Southern Maine IWW Presents: Anatole Dolgoff, Author of “Left of the Left”

A Conversation with Anatole Dolgoff,
author of Left of the Left
Tuesday, May 2, 7:00 PM
@ Local Sprouts Cooperative cafe
649 Congress Street, Portland, Maine

The Southern Maine group of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union is proud to present Anatole Dolgoff, author of AK Press’s Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff. Anatole will be appearing at Local Sprouts Cooperative cafe at 649 Congress Street in Portland, Maine on Tuesday, May 2 at 7:00 PM for a discussion of his book, IWW labor organizing, and his famous left activist parents, Sam and Esther Dolgoff.

Book Details:

Sam Dolgoff (1902–1990) was a house painter by trade and member of the IWW from the early 1920s until his death. Sam, along with his wife Esther, was at the center of American anarchism for seventy years, bridging the movement’s generations, providing continuity between past and present, and creating some of the most vital books and journals from the Great Depression through WWII, the Civil Rights era, and into the last decade of the century. This instant classic of radical history, written with passion and humor by his son, conjures images of a lost New York City, the faded power of immigrant and working-class neighborhoods, and the blurred lines dividing proletarian and intellectual culture.

“The American left in its classical age used to celebrate an ideal, which was the worker-intellectual—someone who toils with his hands all his life and meanwhile develops his mind and deepens his knowledge and contributes mightily to progress and decency in the society around him. Sam Dolgoff was a mythic figure in a certain corner of the radical left … and his son, Anatole, has written a wise and beautiful book about him.” —Paul Berman, author of A Tale of Two Utopias and Power and the Idealists

“If you want to read the god-honest and god-awful truth about being a radical in twentieth-century America, drop whatever you’re doing, pick up this book, and read it. Pronto! If you’re not crying within five pages, you might want to check whether you’ve got a heart and a pulse.” —Peter Cole, author of Wobblies on the Waterfront

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Wobblies at Prominent New York Baking Company Heighten Struggle Against Private Equity Owners

via IWW.org:

By Lawrence Goun and Biko Koenig

Workers at Tom Cat Bakery sharpened their resistance against company attacks this summer with a solidarity BBQ in front of the Queens-based factory. Tom Cat’s private equity owners, Ancor and Merit Capital, are seeking devastating health care cuts and other takeaways from workers in contract negotiations with the Bakery Union. Dual-card IWW members are leading a struggle to build long-term power and secure a good contract, after beating back a de-certification attempt from a mob-dominated union earlier this year.

“These out-of-town investors already have their mansions, while we barely can support our families. The cuts they’re demanding are impossible and we’re united against them,” said Marino Aquino, a night-shift packer at Tom Cat and a member of the IWW. “Our unity is our strength and we will keep the pressure on until justice prevails.”

Industrial Worker – Issue #1764, April 2014

The Industrial Worker is the official (English language) newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) revolutionary labor union.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/216033460/Industrial-Worker-Issue-1764-April-2014

Headlines:
* Striking Workers At Boston Insomnia Cookies Win Settlement
* Portland IWW Fights Wage Theft
* Indiana IWW Celebrates One Year As A Branch

Features:
* Miami IWW: Fighting Back In High-End Hotels
* Exposed: The Adjunctification Of Higher Education
* Solidarity Unionism In Iceland

Tasia Edmonds, IWW Union Member at Insomnia Cookies, Fired! Union Claims Retaliation, Please Support!

Dear IWW Supporters,
 
Immediately after agreeing to pay four IWW strikers for illegally firing them, and promising not to retaliate against workers for union activity, Insomnia Cookies has suspended IWW Organizer Tasia Edmonds for an entire month without pay on flimsy pretexts. You’re invited to take action against this outrageous act of union-busting by the boutique cookie business. IWW’s and allies will picket Insomnia’s Boston location, 708 Comm Ave, this evening (Friday) starting at 7 pm. The store is very close to the BU East stop on the Green Line’s B train. Please come if you can! The Facebook event is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/604465696296628
 
Please also email the company any time at pfs@serveubrands.com, and call CEO Seth Berkowitz at 877 632-6654. Suggested message: “It is intolerable that IWW Organizer Tasia Edmonds has been suspended without pay for her union activity. Please take immediate action to bring Tasia back to work, and compensate her for any loss in pay. Union-busting is disgusting!”

To help Tasia with her living expenses, please contribute here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-tasia-fight-union-busting/x/6674514>.

Watch Tasia speak about the IWW and conditions at Insomnia here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibOGYg40OHQ&list=UUpb3nRb9V0R4gdES7R96ZoQ
 
*Background: *Tasia went public with her union affiliation on December 7.  She has been building the union in her store. In February, a new manager began harassing her about her union membership. On March 9, Tasia was told she has been suspended without pay for a month! The union has filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). An IWW organizing drive began at Insomnia in August after 4 workers spontaneously went on strike. Their demands included $15/hr, health care, and a union, and they were immediately fired. Despite recently promising to give about $4,000 in back pay to the strikers, and post a notice pledging not to retaliate against workers for union activity, Insomnia is apparently still determined to crush the union drive. The union is even more determined to get justice for Tasia and her co-workers! Please help however you can.

What Kinds of Workers Deserve a Union?

by x365097

The standard of living for US workers has been stagnating or in decline for the last four decades despite enormous leaps in productivity. Labor unions, organizing on the shop floor to shut down production to enforce workers’ demands, are a well-proven and direct method of closing the gap between what workers want and what they get from their bosses. Yet labor unions today count under 8% of private sector workers and under 40% of public sector workers in their membership. Furthermore, public opinion often turns against those workers who risk their jobs and reputations to try and start up unions in their workplaces, calling them undeserving and a host of other insults. Is there anything in the history of unionism that explains why we see these self-defeating and contradictory behaviors playing themselves out at a time when workers need more than ever to come together to fight for common goals?

Looking back a century or earlier to the rise of labor unions as major force in industrialized countries, we see that some of the biggest unions (AFL in particular in the US) made no bones about setting their priorities on organizing and protecting highly trained and socially privileged workers (native-born white males in particular) not only from capitalist factory owners, but also against supposed threats “from below” in the form of immigrant workers; female workers; workers of ethnic, religious and racial minorities, and other relatively underprivileged workers. The arguable goal of these unions was to create a well-paid, elite class of “deserving workers” who were able, as a unified group, to put their needs ahead of other workers’ needs, sometimes aligning their interests with the employing class in the process. When it suited them, these unions would break each others’ strikes and generally do whatever it took to obtain for themselves, as they said, what they considered to be “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” even if it meant hurting other, supposedly less deserving workers along the way.

That is not what we in the IWW would call a broad-spectrum working class solidarity, but a perverse kind of unionism fueled by reaction, racism, sexism, nativism, and other prejudices. Most of all, though, it’s a unionism that doesn’t get to the root of the problem facing all workers, whether or not we inhabit traditionally privileged racial, gender, and other statuses. That is that capitalism, in allowing a 1% to 10% of social members to control, own, and unduly influence industry, thereby directly or indirectly ruling over the other 90% to 99%, creates at a structural or institutional level a permanent underclass of people who have fewer opportunities and greater hardships no matter what they do.

By contrast, the IWW and our similarly radical forebears have fought — even when it was illegal, for instance, for black and white workers to belong to the same unions — to have a totally unified class of working people: skilled and unskilled, male and female, with no one left out. We did this because it is not only just in itself, but also because it is the only strategic or logical method of liberating workers from the capitalists’ domination of modern society. Either we all stand united and on equal footing in opposition to the controllers of industry on the basis of class alone, or we will be divided and conquered from within our ranks and defeated, as has happened over and over again. (The reaction from certain subsets of the white working class against racial equality and integration in the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, was arguably an important part of how the capitalist class was able to regain a strengthened hand after decades of working class organization and upsurges to bring us the overtly anti-worker, neoliberal regimes of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and so on from the 1980s to today.)

In 2014, more than 60 years after McCarthyism and the institutionalized purging of radicals from within mainstream labor unions, more than 50 years after the near-collapse of the IWW that followed it, and more than 40 years after average US wages reached their high point, labor radicals still struggle to overcome pro-capitalist union ideologies and reverse the class defeats which have plagued workers for far too long. In current IWW organizing campaigns, whether it is around the Sisters’ Camelot Union in Minnesota, the Insomnia Cookies Union in Massachusetts, or any number of other active shop-floor struggles, we IWWs still hear criticism regularly from people who consider themselves to be progressive or otherwise left-of center in comments such as, “I support unions, but not for these people. They work part-time and don’t have job skills!” Or they will tell us, “If you want better wages, get out of the fast food industry and go back to school!” We also hear these sorts of remarks around other contemporary struggles going on in the broader “Fight for 15” movement at McDonald’s and other large, highly profitable franchise chains.

Comments like these betray almost superstitious beliefs not only in an upward social and economic mobility that always had a low ceiling for the majority and no longer, in large measure, even exists, but also in a labor division and class system that is based on the notion that some workers deserve to be treated and paid badly by their employers — and indeed that there should be two separate employing and working classes to begin with (rather than, say, a cooperative system of industry in which this dichotomy is transcended). To IWWs, all workers deserve a union, and we believe that until all workers do organize into One Big Union, we can expect to see continued inequalities between “undeserving” workers (or so it is rationalized) who are stuck with jobs comprised of 90% disempowering tasks and low compensation and “deserving” workers (or so it is rationalized) who get to do the better jobs that carry more prestige and never involve undervalued but necessary “dirty work” like picking up trash, flipping burgers, or changing diapers. But most of all, there will be a capitalist class above both types of workers, keeping most of the fruits of our labor as their own private property and letting us fight amongst ourselves for the leftovers. The IWW exists to end these injustices and form a democratic society in which industry is operated according to need as determined by workers ourselves. Are you with us?

Insomnia Cookies Workers’ Union — Strike & Organizing Campaign Fundraiser, 22 January 2014, 7 PM

In August, employees of Cambridge, MA’s Insomnia Cookies struck, and joined the IWW. They were fed up with lousy pay and conditions. Their demands included $15/hr, health care, and a union, and they were swiftly terminated. Ever since, workers have stayed strong and maintained their struggle, which has grown into an organizing drive at the boutique cookie business.

Insomnia pays rock-bottom wages, charges $1.35 for cookies that cost the company $.10 to make, and refuses to pay workers’ compensation. Bike delivery workers report that if they get hurt in traffic, the boss’ response is, “Why are you late?” In response to a series of protests against the company’s labor practices, Insomnia falsely reported picketers were blocking the sidewalk in front of the Cambridge store, giving Harvard and Cambridge cops an excuse to bring police violence, and phony charges of assaulting cops, down on a union member.

Undeterred, the workers and their allies are keeping up pressure on the company with continuing pickets of local stores. Students at Harvard, BU and elsewhere have called for a boycott of the company. The National Labor Relations Board issued a Complaint against Insomnia for illegally firing workers for union activity. Recently SEIU Local 509 donated $1,000 to the campaign, a magnificent act of solidarity.

You can help too! Please join Insomnia strikers and their supporters at the Strike & Organizing Campaign Fundraiser, Wednesday January 22, starting at 7 pm, at the Center for Marxist Education, 550 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge (2nd floor), steps from the Central Square MBTA stop. If you can’t come to the event, please consider making a donation to the Insomnia Cookies Workers’ Organizing Fund, which is fueling the union drive.

How Much Democracy Can Exist Under Capitalism?

by x365097

In the western countries, we hear constantly from the ruling class about the virtues of democracy. In the US in particular, political democracy and the right to vote for elected representatives is often portrayed as one of the most important rights a citizen can have. US workers have even fought, killed, and died, at the ruling class’ command, numerous wars “to make the world safe for democracy.”

Alongside powerful moneyed interests, though, how powerful can political democracy be, and how important is the average working class person’s vote, really? Will candidates without money really be able to run campaigns which are as effective as those of their wealthier opponents? And won’t the wealthy and the candidates whom they support just continue to look out for their own interests, which aren’t the same as ours, and even are often opposed to ours? In other words, absent some other change in society outside of the political system, won’t the political process still be dominated in significant ways by the anti-democratic principle of one-dollar-one-vote instead of one-person-one-vote?

What Is Capitalism?

Let’s begin by defining what we mean by “capitalism.” Capitalism is a system of economic activity and social organization in which relatively few wealthy people, no more than 10% or so of the overall population (capitalists), own and control access to the industrial infrastructure (workplaces, factories, shops, etc.) that makes modern production and a safer and more comfortable lifestyle possible (indoor plumbing, heat and AC, abundant food, rapid transportation, etc.). Meanwhile, the vast majority of relatively poor people, the other 90% (workers), own almost nothing of economic relevance but their labor, or their ability to perform work (whether that work is considered “highly skilled” or more menial).

Under capitalism, goods and services are generated when workers’ labor, consisting of blood, sweat, tears, intellect, and time, is sold to capitalists (usually by the hour). The catch about capitalism, though, is that legally, the goods and services created by the workers immediately become the property of the capitalist, who may control and use them — selling them at a profit, for instance — as he or she wishes, and the workers have no binding say at all about how the earnings are distributed, or in what directions production and development are shaped. “Let the market decide,” say the capitalists, which is easy for them because guess who controls it!

Although the capitalist must — according to minimum wage and similar laws, if you are lucky enough to live in a country which has them — return at least some portion of the proceeds to the workers, he or she will typically try to keep as much of the rest as possible for herself or himself. Indeed, capitalists must turn as much profit as possible to stay ahead of other capitalists, who are always trying to expand, to control more and more of the marketplace, and to reduce others to working for them (making them their wage slaves) instead of being their competitors. In this way, a permanent underclass of workers is created, while a ruling class of capitalists becomes empowered to live large and rule society — including its political system.

Political Rights and Economic Rights

Now, let’s reconsider how much democracy is currently in our lives. To start, we could loosely define democracy as the idea that the majority or a supermajority rules — because people can and should collectively rule our own lives and make their own decisions in all aspects of our lives. The capitalist ruling class wants to limit this idea as much as possible, keeping our voting options restricted only to candidates who are fundamentally as similar as possible, primarily in the most important idea that they all support the perpetuation of the capitalist economy, the capitalists’ ownership and control of the industrial infrastructure and the wealth that is generated from it. From fascists to progressives, this is what we find, though what differs is are the shades and types of charity that are mixed in. And while some charity is better than none, whether it is in the form of private, voluntary contributions, or government-mandated, redistributive taxation, it can never be considered a complete or root-level solution to the capitalist-worker tension (which stems from the capitalist ownership and control of the means of production, the equipment of industry).

So maybe the popular concept of democracy needs to be expanded more widely from being just a political idea to an economic one as well. As a citizen, you have some political rights (see above), but as a worker, what are your economic rights? Without a union which can fight for your class interests, starting on the shop floor, you have very few, and the few that you have, granted by the capitalist state itself, only came from peace treaties that the state had to sign to placate very strong labor unions in the past who struggled extremely militantly to win better standards for future generations of workers. As long as capitalism exists, those rights are always in jeopardy, and whether your boss is friendly or horrible, the basic rules still apply: the boss has the last say, always, and he or she can enforce it with a firing.

Democracy Begins at Work — and in Your Union

If radical democracy, a democracy which relieves us of the worker-capitalist tension, must come from outside of the political system, how exactly will it come? Considering that the anchor of anti-democratic interests is the capitalist workplace, this is where workers should start to gain the leverage we need to move from powerless, to a counter-power, to the ruling power — en masse, as a union. But the type of union organization we choose is important, as not all unions have the same methods and interests.

For example, many of the largest unions (unfortunately), such as the AFL, have not only long upheld capitalism explicitly, but they have also long been accused of being exclusive in their member selection practices and member treatment for the purpose of trying to create elite groups of privileged workers who, on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender, religion, and other affiliations, are able to maintain economic advantages over other, supposedly less deserving workers — and even scabbing against, or purposely breaking the strikes of, competing labor unions. Since one of the hallmarks of capitalist oppression is increasing and fomenting divisions among workers along racial, gender, and other lines (Nazi Germany and other fascist states being stark examples of this kind of attempt to replace class struggle with race struggle), we can say that this behavior is more in line with what we would expect from capitalists than what would best serve workers on the whole.

Additionally, the standard organizing model for such unions is a top-down approach in which workers pay sometimes fairly high dues to salaried union staffers who may or may not have an incentive to push for what the workers want, or even really to listen to them. Indeed, there have been numerous instances in modern history in which unionized workers had to strike against their union bosses’ orders to get what they needed, just as they had to strike against the capitalist bosses.

Organizing with the IWW

There are alternatives to the concessions-happy, capitalist business unions. Instead, imagine a member-run union without paid staff*, which makes almost all of its decisions by a direct vote of all the members, which charges dues amounting to less than 1% of its members’ wages, and whose intention it is to organize every worker in every industry everywhere for a common purpose, that purpose being to end war, pollution, economic inequality, capitalism. That union is the IWW, or the Industrial Workers of the World. We seek better conditions and pay in the short term, and the abolition of the wage system, or capitalism, when we have become strong and united enough to put an end to it. IWWs believe that workers don’t need bosses and that we can and deserve to inherit the world’s industrial systems in order to use them to provide for each others’ needs as we determine them to be. As a worker, the choice is yours, but it requires commitment. Are you with us?

*except for the general treasurer, an annually elected official who receives a small stipend for her or his year of service, and who loses her or his vote within the union for that year in exchange for the compensation.