Fight Like Hell with Kim Kelly

from Making Worlds Books

Join Kim Kelly in the launch of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor

In FIGHT LIKE HELL, Kim Kelly tells a definitive history of the labor movement and the people who risked everything to win fair wages, better working conditions, disability protections, and an eight-hour workday. That history is a 1972 clothing company strike that saw 4,000 Chicana laborers start a boycott that swept the nation. It is Ida Mae Stull’s 1934 demand for the right to work in an Ohio coal mine alongside the men, and the enslaved Black women before her who weren’t given a choice. It’s Dorothy Lee Bolden’s 1960s rise from domestic workers’ union founder to White House anti-segregationist. It’s Mother Jones on the picket lines, and her militant battles against the ravages of capitalism. It’s the flight attendants’ that pushed to root out sexual assault in the skies. It’s the incarcerated workers organizing prison strikes for basic rights, and the sex workers building collective power outside the law. And it is Bayard Rustin, a queer civil rights pioneer who helped organize Dr. King’s March on Washington and help align the two movements.

Stops here include the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (immigrant, women laborers); Mississippi’s first successful unionization effort, the Washerwomen of Jackson, MS (post-war freedwomen); Latinx and Asian-American victories like the Delano Grape Strike; the influence of the United Auto Workers’ Arab Workers Caucus in the 1970s, up through queer and trans rights protections earned through labor action. FIGHT LIKE HELL concludes in Bessemer, AL where Kelly has been stationed to report on the ongoing efforts to unionize an Amazon warehouse for the very first time.

As America grapples with the unfinished business of emancipation, the New Deal, and Johnson’s Great Society, FIGHT LIKE HELL offers a transportive look at the forgotten heroes who’ve sacrificed to make good on the nation’s promises. Kim Kelly’s publishing debut is both an inspiring read and a vital contribution to American history.

Advance registration required so we can gather safely amidst the ongoing COVID pandemic.

[April 29, 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM Making Worlds Bookstore & Social Center 210 South 45th Street]

Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly Philadelphia virtual book launch

from Google Calendar

Join us for the Philadelphia virtual book launch of Peter Cole’s Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly on Wednesday, January 13th at 7pm EST hosted by Wooden Shoe Books and co-sponsored by the Independence Seaport Museum and Philadelphia IWW. Peter will be joined by labor journalist Kim Kelly and Royce Adams, a Philadelphia native and longshoreman in ILA Local 1291. Details and free registration link to be announced.

Ben Fletcher, an African American who helped lead the IWW’s most militant and effective interracial branch, epitomized the union’s brand of anti-capitalism and anti-racism. Fletcher (1890−1949) was a tremendously important and well-loved member of the IWW during its heyday, the first quarter of the 20th century. A brilliant union organizer and a humorous orator, Fletcher helped found and lead Local 8 of the IWW’s Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union. When founded in 1913, this union was a third African American, a third Irish and Irish American, and a third other European immigrants. Despite being hated by the bosses and redbaited by the government, Local 8 controlled the waterfront for almost a decade.

Peter Cole, a Professor of History at Western Illinois University and Research Associate in the Society, Work and Development Program at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia and the award-winning Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. He also is the founder and co-director of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project (CRR19). He tweets from @ProfPeterCole.

 

Philly Starbucks Worker Delivers NLRB Unfair Labor Practice Complaint

from Unicorn Riot

Philadelphia, PA – An employee of the Starbucks at 1900 Market St. delivered a National Labor Relations Board form stating she’d been retaliated against for ‘Protected Concerted Activity’. The worker filing the complaint alleges she was punished via a reduction in hours for organizing a strike and told not to discuss working conditions with her coworkers.

The worker filing the NLRB paperwork told Unicorn Riot she “filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the [NLRB] regarding retaliation for union activity and protected concerted activity… I organized a sick-in strike with some coworkers – following that I was punished and told not to talk about workplace conditions w my coworkers on the floor” and experienced a serious reduction in working hours, threatening her income and access to healthcare.

A copy of the NLRB complaint delivered to the Philly Starbucks location on October 15, 2020.

The strike was also brought on in part by baristas’ concerns for coworkers living with weakened immune systems due to conditions like asthma, the worker told Unicorn Riot. Starbucks management’s insistence on reopening indoor cafe seating was reportedly “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, with the location’s staff becoming frustrated enough to agree to strike together by calling in sick.

“We’ve had hour cuts, we’ve lost our hazard pay even though the [COVID] numbers in Pennsylvania have still been going up… When i brought my concerns up with my manager, I was told that this was going to happen eventually, we knew this at the beginning that Starbucks was eventually going to reopen the indoor seating, and that they’re a company and they need to make money…It just doesn’t feel like they care about us at all and it’s all security theater type stuff.”

She also mentioned added job stresses due to the COVID-19 pandemic such as more intensive cleaning and dealing with customers who don’t want to wear masks.

See Unicorn Riot’s full livestream of the delivery of the NLRB complaint and the short protest outside this Starbucks location (14 mins):

[Video Here]

Earlier this year, baristas at a different Philly Starbucks at Broad and Washington successfully demanded a manager’s resignation over “discriminatory practices” and issues involving “schedules and paid sick leave”, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In 2019, another local Starbucks location (at 18th and Spruce) because embroiled in national controversy after a manager called the police two Black men were sitting and waiting for a colleague for a business meeting, leading to their arrests.

Wildcat Strike at Milk and Honey cafe

from Instagram

Wildcat walkout at Milk and Honey! “We as the employees of Milk and Honey Market have been called back to work without consultation about our needs in this moment of crisis, leaving many of us in precarious situations with regards to health, housing and safety. We have demanded that the owners acknowledge outlet group for collective bargaining, and have made a list of demands for what we need to keep ourselves and our customers safe. These demands included:
Adequate PPE for all staff at all times, and the ability to stop service if this is not available.
Appropriate signage for customers and employees about government guidelines regarding safety during the Covid 19 pandemic.
Resources for navigating interactions with customers or staff who do not follow these guidelines
An emergency plan in place should an employee show signs of or test positive for Covid 19
15$/hr minimum pay for all employees moving forward.

In response to these demands, the owners posted a sign today seeking new employees with a starting pay of 17$/hr, 2$ more than they offered to pay longtime staff who were willing to return to a safe environment. We as a staff have collectively decided not to return to work until the owners acknowledge our group and meet all of our demands. We have also updated our demands to ask for 17$/hr to reflect the wages they are offering new hires. We encourage others in the community not to accept employment or shop at milk and honey until these demands have been met.” #SolidarityForever #AnInjuryToOneIsAnInjuryToAll

from Twitter

The workers at @milkandhoneymkt on Baltimore Ave are forming a union. Please support them as more information and action steps come out.

The workers declare CLASS WAR IS BLACK LIBERATION! SOLIDARITY WITH MINNEAPOLIS! REST IN POWER, GEORGE FLOYD!

from Instagram

@eat_milk_and_honey workers went on strike. Instead of listening to reasonable demands, and out of hatred of employees asking for safer working conditions and a fair wage, they are attempting to hire scab replacements at a higher rate then the workers were asking for. DO NOT CROSS THE PICKET LINE! Demo to support the workers at 7:30am tomorrow @milkandhoneyrelief

Letter Writing to Marius Mason (5/25)

from Philly ABC

Our letter writing event for this month will be for Marius Mason, who has unfortunately been recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and will be fighting the virus from behind bars. Marius was chosen both because of his diagnosis and also because of the fast-approaching June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius and all long-term Anarchist prisoners.

The event will be held on May 25th at 6:30 PM. Due to COVID-19, this event will be held online using the secure open source video conferencing platform, Jitsi. Privacy is encouraged – no one is expected to share their camera. The meeting details will be posted here a day before the event.

Background: Marius Mason is a transgender, environmental and animal rights activist. In 1999, in the name of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) he set fire to a lab at the University of Michigan that was conducting research on genetically modified organisms (GMO).  After Marius’ husband turned states-evidence, Marius was threatened with a life sentence for the arson and other acts of sabotage. With little financial stability and fear of dragging his family into a costly legal battle, Marius pled guilty and was given an extreme sentence of nearly 22 years. No one was ever harmed in any of his actions.

Marius lived and worked in the Detroit area for most of his life. Like the late Earth First! (EF!) organizer, Judi Bari, he was part of a generation of radicals who worked to link the environmental and labor movements, and was jointly active in both EF! and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It was this alliance which led to the initial success of the anti-globalization movement such as at the 1999 anti-WTO demonstration in Seattle. Mason was an editor of the Industrial Worker, the IWW newspaper, and a musician who recorded a neo-folk album, Not For Profit, with fellow EF!er Darryl Cherney in 1999. He also worked with numerous political as well as traditional charity groups.

If you are unable to join us on Jitsi, please send Marius a letter anyways:

Marie (Marius) Mason #04672-061

FCI Danbury

Route 37

Danbury, CT 06811

United States

“They Try to Pit Everybody Against Everybody”: Interview with a Member of the Student Labor Action Project

from It’s Going Down

Interview from the Radical Education Department about the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) in Philadelphia.

By Ivanna Berrios and Jason Koslowski

The 2019-2020 academic year is in full swing. And that means it’s time to think seriously about how we’ll build up radical campus struggles this year.

The following is Part 4 of the Campus Power Project, a series of interviews and writings about building radical, bottom-up class power on and across college campuses. For Part 1, see this; for Part 2, see this; for Part 3, see this.

INTRODUCTION TO THE INTERVIEW

In this interview, I spoke with Ivanna Berrios, a sophomore as well as an organizer with the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia

SLAP is an organization that aims to build student-worker power “for the transformation of our community and material conditions to create a better reality” at Penn.

Ivanna explores key issues like:

  • Ways to build radical solidarity between students and other kinds of campus workers
  • Ways of grappling with retention, since many students leave for the summer and some of the most seasoned organizers graduate after a few years
  • The tactics that college admins use to divide organizers against each other
  • And SLAP’s unique answer to the dilemma of university funding

Since this interview during the spring semester last academic year SLAP has continued to develop, with changes in leadership and a focus on researching the working and learning conditions on campus. But the piece offers a snapshot of that ongoing development and SLAP’s efforts to develop student-worker power on campus.

JK: The Student Labor Action Project, or SLAP, has a longer history at Penn. Where did this most recent revival come from? What issue sparked it?

IB: SLAP has been officially on Penn’s campus since 1999. And they’ve done a lot of really great things in the past. They helped the dining hall workers gain a union—that’d be Teamsters 929—and also really involved in the campaign calling for Penn to pay PILOT [payment in lieu of taxes]].

In the past couple of years, it was mainly spearheaded by upperclassman, so when those upperclassmen graduated, SLAP membership kind of atrophied. It never really disbanded officially, it just had different waves of resurgence.

And the most recent wave that I’ve been involved in really started a couple of months ago in February, because the director of Penn Dining stopped permitting the celebration of Black History Month. This was in response to controversy at U Chicago and other campuses, where the celebrations were considered stereotypical. That was their claimed reasons for not allowing the campus workers to celebrate, even though the workers themselves said that they did want to do things for Black History Month.

One of our core members of SLAP, Michelle, is very very close friends with some of the dining hall workers. She was hearing their grievances, so we organized a direct action on campus just to show solidarity to say that we saw how Penn Dining was disrespecting the wishes of the dining hall workers.

That was back in February, but that wasn’t officially SLAP. We did a rally on campus where the dining hall workers spoke about how Black History Month is important to them, and how they were upset that Penn wasn’t allowing them to celebrate it or acknowledge it. And that basically kick-started a conversation about how Penn doesn’t listen to the dining hall workers in general, about their disrespect in the workplace. We started learning more about subcontracted labor. Penn subcontracts through Bon Appetit for certain dining halls, and the Bon Appetit workers are not technically Penn employees. And those workers are underpaid. They’re disrespected. They don’t get health benefits and education benefits. And then we connected to Villanova USAS, United Students Against Sweatshops. They really helped us a lot in providing a blueprint for how to restart an organization. We had organizing workshops and we did flyering and outreach.

So the most recent resurgence of SLAP had was catalyzed by the Black History Month event, and then it was Villanova USAS that fanned the flames, and we became an independent collective of students who were trying to continue SLAP’s legacy of working in tandem with the workers.

JK: What do you see as SLAP’s basic goals, both short-term and long-term?

IB: This semester we’ve been focusing on relationship-building, direct actions, and education. A lot of students on campus don’t realize that [campus] workers are being exploited to the extent that they are. So it’s been a lot of flyering, a lot of getting direct quotes and numbers from the dining hall workers. That’s our plan for now for the summer, research and building a base of people who support us.

Next semester [in fall 2019], we’re hoping to launch a direct campaign of antagonizing the administration, to get Penn to apply pressure to Bon Appetit. Because Bon Appetit is headquartered in California, so it’s really hard to apply pressure directly. Among our long term goals is to end all subcontracted labor on campus. It’s not just Bon Appetit, Bon Appetit is just what we focused on. But there are other subcontracted workers, and they’re also facing similar issues: they don’t receive the same benefits that direct Penn employees do. And we also talked about eventually having a living wage campaign so that every worker on campus would have a living wage, including grad students, including cleaning services. A long term goal is definitely to branch out into all types of workers on campus.

JK: Sometimes it seems as though there’s a tendency for campus struggles to focus mostly, or only, on direct actions like sit-ins. But SLAP is taking a more careful and long-term approach. Why focus on the slower base-building instead of focusing mostly on flashier tactics like a sit-in?

IB: Because we were working in tandem with the workers. We always want to consider what they want and what they feel comfortable with and the timeline they foresee. Right now, if we were to escalate without having a base, and just go out and have our small group of people who really believe in the cause, then there really would be a chance of backlash on the workers.

And it’s because our goals are so long term, so big. Eventually we want to end all subcontracted labor. We’re trying to see how we can build to that, and not just assume we can get that off the bat. Because it is a little unrealistic to think that we could just show up to the president’s office and demand that they end subcontracted labor.

I remember talking to a former slap member, Devon. She said, “Don’t launch a campaign unless you know you’ll have a good probability of winning.” That really stuck with me.

JK: So do you think it’s important to organize mostly around one particular campaign on a campus?

IB: Well, a problem that has faced SLAP in the past is that it has always been very it’s been very specifically campaign-oriented like other campus groups. It’s been its strength in that it always has a forward-thinking vision and there’s always the next thing to move on to. But it also means that once a campaign is over, regardless of success, the group will lose its audience after the campaign, because that was what was driving the whole group.

So we’re trying to make sure that that doesn’t happen to us, by having campaign after campaign rather than just one long enduring campaign. We want to make sure that it’s a succession, so that people don’t lose the group once the first campaign ends like they have in the past.

JK: The SLAP revival came through a member’s connection to the dining hall workers. How did your comrade make that connection? It can be tough on a campus to connect students and campus staff, since they’re (intentionally, it seems) kept so isolated from each other.

IB: Actually, the relationship was very organic. This member’s name is Michelle and she is a senior right now. So she’s had a lot of time to get to know the dining hall workers. And she’s also very outgoing and very friendly. She just happened to frequent one of the dining halls that subcontracted workers—Hillel—a good amount. And then through that she befriended the dining hall workers. And it’s funny enough, a lot of students don’t know a lot about the conditions of the workers, though a lot of students do form those organic relationships, just because, especially as freshmen, they see the dining workers every day, and they ask “Hi, how are you?” I wouldn’t say the majority 04:04 of students do that, because a lot of students at Penn can be very elitist and dehumanizing, and just see them as invisible sources of labor that can feed them. But there are definitely another group of people.

What differentiated Michelle was that she is very politically radical. Um, and I would say most of Core is. And so through those organic conversations— “Hi, how was your day”—it would come up: “Oh, this is happening.” One of the dining hall workers’ son was shot by police. He’s OK now, he had to go through a lot of physical therapy. But it was a really large financial strain on the family, and Michelle started a Go Fund Me to raise money, not necessarily from an organizing standpoint.

Something SLAP has really been trying to work on is building those relationships, so that we don’t have just one point person who’s friends with the dining hall workers while the rest of us don’t really know them. So we’ve been pairing up core members with dining hall workers, having them text them, reminding them about events to come out to, reminding them about meetings. We had a pot luck recently which some of the dining hall workers came to. It wasn’t even a structured meeting, we just all brought food and hung out. We’re just trying to build up those relationships.

Actually, though, that dining hall worker had been involved with SLAP for a long time. He’s a big leader among the dining hall workers at Hillel. And so he goes to all our meetings, or most of our meetings and he knows former SLAP members, and he’s familiar with Teamsters 929, and so just being friends with him really opened the door for us.

JK: I know this was an organic, almost accidental connection with the dining hall workers. But I also see a method coming out of this connection: finding ways to help break break down the walls of separation between students and campus workers, in more informal ways (everyday conversation, potlucks) and more formal ways (shared meetings). And then helping develop those relationships in more political directions.

IB: Yeah, that was really important for us. There’s a power imbalance between the students and the workers, and we didn’t want it to say, “We are the Student Labor Action Project, we have come to save you!” and have the workers say, “Who the fuck are you?” So we really tried to focus on building those relationships,

It is a friendship, but it’s also a politicized friendship. Because we really needed them to trust us for them to tell us the details of what was happening in their working conditions. I don’t think we could’ve done that without that organic process. I think it was founded upon just seeing the humanity and not necessarily seeing them as political subjects that we have to radicalize. That I think can sometimes be a perspective that some organizers and leftists take, and it comes from a good place, but it can be dehumanizing.

We first built those relationships with the dining hall worker, who like I said is a natural leader, and with a shop steward, and they tell the other workers. So there’s also that other element, where they trust us because they trust their fellow workers and those workers trust us. Because we can’t get to every worker, realistically. But we can get to the leaders in the workplaces who other co-workers trust.

JK: One of the major tactics that admins use against campus organizers is to pit different kinds of campus workers against each other: students against campus staff, staff with more benefits against staff with less benefits, and so on. Can you say how SLAP is trying to bridge gaps between those kinds of workers?

IB: Yeah, they’ve even been trying to pit students against students. We were recently in a meeting with Pam, the director of dining hall operations at Penn, as well as one person from the united minority students council, one person from Lambda, which is the umbrella LGBTQ group, one person from the umbrella African American students’ group, and one person from the Latina coalition. The meeting was in regards to the Black History Month event. We spoke to the people from the other student groups before the meeting, luckily. And we were able to see that most of them were on our side.

Pam didn’t want to talk about labor, she wanted to talk about diversity, and how they could be more culturally sensitive in the future. And every time SLAP would bring up the general disrespect of the admin towards the workers, she would say, “Oh, I think you need to stop derailing the meeting. Let’s see what [the other student representatives] think.” And they were like, “We support them!” Basically, the admins are trying to pit our group, the radical wing, against the more moderate, “reasonable” student body representatives, and it didn’t work, luckily. Because we had spoken to them and had them on our side first. They try to pit everybody against everybody, in any possible way, just to make sure we’re not talking to each other and not antagonizing them.

JK: That highlights how crucial it is for organizers to be reaching out and connecting to different kinds of student groups before confronting the bosses, so that admins can’t weaponize the idea of “diversity” against campus workers.

IB: The administration will use it as a weapon against grievances in general. Because after the meeting, then, they can say, “Oh, we met with students, we got their insight,” even if students didn’t necessarily walk away from the meeting feeling listened to or felt like we made any progress. And that’s definitely been a trend in the past. Someone actually brought that up in the meeting. Someone from the Lambda Alliance brought that up as a concern, saying “I just want to make sure you [admins] don’t release a statement saying that you met with us and listened to our concerns. Because I don’t feel like we’re being listened to.”

JK: What’s been the most effective tactic for building up SLAP so far, for getting more people in?

IB: I think the most successful has been our worker/student meetings, where um the workers come to meetings and we talk about their conditions and talk about what they want changed. And I think those have been the most successful in getting people invested. Afterwards we try to follow up with people, especially new people after the meetings. For the most part, those meetings have been the ones where people say, “I didn’t realize the extent of the exploitation, and hearing it directly from the workers was really, it really changed things for me, and I really want to get involved.” We’re not trying to slip into a purely emotional plea. It’s more that, when you see the anger of the workers and the frustrations of the workers, and you see them face to face, and you ask them questions, and you learn more personally, it makes you feel a lot more connected to the struggle, not just seeing it on paper. I think that has been the most successful at broadening our base.

JK: Can you say a word about the problem of student retention? One of the things I’ve run into organizing on campuses is that students go away for the summer, and some of the most experienced people graduate each year. What are ways to deal with this issue?

IB: That’s the biggest pitfalls to organizing. It’s cyclical. And it’s just so hard to keep people. What we’ve been trying to do is make a lot of spreadsheets to keep information on people. I mean that sounds creepy, but we’re really trying to make sure we don’t lose people. So we’ve been keeping track of who’s going to stay over the summer, we’re focusing on them. we’ve been keeping track of freshmen and sophomores, and we’ve been focusing on them for the one on ones and the follow up texts.

And we also try to build connections among the students themselves, because a lot of times, a lot of groups on campus can feel really pre-professional or depersonalized or can feel you’re only in it to add to your resume. So we had a potluck just yesterday where we all just hang out. And we try to just hang out and be friends and keep ourselves accountable to each other in that way. Especially core [members]. We weren’t even friends before but now we’re all tight. We would almost force it at the beginning: we’d be like, “OK, we have to build community, let’s hang out.” So we’ve just been trying to make sure that people feel invested because there are hundreds of student groups you could join and people are always juggling them.

JK: And I would think that because of this issue of retention, it’s especially important to build long-lasting relationships with campus staff workers who live in Philly, since they’re going to be longer term than a four year student, and they are around in the summers, too.

IB: Yeah. That dining hall worker I mentioned has been an important and a really great resource. And like he’s been a great resource because he was involved with SLAP earlier and then when all the momentum from SLAP graduated, he was still there. And so when this new resurgence of SLAP happened, he was there to help us out, using his past experience of working with the students.

JK: Another issue for campus organizers is funding. Groups face a dilemma. They can be officially recognized, and so get funding from the college—but that comes with faculty oversight and can blunt a struggle’s more radical edge. Or they can refuse to be recognized, but give up college funding, which could have helped a group grow and develop. How has SLAP navigated the problem of funding?

IB: We’re acknolwdged by the university—-but we’re different from other student groups, in that we don’t get funding from the university. So we don’t necessarily have faculty advisers.

We don’t want to be tied up with that type of bureaucracy. But at the same time we do indirectly receive money, just because some groups really support our message. They’ll get funding and give to us, kind of secretly. They’ll get funding to buy food for an “event” they’re having, but the event they’re having is to have us. So we’re not necessarily “clean” from university money but we are trying to avoid those those complications.

Black Friday

Submission

In solidarity with striking amazon workers in Europe this Black Friday, a small crew of anarchists popped around 20 indiego bike tires, sabatoged 10 ATMs, tagged a macy’s and several other stores, the Rizzo mural, and sabatoged an Excavator being used in a development project.

Statement of the hospital and the refinery.

from Philly IWW

We, the Philadelphia General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, condemn the eventual closing of Hahnemann Hospital in Center City, Philadelphia, as well as the safety and environmental negligence that led to the explosion at the Energy Solutions Refinery in South Philadelphia on June 21st.

The assets of Hahnemann Hospital have been gradually stripped away by a private equity firm, which did not seek any improvements or reinvestments in the hospital. Patients in the United States continue to deal with private insurance companies that do not cover the total costs of their clients’ health care. Real estate developer Joel Freedman bought the hospital and has plans to sell the building for the development of high-cost real estate. Hahnemann Hospital provides care for many low-income and unhoused patients; these patients are to be moved to other area hospitals, which may burden and disrupt Philadelphia’s healthcare networks and the working class people they serve. Hahnemann employs doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, record keepers, security guards and other workers to maintain the hospital and provide care for patients; these workers will lose their jobs and livelihoods in the event of a closure. We support the efforts of unions such as the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, or PASNAP, along with other unions and supporters in taking action against the closing of the hospital. The Philadelphia GMB, however, is wary of politicians that promise to stop the closure, or who use the cause to strengthen their campaigns. This is only one of many hospital closures in urban and rural areas in the United States for similar reasons.

The explosion at the Energy Solutions refinery in Southwest Philadelphia was partially caused by the company’s neglect of basic safety and environmental standards. The company should compensate both the community members affected by the explosion and the hazardous chemicals that were released, and the workers who will be made jobless due to the destruction of the plant. The Philadelphia IWW GMB calls for the company to liquidate itself to pay for these damages, and rejects calls for the plant to return to the hazardous fossil fuel industry. The workers in these industries, including those who formerly worked for the Energy Solutions Refinery, should be retrained to work in less hazardous industries.

Both of these closures represent a glaring failure and the inability of the capitalist system to meet the needs of the people and workers. The price of healthcare necessities has risen unchecked and basic safety precautions in a potentially deadly plant are phased out as too costly, all while CEOs and the stock market make record profits. These are not isolated incidents: this is the logical outcome of a system that demands continuous growth. This system must be stopped and the workers themselves, not politicians or NGOs, are the only ones with the power to do so. We must organize now for the abolition of wage slavery and the preservation of what is left of our environment.

Question of Forces: Interview on Community College Labor Struggle in Philadelphia

from It’s Going Down

Anarchists in Philadelphia conducted an interview with a teacher at a community college following a successful contract fight.

In April, the union of teachers and staff at the Community College of Philadelphia won an important victory: a contract fighting off many of the years-long attacks from the administration.

Administrators had been pushing aggressively for higher workloads for teachers while at the same time attacking healthcare for all employees at the college. The Faculty and Staff Federation (AFT Local 2026) mobilized and pushed back, ultimately preparing for a strike. In response, the administration threatened to cut health insurance for all employees -an attack on the most vulnerable workers at the college and a transparent attempt to divide and conquer.

But the impending strike brought admins back to the table, and a new contract was signed. In the compromise that followed, the union won a workload reduction and the administration backed off a number of threatened healthcare cost increases, as well as agreeing to a pay increase for staff. But the union victory was partial. For example, Yusefa Smith notes in the union’s press release:

We didn’t win on class-size. I’m still teaching 36 students per class … At Montco and Bucks [other Philadelphia area community colleges], it’s 27-28 students per class. But we did win some workload reductions, which is a victory for our students. But we will keep fighting on class size.

The following is an interview with a union activist member of the full-time faculty at CCP. They wished to remain anonymous. We asked what lessons other campus workers can learn from the union struggle at CCP.

Can you summarize some of the important background regarding the recent CCP union struggle?

Sure thing. Before we get started, though, I should say upfront that I’m not an official union (or college) spokesperson, and the views I’m expressing here are solely my own.

Our union represents about 1,200 workers at Community College of Philadelphia and is composed of three bargaining units: the full-time faculty unit, the part-time and visiting lecturer faculty unit, and the classified employees unit, which includes many of the non-faculty workers at the college.

The collective bargaining agreement at CCP has historically been a pretty good one thanks to the work of our union going back to the 1970s. In recent years, the upper administration of the college and the board of trustees have sought to chip away at it. The most recent contract negotiations, which began around 2016, represented a continuation of that trend.

The college administration began negotiations by proposing that we accept several deeply concessionary proposals which would have negatively affected educational quality and made it more difficult to attract and retain a diverse faculty, among other things. The administration’s demands were wide-ranging and would have affected workload, joint governance, pay, and benefits. The admin basically wanted us to give up significant past victories in all those areas and more. The admin’s opening proposals would have meant some of the lowest paid workers at the college would have remained woefully underpaid. They also would have seriously undermined shared governance at the college, to the detriment of our students and everyone who works at the college. We were able to fend off many of these proposed changes but unfortunately not all of them.

In the last few years, teacher strikes have been kicking off, with an important rank-and-file power making itself felt within them. How do you see faculty/staff struggles at colleges fitting into that bigger picture of teacher strikes? What can we learn? Why is it important to struggle for worker rights on campuses?

This is a great and complex question, and I’m not sure I know the full answer. But there are some things I see in common when I look at labor action by education workers, whether they are early childhood educators, K-12, or higher ed workers.

First, I think it’s important to recognize that “education workers” means more than just teachers. At CCP our union represents faculty members, but it also represents the non-faculty workers who help the college run. This is one of the things I like best about our union.

Second, I think the struggles of education workers are inextricably tied up with the struggles of our students. We want schools that are good places to work and to teach, and our students deserve schools that are good places to learn.

Third, I think victories for education unions are important for the economy as a whole. Each one helps shape the labor market we all work in, and the labor market our students work in or will work in.

On a related note, I think the struggle we’re seeing between education workers and those who would try to control us is related to the question of the purpose of our schools. Are our schools going to be places where students learn the bare minimum of the basic skills they need to serve corporations and governments? Or are our schools going to be places where students are able to really develop themselves as whole people, meaningfully reflect on history and the present, and begin to develop solutions to the problems that are important to them? If it’s the latter (and I think the future health of our society depends on it being the latter), that’s going to take resources, and I think, unfortunately, it’s fallen to education workers, students, and community allies to have to fight for those resources.

I think the root cause of a lot of the strikes and other discontent I’m seeing among education workers is the result of government underinvestment in public education as a result of neoliberal austerity and the related rise of the notion that “schools should be run like businesses.” This is particularly salient and pernicious in institutions that are supposed to serve historically underserved populations.

I think the response is for education workers, students, parents, and community members to demand full and fair funding of all of our systems of public education. I would like to see education workers’ unions at the forefront of that.

What strategies did you see the administration using against the workers/union in recent months/years? What were some of the more effective ways campus workers responded?

Even people who had been at the college for a long time said this was the most inflexible and unreasonable they’ve seen a CCP administration be in negotiations. The administration’s tactics ranged from the sort of typical corporate anti-union crap you’d expect, to the sometimes bizarrely petty, to the really despicable threat they made to cut off the health insurance of everyone who went on strike.

The threat against the health insurance of anyone who went on strike I found especially odious. The administration made it against people who, in some cases, were making less than $15 an hour and who qualify for public assistance for food. We have union members who are on chemotherapy or who have family members on chemotherapy. We have members with high-risk pregnancies. We have members whose children have disabilities that require ongoing treatment. For the administration to threaten to suspend these people’s health insurance in retaliation for striking I found to be really disgraceful. I’m not sure what the college administration’s plan is now to try to come back from that and credibly claim to be leaders of the college, other than in an authoritarian way.

Our union’s response to this threat was to help our members understand how they could remain insured through COBRA or by purchasing their own health insurance. But I think this also underscores the importance to future labor struggle of universal government-provided health insurance.

For the years these negotiations were going on the administration spent I can only imagine how much of the college’s money on an outside law firm to represent and advise them. They also did strange things like order our union posters taken down from college bulletin boards. While we couldn’t outspend the administration on lawyers, since, you know, we were spending our own dues money instead of taxpayer and student dollars, the union does have a negotiations and strike fund and a lawyer of our own. As far as the posters being taken down: Well, there are more of us than there are of them, so we just put them back up.

The administration did other things, too. My understanding is that there was an agreement to keep the exact content of negotiation sessions mostly private, but the administration seemed to not fully abide by that. They’d cherry pick what they thought were the best parts of their proposals and put them out in public and email them to all the students. They’d use this to try to further their narrative that the union was being unreasonable. I think a good response to this for next time would be to have open bargaining.

Another thing the administration tried to do was to drive wedges between our bargaining units. Like I mentioned, two of our bargaining units represent faculty members, while the third one represents non-faculty workers at the college. I think the administration tried to take advantage of this in several ways. One thing they did was focus very intensely on proposals they had for increased workload for faculty. Faculty fought back against this, and I think the administration then tried to say, or at least imply, to the non-faculty workers something along the lines of, “See, the faculty are holding up your contract by fighting us over workload.” I can’t speak for everyone, but I think this sort of “divide and rule” tactic was pretty transparent, and in the end we stuck together and signed three contracts together, as we traditionally have. I think maintaining and increasing solidarity, communication, and camaraderie between and within the three bargaining units is going to be important for our union going forward. I think an important part of that is going to be committing to making our union a more actively anti-racist union, as there are different racial demographics in the different bargaining units.

What worked best in your struggle? What do you think were the most effective strategies and tactics?

I think the foundation of the most successful elements of our campaign were organizing conversations. These are conversations where union members volunteer to talk to other union members about what they’re thinking and feeling and what they’d like to see happen with our union. I think these are important for so many reasons. They build trust and relationships, and they allow union leadership to understand what members want in an in-depth way and make decisions accordingly.

Another important part of our effort was making it clear how what we were fighting for would be beneficial for students and the larger community. The Bargaining for the Common Good Network does a great job of describing this method of campaigning, and we used a lot from their framework in organizing our own efforts.

We received some political support from some members of state and local government, but when it came down to it, it was our demonstrated willingness to strike if needed that caused real change at the bargaining table.

What role did students play in the strike? How crucial are students as a support system for education workers struggling on a college campus?

From my perspective, students played a huge role.

First, on a personal note, I was deeply touched by how supportive my students were when I told them we might go on strike. I was worried they might see a potential strike as a betrayal on the part of their teachers, but almost none of my students seemed to think about it that way. Obviously, we all wanted to avoid a strike if we could, but my students were really clear that they’d be in support of me and the union if it came to a strike. I can’t fully describe how much that meant to me, just on a personal level.

Secondly, the possibility of a strike meant there was a lot of discussion on campus about strikes and unions. Some of this was between union members and students. Some of it was students talking to other students. Some of this was in class. Some of it was outside of class. But, all in all, I’d say the possibility of a strike led to a greater awareness among the students about unions and their power and importance. I remember one of my students saying something in one of our class discussions like, “Wait, so you can just say ‘no’ to what your bosses want to do? We gotta get a union at my work.”

Some students became actively involved in support of our contract campaign, contacting local politicians, the college president, and the college board of trustees. Some showed up at our demonstrations. Some talked about running for student government and trying to address the same issues with the college that the union wants addressed regarding things like funding, resources for students, and class sizes. It was really inspiring and touching for me to see our students become aware and active around these issues like many of them did. I think this may have been one of the best aspects of the contract campaign for me.

What main lessons do you think other education workers struggling in Philly and beyond could learn from what’s been happening at CCP recently?

So much happened. I think I am still processing and learning from everything that happened. But right now, these are the things that stand out as lessons I learned:

The importance of ongoing one-on-one organizing conversations between members as an organizing strategy that builds solidarity, camaradiere, and communication.

The importance of using a Bargaining For The Common Good framework where the union makes clear how what the union is fighting for will benefit the greater community. In our case, this was things like fighting for full funding for the college, smaller class sizes, more resources for students, and a more diverse faculty at the college.

Start organizing and preparing to strike early. Like years early. Our current contract ends in three years, and we have already begun our campaign for the next one.

Don’t underestimate how much work it is. I didn’t formally count, but I am sure our contract campaign required literally thousands of work hours.

At least in our situation, the negotiating at the bargaining table seemed to be more about power than debate. It didn’t seem to really matter whether we had reason, logic, evidence, and well-crafted arguments for our proposals. It seemed to come down to whether we could demonstrate enough power to force the other side to have to change their position. As an academic observing negotiations at an academic institution, I found this particularly disappointing, but I guess here we are in late capitalism.

Political allies are nice, but it’s the threat of a strike that is the source of your power.

I hope this is all helpful information.

The Immiseration of Labor: Capitalism, Poverty, and Inequality in Philadelphia

from Gathering Forces

 

“…the more alien wealth they [the workers] produce, and… the more the productivity of their labor increases, the more does their very function as means for the valorization of capital become precarious.”[1]

“…within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of labor are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker; …all means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become means of domination and exploitation of the producers…”[2]

The Theory of Immiseration

How are we to understand the contemporary economic situation of most people, who experience increasingly unstable conditions of employment and life?

This essay analyses the growth of poverty and income inequality within the context of a developed capitalist[3] economy, using Philadelphia as a case study. Some might think that this city is an extreme example; for many years now Philadelphia has ranked the poorest of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.[4] However, the basic thesis of this essay is that immiseration is not an exception but instead a normal outgrowth of the capitalist economy.

The concept of immiseration is usually associated with Karl Marx, who insisted that the nature of capitalist production resulted in the devaluation of labor, specifically the decline of wages relative to the total value created in the economy. For Marx, this meant that the proletariat class,[5] or working class, was fundamentally defined by precariousness, i.e. material instability, uncertainty, insecurity, and dependency. This theory stems from Marx’s analysis of the changing organic composition of capitalist production and the reduced demand for labor that emerges as technology develops and labor becomes more productive. With increasingly productive machines, less labor produces more commodities at a faster rate, leading to the gradual replacement of labor by machines. Marx observed that the realities of capitalist competition necessitated this tendency towards mechanization and rising productivity. If a factory in the South restructures production to raise its productivity—allowing it to sell more commodities, at a faster rate, and at a cheaper price, while employing less labor—while a rival factory in Philadelphia does not, then after a while the factory in the South will run the factory in Philadelphia out of business. In order to protect their market from more productive competitors, therefore, capitalists must reinvest part of their capital into increasing productivity, or perish in the long run.

As capitalists competed and became more productive, Marx noted that labor became more impoverished: “The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.”[6] In other words, increases in capitalist productivity were uneven in their effects—they benefited the capitalists, not the workers. As capitalism became more productive and labor produced more capital in a given amount of time, economic output increased; but at the same time, real wages stabilized and even declined, because the input of human labor stayed the same or declined relative to the output of capital.

This constellation of ideas would later be referred to by Marxists as “the immiseration thesis.” However, this term is somewhat misleading since throughout his life Marx developed several theses about the absolute and relative immiseration of labor under different phases of capitalist development. Nonetheless, Marx always theorized the devaluation of labor relative to the self-valorization of capital, and in this sense, he did posit a general theory of immiseration.

An Uneven Economy

Even accounting for periodic crises and recessions, it seems that the US economy is strong and growing, locally and nationally, from the standpoint of those who rule it— the capitalist class.[7] It is still the largest national economy in the world;[8] the world’s largest producer of petroleum and gas[9]; the world’s largest internal market for goods and services[10]; and the world’s largest trading power,[11] with roughly a third of this trade based in the export and import of international commodities, while domestic trade between regions in the US generates even more capital, accounting for roughly two-thirds of US trade.[12]

The majority of this trade is concentrated in the 10 largest metropolitan areas of the US. Those ten metro areas, ordered by largest total trade volume, are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco, and Boston. All the commodities that move throughout the nation, in freight trains, trucks, and shipping containers, flow through a vast transportation infrastructure made up of rail lines, roads, and ports that link these ten metropolitan areas in an extensive network of “trade corridors.” New York and Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Riverside, and San Francisco and San Jose are among the largest corridors within the national network.[13] These regional trading networks also provide access to distant markets that allows US capitalists to take part in global commodity chains. Still, the largest single part of capitalist value in the US comes from domestic trade.

Primarily as a result on their complementary industries in energy, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and mixed freight, New York and Philadelphia are the largest trading partners in the national interstate network,[14] making the New York-Philadelphia trade corridor the most valuable in the nation.[15] Because it serves as a crucial node in the national trade network, Philadelphia is home to the 7th largest metropolitan economy in the nation,[16] generating the 4th highest gross domestic product in the nation, and the 9th highest among the cities of the world.[17]

The Philadelphia metropolitan economy, which includes Camden, Chester, Norristown, and other peripheral cities and towns, continues to generate massive profits for those who own it. Still, for most people—who are not capitalists, but workers—wages are low, jobs are increasingly insecure, and poverty continues to grow.[18] Despite regional economic growth, poverty has increased more rapidly in Philadelphia than any other major city since the 1970s. However, this trend is not isolated to Philadelphia; poverty has steadily increased throughout the nation since the 1970s.[19]

In the same time period that people became poorer, the national economy continued to grow and wealth continued to concentrate in fewer hands than ever before. After two decades of relative stability following World War Two, US income inequality once again began to grow starting in the early 1970s and continued to grow despite rising business cycles in the 1980s and 1990s.[20] By 2013, the top 1 percent of households received about 20 percent of all pre-tax income, in contrast to about 10 percent from 1950 to 1980.[21] By 2017, the income of the top 20% of households in Philadelphia was up by 13% since 2007, while the income of the bottom 60% of households was below 2007 levels.[22]

While a strong national economy in the late 1990s helped drive down the number of people living in poverty for the first time in decades, this trend was short-lived. Not long after the 2000s began, the bursting of the dot-com bubble sent the nation into a recession, a regular occurrence in capitalism. Millions of people lost their jobs and incomes during the early 2000s, and poverty continued to grow even as the economy recovered by the mid 2000s. The onset of the Great Recession of 2008-2009 only accelerated this trend, and the number of people living in poverty grew even faster. Even with the end of the Great Recession, poverty continued to grow throughout the nation, and Philadelphia registered declines in typical worker wages during the first five years of the recovery. By 2010-2014, 14 million people in Philadelphia lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 40 percent or more—5 million more than before the Great Recession and more than twice as many as in 2000.[23]

Although poverty increased among white Americans in the post-Recession period, for black Americans and Latino Americans poverty rose even more sharply, locally and nationally.[24] In particular, black Philadelphians today continue to experience record high levels of poverty[25] and low teen employment.[26] This racial disparity is the result of a longstanding pattern in which white workers, allied with capitalists (who are almost entirely white), exclude black and brown workers from the better paying, more secure jobs.

The De-Industrialization of Labor

How do we explain this disconnect, between growing wealth at the top, and deepening poverty at the bottom?

It’s obvious in retrospect that the rise of poverty in Philadelphia and other former industrial centers is the result of a shift in the capitalist mode of production—from manufacturing industries to service industries, and from city to suburbs. During most the 19th century Philadelphia was a center of craft-based industrial production, well-known for its diverse array of small and medium-sized manufacturing industries—textiles, metal products, paper, glass, furniture, shoes, hardware, etc. By 1900, manufacturing workers made up about one-half of the city’s entire labor force.[27] However, manufacturing jobs began to decline in Philadelphia in the 1920s, and by the 1970s, the service industries came to eclipse manufacturing entirely. Rather than manufacturing, most people now work in the service industries—food service, retail, health service, and logistics sub-industries such as warehousing, transportation, and delivery services. This “de-industrialization” of the economy and workforce resulted in a loss of income for most workers.[28]

The de-industrialization of Philadelphia, and the corresponding rise in poverty throughout the region, began earlier than most other cities in the North American Rust-Belt, shortly after the economic upturn that came with World War One (1914-1918), which resulted in growing mechanization, automation, and standardization of production on a national and global scale. In contrast, Philadelphia’s manufacturing businesses for the most part continued employing the labor of highly skilled craftsmen who worked in small and medium-sized firms, known as “workshops,” which produced custom goods for niche markets. The “Workshop of the World,” as Philadelphia was still known in the 1920s, could not compete with mass industrial production, for mass marketed consumption, by means of the unskilled and disposable mass assembly line workers of the factories in Northern cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York. The new system of mass industrial production signaled the end of the highly specialized manufacturing processes which characterized most of industrial Philadelphia before World War Two.[29]

With the national economic downturn of 1929, major sections of the city’s craft-manufacturing base began to collapse. By the 1930s, the only manufacturing businesses that remained in Philadelphia were the few that developed mass production methods—factories along the peripheries of the city in Manayunk, Germantown, Kensington, etc. These were the only manufacturing businesses in the city that could actually compete on a national level.

Eventually, the demand for manufacturing in Philadelphia would pick up as a result of the revival of the national economy during World War Two (1939-1945), when federally funded factories hired over 27,000 new workers.[30] The wartime economy opened new possibilities for black workers to join the industrial workforce; while only 15,000 African-Americans worked in manufacturing jobs in the city in 1940, their representation rose to 55,000 by 1943. Although this represented an increase in wages and jobs for black workers, more than half of these jobs were in unskilled positions that offered the lowest wages.[31]

Despite a boost in production during World War Two, Philadelphia’s manufacturing industries began a steep decline during the peacetime transition. Industrial capitalists continued to face the challenge of superior competition, and this time the competition was increasingly global. International trade grew in the decades after the war, as European and Japanese manufacturers began to compete with US manufacturers. In this context, most factories in Philadelphia either went out of business or left the city. By 1955, fewer than 1,000 workers were employed in the city’s formerly expansive textile industries.[32]

Black industrial workers hired during World War Two were particularly affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs. A big factor in this process was the seniority system embodied in most union contracts, which meant that when recession, closure, or layoffs happened, those with the least seniority were the first to go. Since black workers were usually the last hired, they were also usually the first fired.

By the early 1970s, when other major cities throughout the North and Midwest were beginning to experience de-industrialization, most of the manufacturing businesses in Philadelphia had already shut down or relocated to the suburbs, as well as to cities in the South and West of the country. The few industrial firms that remained in Philadelphia were those that invested heavily in automation and raised their standard of productivity.[33]

In the 1980s and 1990s the pattern of de-industrialization became international, as it began to hit most nations in Europe, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Since the beginning of the 21th century, the Southern and Western cities of the US that once drew manufacturers from the older cities have also struggled with the loss of manufacturing jobs. After the economic crisis of 2008, the effects of de-industrialization only intensified on a global scale, especially in underdeveloped nations in the global South.[34]

In conclusion, the de-industrialization of Philadelphia, and the concomitant rise in poverty, was mostly the result of capitalist market competition. Industrial Philadelphia was mostly composed of craft-based manufacturers; these could not compete with highly mechanized and increasingly automated factories elsewhere. The manufacturers that kept up their profits in the face of competitors stayed in business by investing in technology that increased productivity. Some also relocated their businesses to cheaper, less regulated labor markets. In the process, these transformations led to the devaluation and displacement of labor.

Besides the pressures of market competition, another important factor influencing de-industrialization was the militant resistance of the workers who carried out mass strikes and secured higher wages, pensions, health benefits, and better working conditions during the 1930s and 1940s. With the help of the leadership of the major industrial unions (the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations), the capitalist class responded to the workers movement by shutting down or relocating their facilities to the non-unionized South and West in the 1950s. In this way, de-industrialization undermined the power of the unionized working class, and took back the wages and benefits that the capitalists conceded to the workers in previous decades of struggle.

The Growth of Inequality

As capitalism reorganized itself, the service industries came to supersede manufacturing as the primary source of working class employment. Today, the number of industrial jobs in Philadelphia represents only 5 percent of the total workforce of the city, while service jobs represent 40 percent of total employment, making the service industries the largest sector of the city’s workforce.[35] Even within the few manufacturing businesses that remain in the region, they employ increasingly fewer workers, and those they do employ are increasingly part-time, part-year and paid less.[36]

The social composition of the service industries is much more diverse than that of the manufacturing industries, which are highly unionized and still dominated by white men. Women make up over half of all service workers, while black workers form a higher than average concentration in lower-paying service jobs. While service jobs have grown by 56 percent since the 1970s, the overwhelming majority of these jobs are part-time, part-year, require few skills, pay low wages, and offer few to no benefits. At the same time, the number of high salary professional and managerial jobs has grown by 85 percent since the 1970s.[37] This means that de-industrialization has improved the earnings of those in the top-tier of the workforce, while most workers have seen their incomes shrink or stagnate since the 1970s.

Further exacerbating the livelihood of the urban proletariat, jobs have increasingly shifted towards the suburban peripheries of the city, after the pattern of large cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest. This transformation was facilitated by the massive construction of interstate highways in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. While low-income populations in the region concentrate in Philadelphia, Camden, and a number of older urban centers, most jobs are now in the suburbs, often in areas accessible only by automobile, and distant from housing that is affordable to these workers. If city residents do manage to find a job in the suburbs, their wages are effectively lowered because of substantial traveling expenses; if they decide to move to the suburbs, wages are effectively lowered because of higher rent.[38]

The decline of manufacturing jobs was particularly devastating for black workers, who concentrated in unskilled manufacturing jobs and in service jobs within the city, but were almost completely excluded from professional/managerial jobs and skilled trades. As a result of the loss of manufacturing jobs, coupled with the suburbanization of the rapidly expanding service industries, black workers have seen their incomes and jobs decline dramatically since the early 1970s. Although employment rates declined for both white and black men since the 1970s, the black decline was twice that of whites. Furthermore, while there was an increase of employment for white women in Philadelphia since the 1970s, the employment rate for black women hardly changed at all.[39] In this way, de-industrialization eroded the gains made by black workers in the industrial sector in the decades after World War Two.

The Immiseration of Labor

As I’ve shown, the transformation of the Philadelphia economy—from manufacturing to services, and from city to suburbs—has resulted in a deepening of poverty and inequality for most workers in this city. The question remains, why does capitalism develop itself in such a way that results in the immiseration of labor? This much is clear from the outset: nature does not produce, on the one hand, fewer and fewer rich people, and on the other hand, a growing army of workers who own nothing but their labor, which they must sell for an increasingly lower wage. The immiseration of labor results from the contradictions of what Marx called the “capitalist mode of production.”

In brief, Marx argued that capitalism was distinct from all other modes of production in its unique aim: the creation of capital. Whereas other modes of production might find their purpose in producing useful things to satisfy human needs (communal production), or in producing a surplus of luxuries to satisfy a class of nobles (feudalism), capitalism, in contrast, produces the abstraction known as capital. Capital is not produced for the private consumption of its owner, the capitalist. If this were the case the aim of capitalist production wouldn’t be the creation of capital but the consumption of things (or what Marx called “use-values”). Under capitalism, however, capital is not produced for use or consumption; capital functions as an end in itself—it is the starting and finishing point of production.[40]

Beginning with the industrial revolution in the late eighteenth century, capitalists made labor more productive by investing a greater part of capital into the instruments of production, introducing newer, more efficient, and more expensive machines. Such an accelerated development of the forces of production did not exist in any other mode of production before capitalism. Theoretically, this heightened level of productivity could raise people’s standard of life while reducing the amount of time that they have to labor for others. However, Marx was quick to point out that “[capitalist] production is only production for capital and not the reverse, i.e. the means of production are not simply means for a steadily expanding pattern of life for the society of the producers.”[41] Under capitalism, labor is only an instrument for the valorization of capital, i.e. capital accumulation, and nothing else. Instead of serving the needs of society as a whole, capitalist production serves the specific needs of capital accumulation, which requires the devaluing of labor in order for capital to expand. The immiseration of labor, therefore, is not an aberration, but a fundamental feature of the capitalist mode of production.[42] Thus, Marx concluded: “On the basis of capitalism, a system in which the worker does not employ the means of production, but the means of production employ the worker, the law by which a constantly increasing quantity of means of production may be set in motion by a progressively diminishing expenditure of human power, thanks to the advance in the productivity of social labor, undergoes a complete inversion, and is expressed thus: the higher the productivity of labor, the greater is the pressure of the workers on the means of employment, the more precarious therefore becomes the condition for their existence, namely the sale of their own labor-power for the increase of alien wealth, or in other words the self-valorization of capital.”[43] This is a fundamental contradiction of capitalist development: as capitalism becomes more productive, and the means of production become more extensive and technically more efficient, the labor that works up those means of production becomes increasingly devalued and unnecessary.

According to Marx, the drive to accumulate capital at the expense of labor is not based on greed or any other negative psychological trait on the part of the capitalist. If a capitalist does not accumulate capital, if profits are not continually transformed into a further increment of value, then that capitalist is unable to keep up with competitors and eventually goes out of business.[44] This is what Marx refers to as the coercive law of capitalist competition. Workers lose their jobs and their incomes not because of the ill will of particular capitalists, but because the sole aim of capitalism is the valorization of capital, which depends on the maximum extraction of value from labor. In the face of obstacles like market competition and (to a lesser degree) labor struggles, capitalists perpetuate the accumulation of capital by reducing jobs/wages/hours, mechanizing and automating production, and relocating to cheaper, less regulated labor markets.

Marx provided us with the analytical tools for thinking about this internal contradiction of capitalist development—the contradiction between the declining value of labor and rising surplus value, i.e. the basis of capital formation. As capitalist production becomes more productive, the working class can only become more precarious, since the increasing accumulation of capital requires an increasing devaluation of labor. This contradiction is inherent to capitalism—it arises independently of the level of class struggle, fluctuations in wages, state interventions in the economy, or economic crises. At the same time, the relative intensity of the immiseration of labor can rise or drop with the limits set by the accumulation process, depending on the degree of control that workers as a class exert over the economy and the state. At different times in history workers have asserted their interests over and against the drive for capital accumulation, and as a result, have been able to gain a larger share of the total value that their labor produces. Still, for Marx, even if wages and standards of living rise for a time, this does not end the immiseration of labor. That would require the end of capitalism.

Implications for the Future

The story of the immiseration of labor in Philadelphia is particular but not exceptional; it can serve as the basis for general observations on the dynamics of labor-capital relations within a developed capitalist economy. Capitalists in Philadelphia adapted to the challenges of market competition and labor struggle in much the same way that capitalists did in most mid to large-sized manufacturing centers—by shutting down, relocating, and/or automating production. Over time, the bulk of jobs in most US cities shifted to the services sector and to the suburbs. In every city that these changes took place the results where the same: the decline of wages and regular employment for the urban poor.

After having analyzed the antagonistic nature of capitalist production, we can see that the immiseration of labor is the natural result of capitalist development. Therefore, there is no prospect for a return to a so-called “golden-age” of capitalism characterized by moderate wages, benefits, and full-time employment. The easing of income inequality in the developed nations immediately after World War Two was an exception, not the rule, in the history of capitalism. Outside of this brief period in the 1950s and 1960s, capitalism has not delivered on its promise of upward class mobility for most workers, and this promise can only continue to fade as capitalism continues to develop.

Today, most people find themselves within the throes of a drawn-out process of immiseration that shows no signs of reversing itself. Incomes have declined since the 1970s to allow for a greater acceleration of capital formation and accumulation. Even as total economic output continues to increase, and even as the job market continues to grow, working class incomes continue to decline, since most jobs are now in the unskilled, unprotected, low-wage service industries. Under these circumstances, the instability that a developed capitalist system subjects the employment and working conditions of the workers becomes a normal state of affairs.[45] The production process reaches a point of no return, continually reproducing a permanently marginalized mass of low-paid laborers with no hope of a professional career.

Rather than functioning as a site for upward mobility and income growth, the late capitalist megalopolis increasingly functions as a warehouse for low-wage service workers. Over the past fifty years, these structural trends have steadily asserted themselves on global level, especially in the global South.[46] As Mike Davis painstakingly details in his devastating book, Planet of Slums, poverty and occupational marginality are especially prevalent in the cities of underdeveloped nations, where urban existence is increasingly disconnected from mass employment. With unprecedented barriers to large-scale emigration to developed nations, slum populations continue to grow at an unprecedented rate in the global South. For Mike Davis, this is the real crisis of world capitalism: the crisis of the reproduction of labor and the inability of capitalism to stabilize (yet alone improve) the livelihood of the proletariat.

The growing division of the workforce into 1) a small, privileged core of professionals and managers that can expect continuous, high-paying employment, and 2) a large periphery of precarious “floaters,” to which capitalists provide little more than a low wage, for as long or as short a time as capitalists require these workers—this division will only widen as capitalism continues to develop. To the extent that most workers have access to increasingly irregular employment and smaller wages, the trend toward racial and class inequalities will persist, globally and locally. Black workers will continue to be the “last hired, first fired.” White workers will continue to act as labor aristocracy, allying themselves with capitalists to monopolize the professional and managerial  jobs, while relegating workers of color—especially black workers—to the worst paying, least secure, lowest status jobs.

The housing market will continue to reflect the uneven distribution of income and jobs. The white workers who hold the managerial and professional jobs will continue to predominate in the suburbs, or in some comfortable, tree-lined areas of the city like Chestnut Hill, and in the gentrifying neighborhoods close to center city. In contrast, low-income workers will remain in the vast stretches of row houses in Philadelphia and Camden and in the older suburbs like Chester or Norristown.

The Struggle For a Classless Society

Capital seeks to gain their greatest return on its investment in labor and means of production. In pursuing this end, capital has reorganized the production process and with it the realities of working class existence. This raises strategic questions from the standpoint of class struggle: what forms of struggle are developing today that point to a different future? If industrial production created a particular conception of class struggle, what do the service industries mean for the future of class struggle? What does working class power look like in the context of a service economy?

These are complex questions that must be explored via further research of the class composition and dynamics of class struggle in specific regions. Unfortunately, this is beyond the scope of this essay, which at the most serves as the groundwork for such an investigation. Still, on a general level, this research makes this much clear: as long as capitalism continues as the dominant state of affairs, the contradiction between capital and labor can only become more pronounced. Therefore, it is not enough to reform capitalism or morally condemn capitalists—we must develop a plan to overthrow the structure of capitalism in its entirety.

Of course, the design and implementation of such a plan would take different forms depending on the conditions of working class existence in different regions. Nonetheless, at its core, this plan must entail the abolition of private property in the mode of production and the organization of a system of production that is no longer carried out with the goal of capital accumulation, but instead in a way that is systematically regulated by society—not the capitalists, not the market, not the state, but society as a whole. The members of such a society would have to reorganize the production process in such a way that frees their labor from the constraints of capital—an external, independent force standing above society.

However, given the contemporary circumstances of late capitalism, it is unclear whether workplace-centered struggle is the primary organizational form for building this social project. Even though capital continues to accumulate in industrial production, employment has shifted from the sphere of direct commodity production (agriculture, manufacturing) to the sphere of circulation (services). In such an economy, workplace struggles pose little to no threat to capitalism. Even if workers took over every McDonalds or Walmart, the economy would continue to operate in highly automated essential sectors like agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and logistics. If a proletarian revolution were to occur in such a context, the communization of production would not entail proletarian control of workplaces—as conceived by the traditional approach to labor struggle—so much as proletarian expropriation and elimination of workplaces, most of which are nonessential (i.e. most of the services industries) and serve no useful purpose outside of the context of capital accumulation.

The critical period in US mass industrial relations, which began about a century ago and saw a rapid growth in the power of industrial workers’ unions in the 1930s and 1940s, was followed by capitalist counter-organization and restructuring. By the early 1980s it was clear that the New Deal order of relatively strong labor unions was over in the US. Today, the material basis for workplace oriented struggles has fallen apart, shattered by capitalist automation, deindustrialization, and decentralization.

Despite these difficulties, there is still no logical argument for why a classless society is impossible. Even when such a society can only be achieved with difficulty and struggle—in light of rising poverty and racial inequality; in light of constant imperialist wars; in light of the ecological destruction brought about by capitalism—in light of all that, there are still good reasons to fight for a world beyond capitalism, where production is carried out by an association of free people who collectively regulate their own labor. To be victorious, however, we must build organizations that correspond to the present circumstances, instead of simply inheriting the idealized and ready-made organizational forms of the past.

Don’t Want to be Your “Second Pillar”: A Response to RED

from It’s Going Down

What follows is another essay on the ongoing dialog on syndicalism in the 21st Century. This essay in particular is a response to the Radical Education Department from the author of “Crafty Ghosts.”

The Radical Education Department, in their response to Nothing to Syndicate, asserts that Occupy, anti-ICE struggles, and anti-racist struggles were “almost always expressing precisely working class concerns”. This is blatantly untrue. ICE detainees generally identify first as migrants. Occupiers rallied in public parks, not workplaces. The unemployment rates in Ferguson were three times higher than the national rates. “Worker” is not an identity these people in revolt took for themselves, it is one that class-reductionist leftists foisted unto them.

RED might think that by spending the first half of their article describing a dynamic interrelationship between class and other identities and oppressive systemss they’ve thrown off the old “class reductionist” millstone, but we can see them pivoting away from those arguments before the conclusion. All their intersectional rhetoric unravels with statements like: “the resurging fascism in the US and beyond is only another step in a dynamic that lies at the very heart of capitalism,” and “we should not see recent uprisings as alternatives to worker struggle, but as channels into which working class radicalism is flowing”.

Since the situationists threw up “never work” tags in May of 68, social uprisings have been increasingly disinterested in letting “working class radicalism” flow through them. Leftitsts, please try to recognize this; people are not your ventriloquist dummies. Many understand their oppression and exploitation in terms that are NOT primarily economic, that do NOT involve identifying as workers, and while their ire may be aimed at the same wealthy elites as you, their relationship with those elites is often NOT mediated by a boss or a workplace hierarchy. Today, people find ourselves relating to our oppressors through police, ICE agents, prison guards, politicians, and, yes, internet aps.

Recognizing that digitization (and more importantly financialisation and precariatization) change people’s relationship with the mode of production is not “repeating the fever-dreams of the ruling class”, it is calling for an updated praxis.

 

Build the Revolution: Anarcho-Syndicalism in the 21st Century

from It’s Going Down

The Radical Education Department (RED) weighs in on the ongoing debate around syndicalism and organizing strategies, arguing that modern variations of syndicalism still offer powerful weapons for autonomous anti-capitalist struggles and movements.

Read and Print PDF HERE

Introduction

Anarchists are debating anarcho-syndicalism once again. If anarcho-syndicalism is a “ghost”—like some critics are claiming—it has proven extremely hard to exorcise. But it is something very different entirely.

The current debate was sparked by “Nothing to Syndicate,” which largely repeats standard criticisms of AS, some of the more recent of which can be seen here and here; see also the summaries here. Then came a critique of “Nothing” (“Aiming at Ghosts”), and then two replies defending the original piece (here and here). The debate has been fairly limited so far. The important first reply to “Nothing,” as well as the defenses that followed, have been wrestling over the details of the original piece. But what’s been missing is a comprehensive response to the original question. What does anarcho-syndicalism offer radicals in the 21st century US?

Some have given this kind of response to critics before, though often in more limited ways (like here). My goal is to go further and deeper. First, I give a systematic historical-materialist analysis of 21st century capitalism in the United States today: its basic drives, structures, and developments. Then I examine the profound limits facing anarchists and their revolutionary allies facing such conditions. (This section tacitly rejects the superficial analysis of the original article.)

And then I offer a vision of what anarcho-syndicalism has to offer. It is far from a ghost. It is a set of inherited, audacious, and sometimes conflicting experiments. Those experiments are still developing. (The ongoing evolution is obvious in more recent syndicalist praxis like green syndicalism and community syndicalism.)

I locate in AS explosive resources for our present—for moving past the fundamental limits of radical organizing today and building revolutionary power to strike at 21st century capital. Defending AS, I explore how its inner resources could be developed to meet the revolutionary needs of the moment.

Anarcho-syndicalism offers badly needed tools for building mass, durable, working-class autonomy inside and outside the workplace for the sake of the revolutionary overthrow of every institution of capitalist control. It is an idea whose time has come again.

Upcoming Organizer Training

from Philly IWW

Do you have a job? Will you have a job in the future? Are you a worker? Do you want higher wages and more benefits? Is your boss micro-managing you, or just an asshole? Do you want to fight injustice at work? Do you want more rights, power and a voice at your work? Learn how to fight back.We are hosting a union organizer training weekend here in Philadelphia on February 2nd-3rd, and you are invited to join us.

Run by two veteran organizers from Pittsburgh, this is an intensive two day training that includes an introduction to what a union is, what makes the IWW unique, stages of a campaign, the nuts and bolts of how to organize your workplace, labor law in a nutshell, and more. This training will also introduce you to the IWW’s style of unionism (solidarity unionism), a model of organizing that relies on worker-organizers, direct action, fighting for better conditions, and worker solidarity. It is interactive, with role plays and group discussions.

The training will be from 9AM to 5PM on Saturday the 2nd and from 10am to 4pm on Sunday the 3rd. In order to prepare materials and such, we are asking that people register beforehand. The training is free for IWW members in good standing, and costs an amount based on your income for non-members. If you would like to join the IWW, there will be an opportunity to do that at the training. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

For more information or if you have questions about participating in the training, please email phillyiww@protonmail.com

Organizer Training 101

from Philly IWW

West Virginia. Oklahoma. Arizona.

Burgerville. Stardust Diner. The Onion. Vox.

Labor has found its voice again. Do you want to be apart of this labor movement? Join the Philadelphia IWW for our organizer 101 training to learn how to organize your workplace.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/iww-organizer-training-101-tickets-45613775029