The Fist of May

As it relates to the fruits of labor beyond just harvest, this first day of May means a number of things, down to nothing, depending upon where one comes- or is coming from. Being an American by arbitrary birthright I can observe the spectrum from ignorance to disregard. The European perspective — which, perspectives being as they are, one should in no way claim capacity of even the most far-flung interpretive representation — is hardly of one voice as to the significance of International Workers’ Day, or how it should or shouldn’t be observed. There are non-Europeans who think they know how things are different in Euroland and are comfortable acting as authority on the matter. There are non-Euros who know better, but act as authority all the same. There are those who admit ignorance, but will say they get the general idea and don’t have too big a problem arguing a viewpoint on it. There are those who are less comfortable in this final regard, but not to the extent that you won’t hear plenty of peep out of them. Wherever the end of this line is, it doesn’t have anyone on it who’ll admit they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, counting myself. If there’s a silent majority, they ain’t sayin’ shit.About the First of May: it’s easy to bear distant witness to people throwing bottles at cops or breaking windows and setting things on fire and saying that this isn’t what the celebration is supposed to be about. If there’s any safer an utterance on the subject than, “It’s supposed to be a peaceful demonstration of (compete cliché here),” I can’t recall hearing it. On the flipside, there’s no rounder a rebuke guaranteed than if you were to state certainly that breaking shit is in fact what it is all about.

Take the events 131 years ago surrounding Haymarket Square in Chicago as substantiated origin of today’s holiday in Europe and you have a parallel of competing stories as to what inspired what took place then — including who was involved and why, and what ultimately resulted and who all were instrumental in that — that lend remarkable credence to the appropriateness of this recurring annual symbolism of “we just wanna barbecue” vs. “get in line or stay away” vs. “peacefully demonstrate” vs. “stand up and be counted” vs. “make a ruckus” vs. “break the fucking system”.

If, on the other hand, the aforesaid safest interpretation of the meaning of these gatherings is the one viable demonstration, it seems to me like an awful lot of marching under the aegis of advertising democracies whose backdrop is an infrastructure of hierarchy that democracy is helpless to change more than indirectly rearrange.

Enter the Strike: standing up to sit down, walking in to walk out, shouting out to shut down, fully embracing boycott. These are all actions that, even if you see them as passive resistance, will most certainly beget an increase in violence one must be prepared to withstand in order to remain resolute enough to make a difference. Unfortunately, this threat of reactionary beatdown does not, in my opinion, factor into why the workers of the world will never unite to overcome those who own the right to hire and fire them under conditions that mutate with the times. Moreover, the lack of solidarity is not only due to inadequate organisation, but down to lack of unity of enlightened desperation: It requires the participation of a broad range of people of centuries-long indoctrination who are everything from too in need of their income to feed their own, to comfy enough in their consumer habits and don’t want to rock that yacht.

The most quickly dismissed are the ones who stand up. Given that the elections that dominate much of the world’s news these days are in a myriad of ways rigged at their outset, voting is anything but standing up. It serves first as an outlet of plausible freedom. If we really wanted the world free of its oppressors, the world’s workers’d be on strike and her unemployed boycotting everything else.

And the action alone is not enough. If it’s true that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, the strike would have to be permanent.

solidarity forever

9 responses to “The Fist of May

  1. But,they ARE furloughed and involuntarily boycotting.

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_revolution
    (all references below are to the city on the hill here in the newish world.)
    what is the average savings per capita of the lower 50%? 500$? for a family of 4 I think it’s $1000. job loss/work stoppage means eviction w/in 30 days, generally speaking.

    a mass strike would have to involve seizure of food and formation of you know soviets or whatever to protect people from eviction. eviction by the sheriff and/or cops and/or armed security of the owners/banks. it would likely have to involve seizure of unused property, the over-capacity of stores & unleased/unsold homes. this does nothing to address the fact that w/in 30 days people will start losing their utilities & media services, esp. phones and/or these services will just be disrupted by the State. how long will the revolution last w/o air-conditioning among the walking tubs of proletarian Crisco in the US working class?

    etc., etc. many obstacles. gotta start somewhere. why don’t neighbors get together & protect each other from eviction from home or deportation? what would they need to start doing so?

    if we want to teach the children, the future(tm), valuable life skills, why not teach them how to form a flash mob of about 150 or so of their still in their minority age mates & flash rob a grocery store? and to form that mob w/o advertising it on social media in advance? seizure of food. as john madden might say, flood the zone, the legal zone, w/bureaucratic, financial, and carceral overwork.

    hackers need to learn the value of breaking into sallie mae & Citibank and erasing consumer debt. and fuck the irs too.

    people need to be able to exchange their economic activity, their labor, outside the financial system, to demonetize their time, effort, skill, etc., to barter w/each other rather than thru the boss/bank/gov’t. how do they make that happen?

    it’s hard now to imagine a world w/o the internet, but net neutrality is about to bid us all adieu. local municipalities can set up their own servers & screw
    Comcast & Trumbama’s FCC. worrying about food may quickly be more pressing but we should keep the supertubes flowing if we can.

    I spent some time working w/the US domestic ngo’s known as non-profits, helping them do some collective bargaining type stuff w/utilities & copier services & other vendors & etc. it never crossed anyone’s mind that if you get 150 non-prof’s to barter w/Kinko’s for lower copying fees, Kinko’s takes that money out of their staffs’ pockets cuz labor is their biggest expense. so the strategy geared towards collective “savings” makes people poorer (but hey the non-prof’s get more $$ to feed the homeless or whatever.) so instead of getting these non-prof’s to collectively *beg* the electricity provider or the like for a slightly lower rate, why don’t they all just refuse to pay? even just for one month? (of course I realize that this will never happen. these non-profs generally exist in the US for the same purpose of ngo’s on the international stage, part of the PR strategy of empire. “the nfl supports the united way b/c the nfl cares.”)

    I don’t know. yeah, people’s bodies gonna get churned up in whatever revolutionary gestures one makes. I know that some people are doing this, but if there’s a time to throw oneself against the gears of the machine, isn’t mass deportations one of them?

    anyway, back to the RL & not following my own advice column…

    • Considering my having been brought up in a union family, I cannot believe this only occurred to me post-post: solidarity forever.

      Ruminating on that concept now, I think the solidarity is more of a challenge than the forever. Adequate solidarity means essentially that power at that point will have already lost. Short of that, the challenge is indeed large.

      people need to be able to exchange their economic activity, their labor, outside the financial system, to demonetize their time, effort, skill, etc., to barter w/each other rather than thru the boss/bank/gov’t. how do they make that happen?

      Time Banking is a good way to barter labor. In practice it has so far involved local communities/businesses trading an hour for an hour. The doctor’s time, for example, is worth no more than the cleaning lady/guy’s. Theoretically, I suppose, this could be negotiable, but that, I believe, already begins to contaminate the spirit of the thing. Time Banking has expanded a great deal in the last decade. My guess is most metropolitan areas would have a virtual architecture backing it up, whereby the bookkeeping enables the banking of hours you can spend wherever a service is on offer, so it’s not just a direct barter system.

      But, yeah, again what’s needed for expansion is broader participation, and, indeed, the capture of some more resources. For what it’s worth, I’d bet that anyone reading this can find a restaurant that takes time bucks.

  3. “Moreover, the lack of solidarity is not only due to inadequate organisation, but down to lack of unity of enlightened desperation: It requires the participation of a broad range of people of centuries-long indoctrination who are everything from too in need of their income to feed their own, to comfy enough in their consumer habits and don’t want to rock that yacht.”

    On lack of unity of enlightened desperation. It is interesting to see when that solidarity does break out in an overwhelming popular movement. The hackneyed term is “frustration of rising expectations” typically seems to apply and the power of that solidarity overwhelms (or infects) the authorities sent to put it down.

    “If we really wanted the world free of its oppressors, the world’s workers’d be on strike and her unemployed boycotting everything else.”

    Then we would see which jobs are not bullshit jobs, wouldn’t we. And depending on the proportion who are “workers” how quickly a true general strike exerts power over those who are not.

    “If it’s true that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, the strike would have to be permanent.”

    Flow that out to the practical consequences to currently highly-networked global supply chains of essential and non-essential (bullshit production) of goods and services.

    Ships stranded at sea with goods of both kinds in transit? Assumption that of course the local economy is now the source of goods and services? How local?

    How do the strikers get provisioned?

    Where strikes have been effective in the US in the past two decades, they have been local, targeted against one employer, persistent in demanding a negotiation from power with the employer, having specific negotiating objectives, and rendering the productive facility useless during the strike and more useful after settlement. What does not change is the structure of the establishment and certainly not the firm involved. It becomes neither a cooperative nor a commune.

    What exactly about the social form called “a general strike” becomes permanent? How does that apply vigilance? Is this a general policy of “if we don’t like what’s going on, we’re walking (or sitting or…)”?

    “Peaceful demonstration” was the creation of Gandhi and MLK Jr. to restrain as best they could the repression by overwhelming the mechanicisms of the justice system with too many people to process. The PTB think they have solved that problem. One of the earliest mechanisms was shaming the peaceful protesters with acts of violence. Attacks ON the peaceful protesters never got the same shaming. The delegitimization of the anti-Vietnam protests began October 1967. I oft mentions James Carroll’s The House of War as having some of the best historical coverage of this turn in US government policy.

    Chicago’s May Day lost to the extent that it became organized labor’s spring Columbus Day that was essentially a multi-ethnic workingman’s holiday (the very demographic the Republicans set their eyes on during the Vietnam War).

    There is one Chicago story (apochryphal) from the anti-Vietnam era. One summer day, a woman walked into the regional office of IBM then on Michigan Avenue with heavy and large magnet in her large purse. That was the days of magnetic tape storage of everything. Her passing through a then usual unsecured building caused the sabotage of a sufficient number of tape reels to rethink building security. In its day it was considered a noviolent protest direct action and reported as such in the local movement papers. Today it would get a swift charge of terrorism.

    • Good thoughts and questions. When I think of permanent strike, I envision a state of being. I would venture that the successful indoctrination sees the labor relationship in reverse: the smart boss man pays the un- to semi-skilled some of his earnings for their labor, when in fact it is the worker paying the man so he can be allowed to work. The balance of payment is entirely based on this power relationship and I don’t reckon one can make things fair short of an utter refusal to participate.

      Your noting the shaming of the protester and the lack shaming of acts committed against them immediately brings to mind two factors implicit in my extremely brief reference to the Haymarket as historical origin: infiltration/co-option, and agent provocateurism. A couple of years ago a Berliner cop in civis got busted throwing rocks at the May 1st parade here. Of course he only got busted because a non-cop was able to record him doing it. Also here: the last several years, loads of cars have found themselves alight, exclusively attributed in the press to people in the anti-fa movement, though almost nobody was ever caught. Recently, related to our former vice-mayor’s attempt to get one particular squat extra-judicially evicted, it was discovered that a guy they had finally busted torching a bunch of cars — indeed, he was being held up as a poster badboy of the anti-fa scene — turned out to have come from the neo-nazi scene, attempting to further shame the black block. Not coincidentally, police informants are exclusively of the rightwing extreme, never the left.

      Your comments most definitely point to a need for organization. I just think it is prohibitive in that the organization from the top is made up of like-minded people familiar with their unity of purpose. It’s tough, for example, to get a plurality of cop-types on board with the underclass. Nor, ironically enough, would I particularly want them on my side.

      • your tales of agents provocateurs and neo-nazi attacks on police were echoed in the occupy protests. but they may be the underpinnings of the ‘mayhem’ in berlin, and for that matter in cities around the globe that RT had up last night. for some reason, but this a.m., they’d removed the photos of parisian po-po in flames from molotov cocktails.

        i really appreciated that you’ve noted this: ““It’s supposed to be a peaceful demonstration of (compete cliché here),” I can’t recall hearing it. On the flipside, there’s no rounder a rebuke guaranteed than if you were to state certainly that breaking shit is in fact what it is all about.”

        it reminds me of the angela davis mix tape: “…and you ask ME abut violence?” oh, hell, i’ll go fetch it.

        more in a bit; thanks for posting; the questions and comments are great, too.

    • “I would venture that the successful indoctrination sees the labor relationship in reverse: the smart boss man pays the un- to semi-skilled some of his earnings for their labor, when in fact it is the worker paying the man so he can be allowed to work. The balance of payment is entirely based on this power relationship and I don’t reckon one can make things fair short of an utter refusal to participate.”

      Here’s the nub of the issue with regard to imagination…”when in fact it is the worker paying the man so he can be allowed to work.” The contractor and gig economy make this relationship a little more explicit. The “worker” is paying for the privilege of working for a paying customer through what the “boss” (sometimes it’s an algorithm instead of a person now) arbitrarily deducts from the payment. Arbitrarily because the costs of setting up software and advertising online do not of themselves cost the billions of dollars these companies are booking as capitalization in order to compensate the “genius” who set up the con their money spigot. Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” applies here.

      The power is exercised through the carefully staged employers’ strike when wages and salaries get too high. The 2000 IT meltdown was an excellent example of an employers strike with the beginning signals articles in CIO like “Are corporations benefiting enough from their IT expenses?” And “Is the H1-B IT labor market running dry?” Or “Will broadband providers ever recoup their investment costs in optical technology?” What had happened is the Y2K push had bid up IT jobs, and now that that was over corporations wanted to recoup more than just the savings from completed Y2K projects. “Savings” means “cost cuts” means “labor cuts” and downward pressure on salaries. Within 6 months of those fretting articles, IT jobs were in free fall, the bottom fell out of the software, hardware, and telecom industries (a supply chain ripple), and specialized workers (and not just the COBOL programmers who patched old systems for Y2K) found themselves in long-term unemployment until the salary surveys the employers kept stabilized the numbers at the levels they wanted. We have had two general strikes since the 1990s, and there is likely another on the way soon. Employers going on strike.

      My grandfather was a tenant farmer in South Carolina who raised cotton. He was his own boss. The weather and the productivity of all other cotton farmers affected his income. It was a merchant and banker driven system in the nearby small town. He and folks like him were in an agricultural depression as soon as the demand for cotton for World War I ended in 1920. When he died in 1938, the agricultural economy was still in a depression in South Carolina. Full-blown capitalism was growing in the textile mills but did not become a reality until the 1950s. He at least had the freedom to subsist in most things should he have decided to not produce a year. That is the practical issue of a continuing general strike, one that was much easier to deal with in company mining towns a century ago. More difficult in suburban sprawl regional megalopolises with privatized infrastructures and user-fee oriented public services.

      Coming full circle, imagination will be helped when workers understand how much their employers are making off of them personally and understand it as the price that they are paying for an income stream.

      Another innovation is fragmentation of the workforce through contracting and multiple layers of contracting with each intermediary taking their rent. Where one one could imagine another strike like River Rouge in the US, that is much more difficult for the McDonalds employees within the WalMarts of shopping centers owned by one of the giant commercial real estate firms.

      How to change the organization of production (in the broadest sense, not restricted to industrial production) to eliminate overhead and bosses is the challenge, isn’t it. I suspect that is a particular set of decisions for the workers of every current establishment. Which means that general strikes also have to be specific in their focus and have some idea of what changes are demanded of their establishment in order to move forward. And then there will be the “take this job and shove it” situations that will not survive a general strike.

  4. how necessary is revolution?

    I was shocked by this comment at CP today, re: just passed anniversary of the fun at Chernobyl:
    “The hidden agenda behind the profit-driven media’s deliberate belittling of reactor accidents — and the dangers of radiation — is to protect significant advertising revenue. Big utilities, big pharma, big mining, big universities, and big weapons labs makes billions of dollars from increasing the “background” level of radiation. Official background exposure was 170 millirems per-year for decades; 18 months after Chernobyl it doubled to 360 mR/yr; and it nearly doubled again a few years ago to 620 mR/yr.) “Nuclearists” intend to keep it this way…”

    I had one of those moments of thinking, “this is just not possible,” to ward off the sinking feeling such knowledge engenders. and then, partly by accident, I clicked on the link below:

    http://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/01/mcdonalds-invents-the-frork-to-pitch-its-new-burgers.html

    ah, the cheery bonhomie displayed by cnbc toward the death-dealing global swindlers at McDonalds. like the WHO’s comfy know-nothing boosterism of nuclear power. same ballpark, same game.

    angela davis is right. people “fretting” over the violence inherent in revolution are the kind of people the cops & the system work for, whose class position is blinding.

    • arrgh. a frork w/ freedom fries bristles.

      re: your comment on the youthful angela davis: ‘omnia sunt communia’ … “is the title of an extraordinary new book by Massimo De Angelis. The book, the slogan, and the practice call for new ways of constituting human societies where enclosure, imprisonment, slavery, and war are no longer the means of production and reproduction.”

      and i just realized i never commented on your ‘purity test’ for ngo’s and anti-imperialism. if you mean within the non-profit industrial complex, fat fooking chance, imo.

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