Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Work and exploitation in the Virtual economy

Work and exploitation in the Virtual economy
A brief history of my work as an online contractor and the exploitation inherent within the industry.
After reading Wotsits experiences of the Jobcentre, it got me thinking about my own time there too. But I don't really have much to add, in fact mine would be rather tame since I left the Job Centre before they brought most of that stuff in. Though I think I remember some of that stuff being piloted at the time.

But the constant surveillance and mindless bureaucracy reminded me of what I did just after I left. After jotting some stuff down about my experiences I noticed a very eerie similarity to the job structures fantasised about by some AnCaps I stumbled upon awhile ago and it went from there.
I’ve recently been a bit curious and started reading some stuff put out by Anarcho-Capitalists. Didn’t have much of an impact until I read some stuff about the role of the labourer in this new financial paradise, then I was greatly affected. A favourite counter argument to AnCaps is that their perfect world will never happen, this is incorrect it’s happening now, its name is Odesk and it’s a fucking nightmare. I know because for several months I was a member of its Cyber proletariat.

Odesk is a company run out of a website, it boasts that it’s the “largest workplace on the web” and I can believe it. In my time with Odesk I never spoke to anyone in the company so I don’t know about the owner’s motivations beyond getting rich, but after looking back on the site and knowing what I do about AnCap theory it would not surprise me if the site was run by a true believer. If you’re not familiar with Odesk then allow me to explain, it’s the best thing ever for those who have money, it seems tailored made to give sleazy companies access to cheap flexible (Corp speak for vulnerable) Labour while removing every possible constraint on exploitation. The front page actually boasts about such wonderful opportunities in its “Get to Work!” section like

Hire on demand, (that includes fire on demand too)
Build a flexible workforce based on skills, ratings, and reviews.
Those ratings skills and reviews come from the Employers in case you were wondering.

Manage the Work
(Don’t worry you can still be as much of a control freak via the computer)
See Work-in-progress screenshots, timesheets, and daily logs.
Yes signing up to Odesk means agreeing to let random moneymen spy on your home computers.
Refusal to do so after the fact will result in penalties.

Pay with Ease
(Pay whenever you please)
Rest assured with safe global payments and the Odesk Guarantee.
That guarantee is for Employers not you., you’ll get your money if they feel like it.
AnCap theory states that Workers will be better off under their system too, because we will have the freedom to sell our labour for the highest price determined by the market. Well this arrangement already exists and has been a part of our economic system for centuries. It’s called being a Contractor; guess what the official name for those using Odesk for work are called? The way Odesk works is a bit like an owner of a Bazaar, companies use it to hire work- I mean Contractors for pretty much anything that can be done on a computer.

Seriously I mean everything, I saw job offers for ghost writing (mostly erotic stories), website design, even paying for members of forums and retweets and facebook likes. Sounds like easy money, so what’s the problem? Simple really the Boss Worker relationship is exactly the same only anonymised. Under Odesk’s system the boss or “Client” holds all the cards, so long as they don’t displease Odesk that is. In order to get a job no matter what it is you need to compete with other contractors, the ratio of course is heavily skewed in favour of the Clients, there are few of them and they already have money, there are many contractors who have no money, why it’s almost like the real world isn't it.
One of the main things about Odesk that reminded me of AnCap theory was the tests and quizzes section. When you make a profile you have access to a test section on many different subjects, from basic English to programming software, supposedly this is to make you more attractive to potential Clients by doing well on the tests, but I think it’s just a way for Odesk to reassure the Clients that they can deliver qualified Labo- sorry, Contractors.

Acing a few tests (mostly basic reading and writing) certainly made me popular with the Clients, but it had no effect on whether I’d land a job, or on my expected pay packet. All it did was fill up my inbox. Care to guess what did make a difference about getting a job? Undercutting the competition, it worked every time. Here's how the job application process works, imagine an online Job’s board, a Client want’s something done they offer the Job and theoretically explain the job and offer a payment. I say theoretically because every job I did the description was false, and the pay isn’t the wage or commission, it’s actually a statement of how much they’re willing to spend, overall. They attract attention by offering say a hundred dollars for some easy enough work, then the contractors have to apply, and this is where the wolf shows its teeth. As part of your application you have to say how much you’ll work for, everyone who applied before you has there amount offered displayed, so you can undercut them very easily. It’s not a job application it’s a bidding war in reverse.

But that isn’t the end of it though, no you see the Client, or rather a middle man/woman for a Client will look over the bids and the money suggested, they then pick their favourites and offer them an actual contract. Now this contract could have anything written in it, giving consent to any and all whims of the Client, -including agreeing to let them monitor you- the money will often be even less then what you offered, or stretched out over a lot more assignments then originally agreed upon. This is all fine by Odesk because the Job offers where all based on predictions (yeah right). You can accept it and sign up, and you better be fast because they’re almost certainly offering the job to several others, or pass it up. Not only does passing it up mean no money, but you have to give a reason to turn down a job, and the Clients are often repeat customers, turn one down and you may run be turning down dozens of future jobs by accident.

Now if you’re an AnCap you’ll no doubt be busy typing a response to the effect of “no one’s forcing you to sign up” and they are correct, no one person forces me or anyone to take a contract on Odesk. But what did force me to take the jobs I did and even sign up in the first place, is the pressure from the economic system. I was unemployed after another online job ripped me off and desperate for money. This is the cornerstone of economic power; those who have money can exploit those who don’t because the only alternative to the loss of dignity is starvation. Say it with me now “Freedom in Capitalism, is the freedom to choose my Master or starve”.

So Odesk seems just like the real world, and that’s because it mostly is. The only real differences manage to make it worse than in the real world. I worked on that platform for several months during which I endured plenty of abuse and leg pulling by anonymous middle men and women from all over the world; doing useless work for crap pay. And I was completely at their mercy, if a Client wants you to work to their time zone in say Asia forcing you onto unofficial night shifts they can do. Once you’ve signed that contract that’s it, any failure to meet the deadline means a bad review and no money. Even if you manage to meet the deadlines they can still get out of it by pulling the old “This work is not to my satisfaction” without bothering to tell you what standards they do accept. I once had an Indian Client get out of paying me for an advert for Floor Tiles because apparently the Grammar wasn’t very good. The Grammar was fine, I know this because I checked it before sending it in, but how can I prove that when the measure for good/bad is in his head? And on and on it went, and they were all like this, in an attempt to get out of this spiral I started applying almost exclusively for Clients representing charities, no difference. In fact they were probably the worst Clients because every time I asked questions they were not just rude but tried to make me feel guilty.

But that’s just ordinary work griping really. The real danger of Odesk and other Cyber market platforms is this, they eradicate the possibility of organisation (forget hierarchy vs horizontal) and collective action. There is no way to reach out to other contractors, you can message them but what’s the point? We can’t form a Union or an informal staff association, the Labour pool is global in scale and endless, and most of which are all very desperate people trying to make ends meet. It’s like a company town, combined with a cubicle office, only the walls reach the ceiling and are made of cement and there’s no stationary to steal or gates to picket. It’s everything an AnCap dreams of, its real and unsurprisingly it's a Workers Nightmare.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Together We Win: The Fight to Organise Starbucks

Solidarity unionism at Starbucks: the IWW uses Section 7

As previously noted conditions for workers are big retail and coffee house chains isn't very pleasant. The absence of Unions or any kind of staff organisations and associations coupled with high turn overs leaves most workers employed there on very shaky ground. However the desire to end exploitation is there, and now so is the Industrial Workers of the World.

Over the past few years coffee houses and cafes's have been organising Unions within the IWW. One of the most high profile of these is the Starbucks Workers Union.

The moment you decide to stand with fellow employees and join the IWW Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) your days of going through work alone are over. Whatever the issue you want to address may be: low wage, not enough hours, or just wanting to talk things over with people you can trust, you’ll have co-workers there to support you. The union is open for membership to Starbucks workers around the world!
The SWU has improved life on the job through direct pressure against the company on the job and in the community. It’s really quite simple actually. The SWU is a group of baristas, bussers, and shift supervisors who have come together with other workers and community members to improve the wage and working conditions at Starbucks and lay the foundation for a more just world. The SWU is our organization- we make the decisions; we formulate our demands; we take action in solidarity with other workers to win!
Some more background to the organising and struggles faced in Starbucks.

The IWW continue to organise Starbucks baristas in the USA.
By Mischa Gaus - In These Times, October 4, 2006
When Joe Tessone and his fellow Starbucks baristas walked into a pep rally with management at their store in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in August, the bosses were ready.

A trio of higher-ups passed around copies of the preamble to the constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World and warned the hourlies against the radicalism of the old anarchist-socialist One Big Union.

The managers told the “partners”—the company’s sobriquet for a workforce that baristas say is entirely part-time—that the CEO and chairman carry the same benefits package as the baristas.
That argument didn’t hold much water for Tessone. “It’s the illusion of equality,” he says. “Do they struggle to pay rent at the end of the month? Do they struggle to buy groceries at the end of the week?”

Sick of waiting for modest demands to be met, the baristas weren’t buying the packaged spiel. Instead, they announced they were joining the IWW, intent on returning some meaning to the National Labor Relation Act’s call for “mutual aid or protection.”

The nation’s 71-year-old foundational labor document applies to all workers, not only those who can arduously prove a majority of their colleagues want a union. The baristas don’t want an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or a certified bargaining unit. They’re using a tactic popular before the Depression, solidarity unionism, in which a minority of workers act in concert and issue demands even if management doesn’t recognize their union—which Starbucks does not.
But the Chicago baristas aren’t alone: Six New York City Starbucks have affiliated with the IWW in two years of campaigning, and the Wobblies take credit for three city-wide pay increases there. Already in Chicago, where the starting wage is usually $7.50 an hour, the baristas have won safety improvements and scheduling changes.

“We’re able to act quickly and we’re able to make decisions within our stores, and we don’t have to wait for court decisions,” Tessone says. “In the retail and service industry, there’s a high turnover rate. There’s just not time to wait. We have to organize ourselves and act on the job to get our demands met.”

Starbucks exacts a price for shop actions. Daniel Gross, an IWW Starbucks Union organizer, says four New York baristas have been fired in the past year for union activity, including himself in August. The company settled unfair labor practice charges with three workers in March, leading to about $2,000 in back pay and promises not to bribe or threaten baristas. Tessone says Starbucks is using one-on-one meetings to pressure his coworkers. Starbucks’ settlement admitted no guilt. A Starbucks spokesman told In These Times, “We firmly believe that our work environment, coupled with our outstanding compensation and benefits, make unions unnecessary at Starbucks. Starbucks takes very seriously its legal obligations and does not take action or retaliate against employees who express support for unions or take part in union activity.”

Aggressive anti-union tactics have become the norm in the United States, from no-holds-barred outlets like Wal-Mart to image-obsessed corporations like Whole Foods. Labor law is permissive of abuse, so much so that a landmark 2000 Human Rights Watch report found 24,000 workers fired for organizing in a year, just one symptom of what it called the “culture of near-impunity” governing management’s attacks on union efforts.

The Bush administration has helped tip the scales further against novel efforts like the Starbucks union. The NLRB ruled in 2004 that nonunion workers can no longer accompany each other into investigatory meetings with bosses. Commonly known as “Weingarten rights,” they have been extended to and stripped from nonunion workers four times in the last 30 years. Solidarity unions often invoke them to document management’s browbeating and witness disciplinary investigations.
Joel Rogers, a professor of law, political science and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has examined flexible forms of organization, says workers and unions shouldn’t focus on the NLRB but on finding ways to defuse intense employer opposition. For example, unions might invite workers who want changes in their work place but who haven’t won (or have lost) formal union representation to join the union and become involved.

Another example retail workers can draw from is the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), which has won six campaigns in five years against restaurant conglomerates in the city through a combination of direct action and lawsuits. The group—which is friendly with the hospitality union UNITE-HERE—brings together restaurant workers, many of who are undocumented immigrants, to resolve concerns about working conditions as well as to file class-action lawsuits. The Center has secured more than $300,000 in back wages and discrimination complaints, brokered managerial agreements to respect wage, hour and benefit laws, and opened a collectively managed restaurant of its own.

“Before even thinking about unionization, the standards of the industry have to come up, so that it’s not acceptable anymore to discriminate or break the law,” says Saru Jayaraman, ROC-NY’s executive director. “If we want to see any kind of power built for workers in this industry in our lifetime, we have to think about alternative models.”

Old labor is starting to listen. In August, the AFL-CIO signed an agreement with the National Day Labor Organizing Network, signaling new intentions to partner with a group labor embraced only six years ago. Although the estimated 118,000 day laborers won’t join or pay dues, the worker centers marshalling increasing numbers of the laborers can access some services, like the AFL’s pro-bono labor lawyers.

The Wobblies, of course, have big plans of their own.
“What corporate retail wants is complete tyrannical control,” Gross says. “It’s something previous generations of workers didn’t stand for—and neither should we.”
Mischa Gaus is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The General Strike - Bill Haywood

Summary of a speech made in New York City on March 16, 1911 by IWW organizer 'Big' Bill Haywood.

I came to-night to speak to you on the general strike. And this night, of all the nights in the year, is a fitting time. Forty years ago to-day there began the greatest general strike known in modern history, the French Commune; a strike that required the political powers of two nations to subdue, namely, that of France and the iron hand of a Bismarck government of Germany.


That the workers would have won that strike had it not been for the co-partnership of the two nations, there is to my mind no question. They would have overcome the divisions of opinion among themselves. They would have re-established the great national workshops that existed in Paris and throughout France in 1848. The world would have been on the highway toward an industrial democracy, had it not been for the murderous compact between Bismarck and the government of Versailles.

We are met to-night to consider the general strike as a weapon of the working class. I must admit to you that I am not well posted on the theories advanced by Jaures, Vandervelde, Kautsky, and others who write and speak about the general strike. But I am not here to theorize, not here to talk in the abstract, but to get down to the concrete subject whether or not the general strike is an effective weapon for the working class. There are vote-getters and politicians who waste their time coming into a community where 90 per cent of the men have no vote, where the women are disfranchised 100 per cent and where the boys and girls under age, of course, are not enfranchised. Still they will speak to these people about the power of the ballot, and they never mention a thing about the power of the general strike. They seem to lack the foresight, the penetration to interpret political power. They seem to lack the understanding that the broadest interpretation of political power comes through the industrial organization; that the industrial organization is capable not only of the general strike, but prevents the capitalists from disfranchising the worker; it gives the vote to women, it reenfranchises the black man and places the ballot in the hands of every boy and girl employed in a shop, makes them eligible to take part in the general strike, makes them eligible to legislate for themselves where they are most interested in changing conditions, namely, in the place where they work.

I am sorry sometimes that I am not a better theorist, but as all theory comes from practice you will have observed, before I proceed very long, that I know something about the general strikes in operation.

Going back not so far as the Commune of Paris, which occurred in 1871, we find the great strike in Spain in 1874, when the workers of that country won in spite of combined opposition against them and took control of the civil affairs. We find the great strike in Bilboa, in Brussels. And coming down through the halls of time, the greatest strike is the [1905] general strike of Russia, when the workers of that country compelled the government to establish a constitution, to give them a form of government--which, by the way, has since been taken from them, and it would cause one to look on the political force, of Russia at least, as a bauble not worth fighting for. They gave up the general strike for a political constitution. The general strike could and did win for them many concessions they could gain in no other way.

While across the water I visited Sweden, the scene of a great general strike, and I discovered that there they won many concessions, political as well as economic; and I happened to be in France, the home of all revolutions, during the strike on the railroads, on the state as well as the privately owned roads. There had been standing in the parliament of France many laws looking toward the improvement of the men employed on the railroads. They became dissatisfied and disgruntled with the continued dilatory practices of the politicians and they declared a general strike.

The demands of the workers were for an increase of wages from three to five francs a day, for a reduction of hours and for the retraction of the pension law. They were on strike three days. It was a general strike as far as the railroads were concerned. It tied up transportation and communication from Paris to all the seaport towns. The strike had not been on three days when the government granted every demand of the workers. Previous to this, however, Briand had issued his infamous order making the railroaders soldiers --reservists. The men went back as conscripts; and many scabs, as we call them over here (I don't know what the French call them; in England they call them "blacklegs"), were put on the roads to take the places Of 3,500 discharged men.

The strike apparently was broken, officially declared off by the workers. It's true their demands had all been granted, but remember there were 3,500 of their fellow-workers discharged. The strikers immediately started a campaign to have the victimized workers reinstated. And their campaign was a part of the general strike. It was what they called the "grove perlee," or the "drop strike" --if you can conceive of a strike while everybody is at work; everybody belonging to the union receiving full time, and many of them getting overtime, and the strike in full force and very effective. This is the way it worked--and I tell it to you in hopes that you will spread the good news to your fellow-workers and apply it yourselves whenever occasion demands--namely, that of making the capitalist suffer.

Now there is only one way to do that; that is, to strike him in the place where he carries his heart and soul, his center of feeling--the pocketbook. And that is what those strikers did. They began at once to make the railroads lose money, to make the government lose money, to make transportation a farce so far as France was concerned. Before I left that country, on my first visit--and it was during the time that the strike was on--there were 50,000 tons of freight piled up at Havre, and a proportionately large amount at every other seaport town. This freight the railroaders would not move. They did not move it at first, and when they did it was in this way: they would load a trainload of freight for Paris and by some mistake it would be billed through Lyons, and when the freight was found at Lyons, instead of being sent to the consignee at Paris it was carried straight through the town on to Bayonne or Marseilles or some other place--to any place but where it properly belonged. Perishable freight was taken out by the trainload and sidetracked. The condition became such that the merchants themselves were compelled to send their agents down into the depots to look up their consignments of freight--and with very little assurance of finding it at all. That this was the systematic work of the railroaders there is no question, because a package addressed to Merle, one of the editors of "La Guerre Sociale," now occupying a cell in the Prison of the Saint, was marked with an inscription on the corner, "Sabotagers please note address." This package went through posthaste. It worked so well that some of the merchants began using the name of "La Guerre Sociale" to have their packages immediately delivered. It was necessary for the managers of the paper to threaten to sue them unless they refrained from using the name of the paper for railroad purposes.

Nearly all the workers have been reinstated at the present time on the railroads of France.
That is certainly one splendid example of what the general strike can accomplish for the working class.
Another is the strike of the railroaders in Italy. The railroaders there are organized in one great industrial union, one card, taking into membership the stenographers, train dispatchers, freight handlers, train crews and section crews. Everyone who works on the railroad is a member of the organization; not like it is in this country, split up into as many divisions as they can possibly get them into. There they are all one. There was a great general strike. It resulted in the country taking over the railroads. But the government made the mistake of placing politicians in control, giving politicians the management of the railroads. This operated but little better than under private capitalism. The service was inefficient. They could make no money. The rolling stock was rapidly going to wreck. Then the railroad organizations issued this ultimatum to the government, and it now stands: "Turn the railroads over to us. We will operate them and give you the most efficient service to be found on railroads in any country." Would that be a success for the general strike? I rather think so.
And in Wales it was my good fortune to be there, not to theorize but to take part in the general strike among the coal miners. Previous to my coming, or in previous strikes, the Welsh miners had been in the habit of quitting work, carrying out their tools, permitting the mine managers to run the pumps, allowing the engine winders to remain at work, carrying food down to the horses, keeping the mines in good shape, while the miners themselves were marching from place to place singing their old-time songs, gathering on the meeting grounds of the ancient Druids and listening to the speeches of the labor leaders; starving for weeks contentedly, and on all occasions acting most peaceably; going back to work when they were compelled to by starvation. But this last strike was an entirely different one.

It was like the shoemakers' strike in Brooklyn. Some new methods had been injected into the strike. I had spoken there on a number of occasions previous to the strike being inaugurated, and I told them of the methods that we adopted in the West, where every man employed in and around the mine belongs to the same organization; where, when we went on strike, the mine closed down. They thought that that was a very excellent system. So the strike was declared. They at once notified the engine winders, who had a separate contract with the mine owners, that they would not be allowed to work. The engine winders passed a resolution saying that they would not work. The haulers took the same position. No one was allowed to approach the mines to run the machinery. Well, the mine manager, like the mine managers everywhere, taking unto himself the idea that the mines belonged to him, said, "Certainly the men won't interfere with us. We will go up and run the machinery. And they took along the office force. But the miners had a different notion and they said, "You can work in the office, but you can't run this machinery. That isn't your work. If you run that you will be scabbing; and we don't permit you to scab--not in this section of the country, now." They were compelled to go back to the office. There were 325 horses underground, which the manager, Llewellyn, complained about being in a starving condition. The officials of the union said, "We will hoist the horses out of the mine."

"Oh, no," he said, "we don't want to bring them up. We will all be friends in a few days."
"You will either bring up the horses now or you will let them stay there."
He said, "No, we won't bring them up now."

The pumps were closed down on the Cambria mine. 12,000 miners were there to see that they didn't open. Llewellyn started a hue and cry that the horses would be drowned, and the king sent the police, sent the soldiers and sent a message to Llewellyn asking "if the horses were still safe." He didn't say anything about his subjects, the men. Guarded by soldiers, a few scabs, assisted by the office force, were able to run the pumps. Llewellyn himself and his bookkeeping force went down and fed the horses.

Had there been an industrial organization comprising the railroaders and every other branch of industry, the mines of Wales would be closed down to-day.

We found the same condition throughout the West. We never had any trouble about closing the mines down; and could keep them closed down for an indefinite period. It was always the craft unions that caused us to lose our fights when we did lose. I recall the first general strike in the Coeur d'Alenes, when all the mines in that district were closed down to prevent a reduction of wages. The mine owners brought in thugs the first thing. They attempted to man the mines with men carrying six-shooters and rifles. There was a pitched battle between miners and thugs. A few were killed on each side. And then the mine owners asked for the soldiers, and the soldiers came. Who brought the soldiers? Railroads manned by union men; engines fired with coal mined by union men. That is the division of labor that might have lost us the strike in the Coeur d'Alenes. It didn't lose it, however. We were successful in that issue. But in Leadville we lost the strike there because they were able to bring in scab labor from other communities where they had the force of the government behind them, and the force of the troops. In 1899 we were compelled to fight the battle over in a great general strike in the Coeur d'Alenes again. Then came the general strike in Cripple Creek, the strike that has become a household word in labor circles throughout the world. In Cripple Creek 5,000 men were on strike in sympathy with 45 men belonging to the Millmen's Union in Colorado City; 45 men who had been discharged simply because they were trying to improve their standard of living. By using the state troops and the influence of the Federal government they were able to man the mills in Colorado City with scab millmen; and after months of hardship, after 1,600 of our men had been arrested and placed in the Victor Armory in one single room that they called the "bullpen," after 400 of them had been loaded aboard special trains guarded by soldiers, shipped away from their homes, dumped out on the prairies down in New Mexico and Kansas; after the women who had taken up the work of distributing strike relief had been placed under arrest--we find then that they were able to man the mines with scabs, the mills running with scabs, the railroads conveying the ore from Cripple Creek to Colorado City run by union men--the connecting link of a proposition that was scabby at both ends! We were not thoroughly organized. There has been no time when there has been a general strike in this country.

There are three phases of a general strike. They are:
general strike in an industry;
general strike in a community;
general national strike.

The conditions for any of the three have never existed. So how any one can take the position that a general strike would not be effective and not be a good thing for the working class is more than I can understand. We know that the capitalist uses the general strike to good advantage. Here is the position that we find the working class and the capitalists in. The capitalists have wealth; they have money. They invest the money in machinery, in the resources of the earth. They operate a factory, a mine, a railroad, a mill. They will keep that factory running just as long as there are profits coming in. When anything happens to disturb the profits, what do the capitalists do? They go on strike, don't they? They withdraw their finances from that particular mill. They close it down because there are no profits to be made there. They don't care what becomes of the working class. But the working class, on the other hand, has always been taught to take care of the capitalist's interest in the property. You don't look after your own interest, your labor power, realizing that without a certain amount of provision you can't reproduce it. You are always looking after the interest of the capitalist, while a general strike would displace his interest and would put you in possession of it.

That is what I want to urge upon the working class; to become so organized on the economic field that they can take and hold the industries in which they are employed. Can you conceive of such a thing? Is it possible? What are the forces that prevent you from doing so? You have all the industries in your own hands at the present time. There is this justification for political action, and that is, to control the forces of the capitalists that they use against us; to be in a position to control the power of government so as to make the work of the army ineffective, so as to abolish totally the secret service and the force of detectives. That is the reason that you want the power of government. That is the reason that you should fully understand the power of the ballot. Now, there isn't any one, Socialist, S. L. P., Industrial Worker or any other workingman or woman, no matter what society you belong to, but what believes in the ballot. There are those--and I am one of them--who refuse to have the ballot interpreted for them. I know, or think I know, the power of it, and I know that the industrial organization, as I stated in the beginning, is its broadest interpretation. I know, too, that when the workers are brought together in a great organization they are not going to cease to vote. That is when the workers will begin to vote, to vote for directors to operate the industries in which they are all employed.

So the general strike is a fighting weapon as well as a constructive force. It can be used, and should be used, equally as forcefully by the Socialist as by the Industrial Worker.
The Socialists believe in the general strike. They also believe in the organization of industrial forces after the general strike is successful. So, on this great force of the working class I believe we can agree that we should unite into one great organization--big enough to take in the children that are now working; big enough to take in the black man; the white man; big enough to take in all nationalities--an organization that will be strong enough to obliterate state boundaries, to obliterate national boundaries, and one that will become the great industrial force of the working class of the world. (Applause.)

I have been lecturing in and around New York now for three weeks; my general topic has been Industrialism, which is the only force under which the general strike can possibly be operated. If there are any here interested in industrial unionism, and they want any knowledge that I have, I will be more than pleased to answer questions, because it is only by industrial unionism that the general strike becomes possible. The A. F. of L. couldn't have a general strike if they wanted to. They are not organized for a general strike. They have 271,000 different agreements that expire 27,000 different minutes of the year. They will either have to break all of those sacred contracts or there is no such thing as a general strike in that so-called "labor organization." I said, "so-called"; I say so advisedly. It is not a labor organization; it is simply a combination of job trusts. We are going to have a labor organization in this country. And I assure you, if you could attend the meetings we have had in Philadelphia, in Bridgeport last night, in Haverhill and in Harrison, and throughout the country, you would agree that industrialism is coming. There isn't anything can stop it. (Applause.)

Questions by the Audience
Question #1 - Don't you think there is a lot of waste involved in the general strike in that the sufferers would be the workers in larger portion than the capitalists? The capitalist class always has money and can buy food, while the workers will just have to starve and wait. I was a strong believer in the general strike myself until I read some articles in The Call a while ago on this particular phase.
Big Bill Haywood - The working class haven't got anything. They can't lose anything. While the capitalist class have got all the money and all the credit, still if the working class laid off, the capitalists couldn't get food at any price. This is the power of the working class: If the workers are organized (remember now, I say "if they are organized"--by that I don't mean 100 per cent, but a good strong minority), all they have to do is to put their hands in their pockets and they have got the capitalist class whipped. The working class can stand it a week without anything to eat--I have gone pretty nearly that long myself, and I wasn't on strike. In the meantime I hadn't lost any meals; I just postponed them. (Laughter.) I didn't do it voluntarily, I tell you that. But all the workers have to do is to organize so that they can put their hands in their pockets; when they have got their hands there, the capitalists can't get theirs in. If the workers can organize so that they can stand idle they will then be strong enough so that they can take the factories. Now, I hope to see the day when the man who goes out of the factory will be the one who will be called a scab; when the good union man will stay in the factory, whether the capitalists like it or not; when we lock the bosses out and run the factories to suit ourselves. That is our program. We will do it.

Question #2 - Doesn't the trend of your talk lead to direct action, or what we call revolution? For instance, we try to throw the bosses out; don't you think the bosses will strike back?
Another thing: Of course, the working class can starve eight days, but they can't starve nine. You don't have to teach the workingman how to starve, because there were teachers before you. There is no way out but fight, as I understand it. Do you think you will get your industrialism through peace or through revolution?
Big Bill Haywood - Well, comrade, you have no peace now. The capitalist system, as peaceable as it is, is killing off hundreds of thousands of workers every year. That isn't peace. One hundred thousand workers were injured in this state last year. I do not care whether it's peaceable or not; I want to see it come.
As for starving the workers eight days, I made no such program. I said that they could, but I don't want to see them do it. The fact that I was compelled to postpone a few meals was because I wasn't in the vicinity of any grub. I suggest that you break down that idea that you must protect the boss's property. That is all we are fighting for--what the boss calls his "private property," what he calls his private interest in the things that the people must have, as a whole, to live. Those are the things we are after.

Question #3 - Do the Industrial Unionists believe in political action? Have they got any special platforms that they support?
Big Bill Haywood - The Industrial Workers of the World is not a political organization.
Question #4 - Just like the A. F. of L.?
Big Bill Haywood - No.
Audience Member (commenting) - They don't believe in any political action, either, so far as that is concerned.
Big Bill Haywood - Yes, the A. F. of L. does believe in political action. It is a political organization. The Industrial Workers of the World is an economic organization without affiliation with any political party or any non-political sect. I as an Industrialist say that industrial unionism is the broadest possible political interpretation of the working-class political power, because by organizing the workers industrially you at once enfranchise the women in the shops, you at once give the black men who are disfranchised politically a voice in the operation of the industries; and the same would extend to every worker. That to my mind is the kind of political action that the working class wants. You must not be content to come to the ballot box on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the ballot box erected by the capitalist class, guarded by capitalist henchmen, and deposit your ballot to be counted by black-handed thugs, and say, "That is political action." You must protect your ballot with an organization that will enforce the mandates of your class. I want political action that counts. I want a working class that can hold an election every day if they want to.
Question #5 - By what means could an Industrial Unionist propagate Industrial Unionism in his organization of the A. F. of L.? He would be fired out and lose his job.

Big Bill Haywood -
Well, the time is coming when he will have to quit the A. F. of L. anyway. And remember, that there are 35,000,000 workers in the United States who can't get in the A. F. of L. And when you quit you are quitting a caste, you are getting back into your class. The Socialists have been going along maintaining the Civic Federation long enough. The time has almost arrived when you will have to quit and become free men and women. I believe that the A. F. of L. won't take in the working class. They don't want the working class. It isn't a working-class organization. It's a craft organization. They realize that by improving the labor power of a few individuals and keeping them on the inside of a corral, keeping others out with initiation fees, and closing the books, and so on, that the favored few are made valuable to the capitalists. They form a little job trust. It's a system of slavery from which free people ought to break away. And they will, soon.

Question#6 - About the political action we had in Milwaukee: there we didn't have Industrial Unionism, we won by the ballot; and while we haven't compelled the government to pass any bills yet, we are at it now.
Big Bill Haywood - Yes, they are at it. But you really don't think that Congressman Berger is going to compel the government to pass any bills in Congress? This Insurgent bunch that is growing up in the country is going to give you more than the reform Socialists ever asked for yet. The opportunists will be like the Labor party in England. I was in the office of the Labor Leader and Mr. Whiteside said to me: "Really, I don't know what we are going to do with this fellow, Lloyd-George. He has taken every bit of ground from under our feet. He has given the working class more than the Labor party had dared to ask for." And so it will be with the Insurgents, the "Progressives" or whatever they propose to call themselves. They will give you eight-hour laws, compensation laws, liability laws, old-age pensions. They will give you eight hours; that is what we are striking for, too--eight hours. But they won't get off the workers' backs. The Insurgents simply say, "It's cruel, the way the capitalists are exploiting the workers. Why, look! whenever they go to shear them they take off a part of the hide. We will take all the wool, but we will leave the hide." (Laughter.)

Question #7 - Isn't a strike, theoretically, a situation where the workingmen lay down their tools and the capitalist class sits and waits, and they both say, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" And if they go beyond that, and go outside the law, is it any longer a strike? Isn't it a revolution?
Big Bill Haywood - A strike is an incipient revolution. Many large revolutions have grown out of a small strike.

Audience Member (commenting) - Well, I heartily believe in the general strike if it is a first step toward the revolution, and I believe in what you intimate, that the workers are damn fools if they don't take what they want, when they can't get it any other way. (Applause.)
Big Bill Haywood - That is a better speech than I can make. If I didn't think that the general strike was leading on to the great revolution which will emancipate the working class I wouldn't be here. I am with you because I believe that in this little meeting there is a nucleus here that will carry on the work and propagate the seed that will grow into the great revolution that will overthrow the capitalist class.
Taken from History Is A Weapon.
PDF Version 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

ACAB: All Changelings Are Bastards


Activists and appalled citizens from around the world have documented thousands of examples of police of every rank and role across the world earning their nicknames. They’ve done everything from bullying witnesses to starting fights with pacifists to murdering restrained individuals. And that's just the ones who aren't explicitly bent (corrupt). Exposing these acts is very important and often quite risky to those capturing the acts, so I don't wish to give the impression that I'm being critical of them.

On the contrary as a tool for destroying the myth of the noble thin blue line that protect and serve us, filming these acts is very important and successful. However there are two drawbacks to this approach if we wish to demolish the police as an institution; a dissenter can just label these examples as exceptions. The cops beating Rodney King were bad apples,  the Uzbek police who regularly rape women in their custody is the fault of the Uzbek culture, the brutality during the miners’ strike where symptoms of a very tense situation etc. And they’ll probably counter anecdotes with anecdotes of noble sheriffs and good hearted rookie’s and grizzled veteran detectives with hearts of gold. Basically an anecdote versus anecdote argument.

Behold a good sheriff, notice how he doesn't exist

One way to counter this apologetics is to keep gathering more and more evidence of more police officers being scummy bastard’s and we don’t appear to be in danger of running out of that any time soon.

Another way to make people aware of the inherent problems with a police officer as a police officer regardless of personal conduct I feel is to examine the conduct and actions of a “good” police officer, one who doesn’t take bribes or use excessive force. Unfortunately for this to be workable it would require unrestricted access to a police officer while on the job for a long period of time (possibly years) not only is that impossible. But in the unlikely event that it did become an option the police officer would know they are being scrutinised and so it would cease to be an accurate reflection of what they actually do. However I believe I’ve found the next best thing and his name is Odo, he lives on a Space Station and can change his form at will.
A brief introduction is probably in order; Odo is the chief of security on Deep Space Nine (DS9) a space station that share’s its name with the series which is part of Star Trek. Odo is a changeling he can become any object he wants and because it’s a work of fiction he was written to be basically the perfect police officer. He’s incorruptible since he has no interest in any material possessions; he originally “slept” in a bucket in his office for example so there’s no way he’d take a bribe or confiscate something to sell on the black market himself. And being the only one of his species (at first) sees himself as a complete outsider to the rest of the station so doesn’t play favourites. To him a crime is a crime, and a criminal is a criminal. He doesn’t care for extenuating circumstances or politics or a person’s connections or like of social standing, if the evidence is solid he’ll pursue wealthy officials and street urchins with equal vigour.

And yet despite all this if you compare his conduct to the real police it’s not difficult to see the inherent imperfections.  He’s an Authoritarian to his core and his role on the station only seems to be benevolent and good because the writers kept throwing threats at the station making him right. He follows the law to the letter, and I mean every law and every letter, imagine a cop working to rule; only it’s everyone else who suffers. He’ll throw a monk in a cell for fundraising even when he agrees the cause is a good one, because fundraising on the promenade is illegal. When he was criticised for that he defended himself by saying it didn’t count as an arrest because the monk was there for less than an hour.
Now that seems really petty but not really that big of a deal, that’s because the station and its rules are under the control of the “perfect” liberal Federation. Odo’s been security chief on DS9 since before the Federation showed up. He first got the job when DS9 was an ore processing and administration centre for the Cardassians (a Fascistic Reptilian race). The Cardassians built the station over the planet of Bajor as part of their efforts to occupy the planet. The occupation of the Bajorans (the planet’s native population) was extremely brutal, with strip mining, Labour camps, torture, executions, rape etc. In response to this there are an active and very violent resistance movement carrying out bombings and assassinations.

Odo worked for the Cardassian occupation, now the question of why the Bajorans would be willing to let him keep his job when the Cardassians left was ignored at first, but then explained (quite poorly) that the Bajoran’s respected him because unlike the other Cardassian security officers he wasn’t corrupt, he merely served the law. The law that was drawn up by the Cardassians and which DS9 showed was very brutal, arbitrary and nowhere close to fair. For example, in retaliation for a 200 Cardassians killed in a bombing they had 200 hundred suspected resistance members executed. Note how they weren’t proven to be resistance members and what actions and roles they had if they were Resistance members isn’t even mentioned. This means that Odo would arrest very poor and desperate Bajorans and then hand them over to the tender mercies of the Cardassians. In a flashback episode it’s revealed that at the time he fought the resistance was a mistake and that the Bajorans should just accept the Cardassian occupation. But despite all this the Bajorans don't seem to really care. The only person to either acknowledge Odo's role in the occupation is a Cardassian, Odo attempts to shift the blame to the Cardassians and when he asks Odo why he didn't resign in protest, Odo doesn't respond.

Left: Gul Dukat, head of the Occupation of Bajor and Odo's Superior officer.

But there was a time in the show when Odo was on the other side of the security checkpoints. Near the end of the show DS9 was plunged into a war with the Dominion, and as the name implies they were a powerful and ruthless regime bent on controlling all of space. They are controlled by the Changelings Odo’s species, during the War DS9 is captured by the Dominion so some cast members retreat to the Federation while others like Odo remain on the station. However because Odo is opposed to the war and the way the Dominion operates, he joined a resistance cell on board the station. Though he probably did it because the woman he’s loved for years Kira is in it. Now given that Odo is head of security, has been on the station for years and can change shape at will, you’d think he’d be the best resistance fighter ever. In actuality he’s the worst resistance fighter ever and the reason is precisely because at heart he’s still a policeman. 

At first he votes against any acts of resistance and tries to stop others from even demonstrating peacefully against the Dominion.  He only starts agreeing to help the resistance actually resist when Kira’s patience wears thin and she starts twisting his arm/tentacle. And even then he only starts to actively take part when a fellow changeling (called female despite neither having genitalia or other differences) tells him they’ll execute Kira for no reason because they’re annoyed with Odo’s attachment to her. And speaking of the Changelings we find out the truth about what makes Odo tick. That burning internal drive that makes him such a good policeman, he thought every fibre of his being yearns for justice, the other Changelings explain that isn’t the case, he yearns for order. He just thinks it’s justice because that’s what he was told being a policeman was, a servant of Justice. So in effect what makes a supercop super is the burning need to control everyone.
Even Baseball must yield to his desire for control

And then there was the episode where Quarks bar staff formed a union (Bar Association). If you haven’t seen the show Quark was the Bar owner and constant irritation for Odo. Quark was always scheming to do something and Odo would foil his schemes, so with this background viewers might think Odo would be happy since it would make Quark miserable. He isn’t, he wants to break the strike and the Union, which at the time hasn’t even bothered to establish a picket line and is just milling about the Bar’s entrance asking people very kindly if they wouldn’t mind not going inside. The reason for this is quite telling, a Union (any union regardless of intent and structure) is disruptive to order, so he doesn’t like them, even when they oppose people he doesn’t like either. The only reason he doesn’t intervene is because the Federation told him not to. 

In addition to all of this the rare times Odo shows any opinion on matters of law is to criticise them for not going far enough. He’s openly admired the security measures of the Cardassians, with constant surveillance sweeps, vast armies of armed security officers and the power to search, detain and question anyone for any reason.  His admiration for these techniques even though he knows full well how easily they can be abused and become instruments of outright oppression is quite strongly reinforces what the other Changelings said about his desires being order in and of itself.

Because of these frustrations Odo is like any "good" police officer willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. He mainly does that in two ways, first by constant nonstop harassment of Quark, and I do mean constant harassment. Now the show portrays this as a somewhat humourus back and forth but if this were to happen in the real world, which it has it would be seen for what it actually is as intimidation and harassment. Since the law ties his hands he has no problem harassing suspect individuals, he also has no problem spying on them without a warrant or a reasonable suspicion.  Odo has shown that he has Quarks Bar monitored by hidden surveillance equipment and has done so for some time, and he’s admitted rather nonchalantly that whenever he investigates something (anything) he always checks in on Quark even when he has no evidence to suspect Quark is involved in anyway. So even supercop is prepared to ignore the law in the name of maintaining order.

 Oh and remember despite all of this Odo is still the good Changeling, that burning need for order led the others to construct a Galactic Dictatorship that's not above genocide or genetically engineering other species to be slave races. Imagine what would of happened if the Cardassians had given him the job of administering the occupation or a rank in its fleet.

So in conclusion ACAB. 

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