Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wobbly times number 142

Once upon a time, there were a bunch of workers who wanted to organise One Big Union of their class.  They said, "We will make our union democratic.  We will not exclude any workers; only employers will be barred from joining our union." They were all happy, freely associating with each other in a class wide union of their own. 

And then, one day, one worker said to another worker, "Look. Joe Tito is getting on my nerves.  I'm from Serbia and you're from Serbia.  Dick over there, he's from Serbia too. Why don't we form a Serbian caucus in our union, so that we can discuss matters which concern our Serbian identity without the damn Croats listening.  When the Croats are around, I don't feel comfortable, especially when tennis is on TV.  Dick self-identifies as a Serbian and so do I.  How about you, Mary?"  

Mary replied, "I self-identify as a woman and of course, as a Serbian.  I've been asked whether I want to be part of the women's caucus too.  I may not join though. I'm also a heterosexual and as I've been excluded from the lesbian caucus, I've decided to set up a het-caucus.  It's rumoured that the lesbian caucus controls the women's caucus."

"What's that got to do with it," Boro asked?  "We could have our own meetings in Serbian.  We're always having meetings in English.  And, we could go to tennis matches together when our players are on the court and show the Croats a thing or two."

And so, the One Big Union devolved into a towering babble of competing identities. All thought of workers having common class interests to abolish wage labour was abandoned, as was any talk of social ownership of the collective product of labour.  Instead, caucus co-ops sprang up.  Each co-op had a particular niche which they and only they could fill in the marketplace of ideas and commodities.  They all competed with capitalist corporations for consumers, using their own particular brand of moral suasion as the selling point.  Admittedly, some were more successful than others. 

Anyway, the workers consciously dividing themselves will always be defeated.  


The share of income going to the top one per cent in Australia has doubled since 1979.

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  1. Have to disagree with you rather strongly here FW. Where is there in the text above anything in the way of argument or evidence beyond to support what otherwise seems to me to be at best a spurious comparison between women's caucuses in the IWW and Serbian nationalism? Where too is the evidence to support the idea that women's caucuses and class politics are mutually exclusive? The IWW in the US has had a women's caucus for some time apparently, and yet they seem to retain a strong commitment to class politics. So what gives?
    Solidarity, Ben.

  2. Every unity has its opposites, Ben. All these workers who make up our class are individuals and all these individuals are different from each other in various ways, otherwise, they would not be individuals. Individuals are also similar to each other in various particulars, subsets of class, if you will. For instance, although we are of the same sex, we are of different ages. We have different personal histories e.g. we were born in different political States and so on, yet we both speak English. We are in the IWW because we are in the same class and we want to abolish the class we're in and live in a classless society. We cannot abolish many of our other differences, nor should we even try, if we're satisfied with them as they are. And we have to live with others' differences (as long as one Wobbly isn't trying to engage in a non-consensual vamp on another), if we are to unite as a class and accomplish a social revolution.

    We can divide ourselves and our class into many differences. In political terms, one can come out as a force and proclaim these differences. One can embrace one's 'identity' as being one of the subset of differences which all members of our class have as individuals. For instance, I can claim my identity as a male and form a male caucus within the unity of a working class made up of males, females and transgendered humans. I could also embrace other subsets of my identity, age, 'race' (a completely false biological category), hetero-sexual and so on down the line and proclaim them within our class wide union.

    Another way of looking at this positive proclamation of identity is to see the negative side i.e. not woman, not some other 'race', not young, not whatever all the way down to not you or that other Wobbly.

    All well and good. We're all different within our class because we are all individuals. I get it. I don't see the point of dividing ourselves into various factions/caucuses/subsets of identity. I do see a point in recognising that we're all individuals and that we have to come together as a class to form One Big Union so that we'll have the power to change the mode of production thus gain power over controlling our own lives.

  3. I think the IWW touched the tip of factionalism/ideological identity politics when it first started up in 1905. We got together on the basis of class wide unity under the principles written down in the Preamble of 1905. Then, the ideologies of identity came out to proclaim themselves: anarchist, socialist, political, non-political, direct action, voting and so on...all of which came to a head at the 1908 Convention when the Preamble was changed eliminating the clause on the need to come together on the political field and adding most importantly IMO, the abolition of the wage system. These were wise decisions, IMO. We proclaimed in that famous 1908 resolution that we were not going to be endorsing any political party nor any anti-political sect. Fine. We were One Big Union in which a prominent member of the Socialist Party could be in union with an anti-political, never vote self-identified anarchist of some variety. Our fellow workers of the time had already crossed the 'colour line' in that, unlike the AFL and the Socialist Party in the U.S. South, we didn't exclude Chinese or other 'races'. We were One Big democratic Union without factions. And then, the 20s came along. Another factional fight erupted between the 'centralisers' and the 'de-centralisers', a reflection, I suspect of the already existing differences between anarchists and political party socialists. The IWW ripped itself to shreds over these differences when fellow workers of the time should have just recognised that everyone in the working class wasn't going to agree with one side or the other or even care about those proclaimed differences.

    Anyway, I have no stomach for identifying our divisions or my differences from you or other Wobblies. I just take them as being part of the process of organising. We forbear in order to to become a power that can change social relations. We don't tolerate one Wobbly hurting another Wobbly as, "an injury to one is an injury to all". We don't need to recognise factions of individuals to carry this principle out, in fact, history shows us that formal recognition of the factions will eventually fester into ideological strongholds for individuals who have political agendas which will crowd out and blur our focus on the principles outlined in our Preamble and eventually lead to dividing the working class against itself: iow, the workers divided will always be defeated.

    And that's what gives, FW.

  4. I agree completely that political sectarianism is a threat to class solidarity amongst workers, but the fact of the matter Mike is that gender divisions are real, whereas ones based on ideas of nation or race are imaginary; that's why any comparison of the two is utterly false. Gender divisions exist in society, and just because we become class conscious and decide to joint the OBU and fight for economic freedom and the ability to be the masters of our own destiny by absolutely no stretch of the imagination means that unequal power relations between the genders or the attitudes and bahaviours through which they are perpetuated automatically disappear. A good example of such a behaviour as far as I can tell is the propensity to accuse anyone who calls attention to really-existing divisions between the genders of being divisive; this doesn't make real problems for real wobs go away, it merely serves to shift the focus away from the responsibility that we all have to acknowledge the type of biased attitudes and behaviours that get in the way of building class solidarity amongst workers of all genders to blaming anyone who dares to acknowledge and confront really-existing issues for having the courage and tenacity to speak up. For someone who has a lot to say about the divisiveness of others your own comments don't seem to reflect a great deal of awareness of your own divisiveness. OBU

  5. Equal political power between all men and women is a major goal of political praxis. When unequal political power between men and women is practiced in the IWW, it violates the principle embodied in, "an injury to one is an injury to all" and I am opposed to it.

    Ideologies, like racism, become a material forces when enough people take them up as truth. Gender ideologies exist as material forces promoting unequal political power because so many people take them as being commonsense.

    Speak up all you like, 'targetaudience'. Speak up against unequal political power between men and women. I certainly will speak up about it, as I have for decades. Just don't expect me to speak up for the creation of caucuses and factions with our union for, IMO, that road leads to to the creation of more caucuses and quite frankly, I didn't join the IWW to become a member of a caucus and put the views of say, "the atheist" caucus forward. I joined the IWW because I endorse the Preamble.

    Like the Wobblies of old, I say, "Keep your organised factions out of the union. We neither endorse your particular political faction or any anti-political faction. As IWWs, we all endorse the Preamble. Certainly, you are free to vote or not vote. You are free to participate in any number of struggles outside the struggle to organise One Big Union of our class. No dramas. It's hard enough getting workers to agree to the Preamble; it's a BIG STEP to declare for a social revolution. If we start adding a lot of other ideology, along with the inevitable factions which would result, we'd be signing our own death notice, IMO.

    Maybe mine *is* a *divisive* position. Maybe I should be brought up on charges or expelled. I certainly don't feel guilty about expressing my opinion about caucuses either on my own blog or anywhere else and I'm not interested in ticking off my creds against New Left inspired checklists of 'ism's. I've seen where that leads, having been in the Movement since '67--a cacaphony of competing ideological sects.

    Lastly, I should point out that I really think that the abolition of wage labour and common ownership of the collective product of labour WILL lead to near elimination of oppressive social relations between all men and women.

  6. Among the reasons for the despair which leads very oversensitive persons to seek death ... I [Peuchet] have uncovered as a dominant factor the bad treatment, the injustices, the secret punishments which severe parents and superiors visit on people dependent on them. The Revolution has not overthrown all tyrannies; the evils which were charged against despotic power continue to exist in the family; here they are the cause of crises analogous to those of revolutions.

    The connections between interests and feelings, true relationships among individuals, are still one day to be created among us from the ground up, and suicide is only one of the thousand-and-one symptoms of the general social struggle always going on ... [19]

    Apropos of the case of a girl driven to suicide by a man’s jealously, Marx summarises: This was really a case of murder – ‘The jealous person is in want of a slave; he can be in love, but this love is only a feeling of luxuriating in jealousy; the jealous person is above all a private-property owner’. [20]

  7. Engels’ draft for the Communist Manifesto had been more pointed:

    It [communist society] will transform the relations between the sexes into a purely private matter which concerns only the persons involved and into which society has no occasion to intervene. It can do this since it does away with private property and educates children on a communal basis, and in this way removes the two bases of traditional marriage, the dependence, rooted in private property, of the woman on the man and of the children on the parents. [22]