Dear Comrades

Gasparazzo: "But it doesn't stop here!"
Gas­paraz­zo: “But it doesn’t stop here!”

When Ital­ian stu­dents estab­lished some nascent inde­pen­dence from their offi­cial orga­ni­za­tions in 1968, sec­tions of the move­ment called for greater con­tact with indus­tri­al labor. At the time, they knew where to find them. The Left had flirt­ed with a strate­gic alliance between tech­ni­cal, white-col­lar work­ers and stu­dents, a link that made sense given the former’s aca­d­e­mic train­ing. But the inter­est proved to be ephemer­al. As the strug­gles of South­ern migrants work­ing in the North­ern fac­to­ries of FIAT esca­lat­ed, the stu­dents opt­ed to for­go tech­ni­cians as the “ide­al vec­tor” between them­selves and the work­ing class. Uni­ver­si­ty rad­i­cals dodged unions, too, instead forg­ing direct links at the gates of auto­mo­bile fac­to­ries, where they dis­trib­ut­ed lit­er­a­ture and held assem­blies. Mil­i­tant strikes grew more fre­quent and stu­dent rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies clam­ored to come into con­tact with history’s appar­ent van­guard.

The work­er-stu­dent assem­bly became a prin­ci­pal orga­ni­za­tion­al form dur­ing this cycle of strug­gle. Much of its work involved the pro­duc­tion of lit­er­a­ture for dis­tri­b­u­tion in the fac­to­ries. After work, labor­ers would rush to the gates and recount what had hap­pened that day. The stu­dents took duti­ful notes, and stayed up until the ear­ly morn­ing hours fash­ion­ing them into weapons. The­se pam­phlets were impor­tant cir­cuits of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, an alter­na­tive cur­rent for work­place coop­er­a­tion, which encour­aged rather than repressed mil­i­tan­cy, while evad­ing union chan­nels that would have had the oppo­site effect. The prac­tice engen­dered last­ing rela­tion­ships between mil­i­tants and the mass work­er, giv­ing rise to more for­mal orga­ni­za­tions like Lot­ta Con­tin­ua (Con­tin­u­ous Strug­gle). The impor­tance of col­lab­o­ra­tive the­o­ret­i­cal pro­duc­tion was not lost on the­se new group­ings of intel­lec­tu­al and man­u­al labor – Lot­ta Con­tin­ua ran a wide­ly read news­pa­per. Its pages weren’t just filled with reports of tac­ti­cal inven­tions in the fac­to­ries; in some respects, it was its own inno­va­tion.

One of the paper’s most pop­u­lar ele­ments was Gas­paraz­zo, a comic strip char­ac­ter who turned the moral con­dem­na­tions of lazi­ness issued by boss­es and bureau­crats alike into a point of pride. Draw­ing ref­er­ences from a shared cul­ture of strug­gle, the comic pro­tag­o­nist rep­re­sent­ed the ten­sion between a sub­ject that work­ers could iden­ti­fy with, and the icon­ic rev­o­lu­tion­ary that Lot­ta Con­tin­ua hoped to meet. The car­toon ele­vat­ed the every­day expe­ri­ence of the mass work­er into an ani­mat­ing force of rev­o­lu­tion. What’s more, mil­i­tants work­ing from the very shop floor cul­tures that were dis­cov­ered and devel­oped by the comic strip, gen­er­al­ized the mass worker’s ten­den­cy toward list­less­ness on the job into a tac­ti­cal inter­rup­tion of cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion. Slow­ing down pro­duc­tion became a favorite expres­sion of their oppo­si­tion to the Tay­lorist orga­ni­za­tion of the work­place.

Much cred­it is due to the strip’s cre­ator, Rober­to Zamar­in, a graph­ic design­er who boast­ed an impres­sive pro­fes­sion­al career before devot­ing him­self to the agit­prop of the extra­parlia­men­tary Left. But his work was the pro­duct of a con­tin­ued encoun­ter between com­mu­nists and fac­to­ry labor, with­out which Gas­paraz­zo would have been impos­si­ble.

Zamar­in would die in 1972, his hero short­ly after. The restruc­tur­ing of the FIAT’s pro­duc­tion process in the ear­ly 1970s came with mas­sive lay­offs, which hit shop floor rad­i­cals hard­er than most.  It also made the slow-down tac­tic dif­fi­cult, if not impos­si­ble to employ. Luck­i­ly, Gasparazzo’s fam­i­ly, under a diverse array of ban­ners and a plu­ral­i­ty of move­ments, would car­ry on the anti-cap­i­tal­ist resis­tance.

From the per­spec­tive of stu­dents and aca­d­e­mic work­ers, the con­cept of the van­guard had engen­dered cross-class rela­tion­ships with an indus­tri­al work­ing class, which in turn informed the strate­gic and orga­ni­za­tion­al con­tent of their com­bined resis­tance. But those mod­els found lim­it­ed pur­chase as the objec­tive sit­u­a­tion changed. When the insur­gent FIAT employ­ees were hit with tar­get­ed fir­ings and lay­offs, the util­i­ty of old forms fad­ed, and dif­fi­cul­ties in trans­lat­ing the indus­try-based per­spec­tive to new move­ments out­side the fac­to­ry gates threw groups like Lot­ta Con­tin­ua into cri­sis. The grow­ing rifts in the par­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly between fem­i­nists and male fac­to­ry work­ers, explod­ed dur­ing a par­ty con­fer­ence in 1976. Reflect­ing on this chang­ing class com­po­si­tion, the par­ty decid­ed to dis­solve itself.

Despite the larg­er col­lapse, the organization’s edi­to­ri­al col­lec­tive con­tin­ued to pub­lish Lot­ta Con­tin­ua as a news­pa­per with­out a par­ty. Attempt­ing to over­come its dis­tance from exist­ing move­ments, the paper opened a read­ers’ let­ters sec­tion for its dai­ly pub­li­ca­tion in 1977, titled “Dear Com­rades,” and Lot­ta Con­tin­ua’s cir­cu­la­tion swelled. In a peri­od of six years, over 8,000 let­ters were sub­mit­ted, and a siz­able num­ber of them – 1,000, in fact – were pub­lished. In 1980, the Lon­don-based pub­lish­er Plu­to Press pre­sent­ed 350 of the­se let­ters in Eng­lish trans­la­tion.

The hope and fear that so often join new weapons also accom­pa­ny the­se let­ters. Yet we should avoid being too sen­ti­men­tal about the­se sto­ries of inter­per­son­al cri­sis, lest we over­look the cri­sis of polit­i­cal forms that gave rise to them. The let­ters sec­tion was a respon­se to a very speci­fic con­junc­ture, in which pro­le­tar­i­an activ­i­ty was both dis­parate and unknown. When the gates where stu­dents met “history’s van­guard” were either miss­ing or locked, rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies dis­solved the old orga­ni­za­tion­al forms based on yesterday’s alliances. With new sub­jects, “Dear Com­rades” wrote towards a dif­fer­ent kind of coop­er­a­tion. Most of the let­ters con­tain at least a trace of desire for an encoun­ter across sec­tions of the class. But it is often more explic­it than that. Immi­grants ask for more social­ly immer­sive orga­niz­ing and out­reach. Moth­ers write for sons to come home. Pris­on­ers want pen pals, and one man real­ly needs the rab­ble-rouser who bor­rowed his bike at the demon­stra­tion to return it. Even reflec­tions on com­mu­nist strat­e­gy provide an address so some­one can fol­low up the debate. There is plen­ty of talk about ene­mies and what to do with them. But the column was addressed to com­rades, and it is the prac­tice of friend­ship that seems most press­ing.

Dear Com­rades was the crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dis­cov­ered the pre­vail­ing need for com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the class, while mak­ing mod­est ges­tures towards sat­is­fy­ing it. Our sit­u­a­tion is not that dif­fer­ent – the orga­ni­za­tion­al forms and tac­tics of Occu­py have fad­ed, but peo­ple and their net­works are still try­ing to per­sist. We still can’t find the gates of “history’s van­guard,” but that might be rea­son to cel­e­brate; encoun­ters nev­er take hold with­out sur­prise. It is towards this goal that we revive the prac­tice here.


 

[tog­gle title=“Class war is not con­tained by munic­i­pal codes.”]

At any major demon­stra­tion in Oak­land, you will see police from all cor­ners of the East Bay. Class war is not con­tained by munic­i­pal codes, even when it has his­tor­i­cal­ly echoed in them. As inner-cities gen­tri­fy, low-income and work­ing-class fam­i­lies are mov­ing into the sub­urbs and upper mid­dle-class fam­i­lies have tak­en flight to exurbs or into the city. The low-income jobs of the future are more like­ly to be found in Deco­to than Dolores Park, and con­se­quent­ly the demo­graph­ics and com­mu­ni­ty issues in sub­urbs are begin­ning to resem­ble big cities.

The com­mu­ni­ty col­lege I attend, City Col­lege of San Fran­cis­co, is engaged in a com­mu­ni­ty-wide strug­gle again­st aus­ter­i­ty and union-bust­ing after the Accred­i­ta­tion Com­mis­sion of Com­mu­ni­ty & Junior Col­leges has threat­ened to revoke the college’s accred­i­ta­tion for fail­ing to func­tion with­in a lim­it­ed bud­get and not imple­ment­ing a chain-of-com­mand style of gov­er­nance. By law, an unac­cred­it­ed insti­tu­tion los­es state fund­ing and ceas­es oper­a­tion. This is sig­nif­i­cant because City Col­lege of San Fran­cis­co serves a diverse pop­u­la­tion of 85,000 stu­dents, most­ly from low-income and work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties of col­or from all around the Bay Area. Much grass­roots atten­tion on pub­lic edu­ca­tion down­siz­ing tends to focus on inner-city schools like CCSF. How­ev­er, what is hap­pen­ing to schools in inner-city neigh­bor­hoods may be a rep­e­ti­tion of what has already hap­pened in sub­ur­ban schools.

Although the stun­ning news to close down City Col­lege jolt­ed many teach­ers, stu­dents, and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, the cries of aus­ter­i­ty rang a sim­i­lar tone to those I heard while attend­ing high school thir­ty-five miles south­east of San Fran­cis­co. In 2006, the West­ern Accred­i­ta­tion of Schools and Col­leges (WASC), the par­ent orga­ni­za­tion of the ACCJC, eval­u­at­ed James Logan High School in Union City, a mul­ti-eth­nic East Bay sub­urb, and there­after the New Haven Uni­fied School Dis­trict began lay­ing off untenured teach­ers and staff, slash­ing teacher salaries, cut­ting fund­ing to enrich­ment pro­grams, and clos­ing down schools. Like City Col­lege of San Fran­cis­co, James Logan High is a large and diverse pub­lic school serv­ing 4,500 stu­dents (largest in the state), rang­ing from diverse eth­nic and socioe­co­nom­ic back­grounds, includ­ing 30% of the pop­u­la­tion being recent immi­grants. The two school clo­sures tar­get­ed work­ing-class schools: an ele­men­tary school in a pre­dom­i­nant­ly Black neigh­bor­hood and a mid­dle school in a Latin@ neigh­bor­hood. The two cam­pus­es are now a char­ter school and for-prof­it col­lege, respec­tive­ly.

It is not just that many work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties in the sub­urbs and cities are locked in the same strug­gles. One of their strug­gles is pre­cise­ly that urban res­i­dents are being evict­ed from their com­mu­ni­ties, and sub­ur­ban res­i­dents are los­ing eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty. And this has been reflect­ed in resis­tance. As more low-income and work­ing-class peo­ple move into the sub­urbs, their strug­gles are bridg­ing the gap to the big­ger cities; and the urban pro­le­tari­at has sim­i­lar­ly estab­lished ties with the neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties. There’s a rea­son why protests in the periph­ery and in the core are always prox­i­mate to a BART sta­tion. Dur­ing Occu­py, bus­es would reg­u­lar­ly run in a cir­cuit of Stockton–Modesto and Oak­land. Occu­py Oak­land did not just tweet about strik­ing licorice work­ers in Union City, and protests again­st the occu­pa­tion of Afghanistan in Fre­mont. It brought peo­ple to mate­ri­al­ly sup­port the­se fights, too. Anti-fore­clo­sure actions bring peo­ple out from across the area, and Union City’s high-school walk­outs are led by stu­dents who com­mute from Oak­land. Noth­ing pos­i­tive will come by accel­er­at­ing the immis­er­a­tion of sub­urbs or the dis­pos­ses­sion of urban pro­le­tar­i­ans. Our strug­gle is about keep­ing a foot in both camps.

Com­mu­ni­ties may be geo­graph­i­cal­ly split by the forces of cap­i­tal, but they are doing their best to retain polit­i­cal con­tacts and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As orga­niz­ers in the East Bay and beyond, we need to do what­ev­er we can to deep­en the­se ties. We need to con­tin­ue ori­ent­ing our move­ments region­al­ly. After all, the pigs are doing it.

In sol­i­dar­i­ty,
Inder­bir Singh Gre­wal
Life­long Bay Area com­mu­ni­ty mem­ber

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[tog­gle title=“We were many, we were strong: lessons from Uni­ver­si­ty of Sus­sex and the pop-up union.”]

I do cler­i­cal work at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sus­sex. In May 2012, the Uni­ver­si­ty announced plans to out­source 235 jobs to pri­vate con­trac­tors. The­se includ­ed all estates and main­te­nance work­ers, porters, clean­ers, cater­ing, and hos­pi­tal­i­ty staff. I wasn’t one of those direct­ly affect­ed, though at the time was on a casu­al con­tract.

Imme­di­ate­ly after the plans were announced, the three cam­pus trade unions – UCU (aca­d­e­mic and high-grade non-aca­d­e­mic staff), Unison (clerical/cleaning), and Unite (estates, main­te­nance) – orga­nized two mass meet­ings. The first, the day after the announce­ment, attract­ed 60 peo­ple. Sev­er­al days lat­er, over 250 packed into a lec­ture the­atre. In respon­se to a con­tri­bu­tion from the floor, there was a unan­i­mous show of hands for indus­tri­al action again­st the plans. Stu­dents vowed mil­i­tant sup­port for staff.

We were many, we were strong. Then the demo­bi­liz­ing began. At first, we were told that man­age­ment were refus­ing to talk to the unions, and there­fore they couldn’t enter dis­pute yet. And when we could, it would take at least 6 weeks. Unison deserves a spe­cial men­tion here for try­ing to deter their mem­bers from attend­ing demon­stra­tions orga­nized by rank-and-file work­ers.

Over the sum­mer, stu­dents were away, and the hand­ful of work­er-activists became increas­ing­ly frus­trat­ed with silence and inac­tion from their unions. The unions for their part blamed man­age­ment, say­ing that as they weren’t being told any­thing, they had noth­ing to tell their mem­bers. When the autumn term arrived, the “move­ment,” such as it was, was dead.

It was at this point that mil­i­tant work­ers and stu­dents began reg­u­lar­ly meet­ing. Mem­bers of SolFed (a rev­o­lu­tion­ary union ini­tia­tive with a small pres­ence on cam­pus) had begun can­vass­ing cam­pus for con­tacts and putting dif­fer­ent groups of work­ers in touch with one anoth­er. As yet there was lit­tle in the way of a plan, but build­ing hor­i­zon­tal con­tacts would ben­e­fit the strug­gle lat­er.

After Christ­mas, now sev­en months after the ini­tial announce­ment with still no sign of action from the cam­pus trade unions, stu­dents took the ini­tia­tive. On Feb­ru­ary 7, 2013, they occu­pied a cam­pus con­fer­ence cen­tre fol­low­ing a demon­stra­tion organ­ised by stu­dents and rank-and-file staff. The occu­pa­tion jolt­ed life back into the anti-pri­va­ti­za­tion strug­gle, inspir­ing many staff who had begun to give in to fatal­ism, and pro­vid­ing a meet­ing place and base for organ­is­ing efforts.

At this point, staff start­ed to dis­cuss what to do in the face of union inac­tion. Occu­py­ing stu­dents joined the can­vass­ing and con­tact-build­ing efforts. The plan we hatched was twofold: to push as hard as we could with­in the trade unions for joint indus­tri­al action, while devel­op­ing an alter­na­tive struc­ture for an offi­cial strike in case that failed: a “pop-up union.” The Pop-Up Union was launched at a nation­al demon­stra­tion on March 25, 2013, with over 1,500 par­tic­i­pants.

Man­age­ment tried to squash the bur­geon­ing move­ment with a court injunc­tion ban­ning all unau­tho­rised protest. But while the stu­dents were evict­ed by bailiffs and riot police, staff picked up the slack. At this point, more peo­ple were attend­ing the Pop-Up Union meet­ings than the offi­cial joint trade union meet­ings. Momen­tum was build­ing.

With­in a week of launch­ing the Pop-Up Union – 10 months after the ini­tial announce­ment – the cam­pus trade unions sud­den­ly acced­ed to demands for an indica­tive bal­lot for indus­tri­al action, promised as a pre­cur­sor to a full bal­lot for strike action. Unison tried to sab­o­tage even this – turn­ing a yes/no ques­tion into a four-page sur­vey, then declar­ing the results too con­fus­ing to announce, and lying about the turnout. Results were very strong­ly in favour of action: 75% (UCU), 85% (Unison) and 93% (Unite) on strong turnouts.

When once again the promised indus­tri­al action bal­lots failed to mate­ri­al­ize, the Pop-Up Union announced plans for bal­lot for indus­tri­al action itself. Mem­ber­ship began to swell, mak­ing the Pop-Up the sec­ond-biggest union on cam­pus, reach­ing pre­vi­ous­ly non-union staff as well as unit­ing staff from the three rec­og­nized unions.

Time was tight, with sum­mer hol­i­days once again approach­ing (a weak time to take indus­tri­al action). In the end, the bal­lot was stopped by threat of legal action. The Pop-Up made some basic mis­takes in the high­ly com­plex legal process and was forced to back down. The win­dow for action was missed, and the out­sourcing now appears to be going ahead, seem­ing­ly with the bless­ing of the cam­pus trade unions.

But it’s not a total defeat. Once the Pop-Up threat­ened action, there were some con­ces­sions made to the recog­nised unions over pen­sions (one of the points of dis­pute). And while the out­sourcing looks to be going ahead, vital rank-and-file con­tacts have been made, trust in the emp­ty promis­es of the rec­og­nized trade unions – which dragged their heels for over a year, and in the case of Unison, active­ly sab­o­taged the move­ment – has been dis­pelled, and the beginner’s mis­takes which scut­tled the Pop-Up bal­lot have been learned from.

A Sus­sex uni work­er

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[tog­gle title=“I was work­ing with them to pay for my edu­ca­tion.”]

When I was attend­ing Cypress Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, I worked at Labor Ready, a con­struc­tion temp agen­cy, so that I could pay for school. The work was back­break­ing and exploita­tive in many ways, but those of us who worked usu­al­ly were in need of fast mon­ey. Fees at the Com­mu­ni­ty Col­leges were grad­u­al­ly increas­ing due to state dis­in­vest­ment. My increas­ing edu­ca­tion­al expens­es forced me to find what­ev­er work was avail­able, and most stu­dents were in the same posi­tion. I wit­nessed many stu­dents hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties try­ing to work and keep up with the increas­ing costs of edu­ca­tion, some of them being forced to drop out. Many of us were work­ers and stu­dents at Cypress, but our strug­gles remained sep­a­rate and we remained vul­ner­a­ble. At work I would be phys­i­cal­ly beat down, and at school I would have my pock­ets emp­tied.

When I trans­ferred to the Uni­ver­si­ty in San­ta Cruz, I expect­ed few­er stu­dents to be work­ing alongside their stud­ies, but I found that things were often worse. Many of my friends were work­ing upwards of 30 hours at a low-wage job every week. And that excludes the unpaid or poor­ly paid intern­ships, the research posi­tions, the end­less resume padding, and the school­work itself, which, frankly, almost isn’t more than a voca­tion­al cer­tifi­cate. The jobs are spo­radic. Turnover is crazy. The work stu­dents are doing is even stranger. Food­ser­vice and retail work is expect­ed of col­lege stu­dents, but a lot of wom­en do domes­tic work with kids and the elder­ly for the wealth­ier com­mu­ni­ties around the uni­ver­si­ty. And many more help fuel the local tourism econ­o­my. I know some stu­dents who spent last sum­mer work­ing as agri­cul­tur­al labor­ers in the fields by Wat­sonville, because oth­er jobs weren’t avail­able.

I also wit­nessed some­thing else in San­ta Cruz: stu­dents replac­ing jobs tra­di­tion­al­ly reserved for a sec­tor of union­ized ser­vice work­ers. Teach­ing assis­tants are tak­ing out more loans or find­ing oth­er jobs because under­grad­u­ates are tak­ing over their sec­tion duties, so that they might have a leg up when they’re in grad school. Stu­dents are tak­ing over the role of coun­selors in the eth­nic resource cen­ters, while they’re fill­ing the din­ing halls too. Ahead of con­tract nego­ti­a­tions for the grad­u­ate stu­dents and ser­vice work­ers, you have to won­der if the strat­e­gy is to employ even low­er-wage under­grad scabs.

When I was work­ing at Labor Ready there were a few work­ers who talked about get­ting an edu­ca­tion because they want­ed to do bet­ter, iron­i­cal­ly, I was work­ing with them to pay for my edu­ca­tion. The iden­ti­ty of work­ers and stu­dents often become inter­change­able, as many view edu­ca­tion as a pre­cur­sor to work. I feel that the dis­tinc­tion between the two doesn’t cor­re­spond to my expe­ri­ence.

I got involved in labor orga­niz­ing on cam­pus. We were stu­dents and work­ers, and we shared each other’s strug­gles and suc­cess­es as they were our own. For some, the ben­e­fits of com­bin­ing the stu­dent and work­er strug­gle are unclear. Some of my peers have expressed con­cerns about invest­ing finite stu­dent time and resources into labor strug­gles, because they dreamed that the low-wage econ­o­my was some­thing they could rise out of. But I think it’s a real­i­ty for many of us dur­ing and after col­lege.

But even as stu­dents, work­er sol­i­dar­i­ty is like a fork to our knife. Sep­a­rate we have some pow­er, but when we come togeth­er we can get through the tough­est of obsta­cles. I feel that it is a good anal­o­gy first because it comes down to sus­te­nance, and I believe as work­ers and stu­dent we look to pre­serve our liveli­hood the same way. And sec­ond, because if nec­es­sary, the tools of labor can always be fash­ioned into weapons.

Eddie “Pota­to” Sanchez

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[tog­gle title=“Put orga­niz­ing before orga­ni­za­tion.”]

We are still find­ing lessons from the last cycle of California’s stu­dent strug­gle. Among them, the need for chan­nels of stu­dent com­mu­ni­ca­tion, an orga­ni­za­tion that could reg­is­ter and rec­ol­lect insur­gent knowl­edges to guard again­st the dan­gers of under­grad­u­ate turnover and oppor­tunist inten­tions. In the fall of 2011 and again in the spring of 2012, the strug­gle was ani­mat­ed by rad­i­cal rank-and-file activ­i­ty, even when it was direct­ed by the lack­eys of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. And not once, but twice, did they sell out those same stu­dents for a pret­ty pic­ture in the news­pa­per.

It is true that the con­struc­tion of the Cal­i­for­nia Stu­dent Union (CASU) began after the high point of strug­gle in the uni­ver­si­ties. But, unfor­tu­nate­ly, this was not the only event that had cast its shad­ow over our union build­ing. In the same spring of the first CASU con­fer­ence, we learned about the mas­sive stu­dent union in Que­bec, and their strike again­st tuition and state repres­sion (behind every fee hike, a line of riot cops). CASU has inherit­ed Que­bec, and more recent­ly Chile, as not only union mod­els wor­thy of rep­e­ti­tion, but as goals to reach in their own right. Next steps are fre­quent­ly dis­cussed in ref­er­ence to our Cana­di­an coun­ter­part, and the pur­pose of the union itself often amounts to a tac­tic, albeit a suc­cess­ful one, employed by the unions: a gen­er­al strike.

The debates we’ve been hav­ing over hor­i­zon­tal­i­ty and cen­tral­iza­tion have an impor­tant part in move­ment build­ing, but argu­ments over orga­ni­za­tion have become a sub­sti­tute for orga­niz­ing the thou­sands of stu­dents across this state. The fact is that the­se con­ver­sa­tions are not a pre­req­ui­site to the hard work of build­ing a base and grow­ing pow­er. Some­times, they’re even coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

Instead, CASU’s Region­al and statewide meet­ings could be spent learn­ing about the con­di­tions we share across cam­pus­es and the posi­tions par­tic­u­lar to us. We could dis­cuss the rela­tion­ship of indi­vid­u­al orga­niz­ers to the diverse stu­dent bod­ies they hail from, and talk about strate­gies to build a base back at home. Instead, we’re obsessed with the bylaws of a rel­a­tive­ly mar­gin­al orga­ni­za­tion, and the pro­ce­dure for a pos­si­ble strike vote, while we con­sis­tent­ly gloss over what col­lab­o­ra­tion will look like in the six months before our next meet­ing. May­be it’s time to reverse pri­or­i­ties; per­haps our con­ver­sa­tions about struc­ture could be informed by our strat­e­gy for grow­ing the union across dif­fer­ent cam­pus­es.

The authors do not believe the cur­rent strat­e­gy will not suc­cess­ful­ly build a union; stu­dents will not flock to an orga­ni­za­tion because it is an amal­ga­ma­tion of the rad­i­cals on oth­er cam­pus­es across the state. They will join a union when the orga­ni­za­tion pro­vides a way to advance the strug­gles stu­dents are always, already involved in. We need to stop pre­tend­ing that CLASSE has all the answers; our asso­ci­a­tion will be won by read­ing the ped­a­gogies of the poor and pissed off in our own class­rooms. What are our cam­pus­es fight­ing again­st, and how can we join that fight? We need shop stew­ards in every edu­ca­tion strug­gle across the state.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a time and a place for con­ver­sa­tions about struc­ture; in fact, his­to­ry shows that they’re impor­tant. Union­ists in Canada stress the impor­tance of cod­i­fy­ing the improb­a­bil­i­ty of bureau­cra­cy through an insis­tence on the demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of the orga­ni­za­tion. But we should remem­ber that the stan­dards of trans­paren­cy and direct democ­ra­cy that CASU has cor­rect­ly adhered to does not guard again­st all forms of bureau­cra­cy. When CASU’s active par­tic­i­pants shrink, our con­struc­tions become obstruct­ed from the view of stu­dents strug­gling with debt, learn­ing, police, and work in our schools. This becomes a cycli­cal process of grow­ing irrel­e­vance. When we obsess more over mim­ic­k­ing the struc­ture of oth­er orga­ni­za­tions than we do learn­ing about what will empow­er us and oth­ers across Cal­i­for­nia, we’re just doom­ing our own asso­ci­a­tion.

Onwards,

Under­grad­u­ate union­ists around San­ta Cruz and beyond

[/toggle]

[tog­gle title=“Regional stu­dent pow­er cen­ters.”]

I’ve been orga­niz­ing with the Cal­i­for­nia Stu­dent Union (CASU) project since its incep­tion as a work­ing group cre­at­ed dur­ing the first South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edu­ca­tion Orga­niz­ing Coali­tion con­fer­ence, held in Jan­u­ary 2012 at Pasade­na City Col­lege. Inspired by inter­na­tion­al stu­dent move­ments with strong stu­dent union­ist foun­da­tions – like those found in Canada and Brazil – the stu­dent union work­ing group put out a statewide call for cam­pus­es to start work­ing col­lec­tive­ly to devel­op a move­ment toward stu­dent union­ism and form alter­na­tive mod­els of democ­ra­cy capa­ble of mobi­liz­ing stu­dents en masse again­st the pri­va­ti­za­tion of edu­ca­tion. Since that time, three statewide con­fer­ences have been held dur­ing which stu­dents have dis­cussed and vot­ed on next steps as a coali­tion of cam­pus­es with­in all sys­tem of edu­ca­tion in Cal­i­for­nia (K-12, Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege, Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties).

While the­se con­fer­ences have served as good steps in build­ing statewide rela­tion­ships and achiev­ing some col­lec­tive deci­sions, I believe it would be stag­nat­ing to con­tin­ue rely­ing on them as the sole spaces for CASU orga­niz­ing. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because of time demands placed on stu­dents by school, work, and local orga­niz­ing, it is easy for this to hap­pen. But if CASU is to grow, stu­dents’ abil­i­ties to com­mu­ni­cate and orga­nize out­side of statewide con­fer­ences must grow.

As it stands, com­pre­hen­sive out­reach and resource mate­ri­als, com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems, cam­paign action plans, train­ings and work­shops, etc. have yet to be devel­oped. Work­ing groups have been estab­lished to address the­se needs, but they have remained fair­ly inac­tive and with the same small group of peo­ple doing most of the work. I believe this lack of stu­dent engage­ment and com­mit­ment to orga­niz­ing out­side of con­fer­ence spaces is CASU’s biggest weak­ness at the moment, and what is caus­ing the project to be stuck in a catch-22. Because there is a lack of out­reach and edu­ca­tion for exist­ing and poten­tial mem­bers, there is a lack of engage­ment and com­mit­ment. And because there is a lack of engage­ment and com­mit­ment, there is a lack of out­reach and edu­ca­tion.

One pos­si­ble long-term solu­tion to this prob­lem would be the devel­op­ment of “region­al stu­dent pow­er resource cen­ters” that could provide stu­dents with the sta­bil­i­ty, skills, and incen­tives need­ed for CASU to grow. The­se would be region­al hubs where stu­dents could devel­op train­ings, hold meet­ings, cre­ate a resource library, build rela­tion­ships, share expe­ri­ences, and edu­cate and train each oth­er across cam­pus­es. Stu­dents could also use the­se cen­ters to con­nect with local social jus­tice orga­ni­za­tions and col­lab­o­rate on train­ings and work­shops to broad­en stu­dents’ capac­i­ties, per­spec­tives, and con­scious­ness. This kind of net­work­ing would help stu­dents build cam­paign sup­port net­works as well as a social jus­tice intern­ship and job data­base, ensur­ing that stu­dents have a path toward mak­ing a career out of chang­ing the world if they wish to. To lim­it the threat of admin­is­tra­tive repression/retaliation, the­se cen­ters could be estab­lished off-cam­pus, with col­lab­o­ra­tion between the cen­ters and on-cam­pus groups and orga­ni­za­tions. Since CASU cur­rent­ly has no con­stant source of fund­ing, out­reach­ing to exist­ing com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions to provide both an orga­niz­ing space and their men­tor­ship may be most viable.

In order to make the­se spaces a real­i­ty, it is still impor­tant for stu­dents to form or join work­ing groups and fig­ure out next steps togeth­er, such as draft­ing let­ters to com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, col­lect­ing orga­niz­ing resources, and propos­ing incen­tives to draw stu­dents to the cen­ters and keep them active. In my eyes, there is no alter­na­tive to col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­ers to strate­gize and imple­ment con­crete orga­niz­ing goals that move projects for­ward. So, if inter­est­ed in join­ing the work­ing group cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing the­se stu­dent resource cen­ters in Cal­i­for­nia, con­tact me at vanelops AT gmail.com

Vanes­sa Lopez
CSU Dominguez Hills
Cal­i­for­nia Stu­dent Union, Orga­niz­er

[/toggle]

[tog­gle title=“Linnaeus.”]
is a city of lines straight and sin­gle.
Absent are cosi­nes, con­tours, curves of any nature.
Streets form grids. Parks, squares.
Some are rec­tan­gu­lar, but none cir­cu­lar.
Church­es are box­es. Schools, pen­tagons.
Five is gold­en, but rings are not.
Pythago­ras per­vades where par­tridges pace, wings sans waves.

Desks in schools yield didac­tic dis­ci­pline,
fac­to­ry lines to cubi­cles of con­trol.
Unem­ployed work­ers loi­ter near the gates,
but their dis­or­der sim­ply fuels the implo­sion of exclu­sion. Hos­pi­tal beds meet beds upon more beds,
insur­ance pri­ma­cy replac­ing patient pri­va­cy.
Prick­ly pris­on cells waste into cholera coffins, coffins into columns, into columns of col­lars.

Col­lars of white drink the cof­fee of black.
Cof­fee, the inmates har­vest; columns of plants, their domain. Emi­nent domain turns black into bot­tom,
and the white still sips in cap­puc­ci­no calm.
Sug­ar cubes of cane are stocked neat­ly at night, dis­turbed by day, while trash is tak­en by trucks, trucks that trun­cate trunks,
trunks of trees that have cho­sen to grow out of line,
trees with no place in Lin­naean nomen­cla­ture.

But let’s get real
and release this nomen­cla­ture from Calvino’s noume­na.
It’s not the cityscape that’s escaped Kublai Khan’s gaze
but the rela­tions pro­duc­ing his accu­mu­la­tion,
the Leviathans seen only through micro­scopes of microa­gres­sion, expe­ri­enced as iter­a­tions of vary­ing alien­ation
but more or less the same shit.

So here’s my shit,
mopped and aired out, mapped and maxed out,
a debt of rage that’s got no ceil­ing,
a Leviathan that for some time I’ve called Ledi­an.

Ledi­an is a Leviathan
because when Cami­la Lopez has been there for nine years cov­er­ing for restau­rant man­agers half her age,
they thank her with a write-up
after call­ing in with a toothache at six am
and arriv­ing at work at sev­en,
with Man­ager Mol­ly stum­bling in at eight with­out hav­ing any­one to cov­er her ass as usu­al.

Man­ager Mol­ly? Occu­py Mol­ly.
That’s what Server Bar­ry said when she fired Bus­boy Trey
for sleep­ing in the back­room amid­st his finals,
some days before col­lege grad­u­a­tion,
some days after he told her in a preshift meet­ing
that mak­ing us answer ques­tions
like why it’s vital for ser­vice ser­vants to attend to guest requests and giv­ing us pet­ty rewards for vapid respons­es
reverts us all to kinder­garten.
“Ledi­an loves chil­dren,” and mak­ing us feel like ones.

Sleep­ing on the job?
Food and Bev­er­age Direc­tor Harold slept with sex work­ers upstairs in comped suites, while down­stairs
Bar­tender Tyrone got fired for comp­ing two drinks.
Just talk to the three cock­tail servers
good ol’ drunk­en Harry’s groped at mul­ti­ple hol­i­day par­ties, the kind of comp that needs no sig­na­ture.
But shit, we all know how it is,
which brings me to anoth­er point: “It is what it is.”

I’m pissed
Foodrun­ner Kae­nan utters that defeat­ed, demor­al­ized phrase
when he’s sched­uled for two dou­bles and three back-to-backs
because Man­ager Sak­i­na fires more than she hires,
or when he final­ly brings that up at round­top round­ta­bles
and she retorts with some cir­cu­lar log­ic
no one can ques­tion her on,
kind of like that school­yard bul­ly

who you knew was spew­ing all kinds of igno­rance
but were too short or pow­er­less to stand up to,
except for now you’re a grownup and have rights or some­thing.

I’m pissed
House­keep­er Kiara uttered it
when her friend Jada was fired for clock­ing in ear­lier than allot­ted,
when her super­vi­sor Jay­la got away with steal­ing her tips,
when Rake­sha made Nadine clean twen­ty-one rooms while preg­nant,
when Deron got a warn­ing for refus­ing to turn over a bed­bugged bed
because our “team mem­ber” hand­book tells us we can’t resist man­agers’ requests.
Per­haps that’s what Mol­ly was get­ting at with her kinderques­tion.

I’m pissed
the com­pa­ny told house­keep­ers they didn’t get a legit­i­mate raise last year
because they wouldn’t have free food on the fuck­ing plan­ta­tion oth­er­wise.
HR Direc­tor Shan­non and her to-hell-with-good-inten­tioned Ameri­Corps son
would prob­a­bly call that extreme,
but not Ana, who trans­ferred from front desk to house­keep­ing
for bet­ter pay, only to assert that slav­ery isn’t just about com­pen­sa­tion,
some weeks after Hadi the lob­by atten­dant
said his fir­ing was cru­el and unfair,
rid­den with arbi­trary under­tones
of unde­sir­ables, favorites, fren­e­mies
and all oth­er dynam­ics through which we do in fact
end up eat­ing each oth­er like dogs,
giv­ing cap­i­tal all the bones and fos­sils it needs to keep fuel­ing the sys­tem.
Grace, the only oth­er Asian house­keep­er, said Hadi was too out­spo­ken,
but per­haps that’s what hap­pens
when you come to this coun­try on polit­i­cal asy­lum
and real­ize that your sup­posed free­doms and recours­es,
the “peer reviews” dan­gled before you like green card car­rots,
are just props in nonunion shops.

I’m pissed
the com­pa­ny real­ly does love to drill cer­tain points,
sim­ply because it has few oth­ers,
that it tells work­ers they wouldn’t have a caf with a union,
when at the Mar­i­an they’re told they don’t have a caf because it’s not union,
that they asked House­man Caleb to influ­ence his cowork­ers to not vote for one,
but when it came down to Caleb’s own inter­ests,
when he raised his own con­cerns
in those meet­ings they like to call “open door,”
he learned it’s open ‘cause it’s a fuck­ing black hole.
Caleb vowed he won’t attend one ever again
because at the end of the day,
after get­ting every­one to sign on that dot­ted line,
cor­po­rate real­ly is just think­ing,
“We still got those black moth­er­fuck­ers in our pock­ets.”

I’m sad
Dasha doesn’t know where to begin
with those stale ESL prompts about what immi­gra­tion means to her.
What’s she to write? That in the land of the unequal free,
she’s only made $31 after bussing 100 cov­ers
and needs to pick up yet anoth­er part-time posi­tion
to afford extra class­es in a back­break­ing attempt to real­ize that elu­sive dream?
Ajit loves lec­tur­ing us about his ear­ly FOB days, about how he made it,
some­times bussing a table or two, a bit clum­si­ly at that,
though that doesn’t actu­al­ly con­cern him because
it’s just a “demon­stra­tion” of how he climbed the jagged jacob’s lad­der.
But soon­er or lat­er he, too, will real­ize
it’s only nice white boys who become gen­er­al man­agers,
tend­ing to the farm with prop­er white man deco­rum,
schmooz­ing with high­er pow­ers in white man speak,
waltz­ing past employ­ee meet­ings with white man stride,
steal­ing white man glances at black house­keep­ers’ ass­es,
think­ing they don’t notice,
but wake the fuck up, Frank: They notice. And they remem­ber.
What real­ly gets me, though, are the rulers we don’t see,
the ones run­ning the show, run­ning boards, run­ning col­leges,
who say they’ll con­sid­er stu­dent con­cerns about where tuition money’s invest­ed
but then look at the labor griev­ances that actu­al­ly get rec­og­nized
and say, “Well, that’s not geno­cide.”
You’re right, Craig: It’s racist sex­ist clas­sist exploita­tion.

I’m sick
I don’t get as sick
when Bell­man Ran­dall checks my ass out,
or when Grant looks at me like he’s ready to sodom­ize,
when Cook Cody told me he’d like to cum on my face,
or when Jas­mine scold­ed Kev­in on my behalf because I was too timid to.
Because in this per­va­sive shit­show of pow­er, I admit,
I let my cowork­ers get away with the­se unjust show­cas­es of pow­er.
Because in this per­va­sive shit­show of pow­er­less­ness,
guilt exists where action does not,
and guilt’s not a rea­son to reduce my stan­dards for human­i­ty for any­one.

So in this Lin­naeus of infinite Ledi­ans, Fukuya­ma was right:
The end of his­to­ry is here.
Pythago­ras pre­vails,
par­tridges remain parched,
and peo­ple are pas­sive, paci­fied pace­mak­ers wait­ing for some kind of sig­nal to be pumped.

To my com­rades wait­ing for that sig­nal, restrain­ing their impulse to strike: Don’t.
Don’t wait.
Don’t lis­ten to union­crats tied to Democ­rats.
Don’t wage bat­tles only to make wages rise.
Don’t expect respect to res­ur­rect in this deveined, devolved democ­ra­cy.
We can call for reforms, pres­sure the NLRB,
try to play Monopoly games with cor­po­rate cam­paigns,
but the vio­lence won’t stop until we the peo­ple dis­man­tle the master’s house,
until we recon­fig­ure strat­e­gy and reclaim sol­i­dar­i­ty as the weapon it’s been and can be.

Jun­tas are top­pled not when peo­ple scheme in siloed cir­cles
but when they take open blows to expose each Leviathan for the beast it is,
when they stop tak­ing orders from oth­ers, sin any patrón,
when they real­ize that work­ers are lead­ers
not because they’ve been iden­ti­fied
but because they’ve been reas­sured
that they can shout and shout and shout some more,
pro­tect­ed not by some tech­no­crat­ic nego­ti­a­tion or back­door deal,
but by a gen­uine trust in their desire and in the fact
that our sis­ters and broth­ers in the grind might hes­i­tate at first,
might be too bit­ter or too afraid or too tired to believe,
but when pre­sent­ed with a back­bone and with a pulse,
their embers of anger sus­tained by an acu­ity of vision and audac­i­ty of action,
they’ll have no oth­er choice – no oth­er reflex – but to unleash their voice, too.

This poem is ded­i­cat­ed to the mem­o­ries of Pavlos Fys­sas and She­hzad Luq­man

The writer lives in Queens and can be reached at salts.of.the.earth.unite AT gmail.com.[/toggle]

Author of the article

is managing editor at Viewpoint.