FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Making Rabble Rousing Relevant Again

In recent months, a friend and I have been discussing the possibilities of organizing the adjunct faculty working at the numerous colleges in Vermont. In our discussions, my friend, who is both an adjunct and a labor organizer, has been pushing a model where faculty working at each individual college would organize within the college they worked at. The model I have been leaning towards would have adjuncts organize into a statewide union that set basic requirements for the contracts these workers sign with individual institutions, provided real support to insure those parameters were met and adhered to, and would negotiate for adjuncts as a group with all employing institutions. While the former approach might be a quicker process, it would probably end up being a more difficult one to set up and maintain. After all, since adjuncts often work for two or three different employers each semester (given the low pay rates and insecure nature of the employment), it would be easy for the employing institutions to annul any union efforts by just refusing to hire those adjuncts in said efforts. If the adjuncts organized their union specific to their positions as temporary and independent workers, they could negotiate terms with every employer and thereby avoid most attempts to blacklist those in the union.detail_628_new_forms_of_worker_organization

The reason I mention these conversations is because they are a great example of the nature of work in the neoliberal capitalist economy of the twenty-first century. It is an economy where employers have the upper hand; a world where salaries, benefits and employment itself is determined almost entirely by the employers and the market they serve. The idea of employer loyalty to its workers—something tenuous in the best of times—is now considered not only out of fashion, but bad business. Unions are usually seen as impediments to progress, if not just plain wrong. This dynamic rules employment in both the public and private sectors and is the result of a number of factors associated with neoliberal capitalism —“free trade agreements,” tax breaks for corporations, the privatization of public services including education, water, energy and even roads, and the domination of the media by a very small number of capitalist entities determined to dominate not only the markets but the very world itself.

In order to survive in the world defined by neoliberal capitalism, workers have slowly come to realize that they must organize in new ways that respond to the new situation. It is this realization that might just prevent the total destruction of worker organizing. A new book edited by Immanuel Ness was published with this in mind. The book, titled New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism, presents several case studies of organizing drives among workers around the world. These case studies explore the shortcomings of bureaucratic unionism not just in its current practice, but in its fundamental understanding of unionism itself. From Russia, to China; from Sweden to Colombia; Minneapolis to London; the stories in these pages are ones almost anyone who has worked in the food industry or on a factory floor can relate to. Petty dictators for bosses, management willing to work for salary just to get a title and a hope for advancement, and workers wanting to organize but afraid of losing their jobs and ending up on the street—this is the situation workers find themselves in.

As the title suggests, there may well be a solution. It is called syndicalism. For those who don’t know what this is, the Concise Encyclopedia defines it as “Movement advocating direct action by the working class to abolish the capitalist order, including the state, and to replace it with a social order based on the syndicat, a free association of self-governing producers.” This is a set of ideas at least as old as industrial capitalism that reached its greatest popularity in the early part of the twentieth century when capital before it was quashed (often violently) across the globe. This book is dedicated to its rebirth. Among syndicalism’s adherents were the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies. Indeed, this book includes essays describing two recent Wobbly campaigns: one amongst fast food workers in Minnesota and the other featuring janitorial workers in Britain. Both stories describe a workforce with faith in its power, a determination to win its struggle and optimism based on the facts of their lives and an understanding that by staying united they can make those lives better. Simultaneously, like the rest of the articles in this book, the IWW tales are tempered with an understanding of the real nature of the forces opposed to the workers’ success. Underlying everything is this reality—working people of the world cannot depend on the existing structures to work in their favor. If they don’t wish to be denied justice in the workplace, they must be ready to organize themselves and fight for it.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
Tom Clifford
How China Sees the World
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson – Negin Owliaei
Who’s Burning the Amazon?
Yasin Khan
Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors
Ralph Nader
Big Business Lies Taught a Watchful Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Sacking of John Bolton
Andrea Maki
Wild Love Preserve Founder: Our Path Forward
Jeremy Kuzmarov
The War in Eastern Ukraine May be Coming to an End But Do Any Americans Care?
Tim Davis – Stan Grier
Protect the Sacred Grizzly Bear, Follow Those Who Know Grandmother Earth
Clark T. Scott
Super-Delegated and Relegated
Jim Britell
Lessons From America’s Greatest Grassroots Campaigns 
Howie Hawkins
Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy
Ramzy Baroud
‘Justice is Indivisible’: Screams of Israa Ghrayeb Should Be Our Wake-up Call
Jill Richardson
It’s Not About Your Straws and Your Light Bulbs
George Wuerthner
Montana’s Wilderness Deficit
Colin Todhunter
Officials Ignore Pesticides and Blame Alcohol and Biscuits for Rising Rates of Disease
Volker Franke
Me First and the Loss of Compassion
Adolf Alzuphar
Why is the Left Without a Single Elected Official in LA?
Kim C. Domenico
All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace A Chance (Bring It Home!)
Jennifer Matsui
The End of Aquarius and The Dawn of a Death Star: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Missy Comley Beattie
Never Forget
James Haught
Prodding ‘Nones’ to Vote
David Swanson
For the First Time in My Life I’m Against Impeaching the President
Nicky Reid
Yemen as Arabian Vietnam
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: the Wound Becomes the Womb
Fred Gardner
Homage to the Tabloids
Yves Engler
RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy
Stephen Cooper
Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected”
David Yearsley
Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail