Posts Tagged ‘I.W.W.’

A Seasonal Musical Attack on the Tories: the Universal Credit Songbook

December 26, 2018

Yesterday, Christmas Day, Mike also put up another piece of musical satire and anti-Tory criticism. This was the Universal Credit Songbook, where some clever clogs has taken the tunes of traditional Christmas carols, and given them fresh words attacking the Tories’ murderous policies, and particularly Universal Credit.

Mike posted an example, tweeted by Imajsaclaimant, which runs

Away in a bedsit,
No crib for a bed
My mother is silent,
When will we be fed?

My mother is crying,
But I’m wide awake
No money for presents,
Five more weeks to wait

This seems to have inspired Michael Fulcher, who posted another piece to the same tune commemorating the death of Gyula Remes, the Hungarian man, who died outside parliament.

See Mike’s article https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/25/its-the-season-for-christmas-carols-how-about-a-couple-from-the-universal-credit-songbook/

Socialism and working class protest, has a rich musical heritage, and this, and other recent anti-Tory songs are part of this. Songs like Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’, as well as past favourites like ‘Liar, Liar’, also about May and her inability to tell the truth, and ‘Nicky Morgan’s Eyes’, about her former education secretary and her attack on state schooling.

The Wobblies’ Songbook

The Chartists in the 19th century also composed songs expressing their demand for the vote for all adult men. There are also many folk songs from the 19th century celebrating strikes and attacking poverty and exploitation.
The Labour party, at least in Bristol, had a choir back in the middle of the last century or so.

The radical American syndicalist trade union, the International Workers of the World, or the ‘Wobblies’ of the early twentieth century, were particularly known for their songs. Their songbook can also be found on the web at http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/iww.html

Many of the songs celebrate and promote the union, the power of working people and specific, heroic individuals, while others bitterly attack the owners and managers. One such is ‘The Parasites’ by John E. Nordquist. This runs

Parasites in this fair country,
Lice from honest labor’s sweat;
There are some who never labor,
Yet labor’s product get;
They never starve or freeze,
Nor face the wintry breeze;
They are well fed, clothed and sheltered,
And they do whate’er they please.

2. These parasites are living,
In luxury and state;
While millions starve and shiver,
And moan their wretched fate;
They know not why they die,
Nor do they ever try
Their lot in life to better;
They only mourn and sigh.

3. These parasites would vanish
And leave this grand old world,
If the workers fought together,
And the scarlet flag unfurled;
When in One Union grand,
The working class shall stand,
The parasites will vanish.
And the workers rule the land.

See: http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/usa/parasite.htm

Clearly, you don’t have to be a radical syndicalist wanting to see the working class utterly replace capitalism and its owners and managers to see that the poverty it describes is coming back, and that workers do need to stand together to demand real change under some form of socialism, like the reformism of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn here, and the radical left of the Democrats with Bernie Sanders in the US.

Mike hopes that Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’ will be the new No.1 this Christmas. It won’t be, but it should, if only to see the BBC go spare and try to avoid having to play such an explicitly left-wing song. I hope it, the UC Songbook and the other ditties attacking May and the rest of the Tories and their corrupt backers also get very many views and downloads, and inspired more people to sing, strum and drum against them.

They must never silence us!

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my last post, a year or so ago I wrote a pamphlet, about 22,000 words long, arguing that as parliament was filled with the extremely rich, who passed legislation solely to benefit the wealthy like themselves and the owners and management of business, parliament should have an elected chamber occupied by working people, elected by working people. So far, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a publisher for it. I put up a brief overview of the book’s contents in my last post. And here’s a chapter by chapter breakdown, so you can see for yourselves what it’s about and some of the arguments involved.

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

This is an introduction, briefly outlining the purpose of the book, discussing the current domination of parliament by powerful corporate interests, and the working class movements that have attempted to replacement parliamentary democracy with governmental or administrative organs set up by the workers themselves to represent them.

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

This discusses the origins of modern, representative parliamentary democracy in the writings of John Locke, showing how it was tied up with property rights to the exclusion of working people and women. It also discusses the Marxist view of the state as in the instrument of class rule and the demands of working people for the vote. Marx, Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Kautsky also supported democracy and free speech as a way of politicising and transferring power to the working class. It also shows how parliament is now dominated by big business. These have sent their company directors to parliament since the Second World War, and the number has massively expanded since the election of Margaret Thatcher. Universal suffrage on its own has not brought the working class to power.

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

This describes the alternative forms of government that working people and trade unionists have advocated to work for them in place of a parliamentary system that excludes them. This includes the Trades Parliament advocated by Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, the Chartists’ ‘Convention of the Industrious Classes’, the Russian soviets and their counterparts in Germany and Austria during the council revolution, the emergence and spread of Anarcho-Syndicalism, and its aims, as described by Rudolf Rocker.

Guild Socialism in Britain

This describes the spread of Syndicalist ideas in Britain, and the influence of American Syndicalist movements, such as the I.W.W. It then discusses the formation and political and social theories of Guild Socialism, put forward by Arthur Penty, S.G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole. This was a British version of Syndicalism, which also included elements of state socialism and the co-operative movement. This chapter also discusses Cole’s critique of capitalist, representative democracy in his Guild Socialism Restated.

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

This traces the origins and development of these two systems of government. Saint-Simon was a French nobleman, who wished to replace the nascent French parliamentary system of the early 19th century with an assembly consisting of three chambers. These would be composed of leading scientists, artists and writers, and industrialists, who would cooperate to administer the state through economic planning and a programme of public works.

The Fascist Corporative State

This describes the development of the Fascist corporative state under Mussolini. This had its origins in the ideas of radical nationalist Syndicalists, such as Michele Bianchi, Livio Ciardi and Edmondo Rossoni, and the Nationalists under Alfredo Rocco. It was also influenced by Alceste De Ambris’ constitution for D’Annunzio’s short-lived regime in Fiume. It traces the process by which the Fascists established the new system, in which the parliamentary state was gradually replaced by government by the corporations, industrial organisations which included both the Fascist trade unions and the employers’ associations, and which culminated in the creation of Mussolini’s Chamber of Fasci and Corporations. It shows how this was used to crush the working class and suppress autonomous trade union activism in favour of the interests of the corporations and the state. The system was a failure, designed to give a veneer of ideological respectability to Mussolini’s personal dictatorship, and the system was criticised by the radical Fascists Sergio Panunzio and Angelo Olivetti, though they continued to support this brutal dictatorship.

Non-Fascist Corporativism

This discusses the way the British state also tried to include representatives of the trade unions and the employers in government, economic planning and industrial policies, and suppress strikes and industrial unrest from Lloyd George’s administration during the First World War. This included the establishment of the Whitley Councils and industrial courts. From 1929 onwards the government also embarked on a policy of industrial diplomacy, the system of industrial control set up by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War under Defence Regulation 58a. It also discusses the corporative policies pursued by successive British governments from 1959 to Mrs Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. During these two decades, governments pursued a policy of economic planning administered through the National Economic Development Council and a prices and incomes policy. This system became increasingly authoritarian as governments attempted to curtail industrial militancy and strike action. The Social Contract, the policy of co-operation between the Labour government and the trade unions, finally collapsed in 1979 during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

This discusses the system of industrial democracy, and workers councils in Communist Yugoslavia. This included a bicameral constitution for local councils. These consisted of a chamber elected by universal suffrage, and a producers’ chamber elected by the works’ councils.

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

This suggests that the undue influence on parliament of private corporations could be countered, if only partly, if the policy recommended by Italian liberisti before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. Those firms which acts as organs of government through welfare contracts, outsourcing or private healthcare contractors should be partially nationalised, as the liberisti believed should be done with the arms industries.

Drawbacks and Criticism

This discusses the criticisms of separate workers’ governmental organs, such as the Russian soviets, by Karl Kautsky. It shows how working class political interests have been undermined through a press dominated by the right. It also shows how some of the theorists of the Council Revolution in Germany, such as Kurt Eisner, saw workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils as an extension of democracy, not a replacement. It also strongly and definitively rejects the corporative systems of Saint-Simon and Mussolini. This part of the book recommends that a workers’ chamber in parliament should be organised according to industry, following the example of the TUC and the GNC Trades’ Parliament. It should also include representatives of the unemployed and disabled, groups that are increasingly disenfranchised and vilified by the Conservatives and right-wing press. Members should be delegates, in order to prevent the emergence of a distinct governing class. It also shows how the working class members of such a chamber would have more interest in expanding and promoting industry, than the elite business people pursuing their own interests in neoliberal economics. It also recommends that the chamber should not be composed of a single party. Additionally, a workers’ chamber may in time form part of a system of workers’ representation in industry, similar to the Yugoslav system. The chapter concludes that while the need for such a chamber may be removed by a genuine working class Labour party, this has been seriously weakened by Tony Blair’s turn to the right and partial abandonment of working class interests. Establishing a chamber to represent Britain’s working people will be immensely difficult, but it may be a valuable bulwark against the domination of parliament by the corporate elite.

I’m considering publishing it myself in some form or another, possibly through the print on demand publisher, Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a sample chapter, just let me know by leaving a comment.

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

Political Dynamite! American Unions Vote to Form Labor Party

November 2, 2017

This is an absolute bombshell! In this piece from the Jimmy Dore Show, Dore and his co-host, Ron Placone, discuss the sensational news that a meeting of union leaders that convened on October 24 have passed a resolution condemning the two-party system and pledging them to consider setting up a separate, independent labour party.

The resolution was introduced by the chair of the political committee of AFL-CIO, Lee Saunders, and Randi Weingarten, the head of the teacher’s union. This is particularly remarkable, as Weingarten was responsible for throwing the union’s weight behind Hillary Clinton regardless of the views of its members. Dore states that when they asked American teachers how they felt about their union supporting Killary, they said they weren’t consulted. Those are America’s two largest unions.

Weingarten said that the system had failed working people for decades, and that it had taken away the pillars supporting working people’s rights to good jobs and benefits on behalf of the rich and corporations. The resolution was passed at a meeting of about 50 delegates in an upstairs room where the convention was being held. The delegates contended that both the Republicans and the Democrats were under corporate domination.

Mark Dimondstein, who was the foremost promoter of the idea of a labour party, is the president of the postal workers’ union. He has been calling for it ever since NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – was set up in 1993, which he said showed that both the Republicans and Democrats were in the pockets of the capitalists. Dore and Placone chuckle over the fact that Dimondstein must be having the biggest ‘I told you so’ moment, and encourage him to gloat all he wants, as he’s earned it.

The meeting was split over whether they should first start up an organisation and start discussing issues, or get into political races and risk becoming the ‘spoilers’ in the current two-party system. Dore states in response to this that it’s the two-party system that’s rigged. That’s how Americans now have Trump: it was due to a rigged Democratic primary and electoral college. One delegate, Velasquez, stated that the new party should compete in politics, but start at the local and state levels. Dore asks rhetorically why they should, and argues instead that they should compete at all levels. All the delegates agreed, however, that the Democrats have not done them any favours. They never have, and they never will. Dore believes that the reason why Velasquez wanted them to limit themselves to local and state level politics, was so that they don’t get called ‘Ralph Nader’, after the left-wing American politician, who attempted to run as a third party candidate.

Saunders and Weingarten are also members of the Democratic National Committee. The main resolution, however, said that they would set a pro-worker agenda, that would stand regardless of party. Dore states that this is similar to what they had in mind when they went to Canada for Peter Alard. That all the progressives would get together and produce a litmus test. They will thus endorse any political candidate in any party, provided that they support their pro-worker objectives.

Dimondstein said that they couldn’t take half a loaf, a quart of a loaf, an eighth of a loaf, or even crumbs any more. Dore states that they weren’t even being offered that under the present system. And he was applauded when he said that even when the Democrats got control of both the presidency and Congress in the 2008 election, they did not follow through with reform of labour legislation and other priorities for working people, but instead passed the Transpacific Partnership – TPP – the free trade deal. Dore and Placone states this was done by Barack Obama. They also make the point that it wasn’t done by Russian secret agents amongst the DAPL and Black Lives Matter activists. Dore states that it wasn’t the Russians, who threw the election but Barack Obama, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Haliburton, Exxon, the Koch brothers, the people in New York, who had 200,000 people thrown of the voting rolls, and the Electoral College. He stated that the Democratic Party hadn’t done anything for them despite having the presidency, the Congress and the Senate. Dore states that this is what he and other progressives had been saying, but they were told they were stupid, petulant, children. Now the labour unions agree with them, and its those who called them stupid and so on, who now have no political sense. The people in the Democratic Party, who called them that and gave America Hillary Clinton are the people that are ultimately responsible for Trump. They are everything that’s broken in the Democrat Party.

Dimondstein stated that the Republicans entrenched union-busting, Bill Clinton deregulated Wall Street, and Jimmy Carter deregulated trucking. Dore reminds his viewers that, thanks to Carter, we now have truckers working 18 hours or so and taking methamphetamines to get to their destinations on time. Dimondstein made it clear that constructing a labour party would be a long-term plan and require both community and labour support, but it would be wrong to confine the movement for a labour party to the current two-party system. Dore goes on to say that if everyone, who felt this way had actually voted for the Green Party at the last election, it would have radically changed the political landscape. They might still have had Trump, but the Democrats would have been wiped out and the opposition instead would have been the Green Party with a genuinely radical agenda. Instead, half or eighty per cent of all progressives are trying to reform the Democrats, which he thinks is a fool’s errand.

Dore and Placone are amazed that this story has received so little press attention. It should receive more, as the 2016 election showed how little footing the Democrat Party now has with the working class. Placone states that it’s now time for progressives and working class organisations to stop endorsing the lesser of two evils, because that can result in the more evil getting into power, and the lesser evil becoming worse. He states that we have now reached the crisis point with that, and if we haven’t, he doesn’t know what will wake people up. But whatever it is, it’ll be too little, too late. Dore suggests that it might be when the ice caps finally melt so that the coastline is now in Minnesota. Obama would probably come back to open the arctic for drilling just one more time. He has been responsible for opening it up to drilling twice. Dore also points out that there are a lot of people interested in forming a third party – progressives, Greens and others – and it’ll eventually happen.

This is absolutely stunning. If it goes ahead – and I sincerely hope it does – then America will be transformed into a country, whose political system is far more like that of Europe. Especially if Bernie and the progressives manage to get single-payer healthcare passed.

What the American unions are discussing is precisely what the British Labour party went through a century and more ago. The Labour party has its roots in the Lib-Labs, the trade unionists elected to parliament as working class members of the Liberal Party. Then after the passage of the Taft Vale judgement, which ruled that trade unions could be sued for damages and losses caused by strikes, they then decided to form an independent party to press for working class policies. This was the Independent Labour Party. The Labour Party as it is now was founded in 1901 as a party formed from the unions and various socialist organisations and societies.

As for pressing for all political parties to put forward pro-worker policies, that was the goal of the Fabian Society when it was founded. There’s a lot of sheer rubbish spouted by the American right-wing conspiracy nuts about how it was some kind of secret society. It wasn’t. And it’s still around. It became part of the Labour party. I should know. I was a member briefly in the 1980s. I’ve blogged about some of their pamphlets I bought and read, even citing them. Unfortunately, they’ve now been heavily infiltrated by the Blairites, and are one of the chief sites of anti-Corbyn activism in the party.

And something similar appears to have happened in Canada in the 1960s and ’70s, when hippy radicals formed the New Democrat Party up there.

If this does go through, it should encourage similar left-wing movements around the world, and strengthen the genuine socialists in the British Labour party and the European socialist parties.

And I’ve no doubt that the capitalists and big corporations will now try and throw everything they can at it to stifle this vital new change. I’m not surprised that very few newspapers carried the story, because the newspapers generally represent the interests of big business. And big business and the capitalist class is absolutely terrified of the unions and genuinely working class organisations. That’s why the British press, including the pro-Labour Mirror, has been so consistently against Jeremy Corbyn.

However, it has also been pointed out that before the First World War, America did indeed have a very strong left-wing movement. There were the Communists, the Wobblies and Eugene Debs and his attempt to form a labour party for America. What set this back was the Cold War, which allowed the forces of the right to smear and vilify them as part of the global Communist threat. Now that Communism has fallen, fewer Americans are being taken in by this ruse, and the spirit of Eugene Debs lives on.

I hope this all goes through, and that it’s successful. If that happens, then the world will be a fair bit better for working people.

God bless it, and American working women and men!

I.W.W. Issue Nationwide Call for Prison Strike in America

September 10, 2016

Yesterday, Counterpunch published the call from the I.W.W. Incarcerated Workers’ Organisation Committee calling for a nationwide strike in American prisons against slavery. This is the use of prisoners as unpaid labourers for private companies. The I.W.W. is the syndicalist trade unions, nicknamed the ‘Wobblies’, which was at the forefront of American working class radicalism in the early 20th century. It still exists to day, and has a branch in Bristol, which meets at one of the radical bookshops in Bristol’s Old Market. The call begins

This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America

In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

In the 1970s the US prison system was crumbling. In Walpole, San Quentin, Soledad, Angola and many other prisons, people were standing up, fighting and taking ownership of their lives and bodies back from the plantation prisons. For the last six years we have remembered and renewed that struggle. In the interim, the prisoner population has ballooned and technologies of control and confinement have developed into the most sophisticated and repressive in world history. The prisons have become more dependent on slavery and torture to maintain their stability.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

The prisoners go on to state that they need popular support on the outside. They describe the impact the slave system in American prisons has on the wider community. Ordinary citizens are arrested and sentenced to prison for the specific purpose of providing unfree labour for these private companies. They also talk about the ‘extra-judicial executions’ of Black Americans, naming a few of the victims. This is related to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which protests against the complete disregard some members of the American police have for the value of human life in shooting Blacks, regardless of the severity of the crime, or even if there is any crime at all. Several of the victims have been innocent.

To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside. Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.

Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they’ll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.

I’m quite aware that criminals in the prison system are hardly innocent victims, and that many are guilty of the most vile offences. But in this case, they have a point: they are being used as slave labour for private profit, and this is affecting the wider community. In America, the private prison corporations donate money to the political parties and for the election of judges, so that they will run on a platform of being tough on crime. The local political candidates are effectively bribed to pass laws introducing harsher penalties, and judges are effectively bribed to pass longer sentences. There’s a case in one of Michael Moore’s films, Capitalism: A Love Story, we he discusses the case of a teenage schoolgirl sent to jail for truancy, because the beak was connected to the local prison company, which wanted more slave labour.

Nor is this iniquitous system confined to America. Mike put up a piece several weeks ago, discussing the highly exploitative conditions in private prisons, in which prisoners are used as unfree labour for British companies. Mike made the point that we cannot close our eyes to such exploitation in this country, and claim that it doesn’t happen here. It does. Of course criminals should be punished, but it’s one of the fundamental cornerstones of the concept of justice that the punishment should fit the crime. The exploitation of prisoners as unpaid workers goes directly against this. As a punishment, it’s only an excuse for their exploitation for the profit of big business.

The strike has spread to something like 24 states and 40 prisons all over America, according to a report on Democracy Now! Over on this side of the pond, we need to start thinking about how we can stop the exploitation of prisoners for corporate profit over here.

American Labour History: Film about the ‘Wobblies’

May 8, 2016

This is a fascinating film by the Women’s Film Preservation Unit about the I.W.W. The International Workers of the World, or ‘Wobblies’, as they were called, were a radical American Syndicalist trade union formed at the beginning of the 20th century. They were called ‘Wobblies’ apparently because some of the Chinese workers couldn’t pronounce the ‘R’ sound, and so when they tried saying the Union’s name, it came out sounding something like ‘Wobblies’. And the name stuck.

The film traces the union’s history, from its origins to eventual demise about the time of the First World War through the memories of a group of senior citizens – old blue collar workers – who had joined it and taken part in its struggles. The Wobblies believed in the eventual ownership and management of the means of production by the workers, and the abolition of the wage system. Beyond that, as one of these elders says, they weren’t sure. They were, however, inclusive in a way that the mainstream unions, founded by Samuel Gompers, weren’t. The American Federation of Labor was a craft union that wouldn’t take unskilled labourers. Following the racial bigotry of the time, they didn’t take Blacks either. But the Wobblies did. One of the speakers is a Black man, who tells how he joined the Union because they were the only union would take and defend Black people like himself. They also took and fought for women and immigrants. Another speaker is an elderly lady, who talks about how she joined the union, and the strikes she took part in. The Wobblies allowed their women members considerable freedom, and were pilloried for it. The lady recalls how one of the accusations was that the Wobblies pushed women to the front of the demonstrations and picket lines. She replied that they didn’t. They just didn’t keep them at the back. It was up to the women themselves where they went.

They also recruited the immigrant workers that were then flooding into America as its population expanded massively to provide labour for its expanding economy. This was the period when logging began in the great wood and the railways were still being laid down across America. Workers were needed in factories, mills and docks. And so the Wobblies recruited Italians, Poles and other nationalities. These men and women too suffered tremendous prejudice and persecution for their membership of the union during the First World War, and particularly after the Russian Revolution. The Wobblies were persecuted as a revolutionary, ‘Communist’ organisation. There was a wave of xenophobia resulting in the ‘Palmer raids’, anti-immigrant police raids in which foreign workers were rounded up and deported. This was directed at the I.W.W., but the authorities frequently couldn’t find enough of them, and so just picked up foreign workers at random. It should come as no surprise that the Fascist Right in Britain in the interwar years also wanted similar raids against suspected foreign revolutionaries, or just plain foreigners, over here.

These were men and women, who had extremely rough lives, working immensely hard for poverty wages. The Black speaker describes what it was like to be a dock worker. Further on in the film, one of the other surviving workers, a White guy, was a lumberjack. He describes the appalling conditions he and the other men worked in. They were lodged in bunkhouses with no washing facilities and no mattresses on the bunks. The result was that they were riddled with lice and bedbugs. He also says that there was saying that you could smell a lumberjack before you could hear him, and you could hear him before you could see him. And the work itself was tough and dangerous. The same guy talks about the various bones he broke in accidents, including when he was crushed by a log and his entrails ‘were pushed out my tail-end’. He also shows the stump of one of his fingers, which he lost in another accident. At the camp, the dinner plates weren’t washed properly. They were nailed to the tables to stop them being stolen by bindlestiffs – migrant workers, who preyed on other tramps. They were simply hosed down after the meals were finished. Many of the workers were also farm labourers, picking fruit.

And in addition to the work, there was brutal repression by the police and management. The speakers describe armed police coming into break up the strikes, and the extreme violence used against picketing workers. Any excuse would do to get a striker into court. One of the ladies describes how she was arrested on a charge of using obscene language against one of the cops. Fortunately, she was acquitted when she told the judge, ‘You’re honour, I don’t use such language’. A week later the same cop asked her out. She turned him down, not surprisingly.

In addition to the violence from the police, there was the threat of the scab labourers recruited by management. These also came in with guns and police protection. As a result, strikes could explode into extreme violence, including gun fights. In one strike involving the dock workers, 127 people were shot to death or otherwise killed. In another incident, striking workers, who got on a boat to get to their workplace were fired upon by the management, leading to four deaths. The government became involved in many strikes, using tactics that would now be considered ‘Fascistic’. Or should be. The army were frequently called in to shoot and arrest them. During the First World War, the union left it a matter of individual conscience whether to oppose the War or not. Many did, including one who was sent to France. The reason presented for American intervention was that Europe – France and England – owed America money. So the Wobbly went down the line of American doughboys in the trenches asking them if the Europeans owed ’em anything personally. Of course they didn’t, though he describes some of the younger, more patriotic men getting angry. When the union went on strike, they were accused by the government of being collaborators with the Kaiser and the enemy. And when the Russian Revolution broke out in October 1917, they were accused of working for the Russians to bring America down. One of the ladies describes how striking men, including her husband, were rounded up by the army, and then taken to what seems like an internment camp out in the desert, loaded into freight cars with no food or water.

Much of the Wobblies’ membership came from migrant workers. In order to get to new jobs, these frequently travelled by freight train across the country looking for work. It was extremely hazardous. One of the workers describes the sadness of passing lit homes, while himself hungry. The train crew operated a racket, in which they’d charge the workers for their journey. This stopped when the union put in its own strong arm gang, who dealt out their own rough justice to them. Then there were the hijackers, who get on to a train to rob its passengers. These particularly targeted union organisers, as they frequently carried thousands of dollars worth of union fees with them. One of the tactics used against the trade unionists was to thrown them off the train, so that they fell under the wheels of the car. Again, the union was also capable of defending its members against them. When of these guys describes how they cut the letters I.W.W. onto the forehead and cheeks of a hijacker with a razor as a lesson.

One of the workers also describes how they managed to get a free ride at management’s expense. The company hired a whole load of scab workers and was paying for them to travel by train. So the Wobblies got on too and began busily recruiting them. Those that didn’t, were thrown off, so that by the time they all arrived, nearly everyone on the train was a Wobbly. Which naturally made the management furious. The lumberjack also describes the ‘stand-up’ strikes that frequently did more harm to the company than the sit-down strikes. These were basically go-slows, or work to rules, where the workers went into the forests for work, but either vanished, or did as little as possible. And the former dockworkers describe how the union supported starving workers with soup kitchens, and that after they won the dispute, the leaders organised a banquet for the workers.

The Wobblies declined after the War as a result of police and state repression, and from ideological divisions in the union itself between Communists and Anarchists after the Russian Revolution. Many members felt that they ought to be trying to start a revolution in America. They were sympathetic to the Russian Revolution, and argued that the Russians had finally done it while they talked about it. The former lumberjack describes how the debates between the revolutionary and anti-revolutionary factions got so heated, that debates would frequently end in fist fights.

Although the memories of the former workers are at the heart of this movie, this isn’t simply a staid film of rather boring talking heads. Along with the speakers themselves are contemporary archive footage, newspaper headlines, and anti-Wobblie propaganda cartoons, including an animated sequence which I think may well have been from them, rather than being a contemporary film, though I might be wrong. It also includes dramatic recitation of some of the words of the Wobblies themselves. It begins with the voice of Wobblies being questioned about their country of origin, all giving various answers which avoided ‘America’, but in line with their belief that they were all indeed the Industrial Workers of the World. It also includes some of the words of the American capitalists against whom the I.W.W. were pitched in battle, and these are very ugly. One industrialists stated that the man who did not pay his workers below the minimum wage level, robbed his shareholders. Forget Dave Cameron’s and his Republican counterparts’ in America smooth words about the Tories being ‘for hardworking people’: this is the true, brutal face of capitalism.

The film’s also enlivened considerably by the songs of the Wobblies themselves. The Union was known for its songs, and many of the workers interviewed describe keeping their song books with them, or singing during the strike to keep their spirits up. Some of these are beautiful pieces of American folk song, often with a wry humour, like ‘Hooray, I’m a Bum’. I don’t agree with some of the anti-religious sentiment in a couple of these, though I can see why they were written. They were produced at a time when many towns passed laws against street orators, with the exception of the Salvation Army. The Wobblies themselves used to set up meetings in the streets to recruit new members, with the speaker himself standing on a soapbox. The police would arrest them while leaving the Sally Ann speakers alone. And so there developed a vicious rivalry between the two organisations for speaking pitches. Looking through the music credits, I saw that one of the arrangements was sung by Peggy Seeger and England’s own Ewan MacColl, the father of British pop singer Kirsty, and writer of the classic ‘Dirty Old Town’.

It also uses paintings of some of the strikes, presumably created by the workers themselves. These are naturally naïve in style, but nevertheless constitute valuable pieces of folk art from one of America’s most notorious outsider groups.

This is a fascinating, harrowing, exuberant movie about a labour group that is little known over this side of the Atlantic. Looking down the list of comments on the Youtube page, one of the commenters remarked that this is the type of history that’s been removed from the official version. Indeed it is. It’s the type of history that at one time would have made it onto Channel 4 or possibly PBS in the Land of the Free. Now you’re only likely to see it either on BBC 4, or at your local arts cinema.

Radical Balladry and Poetry for Proles

May 15, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

19th Century Illustration of a Ballad Seller

A few days ago I posted a few pieces on Rob Young’s history of the British folk revival and folk rock, Electric Eden (London: Faber and Faber 2010), and the radical and political folk songs protesting about the conditions of the poor and demanding workers’ rights, such as The Poor Man Pays For All from the 1630s. The Chartist and trade union movements in the 19th century also included poets and song-writers, who attempted to get their message of popular democracy and just treatment for the workers across in verse and music. They included Ernest Charles Jones, a British lawyer, who was born in Berlin in Germany from British parents. In 1845 he became a member of the Chartist movement, and was co-editor, with Feargus O’Connor, of The Labourer, and Northern Star. Not surprisingly, he became embittered and alienated after he was imprisoned in the two years from 1848-50 for inciting the British public to revolt. He was a friend and follower of Karl Marx from 1850 to 1855, whose ideas influenced Jones’ Notes to the People of 1850-1 and the early years of his People’s Paper. Beer in his History of British Socialism, gives an example of his poetry, the Song of the Lower Classes.

1.

We plough and sow- we’re so very, very low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain – with the golden grain,
And the vale with the verdant hay.
Our place we know-we’re so very low
‘Tis down at the landlord’s feet,
We’re not too low – the bread to grow,
But too low the bread to eat.

2.

“Down, down we go-we’re so very, very low,
To the hell of deep-sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow
When the crown of the despot shines.
And whenever he lacks – upon our backs
Fresh loads he deigns to lay:
We’re far too low to vote the tax,
But not too low to pay.

3.

“We’re low, we’re low – mere rabble, we know,
But at our plastic power,
The mould at the lordling’s feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower –
The prostrate fall – in the rich men’s hall
And cringe ata the rich man’s door:
We’re not too low to build the wall,
But too low to tread the floor.

4.

“We’re low – we’re low – we’re very, very low,
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow – and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get – and what we give
We know, and we know our share:
We’re not too low the cloth to weave,
But too low the cloth to wear”.

Other Chartist leaders in their poems urged a general strike and a worker’s revolution in order to achieve democracy. One of Thomas Cooper’s speeches in Staffordshire resulted in ‘serious disturbance’, arson and destruction of property. Cooper himself summarised them in the following lines, according to Beer, in his 1845 Purgatory of Suicides.

“Slaves, toil no more! Why delve, and moil, and pine,
To glut the tyrant-forgers of your chain?
Slaves, toil no more! Up from the midnight mine,
Summon your swarthy thousands to the plain;
Beneath the bright sun marshalled, swell the strain
Of Liberty; and while the lordlings view
Your banded hosts, with stricken heart and brain, –
Shot as one man, ‘Toil we now more renew,
Until the Many cease their slavery to the Few!
We’ll crouch, and toil, and weave, no more – to weep!’
Exclaim your brothers from the weary loom: –
Yea, now they swear with one resolve dread, deep –
‘We’ll toil no more – to win a pauper’s doom!’
And, while the millions swear, fell Famine’s gloom
Spreads from their haggard faces, like a cloud,
Big with the fear and darkness of the tomb:-
How ‘neat its terrors, are the tyrants bowed!
Slaves, toil no more – to starve! Go forth and tame the proud!

Britain’s mining and cloth industries may have been devastated, but the words are still resonant and very relevant. We are, after all, suffering under the class government of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and their fellow financiers and aristos. And the lines ‘we’re too low to vote the tax/ But not too low to pay’ exactly describe the ‘Bedroom tax’.

Jess, one of the commenters on this blog, provided a bit more information. She writes

I forgot to mention, An Anthology of Chartist Verse has been published, not once, but twice.

It first appeared from Progress Publishers in Moscow in 1956,[As An Anthology of Chartist Literature] then largely reprinted by the Associated University Press in 1989. [As ‘An Anthology of Chartist Poetry’]. The second printing excised the Literary Criticism contained in the former edition [mostly reprinted from the Scottish Chartist Circular]

One version of the National Chartist Hymn Book can be viewed here;
http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/search/controlservlet?PageId=Detail&DocId=102253

This last is well-worth looking at as an example of the aspirations of working class Christian radicals for social justice. It would frighten the modern, ultra-capitalist Christian Right faster than you could say ‘Social Gospel’.

Apart from the Chartists, other radical Left-wing groups and parties also produced song-books. Jess mentioned the Fabian Song book of 1912, which partly drawn from the Carpenter’s and Progressive song books. The ILP also produced a song book and the American Syndicalist union, the International Workers of the World or the ‘Wobblies’, are especially known for their songs. Jess writes about these:

A version of the ‘Little Red Song Book’ can be found here;
http://pronoblem.com/iwwlrs.pdf

It’s last known printing in the UK was in the 1990’s and was done by Scottish Republican Socialists through Clydeside Press (who are still in business)

Another American ‘Socialist Song Book’ can be found here
http://www.mediafire.com/view/?o6tbi8b3qf6dgbw

The Pennsylvania ‘local’ who produced (I would guess around the 1930’s) patently drew on the ILP Songbook of c.1910, initially drawn up by Tom Anderson of Glasgow, but completed by the Glasiers [Anderson felt so annoyed at what they had done that he left the ILP for the Socialist Labour Party. For the latter organisation he produced a ‘Proletarian Songbook’ [primarily for use in his ‘Proletarian Schools’]
More on Anderson here;
http://www.radicalglasgow.me.uk/strugglepedia/index.php?title=Tom_Anderson ]
Songbook cover here;

Unfortunately, the only place you will find those Chartist Anthologies is in Research Libraries. The WCML certainly has the Moscow edition. (I was once told there are only 50 or so in the UK)

Ironically the American one is even scarcer, with probably no more than 10 copies in the UK [It was kept away from Europe due to potential copyright problems}

But I can easily get access to both, so if you have a query, or an interest, I will sort something out.

There is a very strong body of radical, Left-wing working class and folk literature, which is still very relevant. Jess notes that it’s been largely neglected by the Left, except for a very few aficionados and researchers, like Roy Palmer, the author of a Ballad History of England. She also recommended a number of other folk song researchers and experts:

I would recommend, if you can still get hold of it, the EFDSS CD collection of William Kimber. Parts of the interview it contains is fascinating, especially Kimber’s acceptance of the Women’s Morris.

Also worth seeking out are the recordings of Walter Pardon, who includes, on one of his albums, songs used by the Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

More recently, the Left has used songs to articulate its criticism of social injustice and promote its causes. I first came across Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about nuclear warfare, ‘And we’ll burn together when we burn’ in 1980s with the revival of CND in Thatcher and Reagan’s new Cold War. The same decade also saw Billy Bragg get onto Top of the Pops with his modern folk-song about the Miners, just when Thatcher was putting the boot into them. With this new attack on the poor and working class, it would be no bad thing at all if some of these songs were revived. It might even remind some of the Labour party’s leaders just whom they’re supposed to represent.