Thursday, September 30, 2010

Men in crisis

For the men of my generation, it's nearly impossible to be a "company man" even if you want to be: the company won't commit! Many of us long for the kind of relationships our fathers and grandfathers had with their employers, which, through unionization, was often long-standing and remunerative.

Within the schema of US patriarchy, however, such ties were also bound to a prescribed manhood. Although the US economic picture has changed dramatically since the 1970s, this "prescription for manhood" still weighs on younger men today; after all, we learned it from our elders!

The fact that many men can no longer simply be "an engineer," "a truck driver," or "a scientist" and look forward to a future full of promotions, raises, and a pension means that our assigned role as "provider" is in jeopardy.

This is significant because the model of manhood that we know basically tells us that as long as the "provider" role is fulfilled, the rest of our lives will fall into place. As long as we can announce our significance by identifying who we work for, and plausibly argue that we benefit by it, then the rest of our lives can be "boys will be boys." We don't need to be interrupted during the big game, we can retreat to our "man cave," and we can expect that women will more or less take care of everything else.

What I observe among many of my peers is an aching desire to plug into any external authority that will let them sustain this pretense about who they are supposed to be. But Wall Street is not having any of it; the men it wants come from the global South. Jobs follow the money and men follow the jobs. But US men can't become associated with desperate immigrants and ever believe themselves worthy of the rewards of patriarchy. This informs a growing conflict between them.

Men increasingly view themselves as failures, or as oscillating between successive modes of failure. This is an extremely dangerous scenario, which plays itself out in all kinds of ways, though usually as violence towards those with whom men are most intimate.

If young men are a mess, acting out in self-destructive ways, we should think about the promises of patriarchy that are made in exchange for subservience in the workplace, and how US men are being frustrated along these lines in both their opportunities and rewards.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Company men

That men are ultimately betrayed by patriarchy is evident anytime we turn our attention to the elder patriarch in his final days. The power he once wielded as a man is gone; his appeal no longer comes from good looks or vitality -- merely "being male."

Under capitalism, the identity assigned to him as "king of the family" is usually earned in servitude to an employer, where men's experience of subjugation is explained to them as the good fortune of a career. Subsequently, the patriarch invests himself in subjugation as a point of pride while remaining estranged from those most eager to love him.

When he retires, the relation he cared for most is absent, while his natural bonds are alien. The deceit performed on men that their power is derived by forfeiting who they are for what they are assigned to be always finds expression in a man's last days, when he can no longer sustain the pretense of fulfilling his assignment.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When is workplace organizing a feminist activity?

I'm going to talk about workplace organizing as a tool to oppose sexism and racism. (I'm going to sometimes just say "organizing" in the rest of this, but I mean specifically workplace organizing). Before I get to that, I want to say this clearly first: workplace organizing is not the answer to sexism and racism - or, if you prefer, to male dominance and white supremacy. That is, organizing does not always undermine racism and sexism. <--more-->

Some organizing may have no effect, at least no visible effect, on sexism or racism at all. This does not mean this organizing is not valuable, but we should be clear about what it does and does not accomplish. In some cases, organizing could very well prop up sexism and/or racism. The same goes for other forms of discrimination. This has happened in the past.

Not only is organizing not always a feminist and anti-racist activity, some aspects of sexism and racism are not likely to be solved by workplace organizing. Sexism and racism don't just exist on the job or due to our jobs, so workplace organizing alone is not going to end sexism or racism. For the foreseeable future, workplace organizing alone is not going to end sexual assault, domestic violence, discrimination in housing, police harassment, incarceration, or many other ills.

If workplace organizing alone is not the answer to sexism and racism, does this mean that workplace organizing is not useful at all for challenging sexism and racism? I don't think so. It seems to me that just as organizing can sometimes prop up sexism and racism, it can
also sometimes undermine them. That's what I want to address here: when is workplace organizing a feminist and an anti-racist practice?

What Makes Organizing Feminist?

The answer depends on where we're organizing. Organizing is a feminist and an anti-racist practice when it means women and people of color coming together to have more control over their lives and to have more collective power. If a group of women of color fix some issues they
face, that's a small victory against sexism and racism, whether it's workplace organizing or tenant organizing or organizing the unemployed or organizing welfare recipients. So, workplace organizing is a feminist and an anti-racist practice when women and people of color organize around issue they have on the job.

I know some people have doubts about workplace organizing as a feminist and anti-racist activity. These doubts may come from the bad parts of the history of workplace organizing and problems in organizations that do workplace organizing. It's very reasonable to react badly to all of that, but the baby of organizing should not be thrown out with the bath-water of organizing put to bad use.

Doubts about workplace organizing may also come in response to a reductive definition of what we organize around, like so-called "bread and butter" issues such as wages and benefits. People who push for more workplace organizing, can sometimes sound like all people care about is bread, when we all know people want both bread and roses. Some workplace issues are not economic in the narrow "bread and butter" sense.


One of my first organizing experiences was with janitors at a hospital. The janitors were all African Americans or immigrant Latinos and many of them were women. One of the key people among the janitors was a women I'll call Mabel. Mabel worked full time night shift. Mable's main reason for being part of the organizing drive was that she wanted more control over scheduling. She had repeatedly asked management to put her on day shift. There were other workers on day shift who wanted to work nights because the night shift got paid a bit more.

Mabel wanted to work days so she could be at home with her five children when they were not at school. She was a single mother who relied a lot on her older two children to help with the younger children. Mabel was particularly concerned because there had been a lot of shootings and gang activity close to her house. She was afraid that her thirteen year old son would get mixed up in gang activity or would get hurt if he was unsupervised five nights a week.

Mabel's demand to work days is not a narrowly "bread and butter" economic issue. In the short term, Mabel was willing to take a small pay cut in order to work days, because she was willing to give up the shift premium she got for working nights. Mabel's issue, like all or almost all workplace issues, boiled down to who had power. Power on the job is not only about "bread and butter."

Doubts about organizing may also come from a sense that oppression is not just a workplace issue, that some pieces of oppression can't be fixed on the job. Some of the doubts or hesitation about workplace organizing may come from a feeling that people who push for more workplace organizing don't care about oppression outside of work. These are important concerns but this doesn't mean that oppression can't be fought in the workplace at all.

Benefits to Women

I think that workplace organizing is a key piece of opposing sexism and racism. Like I said before, not all power is about "bread and butter." On the other hand, "bread and butter" issues are crucial parts of sexism and racism. Women and people of color generally make less money in their jobs. A 2008 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled "Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers" found that women in union jobs earn about 11% more and are more likely to have insurance. Because women tend to be in jobs that pay less, unionization especially benefits women workers.

Lower pay results in part from the history of women and people of color having less power in our society. Since money is a type of power, women and people of color having less money also reinforces the trend of women and people of color having less power in our society. "Bread and
butter" for women and people of color is connected to women and people of color having power or not having power in society and over their own lives.

Ultimately, it's up to all women workers and workers of color to decide in their own situations what their issues are. That may be "bread and butter" or an issue more like Mable's, or both or something else. The point is that when workplace organizing means women and people of color having more control over their lives and more power in society, then workplace organizing is a feminist and an anti-racist activity.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Organizing for Childcare

the Winnipeg IWW General Membership Branch we've really been discussing how to remove barriers to participation, especially for women workers, and we've identified childcare as a significant barrier to participation in our branch and union work. So, I was tasked with coming up with some Assessment stamps in order to raise money and track the donations.

This way, we can build a fund in our branch to hopefully take a couple chips out of that wall. We've had these pretty nice childcare assessments going to a while now, and from them we have raised something like 100-200 dollars to be stashed away for when we need to take care of childcare arrangements. Attached at the end of the message I'll put a PDF of the sheets for people to help disseminate and use in there branches.

That being said, We've still hit walls when it comes to providing space for Brother and Sister workers with children. Having a person available once a month is often difficult to arrange, making our childcare fund most used when there are larger events rather then business meetings. There is still allot of work to do on that front.

Click Here for Childcare Assessment sheet

Feminist solidarity

Within the anti-authoritarian tradition, we can understand feminism as concerning itself with a particular form of authority -- that which imposes itself on women. If we too are concerned with that authority which imposes itself on women, we may be counted within the feminist community. This is true regardless of whether, amongst those who are concerned with authority imposed on women, there are some who are not consistently anti-authoritarian. To be concerned is to gain entry into feminism; from there we must choose whether to be concerned about other forms of authority. If we are anti-authoritarians, we will be concerned with every form of authority.

Nevertheless, to be concerned with all forms of authority is to inevitably direct our practical efforts toward certain forms of authority, not every form of authority in equal measure. Because authority is expressed through relationships, proximity to a relationship is helpful when we focus on a particular form of authority.

For example, as a straight white dude, I understand the authority imposed by capital by working for an employer in an entry-level capacity. Subsequently, I can speak from this perspective -- of someone subjugated within a relationship.

But being straight, white, and a dude, I can also speak from the perspective of someone solicited by authority in other relationships; namely, those relationships in which these attributes confer a power advantage.

The tendency for straight white dudes such as myself to become preoccupied with class struggle is understandable insofar as this is the one realm where we experience subjugation. And the fact that we are enjoined to participate in the exercise of authority within other relationships -- to be seen as oppressors -- can also make us reluctant to take up other concerns.

But our asset in either case is proximity to the relationship.

Men can't play the same role within feminism as women, but the reverse is also true: women can't see patriarchy "from the top." In this way, men make their own contribution within feminism as a complement to women's -- to reveal how patriarchy works from their own perspective. Men have their own perspective within patriarchy, but it is only by working with women that the picture of what both endure becomes complete.

Friday, September 24, 2010

True colors

You might note the new color scheme.

One of my first experiences with patriarchy happened in kindergarten. To this day I remember it very distinctly, in much the same way I remember the first time I was exposed to anti-Semitism as a 6th-grader, newly admitted to Catholic school.

I don't remember much about kindergarten, 6th-grade, or school in general, except that I regarded it as a very long prison sentence from which I would eventually emerge as a much older person. And I couldn't freakin' wait!

These moments must stand out to me because they succeeded in rising above the normal level of absurdity I was accustomed to in school.

In 6th-grade it was delivered by new friends who expressed an unexplained prejudice against Jews, owing to the fact that they "ate bagels" and "picked up pennies." I didn't know what a bagel was, and I was hardly prepared to formulate an opinion about somebody based on their relationship to small change. I'd always lived in mixed communities comprised of Christians and Jews; I'd had many Jewish friends in public school. As a 12-year-old I could tell you the whole line of argument was unpersuasive, and this contributed to a general skepticism toward my peers.

As a 5-year-old, I was also left deeply unimpressed by society, which, through its public system of education, had solicited from me an opinion about my "favorite color." I told everybody: Pink! As I say, to this day, the reaction this opinion elicited from every figure of authority in my life remains crystal clear: Pink couldn't be my favorite color, they told me, because it was a girl's color. It's instructive to think that human beings can, at 5 years of age, have a brain in their head which doesn't give a damn, which sees no division between the natural interests of girls and boys.

There are times in my adult life when I regret not taking a firmer stand on preferences I arrived at intuitively as a child. Eventually, I capitulated and chose a different color as my favorite. Like everything else in school that was dictated to me as all-important, all-necessary, lest I ruin my development and forfeit my chances for a happy life, I can't tell you what that color was. It was never a part of who I was in the first place.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I.W.W. Women in History

What is feminism?

Like any social impulse, feminism is not so much one thing as it is an expression of competing trends which relate to women's aspirations as free individuals. What kind of feminism we identify with -- or whether we identify at all -- contributes to the broader picture of feminism which prevails within society.

For example, I know many people who don't identify with feminism because the model they acknowledge doesn't reflect their concerns. By choosing to disassociate, however, these friends yield what should be contested terrain to their rivals. Feminism then grows in stature as a movement which does not address the concerns of all women. The practical consequence of rejecting "feminism" as inadequate is to preserve its inadequacy.

To the extent that there has been an organized attempt to understand power relations from the perspectives of women, it has come under the banner of feminism. Either we don't care about this particular course of study and action, or we propose some viable alternative. Short of this, we must advocate for the kind of feminism which reflects our values and concerns.

In the same way that the Industrial Workers of the World seeks to establish the "one big union for all workers," a Wobbly feminism must truly be a "feminism for all women." A feminism for all women will always be an anti-capitalist feminism, because the needs and aspirations of all women cannot be reconciled with capitalism. For this reason, a consistent feminism will always be a socialist feminism; a free feminism will be a libertarian feminism.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Feminist men in struggle

Men have a vital role to play in feminism, but it is a role that regularly goes unfulfilled. In consequence, feminism suffers.

Feminism suffers without men because many men won't listen to women. If men won't listen to women, the only hope for advancing women's concerns is either to secede from men altogether, or to promote these concerns through feminist men. Most women aren't interested in abstaining from men, but they do want allies in their struggles.

Male culture desperately needs to change. At present, it is two-faced: it acts one way around women, another way around men, in the same way the racist acts one way around white friends and another around blacks. But women can't confront the face they do not see. This is the responsibility of feminist men -- men who care for and respect the women in their lives, and share in their concerns -- to confront a patriarchal culture with a different way of being men.

Feminist men can ally themselves with women by discussing their own struggles with patriarchy with women and with other men. This blog has been created out of the desire for revolutionary unionist men to honestly discuss the tactical project of taking on patriarchy, both in our personal and professional lives. It should demonstrate to women and to other unionist men the commitment that the men of the Industrial Workers of the World have in building a new society in the shell of the old -- one that assumes women as equal partners in achieving this goal.