26 February 2012

Autonomous and Anonymous

At our local IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) meetings, we talk in depth about the realities of what we as a branch can offer workers here in BC, and specifically how we can offer protection. We realize that without having the financial and institutional backing that a larger union in BC might have, we don’t have much to offer workers in terms of protection. It became obvious after much discussion that it would be more beneficial to find a group that cannot be represented by a bigger union in the first place. An industry where coping mechanisms are used day-to-day already to facilitate Direct Unionism, and where workers already have a sense of the industry's issues and setbacks. We unanimously decided that we put all of our energy into building awareness amongst the workers in the service industry in order to provide them with viable strategies accessible within our community, to fight bosses and self-organize.

This means spreading awareness across the board, creating relationships outside of work between coworkers, sharing stories, identifying industry issues and limits, and how workers can use their combined experience to make their Direct Unionism the most effective.

Especially now, at a time in Canada when the service industry is the largest-growing but yet remains the least protected, it might be time to focus on the dynamics of the service industry and what is allowable in terms of getting through to employees and being able to illustrate to them, through small possible actions, that there is power in numbers. In order for this to work entirely, the IWW may need to prioritize and adapt to these immediate needs.

Full Article Here: Direct Unionism in Practice: Undermining Service Industry Barriers to Worker Solidarity (via Libcom)

15 February 2012

Hate the Rich, Love the People: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's Speech to Occupy Oakland

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, an Oklahoma-born historian, feminist, and revolutionary, spoke at an Occupy Oakland rally on January 28th, 2012. Part Indian on her mother's side and true to her roots as a daughter of landless farmers, she linked the revival of class consciousness within the Occupy movement to the bold anti-capitalist stance embedded in the Preamble to the IWW constitution. She called the Preamble - from which she quoted extensively - a "roadmap" to abolishing capitalism, an exploitative system fueled by colonialism and imperialism.

In her speech, Roxanne spoke of the motivational force within directed "hate" which is often more acceptably acknowledged as "rage". She pointed out the inconsistent, selectively sanctioned manifestations of hate by the mainstream North American society towards "slavery and slaveowners, fascism, and Hitler," but shame for the same sentiment being directed towards the ruling class and the individual rich. In a short piece presciently composed a few years ahead of Occupy's birth, titled "Hating the Rich," Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz wrote: "My Oklahoma sharecropper father, son of a Wobbly, always taught me that [Roosevelt's New Deal] had rescued the rich and saved capitalism, and he was right. Passionate, organized hatred is the element missing in all that we do to try to change the world. Now is the time to spread hate, hatred for the rich."

Full Speech Transcript: "You Are Free People, Spreading Freedom" (via MRZine)

2 February 2012

London Calling: Putting Caterpillar Inc.'s Latest Outrage Into Context

Hot on the heels of an Oxfam study which concluded that income inequality is growing at the same rate in Canada as it is in India, a highly relevant class struggle is currently heating up in the manufacturing city of London, Ontario. There, workers at the Electro-Motive Diesel plant, who are organized with the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 27, have found themselves drawn into a bitter struggle with multinational machinery giant Caterpillar Inc.

Meet the New Boss

After Electro-Motive was acquired by Progress Rail Services Corporation (a wholly-owned Caterpillar subsidiary) in 2010, the new management drew up plans to drastically decrease workers' income, demanding that wages be cut from $32 an hour to $16.50 - a nearly 50% reduction in pay. After the workers' union rejected the proposed pay cut, the company retaliated by shutting the plant's doors on January 1st, 2012, locking out all the employees and preventing them from working. Since then, the struggle between workers and bosses has intensified, with union members and their allies blocking the movement of locomotives from the plant and picketing outside Caterpillar stores across the country.

Caterpillar's wage cut demands were made to seem all the more outrageous on January 26th, when the company's annual year-end report announced that it had made an after-tax profit of $378 million in 2011 - a 36% increase over the previous year. Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman, for his part, took home a compensation package worth over $10 million - a 50% increase over his previous year's earnings. Electro-Motive union plant chair Bob Scott took issue with the financial discrepancy, wondering aloud: "How are workers supposed to go back to earning wages last paid nearly 25 years ago, while the company is richer than ever?"

No Stranger to Controversy

This is far from the first time that Caterpillar has found itself embroiled in controversy on account of its unethical business practices. The company has been repeatedly cited by Amnesty International for supplying Israel with the bulldozers it uses to destroy Palestinian homes, olive groves, and schools. Caterpillar also built the D9 bulldozer that ran over and killed Rachel Corrie, an American citizen who was protesting against home demolitions in the Gaza Strip, back in 2003.

In December of last year, Toronto-based Caterpillar Tunneling Canada Corporation was fined $130,000 for violating Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act. An investigation by the Ministry of Labour found that Caterpillar had failed to follow proper safety protocols, which in turn led to a worker being seriously injured. This fine followed a $66,000 U.S. Department of Labor citation for three safety violations connected to Caterpillar's operations in East Peoria, Illinois.

Tough Times (Unless You're Rich)

The situation at Caterpillar is a particularly poignant example of a much larger conflict. Within those nations which have been so negatively affected by capitalism's most recent crisis, the public has been forced to endure the insulting rhetoric of so-called 'shared sacrifice.' Amidst budget cuts, austerity programs, and the near hollowing-out of the liberal welfare state, we are told by governments and companies alike that it is our duty to tighten our belts, to do with less, and to endure more suffering. That we are being made to suffer the consequences of a problem we did not create is bad enough; far worse, however, is the double standard that's embedded within all this talk about sacrifice. The bosses and politicians speak as if they too will be joining us, but as Oberhelman's $10 million pay day demonstrates, this is non-sense. Of course, we knew that already; we've seen this hypocrisy played out a thousand times before in the course of our daily lives. Caterpillar's most recent attack against its workers is just one more example. Their interests are not our interests.