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"World That is World to Come "

  rec 6-18-05 for IWW Centenial Conferene June 23-26 

1) 11:16 Long Essay/Speech MP3

Rough Transcript...

On The Move. I thank the conveners of this conference for inviting me to join you, if only in voice. I’ve read the words of Stan Weir and Marty Glaberman with interest. I recently completed Glaberman’s collection of essays and reviews entitled, “Punching Out” which the imminent Staughton Lynd, historian, activist and lawyer, quite ably edited and introduced. Glaberman’s essays and reviews are finely written with a sensitive class conscious and indeed, race conscious, eye which clearly sets forth his central thesis that is that action precedes consciousness and that in times of class extremity such as an hour of the strike, workers tend to overlook such issues as race and hit the picket lines when the bosses cross the lines of propriety.  Glaberman’s views are informed by his long years in the factory, when he was on the assembly line, and also by his close studies of Marxism when he was a member of the Johnson Forest Tendency, a group influenced by the keen insights of the great revolutionary historian and Marxist theoretician, C. L. R. James.  While Glaberman may quibble with the label, I read his ideas as essentially Jamesian, so indebted is he to the ideas and theories of James.
That said; let me encapsulate Glaberman’s views in a format that he used, perhaps sparingly, to capture his essence, poetry.  In the closing pages of PUNCHING OUT are featured perhaps half a dozen of Glaberman's poetic efforts.  One is titled, “Wild Cat Two”. “You are aware of it before you look up.   Perhaps it’s the advancing quiet.  The catch of excitement as you see them, walking toward the gate, not hurrying, each man distinct, and the group growing as the shop melts away behind them. Washed clean by a single wave that leaves a few pebbles behind.  Foreman stand here and there, not anxious to get in the way, little eddies at their feet immobile in the mud.  Outside it is crisp and cold, men waiting for the stragglers to get through the gate.  What the hell’s the matter?  Where did it start?  They took the helper off the big job.  Christ, that could kill you, workin’ that job alone.  The men drift off.  No need to keep anyone out or in.  A day to rest, shop maybe, do some repairs.  We’ll see tomorrow.”
Here Glaberman uses his spare, poetic voice to paint his fundamental thesis: action proceeds consciousness, men act first then ask questions later.  The foreman tied and tethered to the contract stand in Glaberman’s eyes “immobile in the mud.”  Glaberman’s work as labor history and as working class art is valuable.
Yet there are histories worthy of recall here.  One is reminded of the early laboring days of Frederick Douglass, then Frederick Bailey, who as a captive laborer, rented out his labor as a carpenter and walked into the midst of a labor dispute.  In his first of several autobiographies, NARRATIVE: Of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass recounts his days on the docks thus: “Until a very little while after I went there, white and black ship carpenters worked side by side and no one seemed to see any impropriety in it.  All hands seemed to be very well satisfied.  Many of the black carpenters were freemen.  Things seem to be going on very well.  All at once the white carpenters knocked off and said they would not work with free colored workmen.  Their reason for this as alleged was that if free colored carpenters were encouraged, they would soon take the trade into their own hands and poor white men would be thrown out of employment.  They therefore felt called upon at once to put a stop to it.  Douglass goes on to tell us that things went from bad to worse.  His fellow apprentices began to put on airs, saying that all niggers ought to be killed.  They then began to hector him, making his daily work life more and more difficult.  And eventually began striking him.  Keeping a vow to never tolerate such abuse, Douglass fought back, saying: “While I kept them from combining, I succeeded very well, for I could whip the whole of them, taking them separately.  But, of course, they didn’t fight separately; they fought as a gang, armed with sticks, stones and huge hand spikes.  They knocked him down, struck him with a hand spike and beat him.  When he tried to rise he got kicked in his left eye with a heavy boot.  Douglass writes: “It was impossible to stand my hand against so many.  All of this took place in sight of not less than fifty white ship carpenters and not one interposed a friendly word but some cried ‘Kill the damn nigger, kill him, kill him.  He struck a white person.’  I found my only chance for life was in flight.”
What Douglass provides for us is not theory but reality.  All theory must begin in reality, but it also must lead there.  When Glaberman gives us his example, he interprets it as action proceeding consciousness.  Yet it seems clear that the strike was instead of an unconscious act or even a preconscious act, a reflection of working class consciousness.  However, we may wish to calibrate their level of consciousness, high, low or in between, there is consciousness at work.  And it was sufficient to charge the men on the shop floor with the need to walk out.  When we return to Frederick Douglass’s experience on the Maryland docks.  Here too was consciousness, the consciousness of whiteness.  It is this consciousness that led Walter Ruther of the U.A.W.,  United Auto Workers, to abide discrimination in Locals situated south of the border and also allowed him to betray his so called union brothers if they were black when they wanted to serve in meaningful leadership positions as Glaberman illustrates.
The purpose of theory, however, is not so much to throw light on the past as it’s to provide a viable, visible pathway to the future.  How does Glaberman’s insight help us there?  It seems to me that Glaberman is describing a reality to be sure, but one that is fast fading away.  That’s because in an era of capitalist globalization we’re seeing the deindustrialization of much of the American work force.  And the growth of services which, of course, pay less than the old big industries.  It is telling that the nation’s biggest union is now the Service Employee Industrial Union, or the S.E.I.U., which represents janitors, health care workers, clerks, and social service employees.  It’s also true that the power to pin point strikes that can cripple capital’s productive capacity is slipping.  International Studies professor V.J. Prashad in his 2003 book:  “KEEPING UP WITH THE DOW JONESES” drawns attention to the work of feminist economists that paint a picture of the changing face of the American workplace.  In the early 1970s as the economy took a nose dive, organized sub-contracting in advanced capitalist countries produced new forms of labor organization such as home work, out work and piece work.  Feminist economist Maria Mies calls these forms “house-wife-ization” or labor that bears the characterization of housework or non-union, unregulated and isolated labor which is seen not as labor itself but as simply activity. Women largely enter the workforce in these zones in Maquiladoras, exports processing zones, sweatshops, out work. But soon, men also get “housewifed”. These procedures enable businesses to thrive at the interspecies of monopoly theorems. Their survival is premised on mutual competition to sell their products to a few firms which in economic theory is called a condition of monopsony. The competition amongst these small firms drive them to renegotiate their contract with the work force.  In order to cut costs, the firms drives wages down and cease to provide the sorts benefits previously offered by capital as a concession to the concerted drive by workers from 1880s.  In the 1970s, what appeared at first hand to be futile relics, reappeared as capitalist forms in the productive process. Prashad isn’t saying that this is a snapshot of most of the American working class--not yet--but it is a dark glimpse of things to come.  It is also a harrowing example which capital uses to discipline those in the center of the working class so that they shy away from hiking wage demands, better working conditions, or threatening strikes. It is the nightmare stalking their work day. If capital has its way, labor will be pushed down to the lowest level at which they can subsist, as contingency workers, who serve at capital’s beck and call. In many ways, workers have contributed to this worsening state of affairs by allowing themselves to be spilt and weakened along the seams of race but also by the false erection of subclasses of workers not to mention what Glaberman quite rightly critiques as “labor bureaucrats”. The solution oddly enough, may be a return to the past, through which was originally the subject of this conference—the Industrial Workers of the World— or the IWW. The IWW was subjected to ruthless police violence and political repression by the state for its call for one big union. It opened its Locals to black and white, rural and urban, male and female, Japanese, Chinese, Native American, dockworker and ditch digger. It’s an interesting irony of history that this is written within days of a lame nonbinding voice vote for Senatorial apology for its century of inaction and blockage when activists fought the American terrorism of lynching by seeking a federal anti-lynching law. Consider the IWW, it passed a strong anti-lynching resolution in 1906, one year after its 1905 founding and 99 years before the US Senate—the millionaires club—spoke on it. The IWW would banish the plague of labor bureaucrats and establish across the board solidarity for all workers. Disunity leads to loss, unity leads to power. Let’s learn from the past to build a new future. I thank you. From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.


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