Flickers of a Resurgent Labor Movement: Our Report from Labor Notes ’22

Black Rose / Rosa Negra

By Black Rose / Rosa Negra Labor Committee

Over the weekend of June 17-19, some 4,000 union members and affiliates congregated in Chicago for the 2022 Labor Notes Conference. Owing both to the fact that the biennial conference had been postponed in 2020 and to a modest (but nonetheless exciting) uptick in new union activity in recent months, most notably at Amazon and Starbucks, this year’s event set a new record for attendance.

Labor Notes began its life in 1979 as a monthly newsletter intending to challenge the sedate business and service models of AFL-CIO affiliated unions. The newsletter focused on spotlighting and linking together rank-and-file reform caucuses within these unions. Today, Labor Notes the periodical lives on, while Labor Notes the organization has dramatically expanded in scope to support year round “troublemaker” training schools and a publishing wing, in addition to its growing conference.

Labor Notes the organization acts on the social-political, or intermediate level, within the US (and Canadian)

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Comment on the question of ‘revolutionary minority’

AngryWorkers

Another fragment in AngryWorkers’ process of soul searching. If you want to read up on other texts we have written, check out this recent one on ‘What does it take to be organised politically?’ or this biographical rumination on ‘How not to be organised’.

When we first posted the article on the Revolutionary minority, I had a problem with it but didn’t say anything. I am very aware that we all have a lot of baggage and there is nothing more boring and annoying than old lefties fighting old battles. But the question of ‘the left’ or ‘the revolutionaries’ is clearly important to some of us and it keeps cropping up so now I have to say what worries me about it.

First of all we have published a few articles which state that we don’t think there is a kind of spectrum of the ‘left’ with us at one end and the Corbynites, say, at the other. Most of us agree that there is a clear gulf between us and most of the ‘left’.

But the term ‘revolutionary minority’ to describe us bothers me. In one sense who can disagree – we’re revolutionaries and there aren’t many of us compared to the ‘left’, so what’s the problem?

Well wouldn’t most people in most of the left groups think of themselves as the ‘revolutionary minority’, even if they don’t actually use those words? So its a totally subjective label and it doesn’t help to clarify why we are different. That differentiation has to be done by concretely showing the differences of outlook and practice – ie why we think the notion of the vanguard party leads to people seeing the working class as the passive subject of their work and not the real revolutionary force in society, etc etc. What we think distinguishes us has to be spelt out and not asserted by labels.

But more problematic for me is that this label, ‘revolutionary minority’, can potentially make worse an existing problem – that people who have read revolutionary books, who regard themselves as ‘revolutionaries’ make the mistake of thinking they are the moving force in revolution. This is what I was trying to write about in the piece I did for the November meeting – the ‘revolutionary’ preacher syndrome or the ‘revolutionary’ propagandist.

So strong is this attitude that I think everything has to be done to fight it and I’m worried that if we bestow upon ourselves this label then it can tend to make fuzzy the reality that the only revolutionary force is the working class in its self organised efforts to transform the mode of production.

You see, I think it’s a fair question to ask is Angry Workers a revolutionary organisation? Well in one sense obviously yes but in another sense the answer is ‘It remains to be seen’, i.e. the test is in practice. Can the group find ways to play a useful part in the rebuilding of working class revolutionary organisation? It’s not enough to have ‘good ideas’ and great aspirations. Can people turn those into activities that lead to the development of the class. The first thing by no means automatically leads to the second.

So by all means show by concrete examples where our outlook and practice lies on the other side of a deep divide from both the reformists and the vanguardists, etc. etc., but be very careful of doing/ saying anything that might tend to confuse the relationship between us, the people with revolutionary outlooks, and the class who has the potential revolutionary power to change the world.

Direct Action: the education of revolutionaries.

Chapter Thirty-One of The Authority of the Boot-Maker by Mal Content.

“Anarchism is neither sectarian nor dogmatic. It’s theory in action. It doesn’t have a pre-determined worldview. It’s a fact that anarchism is manifest historically in all of man’s attitudes, individually or collectively. It’s a force in the march of history itself: the force that pushes it forward.”

– Nestor Makhno: to Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti, Paris, 1927.

This, my friends, is where the cop-out ends, once you’ve accepted that there is no one above or below you, you become responsible for everything that happens within your sphere of influence. Who gives governments the power to abuse, torture and kill? It is you. The prison I referred to earlier exists only in the mind, in the collective consciousness, the defeatist attitude that: “nothing can be done”. In fact everything can be done and already is, in this world we built with our hands, eyes and brains. Everything you require to live is provided by your fellow workers, as you provide for them. The intervention of bosses, accountants, academics and politicians only serves to make the process less efficient and pleasant to operate. If we allow these intermediaries to manage our desires they will stifle and kill them. Despite not being noticeably more competent or wise than anyone else they have been elevated above their fellows and it isn’t in their interests to upset the applecart. They will patiently explain why we can’t have what we want, just yet.

“Our people stand for action on the march. It is while going forward that we overtake. Don’t hold them back, even to teach them `the most beautiful theories’ …”

– Francisco Ascaso, quoted by Paz and others.

Direct action is that which seeks its ends without the mediation of a third party; it does not necessarily involve protest, and where it does, is not limited to protesting. Breaking up a fight is direct action, calling the police is not. It can be anything from distributing free food to the needy or recycling old clothes, to strikes, sabotage and factory occupations. This principle demands that those who have most invested in a struggle should direct it, whilst relying on solidarity from others, so priority should be given to projects and organisational forms which give confidence to those who are marginalised or unused to taking action.

Q. How many Anarchists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. None – “The light bulb must change itself!”

– Anon.

Direct action is most popularly associated with the practice of revolutionary syndicalism or industrial unionism, which gained currency at the turn of the last century but lost out to Bolshevism; however the abject failure of political and industrial representation has revived its popularity in this one.

The importance of direct action goes far beyond its immediate goals; it ingrains the habit of taking responsibility, of working with others in a voluntary and horizontal fashion for reasons other than personal reward. It builds confidence and trust, shares skills and teaches by example. A solidarity action that at first glance seems to have only a minor impact, in fact operates on several fronts. It gives satisfaction to the participants, courage to fellow workers who hitherto felt powerless, and issues a warning to the exploiters that their acts have consequences. It helps repair the social cohesion and sense of community that capitalism tries so hard to abolish. Above all every comrade must feel valued and supported, every blow must be returned, until over time a culture of militant solidarity is established, only then can we act coherently in our common interest, and prise power from the exploiter’s grip.

There are many traps into which revolutionaries can fall; relying on the limited vision and experiences of a few people for example, or on the other hand diluting the movement with those who have too much invested in the status quo; falling back on dogma, or abandoning essential principles. It’s a mistake to assume that every oppressed person is ready and able to shake off their oppression, and equally erroneous to wait until conditions are perfect. To transform society we must transform ourselves, we can do it along the way but we have to start now. Lines must be walked between making real improvements to the lives of people in the here and now, and giving in to reformism, we want the earth, but we’ll take it a piece at a time.

“This task of laying the groundwork for the future is, thanks to Direct Action, in no way at odds with the day to day struggle. The tactical superiority of Direct Action rests precisely on its unparalleled plasticity: organisations actively engaged in the practice are not required to confine themselves to beatific waiting for the advent of social changes. They live in the present with all possible combativity, sacrificing neither the present to the future, nor the future to the present. It follows from this, from this capacity for facing up simultaneously to the demands of the moment and those of the future and from this compatibility in the two-pronged task to be carried forward, that the ideal for which they strive, far from being overshadowed or neglected, is thereby clarified, defined and made more discernible.

Which is why it is both inane and false to describe revolutionaries drawing their inspiration from Direct Action methods as “advocates of all-or nothing”. True, they are advocates of wresting EVERYTHING from the bourgeoisie! But, until such time as they will have amassed sufficient strength to carry through this task of general expropriation, they do not rest upon their laurels and miss no chance to win partial improvements which, being achieved at some cost to capitalist privileges, represent a sort of partial expropriation and pave the way to more comprehensive demands.

From which it is plain that Direct Action is the plain and simple fleshing- out of the spirit of revolt: it fleshes out the class struggle, shifting it from the realm of theory and abstraction into the realm of practice and accomplishment. As a result, Direct Action is the class struggle lived on a daily basis, an ongoing attack upon capitalism.”

– Emile Pouget: ‘Direct Action’.

Red and Black Telly roundup.













Wessex stall at Increase The Peace Community Festival, Sunday 29th August.

Wessex Solidarity will have a literature stall at Increase The Peace Community Festival in Bournemouth this Sunday. Our first outing for a while with lots of new pamphlets. Freedom Press are there also.

At Oakmedian club house, Meyric Park, Bournemouth BH2 6LJ

Free Entry from 1 p.m. till midnight, with Live music, food and other attractions.

Supporting International Care Network and Hope For Food.

facebook event

Dear Arthur – A Message to the Gender Police

The background to this is an exchange between some wobblies and a character called Arthur Brick in comments under Martin’s New year video, it can be found here: https://youtu.be/irNeK4DIgyg – ed.

A couple of months ago – Long enough for me to have already forgotten about it, I lightheartedly posted a simple phrase “If I can’t dance and be non-binary it ‘aint my revolution”. That’s it. I then forgot all about it. I think Emma wouldn’t mind after all she wanted nice things for everyone and sure embracing yourself for who you want to be is a nice thing.

I was reminded of my post this morning by a person by the name of Arthur, Arthur Brick bless you my dear you clearly feel threatened by the thought of me. I say the thought because you don’t know me and I don’t know you. Arthur wrote under my post “Non-binary? Fucking hilarious” (thanks for that Arthur, I actually think I am sometimes).

Don’t worry Arthur I’m not upset or hurt, my fragile masculinity has taken a lot of knocks over the years from people I actually love and care about, so it’s toughened me up 😊

What I found interesting about it though is that Arthur clearly is so threatened by the fact that I don’t fit into their view of what’s right and wrong in the patriarchy, that Arthur has decided to take it upon themself to police my gender. To be clear Arthur has never met me so that makes it a bit easier, Arthur has a picture in their minds eye already about who I am and wants to belittle me and make sure that I am aware that I’m not as good as Arthur. Arthur is a better revolutionary than me.

What I find disturbing about this little banging of heads is how easy it is to attack a person you don’t know. Am I to presume by this that Arthur would not want me to fight on their barricade, after all if they can’t control my behaviour with their simple gender stereotypes they may find they are no longer the boss. What next? Will Arthur be refusing to fight alongside women, gays, blacks? This is how the class is kept divided and this is why we are in the mess we are in today. The people of my class hail from all corners of the rainbow. We are all different but our strength lies in those differences being united against the ruling class. Those who wish to sow division are doing the class war no favours. Of course the sad thing is that Arthur will probably scream and shout that it is I who wants to divide the class by not pretending to be the person that Arthur says I should be. 😊

Bless you Arthur I’m sorry I had to pick on you there are lots of Arthur Bricks who feel they are the boss of my class war.

– Peregrin

Defend Rhodri! Retaliation at Berwyn

Prisoner Solidarity Network

The Prisoner Solidarity Network have just received news that Rhodri ab Eilian was assaulted by prison staff at HMP Berwyn yesterday (10th February 2021). This attack comes less than two weeks after Rhodri stepped forward to speak publicly about discrimination, racism, and the denial of language rights at the prison. Both Rhodri and the PSN see this assault as a clear example of retaliatory violence and call on everyone to mobilise urgently in Rhodri’s defence.

Following yesterday’s attack, one of the staff involved threatened further violence, telling another prisoner he was going to “punch his little head in.” Rhodri knew the risks and still did what’s right. It’s our responsibility now to defend him. We’re calling on people to: Contact relevant authorities to demand Rhodri’s safety and ensure disciplinary action is taken against the responsible staff. We’ve compiled a list of contacts below and a template email you can use.

To whom it may concern, I’m contacting you to request an urgent intervention in response to staff violence at HMP Berwyn. You will be aware of ongoing concerns about discrimination, racism, and the denial of language rights at the prison.

Yesterday (10th February 2021), less than two weeks after speaking publicly about conditions at Berwyn, Rhodri ab Eillian was assaulted by staff. Despite being fully compliant with instructions, ab Eillian was mobbed by a group of prison officers and subject to unprovoked and excessive restraint, leaving him with shooting pains through one arm and shoulder and bruising. His injuries have been logged by prison healthcare staff. This has been followed today by further threats from officer 777 – one of the group involved in the assault.

There is the clear implication this attack was retaliatory, following immediately on from ab Eillian’s public statements about staff misconduct at the prison. The use of intimidation and violence to suppress such allegations is completely unacceptable. This incident only exacerbates existing concerns regarding the management of the prison.

I’m contacting you to request you support calls to ensure ab Eillian’s safety and that appropriate measures are taken to address the prison officers responsible.

Yours sincerely,

Corona comment number six, from the South of England: Gulag archipelago, by Mal Content.

Since my last comment the bourgeois state has ratchet-tightened its grip on all aspects of life, with the apparent acquiescence of a large section of the British population – Leaving out the six counties, who seem most preoccupied with not being able to buy vegetables. The demagogues of the devolved administrations* crazed with a little power, vie with each other to boss their subjects about.

* Scots nationalists have blown their best chance of independence in a century with all guns pointed at their own feet, I wonder if MI5 had a hand in that.

As I have observed elsewhere, ‘Lockdown’ is a measure taken by prison governors to facilitate searching of inmates for contraband, apprehending a fugitive or putting down disorder. Doors are all locked forcing each prisoner to remain wherever they find themself. It is predicated on the idea that prisoners have no agency, they do not ‘own’ their flesh, their time or their productive and creative abilities. Incarceration in the United States is an extension of chattel slavery as permitted by the thirteenth amendment; in Britain it originates from the custom of holding a person hostage pending payment of a debt. Other cultures find their own justifications. The first use of this term in respect of the corona virus epidemic was in the People’s Republic of China, which is of course nothing but a giant gulag. It will be deeply offensive to many of our Class who have suffered such abuse.

The latest regulations blatantly reserve overseas travel for the rich, and whilst it will amuse us to watch entitled posh people treated like common prisoners there is a serious point. Jewish workers, whose recent ancestors fled Nazi Germany and other European pogroms find it disturbing to need “permission” to leave the country. We have refugees from the former Soviet bloc and other totalitarian regimes. They know what it means to have papers out of order.

The middle class, the stodgy, flabby rump of totalitarianism, continues to twitch its curtains on full pay, brags about attending ‘zoom meetings’ from the bath or not getting out of bed at all. They quibble about how many times they are “allowed” to walk the dog or whether to have their mum over for lunch. Whilst they sit around their computers knocking themselves off like safari-park chimps, the Working Class must run the gauntlet of crowded workplaces, dodgy PPE and weirdoes who thing it’s clever to gob in their faces.

Gulag:
Acronym of Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-Trudovykh Lagerey.
Russian: “Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps”

People are afraid, for sure, not just of the virus but of starvation and homelessness, of their kids condemned to the scrapheap, their parents dying alone. Rumours abound, of the cops using number plate recognition to clock how far a vehicle has travelled from its registered address. There are despicable class traitors who will grass on their neighbours. Although there is no stop and search power that requires anyone to answer questions*, we hear of people being threatened with arrest for refusing to identify themselves. Call their bluff I say, you waste my time I’ll waste yours.

* Unless you’re driving, then it’s name and address only.

Bosses are taking advantage of the ‘furlough’* to shed workers with protected characteristics, and the super-rich, as always, are making money hand over fist. The sums may seem abstract, but the only value of wealth is the expectation that someone, somewhere will labour to acquire it. This is achieved by limiting access to the product of our own labour. As Heywood put it: “if a man has a dollar he didn’t work for, someone else worked for a dollar he didn’t get”.

* Another prison term. ‘Furlough’ is temporary release. As most prisoners in the U.S. are no threat to anybody but themselves, should they become logistically inconvenient, or if there is no work for them to do, they can be put out to save the state the expense of feeding and housing them.

For years we were offered a false dichotomy between state control and free market – either way is unregulated aggregation of economic power. Somehow the state has been rehabilitated without ever lifting a finger on our behalf, and to contradict its nonsense is to be aligned with cranks with their own set of authoritarian delusions.

Now having had the ‘rona twice I don’t consider it a hoax, it was like sleeping sickness with a loss of mental focus and bodily appetites. The cough only set in after a week but it never quite went away. It tends to magnify symptoms you live with normally, in my case headache, joint pain and irregular digestion. But everybody’s different, some test positive with no symptoms at all, some clearly have it but test negative or inconclusive.

We hear a lot these days about “imagining new futures” but no-one has any answers beyond more of the same, with a bit of technological wizardry thrown in. You cannot “unite” a society built on domination and abuse that refines its exploitative mechanics with every crisis it visits on our Class. The idea that there is an alternative to the status quo that is still military-industrial capitalism is irredeemably stupid. It wasn’t too much of a surprise that fucking idiot Hancock is influenced by Hollywood films, he could have just read his government’s own report on preparing for a pandemic, published in 2016, if he were serious about becoming health secretary. Are we really going to let wankers like that get the better of us?

You cannot compromise with the ruling class because they won’t compromise with you. They will maintain their privilege at all costs – and it costs them nothing. Black people, and other disadvantaged groups will need to take matters into their own hands because the liberals and the reformists can do nothing for them. They will need to fight their oppressors with the same ferocity with which oppression was imposed on them. Compliance will eventually cost more of our lives than any pandemic. The proper response to the Colston situation was for a hundred thousand Bristolians to turn out on the streets and tell the ruling class we will not allow it to try these comrades, precipitate a real insurrection, there’s never been a better time.

There are no broad sunlit uplands on offer, only a brutal, vicious war with the prospect of the means of production finally under control of the producing Class – it’s got to be worth a fight, stuff your prison logic, let’s put our heads together and have a serious discussion about how to fuck shit up.

“The Rank and File Strategy”: A Syndicalist View. By Tom Wetzel

Black Rose Anarchist Federation – Federación Anarquista Rosa Negra

Veteran activist and writer Tom Wetzel enters the wide ranging debate on the left around the “rank and file strategy” orientation to the labor movement. This piece is based on material is his forthcoming book from AK Press, Overcoming Capitalism.

Kim Moody’s writings on “the Rank and File Strategy” have gained a broad hearing within a variety of socialist groups, such as Democratic Socialists of America and smaller socialist groupings. His original pamphlet from 2000 talks about the strategy in terms of both rebuilding socialist influence in the labor movement and as a way to build a more worker-based socialist movement in the USA.

Recently Moody encapsulates the point to building rank-and-file worker organizations in the context of the unions this way:

“Building rank and file power to fight for the independence of unions from capitalist influence, in part transmitted by the bureaucracy, is an important task in building a class-conscious workers’ movement—something without which socialism remains only a set of ideas.”

Why is worker control of the union organization important? Here I think it is important to look at the process of class formation — the more or less protracted process through which

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Statement demanding that no more babies die in prison

End the imprisonment of pregnant people and the avoidable deaths of babies in prison

Prisoner Solidarity Network (IWOC)

We are prisoners, ex-prisoners, academics, health workers, local councillors and social justice groups who were outraged and broken-hearted to hear the news that two babies have needlessly died in prison in the last year. We call on the Ministry of Justice to release all pregnant people immediately and to put measures in place in the courts to end the imprisonment of those who are pregnant.

One baby died at HMP Bronzefield a year ago in September 2019 and another at HMP Styal in June 2020. In both cases the mother gave birth in a prison cell rather than at hospital. The prisons and the Ministry of Justice have refused to release information publicly about why the mothers were not taken to hospital, despite being in labour. These deaths, and the resulting trauma for the families of the babies, could have been prevented with appropriate support and access to health care.

It is well known that access to healthcare is routinely denied to people in prison and the specific health needs of pregnant people are often ignored. In 2018, the Care Quality Commission found that prisoners had died due to prison staff failing to respond properly to medical emergencies. A more recent report from the Nuffield Trust found that prisoners miss 40% of hospital appointments and that prisoners had been admitted to hospital with life-threatening conditions caused by lack of treatment for diabetes. Research into conditions for pregnant people in prison found that they

do not have access to extra or additional pregnancy specific nutrition, they do not always have easy access to a midwife, to pregnancy guidance or support, to maternity wear, heartburn tablets and.. not even a comfortable bed or breast pads’ (Abbott and Baldwin 2020).

An audit by the Nuffield Trust shows that in 2017-18 six births took place outside of hospital, presumably in cells or ambulances, accounting for about one in 10 births to prisoners recorded by the NHS in that year. While the Ministry of Justice does not publish statistics on this, research by Dr Laura Abbott found that midwifery care was often denied to people who felt they were in labour and that several prisoners and staff members had experience of births happening in prison cells.

The prison system manages people within it based on models of security and risk, which are incompatible with care for and protection of human life. Prison is not an appropriate environment for pregnant people; it is not conducive to either the mother’s or the unborn baby’s health (Abbott and Baldwin 2020). Organisations supporting pregnant people in prison have repeatedly informed the Ministry of Justice over several years of the poor conditions and lack of access to healthcare in prisons, as well as the serious risk of mothers and/or babies dying as a result. The Ministry of Justice has failed to take action.

This issue is now even more urgent due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Pregnant people have been included on the government’s list of those clinically vulnerable to COVID-19. In addition to this, prisons have responded to the pandemic by keeping prisoners locked in cells for 22 – 24 hours per day, increasing the risk of pregnant people going into labour in cells or being unable to access maternity care. The government acknowledged this with a promise in March 2020 to release pregnant women and women with babies in prison Mother and Baby Units, in order to allow them to safely self-isolate in the community. Despite this promise, pregnant people are still languishing in prison. We call on the Ministry of Justice to act immediately on this promise and release all pregnant people and mothers with babies in Mother and Baby Units, in order to prevent further harm and deaths.

Throughout pregnancy, people should be provided with care and support towards optimal well-being, safety, and dignity for themselves and their infant. Prison cannot and will not ever be able to provide this.

The government needs to act immediately and we demand that all pregnant prisoners and mothers with babies in Mother and Baby Units are released from prison by the 1st of November with adequate housing and support. If this is not done we will continue to campaign until this demand is met.

Signatories and Cymraeg

Resources

Baby dies in UK prison after inmate ‘gives birth alone in cell’

Revealed: concerns over string of incidents at UK prison where baby died

Two babies have died in a prison cell as women in jail are refused basic medical care

Why Do We Still Imprison Pregnant Women?

Why Has Another Baby Died In Prison?

Pregnancy and childbirth in English prisons