Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jobless Citizens Organize

By the end of the 19th Century, Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor were accepting American capitalism. This was a huge shift from the existing AFL model whose founding Preamble had been constructed around the reality of class consciousness. Prior to this shift from class consciousness to class collaboration, the organization had stood for abolishing wage slavery and preached that capitalism would inevitably create class conflict. After the shift, the organization began proclaiming that class harmony was possible under a benevolent form of capitalism. Under this "benevolent" form of capitalism, organized labor moved away from the horizontal member run model and began structuring itself after the corporate structure of the top-down hierarchy. This is when Labor moved away from class-consciousness and into trade-consciousness, and Business unionism was born!

Here we are 100 years later and the Business Union model has all but disappeared, primarily at the hands of those benevolent capitalists. Years ago Dave Neal did a piece concerning the future of organized labor. The article can be found at H.E.A.R.D., and also at IWW. The piece was pertinent prior to the turn of the Century, and given the further demise of collective workers and the political attack on the public workforce, it's even more pertinent now. The future of the working people arrived at this crossroads years ago, and the devil sang such a sweet tune we were individually mesmerized and Lucifer received the better deal. He walked away with our soul of solidarity. This is what Neal has to say about Business Unionism and its future.

It is my belief that business unionism will eventually die out, and we'll be back to where we were at the turn of the century, where Capital dictates the conditions under which we work without consideration of the consequences -- which are invariably measured in the lives of working people everywhere.

Business unionism won out in the past struggles between Labor and Capital, but in the long run, their vision of worker/owner solidarity is a false one, which is unravelling as we speak, particularly in the wake of NAFTA, GATT, and now MAI. Increasingly, it is Capital who calls the shots, and Labor who takes the lumps -- which explains why hundreds of thousands of working people have been "downsized" for the sake of corporate profits.

What we do from this point forward is what will shape the terrain of the working people for a long time to come. It is time for those in authority to step up and help be the change that our working families so drastically need. Yes, we will all have to make some unwanted sacrifices, but if organized labor truly cares about the working people out here, now would be a good time to show it and carry the torch of social change that will benefit all working people, not just a chosen few. When it is all said and done, it's not the capitalists who are Labor's allies, it's the working people of our world.

I am not naive, I know a shift from craft-consciousness to class-consciousness will not be an easy transition. Any progressive social change will inevitably be a fight of will. Power never cedes power readily; it has to be fought for by the people -- and given the wealth disparity which is so apparent in our country -- as the people participating in the OWS Movement have so eloquently pointed out -- the time for change is ripe!

However, with the continued withering away of business unions, an opening has grown for renewed radical unionism. The challenges are enormous, but the opportunity is there. This has been made possible, conversely, by the greed and machinations of Capital itself -- as the bosses seek to reduce American workers' pay, increase their hours, and slash their benefits, they have themselves created a revolutionary situation.

Management is very aware of this situation, however -- which is why there has been a proliferation of "empowerment sessions" and "team-building" initiatives in companies, where they seek to buy off the workers they still retain with union-style benefits without the unions. In other words, the appearance of empowerment, versus actual workplace empowerment. This masterful PR effort by management reveals the extent to which they'll go to see unionism finally destroyed. Companies want workers to think they're on the same team as their bosses, the way business unions believe. But it's a lie, and always will be.

To all of Organized Labor, there are two questions that need to be asked, followed by sincere discussions of how we can help be the change our people so desperately need. — "If not now, when? If not us, who?"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

OWS Poetry Anthology

People from around the world have been sending poems to the People's Library of Occupy Wall Street in order to create this anthology and show solidarity with the movement. As the OWS movement is horizontal and democratic, all poems are accepted in any language and are subject to be included in the anthology which is updated weekly. The details of submissions can be found on the OWS page I have linked following this poem by Stuart. It is the very first one in the anthology. Keep Occupying!

Taking Brooklyn Bridge
By, Stuart

I apologize Walt Whitman,
when I was young you spoke to me,
I would sit in the old church cemetery
surrounded by the tombstones of patriots
reading you out loud to the stray cats
and you came to me, you sang to me,
showed me myself in everyone and everything,
taught me a democracy of the soul, to live
in the rough and tumble world with dignity,
to grant that same dignity to the people around me.

I apologize Walt Whitman,
I let the song fade into the din
of everyday life, there are excuses
I could make, I will not make them,
I did not carry your song through the streets,
I worried about the strange looks and awkward postures
I might see in those who needed to hear it.
I got complacent, I was informed,
yes, informed, I read the papers, watched the news,
debated over dinners,
knew full well since the days of Reagan
what was happening to the common people like me
that you taught me to love, watched as we were turned
from citizens to consumers to the dispossessed,
and I did not rise up, I did not take to the streets,
did not risk or struggle, did not sing your song
that you so generously gave me.

Over the years I saw the passage of events,
I began to wonder why I and so many others
did not pour into the streets when our votes
were laughed off and our presidency stolen by
fools and plunderers, I wondered why I and so many
others did not challenge the brigand government
when they led us into the unjust war, did not let them
know that the battle we would wage here at home
against that corporate sponsored, oil sopped war of lies
would be far more passionate and just,
I began to wonder why so many citizens did not see that
they were being sold out, duped with the frivolous,
hyped by the hollow, bankrupted by spurious ideologies.

And this unrest began to churn within me,
as I watched the fall of the people, watched
as the great common people were being baited
and cheated by robber barons who would
delight in rekindling the gilded age, to gloat from
their palaces at the miserable, and I wondered
how this could be, how I could be watching the country
I grew up in, the heirs of independence, the tough,
decent, imperfect, hardworking people I venerated
lose the freedom that so many before us fought and died for.

There was a silent book on the shelf, your book,
Walt Whitman, I had kept the exact same copy
I discovered as a youth, inert on the shelf, the song
you taught me muted in the dark, and I was the same
as that book, a song stifled in the closed pages,
serving no one, a dusty decoration.

Then I saw the people who occupied Wall Street
on the news, heard their chants, read their signs,
was drawn by their passion and courage,
and I realized I had watched and wondered
for far too long, that I was perhaps even more guilty
than those who had perpetrated and even profited
from the disaster they now expect us to pay for
because I had done nothing.

My family and I came to stand with the occupiers,
to be one with them,
to raise our voices and march with them, so, that,
at the very least, true freedom and real democracy
would not be ground down without a struggle,
that we could look in the mirror and know
we fought for the just cause, not only for ourselves,
not only for America, but for all people,
now and one thousand years from now,
to tell humanity, to teach them, that freedom is not
purchased on a shopping spree, does not glow
on a TV screen, cannot be put on a credit card,
freedom is a responsibility that one must choose to bear
each and every day and no one can carry it for you,
that you must fight for the freedom of others
in order to have it yourself.

I came to atone for my apathy,
I came to teach the future vigilance,
better to be loud, be awkward, be dirty, be flawed,
you who are to come, make the people uncomfortable
because they are too timid to join you,
make the leaders uncomfortable
because they know you are unafraid,
I tell you that it is better to be one of the great democratic
people than it is to be a lord or a peasant.

We began to march from Liberty Square, a place
that now fully deserves its name, toward
the Brooklyn Bridge, and we chanted and sang
and called to those who watched to join us,
and there was a feeling in the air, a passion that
joined together every hearty soul, we all knew
we were on the side of the just, that we meant
no harm to any person, that we sought no more
than what was fair and sought it not only for ourselves,
and several times on the march my eyes welled with tears,
my emotions overwhelmed by the chaotic, brilliant
beauty of those marchers, of that which we marched for.

The long line of the protesters wound beneath
the towers of those who would squander the world,
devouring all that is good with their insatiable appetites,
making our way to the Brooklyn Bridge and when I saw
the towers of the bridge before me I started to laugh,
what better way to pay back Walt Whitman than to honor
his song at the crossing to Brooklyn,
to march across the bridge
over the waters he crossed so many times,
the bridge that poets have embraced as a symbol,
not only of ingenuity and progress,
not only of endeavor and perseverance,
but as a symbol of democracy,
of the great crossing of humanity from tyranny to freedom.

They are here Walt and I am with them, the African father
pushing his daughter in a stroller,
she holding a sign that proclaims
she too will fight for her future, the old man singing
‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ with wit and irony,
the veterans who know only too well of betrayal,
the young girl with bright fiery hair
whose strong voice chants, “We got sold out,
banks got bailed out!” the unshaven college boy
who has slept in the park for two weeks
seizing the future with determined hands,
the middle aged lady, vibrant and experienced, rallying us
to raise our voices, the mother and daughter holding a sign
that reads –
America, Can you hear us now! All ages, all races,
all voices, songs and chants overlapping, strangers becoming comrades.

As the marchers cross the bridge
on the pedestrian walk way
we see that a radical few have veered off onto the road,
blocking the traffic, arms linked, faces resolute,
an infectious spirit fills the air,
there is no way I can not join them,
my family and I climb the rail,
with many hands reaching out to help us,
we jump down and walk with them, this is not a day
to be a pedestrian, it is a day to agitate.

Many more come clambering down and you
can feel the tension rise, the police growing in number,
the people marching, earnest, a point has to be made,
the bridge has to be taken, and then we see the barricades
before us, the crowd jamming together
as those behind us keep coming forward,
the police now closing in from both sides,
we are trapped not quite half way across the bridge,
and many are firm that they will not just leave,
some climb on dangerous girders to escape as others
call out to them to be careful, others sit and get ready
for their arrest, some are confused, not knowing that they
would come to this end, I see an older man,
the first I think to be arrested
and there is both strength and weariness on his face
as he glares at the police with fearless eyes,
and though as it turned out
we had been stopped there and would go no further,
our true momentum was not halted,
I knew we had triumphed, because we had taken action,
the people had risen, and with no violence or hatred,
we had shown our willingness
to risk and struggle for our liberty,
and while it might seem a small thing to some,
an event to go largely unnoticed, not as bloody as a battle,
or news worthy as a riot,
I knew that we had come to the Brooklyn Bridge
and given it the meaning poets had sought
to give it in their words,
we had brought the rough,
sacred spirit of democracy to the Brooklyn Bridge,
we had restored Whitman’s song to it’s very birthplace,
for he had called to us, the future,
in his song, he sings to us now,
he knew that we would be here,
he stands with us, chants with us,
and here I am on the Brooklyn Bridge
on a day as important as any day that has ever passed,
watching Walt Whitman above the bridge towers,
sounding his barbaric yawp
above us, calling down the sign of democracy,
calling us to remember, not just one amazing day,
but the task to come - Sing on – Sing on – Sing on!

Much, much more! Visit the OWS Poetry Anthology page for more. The anthology is on-going, but you can download the current PDF compilation here. Pass the word and keep Occupying!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Run - The Anarchists Are Coming

We all have heroines and heroes. Mine just happen to be those who have gained my trust. People such as Howard Zinn and Utah Phillips. In my humble opinion, honesty drips off these two anarchists like honey off the comb.

I wince every time I see or hear the attacks on anarchism. With the occupations on-going, the word anarchist or anarchism will likely cross your screen numerous times - if not now, it will in the future. Inevitably the media will do their part in trying to portray anarchism as chaotic and destructive. I have an issue with that big brush - one sided - definition of an anarchist. Some of my most favorite people are anarchists, and I'm glad they are!

Can any critical thinker really say the anarchist Howard Zinn was representative of chaos and destruction? Do you feel threatened by his dissent?

Does the anarchist Utah Phillips conjure up visions of destructive behavior and physical threat in your mind? Is it possible that anyone would see Utah's anarchism as a threat?

Please do not let the media place you into their self-constructed boxes which seem to destroy humanity and its values more times than not. My personal belief is that we need more anarchists and less ideology! At least more like these two!
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