These comments were made in response to questions put to him by various newspapers after he was removed from a photograph and the text of an article in UKZNdaba on the international success of a film that he had co-directed.

The University Management initially tried to argue that Fazel had had himself removed from the photograph (they ignored the fact that he had also been removed from the text of the article) as a ‘plot’ to embarrass the university. But in the hearing a witness for the prosecution acknowledged that in fact Fazel had been interviewed for the UKZNdaba story making any claims of a ‘plot’ patently ludicrous.

Fazel had argued that he had been excluded from the UKZNdaba story because there was an intimidatory climate at the university which had singled him out for his role during the strike as a unionist. UKZNdaba has never corrected the story or apologised for the excision of Fazel. The UKZN management has never explained why, if Fazel was not been targeted, he was publicly threatened by the vice-chancellor, for his work with the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali base Mjondolo or why the vice-chancellor had threatened Fazel that ‘I will deal with you’ for ‘helping shack dwellers on the Westville campus to write a letter’ and for his activities as a union PRO via the Gautschi Commission.

In the run up to the hearing the vice-chancellor circulated entirely unsubstantiated and plainly slanderous and libellous allegations against Fazel. Fazel is not the first academic to have been slandered by the management in this way. Just before the hearing began a second charge was added and Fazel was also accused of passing on a Senate Sub-Committee Report on authoritarianism on the campus to The Mercury.


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