Friday, February 25, 2011

What is Required?

I'm heading to a protest tomorrow, and this is the text to the leaflet I typed out to bring and distribute.

What is Required?

People are born into a cold world. The uncertainty of life, regardless of one’s religious affiliation or leanings, must be acknowledged. “By the sweat of our brow”, say the workers, “we earn our daily bread and keep” But what does this metaphor mean, now? That I stock a shelf, another repairs vehicles, another waits a table, and so on. The bread comes from the store, where I stock, and was generated by the factory worker, and his material came from the farmer. The house I live in was built by a carpenter. The pipes put in place by a plumber. In short, the metaphor is no longer on bread, but “By the sweat of our brow” What is required is labor.

Required for what? The immediate answer is self reliance and survival. If one does not work in this world, then one will not enjoy the material benefits of it – including the material benefit of bread. Work also gives the benefit of providing for those we love, and earning a self respect. I know that I have value because I have earned that value through work. Though this answer is true, one may then reflect: if there was no stock man, factory worker, or mechanic, would I only be a carpenter? Surely I could construct my own house, and build useful tools, and so on, but would I have the required skill to grow wheat at a requisite level of proficiency? Even above the bare necessities, what of the other things I enjoy? Surely the world we live in is lived in because others work. So it follows that, what is required is not only my own work, but the work of others: And it is required for our society.

If labor is required for our society, then labor should have a say in our society. After all, it was built by labor, and therefore it follows that it justly belongs to labor. There is a catch: labor works in concert, not as isolated units. This is one of the reasons that wealth has been generated. And, even beyond this, if this society belongs to workers, they are often busy working. As such, they often do not have the time to proclaim: “I built this!” However unjust these realities are, they are realities and it is better to build a pragmatic solution than to cave. Then what else is required? Naturally, what we are assembled for today: Unions.

Unions, traditionally and into the future, form the base of labor politics – not Democrats. This is to show that even Democrats are vulnerable to labor politics, and a hope that this will become a reality in the future. Labor needs to be heard. Labor needs power. Not only does it need, but labor is only demanding it’s just earnings in demanding voice and power. What is required then is union power, and the legal blocking of unions from the political process will negate that.

On the back I have attached selections from the Kansas Constitution to highlight in what way this language is not radical, but historically justified. “No special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted by the legislature” – such as the privilege of the rich corporate sector in politics, which this bill would surely grant. “There shall be no slavery in this state” – which labor would be made into were it separated from the political process. “Emoluments or privileges prohibited” – such as the privilege of the rich to have the free time to engage the political engine? One gets a sense of what is required: “This enumeration of rights shall not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the people; and all powers not herein delegated remain with the people.” That power not enumerated is labor power – for economics is a politic.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Practicing a solidarity with women

How do working class men fulfill their responsibilities as feminists? At first glance, this question seems like an obvious one: as working class men, most of us interact with women on a daily basis. Moreover, as Wobblies we are not unfamiliar with the reality of women’s struggles. But how often is this “obvious” question raised?

Just as the industrial struggle requires coordinated action to achieve working class goals, so too does feminism require its own daily acts of solidarity. Working class men who understand the spirit and practice of solidarity in one realm already possess what they need to apply it in another. They only need the confidence and determination to begin.

More than any other, the concept of solidarity has provided the working class with an affirmative answer to the question of what we are fighting for: we support each other in the face of injustice, in order to create a more just and supportive world. In this sense, solidarity is both the “means to an end,” as well as the “end” in itself. We care about what happens to other people, because this always has implications for us too. Veterans of the class conflict know these truths all too well!

But we should also know that any working class that fails to practice solidarity between any of its constituent parts – like that between men and women – leaves itself that much further from its stated goals. We have to remember that building the new society in the shell of the old means establishing now the kinds of practices that we hope to develop more fully in the future. Feminism can help us address one problem area that is ever-present in our daily lives.

As working class men of the IWW, we know the appropriate response to a call for solidarity from others in the broader labor movement, especially when they are engaged in a workplace action. It isn’t something we usually need to deliberate over, fight about, or otherwise render ourselves “missing in action” because we don’t agree with the leadership or ideology of the affected group. The world and its circumstances may not conform to our preferences or expectations, but we know well enough to offer support when it is asked of us – and that is very much to our credit. Extending ourselves in solidarity to others when they are in need creates possibilities for dialogue that might not be available when we neglect to do so.

Working class men who want to establish genuine ties of solidarity to women’s struggles will have to emulate this “openness of spirit” when it is women who are asking for help and support, and to remain cognizant of the fact that many times support is welcome even if it isn’t explicitly asked for. The principle of solidarity remains the same: we give the affected individual or group the benefit of the doubt and offer support, even if the situation is complicated by other legitimate concerns.

One important way that we practice solidarity with other labor activists that should be replicated in our relations with women is, first and foremost, to listen to what they are telling us. Again, as Wobblies it would be very strange to approach another union with a different organizing model by second-guessing the claims it was making from a picket line. We know that it is inappropriate to make firm determinations about what somebody else is going through, in a situation that primarily affects them. But when it comes to our relations with women, the “boss” role that is given to men by patriarchy may lead us into a false sense of confidence of “knowing what is best” – for example, in a situation where an experience is shared by both men and women, but interpreted differently.

Our everyday interactions with women are no doubt complicated by the fact that, as working class men, we are often implicated in the same situations equally. Unlike in the case of a strike action undertaken by others, if a female activist has the courage to raise questions of sexism in her organization, it might be easy for the men to think, “Well, I was there too, and I don’t think sexism has anything to do with it.” Both may have firsthand experience to back up their perceptions, but in the case of the men, they may not be assuming general conditions of patriarchy as the woman does.

These aren’t easy or straightforward problems to address in practice, but working class men have a lot to contribute in moving us all in the right direction. One of the best approaches comes from our own tradition as Wobblies: by extending the practice of solidarity to all members of the working class. This necessarily includes women, and it is a development that is ready to be advanced, just as soon as we are ready to carry it forward.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pro-Choice Unions - Pro-choice Allies

Thanks to FUG for posting "Kansas Politics and Blog for Choice Day". I'm here in Canada, and the anti-choice backlash isn't as strong as the continued push in the US of A. There are stealth anti-choice bills that regularly get sent to the parliment, but they have been as of now defeated. Also, what would be unthinkable in the USA, Henry Morgentaler, physician and prominent pro choice advocate who has fought numerous legal battles for that cause was recently awarded the the highest civilian order that can be awarded.

I would like to put some questions out there, without really having the answers, in the hopes of sparking some debate. I agree with FUG that strengthening an effective Pro-Choice Movement can be one avenue in developing a greater socialist-feminist-class consciousness. My questions are:

1) how can we as a workers union help develop a pro-choice practice and support?
2) How can we as men help develop a pro-choice practice and support?

I'm really not sure where to start, as these questions are fundamental to our place within a growing feminist, pro-choice movement.

In terms of question #2, I'd just like to share this piece from Feminist Allies blog. It speaks largely to our role as men and how abortion interacts with patriarchy:

As a male, I’ll never have an abortion. One of the privileges of
my sex is that I will never enter an abortion clinic as a patient.
However, according to Dr. Leroy Carhart, a friend and
associate of Dr. Tiller’s, “men have had unlimited availability to
‘abortion’ since the beginning of time. Men can walk away from
unwanted pregnancies with virtually no response from

Hope more folks will chime in and help with the answering of these questions.