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Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth
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Calculating surplus value to facilitate workplace organizing

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 18:46

via Monthly Review

by Mhou

Using Marx’s critique of political economy, it’s possible for workers employed in a variety of industries to calculate the value of their work and how this value is divided between employer and employee. It becomes possible to calculate the socially necessary labor time and surplus labor time, worker wages and employer profits in their particular workplace. For the capitalists, that is the most dangerous information that a worker might read. It lays bare the exploitation of capitalism in a way that is intimately connected to the personal dimension of the class struggle. It exposes capitalism not in a general or abstract manner, but in the most immediately personal way by exposing the real exploitation happening at one’s own place of employment.

This information can be utilized for a variety of purposes: it can be an icebreaker to begin talking about class politics with co-workers, it can be an organizing tool to use as agitation material, etc.

Let’s use White House brand vinegar as a foil to craft a hypothetical example. We’ll assume that the White House plant manufactures a variety of different products, including that company’s apple sauce, apple cider and various forms of vinegar. Within the plant is at least 1 line dedicated to the 128oz white vinegar. Let’s assume that this line starts with the batch production of vinegar, which is sent on to the bottling and packaging line, and that it runs at a rate of 50 bottles per minute and the line is operational 72.5% of the working day on average (27.5% of the working day the line is down due to machine maintenance, quality inspections, etc.). There are two 12 hour shifts every day, so the plant is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For the entire manufacturing process, from batch production of vinegar to bottling to packaging and shipping, let’s say there are 15 workers on each shift for a total of 30 workers per working day on that line making that product. Each worker makes a total wage of $20 an hour (money wages plus deferred compensation such as health insurance, 401K, etc.).

Each 128oz bottle of White House vinegar costs $2.98 at the average retailer. In this case, that is what the product costs the consumer at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart marks up products that were manufactured by a third party business at a rate of 25% on average. That means that every bottle of vinegar White House produces and sells to Wal-Mart, they receive approximately $2.23 from Wal-Mart.

The line is operational 72.5% of every 24 hour day, so the line is running 17.4 hours out of 24 every day. That means that the line produces 52,200 bottles per working day (17.4 hours x 60 = 1044 minutes; 50 bottles per minute x 1044 minutes = 52,200 bottles).

Since most retailers must sell the same product for approximately the same price, we can assume that other retail customers of White House’s vinegar are selling it for a similar price at a similar markup.

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Remembering Paul Z. Simons: An Unyielding Anarchist, Author, and Rebel

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 16:12

via CrimethInc

We’re saddened to announce the passing of Paul Z. Simons, longtime anarchist, journalist, and author. Paul was an anarchist writer with a playful spirit, an uncompromising love of life, and equally uncompromising hatred for authority—be it from the right or the left. We treasure our memories of Paul. His presence will be sorely missed.

Recalled by his eldest daughter as “a uniquely intelligent writer, traveler, idealist, and fire-breathing anarchist,” Paul participated in some of the most inspiring thought and action of the past forty years. We are not equipped to properly write his eulogy, but we hope others will, and now that he is no longer able to speak to you himself, we urge you to read the materials he left behind.

Paul wrote with great eloquence and erudition on everything from theater to insurrectionary strategy, from play to hallucinogens. His historical writing ran the gamut from the anti-racist insurgency of John Brown to the English Revolution of 1645, all from an insurrectionary perspective. He reported firsthand from the front lines of riots in Athens, Greece, revolt in France, and reaction in Brazil, never hesitating to subject himself to great risk or set off on a romantic adventure in pursuit of his ideals and desires.

Embracing illegalism and open confrontation with the state not only in his younger days but also throughout his life, Paul nonetheless managed to remain free, demonstrating how much is possible despite all the oppressive forces arrayed against those who defy the prevailing order. In his lifelong rebellion, he offers an example for younger people who would also like to arrive at the age of 57 without tempering their enthusiasm for freedom.

At the cusp of the 1990s, in an article entitled “Social War” in the New York publication Black Eye, Paul wrote:

The single task that presents itself now is that of social insurrection, the stripping away of centuries of consensus based on coercion… the ripping up of the social contract and the tearing down of the edifice of capital.

Over a quarter of a century later, when some of us met him in Oakland after his return from the Syrian civil war in Rojava, Paul had not lost a single spark of this fiery determination. He welcomed us warmly into his company, readily sharing his experiences, friendship, and resources. Paul published “Rojava: Democracy and Commune” with us about his experiences visiting Rojava and participated in the dialogue that produced our book From Democracy to Freedom. The book draws on a train of thought much older than our collective, which Paul had participated in years before we joined in.

As a participant in the generation of anarchists preceding ours, Paul was a repository of the kind of historical knowledge that is rarely passed on properly in English-speaking anarchist movements. Last December, for example, Paul published Waging the War on Christmas: King Mob and the Battle of Selfridges, recounting the adventures of anti-authoritarian rebels in 1960s Britain. It is tragic that he was not able to pass on more to us before his passing.

In the photo above, we see Paul at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, standing before the wall where the last participants in the Paris Commune were executed. He is displaying a YPG flag, proclaiming the continuity of insurgent struggles for freedom from Paris in 1871 through Rojava in 2015. His aspirations, his struggles, and his legacy are now passed on to us, and it is up to us to craft lives of joyous resistance that are worthy of them.

To learn from Paul today, you could begin with these resources:

  • Read some of Paul’s more recent work at Modern Slavery under his own name and his pen name, El Errante.
  • Read Paul’s work archived at the Anarchist Library.
  • Listen to interviews with Paul on The Final Straw podcast about his experiences in Rojava.
  • Read the collection of Black Eye, a journal based in New York that Paul participated in at the end of the 1980s.
Paul presenting on his experiences in Rojava in the US upon his return.

Honoring the Radical Evolution of Martin Luther King Jr.

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 17:40

via Yes magazine

by Paul Harvey

Martin Luther King Jr. has come to be revered as a hero who led a nonviolent struggle to reform and redeem the United States. His birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Tributes are paid to him on his death anniversary each April, and his legacy is honored in multiple ways.

But from my perspective as a historian of religion and civil rights, the true radicalism of his thought remains underappreciated. The “civil saint” portrayed nowadays was, by the end of his life, a social and economic radical, who argued forcefully for the necessity of economic justice in the pursuit of racial equality.

Three particular works from 1957 to 1967 illustrate how King’s political thought evolved from a hopeful reformer to a radical critic.

King’s support for White moderates

For much of the 1950s, King believed that White southern ministers could provide moral leadership. He thought the White racists of the South could be countered by the ministers who took a stand for equality. At the time, his concern with economic justice was a secondary theme in his addresses and political advocacy.

Speaking at Vanderbilt University in 1957, he professed his belief that “there is in the White South more open-minded moderates than appears on the surface.” He urged them to lead the region through its necessary transition to equal treatment for Black citizens. He reassured all that the aim of the movement was not to “defeat or humiliate the White man, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

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Precarious work and contemporary capitalism

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 17:25

via Monthly Review

by Jonathan White

There is understandably a lot of public discussion around the issue of what’s increasingly called precarious work. For some, this is evidence of the emergence of something qualitatively new in our economy. A fundamental shift has happened, the argument goes, toward a ‘gig economy’ in which a whole set of assumptions about the world of work need to be changed. Some, like Guy Standing, have pushed this further to argue that a new class is emerging out of the ruins of the post-war consensus economy: a ‘precariat’ composed of downwardly mobile professionals, migrant workers and residual ‘left- behind’ communities. This precariat is a new dangerous class who if they mobilise properly, can abolish themselves by winning the argument with the established classes for ‘basic income’.1

There are some major problems with this analysis. Let’s take for example the specificity of the precariat as a new class. Guy Standing argues that the precariat is ‘not part of the ‘working class’ or the ‘proletariat’. The latter terms suggest a society consisting mostly of workers in long-term, stable, fixed- hour jobs with established routes of advancement, subject to unionisation and collective agreements, with job titles their fathers and mothers would have understood, facing local employers whose names and features they were familiar with.’2

This is a caricature that does extreme violence to the actual historical development of the real working class. A properly historical analysis of the world of work in the history of capitalism would find that much of the precarious work discovered by current sociologists has been present from the inception of this particular mode of production. The female outworkers who finished cotton goods in the industrial revolution, the waves of agricultural workers who migrated into the cities during the 19th century, the dockers and matchwomen who unionised in the 1880s, all experienced extreme precariousness as part of their working-class lives. From this perspective, what needs to be explained is the relative lack of precariousness that characterised the world of work in the advanced capitalist countries of the second half of the twentieth century, a period that looks increasingly anomalous and exceptional with the passage of time.

The concept of the precariat operating in the gig economy doesn’t particularly help us today either. While it’s productive to identify insecurity and precariousness as a common experience in the world of work, the idea that this is a new class forming within a new type of economy obscures more than it reveals.

The experience of migrant workers travelling huge distances to work in informal economies is different from that of workers in creative industries or public service professionals who find themselves unable to reproduce the lives their parents enjoyed. The ultimate forces driving the trajectories of these people and giving them a shared sense of exclusion and precariousness might have a common root, but their whole social experience is structured so differently that it doesn’t help to flatten this out by making them members of a new class, crudely counter-posed to anyone in a relatively secure job drawing a salary.

Similarly, talk of a gig economy ignores the fact that the experience of most working adults in Britain is not structured by platform working, while it totally obscures the fact that the fastest growing section of the global working class is arguably working in forms of mass production that are supposed to have been historically transcended.

Yet the issue of precariousness should not be ignored. It has emerged because it does describe an important aspect of reality. We may need a better set of concepts for understanding this aspect of reality but it is undeniable that something is happening to workers, both in advanced capitalist countries and in the global South, something that is partially captured by the idea of that work has become more precarious and that employers treat workers more casually. As a labour movement, we need to understand what is happening because these workers need to be organised and need to build collective power. In Britain, organising precarious workers has become an issue for every union. Globally, the unorganised working class is huge and much of it is employed in sectors and working patterns that are understood to be ‘hard to organise’.

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Martin Luther King Jr Was a Radical. We Must Not Sterilize His Legacy

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 17:21

via Common Dreams

by Cornel West

The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. King’s courageous and compassionate example shatters the dominant neoliberal soul-craft of smartness, money and bombs. His grand fight against poverty, militarism, materialism and racism undercuts the superficial lip service and pretentious posturing of so-called progressives as well as the candid contempt and proud prejudices of genuine reactionaries. King was neither perfect nor pure in his prophetic witness – but he was the real thing in sharp contrast to the market-driven semblances and simulacra of our day.

In this brief celebratory moment of King’s life and death we should be highly suspicious of those who sing his praises yet refuse to pay the cost of embodying King’s strong indictment of the US empire, capitalism and racism in their own lives.

We now expect the depressing spectacle every January of King’s “fans” giving us the sanitized versions of his life. We now come to the 50th anniversary of his assassination, and we once again are met with sterilized versions of his legacy. A radical man deeply hated and held in contempt is recast as if he was a universally loved moderate.

These neoliberal revisionists thrive on the spectacle of their smartness and the visibility of their mainstream status – yet rarely, if ever, have they said a mumbling word about what would have concerned King, such as US drone strikes, house raids, and torture sites, or raised their voices about escalating inequality, poverty or Wall Street domination under neoliberal administrations – be the president white or black.

The police killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento may stir them but the imperial massacres in Yemen, Libya or Gaza leave them cold. Why? Because so many of King’s “fans” are afraid. Yet one of King’s favorite sayings was “I would rather be dead than afraid.” Why are they afraid? Because they fear for their careers in and acceptance by the neoliberal establishment. Yet King said angrily: “What you’re saying may get you a foundation grant, but it won’t get you into the Kingdom of Truth.”

The neoliberal soul craft of our day shuns integrity, honesty and courage, and rewards venality, hypocrisy and cowardice. To be successful is to forge a non-threatening image, sustain one’s brand, expand one’s pecuniary network – and maintain a distance from critiques of Wall Street, neoliberal leaders and especially the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and peoples.

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Review: Wobblies of the World: A History of Globetrotting Troublemakers

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 14:29

via Labor Notes

by Eric Dirnbach

Despite the “World” in its name, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) has largely been viewed as an American or North American union. Indeed, the proposed name “Industrial Workers of America” was considered and rejected at its first convention.

Also, during its early years the union achieved a presence in 17 countries on every continent. That’s the topic of a fantastic new book, Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW, which editors Peter Cole, David Struthers, and Kenyon Zimmer call the first global history of the union.

This book places the Wobblies—the famous nickname for IWW members—amid a web of radical workers, unions, and movements around the world. What may be most interesting to 21st century labor activists are the fundamental issues it raises about labor movement structure and operation, centralization, autonomy, worker militancy, and politics.


First, a quick review of the union’s better-known history: The IWW was founded in 1905 as a revolutionary union in opposition to the mainstream union practices of the American Federation of Labor. Open to all workers regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, or gender, it was part of a global upsurge of syndicalism—a major tendency on the global left in the years before the Russian Revolution and the growth of authoritarian Communism.

Syndicalism prioritizes militant direct action by workers to win immediate gains on the shop floor. This organizing, the theory goes, would lead ultimately to general strikes where workers will seize control of industry and usher in a post-capitalist society. Indeed, a famous IWW song mocks the notion that workers should be content with the famous line, “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” The Wobblies wanted their pie now—and actually, they wanted the whole bakery.

The IWW grew dramatically over its first 15 years, reaching 100,000 members before suffering severe repression by the U.S. government during World War I. The union survived and still exists to this day, though it never recaptured its former glory.

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A radical proposal to keep your personal data safe

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 12:44

via The Guardian

by Richard Stallman

Journalists have been asking me whether the revulsion against the abuse of Facebook data could be a turning point for the campaign to recover privacy. That could happen, if the public makes its campaign broader and deeper.

Broader, meaning extending to all surveillance systems, not just Facebook. Deeper, meaning to advance from regulating the use of data to regulating the accumulation of data. Because surveillance is so pervasive, restoring privacy is necessarily a big change, and requires powerful measures.

The surveillance imposed on us today far exceeds that of the Soviet Union. For freedom and democracy’s sake, we need to eliminate most of it. There are so many ways to use data to hurt people that the only safe database is the one that was never collected. Thus, instead of the EU’s approach of mainly regulating how personal data may be used (in its General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR), I propose a law to stop systems from collecting personal data.

The robust way to do that, the way that can’t be set aside at the whim of a government, is to require systems to be built so as not to collect data about a person. The basic principle is that a system must be designed not to collect certain data, if its basic function can be carried out without that data.

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Canada’s climate gap twice as big as claimed – 59 million tonne carbon snafu

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 05:08

via National Observer

By Barry Saxifrage

Canada’s proposed climate plan doesn’t even get halfway to its goal because of problems buying offsets from the U.S.. In fact, the gap between proposed policy and Canada’s Paris commitment is twice as big as advertised.

The Trudeau government says its proposed climate policies will get Canada to within 66 million tonnes of our 2030 climate target. That’s already a big gap, but the federal accounting also assumes we can subtract a huge chunk of Canada’s emissions and pay to add them to the U.S. ledger through carbon credits — something the Americans haven’t agreed to do.

Canada obviously can’t assign our emissions to an unwilling nation. The Paris Accord is clear on this. Without this unapproved transfer of our emissions to the United States, Canada’s climate gap nearly doubles.

If the U.S. does pull out of the Paris agreement, as President Trump has vowed, then the offsets would clearly not be valid.

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Chelsea Manning: ‘The objective is to do something’

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 02:53

via John Hopkins University

By Saralyn Cruickshank

Prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson wasted no time before addressing the controversy surrounding Chelsea Manning during her visit to Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday night.

“There are lot of people who feel strongly about you—and that’s an understatement,” said Mckesson, who moderated the talk as part of the Foreign Affairs Symposium. “They either feel that you’re a hero, or a traitor. How do you think about that?”

Manning wasted no time responding.

“I don’t. I stick to being myself because that’s what I’m good at,” she said. “Words like hero, or criminal, or traitor—they just feel like words someone else uses.”

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