What Are the Lessons of the 2019 Conservative Win in the UK?

By Teka Lark and Christopher J.V. Loughlin (December 13, 2019)


Teka Lark

So, picking white nationalism over health care and common sense is global. In the English speaking world, I don’t want to hear your class reductionist arguments. The roots of the plant of oppression are fibrous, class does not trump white nationalism in the West, it works in conjunction. It is a lie that if you just speak to the economic needs of white people, the majority will come around. This idea was proven to be a lie again in the UK. The thought that POC might get a crumb is enough to inspire white people to cut off their noses in protest.



Christopher J.V. Loughlin

That was a brutal encounter, a brutal battle. There will be a dissection of what went wrong and what went right for Labour. But it seems clear a number of factors impacted the Labour vote at this stage: the Brexit policy hamstrung Labour; the print media waged a clear smear and disinformation campaign versus the left; it is unclear where the Tories electoral propaganda money for the election came from (watch out for more on that post-election).

Fundamentally, we lost this battle.

But losing a battle is not losing a war… the next months and years will see titanic struggles take place, on Brexit, the environment, the NHS, education, welfare, war, the national question.  And we will keep fighting in the unions, in society, for a better future, a brighter tomorrow. The fight continues. It isn’t victory that will test us the most, it is defeat. There are too many hopes burning right now for any of us to take too much time to mourn.

In fairness to Labour, as Bruce Lee said, “In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.” It is not much, but there is too much suffering, poverty and degradation in this world for us to be too demoralised. There is too much to do and too little time.

The Liberation of Creativity: Making a Better World at the Corvallis Solidarity Fair

By Joseph Orosco (July 2, 2019)

This year marked the 8th anniversary of the Solidarity Fair in Corvallis, Oregon. Started as a project by members of the Corvallis Industrial Workers of the World and Occupy Corvallis, the Solidarity Fair is a once a year event that brings together groups and individuals from the Willamette Valley that are interested in grassroots social transformation through social, economic, and environmental justice struggles.


One of the hallmarks of the Fair have been what is called ‘movement conversations’: facilitated discussions dealing with issues such as community organizing, labor struggles, envisioning more just futures, etc. This year, the Fair sponsored two discussions for Fair-goers: Stop Making Capitalism and Make a Better World.

Stop Making Capitalism was a particularly well-attended conversation focused around some of the following questions:


  • How do we resist power-over dynamics by building power-with each other?
  • In our workplaces, neighborhoods, communities, schools: What are examples of resistance right now? (i.e. walkouts, strikes)
  • What leverage do we already have and what leverage can we create?
  • How can we encourage the conversation to go beyond the local to broader connections?

solidarity 2

As co-directors of the Anarres Project, Tony Vogt and I were tasked as being the facilitators for the second discussion about imagining a better world. We met beforehand and drew up a few questions to help structure the dialogue. Our conversations was built around these ideas:


  • Are there examples of people coming together to form a better world in your community, region, union, movement, neighborhood? (Examples of not just resistance but alternative building)


  • In building a better world, what sort of continuity with the current world would you want to keep and build on, improve, reform? Does a better world have to be built by rejecting the status quo or can it be built within the shell of the old?


  • Who are the allies in building the better world you imagine and why are they allies?


Our conversation was a bit smaller than Stop Making Capitalism: there were about 10 individuals, ranging from Boomers to Generation Z (many of them members of Democratic Socialists of America).


Examples of Alternative Building

Someone started by bringing up the example here of the movement in Oregon to legislate universal health care. The idea behind this struggle, it was explained, was to create social programs that would take care of residents, freeing up money from other programs devoted to incarceration, for instance. A result of this would be to renew trust in the state as an institution that works for the people.


Other individuals immediately questioned whether building trust in the state was something to spend time and energy on. They offered examples of creating worker and housing cooperatives, instead.


When we asked the group to think of any projects in existence that inspired them in alternative building the Rojava Revolution immediately came to the mind of several. It seems clear that this example is to younger folk what the Zapatistas were to previous generations. Several mentioned they were inspired by the idea of municipal democracy and working at local city levels (Bookchin libertarian muncipalism ideals filtered through the news of Rojava)


Continuity with the Old

When asked whether building a better world had to be premised on the idea of something like a slate cleaning revolution that would wipe away all vestiges of the old world, or on reform that would improve on the deficiencies of the old world, the discussion participants turned right away to the question of the market. How would a new and better world distribute goods and services?


Most seemed to agree that an economy driven by profit had to be eliminated, but were not sure that a market economy had to be profit motivated. Was it possible to have a social welfare capitalism as a goal for a better world?


Participants quickly realized that any projects for envisioning a better world had to deal with the limit of ecological crisis. No economy was going to work that did not factor in resource depletion and climate change. The conversation quickly changed to the realization that there were going to be many lifestyle sacrifices—there was long discussion about what it was going to be like to not be able to get certain produce and food items any longer.


Privatization of creativity

I noted that it seemed like the question of lifestyle sacrifice always seemed to haunt leftist discussions about building alternatives.  I suggested that this was a turn we should think about avoiding because it seems demobilizing and creates a politics of fear or desperation. Instead, I said we should think about what we might gain by building alternative worlds.


Participants agreed that thinking about what luxuries we might lose in leaving behind the status quo was a deception. Someone pointed out that the idea of a luxury in today’s world is usually something valuable or pleasurable that we want because of the hollowness that capitalism produces in our lives. People started to imagine that in a world without capitalism we might have more free time to spend with family and friends. Tony reminded everyone that a central feature of the US labor movement had been taking control over leisure time—the eight hour work day and the weekend. We pondered what kind of abilities and capacities might be unleashed if people did not have to work so much just in order to survive. One young person pointed out that there is a widespread view that someone capitalism is the economic system that drives innovation and progress, “What it really does is privatize creativity into the minds of a few”.

We wrapped up our 45 minute conversation on that point and left everyone to ponder what sorts of allies were out there for the kind of struggle we imagined.






Labor Justice is THE issue now

By Irami Osei-Frimpong (October 8, 2018)

I’ve read that as a rough rule, political movements initially start out off as free speech movements. In campus life, it makes sense at first blush, especially when you’ve been to Berkeley.

But I think it papers over the social question. We still haven’t figured out how political freedom works while you still depend on some man’s check.

At first, we need the kind of leaders who are not afraid to lose a job. No revolution that includes justice for black communities should give any power to folks who aren’t willing to lose their jobs.

If you are serious about black people, you have to be more serious about black people than you are about your job, because your job will ALWAYS be at play as long as America runs on anti-Blackness.

Systemically, freedom demands that we aim at a world where one’s status as an employee does not distort political action and aims. A world where political insight and organizing doesn’t require such heroism.

This suggests to me that the first struggle at this stage is a labor struggle. We need to secure the political independence of employees, because the overwhelming majority of people are employees, and organizing unions are a great place to start to secure this status. This isn’t clear on a college campus because the students aren’t, by and large, worried about their jobs in the same way.

But in a town like Athens, Ga. white supremacy is held in place because the employers are unmediated White supremacists on one side, and mediated White supremacists on the other. By mediated I mean that, as the Klan knew, there are two ways to keep black people under control. You can go at them directly as Black people, or you can go at them indirectly and use “the protection of women” as a cover. The results are the same: White power.

Active political participation, aligned with seeking justice, depends on secure labor conditions. It’s a problem that will always be with us, until we take it seriously as THE problem.


The Future is Organizing

By Teka Lark (June 18, 2018)

This “you don’t need to go to college, the future is in trade” is absolute rubbish. It is absolute bullshit. The trades will not keep you safe, technology is coming for you next. Almost every job that exists from plumbing, to roofing, to wiring your wall can be automated now; EVERYTHING, driving a cab, driving a truck, driving a bus– those jobs will be gone in 20 years.

You won’t even be able to work in retail. Amazon is trying to make it so they don’t even need a person to check you out. It will be a machine, and if you steal, a robot will shoot you as you walk out the door. That is happening and it is happening soon.

Your future is organizing. The future is organizing, so we don’t all willingly move into their tiny houses which are SHACKS (there isn’t nothing cute or adorable about a “tiny” house) and subsist on one carrot a day from the completely ridiculous solution of everyone having their own garden.

You stole people’s grocery stores and you gave them a small plot of land they can borrow (for a small fee) until some rich dude decides he wants to use it for something else. So you’re essentially getting working class and poor people to keep up property for FREE until some rich guy wants it, right? That is what you’re doing. I SEE YOU.

Do not talk to me about food deserts. Talk to me about redline retail. Do not talk to me about the “underserved”, talk to me about white supremacy capitalists denying services to Black and Latinx communities.

And call us Black people, Native American, Latinx, Indigenous people. Do not ERASE us. Abbreviations were used in print media in the past because of room constraints, but now we have endless space. Erase yourself if you need to save space. Don’t call me a POC, white people, do not. I am Black. My existence is not just “not being you”.

I don’t have time for these ridiculous nonprofit industrial complex words and phrases that do nothing, but pathologize people and excuse corporate America wealthy owners if they give a big enough grant.

White people, let go of your racism, the patronizing and malicious brand. Many think the Left is held back owing to identity politics: no. The left is held back because “white” people believe in whiteness, and the wealthy manipulate you to work against your interests.

White people, the vast majority of you are only free in your mind. I have seen the stats. It doesn’t look good for you. The only privilege you have is to die last. The few crumbs you get, that is going away, you will get to die last in a tiny house driving for Uber, if you are lucky.  They are coming for trades, academics, teachers, writers….people with resources for now, don’t be delusional. You are not safe.

There was no golden era. The golden era was a mirage that entices people to the desert to die of thirst and hunger.

We need everyone.


We’ve Let Employers Set the Terms of the Labor Debate

By Irami Osei-Frimpong (April 10, 2018)

We’ve let employers dictate the terms of the labor debate.

Forget the skills mismatch. There is a wage mismatch, and when wages aren’t pegged to cost of living increases, it’s a bit ridiculous.

I first noticed it when I heard some older cat harangue a kid for not working their way through college like the baby boomer did, but when you look at the student’s rent and tuition, working for 7 dollar an hour isn’t really worth the student’s time. Then I just started listening to non-students laboring under medical bills, and once again, if you have tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt, the shine falls off working at 8 dollar an hour.

Gordon Lafer’s book, The Job Training Charade, lays out the myth of the “skills mismatch” and how it’s not the reason for under and un-employment, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that we simply stopped believing in organizing an economy for employers and employees, and instead, organized it for capitalized employers (black people, that’s not us), and serfs (that is us).


Why Teachers are Rising

By Mark Naison (April 3, 2018)

For the last twenty years, beating on teachers has been the national pastime, as popular among Democrats as Republicans, among liberals as conservatives. Teachers have been the nation’s most convenient scapegoat for rapidly rising levels of inequality and have been the target of an immense array of accountability measures which funnel profits to test companies while depressing teachers salaries and crushing their morale.

Is it any wonder that there a nationwide teacher shortage and that teachers are fed up with their stagnant salaries, diminishing pensions and plummeting levels of respect, conditions which have made them have to work several jobs to stay afloat and has saddled them with intolerable levels of stress?

No one is off the hook for this state of affairs, from Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken on one side, who never saw an accountability measure they didn’t like, to Betsy Devos and Jeb Bush, who are seeking to privatize what was once a public trust.

And teachers know this. Which is why they are rising up all over the country to demand that their salaries elevate them above poverty and that they be treated respectfully by Governors and Legislatures.

It’s long overdue!

Remember: Teachers working conditions are student learning conditions.


Good Institutions Are about Helping to Govern, Not Charity

By Irami Osei-Frimpong (February 23, 2018)

I’m serious when I say that institutions should be judged by their capacity to help people govern, both govern themselves and with others.

I worry that charity institutions provide services without growing people’s capacity to govern. This breeds accountability problems, and more importantly, since these institutions emerge as a matter of charity, not justice, there is no space to contest the terms of the service provided. This going to come down to a fundamental unwillingness or inability to share, with the mindset of the service-provider being, “Why should I have to share power? I’m providing services, instead.”

My goal is for people to grow power through services, and since real power is in production, I worry that the only people who grow power are the service-providing decision makers. And if it’s not done right, the only lesson they learn is how to lord over people as oligarchs.


Interview: Alexander Riccio


Alexander Riccio is a labor organizer based in Corvallis, Oregon. He co-hosts the podcast LabourWave Revolution Radio and is currently collaborating with the Common Space Collective on a project to revive the commons in the Willamette Valley.


What are the sorts of experiences that led you to become a union organizer?

I am asked this question, or a variation of it, a lot and I find it’s very difficult to answer. I think this is because when people ask, ‘how did you become an activist’ or ‘how did you become an organizer’ they seem to actually be asking ‘what is the secret to change people from being passive to active?’ At the risk of disappointing such earnestness, I do not think there is a secret formula we can learn that will magically turn people into activists or organizers. The process by which someone becomes who they are is one which covers an entire lifetime. While I believe there are cataclysmic moments, or events, that inevitably occur in a person’s life that will change the course of their personal trajectory, I think these are often less important occasions in a person’s development than we might like to believe. The experiences of everyday life are the ones that shape a person, and these often take on the appearance of monotony or lull, so much so that we tend to neglect how important such everyday life is for shaping a person’s perspective and steering them towards a life of passivity or action.


For me, I grew up primarily in a working-class house raised by a single-mother. My class background is complicated, because there were years where my mother re-married and her spouse slowly rose up the class ladder during their marriage. So I remember in one year I moved six times across three different states from apartment to apartment, and then we began moving less and our moves turned from one apartment to another to one condo to a rental house to a mortgaged home. There were years of stability, and then those years changed again to precarious living.


My experience as an adult has been one of precariousness to a slow and steady improvement in my class conditions (though not in a linear way) to where now I am modestly comfortable, but still very much a part of the working-class. All of this, which likely seems unremarkable, I think is tremendously important for the development of my political worldview.


I also grew up in a home where abuse at the hands of a former step-father was very common, which forced me to encounter the true ugliness of what some might refer to as “toxic masculinity.” I call it patriarchy. This was part of my everyday experience, and all of these things have shaped me and ultimately steered me toward organizing.


There were momentous events, as well, that directed me to organizing. Again, I don’t think on the whole these events were as important as the experiences of my everyday life, but they were still significant. The most significant single event, I believe, which guided me toward organizing was Occupy Wall Street. OWS sprang to life when I was twenty-three years old, working in a pizza restaurant where I made $8.50 an hour and had no healthcare (which was a particular challenge for me as I have chronic asthma). No one had to convince me that we live in a class society, but until OWS no one was saying things like “We are the 99%.” Once I heard that slogan it clicked for me that my material conditions as a wage-earner with no social safety net was a political relationship.

At the time of Occupy I was not yet ready to dive into activism and be a part of the movement, but I visited the encampments in Atlanta a couple of times and listened to people talk about a range of topics, from police brutality to the oppression of women to the dominance of the ruling class (the 1%), and then shortly after my visits the entire Occupy movement was brutally crushed by police. It was shocking to me at the time, and I realize in hindsight how naive I must have been to be shocked, but seeing the news for a week-straight of encampment after encampment being broken up by police and people getting the shit kicked out of them is something I’ll never forget. If you ever want to see me get ruffled, which I’m typically a pretty calm person, just tell me about how much “freedom” we have in the US to criticize our government.


I had to process what happened during Occupy for a while, I feel like at least a year, and then it became clear to me that I needed to get involved.


Who would you consider your organizing heroes and what did you learn from them that inspires you?

I’ve been very privileged in that I’ve had many great mentors who have helped guide me as an organizer. To sort of break the fourth wall here, two of my mentors who were quite honestly the biggest influences in my organizing are Tony Vogt and Joseph Orosco, the founders of the Anarres Project and two professors I had serve on my graduate school committee when I was a student. I also want to acknowledge Dr. Robert Thompson and Dr. Allison Hurst as great influences on me and my politics.


To me, there are two sides to the question of who are my “organizing heroes.” On the one side, there are those whose writings and political engagements have been inspiring and influential for me, and on the other side there are those who I have organized alongside that have inspired me and given me reason for hope. I feel that the latter are more foundational.


I’m impressed by the work of Jane McAlevey, Ursula le Guin, David Graeber, and many others. But, to sound a bit corny, my heroes are the ordinary people that I get to work alongside regularly. I’ve lived in Corvallis, Oregon now for over four years and I’ve been able to engage and work with so many people, and I continue to encounter new folks who are considerate and care about changing the world.


What inspires me the most is meeting someone and then getting to witness their own political development. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone who is completely new to organizing, and maybe thinks politics is a matter of voting for either a Democrat or Republican, and then have witnessed them become radicalized and tremendous leaders. It happens all the time.


These experiences help recharge my energy, because it reminds me that there are potential radicals everywhere and people are capable of enormous personal growth. As well, the vast majority of people that I’ve engaged with in political conversations, even when at first they’ve seemed like a conservative or apologist for the status quo, have proven to be incredibly sensitive and compassionate. Nurturing those qualities of compassion and sensitivity is a primary task for organizers. If we approach organizing from a framework where we recognize people as dynamic and not static, that they’re politics are not fixed but always changing, then we can begin to start recognizing, as John Holloway puts it, “the rebellion in each and every one of us.”


Since we’re all potential agents of change, then we don’t really need to rely on the heroics of a few individual people to inspire us, and really we probably limit ourselves when we’re searching for those few famed heroes because likely the heroes we’re searching for are right in front of us all along.


What gives you hope for the future?

In addition to the things I’ve said about every person’s extraordinary capacity for change, what gives me hope is the fact that capitalism is not stable. Its power seems inescapable, but in fact the systems of domination we all live under are unstable and have many weaknesses.


I always make the following point when people slip into despair and fatalism, which is a particularly big problem for Leftist intellectuals (the ghost of Foucault perhaps): if capitalism were so absolutely powerful then why is it necessary to keep innovating techniques of surveillance and social control? In fact, why is it necessary for all the police and policing if the status quo were so total?


I make this point to highlight that capitalism is always having to conspire new ways of trying to control people because we are always rebelling against it, and as far back as written history one finds that there is a constant rebellion by ordinary people against any system of domination they live under. Silvia Federici points out that capitalism itself emerged as a counter-revolution to explosive liberation movements happening in the 16th and 17th centuries.


Maybe it’s just as plausible as any other claim about human nature to suggest that part of human nature is the refusal to be oppressed? The tendency latent in humans to refuse their subordination is something that continues to fuel my commitment to organizing, because while the future is not predetermined something we can reasonably assume as a given is that people will continue to fight against any forms of injustice we collectively encounter. Because of the human drive toward rebellion, capitalism is not stable. So that’s hope. The harder challenge is how to maximize such refusal into something at the scale we need to overturn this rotten system.


What do you think are the most significant obstacles to social/economic justice in the future?

I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people are capable of personal growth stimulated by their empathy for others, but what we encounter today is an incredibly isolating society where public space is steadily shrinking and the opportunities for people to connect with one another on a face-to-face basis are disappearing. When we are alienated in such a way, it becomes incredibly easy for people to dehumanize each other, because we don’t have to see each other’s lives and experiences as fundamentally human. In other words, attaining justice will require that we begin recognizing each other as human beings.


Part of how power is embodied is through the display of who gets to be considered human and who doesn’t. Within feminist theory there is the concept of “interpretative labor,” where what these thinkers have explored is how people who are oppressed are constantly in the position of having to identify the emotional needs of their oppressors. Oppressed people do this as a strategy for survival.


What this means is that we’re constantly looking through the gaze of the powerful in order to empathize with their so-called plight (consider here the despicable notion of the “white man’s burden” coined by Rudyard Kipling used as a pretext for invading foreign countries).


I remember one specific conversation I had in a classroom where I began talking about how difficult the labor and life of a farmworker is and how CEOs of big banks are not creating socially valuable goods that we can actually eat, and therefore we should be paying farmworkers more than CEOs when someone immediately said, “But those CEOs have hard jobs, and it can be really stressful to be a CEO.” What about the stress for the worker in the fields being paid poverty wages?


Coming back to my original point, I think these struggles to be recognized as human are really rooted in the structures of everyday life and the inability for people to have regular meaningful contact with one another. If we could start creating spaces where people can come together to relate to each other as humans, then I think we’ll begin making progress on these fronts.


Take up space.

Take it all.


I think one of our immediate tasks in fighting capitalism is to transfer as much private space as possible into public space, and as much public space as possible into the commons. And when we begin to start thinking about the commons, we can really enlarge our collective imagination about just what these spaces might look like and what they could mean. Common spaces could be seed exchanges and community gardens, open software programs and a collectively owned internet, they could be communes or cooperative workplaces, land trusts for sustainable farming or housing, and they could even be cooperatively owned laundry mats with free libraries and free educational classes.


The absence of shared spaces really fatigues our social movement energies, and I think if we begin to start creating spaces which can be for the purpose of organically reproducing our movement energies and relating to one another on a human level then we can shatter our collective alienation and really build a better world.


What books or movies would you recommend people study to learn about organizing and social change?

There are so many great books to read, but I’ll share a few that have been particularly impactful for me. John Holloway’s In, Against, and Beyond Capitalism; Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power; adrienne maree brown’s Emergent StrategiesOur Word is Our Weapon a collection of works by the Zapatistas, David Graeber’s The Democracy Project; Andrew Cornell’s Oppose and Propose; Grace Lee Bogg’s The Next American Revolution; and for a great encyclopedia of key radical terms and ideas I love the collection Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle.


For movies, the series Trouble put out by sub.media is spectacular and I love the films, Tout Va Bien with Jane Fonda and directed by Costa-Gavras. I also really like movies like It and A Bug’s Life because they have very clear messages on inequality and the power of collective action— just think about it.


But for all the great books and films one can learn about social movements, nothing really beats the education you’ll receive by getting involved with a group, whether that means joining an existing group or creating a new one. So for folks that are looking to gain more insights and education on how social change happens, the best way is to put yourself out there and start forming relationships with people in your area that are passionate like you are. I know for many this is daunting because we can feel like we don’t know enough, we’re not educated on political matters, we don’t have anything to say or our own original ideas, and we don’t have the experience all of which may make one feel very insecure. But, speaking as an organizer, I can guarantee you that you’re not alone in this feeling and the people that present themselves as super confident, cool, and knowledgeable on every little thing often are full of shit because we’re all really trying to figure this out as we go. Like the Zapatistas say, “walking we ask questions.”


(Interview with Joseph Orosco, February 2018)


When It Comes to Protecting Immigrant Workers, Strategic Organizing is the Answer

By Arun Gupta (February 4, 2018)

This is an insightful report on how to organize against Trump’s deportation regime. Here are some important lessons.

One:  Immigration is as much about labor as about race. Trump won by racializing working-class conflict, stoking white nativism and resentment against all immigrant workers from farms to high tech. A few years ago I interviewed Ana Cañuenguez, an undocumented worker who cleans hotel rooms in Utah. She left El Salvador in 2003. Ana told me, “It was a very difficult decision to flee from my country and leave behind my family and all my people. But I had six children and one died because of severe malnutrition. I did not earn enough to feed them.”

U.S. policy has devastated El Salvador for more than 100 years, particularly during the Reagan era when it funded and armed a death-squad government that massacred tens of thousands of peasants and workers fighting for some measure of justice. That’s why hundreds of thousands Salvadorans have fled their country. I have interviewed refugees from more than half-a-dozen countries. Not one wanted to leave their home. What would you do if the U.S. destroyed your country and you watched helplessly as your child starved to death? These people are coming here to make better lives for themselves and their families. It’s the least the U.S. owes them.

The notion immigrants come here for welfare is a racist lie. For one, there is virtually no social welfare for anyone to get. It’s just crumbs at best. And there are all sorts of state and federal laws that bar undocumented immigrants from receiving assistance. More significant, the labor force participation rate for all Americans over 16 years old is 60.2%, but for undocumented immigrants? There are about 10.1 million undocumented immigrants over 16 and of those, 8 million are in the workforce. In other words, they have a labor force participation of 80%. That is staggeringly high. They want to work. They are doing jobs native-born Americans won’t do, and the fact they are being terrorized by the state, police, and racists is what would suppress wages, not their presence here.

Second: Organizing is not an either/or. This campaign against the bakery in Queens that fired undocumented workers used letter writing, flyering, protests, boycotts, *and* direct action. A tactic is just that: a tactic. Tactics should never be elevated to a strategy or a way of life.

Third:  Organization matters. Brandworkers played a crucial role in helping the immigrant workers receive severance. Brandworkers has links to the Industrial Workers of the World, the storied anarchist union. Despite the fact New York is one of the last remaining strongholds of unions, it was a scrappy leftwing labor group that threw down with the workers. Not one of the big national unions with a billion-dollar war chest.

Fourth: The campaign was unable to stop the firings, but is now agitating for greater legal protection for undocumented workers.* The only way to fight state power right now in the U.S. is through exercising other forms of state power. That does not have to mean electoral politics, but it does mean organizing has to be focused on figuring out how to pressure state institutions, especially at the municipal level, to throw up roadblocks to federal policy., particularly barring local police cooperation with the federal immigraiton police. The reality is these campaigns will be much more effective in liberal enclaves, which is why it does matter who is in office. It’s easier to force neoliberal Democrats to the left on the immigration issue than it is to force white nationalist Republicans.

It is impossible to protect millions of immigrants solely through protest and direct action. It’s like the foreclosure crisis. There were millions of illegal foreclosures that happened in the last decade. All the various anti-foreclosure groups, including Occupy Our Home groups, prevented maybe a couple hundred families from being evicted. It was heroic work, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the scale of the problem.

Strategic organizing gets the goods.

*From the article, some ideas for how cities can give greater protection to immigrants.
“In addition to its work with the fired employees, Brandworkers is fighting to establish an immigrant-protection policy for businesses that would notify workers about audits and provide safeguards against warrantless raids. The blueprint for such legislation has already emerged in California, where the Immigrant Worker Protection Act just took effect. The new law prohibits employers from allowing ICE agents to enter non-public areas or obtain records without a warrant. It also requires warnings before and after audits take place. California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra has even warned that he will prosecute businesses that voluntarily hand employee information over to ICE.”


Locals Insurgency: A Call to Action for Unionists

By Alex Riccio (January 22, 2018)


A pending Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, is all but guaranteed to pass in favor of the plaintiff. This decision will make Right to Work (aka Right to Greed) laws a national standard. For many who are involved in organized labor, this prospect is viewed as a threat to the very survival of unions. To prepare for “doomsday,” as I’ve heard it described, large unions have plans to cut staff by upwards of 30%. Unfortunately, this seems to be the bulk of their strategy.

Despite how common it is to hear about the decline of the labor movement, I don’t view Janus as the death of unions in the US. Or, to be more precise, I don’t think it has to mean the death of unions. Instead, it could prove to be a catalyst for the sorts of ambitious changes we need to revitalize the labor movement, and to feel confident in describing it as a ‘movement’ again.

Rather than posing a threat to the very survival of unions, Janus exposes the limits of one particular form of unionism; business unionism. Indeed, business unionism, the standard in organized labor today, has been a walking zombie for decades unaware (or possibly in denial) of its own undead condition. Come Spring, the zombie head will be lopped off once and for all.

While there’s no reason to mourn the killing of a zombie, now is not the time to wait and watch for what happens next; it’s time to create power. Two hurdles need to be overcome for labor to get back to being a movement—the working-class movement. Unions must develop an identity which goes beyond narrowed workplace concerns, and visionary rank-and-filers need to mount insurgencies against their parent union bureaucracies to take over the reins of leadership.

Partly to explain the existential dread amid many a unionist today is their inability to imagine union models outside the narrowed parameters of wage increases and grievance filings. Described as “Gomperism,” or “business unionism,” this approach to union organizing is geared toward winning contracts at all costs and is fixated on adding new members, all the time, to the union.

Union density has declined dramatically since the 1970s, but the bulk of labor’s problem is not with the number of unionized workers. There are millions of workers in unions in the US. The core problem, as thoroughly detailed in The Death and Life of American Labor by Stanley Aronowitz, is the lack of radical imagination within organized labor today.

I have personally been a part of grassroots organizations operating with zero dollars and sometimes as few as five people. Such scarcity did not prevent them from accomplishing tremendous victories. Unions have resources, people, and (most importantly) labor-power. Imagine, for a moment, the possibilities.

What if unions shifted the millions of dollars they dump into the Democrat party into the creation of cooperative living establishments? For union members, they would have access to lowered-rents or previously unavailable home ownership in areas where their neighbors are their union comrades (yes, they could begin seeing them as comrades instead of only co-workers).

Imagine, also, that they link these union neighborhoods with land trusts for sustainable farming, along with recreational centers for children and families. Such initiatives could go a tremendous way in capturing housing and food security for millions of workers and families across the country. Just think of the additional time people could have for engaging in civic matters without having to worry as much about their housing and food needs!

Above is simply one small thought experiment that began with the recognition that housing needs are union issues (something Gomperism does not often understand). Notice how quickly it expanded into a nearly utopian vision of possibilities. Unionists should do more of such imagining, and take time in their organizing for it. There are nearly limitless ways to reimagine the shape of unionism, but the best sorts of visions are those which come out of group conversations over needs and desires. Take the time for such envisioning. Resist the trap of constant ‘business’ meetings or before long you’ll be taking on the form of a zombie!

Labor cannot simply turn to community building alone. In order to fundamentally reshape the identity of mainstream unionism, any vision for a different kind of labor movement must center their strategies for accomplishing such visions through utilizing a union’s greatest weapon: strikes.

Jane McAlevey has explained perfectly the root of workers’ labor-power; to paraphrase, “the boss doesn’t need you as a worker, the boss needs you and all of your co-workers.” Strategies within organized labor need to consistently build toward strikes of all varieties—wildcat strikes, general strikes, single-day strikes, etc.—if they are to accomplish the kinds of radical gains necessary to mobilize the movement of the working-class.

In many ways, the work of rethinking organized labor’s identity simply requires learning our own union histories, which are ripe with working-class radicalism. Meaning the task is not really so daunting after all. What, then, explains the entrenched conservatism and staid routine within labor? Short answer—comfortable leadership buffered by bureaucratic regulation (both externally and self-imposed).

Yet, true as this may be, the rank-and-file can still reenergize their unions. Even though organized labor is bogged down by egotistical leaders (pointing at Richard Trumka) and a lot of pointless bureaucracy, on the whole unions are still very democratic. Indeed, the degree of democracy present in the labor movement (particularly in one’s own local) is measurably greater than what passes for “democracy” in the US electoral arena.

The story of CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators) based in Chicago is instructive. They educated themselves on union history and neoliberalism, crafted an ambitious platform for reshaping their unions, developed a strategy oriented toward utilizing strikes, and then ran their own candidates for positions within their union leadership—and won. With their vision and leadership, CORE was able to revitalize their union and even beat back an assault hurled against them by the most powerful mayor in the country and former Obama Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel.

An open secret within organized labor is that radicals, socialists, anarchists, and communists are present in every union, and they are often great unionists. McCarthyism, which was facilitated by labor’s turn to Gomperism, still terrifies many of these folks to the point of their own self-censorship. Imagine if there was a groundswell of such radicals taking over leadership positions in organized labor. Forget about reforming the Democrat party, let’s radicalize the labor movement instead!

To the visionaries within labor: start an insurgency. Place yourselves at the vanguard of the labor movement, take advantage of the catalyst which you are being offered in the form of Janus, and enable labor to proclaim itself as what it can and should be—the vehicle for a working-class revolution.

I encourage folks to explore these ideas more and recommend this short list of works as something of a beginning:


Stanley Aronowitz, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward New Worker’s Movement (London: Verso, 2014).

Jane McAlevey, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

David Bacon, A Radical Vision for Today’s Labor Movement, Monthly Review 2009

Janaé Bonsu, A Strike Against the New Jim Crow, Dissent Magazine 2017



Millennials Are Not Dictatorship Material

By Mark Naison (August 27, 2017)

If Fordham is Any Example, Millennials are Not Dictatorship Material

One of the reasons I am confident that Donald Trump will not take us on the path to dictatorship or authoritarian rule is the refusal of young people to be intimidated by authoritarian figures in their lives, be they parents, teachers, or school and university administrators

I have seen this first hand at my own university in the past year. In three separate instances, students have mobilized to protest what they consider unfair or inappropriate action by different wings of the university, risking suspension to get their point across.

The first example took place when Dean of Students Office refused to give club recognition to “Students for Justice in Palestine” after every student and faculty committee which evaluated the matter suggested it be given such recognition. Students not only organized rallies, vigils, and protest marches to challenge the decision, they brought the matter to the press and are now suing the University in court to challenge the decision.

The second example took place when the University refused to recognize or negotiate with an organization of contingent and adjunct faculty and even claimed a religious exemption from such negotiation. Students not only organized rallies and marches in support of contingent faculty, they tried to march on the President’s office and demand he begin negotiations, an action which led to a confrontation with Fordham security guards that led to some injuries and disciplinary action against the students. Following the incident, which caused widespread distress among faculty as well as students, the University changed its position and agreed to negotiate with the faculty group

Finally, and more recently, the Dean of Students made a presentation on Campus Sexual Assault to Resident Advisors that some found so offensive that they interrupted the presentation and walked out of the room. Following the protests, several students issues a public statement on the presentation demanding that remedial action be taken and last night, the University said it was launching a formal investigation

In all my years of Fordham, I have rarely seen students challenge actions by the administration so forthrightly and effectively.

I suspect this is part of a national, and generational pattern.