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The Death of a Gig Worker

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 01:02

via The Atlantic

by Thomas Fox Parry

An 8-year-old told me about Pablo Avendano’s death: “My dad’s friend was just killed riding his bike.” The 8-year-old was a friend of my son, Dai. I had taken the boys out for water ice in our neighborhood in Philadelphia. “He went out to work and he’s never coming back,” my son’s friend said, bobbing on his feet. “And he didn’t even like his job!” Avendano made deliveries through Caviar, the food-ordering app.“His boss is probably in trouble,” Dai said.

Avendano was joyous, passionate, a rush-seeker. He partied, always smiling. “Totally gregarious. Tequila bottles did not stay full,” his roommate told me. He gave his friends the impression that, when they spoke, they had his full attention. He looked for people who were alone, and tried to connect. “I never had a brother, but whenever I saw Avendano, we hugged, we kissed,” Randon Martin, a blue-eyed, dreadlocked young man who worked with Avendado, said. “I loved him, and he made you feel loved.”

Avendano, like many of his friends, considered himself an anarchist and a communist. He grew up in Miami and studied political science at Florida International University. While there he once slept in a cardboard hut on campus for three days in solidarity with the homeless in Miami’s Liberty City. He organized students in support of campus janitors fighting for higher wages. In Immokalee, Florida, he marched with workers against exploitative labor conditions in the tomato fields, part of a movement that would eventually result in a deal for better pay and working conditions. After college, Avendano worked in restaurants, in retail, and for cleaning and landscaping crews. He stayed political. Martin showed me a picture on his phone taken by the photographer Devin Allen during the 2015 Baltimore riots. In black and white, Avendano is smiling, washing pepper spray from his eyes with milk.

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The “Research Arm” of the Peace Movement: How Power Researchers Helped the Vietnam Antiwar Movement

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 17:00

via Eyes on the Ties

By Derek Seidman

NARMIC worked with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, seen here protesting the war.

Diana Roose was a longtime staffer with National Action/Research on the Military-Industrial Complex, or NARMIC, as it was commonly known. NARMIC was a group of power researchers that was affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee. It formed in 1969, at the height of the US war on Vietnam War, and existed throughout the mid-1980s.

NARMIC was dedicated to uncovering the defense profiteers behind the US war machine. They worked closely with the peace movement to resist militarism and published valuable reports and slideshows that helped activists better understand the power behind the military-industrial complex – and how to fight it.

In October, we profiled NARMIC on Eyes on the Ties as part of our ongoing exploration into the role of power research in social movement history. To get more background on NARMIC, we interviewed Diana Roose about the organization’s history and legacy, as well as her personal experiences and reflections.

LittleSis research analyst Derek Seidman conducted the interview over the phone with Diana  Roose in August 2017. The transcript has been edited for readability.

Can you talk a little bit about your background and how you ended up getting involved with NARMIC?

I went to college from 1966 to 1970 at Swarthmore College, which is right outside of Philadelphia. There were very active antiwar groups there. I came from Ohio. I was a really small town girl and really knew nothing about this.

But by the time I graduated I had been involved in some protest and doing some draft counseling, and I wanted to continue doing work that was of use to the antiwar movement. Most of my friends in school went to graduate school. I didn’t want to do that. My husband was in law school at the time in Philadelphia, so we moved to Philly.

I started asking around, and one of my friends who had been a draft counselor said there was a group at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) that was doing research on the war. I jumped at it, because research was my interest, and what I was good at.

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Beyond Honey Bees: Wild Bees Are Also Key Pollinators, and Some Species Are Disappearing

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 04:55

via Eco Watch

By Kelsey K. Graham

Declines in bee populations around the world have been widely reported over the past several decades. Much attention has focused on honey bees, which commercial beekeepers transport all over the U.S. to pollinate crops.

However, while honey bees are a vital part of our agricultural system, they are generally considered the chickens of the bee world—domesticated and highly managed for specific agricultural use. They are not native to North America and often can’t be used as a surrogate for understanding what is happening with native wild bees—the focus of my research.

There are about 5,000 native bee species in North America. Many have shown no evidence of decline, and some are thriving in highly urbanized areas. But other species, including some that were previously common, are becoming harder and harder to find. As scientists work to understand bee decline, it is important to identify the unique roles that native bees play, and to identify threats specific to them.

Efficient Pollinators

One in every three bites of food we eat is made possible by bees. They pollinate almonds, apples, blueberries, squash, tomatoes and many other popular crops. They also pollinate alfalfa, which we feed to farm animals, so they support the meat component of our diet too.

We need bees for food security and to maintain healthy ecosystems. Bees pollinate flowering trees and wildflowers, which in turn provide food and homes for other animals and improve water, air and soil quality.

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US anarchist David Graeber’s crusade against the rise of “bullshit jobs”

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 04:47

via the New Statesman

by George Eaton

In 2013, the American anthropologist David Graeber began to notice a strange phenomenon. “I kept running into people at parties who didn’t want to tell you what they did [for work],” he recalled when we met. Others would say “we just make up the numbers” or “I can do my job in two hours a week – don’t tell my boss!” This wasn’t mere self-effacement – “they were really doing nothing”.

To test his thesis, Graeber wrote an essay that year for the radical magazine Strike!: “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”. The response was remarkable. Thousands of workers contacted him, the publication’s website crashed and the piece was swiftly translated into more than a dozen languages.

Graeber had assumed only around 15-20 per cent of the UK population had a “bullshit job”, which he defines as “one so pointless that even the person doing it can’t justify it”. But a 2015 YouGov poll, inspired by his piece, found that 37 per cent of British workers did not believe their job made a “meaningful contribution” to the world (a further 13 per cent were unsure).

The anarchist author, whose previous books include Debt: The First 5,000 Years and The Utopia of Rules, has now expanded his piece into a book: Bullshit Jobs. I met Graeber, 57 – rumpled in mustard trousers and battered brogues – at his office at the London School of Economics, where he is professor of anthropology. Though recovering from a stomach bug, he spoke animatedly of his recent visit to Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish region of Syria.

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Punching the Clock

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 21:32

via Harpers

by David Graeber


veryone is familiar with the sorts of jobs whose purpose is difficult to discern: HR consultants, PR researchers, communications coordinators, financial strategists, logistics managers. The list is endless.

This is how Kurt, a subcontractor for the German military, describes his job:

“The German military has a subcontractor that does its IT work. The IT firm has a subcontractor that does its logistics. The logistics firm has a subcontractor that does its personnel management. I work for that company.

“Let’s say a soldier moves to an office two rooms down the hall. Instead of carrying his computer over, he fills out a form. The IT subcontractor reads and approves it and forwards it to the logistics firm. The logistics firm approves the move and requests personnel from us. I get an email to travel to the barracks. The barracks are up to three hundred miles away from my home, so I rent a car. I drive to the barracks, fill out a form, unhook the computer, load it into a box, and seal the box. A guy from the logistics firm carries the box to the new office. There, I unseal the box, fill out another form, hook up the computer, get a few signatures, drive back home, send a letter with the paperwork, and then I get paid.”

In 2015, YouGov, a polling agency, asked Britons whether they believed their job made a “meaningful contribution to the world.” More than a third—37 percent—believed it did not. (Only 50 percent said that it did; 13 percent were uncertain.) A more recent poll conducted in the Netherlands found that 40 percent of Dutch workers felt their job had no good reason to exist.

Our society values work. We expect a job to serve a purpose and to have a larger meaning. For workers who have internalized this value system, there is little that is more demoralizing than waking up five days a week to perform a task that one believes is a waste of time.

It’s not obvious, however, why having a pointless job makes people quite so miserable. After all, a large portion of the workforce is being paid—often very good money—to do nothing. They might consider themselves
fortunate. Instead, many feel worth-
less and depressed.

In 1901, the German psychologist Karl Groos discovered that infants express extraordinary happiness when they first discover their ability to cause predictable effects in the world. For example, they might scribble with a pencil by randomly moving their arms and hands. When they realize that they can achieve the same result by retracing the same pattern, they respond with expressions of utter joy. Groos called this “the pleasure at being the cause,” and suggested that it was the basis for play.

Before Groos, most Western political philosophers, economists, and social scientists assumed that humans seek power out of either a desire for conquest and domination or a practical need to guarantee physical gratification and reproductive success. Groos’s insight had powerful implications for our understanding of the formation of the self, and of human motivation more generally. Children come to see that they exist as distinct individuals who are separate from the world around them by observing that they can cause something to happen, and happen again. Crucially, the realization brings a delight, the pleasure at being the cause, that is the very foundation of our being.

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11 ways the Paris climate deal is working in the real world

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 15:48

via Climate Change News

By Soila Apparicio

Like an old car that has gone as far as it can go, UN climate talks in Bonn last week stuttered, spluttered and stalled.

In 2015 in Paris, governments struck a deal that lacked much of the substance needed to fight climate change. Now diplomats are trying to negotiate the complex rules of the deal. Their failure to make serious progress has been met with concern around the world.

Climate negotiations are becoming ever-more detached from the starburst of activity released by the Paris deal. In the coming years, the role of the UN will remain important, but no longer be the primary driver of global change.

Not willing to wait for the finer details, businesses, researchers, governments and citizens are coming up with new ways to move the climate to a safer place. There are thousands of stories, big and small. Here are just a few.

1. Looking down from space

Kenyan herders no longer have to rely on instinct or rumour to find the best grassland for their livestock. An app called Afriscout uses satellite data to point them in the right direction, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

It is one of the latest innovations to bring the world’s poorest into the information age and help them ride out increasingly volatile weather patterns.

The project is sponsored through US foreign aid. Under the Paris Agreement rich countries committed to mobilising tens of billions of dollars every year to help poor countries cope with climate change.

It also put adaptation to the impacts of climate change on an equal footing to emissions reduction – the latter historically preoccupying the developed world.

As science and policy scramble to catch up, images from space can increasingly guide decisions on the ground.

2. Chile’s law unleashes action

In 2017, Chile released a sweeping new plan to reform its coal-heavy power sector. The Paris deal is referenced throughout the 250-page policy paper. Since the law was announced, the country has also announced a coal phase out and its new centre right president has called for 100% renewable electricity to be achieved by 2040.

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“Fulfillment was already there”: Debord & ’68

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 05:01

via Verso Books

by Andy Merrifield

On the brink of working class and student insurgency came Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (1967), the radical book of the 1960s, perhaps the most radical radical book ever written. Its 221 strange theses give us stirring crescendos of literary power, compelling evocations of an epoch in which unity spelt division, essence appearance, truth falsity. A topsy-turvy world where everything and everybody partook in a perverse paradox. Debord mocked the reality of this non-reality, an absurd world in which ugliness signified beauty, stupidity intelligence, subjecting it to his own dialectical inversion, his own spirit of negation. This was theory that identified enemy minefields and plotted a Northwest Passage, getting daubed on the walls of Paris and other cities during May 1968: “POWER TO THE WORKERS’ COUNCILS,” “DOWN WITH THE SPECTACULAR COMMODITY ECONOMY,” “THE END OF THE UNIVERSITY.”

Its refrains were all over the modern high-rise environment at the University of Paris-Nanterre, a classic scene of urban isolation and separation, a “suburban Vietnam,” where a peripheral new town university coexisted with working-class slums and Arab and Portuguese shantytowns. The place was sterile, sexually and socially repressive, and totalitarian. This was the spirit of a society without any spirit. The same centralisation, hierarchy, and bureaucratic obsession persisting in the educational sector persisted in other aspects of the French state. Tough rules governed student dorms and freedom of movement; classes were overcrowded, resources stretched; professors were distant, student alienation rife. The right-wing Gaullist regime attempted to modernise the economy, in line with Common Market membership, and unemployment was growing.

At the University of Strasbourg, two years prior, a handful of Situationists had intervened; angry students of Henri Lefebvre and friends of Debord. They’d riled and denounce, tried to revolutionise students with an influential pamphlet called “On the Poverty of Student Life—Considered in its Economic, Political, Psychological, Sexual and especially Intellectual Aspects, with a Modest Proposal for its Remedy.” They’d infiltrated the National Union of French Students (UNEF), accused students at Strasbourg of pandering to a society dominated by the commodity and the spectacle. Student poverty was a poverty of ideas, a poverty of guts. Students were really “submissive children,” labour-power in the making, without class consciousness. They accepted the business and institutional roles for which the “university-factory” prepared them, never questioning the system of production that alienated all activity, products, people, and ideas. The Situationist’s text struck a chord; translated reprints extended its audience, notably to the U.S., Britain and Italy. In Strasbourg, the document caused a scandal; a coterie of students refused to be integrated. Critical awareness gathered steam over the next year and a bit, until, in late March of 1968, it blew a gasket at Nanterre.

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The revenge against the commons of the ZAD

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 04:49

via ROAR magazine

By People

The ZAD was initially set up as a protest against the building of a new airport for the city of Nantes, following a letter by residents distributed during a climate camp in 2009, which invited people to squat the land and buildings: “because,” as they wrote, “only an inhabited territory can be defended.” Over the years this territory earmarked for a mega-infrastructure project evolved into Europe’s largest laboratory of commoning. Before the French state started to bulldoze our homes, there were 70 different living spaces and 300 inhabitants nestled into this checkerboard landscape of forest, fields and wetlands. Alternative ways of living with each other, fellow species and the world are experimented with 24/7.

From making our own bread to running a pirate radio station, planting herbal medicine gardens to making rebel camembert, a rap-recording studio to a pasta-production workshop, an artisanal brewery to two blacksmiths forges, a communal justice system to a library and even a full-scale working lighthouse — the ZAD has become a new commune for the twenty-first century. Messy and bemusing, this beautifully imperfect utopia in resistance against an airport and its world has been supported by a radically diverse popular movement, bringing together tens of thousands of anarchists and farmers, unionists and naturalists, environmentalists and students, locals and revolutionaries of every flavor. But everything changed on January 17, 2018, when the French prime minister appeared on TV to cancel the airport project and in the same breath say that the ZAD, the “outlaw zone,” would be evicted and law and order restored.

I am starting to write eight days into the attack — it’s Tuesday the 17th of April, my diary tells me, but days, dates even hours of the day seem to merge into a muddled bath of adrenaline-soaked intensity, so hard to capture with words. We are so tired, bruised and many badly injured. Medics have counted 270 injuries so far. Lots due to the impact of rubber bullets, but most from the sharp metal and plastic shrapnel shot from the stun and concussion grenades whose explosions punctuate the spring symphony of birdsong. Similar grenades killed 21-year-old ecological activist Remi Fraise during protests against an agro-industrial damn in 2014.

The ZAD’s welcome and information center, still dominated by a huge hand-painted map of the zone, has been transformed into a field hospital. Local doctors have come in solidarity working with action medic crews, volunteer acupuncturists and healers of all sorts, and the comrades ambulance is parked outside. The police have even delayed ambulances leaving the zone with injured people in them, and when its the gendarmerie that evacuates seriously injured protesters from the area sometimes they have been abandoning them in the street far from the hospital or in one case in front of a psychiatric clinic.

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Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump and the “Me First” Doctrine

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 04:35

via Truthout

By C.J. Polychroniou

President Trump’s sudden cancellation of the upcoming denuclearization summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is just the latest example of Trump’s wildly erratic approach to foreign policy.

While Trump’s domestic policies seem to be guided by clear objectives — increasing corporate profits, undoing every policy made by the Obama administration, and appeasing Trump’s anti-immigrant base — the imperatives driving US foreign policy under Trump remain something of a mystery.

In this exclusive interview, renowned linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky sheds light on the realities and dangers of foreign relations in the age of “gangster capitalism” and the decline of the US as a superpower.

C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, Donald Trump rose to power with “America First” as the key slogan of his election campaign. However, looking at what his administration has done so far on both the domestic and international front, it is hard to see how his policies are contributing to the well-being and security of the United States. With that in mind, can you decode for us what Trump’s “America First” policy may be about with regard to international relations?

Noam Chomsky: It is only natural to expect that policies will be designed for the benefit of the designers and their actual — not pretended — constituency, and that the well-being and security of the society will be incidental. And that is what we commonly discover. We might recall, for example, the frank comments on the Monroe Doctrine by Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, Robert Lansing: “In its advocacy of the Monroe Doctrine the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end. While this may seem based on selfishness alone, the author of the Doctrine had no higher or more generous motive in its declaration.” The observation generalizes in international affairs, and much the same logic holds within the society.

There is nothing essentially new about “America First,” and “America” does not mean America, but rather the designers and their actual constituency.

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Kropotkin’s “Modern Science and Anarchy” published

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 23:27

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

I am happy to announce that the final book published in Kropotkin’s lifetime – Modern Science and Anarchy – is now available in English translation, namely 1913’s La Science Moderne et L’Anarchie. I would like to thank the comrades of AK Press for this finally happen, 105 years in the making. More details can be found on the UK and USA AK Press webpages.

An appendix to my introduction covers the history of the various parts of the book, for there are five parts plus two appendices. Most (but not all) of the book was published before, either as pamphlets or articles, but all are substantially revised – both in terms of the French texts as well as any previous English translations. The contents of the 2018 edition are as follows:

Preface (newly translated)

Part I: Modern Science & Anarchy

I. The Origins of Anarchy

II. The Intellectual Movement of the Eighteenth Century

III. The Reaction at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century

IV. Comte’s Positive Philosophy

V. The Awakening in the Years 1856–1862

VI. Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy

VII. The Role of Law in Society

VIII. The Position of Anarchy in Modern Science

IX. The Anarchist Ideal and Previous Revolutions

X. Anarchy

XI. Anarchy (continued)

XII. Anarchy (continued)

XIII. Anarchy (continued)

XIV. Some Conclusions of Anarchy

XV. The Means of Action

XVI. Conclusion

Part II: Communism & Anarchy

I. Anarchist Communism (newly translated)

II. Authoritarian Communism—Communist Communities

III. Small Communist Communities—Causes of Their Failures

IV. Does Communism Imply the Diminishing of the Individual?

Part III: The State: Its Historic Role

Part IV: The Modern State

I. The Essential Principle of Modern Societies

II. Serfs of the State

III. Taxation: A Means of Creating the Powers of the State

IV. Taxation: A Means of Enriching the Wealthy

V. Monopolies

VI. Monopolies in the Nineteenth Century

VII. Monopolies in constitutional England–In Germany–Kings of the Era (newly translated)


IX. War and Industry

X. The Essential Characteristics of the State (newly translated)

XI. Can the State Be Used for the Emancipation of the Workers? (newly translated)

XII. The Modern Constitutional State (newly translated)

XIII. Is it Sensible to Strengthen the Current State? (newly translated)

XIV. Conclusions (newly translated)

Part V: Appendices

I. Explanatory Notes

II. Herbert Spencer: His Philosophy

This is the original text of the 1913 edition. Also, the material took a lot longer and far more work than I expected, as the existing translations of various chapters were almost always incomplete — this was a substantially expanded work compared to the original translations (some of which are in Direct Struggle Against Capital and elsewhere). I assumed that the already translated material would be close to French edition (not least, the 1912 version of Modern Science and Anarchism – namely, Part I of the book). Not the case at all, even with material translated close to or after the French edition was published.

So everything had to be revised, which means that this is a completely new translation beyond the chapters never before translated into English.

I should also mention all the tracking down of references and the footnotes needed for clarification – so the “Explanatory Notes” appendix is substantially larger than the original. I also indicated by footnote significant differences between the original English editions and the French book – somethings they added things which have no real equivalent in the 1913 version. Mostly fun and interesting, but still a task.

In short, essentially, the first “new” book by Kropotkin in English since Words of a Rebel was finally translated and published back in 1992 by Black Rose Books. Until now, ironically it was his first book was the last one available – now at least it is his final work which has finally been translated!

This means that we now in a position to have a better understanding of Kropotkin’s ideas based on the works he oversaw publication of during his lifetime. For there is a lot of interesting material in Modern Science and Anarchy which should be very interesting to any serious anarchist. It is interesting to compare Modern Science and Anarchy with Rudolf Rocker’s Anarcho-Syndicalism for is it now obvious that the first few chapters of the latter are summaries of the former. Rocker’s comments on the evolution of the State come from Kropotkin, for example. Then there is this passage from Part 1 (and which does not appear in the 1912 British-edition of Part 1, namely Modern Science and Anarchism) which sums up his politics well, shows the links with syndicalism and gives a snapshot why this book is important:

“the State, with its hierarchy of functionaries and the weight of its historical traditions, could only delay the dawning of a new society freed from monopolies and exploitation […] what means can the State provide to abolish this monopoly that the working class could not find in its own strength and groups? […] what advantages could the State provide for abolishing these same privileges? Could its governmental machine, developed for the creation and upholding of these privileges, now be used to abolish them? Would not the new function require new organs? And these new organs would they not have to be created by the workers themselves, in their unions, their federations, completely outside the State?”

As well as the original text of the book, I have also added “Supplementary Material” by Kropotkin related to the subjects raised in the 1913 edition:

Supplementary Material

Charles Darwin (newly translated)

Anarchy: Its Philosophy, Its Ideal

Co-operation: A Reply to Herbert Spencer (from Freedom, first time in book)

Letter to Comradeship (first time in book)

Organised Vengeance Called Justice (new translation)

The State: Creator of Monopolies (newly translated)

Most of this is newly translated or available in book form for the first time. “Anarchy: Its Philosophy, Its Ideal” is a complete version of the lecture originally published as “Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal.” The original translation was slightly abridged while the version in Fugitive Writings and Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings is missing just over a quarter.

Lastly, I have written an introduction plus other hopefully useful material:

Introduction: Reality Has a Well-Known Libertarian Bias

A Publication History

Further Reading

Notes on the text


The introduction discusses how Kropotkin’s arguments have held up and whether “Modern Science” still agrees with it (short answer, yes). I also cover where Kropotkin makes mistakes and indicates what the facts are (such as proclaiming Proudhon advocated “Labour Notes” plus certain aspects of his discussion on Individualist Anarchism). It is, I hope, a substantial and interesting read. Where the original texts first appeared is indicated in “A Publication History,” which I enjoyed tracking down – a bit of book archelogy, if you like. Incidentally, PM Press asked me to make Bibliographical notes for their edition of three Kropotkin pieces – Anarchism, Anarchist Communism, and the State.

Finally, here are the full advance blurbs from comrades praising the book:

Iain McKay’s definitive version of Modern Science and Anarchy is another welcome product of his continuing effort to broaden our understanding of Kropotkin’s ideas, recovering texts scattered and forgotten in the course of Kropotkin’s transnational activism. More than an exercise in Kropotkiana however, this work offers Kropotkin’s most concise exposition of the ideas that defined his life, focusing on anarchism’s interactions with the defining scientific and political currents of modern European history, and staking a claim for anarchism as a vital, and intellectually sophisticated, component of this story. – Matthew Adams, author of Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism

Finally – after all these years the definitive edition of Kropotkin’s Modern Science and Anarchy. Here we have not only a mature restatement of Kropotkin’s anarchist communism, but Kropotkin’s own history of anarchist ideas and movements, a survey of libertarian and anarchist currents throughout human history, as Kropotkin describes the perennial struggle between authority and liberty.  But that is not all – the second half of the book, a series of essays selected by Kropotkin himself on the rise of capitalism and the state, contains some of Kropotkin’s best work, including “The State: Its Historic Role.” Iain McKay is to be commended for so carefully editing and annotating one of Kropotkin’s most important books, well deserving a place alongside Mutual Aid and The Conquest of Bread. – Robert Graham, author of ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke it’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement and editor of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

This new, definitive edition of Kropotkin’s Modern Science and Anarchy is an important addition to the literature on one of the most influential figures in the development of modern libertarian communism. Iain McKay’s introduction is a model of scholarship and succeeds not only in contextualising and explaining Kropotkin’s ideas, but also in addressing a number of misunderstandings and misrepresentations along the way. He also makes a convincing case for the book’s continuing relevance for present-day radicals. – David Berry, author of A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917 to 1945

This is a welcome new translation of a long neglected text by Peter Kropotkin. In the spirit of Kropotkin, the volume includes a highly knowledgeable and sympathetic – yet not uncritical – introduction by the editor, who also adds some clarifying footnotes to the original text. In Modern Science and Anarchy Kropotkin positions his anarchism in relation to Comte, Spencer and Hegel. Whilst Kropotkin’s enthusiasm for science (and indeed his somewhat mechanistic account of science) is dated, there is much more to the text than a simplistic paean to positivism. It rightly identifies anarchism as a product of oppressed peoples’ struggle rather than the outcome of specialist technical thinkers (though he also pays debts to Bakunin and Proudhon) and provides a concise and attractive account of anarchist communism and a still pertinent discussion of alternatives. This book will not only be of keen interest to specialists in science studies, political epistemology and the history of political ideas, but also to contemporary libertarian activists who will still find plenty of relevant, clearly explained material to engage with. – Benjamin Franks, author of Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchisms

I should note that at some stage I would like to do a revised translation of Words of a Rebel and include the various pre- and post-faces Kropotkin wrote (for the Russian and Italian editions). In addition, there would be a similar “Supplementary Material” section which would include various articles on the workers movement from Le Révolté which were not included in Words of a Rebel. This would help people better understand Kropotkin’s revolutionary ideas. Until I get around to that, I should note that much of this material can be found in Direct Struggle Against Capital (also published by AK Press).

Until I blog again, be seeing you…

Nearly Half of You Reading This Have Bullshit Jobs

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 04:49

via The Daily Beast

by Nick Romeo

How many people spend their working lives doing something essentially meaningless? A recent poll in the United Kingdom found that 37 percent of full-time workers were quite sure that their job made no meaningful contribution to the world. The anthropologist David Graeber’s new book, Bullshit Jobs, presents a provocative theory of how and why pointless work has proliferated in the modern world, and what we might do to reverse this trend. Nick Romeo spoke with Graeber from London.

It seems like the category of bullshit jobs is both self-explanatory and internally homogeneous. But you actually distinguish five types of bullshit jobs in the book. Could you walk us through this taxonomy of nonsense?

The categories are a product of actual research. Doing a traditional ethnography of bullshit jobs would be quite difficult for obvious reasons, so I asked my 68,000 twitter followers: What was your most pointless job? Hundreds of accounts rolled in rather quickly, ranging from a few sentences to 13 pages. I would often follow up with correspondence as well to ask clarifying questions. Then I sorted this material by type.

The first are flunkies, whose positions exist just to make somebody else look good. An unnecessary receptionist is an example. I described one receptionist in the book who gets a single phone call per day. So why couldn’t the boss take that call? Because if you walk into an office and there’s not a receptionist, it doesn’t look like a real company. Since executive prestige increasingly is measured by the number of people working for executives, they often employ people who have nothing to do.

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The Real Reason NFL Owners Want to Punish Players for Protesting During the Anthem

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 03:49

via The Nation

by Dave Zirin

n what has to rank among the worst ideas in the history of the National Football League – alongside decisions to cover up concussion research and ignore the issue of violence against women—NFL owners have come up with a new proposal to deal with players who protest police violence and racial inequity during the National Anthem. According to Sports Illustrated football scribe Albert Breer, “Per sources, one anthem idea being discussed: Leaving it up to home team on whether teams come out for the anthem; if teams do come out for the anthem, potential that teams could be assessed 15-yard penalties for kneeling.”

This idea is so terrible that one wonders if it was leaked by another owner as a way of preemptively humiliating whoever proposed it from ever uttering the notion again. One can only imagine an official saying, “Exercising of constitutional rights. On the kicking team. 15 yard penalty. First down.” That the idea is almost The Onion-worthy is not the only reason why penalizing players for protest is a non-starter. NFL players have had the space to protest during the anthem not out of the noblesse oblige of ownership but because it is enshrined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the union.

The union has already made clear in their collusion grievance on behalf of unsigned player Eric Reid, that “there is no League rule that prohibits players from demonstrating during the national anthem. The NFL has made it clear both publicly and to the NFLPA that they would respect the rights of players to demonstrate. The Collective Bargaining Agreement definitively states that League (NFL) rules supersede any conflicting club rules.” This is their line in the sand.

The idea that some owners would even propose this without speaking to the union is a sign of how drastically out of touch this group of aged billionaires are from the players in their league. If they did somehow muscle this rule into effect, as ESPN’s Bomani Jones pointed out on Twitter it could actually lead to solidarity between sidelines. Imagine if five players on each squad decided to kneel during the anthem. That would mean offsetting 75-yard penalties, and we will have entered a true theater of the absurd.

Read more

Review: The Next Revolution by Murray Bookchin

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 03:44

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) was for four decades a leading anarchist thinker and writer. His many articles and books – Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, The Ecology of Freedom and a host of others – are libertarian classics and influential in the wider green movement. However, in 1995 he became involved in a vicious polemic over various negative aspects of (primarily American) anarchism with the publication of his Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism which, in 1999, saw him break with anarchism completely, denouncing it as inherently individualist. Still considering himself a libertarian socialist, he now called his politics “Communalism” rather than “Social Ecology” or “Social Anarchism.”

This context is important in order to understand this often contradictory collection of essays, for the work combines articles written between 1992 and 2002 and so ones before and after his break with anarchism. This means he indicates the anarchist pedigree of his “Commune of communes” in some chapters (63, 95) while proclaiming anarchism as being against organisation in others. So following a preface by the late, great, Ursula Le Guin and an introduction by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor, we have  nine chapters by Bookchin on a range of subjects written over a range of times and this produces the key flaw in the work: denunciations of anarchism sit next to praise for it.

What of these denunciations? It is hard to take them seriously. It is depressing to read someone who has actually read anarchist thinkers come out with the same sort of nonsense as a hack of a Marxist party parroting claims made by others about people they have obviously never read. Just as sad is that every one of his claims against anarchism can be refuted by quoting from his early works. For his list of anarchist flaws – individualism, primitivism, etc. – were once directed at his own ideas by Marxists and he refuted them with flair.

Space precludes using Bookchin to refute Bookchin, so I will concentrate on a few issues.

Sadly, post-break Bookchin is not above selective quoting when it comes to anarchism – for example, he quotes Kropotkin on rejecting majority rule (10) when he surely knew that on the page in question Kropotkin was discussing “parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether.” Also, after decades of denouncing syndicalism for impoverishing anarchism, he turned around and proclaimed the superiority of the former as regards the latter – while also ignoring how he had shown that the first of the revolutionary anarchists had advocated syndicalism as a tactic. Likewise, Bookchin asserted post-break that “anarchists conceive of power essentially as a malignant evil that must be destroyed” (139) yet also quotes Bakunin on the need for the “development and organization of the nonpolitical or antipolitical social power of the working class in city and country.” (12) As he himself noted long ago, “power” can mean two things, power to do and power over, and for the former to flourish, it needs the latter to be destroyed. So power over – hierarchy – can be destroyed if we want power to manage our own lives.

Bookchin points to the Spanish Revolution as evidence of Anarchism’s failure here. Yet his discussion of this (“Anarchism and Power in the Spanish Revolution”) ignores the circumstances in which the CNT decided to postpone the social revolution in favour of caricatures on anarchist theory. He position is that anarchism is blind to the need for institutions to replace the State and this blindness lead the CNT not to “seize power.” Yet anarchism has anyways been clear on what to do in a revolution – replace the State by federations of workers’ organisations. The CNT obviously failed to do so in July 1936 with obvious negative results – but the question, as Bookchin surely knew, is why they failed to apply anarchist ideas. To understand that needs context – essentially fear of isolation and the real possibility of having to fight both the Republic and the Fascists if social revolution was pursued – which Bookchin fails to provide.

Instead, we get the same superficial analysis that embarrasses Marxist journals. The only difference is that Bookchin calls this new system a “government” rather than “state.” So Bookchin post-break was against the State but for government – “government” being used to describe collective decision making. Just as Engels equated agreement with authority, Bookchin came to equate governance with government. This is hardly convincing.

So the post-break articles present a travesty of anarchism by someone who knew better. Given Bookchin’s revisionism, it is unsurprising that the authors of the introduction assert that popular assemblies were “viewed with suspicion by anarchists.” (xviii) This in spite of Proudhon praising the popular clubs of the 1848 revolution, Bakunin urging federation by quartier (neighbourhood) and Kropotkin pointing to the popular assemblies of the Great French Revolution — just as Bookchin did!

Ironically, many of the traits of “anarchism” Bookchin came to deplore and which caused his break with anarchism could be traced to certain elements of his 1960s works – even if these were selectively used and exaggerated to the point of travesty by others, they were there as his critics in the 1990s reminded Bookchin in their polemics against him.  Bookchin seems like someone who found it hard to admit being wrong – and so broke with anarchism rather than admit this. Yes, some self-proclaimed anarchists have silly notions (primitivism obviously springs to mind) and some tendencies can have little in common with the main current of social anarchism. Likewise, some anarchist have little time for long term strategy and involve themselves in small-scale, insular projects. Yet this is not anarchism as such. Rather than expect all anarchists to come together it is far better to organise with like-minded people and ignore those whose politics and activities are a dead-end. Instead, Bookchin rejected anarchism – talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

So what of any substantive points between his new politics and anarchism? This are just a few. One is the question of “majority rule.” As he put it in a particularly overheated passage:

‘It is primarily by giving priority to an ideologically petrified notion of an “autonomous individual” that anarchists justify their opposition not only to the state but to any form of constraint, law, and often organization and democratic decision-making based on majority voting. All such constraints are dismissed in principle as forms of “coercion,” “domination,” “government,” and even “tyranny”—often as though these terms were coequal and interchangeable.’ (160-1)

Ignoring the awkward fact – which Bookchin was once aware – that the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc. not only did not speak in those terms but also explicitly attacked such notions, we should note that majority decision making within freely joined associations is hardly the same as majority rule. In addition, anyone acting in the manner Bookchin describes within an anarchist group would be asked to leave, and rightly so. Nor, for that matter, is “consensus” an “authentic” anarchist principle (25) – you would be hard pressed to find any classical anarchist thinker – “authentic” or otherwise! – discussing it. Kropotkin mentions it in passing, when discussing the Russian mir and that is about it.

Why are anarchists concerned about talk of majority rule? It is quite simple: majorities have often oppressed minorities – we need only think of sectarianism, sexism, racism, homophobia and such like to see that the majority need not always be right. Ironically, Bookchin admits this (94) but does not attempt to square it with his fetishization of “majority rule.” And this is an issue. For example, he proclaims that a community which joins a confederation “may withdraw only with the approval of the confederation as a whole.” (15) So Bookchin’s “libertarian” confederation provides less rights than the UK (with regards the referendum on Scottish independence) and the European Union (with regards Brexit). Yet why is it just at a confederal level? If this is a good and democratic principle, why does it not apply to every association? So a worker can only leave their job if the majority of the workplace agrees? So a family can only leave a community if the majority of the local citizenry approve? A wife or husband from a family? Simple: for it would clearly be unfree.

Similarly, his “libertarian” democracy appears less than that guaranteed by our statist ones for he argues that after losing the debate “the minority must have patience and allow a majority decision to be put into practice” (61) and there would be “the commitment of municipal minorities to defer to the majority wishes of participating communities.” (88) Yet, today, the right of minorities to protest exists (if always under threat by the State, always ready to proclaim its “undemocratic” nature). Would libertarian municipalism really not allow minorities to protest, to use direct action, when the majority acts in ways which we cannot wait addressing or simply cannot be undone?

A more flexible perspective is needed, particularly given Bookchin admits that there is no “guarantee” that “a majority decision will be a correct one.” (88) What if the majority make racist, sexist, homophobic or ecologically destructive decisions? Can an “unswerving opposition to racism, gender oppression, and domination as such” (135) be limited to mere words or can minorities protest against them by direct action? If so, then his fetishisation of majority rule needs to be reviewed. True, Bookchin stressed the importance of minority rights (25) – but to do so automatically means admitting (implicitly at least) the flaws of his position and the validity of anarchist concerns over terms like “majority rule.”

Still, this has little bearing on the day-to-day decisions of freely joined associations in which majority-decision making will, undoubtedly, be the norm – with even a written constitution, when appropriate – in the struggle against oppression today and any future free society. Those who fetishise consensus (and there are a few, I am sure) can associate with those who feel the same — and leave the others to get on with changing the world rather than just discussing.

Yet does Bookchin actually advocate majority rule? The answer is no, for he indicates (52-3) that all revolutions are the work of active minorities and that he does not expect the majority of a population to take part in his neighbourhood assemblies. So we have decisions being made by a majority of a minority, in other words minority rule. So for all his bluster, his “democratic” politics ends up recognising the key role minorities play in social change and that they often have to push forward in the face of the indifference of the majority: as Kropotkin, Goldman and many other anarchists indicated.

So we are left with Bookchin agreeing that the majority cannot, say, ban women from leaving the house without being accompanied by a man nor that neighbourhood assembly decisions are invalid unless a majority of people in the community attend. Which makes you wonder why he was so focused on majority rule to the extent of destroying his own legacy.

As for “libertarian municipalism,” it is clear why few anarchists embraced it: “Communalists do not hesitate to run candidates in municipal elections who, if elected, would use what real power their offices confer to legislate popular assemblies into existence.” (30) The notion of standing in local elections as a means of creating popular assemblies and then federating them was always unconvincing. Particularly given the all-to-correct predictions of anarchists on the effects of electioneering. Indeed, Bookchin himself repeats these and provides examples of it (83-4) – but seems to think this only happens at a national level. He also seems unaware that the national State can and does control the autonomy of local municipal councils and this strategy could easily mutate into national electioneering in the mistaken view of ensuring needed reforms for the local strategy. Electioneering is indeed a slippery slope which even the repeated experience of history does not seem to affect.

Anarchists, regardless of Bookchin’s revisionism, are well aware of the need for federations of community assemblies in both the struggle for liberation and as part of the structure for the post-capitalist society. Kropotkin, for example, discussed their role in his book The Great French Revolution and indicated that “the libertarians would no doubt do the same today.” However, these were viewed as a genuine dual-power created in opposition to the State – a community syndicalism, as it were – rather than something bestowed by a suitably enlightened local municipal council. Nor was this considered the only means – Kropotkin also advocated a syndicalist strategy as both a means of winning reforms now and for providing the framework of managing workplaces during and after a social revolution. Bookchin knew all this and so it is depressing to read him pretend otherwise.

Rejecting Bookchin’s electioneering does not mean rejecting building federations of community assemblies, especially within the context of building other federations of associations (such as radical unions). Likewise, his notion of dissolving all associations into a single communal one does not take into account the complexities of modern life. Such community assemblies would be the forum for overseeing the others – to protect against, say, workplaces becoming proprietary as Bookchin rightly warns (19, 72) – but they can hardly be called upon to actually manage them on a day-to-day basis.

Kropotkin and other anarchists bemoaned the State and its attempts to centralise all aspects of social life and place them in the hands of a few representatives who had no real notion of what they were deciding upon. Doing the same but at the base of society may not be as problematic but it does have issues – not least, the volume of issues that would need to be discussed. So there is a pressing need for a functional federalism as well as a communal federalism. This suggests a diverse associational life embracing all aspects of the world – so if Kropotkin and Malatesta argued that syndicalists focused on one aspect of society (the economic) and ignored the other two (community and leisure), Bookchin likewise focused on one (the community) at the expense of the others.

So, to conclude. This is a mixed selection of articles – with the pre-break ones being by far the best. The post-break ones often just repeat what Bookchin previously – rightly! – called anarchism but with snide anti-anarchist remarks added.

Where does that leave Bookchin’s legacy?

I still remember the joy I experienced reading Post-Scarcity Anarchism thirty years ago – here was someone who both understood anarchism and built upon it. Yet in the last decade of his life he produced works which were marred by anti-anarchist tirades which he surely knew were nonsense. Which leaves us with a conundrum: if you utilise his earlier works, could not his later works be quoted to show that even a leading anarchist eventually saw its deep flaws? If you embrace his later anti-anarchist works, how could you reference in good-faith his earlier contributions?

Yes, Bookchin did do the latter but then he also sought to rewrite his past to suggest he had seen through anarchism at a very early stage or had never “really” been an anarchist at all. This was all very unbecoming – particularly given the numerous quotes from the early 1990s proclaiming his long-standing and continuing commitment to anarchism.

Ultimately, Bookchin left a wealth of books and articles between the 1960s and 1990s which anarchists today can draw upon, even if his strategy of “libertarian municipalism” is deeply flawed. So while The Next Revolution does contain important pieces which activists today would benefit from reading, it pales against his earlier works. These should be read first, simply to ensure that when reading the anti-anarchist remarks in this book the pre-break Bookchin will be fresh in your memory to refute them.

The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy

Murray Bookchin

Edited by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor

Preface by Ursula K. Le Guin

December 2014

The Horror, the Horror of World Imperialism

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 03:37


In the late 19th century, the Congo was ripped open for its large rubber resources to satisfy capitalism’s new found demand for tires, leading to the death of millions of Africans. The horrors of the Congo are well known. Pictures of mutilation and death appear frequently in the lectures of academics who demand the need to create a more humanitarian capitalism. Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ appears on many school syllabuses. But despite literary suggestions of a problem found within the human heart, the truth is the problem was to be found in a new epoch of history that continues to this day: the epoch of imperialist capitalism.

It is no longer rubber being craved so viciously in the Congo. With the emergence and rapid expanse of the digital world, the profit hungry networks of Chinese mining companies as well as American and Japanese tech companies have cast their gaze on the Congo’s cobalt deposits, which are so desperately needed for lithium-batteries to power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. As of 2016, 60% of the world’s Cobalt came from the Congo at the expense of the lungs, legs, and lives of the Congolese proletariat.

An estimated 100,000 Congolese workers are underground mining with simple tools and few safety regulations. In 2012 UNICEF estimated that 40,000 children were involved in the mining in the south. Children are not just in the mines. Many are involved in the washing of collected ores in local rivers being paid on average 1 USD a day.

In 2016 up to 25% of the Congo’s cobalt came from “artisanal” mines.1 These mines are not owned by big Chinese companies, such as Congo DongFang International Mining, but are makeshift mines by local diggers. They in turn sell their ore findings to Chinese mining companies. Nonetheless, artisanal mining is on the rise, with many companies favouring to buy artisanal ore due to its cheap price without the necessity to ensure steady salaries or safety costs.

The conditions in these “artisanal” mines are horrifying. With little to no safety equipment or procedures, the threat of collapse, toxic fumes, and underground fires are high and frequent. It is not uncommon for many miners to be injured or killed in a single accident. In one notable case in September 2015, thirteen cobalt miners died when a dirt tunnel collapsed in Mabaya, near the Zambia border. In another case, 16 diggers were killed by landslides in Kawama, followed months later by the deaths of 15 diggers in an underground fire in Kolwezi. One local inspector claimed he had personally pulled 36 bodies from local artisanal mines in the past several years.2 Despite the risks, the ‘free’ workers find themselves working in such conditions for two to three dollars a day in a world demanding cobalt for the tech-economy, often sleeping in the mines between shifts.

The physical threat of cobalt mining does not end in the makeshift tunnels. The environmental devastation has long ranging health effects on the local population. Workers and their families working in or living near mining areas have been found to have urinary concentrations of cobalt that were 43 times as high as that of a control group, lead levels five times as high, and cadmium and uranium levels four times as high. The levels were even higher in children.3 Mining regions are seeing a prevalence of birth defects previously rare or non-existent in the area. Diseases such as holoprosencephaly and mermaid syndrome are appearing on the soot-covered stage in these communities ravaged by global capital’s bitter and desperate search for profits.

Despite the warm-sounding yet feeble responses by Apple, Samsung, BMW, or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who claimed, “We work closely with our suppliers to ensure they meet our standards and conduct a number of audits every year to ensure our manufacturing partners are in compliance with our policies”.4 The truth is the bourgeoisie finds itself with an unsortable tension between class ideology and class interest. As Lukacs wrote, “The whole existence of the bourgeoisie and its culture is plunged into the most terrible crisis… utter sterility of an ideology divorced from life, of a more or less conscious attempt at forgery… a cynicism no less terribly jejune lives on in the world-historical irrelevances and nullities of its own existence and concerns itself only with the defence of that existence and with its own naked self-interest”.5 Its cries of ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ are nothing but the freedom to exploit and the justice of their exploitation. It desperately avoids the fact that the barbarism of the world is due to their own economic order.

Much of the mined cobalt makes its way from the Congo to China. In 2016 about 90 percent of China’s cobalt originates in Congo, where Chinese firms dominate the mining industry.6 From here the misery is hoisted upon the Chinese worker. Manufacturing smartphones and electric cars in smog filled cities for low wages. In March 2018 China’s capitalist appetite in cobalt was reaffirmed when GEM, a Chinese battery maker, said it would acquire a third of the cobalt shipped by Glencore, the world’s biggest producer of the metal, between 2018 and 2020—equivalent to almost half of the world’s 110,000-tonne production in 2017.7 This goes hand in hand with the increase in demand for electric cars, which typically requires 5-10 kilograms of cobalt compared to smartphones 5-10 grams.

Despite the overflowing champagne cellars of the Chinese bourgeoisie and their loyal bureaucrats, the exploitation of the Congolese proletariat is only collected in crumbs by the Chinese worker, crumbs which are covered in manufacturing soot. Graphite, another mineral necessary to produce lithium-batteries, is notorious for devastating pollution in the areas where it is used in the manufacturing process, contaminating local water supplies and clouding the air with toxic dust covering the local crops. The reason for this misery placed on the Chinese working class is simple. The manufacturing method used in China is cheaper than the one used in other countries, where the graphite is purified by ‘baking’.8 Beyond the pollution Chinese workers continue to suffer low wages. It is not so distant in the past, that due to low and even unpaid wages, the Chinese proletariat declared their suffering and antagonism to the bourgeois order in the strike wave of 2014. From all corners of the earth, the imperialist world system sows misery, as a bloodsucking class of exploiters in competition with each other attempts to find profits which seeps through their fingers like sand. All across the global the bourgeois system is panicked and plunging humanity into barbarism to increase the mass of their profits in the face of the inexorable decline in rate of profit.

The increasing dominance of Chinese imperialism in Africa has not gone unnoticed and unchallenged by other poles of imperialism. With China quickly outpacing the US with regard to trade in Africa, the US has fallen back on its overwhelming military strength. As noted “In place of long-term economic investment, diplomacy and political partnership, the US is using its overwhelming military superiority to encroach on Africa under the guise of ‘fighting terrorism’. But the real purpose for increasing US military strength in Africa is about securing strategic economic interests cheaply, using military power as opposed to committing financial investment in the way that China is doing”.9 Compared with China’s one naval base in the Horn of Africa the US retains military bases in 49 out 54 African countries.10

The increase in militarism corresponding with imperialist economic competition is that of one shoe falling after another. As Bukharin understood, it is inherent to the logic of the world imperialist system. With the immense concentration and centralization of capital in its imperialist epoch the birth of massive state-capitalist trusts were born. With competition in the “national” economy on the decline, capitalist competition is to be played out on the international arena among massive centralized trusts tied intricately to the state. As he stated clearly in ‘Imperialism and the World Economy’ “the struggle between state capitalist trusts is decided in the first place be the relation between their military forces, for the military power of the country is the last resort of the struggling ‘national’ groups of capitalists”.11 Thus, in all arenas of imperialist competition lies the threat of war between competing states. It is only through a Marxist lens that the continuous regional wars which have been so devastating to the working class can be understood.

While this short text is primarily focused on imperialism in the Congo and the misery of the Congolese workers, it cannot be forgotten that the imperialist system is the threatening shadow behind every worker. The fierce competition of the capitalist class has caused the horrendous conditions of the Congolese miners, the polluted air of the Chinese manufacturing towns, and the malicious austerity in the Western world. It is the ruling class’s own order which has caused regional wars to erupt all over the globe, leading to the loss of the lives of so many workers. It is only the exploited class which can end this barbarous system by uniting its struggles as a class and by taking up the historic task before it. The unification of the class is the role of the communist party. It is only a party that can properly take the full thread of the working classes history and sow it into a programme that projects into the future communist society. The construction of this international party remains the foremost task of revolutionaries today.

Klasbatalo Collective

  • 1. Frankle, Todd. “The Cobalt Pipeline” Washington Post , 30 Sept. 2016, Accessed 10 April 2018.
  • 2. ibid.
  • 3. ibid.
  • 4. ibid.
  • 5. Lukacs, Georg. “History and Class Consciousness” Marxist Internet Archive. 1919-1923. Accessed 11 April 2018.
  • 6. Todd. “The Cobalt Pipeline” Washington Post
  • 7. What if China Corners the Cobalt Market, Economist. 24 March, 2018. Accessed 11 April 2018.
  • 8. Whoriskey, Peter. “In Your Phone, In Their Air”. Washington Post, 2 Oct, 2016. . Accessed April 11.
  • 9. Ergosum. “the Hidden Scramble for Africa’s Resources”, Leftcom. 7 Nov , 2017. Access 10 April 2018.
  • 10. Ergosum. “China Openly Declares It’s Imperialist ambitions”. Leftcom. 3 Nov, 2017. Accessed 10 April, 2018.
  • 11. Bukharin, Nikolai. “Imperialism and the World Economy”. Marxist Internet Archive. 1915-19-17. Accessed 12 April, 2018.

New Class Composition, New Struggles

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 00:42


When the post-war boom ended at the start of the 1970s capitalists the world over attempted to make us pay with speed-ups and real wage cuts. Workers resisted so that the 1970s became a period of massive class confrontation. Faced with this serious working class resistance, capitalists across the world abandoned defence of the so-called “commanding heights” of the economy. Capital was written off and from 1979 on manufacturing investment was transferred to low wage economies in the so-called “developing world” where greater profits could be made. This was a key part of globalisation. [For more on this see]

In the UK, for example, the number employed in manufacturing fell from 27% to less than 8% today. And it was not just in the “industrialising world” that low wages prevailed. Workers today in the older capitalist states have real incomes lower than in 1979 despite a massive rise in productivity (i.e. exploitation) in manufacturing. Even the bosses’ papers admit it. In the face of job losses (especially in heavy industry), globalisation and capitalist restructuring over the last four decades there are plenty who think that the working class in the older capitalist states has lost “its identity”.

A New Class Identity?

Changed its identity we would say. And this is nothing new, as the shape of the working class has constantly changed throughout capitalist history. Today in the UK 83% of the workforce is in the services sector, which includes such socially necessary areas as health and education. As the system slides into deeper and deeper economic crisis these sectors cannot be funded adequately. The result is that once-privileged ‘professionals’ with years of education and training behind them are in the frontline of capitalist attack. Their working conditions are becoming increasingly like those of every other worker. From doctors to lawyers, script writers to teachers, a whole range of professionals are finding they have no more control of their job decisions than people controlled by “apps” in warehouses or the gig economy (another sector of the class where resistance is on the rise).

We got a taste of how the professions have been proletarianised in the UK junior doctors’ strikes two years ago and in the Durham and Derby teaching assistants’ fight last year. Now it is the turn of education workers across the world.

As we go to press Kentucky and Oklahoma teachers have just gone on strike In Kentucky it over pension cuts. In Oklahoma it’s about a 28% cut in the education budget (since taxes have been cut) which has made some schools go to a 4 day week. Arizona teachers are likely to follow them soon. No doubt they are all encouraged by the long struggle animated by West Virginia teachers who took on the state with virtually no support from their union. In Kenya and Zimbabwe strikes of lecturers have been going on for weeks. In Kenya these have been accompanied by strikes of nurses, some of whom face long arrears of pay. That these are now part of the proletariat would have come as no surprise to the young Karl Marx. He predicted that capitalist development would polarise society and destroy the middle class, reducing the vast majority to the condition of proletarians.

“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.” The Communist Manifesto

UK University Strikes

In the UK we have been able to observe this up close and personal. Lecturers and support staff have been on strike for weeks over changes to pension schemes. They have already rejected one dirty deal done behind their backs by the UCU union and many are preparing to fight on. In this they have been given tremendous support by students and some ancillary workers who have transformed what could have been a mere sectional dispute into something wider.

In the course of their struggle some education workers are gaining a new sense of class consciousness. After all, half of the lecturers are part-time, precarious workers on short-term or no contracts. The strike has also led to reflections amongst some of the lecturers about the purpose of their work and the nature of the society they are living in. Certainly this is only amongst a radical minority, but this represents some danger for a system which is churning out graduates when there are fewer and fewer graduate jobs. If under-employed graduates beyond the educational environment start to question what’s happening they could be part of a wider, more radical working class movement. Such a movement would have to break down the divisions of nationality, race, gender, ability, profession and union affiliation enforced on us.

Inevitably this would involve challenging the boundaries of sectionalism and legalism imposed by the state, something that the unions are not ready to do. In the daily struggles over wages and conditions working people have only one weapon and that is their collective ability to withdraw cooperation with the employers. Both the ongoing UCU strike over pensions and that of West Virginia teachers were stirred by ordinary members but the union officials have been quick to do deals behind the workers’ backs. In West Virginia the teachers were simply told by automatic phone message that the strike was over, despite the fact the Governor had signed no agreement. In the UCU dispute the union is trying to sell the bosses’ trick of postponing the pension cuts for a year so they can prepare better for the next round. They have been halted by votes in meetings in branches and on picket lines. The union’s next step is likely to be an online ballot to undermine the solidarity of the strike. The problem here is not just that the union bureaucracy is unaccountable but it is part of the legal framework of the state. All unions exist to haggle over the terms of wage labour on behalf of the system. Any questioning of this, whether practical or otherwise, is ruled out.

What the bosses and ‘authorities’ are truly afraid of is the kind of self-organised action of the working class that we have seen in West Virginia and the UK. Once we go beyond the trade unions’ rituals and the structures provided to us, that’s when we become dangerous, especially as more workers see the need to get involved. In the past workers often created their own structures which put the struggle directly into their own hands (be they neighbourhood assemblies, strike committees, workers’ councils, or even just independent workplace groups). Though often short-lived, genuine fighting bodies appear and disappear as struggles come and go. In terms of decision making, delegation, not representation, has been the classic method of organisation for the working class, from as far back as the Paris Commune. This cannot be accepted by the state and employers, and so they would much rather have unions control us instead.

The capitalist crisis is not going away. The system has nothing left to offer but increasing stressful, poorly-paid and precarious working conditions for us all. Its continued existence is increasingly at odds with the survival of humanity itself (since capitalism, in its never-ending search for profitable “growth”, is wrecking the planet for everyone). Every day the need to get rid of class society and create a human community conditioned by our needs and not profit becomes all the more urgent …

3 April 2018

From our Bulletin, Aurora 43

A preliminary summary of an IWW organising effort, winter 2017/18

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 00:38


Shift-changes, London’s western logistics corridor and the Wobblies
– A preliminary summary of an IWW organising effort, winter 2017/18


This text is dedicated to our friend, comrade and fellow worker Peter Ridpath, who died on April 8th, 2018. Peter was a kind and dedicated member of the IWW London Branch and came out to support us in west London many times. Born in East London in 1948, Peter was a genuine working-class militant. He went from school into a series of factory and labouring jobs with spells of unemployment where he read voraciously, mainly on literature, history and politics. He became a bookseller and organised his co-workers. In his retirement Peter supported many strikes and pickets, especially the actions of the Sparks, a rank-and-file network of building workers.

Peter joined the IWW in 2009 and quickly became an indispensable part of the branch, holding a variety of positions and taking an active role in the life of the organisation. But more than his formal union work, he’ll be remembered for his dedication to making a better world, something that Peter embodied in his personal and political life. His warmth and personality made him universally popular, liked and respected by all. He had that rare combination of kindness and intellect that never failed to bring a smile to the face of everyone around him.

Here’s to you, Fellow Worker. Rest in power.


“The security came straight away after we had set up our table and flags. They complained about the stickers we put up last time and that they had damaged private property. They called the police who said it was ‘civil trespass’ and moved us on. I googled ‘civil trespass’ and it says this is only the case if it is an ‘unjustifiable intrusion’ – which obviously is pretty subjective! Some legal advice would be good here because no doubt we get confronted by the snouty-snouts again.”

In late September 2017 the IWW London branch invited friends and comrades to take part in an organising drive in West London factories and warehouses. Members voted for this as London IWW’s strategic focus for 6 months. We chose half a dozen companies, employing between 100 and 800 mainly migrant workers where there was no trade union present. Comrades from the West London AngryWorkers collective, who have been active in the area since 2014 provided some insights and a few contacts within these companies. The response to our invitation was positive and we were able to welcome around two dozen new friends to the campaign.

We organised a day-school where we learnt more about the area, the background of the local workers and the specific conditions in each of the companies. We formed half a dozen teams which were to focus on one company each. We discussed the first leaflet with which to address the workers, how to introduce ourselves, and what to ask and look out for during our first visits at the gate.

Over the following months we managed to organise four, five visits at each of the companies and distributed hundreds of leaflets, many of them translated into three or four different languages. We established closer contacts with some of the workers, often by supporting them with individual grievances. We learnt a lot, last but not least that under the general condition of fear created by migration policies and the factory regime, ‘organising successes’ are not easy to come by. Particularly in the food processing and logistics sector, which is hidden away from the public and dominated by so-called ‘unskilled’ and often female labour and crossed by language barriers.

But there were moments of promising energy, for example when over 20 workers from a sandwich factory turned up in a Somalian community centre; when they told us about the actions they had already taken and the steps they hoped to take in future. We had the joy of witnessing mainly South Asian factory workers listening to the stories of cleaning workers from Latin America, how they had resisted management and won the London Living Wage at the Ferrari showroom in central London. In the following summary we will focus on this experience with the sandwich factory workers to explain the possibilities and problems of our organising effort.

From a quantitative point of view the organising campaign might seem unsuccessful: after six months of activity we managed to sign on only a dozen or so new members. In only two cases management made concessions to workers, e.g. paying an extra-bonus, in response to the stir the union created. As participants in the effort we would still like to emphasise the positive result: we got deeper insights into the local conditions, we got to know many workers with whom we will stay in touch in future and we spread the word of a different kind of union amongst hundreds of working class people who might remember us when the time seems ripe for them. In this sense the organising and learning continues.

We would therefore still encourage fellow workers to take a step across the border and try out similar things. Below you can find a more detailed account of our experience. Any comments, criticisms, questions are more than welcome.

For the One Big Class Union


1. Why did we chose factories and warehouses in West London – what are the general conditions?
2. What was our general organising approach and concrete plan for this campaign?
3. Main example: experiences at A1 sandwich factory
4. Conclusions and open questions
5. Appendix: Short summary of the reports after team visits at the other companies, leaflets, pictures


1. Why did we chose factories and warehouses in West London – what are the general conditions

What was the constitution of the IWW London branch at the time when we decided to focus on the West London organising campaign?

The branch has around 250 members, though only around 20 to 30 fellow workers take part more actively e.g. by coming to the branch meetings. There is a cleaners’ branch which survived the initial split with the IWGB, but apart from occasional repping the GMB is less involved in the cleaners’ business. The main focus of the branch is on rep and organiser training and on the situation in workplaces of a few individual members, mainly the teaching sector, charity sector or hospitality. In this sense the branch was stable, but the ‘organising where we are as members’ didn’t create a wider dynamic, partly because of the composition of the branch (unemployed/retired, freelance, smaller workplaces). In this sense, focusing on bigger workplaces in West London was a jump into cold water and less of an organic development than a strategic decision. This was facilitated by the fact that the AngryWorkers collective – most of them IWW members – have been working and informally organising in the West London area since 2014. Informal structures like workplace groups and solidarity networks attracted a limited number of workers, perhaps also because 90 per cent of local workers have a background of recent migration. Would the idea of a union – a form of organisation that many people would be familiar with – give workers more confidence to act? We thought it was an experiment worth trying. Apart from a general knowledge about the area and basic contacts within the specific companies, AngryWorkers were able to help out with sleep-over sofas for early morning starts and community centre space provided by a local volunteer run charity organisation. They also organise weekly solidarity network drop-ins in the area that we could refer individual workers to.

What are the main conditions in the West London logistics and industrial area?

The area is part of the so-called western corridor, which stretches from Heathrow to Park Royal and contains the M4 and A40 as the main logistical axis. Attached to Heathrow airport there are a lot of warehouses and a fair amount of fruit, veg and other raw material comes in through the airport. In total there are around 80,000 workers employed in and around Heathrow. Recent studies say that 60 per cent of the food consumed in London is distributed, re-packaged or processed in the western corridor. Apart from Heathrow area there are various industrial estates in Southall (10,000 workers), Greenford (10,000 workers), Perivale (5,000 workers) and Park Royal (30,000 workers) – most of the companies we targeted are situated in these industrial zones – within an eight mile radius. There are only few workplaces employing more than 1,000 people. The workplaces we focused on range between 100 and 800 workers. Most workers in the area are on the minimum wage or slightly above and many workers are either employed through agencies or on zero-hour contracts. Working weeks of 50, 60 hours are the norm. Only few companies actually do things that infringe the labour law e.g. most pay the legal minimum, which means that unlike in, for example, the logistics sector in Italy it is not easy to mobilise people by pointing out that we have to ‘fight for our rights’.

Most workers are migrants, visa status is a big issue and migration raids in factories and warehouses are common. Around half of the workforce is from Eastern Europe, the other half from South Asia (workers from African countries are in a minority). This means that Brexit or the Windrush-‘scandal’ hang over workers’ heads, as possible threats to their future in this country. This also means that workers don’t come from regions with recent experiences of struggle, such as in South America or the countries of the so-called Arab Spring, which influenced migrant workers’ struggles abroad, e.g. the logistics workers in Italy. In food processing and small-scale manufacturing most workers are women, harassment in the workplace is rampant. Inside the factories the sexist division of labour is obvious, e.g. women work on the line, have the most stress and lowest pay, while men tend to get the easier jobs or supervisory positions. Workers tend to live close to the workplace, many of them in Wembley (Gujaratis), Southall (Punjabis, Somalis) and Greenford/Ruislip (more Eastern European). Most workers live in shared flats, many share rooms. There are only very few social spaces for mingling after work: temples tend to play a role, or standing together drinking beer.

In many places it is difficult to talk at work (line work, machine work, productivity targets), either because of the nature of work or the strict surveillance. Job rotation is high amongst the young and more rebellious (male) workers. Many people have arguments with supervisors, don’t show up, rebel individually and are sacked. Many find something better after a short while, as it is not too difficult to find work. People who stay in the job longer tend to get depressed or submissive, often because they have lower prospects on the labour market, e.g. non-english speaking, ‘unskilled’ women. Our experiences with existing unions are dismal: in many bigger workplaces we find GMB, USDAW or UNITE representation, but mainly for the permanent workers or completely tied up with management. Workers general view on unions is negative, either because of direct experiences or background (e.g. Solidarnosc sell-out in Poland). We needed to keep that in mind when introducing ourselves as members of the IWW union. At the same time, ‘strike’ and ‘union’ seem the main thing people come up with as the solution to their workplace problems. When ‘strike’ is portrayed as the main thing to do, then the bar ‘to do something together’ is set very high, also in order to explain why someone is afraid to do anything. We wanted to emphasise that there are other possibilities to take action at work (work to food hygiene standards, warehouse health and safety, refuse overtime etc.). When it comes to organising, the so-called ‘social leaders’, in particular amongst the South Asian workers, tend to be patriarchal figures who easily are pushed into middle-men positions (union reps, supervisors and in many cases both), and can’t just be ‘used’ as organic organisers.

We think it is important to organise amongst these workers for various wider and political reasons. Individually these workers are amongst the weakest, but their collective potential is amongst the most powerful, as they keep London and its financial centre ticking over. The political climate directly impacts on workers confidence (Brexit etc.) and any resistance from their side can change the social atmosphere. These workers can’t defend ‘their professional status’ as they are ‘unskilled’ workers. This would make it easier for any struggle to generalise: workers share the main experiences of being bullied at work, low pay, insecure status etc. – in a world of modern technology, from voice-control picking via a headset, to hand-held scanners to GPS systems used in delivery vans. Struggles amongst these workers can make visible how modern cities are run and what they depend on (circulation of goods, food supply). To organise in the western margins of the city will be much harder than organising amongst migrant workers in places like SOAS, LSE etc., as the companies have no name or major reputation that could easily be damaged. There is no leftist scene around, like on campus. The areas are remote and outside of the public spotlight. We have to bear this in mind when mobilising people.

2. What was our general organising approach and concrete plan for this campaign – report from the initial day school

Based on our knowledge about the general conditions we chose seven, eight companies to focus on. The main commonalities were that they are in the logistics of food processing/light manufacturing sector, employing between 100 and 1000 mainly migrant workers and with no union presence. Although we knew workers in some of the companies, they were not willing to take over an active organiser role, mainly because of fear of management repression. In terms of our approach we discussed that we want to take the lead from the workers and first see where they are at, what they might have tried themselves, what they see as the main hurdles when it comes to challenging bosses’ power. We knew that we would have to deal with the major structural pressures that exist outside of the workplace but impact on workers’ confidence: the migration regime, the family structure. In this sense our main aim of the organising effort was to help with building any kind of collective structures that help workers’ confidence at work and beyond the workplace. We were not focused on membership recruitment as such. At the same time we also made it clear that if a certain amount of workers would formally join the IWW we could enter a legal wage dispute with the company, meaning, we tried to link membership to a concrete medium-term goal.

Apart from this we saw the organising campaign as a way to gather new experiences helpful not only to the IWW, but the revolutionary left in general. We were inspired by the way that migrant warehouse workers in Italy managed to re-focus the otherwise rather sectarian left on class struggle and its practical necessities. We hoped that the engagement with migrant workers at the margins of town could make a useful contribution to a largely middle-class left in London, which has lately focused more on the stage-show of Labour and parliamentary politics rather than on working class self-emancipation. We organised various film screenings and talks to invite people to take part in the organising effort as we had decided that this would be a public campaign, open to all, regardless of whether or not you were in the IWW. We got a very good response, mainly from students who had gathered experiences during the struggle of outsourced workers on their university campuses. In total around 25 people joined us in the campaign, out of which only around a quarter were actually IWW members. While the teams had a good gender balance we lacked people who shared a similar language background as the workers, which posed a considerable problem. All in all, the organising effort was a good and largely self-organised collaboration between people of various groups, from Solfed to Plan C to UVW, and a lot of people who haven’t been members of any particular group before.

We started the campaign with a day-school where we shared knowledge about the area and workplaces, formed teams for each company and developed a rough workplan. Each team of four to five people was meant to research additional information on their respective company and write an initial leaflet. The leaflet should address company specific problems we already knew about, ask workers directly about additional problems and introduce the IWW as a workers-led union. During the first team visit additional information and first contacts should be established, followed by an – ideally! – weekly presence at the gates over the following weeks. Each team elected a coordinator who was responsible to report back to the whole organising campaign after each visit, in order to share information about what worked and what didn’t. We tried, when possible, to support individual workers with their problems, also in order to build up some reputation. The initial leaflet was then modified, newly gathered information added. After four months we organised a first review meeting where all the teams came back together. We also tried to organise a bigger presence – a ‘show of force’ – at each of the companies, to demonstrate to workers that if necessary we could mobilise more than the four, five team members. The organising campaign was fairly horizontal and unbureaucratic, basically relying on personal relationships inside the teams and a mailing-list for coordination. We managed to visit each of the seven, eight companies up to five, six times – distributing hundreds of multi-lingual leaflets, all on a budget of £100 or so. We could have done with more face-to-face meetings amongst ourselves and more frequent visits – but that is London for you, many team members travelled one or two hours from the other end of town. Read the concrete company reports below – followed by a more detailed description of our experiences at the A1 sandwich factory.

3. Main example: experiences at A1 sandwich factory

We got a very positive response from workers of a local sandwich factory and were able to organise two meetings with over 40 workers. We therefore want to give a bit more space for the description of this experience.

/// General conditions

A1 is a major sandwich supplier for the main supermarket chains. People in the UK buy around four billion sandwiches a year, a big and labour intensive business. Despite its seemingly ‘home-made’ character the sector is dominated by a few bigger corporations, e.g. Greencore (another company we visited during our campaign) and 2 Sisters produce around a quarter of the national demand. There is currently a fair bit of restructuring going on; A1 recently closed a plant in Middlesborough and shifted production. In factories like A1, 300 to 400 workers can produce 250,000 sandwiches and more per shift. The work is tough, there is little automation, most work is done on conveyor belts. Workers stand on one spot in the chilled environment and repeat the same work-step every 5 seconds. Most of the workers at A1 are from South Asia and Eastern Europe (Lithuania in particular). There is a lot of bullying pressure from management, something systemic in the ‘low-skilled’ industrial and logistics world. Workers also face frequent workplace raids by the migration police.

/// First visit

The first visit was tough: security called the police and tried to stop us talking with workers. He even told workers, “You’ll get into trouble for talking to them!” He was a total pain, but we stuck it out and put the flags away. We hid in a shop opposite until it get a bit darker and then attempted to talk to people again. Security threatened to call the police again, but even if he did call, they didn’t show up again, knowing it was not a serious issue. Hurray for police cuts! Some of the workers we talked to were angry, rather than intimidated: “How dare they wanting to decide who we can talk to or not?!”

When we first visited A1 we had no direct contact – a friend of ours had worked there as a cleaner, but that was a year ago. The first surprise was the amount of workers who are employed at the factory – from short reports and the size of the building we guessed it was around 300, but it turned out to be more like 800 plus agency workers. The second surprise was the response from workers that went beyond a merely positive attitude towards the idea of a union: people were eager to put down their phone numbers and promised to turn up for a meeting. In general their level of English was better than the local average.

“K spoke to a forklift driver, who gathered several other men working in goods-in. She spoke to them for a long time considering they were on shift – they didn’t seem afraid of managers. Some of them even took leaflets and started giving them to other workers. They said they had tried asking for higher wages individually but it didn’t work: last year they only got an insulting £0.04 pay rise. They, too, were mainly Punjabi and keen to form a union. When they brought up the issue of victimisation, K said this is the reason why “there shouldn’t be visible leaders”, so they can’t go after just one or few people – they were very receptive to this and said, “everyone should be a leader”. She also told them they can go the “legal” route of getting 10% membership, or find other ways to put pressure on management but that we would need a meeting of workers from across the factory to discuss our options.”

“The supervisor of the warehouse – Albanian guy – is sound. He said that he had fought with management to get everyone in the warehouse at least £8.85. Hygiene guys in the factory are still at £8.50, whereas the production workers only get £7.50 (at least the agency folks). He also said that management promised pay increases several times, but never gave one.”

After two or three trips to A1 someone called us directly to ask us when exactly the meeting would be. He said many people were interested in coming. We promptly set a date and place (a Somalian community centre in Southall) for the following weekend. We contacted others whose details we had and let them know.

/// First meeting

We prepared a rough structure for the meeting, not knowing exactly how many people would attend:

* What is the IWW, what is our approach, what do we do in the area;
* Each worker should introduce themselves, where they work, what their main grievances are, what they already tried to do about it;
* How to talk to and involve more co-workers in future meetings.

Around 20 workers were present at the meeting. Apart from two Lithuanian women it was mainly workers from an Indian background. Around three quarters were women – although they had initially used a guy to contact us to set up the meeting. Most workers were from the production department (production operatives, staffers and quality controllers), one worker worked in hygiene/cleaning. Apart from two workers everyone had worked in the factory for more than two years. Goods-in workers were on shift, but some of them also announced interest. Most of the time was taken up by workers’ description of the situation in the factory.

During our first meeting with A1 workers did most of the talking. They were keen to tell us about the general conditions and their major grievances:

* Minimum wage of £7.50 for most workers on the assembly lines who prepare the food; after working for the company for 5 – 10 – 15 years; only 30p more for nightshift and quality control workers;
* No regular working hours even though most are permanent staff. They never know when they will finish work – it could be 4pm or 9pm, which makes childcare and family responsibilities difficult to juggle;
* Overtime is paid at single rate for most workers, at 1.5 for workers with older contracts;
* When orders are down, they are told they have to take the day off as holiday with no notice period;
* They get one half an hour break and one 15 minutes break during the shift which can sometimes last as long as 14 hours. If they stay for ‘overtime’ they do not get an extra break;
* Break times are also rushed because the time it takes to get through the changing room and into the canteen is part of the total time allowed for the break. So in reality, break times are even less than this;
* It is cold in the food prep area where workers stand for 8-14 hour shifts.

* About 20% of workers are on the old ‘Superior Foods’ contracts, the rest are on the newer ‘Food Partners’ contracts (there was a merger some years ago). People on old contracts get higher overtime payments and paid breaks.
* Around 60 agency staff. They have worked there for years, have the same conditions as the Food Partners people and get offered contracts when the company needs more workers. The relationship between permanent and agency workers is good.
* Main nationalities are Indian (Konkani and Hindi speakers), Lithuanian, Romanians, Poles.
* December and the period May to June is less busy, due to school holidays.

As we were to find out, workers had already undertaken various collective steps themselves:

* People want to work overtime because this is the only way to make ends meet. But their situation is being exploited by bosses who are getting away with paying their workers peanuts. One time, when some women workers decided to stay for overtime they asked for a third break after 10 hours. Managers refused. So workers on two lines got fed up and all clocked out at the same time. The next day, nobody said anything to them about leaving.
* Because it is food production it is cold in the factory, plus things are transported in and out, so it is also drafty. The uniforms that are given to workers don’t protect them from the cold and the rubber boots are often way too big or small. Shopfloor managers ignored many complaints about this. A group of a dozen workers had enough and went straight to the office of the main factory manager to demand better uniforms. This caused a big stir, the shopfloor manager screamed their head off, but things got moving.
* Three maintenance workers got together and engaged a solicitor to write a collective grievance about being down-graded as ‘maintenance operatives’ after having worked as technicians for several years.
* Workers individually refused to sign the new contracts (from Superior Foods to new A1 contracts). After complaints, management held a meeting last year where they promised to equalise the conditions between different contracts, but nothing happened afterwards.
* Workers decided to come together and write a letter to management about the short breaks, irregular shifts and long hours that left no time for family and a life outside work. Around 90 workers signed it, from all language groups, both temps and permanents. Management tried to invite single workers for a meeting, but initially workers were clear: “This is an issue affecting of all of us, so speak to all of us”. Workers insisted on at least 3 workers attending. Three of them did go, but it seems the meeting had no further results.

* We wrote up all the grievances they raised and handed them out to workers during the second meeting (see appendix);
* We decided not to ask people to sign up to the IWW at the first meeting, but to first try and create a working relationship;
* We decided to make a clear visual plan of the next steps for the next meeting: the first meeting was about gathering all the problems together, the second meeting would look at steps to take etc.;
* We talked about the fact that many workers will be on holiday in December and that it would be a shame if the dynamic would be lost due to meetings being smaller during that period. One suggestion was to make a clear decision that things start again in early January and that in the meantime we can deal with individual grievances and smaller meetings;
* We created a WhatsApp group.

Apart from the big meeting we also met up with a maintenance worker and tried to support him and his workmates with a grievance. We hoped that this would raise our profile a bit, as he had worked in the plant for over 15 years and seemed well connected. But his co-workers, who were also affected, did not show up with him at the following meetings and momentum petered out.

We tried to arrange similar meetings around specific grievances with other groups of workers, e.g. the quality controllers who voiced particular concerns about having to oversee two lines for no extra pay. Unfortunately the QCs had no time or energy to meet separately. We had hoped that these smaller meetings could work in tandem with the big ones and create more mutual trust.

Between the first and the second meeting we were asked by one of the workers to accompany her to a meeting with management regarding the petition workers had undertaken independently. We decided that this would be too early and would put her at risk, as management would connect her with the union. In hindsight this might have been a mistake, as the worker (and her colleagues) might have seen this as a lack of support, despite our efforts to advise her regarding the meeting and explaining why we would not attend as union reps at this point. This was also a turning point in the sense that initially workers said they would not go in a small group to meet with management – and we encouraged them in this. Management addressed some (mainly Lithuanian) women directly, workers then decided to go in a group of seven, eight. In the end, either because ‘the Goan workers chickened out’ or because management refused to receive a bigger group of workers as representatives only three women went and were pretty disillusioned afterwards. They said that they felt left alone by their co-workers and didn’t attend the following union meeting. Management reacted to the petition by announcing to introduce a different clock-out system for breaks, to make things more ‘transparent’. We said: management ignored the workers’ letter with common demands, let’s put forward a letter as a union with at least half of workers as members – they cannot ignore this, as we can ask ACAS or other boards to address management formally.

Last, but not least we offered on-site childcare for workers who wanted to attend the meeting, taking into account that may workers have family duties.

/// Second meeting

We thought of the following structure for the next meeting:

* Handing out our list of typed up grievances from the first meeting;
* Highlighting the importance of the collective steps workers had already taken (e.g. their petition);
* Doing an IWW presentation about the union and why it was different to the bigger unions. We emphasised the fact that workers would have to take the lead and that we could support them;
* Photocopying their contracts to undertake research into possible illegalities by the company;
* Asking workers to keep a detailed diary of incidents, e.g. in case they are sent home unpaid (date, name of supervisor etc.);
* Talking about how we can put forward our demands, even without a formal union and how to back up demands without becoming targets (e.g. work to rule);
* Our options in terms of going for formal recognition and what that would involve, and how we could build up power on the shopfloor through collective actions;
* Short input from the Ferrari showroom cleaners about what they did and how they got better wages and conditions.

A similar amount of workers came to the meeting, though half of them hadn’t come to the first meeting, also meaning, half of the workers from the first didn’t come to the second. Unlike the first meeting, this time we ended up doing most of the talking. There were more men this time, whereas at the first meeting the majority were women. We asked why not more co-workers came and people mentioned family commitments and holidays as reasons, but also fear. People also mentioned that many workers have little knowledge of general union rights in the UK – we noted these various issues down to re-work our leaflets. We collected copies of the two different contracts to study them in detail.

We agreed to focus on break-times and being sent home unpaid as the main issues for the moment and put forward the proposal to first collect 50 signatures before handing in an official grievance. We discussed afterwards that it would obviously be easy to turn these workers’ complaints into formal grievances and to shower management with them – problem is that workers seem not really prepared for a more sophisticated response from management, e.g. to pay some QCs more or to shift trouble makers to other A1 sites. We wondered whether we had struck the right balance between being enthusiastic and encouraging, at the same time, being realistic about what management could do in retaliation and the fact that nothing would change overnight, or just by them filling out a membership form. There was a similar fine balance between, on one side, encouraging workers in their individual outrage, e.g. about the contract situation, and on the other side explaining to them that the law is, in many cases, on the employers’ side.

Even though we tried to stress that we need to start from a collective position, people still were quite focused on their individual/departmental problems e.g. one hygiene cleaner who said his shift worked harder than the other hygiene shifts because they had to deep clean machines and use chemicals – the insinuation being that they should get more than the others. We should maybe think about what our approach should be in this situation. Obviously, it would be better for everyone to fight together for the London Living Wage rather than a quid more for their own department/shift. We could have suggested this when we had these smaller meetings with them. At the same time, it would be good for them to try and stand up to management in smaller groups with workers who are all immediately affected by an issue in specific situations. We need to think about how to encourage this, while at the same time, trying to get them to see how they’re all actually facing the same problem, just in different ways and that if they want to fight together, they will need to focus on broader demands that affect all workers.

Regarding union membership: we handed out membership forms, but told workers to bring them back next time. We wanted to make sure that we had all their details – address and phone numbers of workers who signed up. Some people said that £5 monthly membership fee was too high. We decided that at the next meeting we would accept £1 as a symbolic membership fee and tell people that they could consider paying more once they see that the union is something that they are part of and that makes a difference in their lives.

It was great to have cleaning workers from the Ferrari showroom and UVW comrades at the meeting who could tell the A1 workers about their experience of taking on management. The fact that they are migrant workers themselves, who have similar problems regarding language and other barriers, made a difference.

/// Third meeting

While over 20 workers came to the first two meetings, numbers came down for the third – only around eight, nine workers turned up. This meant that our initial plan to break up into smaller groups of three – four workers and discuss more face-to-face fell through. Workers reported that management had spread rumours that people who join the union will be fired and that people are generally sceptical about what can be achieved. Workers who have been in the UK for a longer time said that the ‘recently arrived’ workers just want to keep their heads down and don’t understand their rights. They want immediate results, if possible through pressing a ‘legal button’ by someone who knows the law. Also workers said that certain ‘key figures’ had given up, which meant that other workers also got discouraged. Perhaps we should also have pushed for a meeting in early January, given that the holiday break left a bigger gap (over a month) between the second and the third meeting – we might have kept up more of a dynamic. We tried to fill the gap with smaller group meetings (QCs, maintenance) – but they were seemingly more difficult to arrange.

Eight workers signed membership forms at the third meeting, but we knew that we would have to rekindle some of the earlier fire, as only the maintenance worker came to the follow-up meeting a week later. The WhatsApp group didn’t really work, we received few replies, apart from Goan Catholic memes! We kept on calling workers individually and some said that they are afraid that things from WhatsApp would be passed onto management. A short reflection from a fellow worker after the meeting:

“Obviously, when we’ve gone from meetings with 20-25 workers to meetings with a near-total no-show, it’s easy to be dispirited. Perhaps we could have been faster in coming up with a detailed plan. However, I think overall we’ve been efficient, reliable and enthusiastic in all our dealings with A1 workers so far. There certainly may be truth to the workers being initially hyped-up and then less interested when they realised they’d have to put work in themselves. Management may have also done more to scare them then we might know. In any case, an organising drive in a factory this size, with these conditions and ethnic diversity is likely to take years. There’s still lots to play for so we should dust ourselves off and go back to basics.”

We decided to return to the A1 factory with more translations and more information on basic rights, also addressing the nightshift. We also went to the company’s second factory and the bigger warehouse near Heathrow airport which did not elicit any enthusiastic responses. We found out that the Bakers’ Union was present in the second factory, but that conditions were not much different.

We agreed to meet workers after their shift in a nearby cafe to collect membership forms, but although we reminded workers to bring their colleagues no one turned up. At this point it was clear that the mood had shifted.

At this point we were a bit demoralised. Workers at A1 were reluctant to proceed. They gave a number of reasons including a lack of trust that other workers would step up (“they say ‘yeah yeah’ but then they don’t do anything”); that the time is not right, that things will become more hopeful after Brexit and there are less workers around to plug the gap; that people were too scared; that people don’t have time to come to regular meetings etc. After a 2 month break we went back to A1 but focused more on leafletting the night-shift workers who had not been present at earlier meetings. We distributed a modified leaflet with basic information about unions in the UK. The response was very good. We gave out over 100 leaflets and workers were interested to hear that we had met with workers from the day-shift.

On our second visit with the new leaflet to night-shift, one of us wrote:

“The most promising people I spoke to were two Goans who were really pissed off and listed loads of problems – unpaid overtime, problems with falling sick and being unable to get home, no raise with the statutory minimum, the super fast line speed ‘killing their hours.’ They said they wanted to meet and would bring 10-15 guys with them. Also spoke to a guy called M. He said ‘his prayers had been answered’ because he’d been wanting a union to get involved for years. Another Goan guy said he’d heard about the day meetings with us through friends but said night shift can never make them. He said we should arrange a meeting at 9pm or 9.30pm somewhere close to A1 for the night shift. Seemed v angry and keen.”

We went twice more since then and we reckon things are still brewing. We heard of rumours that management paid a compensation for the day-shift for loss of break-time – which was one of the demands both workers’ petition and our leaflets focused on. We will try to organise a smaller meeting with four – five more committed workers and build things up slower e.g. maybe through offering specific organiser training sessions for the workers. We will also keep an eye and an ear out regarding disciplinaries and grievances, where workers might want our support – officially or not. We organise monthly general ‘social meetings’ in the area and invite our A1 contacts.

4. Conclusions and open questions

* Most of us think that despite the limited ‘success’, the effort was insightful. We managed to organise the stuff ourselves and with little resources. A paid-full time union organiser might have been able to be in front of the gates more frequently, but a group of 20 volunteers can cover a fair bit of time and space.

*This experience underlines the fact that the situation for migrant workers in particular in this ‘hostile environment’ is tough and we won’t build anything overnight. Yes, a spark might set things off, but we cannot bypass the day-to-day organising that requires a longer-term approach.

* Apart from migration, the nature of the work poses a challenge, as in the surveillance and control. In comparison, (many – not all, of course) cleaners in central London often have chances to discuss the work and problems and solutions together with their workmates out of sight of management.

* We were aware of the problem of not having a group of workers inside the workplace, but having to depend on getting to know workers through frequent visits. Most examples show that ‘cold organising’ is a difficult and time intensive effort. At the same time we learnt a lot during our conversations with workers. With even just one or two contacts and the name of the union spread amongst hundreds of local workers, some seeds might grow for the future. A1 showed that with a bit of luck we can be at the right place at the right time.

* As described earlier, the so-called ‘social leaders’ on the shop-floor – outstanding workers other workers tend to look up to – are often tied into the general hierarchy by being given middle-men positions. Having said this, our type of organising effort will rely on finding workers who are more committed and who are able to motivate other workers to get things going. We are aware of the tension between these two facts.

* We still face a classical conflict: for strategical reasons AngryWorkers chose jobs in bigger local workplaces (major food factories and retail warehouses), where mainstream unions are well established. We try to build independent ‘workers’ groups’ and newsletters and at the same time see what is and isn’t possible inside the existing unions. There is little scope for official IWW involvement at this point, as it would just be seen as another act of union competition.

* During our organising drive we were unsure how much to push individuals or a group of workers. How many times do you call a worker or invite a worker before you accept that they are not interested? How much do you encourage a group of workers to take steps when you see that they already have a full plate of problems. We always emphasised that this is up to the workers and that workers can do a lot of things at work without becoming targets. We didn’t shy away from providing a fair bit of service, despite our critical attitude towards ‘service unions’.

* At the same time, in terms of the bigger picture, what we need are examples that can inspire other workers. If there was a successful strike in one of the hundreds of medium-sized factories and warehouses, this could spark an enormous dynamic! This is so palpable and therefore we can understand comrades who want to push this example into being. However, we run into a problem when a minority of workers want to act in a larger workplace because chances are that they will become isolated and lose their jobs. In Italy they managed to break this dynamic by having a large Left presence as external supporters. But it is difficult to get people to come, or stay interested in these western hinterlands… Although inspiring, the current examples of migrant cleaners organising in central London happen in a significantly different context (e.g. on more politicised and public campuses).

* We were caught in a contradiction: our main way to show support for workers and build trust seems to be to help them with legal matters and grievance/disciplinary proceedings. At the same time this re-enforces their idea that someone who knows about local law can do some magic trick for them.

* We should encourage a more open exchange of workplace and organising experiences within the IWW and other smaller unions like the IWGB and UVW. We are more often than not only presented with the final and official outcome of organising efforts – reports of problems and failures are often not shared openly.

* We were cautious to avoid a union competition when we heard that one of the mainstream unions was already present. At the same time we should be confident enough and ask the question: workers here complain about the conditions, you have recognition here, so what is your plan? More importantly, workers themselves should discuss what they want to do – if the existing union is not willing to support them we should encourage independent action.

* In the long run we have to transition from occasional leafletting to continuous presence in the area: solidarity networks, drop-ins, workplace newsletters and working class newspapers are essential in order to create a wider structure of working class self-organisation. (While writing this review we were contacted by truck drivers of Punjabi background through our solidarity network, who want to organise with the IWW)

* We should also re-discuss the potentials and limitations of salting, of going to take jobs in workplaces like A1, L1 etc. in order to help organising. We hope to be able to present a paper on the issue soon.


5. Appendix

a) Short summary of the reports after team visits at the other companies
b) Write-up of grievances at A1
c) Leaflet A1

a) Short summary of the reports after team visits at the other companies

*** E1 – Ink-cartridge re-filling factory

E1 employs around 150 mainly female workers of Gujarati and Lithuanian background, who re-fill ink cartridges. Most workers have been working there for five, ten years or longer and are on permanent contracts. Management is of the paternalistic and patriarchal type. The company expanded during the early 2000s, employing up to 250 people. Colleagues said that in their heyday they re-filled 15,000 cartridges a day: the UK consumes around 45 million cartridges a year and with 250 people and basic machinery you can recycle around 4 million of them. While the company clocked £2 million profit per month, the wages of the workers did not increase. During the late 2000s the competition from re-filling factories based in China grew considerably, thanks to internet retail and logistics chains. By that time the upper-management had diverted a fair amount of business profits into real estate and kept the business ‘ticking over’ – the rounds of redundancies and spells of short-time work became more frequent. By the mid-2010s there were only 150 people left in the ink department.

Their main concerns are the low wages and the fact that during periods of low work volume during summer months workers are sent on short-time and suffer wage loss. There has been resistance of a group of ten, twenty workers to sign a new contract which inscribed the right of the company to sent people home unpaid. Some of the male workers in supervisory positions had been in touch with GMB union, but this didn’t lead to any results. One of us had worked in the plant for about a year and we were in close touch with two male workers, but they were reluctant to take on a more active role, saying that ‘the women are just waiting for their retirement’.

In our first leaflet we addressed the main issues and the fact that workers could do with a collective response next time management introduces changes to contract:

“We managed to catch two workers coming from night-shift, there are only 10 people on nights – one of them started recently, but he seemed interested. Most departments and language groups got enough leaflets to circulate them around (Moroccan men in maintenance, Lithuanian women in packaging, Gujarati and Goan women in production, Goan men in the warehouse). Response was positive, though less enthusiastic by some Gujarati women. Only two refused to take a leaflet, and they were quite specific that they don’t want to have to do anything with a union. I guess the talk of a union has been around for a while. The only white British shop-floor worker – he is called the ‘pitbull’ because once he engages you in a conversation he would not let go – talked general bullshit about ‘for the Indian women worker this here is only social activity, they don’t need the job, they all have houses and money’ etc.”

One of our E1 contacts replied:

“So I have been trying to ask a few guys amongst the staff of how they feel about it but surprising enough most of them are very sceptical about it. A few of them are already a member of another Union and because they haven’t had a particularly good experience with that one therefore they don’t see IWW being any different. But the majority of the staff have worked for E1 for well over a decade and many of them are relatively close to retirement as well so they just want to see their time out without any trouble. On the top of that the management got hold of one of your flyers which didn’t go down well with A. [CEO] to say the least. Today he issued a letter to the staff to encourage every one to approach the management with confidence if you have any problems, concerns etc. instead of joining any Union.”

The letter said:

“Response from A. [name of CEO] regarding International Workers of the World (IWW) leaflet
[…] I am sure that any of you who were interested in what you read will have found out more information about the IWW organisation from the web. The IWW has been in existence since 1905 but has always had a small following (just 3,742 members in 2016) As stated on their website, “the IWWis a revolutionary global union” and prides itself on “autonomy, common militancy and solidarity”. This is far cry from the values of E1 and what we do together as a working team. Instead of taking a militant stance, we have always encouraged open conversation and resolution, not revolution. […]”

In our second leaflet we addressed the fact that some workers had bad experiences with main-stream unions and emphasised that with the IWW decisions are made by workers themselves, supported by other workers. We also made clear that E1 management often just presents workers with their decisions and that their talk about ‘conversation and resolution’ is hypocritical. A union would be a vehicle to first discuss things amongst ourselves and then present management with a common stance. We offered to meet workers after work. During second distribution we had short conversation with a young Goan warehouse worker, he is unhappy about the wages, which are still below £8. Another warehouse worker promised to get in touch. The big manager came out after 5 min and started filming. Workers didn’t get in touch, but management reacted internally.

From our E1 contact:

“With the festive period right upon us I thought I’d give you a little update of what’s going on at E1. You may not have had a huge amount of interest from the guys here at E1 with regards to the Union, yet by the looks of things your “antics” had a good impact on the management which resulted in some positive news for us. Just a few days ago we had a meeting held by A. [CEO] (a kind of staff update of how the business is doing) where he explained that the company has come a long way since 2015 when the business was on the verge of bankruptcy. So he thanked everyone for our hard work and he backed up his appreciation by giving £100 bonus for each member of staff. This is the first time in 8 years that we have received any sort of bonus. Further more he promised that the salaries and performances would be reviewed individually and the ones that have more responsibilities and the overachievers are going to be rewarded in terms of pay rise. Moreover every quarter of the year there will be meeting where representatives from each department (from the staff) can take part and raise their issues, concerns, ideas for improvement etc. directly to him.”

We went another time to leaflet in a bigger group and invited individual workers via phone contact to a meeting with A1 sandwich factory workers, but with no result. We maintain individual contacts.

*** K1 – Crisps factory

The factory produces crisps for most major supermarkets, employing up to 1,000 workers, including many workers from temp agencies. Although some of us work in a ready-meal factory next to K1, we actually knew very little about the conditions and had no stable contacts inside. Workers complained about low wages, compulsory Saturday shifts and unsafe working conditions – there had been bad accidents at the frying stations. Most workers are from Gujarati and Romanian background. Only after our first visit we found out that the GMB has individual members there. The GMB had distributed a leaflet after an accident criticising that management had called a taxi instead of an ambulance. We addressed these concerns in our leaflet and also made clear that we don’t make a difference between permanent staff and agency workers. Initially we only had leaflets in English and our team-members could only address Polish workers in their mother-tongue. Translating leaflets and having native Gujarati speakers during following visits made a difference:

“V., A. and me visited K1 for the first time today. We arrived at factory’s gate at 2pm. At around 2.30 workers from Response agency started gathering to sign in for a shift. Mostly Gujarati speakers and some Romanians. Had few conversations.”

“V., J. and I me visited K1 again. This time we had English, Romanian and Hindi copies of the leaflet. We distributed around 70 English, 50 Hindi and 30 Romanian copies. Spoke to two Polish women, one said that there were people from other unions distributing flyers before (GMB?), second one said that everyone is scared to lose their job and all just wait till end of the shift everyday.”

“We were told by one Hungarian guy that a Romanian worker might get in touch cause he got injured on that same day. The Hungarian one was particularly enthusiastic and started explaining people what the leaflet was about. Romanians were positively surprised to see leaflets translated into their language. One guy, possibly British Afro-Caribbean stopped by to say he would like to get involved with a union and “help people, defend workers’ rights”.”

“I spoke with Romanians (in Italian, it actually worked out:), Moroccans, Hungarians and Gujarati speakers. Some were interested, got the idea that if we speak with the management they would listen more. Some were also in favour of petitions to voice their demands. Others were skeptical saying that management would fire them if they dare to stand up for their rights. Most people complained about the minimum wage, so I told them about the cleaners’ case and mentioned A1 workers as a case of self-organisation. Ethnic divisions seem to be an issue in the factory, Eastern Europeans were blaming the “Indian management” and saying there were too many South Asians workers. About injuries, they confirmed that no one cares nor they would call an ambulance if you get seriously hurt (although none of them had been seriously hurt apparently, only minor cuts on their hands). One worker asked how he could get his taxes back, I honestly didn’t know what to tell him other than check HMRC. Vanessa fittingly said we should tell them to come to a drop-in session anyway, as there would be people who are able to help on tax issues anyway.”

“Me, V., H., A. and J. went to K1 again, today at 2.15pm. H., who is Gujarati speaker, has agreed to come along with us and talk to the workers. We gave out around 150-200 leaflets in Gujarati, Hindi, Romanian and English. It was good time to approach workers as they were gathering outside before and after shifts. People seemed to be more keen to talk to us than before. Spoke to group of Polish women, they said that ‘everyone is racist’ and they don’t see the point of getting together, but took leaflets.”

We organised four, five visits and made various attempts to invite individual workers to our weekly drop-ins – with little results.

*** P1 – Logistics warehouse

The P1 warehouse is situated close to other warehouses we either want to organise around or we work in ourselves, so we thought of giving it a go despite not having much insights or contacts. As the name suggests, the warehouse mainly shifts pallets between trucks – apart from office staff there are only 50 to 60 lorry drivers (plus self-employed drivers) and 30 to 40 forklift workers, mainly from eastern Europe. It operates 24 hours, seven days a week. The company is operating internationally, with warehouses in other European countries. There is a lot of pressure on drivers, they sack people for minor mistakes – while increasing the number of self- employed drivers. They pay a bonus if workers go on a second round (20 pallet plus), but they pay the bonus arbitrarily. They also give drivers unequal routes, which causes frictions. The fork-lift drivers are over-worked, which leads to delays, which makes it difficult for the drivers to get their bonus.

We gathered this basic information during our first visit and used it to re-write the leaflet, incorporating these particular grievances. This was well received.

“One very vocal Polish driver who had been working there for 12 years was very keen to organise and we took his number. He suggested we host a meeting at P1, he seemed very confident that this would okay. He said there may be an issue with high turnover and agency staff that could make organising difficult. He also said there weren’t common areas, people just come in, get their delivery list and leave again – not much cohesion.”

“We spoke to guys from Hungary and Bulgaria who were also keen and had worked there for some years. Most of the Eastern European workers were very welcoming and greeted us with handshakes and were interested in the union. There was also a Romanian and Lithuanian, someone from the West Indies, loads of different nationalities. The Eastern Europeans at least, seemed to have good communication with each other. One had had a bad experience with unions in the past and said he ‘shits on them’. One suggested our time would be better spent at DPD in Southall. The few English workers we met were quite dismissive and hostile. Some worked as self employed drivers.”

“6.50, we met a few people from last week again, they were friendly. I spoke to the Hungarian guy when he was in his cab, he said “there’s no equal opportunities here” which meant some people get more work and better work arbitrarily. He also said he was nervous because there’s cameras everywhere, even in the cabs. Another guy called me over and asked for a leaflet. He told me yesterday someone got fired unfairly and they both would be interesting in meeting us. I gave him my number. We spoke to a black guy in his cab who said he isn’t interested in the union because he’s scared of losing his job. No chance to reply because female supervisor in orange fluorescent came out of warehouse and told us politely to go away. We went home.”

We were able to meet one of the drivers from Romania who got dismissed for allegedly not securing his load properly. We sat together and wrote a letter to management pointing out that this could be unfair dismissal due to discrimination – which was a bluff and management called it a bluff. We had hoped that by being able to help this driver we could create more trust amongst other drivers. This didn’t work out. We managed to gather a fair amount of phone numbers from drivers, but didn’t manage to convince them that it is worth meeting up. Given the lay-out of the warehouse it was difficult to get in touch with the fork-lift drivers. In Italy, P1 workers organised industrial action together with Si Cobas, we thought about trying to get a solidarity message from Italy, to boost the morale in London, but that didn’t materialise. There are still individual contacts, but they are sporadic.

*** W1 – Warehouse and packaging plant for fruit and veg

W1 packages veg and fruit for all major supermarket chains. Most of the veg and fruit comes in passenger machines (Egypt, Kenya, Jamaica etc.), arriving at Heathrow airport nearby. W1 has contracts with around 14,000 ‘independent’ small farmers in Africa and has their own agro-farms in India. There are around 180 workers at W1, all permanents, working on two shifts. Around 70 per cent are women, most workers are from Gujarat, Goa and Tamil speaking. It is mainly line work, standing up continuously. Unloading the air-containers is heavy and dangerous (heavy boxes taken over-head with vacuum crane). Workers are supposed to stay till work is finished, up to 14 hours. Many workers have been working there for five years or longer, still they get the minimum wage. The general level of english is pretty low. The warehouse is located opposite of P1, were we are in touch with drivers. One of us had worked in the warehouse briefly and we are still in touch with an ex-colleague, but he wants to keep low profile. We visited W1 several times, but workers seemed intimidated and in a rush. Only after four visits we managed to distribute a translated leaflet.

“Around 50 workers went past in twos and threes. Pretty much everyone at W1 took a leaflet , but we only managed about 4 conversations. One in Portuguese (with a probably Goan lady) the rest in Hindi. Workers were pretty much all of South Asian origin and spoke next to no english. I didn’t feel like it was a very productive hour at W1, it’s very dark because it’s before dawn, and people seem suspicious of us.”

“I met a woman at the W1 gates at about 7.05. She was late for her shift but was still keen to talk. She is in quality control so she said she earns more. And works maybe two hours less a day (but still 10 hours if I understood correctly). However she was really interested in the union and and keen to meet up outside of work to talk about it. Will message her today. Feels like a bit of a breakthrough.”

“Only spoke to night-shift guys, they are pissed off about 12-hour shifts and low night-shift bonus (they get £7.95). I have one guy’s phone number, meaning that we have one number from day and one from night-shift. Will contact them both tomorrow and see if they are up for meeting us…”

We managed to speak with one of the workers on the phone, they wanted to know if something can be done about the fact that management refuses to give more than three weeks holiday. We tried to arrange a meeting, but it fell flat. We try to maintain individual contact.

*** S1 – Sofa warehouse

S1 is a sofa and furniture store, now taken over by DFS. The warehouse in west London employs around 50 people, many from agencies, plus van drivers. Most of them are from eastern Europe and of Afro-Carribean and African background, all male. One of us had worked in the S1 store for a while, but was made redundant during restructuring. There was no union present, so S1 installed a phoney ‘staff forum’ to pretend that there was some sort of consultation process. Our friend heard from S1 workers employed in the nearby warehouse that there are a lot of arbitrary (and racist) disciplinaries and warnings issued by management. Workers representatives are told that they are not allowed to talk during disciplinary meetings, which is not correct. On top of this, delivery workers often have to work unpaid overtime to be able to finish their rounds. We addressed these issues in our first leaflet.

“It looked like some agency workers, but not many, where coming in later. They seemed receptive to the idea of the union and all of them took the leaflet. We could speak with some of the more veteran workers that where going out the depot with the trucks. They listened more when I told them that I was in the store and was seeing all the disciplinaries.”

“Because of conflicting information and to be completely certain of shift start times we got there for 4.15am expecting some workers to start coming between 4.30 and 5am. We soon found out that this day was special because a series of managers turned up for what we later learned was a meeting with workers to discuss pay and overtime rates, presumably in advance of the Christmas season. A manager had travelled down from Manchester for the occasion, too. One boss told us forcefully that unions are ‘not recognised by this company’ and insisted we not give leaflets or ‘harass’ the workers or he would call the police. First workers entered at 5.30am, and a total of 25 workers. Reception from the workers was positive and a couple were confident, with one saying that the meeting about pay had been called because the workers asked for it, and another insisting that we should be allowed inside to talk at the meeting. They said that the meeting had been positive for the workers but the bosses also told all staff not to talk to us in the future.”

“The quality inspector, J., has been working at S1 a few weeks and is angry about a supervisor’s disrespect towards him, and the supervisor’s racist attitude towards a colleague. J. is under investigation for allegedly being late on one occasion. He has to travel 2 hours from his home outside London and arrive for a 5.30am start. J. expects to be disciplined, and we advised him to challenge any management attempt to do this without giving him a formal letter or without offering him a chance to be represented. He was as, if not more, concerned with the supervisor’s arrogance, and for now, we advised him to keep a note, date and time of incidents of abuse to able to use the evidence against the supervisor later.”

“So far though, the workers seem quite alienated or disconnected from each other, with the drivers maybe knowing only their truck partner well, while the mix of permanent and agency workers in the depot means there is some unfamiliarity between workers which would need to be overcome.”

We didn’t manage to organise a bigger meeting, but try to keep in touch individually.

*** L1 – Industrial laundrette

The laundrette employs around 150 workers per shift, around 10 to 20 per cent of them hired through agency. The company supplies restaurants, gyms and hotels in London. Most of the workers are women from South Asia and ester Europe. Wages are around the minimum, even for permanent workers who have been employed for years.

“The GMB is apparently present, though many seem to be unaware of this. One driver said “We definitely need a union in here”, indicating he didn’t know there was one even operating inside. When I asked one woman if the GMB helps, she replied “10p above the minimum wage – do you think they help?”.”

This also meant that workers were generally a little weary when we said that we are coming from a union.

“After all the workers were gone, two bosses came out to bully us. They tried to act intimidating and accused us of “harassing” the workers – according to them one of the workers felt harassed by us giving a leaflet. They also told us the information on our leaflet was “incorrect” and “defamatory”, that they will contact the “person who is responsible for this”, threatening us with “solicitors” and saying we had trespassed private property (the roads are indeed private)… At least they told us they have 500 employees and all are union members, though the latter claim is clearly bullshit.”

We asked a GMB organiser, who is an old lefty and he confirmed that there are around 120 GMB members at L1 and that they have a recognition agreement. We discussed what this fact means to us: conditions are bad, management and union have an agreement, meaning that there is no legal chance to enforce a recognition agreement even if you organise the majority of workers – see summary of discussion in the final conclusion bit of this text. In this specific occasion we decided to try and get in touch with the GMB reps in the factory, to talk about what workers had said to us (low wages, work pressure etc.) and to ask them what we can do about it. The GMB organiser tried to facilitate an exchange, but the GMB factory reps refused to meet. We distributed leaflets a second time and then decided to focus on the nearby A1 factory.


b) Write-up of grievances at A1

*** Main problems at A1 – Notes for workers from meeting, 18th of November 2017

1) Wages

Wages in general are below the London Living Wage of £10.20.

2) Line Speed

The line speed often exceeds limits which would maintain workers mental and physical health. Production targets are often set too high, resulting in necessary cleaning of belts and machinery being neglected. Quality Controllers are told off for stopping the lines when they notice quality problems, which are largely due to excessive work speed.

3) Disparity of conditions between employees with Superior Foods and Food Partners contracts

During a meeting in 2016 management promised to equalise conditions of A1 employees with Superior Foods and Food Partners contracts. This did not materialise and workers with Food Partners contracts and newly hired employees still have significant disadvantages. Unlike workers on Superior Foods their breaks are not paid (which amounts to £27 a week), they don’t receive 1.25 payment for overtime after 45 hours weekly working time and 1.5 payment for work on their days off or bank holidays. Back-payments are given arbitrarily.

4) Workers do not get the statutory break time

Management asks workers to clean machinery and get in and out of protective clothing during their break time, which results in substantial cuts to their actual break time. This is worsened by queues on the way out from the shop-floor. Management cuts 15 min from workers wages if they arrive 2 min late from their break. Workers also report about being harassed when they ask to go to the toilet. If necessary ingredients arrive late, workers have to make up for it by working continuously after their arrival, without being given their breaks. If management orders overtime and shift times exceed 10-11-12 hours workers are often not granted a third break.

5) Workers are not paid their contracted hours and forced to take holiday

Despite having contracts which state the weekly working times workers are sent home unpaid with short notice. Sometimes this results in weekly working-times of less than 35 hours. If there is not enough work workers are forced to take holiday or otherwise they are not paid for the day off work.

6) Shift-times and overtime are announced too short notice

Start of shift times is often announced only the day before and only through notifications on the shop-floor. Workers who are not at work that day do not receive this notification. Workers are forced to work overtime short notice. Sometimes the statutory rest time of 11 hours between shifts is not given.

7) Holiday payment does not reflect previously worked hours

Holiday pay is only paid at the basic hourly rate, whereas it should reflect the average amount of hours worked over the last 12 weeks period.

8) Workers cannot decide about their holidays

Management only grants two weeks holidays on stretch, which is not enough for longer travels, e.g. to India.

9) Workers are being shifted between departments arbitrarily

Maintenance workers have been shifted from the maintenance to production department without consultation.

10) Pay grades are set arbitrarily

Maintenance workers with the same formal skill set are categorised as either multi-skilled or maintenance assistants arbitrarily.

11) Workers have serious health and safety concerns

Management ignored complaints about cold and draft conditions several times. Management ignored complaints about inadequate food wear several times. Trays with ingredients are often overloaded, resulting in workers having to lift up to 100kg. Cleaners are not given enough time between shifts to do their job.

12) Doctors notes are questioned and workers disciplined for being off sick

Doctors notes are not being respected. Management indicates at meeting with worker that they will influence the decision of the ‚independent‘ assessment doctor. Workers who have taken their annual holiday are told that “you can’t be sick for the next three months now”.

13) Workers feel disrespected

Overall management treats workers with disrespect. If workers raise concerns they are told to “look for another job”.

c) Leaflet A1 – Next page

A1 workers in Wembley: Let’s fight for £10 an hour!
– Report from A1 workers’ meeting in Southall

We are part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a different kind of trade union. You make the decisions and we support you – for better pay and more justice at work. We help people if they have problems with management, landlords or the immigration office. At the moment we are getting in touch with workers at a few companies in this area.

We have organised meetings with A1 workers in Southall. They had written a petition to management signed by about 100 workers. Their main problems are:

* shift changes with short noice
* if there is no work, people are sent home unpaid or are forced to take holidays
* often shifts are too long, with no extra breaks
* workers are on different contracts: those on Superior Foods contracts get overtime bonus and paid breaks, those on Food Partners and A1 contracts don’t
* QC workers often have to work two lines at the same time
* hygiene workers don’t get enough time to finish their work
* maintenance workers are shifted from maintenace engineers contracts to maintenance assistant contracts

We discussed these things at the meeting. We also discussed that it is important to create links between A1 in Southall and other A1 sites. We visited the warehouse near Heathrow and now talk to you in Wembley.

What can we do..?

Our goal is to ask A1 to pay you more and listen to what workers have to say.

• Meet us to discuss things face to face. Bring one, two, three colleagues you can trust.
• There are various things a group of workers can do at work to put pressure on management without becoming a visible target.
• If just 10% of A1 workers at this factory join the union and 50% of them agree that the union should negotiate for better wages, we can address A1 management directly to ask for better pay.

The IWW is different from other unions…

• We are not here to get your membership money
• We don’t have paid staff or expensive offices
• We don’t tell you what to do, but listen what you want to do.

How to keep in touch…

Please send us a text or write us an email. Tell us what you think, ask questions. Tell us when and where we can meet in Wembley or somewhere close to where you live.

You can also come to our Solidarity Network for advice and support. We meet regularly between 5pm and 6pm:

First Monday of the month: McDonalds Greenford, Retail Park, UB6 0UW
Third Monday of the month: Asda Café, Park Royal, NW10 7LW
Fourth Monday of the month: Poornima Café, 16 South Rd. Southall, UB1 1RT

07544 338993 / /

Call Congress’s “Blue Lives Matter” Bills What They Are: Another Attack on Black Lives

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 15:50

via The Intercept

by Natasha Lennard

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Protect and Serve Act of 2018 by a vote of 382 to 35. The act — a congressional “Blue Lives Matter” bill — would make it a federal crime to assault a police officer. The Senate version of the bill, which also has broad bipartisan support, goes even further, framing an attack on an officer as a federal hate crime.

The bills exemplify the very worst sort of legislation: at once unnecessary and pernicious.

The Protect and Serve Act would allow anyone who knowingly causes serious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer to be imprisoned up to 10 years. And it creates even harsher penalties for other criminal acts against police: If a police officer were kidnapped, killed, or faced a threat on their life, then the perpetrator could get a much longer sentence, including potentially life in prison.

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Snipers Shooting Unarmed People at 100 Meters Isn’t a ‘Clash’

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 14:41

via FAIR

by Adam Johnson

As FAIR has noted before (e.g., Extra!, 1/17;, 4/2/18), the term “clash” is almost always used to launder power asymmetry and give the reader the impression of two equal warring sides. It obscures power dynamics and the nature of the conflict itself, e.g., who instigated it and what weapons if any were used. “Clash” is a reporter’s best friend when they want to describe violence without offending anyone in power—in the words of George Orwell, “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

It’s predictable, then, that in coverage of Israel’s recent mass shootings in Gaza—which have killed over 30 Palestinians and injured more than 1,100—the word “clashes” is used to euphemize snipers in fortified positions firing on unarmed protesters 100 meters away:

  • Journalist Among 9 Dead in Latest Gaza Clashes, Palestinian Health Officials Say (CNN, 4/7/18)
  • Burning Tires, Tear Gas and Live Fire: Gaza Clashes Turn Deadly (Washington Post, 4/6/18)
  • Demonstrators Wounded as Gaza Clashes Resume (Reuters, 4/7/18)
  • Israel Clashes: Seven Palestinians Killed in Gaza Border Protests (Independent, 4/6/18)
  • After Gaza Clash, Israel and Palestinians Fight With Videos and Words (New York Times, 4/1/18)

It’s almost as bizarre as the time several media outlets referred to a white nationalist driving a car into a crowd of unarmed protesters in Charlottesville as a “clash” (, 8/17/17):

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Talking Back to the Patriarchy

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 03:01

via Dissent magazine

by Ann Snitow

First off, and above everything else: for a feminist activist like me, after forty-five years, #MeToo is simply marvelous: “We believe the women!” Although this is an absurd, generic statement, once again sealing one inside a restrictive existential category that can’t hold, still, what a change. To be believed, to have what one says make things move. Yes, marvelous.

The worries many have expressed are also pressing in: fear of backlash (the richly recurring hatred of women who speak); fear of a loss of due process and proportionality in punishment; fear of a misdirection of the eye toward individual “monsters” and away from the need for systemic change. For me, too, a dislike of some women’s current delight in the shaming of men, which puts women in their traditional role as moral arbiters and, sometimes, scourges. Making men ashamed, from cradle to grave, is a constitutive part of how men—excuse the generic—spend their lives trying to establish a masculinity to cancel all doubts. Shaming men is simply joining the system, a return to the idea of women as sexual gatekeepers. (Women are constantly shamed, too, in quite a different way. They should be experts in the failure of this emotion as a goad towards positive change.)

What might work better? I was recently at a lecture where a speaker I admire made the suggestion, based on her research, that levity, playfulness, a change of tone in the struggle might cut through both female self-righteousness and the arrogance of male associational life. She rounded her remarks off by saying that this buoyancy of tone would be new for feminists, pointing to the strict, puritanical earnestness of the second wave.

What! I felt consternation at this misreading of our collective U.S. feminist past. Why has an earlier, radical feminist history been so distorted in common memory? The high spirits of the new have dropped out, along with sweeping demands it’s hard to imagine now. I intend no nostalgia here. Beginnings have their own special voice, one of high expectations. But, it is in the interest of feminists of all generations to invent and reinvent a more complex, resistant, and sexually curious strain in feminist thought and action. I offer the following personal, potted history of feminist tones of voice used in response to tireless sexism and relentless sexual harassment. Tone is an elusive subject. In each social context, feminists seek a language to be believed, using tones of voice that are currently available.

The potted history

1970—The height of the sexual revolution before AIDS, before the anti-eroticism of failure, before the low spirits that follow defeats. Contrary to my young speaker’s received idea of this phase, we feminists were wild in the streets. Enraged but enchanted with our new understanding, we were W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell); we were theater; we were excitement. We had seen the actual situation at last and, glowing with this new knowledge, we expected to be believed. The new news about patriarchy was dark, but at the same time the social atmosphere in which this new knowledge was blooming was hopeful and exuberant. The sexual revolution had been for men so far. But now we wanted it on our terms. Anne Koedt had explained everything in The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm (1970). Birth control was beginning to be legally obtainable. The last line of Alix Kates Shulman’s 1970 piece heralded the joy women could have from sex: “Think clitoris!” This erotically charged exuberance suffused feminist activism then. The uncovering of feminist understanding was so startling that we held our new truths to be self-evident.

1979—Only, they weren’t. Backlash was a shock, enabled as it was by the slowdown in the economy that made the tone of exuberance unusable. A new precarity led to a new exhaustion. Reaching for a return to an earlier passion, some feminist activists began the anti-pornography campaign around this time. To those of us who opposed this move, in what became the feminist sex wars, attacks on pornography were a misdirected rage: men were predators, immoveable; we must take their misogynistic candy away. The anti-pornography movement in feminism was all about no more fun and games. Play about sexuality was seen as unthinkable, an evasion from the sober truth about men. (This phase in feminism is often called “radical” feminism. It was not.)

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#REDFORED – Teacher Strikes Show Social Movements the Way Forward

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 20:45

via Black Rose Federation

By Michael Reagan

There have been growing calls for electoral participation in the wake of the Trump
presidential victory and the horrendous political and social climate that have come in its
wake. Most of these voices encourage a social movement strategy called “inside/outside”
organizing which argues that protest, mobilizations, and disruptions are good, but that
social movements also need “inside” political actors – elected officials – who are
sympathetic to movement goals and can help push progressive agendas forward. Many call for supporting progressive democrats. Some favor breaking from democrats and creating a third party.
As logical as the “inside / outside” strategy is, it is a deeply flawed, and
the movements of teachers and education workers in the “Red for Ed” movement show an
improved way forward.

A Striking Turnaround

Arizona teachers just won a 20% pay increase after a week long strike that shut down the
state’s schools. Like much of the country, teachers in Arizona faced miserable working
conditions and underpay, a crisis that only got worse since the 2008 crisis. Their strike
turned that around. In addition to a 20% pay increase, the state has put hundreds of
millions of dollars forward for increased education spending, including fully funding the
cuts from the 2008 crisis, providing tens of millions of building renovation and renewal,
and millions for improved student mental health resources on campus.

No Allies in Arizona

What is most remarkable, they won in a deeply red state. The state governor, Doug Ducey,
is an arch-conservative. His policies have included attempts to repeal the Affordable Care
Act, to support keeping up confederate monuments (Arizona was not in the confederacy), and state wide austerity policies that led to 400 firings of state workers. The state
legislature is dominated by some of the worst republican toads in the country, including
senator Steven B. Yarbrough who as recently as 2015 argued for harsh cuts to the state
budget, and JD Mesnard who worked to restrict voting access in his own district. Even with
these republican conservatives dominating state politics, teachers have won tremendous
policy transformations.

Outside and Organizing

Why? Because political power is more than just who holds office – it is about building
power with each other – in the streets, for massive mobilizations and demonstrations – but
in our jobs too. When we take workplace action like this, our schools, business, and the
state governments cannot function. This is a tremendous source of power that “trumps”
whoever may be in office. As the late Howard Zinn wrote, “what matters most is not who is
sitting in the White House, but “who is sitting-in” – and who is marching outside the
White House, pushing for change.”

The Arizona teachers show this so clearly, as do those of Oklahoma, and West Virgina. So
too for the students from Parkland Florida, who have transformed their republican
governor’s stance on guns through their direct action.

Instead of “inside / outside” we need a movement strategy that builds organization and
protest, an “outside & organizing” framework. When we fight this way, we win.

Micheal Reagan is a Seattle based historian and organizer. You can follow him on Twitter
at @reaganrevoltion