Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Feedback for 'Remains to be Seen'

Until this week I had a fear of history books. Remains to be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill's Ashes in New Zealand by Jared Davidson dispelled my fear with its stunning layout, exceptional readability and perfect length (85 pages). The book’s subtitle might be a little misleading, as the book takes us through events that seem to have produced no trace of Joe Hill's ashes in New Zealand whatsoever. The journey, however, is very informative, revealing sad truths about New Zealand's history and the origins of today's repressive state. If a history book should do anything it is to kindle an interest in the past. Davidson's book left me with inspiration to learn more of Joe Hill and dissenters during World War I, and therefore comes highly recommended. – Arthur Price.
From the Labour History Project Newsletter #52.

Remains to Be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill's Ashes in New Zealand is a quite exceptional contribution to the scanty published literature on the history of the radical left in this country, and its importance far outweighs its modest size. Davidson's research is wide-ranging and very thorough, and has turned up a surprising number of primary documents which were unfamiliar to me and other historians who have been working in this field for a far longer period. This material has been assembled with flair, clarity and rigorous historical accuracy. Where conjectures and assumptions were made, they were identified as such and strongly supported by background evidence, including a number of telling international comparisons. The result is a minor triumph which has already made a considerable impact in this country and, I hope, will also be read overseas.  —Mark Derby
From Mark Derby, Chair of the Labour History Project Inc. and author of Prophet and the Policeman.

Remains to be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill's Ashes in New Zealandis a stunning red, black, and white cover in lino-cut style. Its beautiful typeset pages tell of the afterlife of Hill, an early-20th-century Chicago unionist and songwriter.  – Chris Brickell.
From New Zealand Books, 21(96), Summer 2011.

The Wobblies were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an early 20th century socialist movement pressing for reform of workplace and society. Joe Hill was an American labourer and union leader, a Wobbly rescued from obscurity by the popularity of radical songs he wrote. he was elevated to martyrdom in 1915 and continues to be remembered in labour mythology after he was executed for murder (at Woodstock, Joan Baez sang the famous tribute song written about him). His body was cremated, the ashes placed in parcels, and sent to countries where the IWW was active, including New Zealand. Jared Davidson investigates what happened to the ashes sent to New Zealand. His search ends in conjuncture but the story is interesting, until it descends to a mixture of socialist polemic and 'expose' of governmental repression of socialists.  – Mike Crean.
From The Press.

Remains to be Seen is largely a historical account of the New Zealand state’s repression of militant labour during World War One... The book is an easy read and doesn’t require a great amount of prior knowledge about labour history on the part of the reader and would serve as a good introduction to anyone wanting to discover more about repression of dissent in New Zealand during the first world war. Some of the material may come as a shock to those unfamiliar with this history. Byron Clark.
From The Spark.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January Books & Beers: Pro-Feminist Men – Fellow Travelers or False Friends?

'Books and Beers’ invites you to a reading/social group dedicated to good ideas and good beer!

Evey so often we will be getting together at a pub to discuss a chosen paper, zine or book. From topical themes and radical history, to ideas around organising and other random rants, we hope to gain some knowledge, exchange ideas, and have a few beers while doing it.

Our first reading for 2012 will be a paper translated from the French: ‘Pro-Feminist Men: Fellow Travelers or False Friends’ (read it or download it here: Have a read, then join us in a conversation, hot chips, and a brew.

WHEN: Tuesday 31st of January, 6.00pm
WHERE: The Pegasus Arms (Oxford Terrace, down from the Christchurch Hospital)

Books & Beers is an informal, open space and anyone interested is welcome to take part.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why wharfies are striking – in their own words (+ photos)

Articles and photos by Simon Oosterman. Hi-res photos are available here. Please feel free to distribute. 

The media have given plenty of space to Ports of Auckland management, but nobody has canvassed the opinions of those most affected by the company’s decisions, the workers. Here we get behind the news to the men, their wives and the children affected by the Ports of Auckland actions and proposals.

For the background to the dispute read the Maritime Union of New Zealand and Council of Trade Union fact sheet and the Port of Auckland’s industrial dispute updates

The Thorton family: “They want drones when we are actually parents”

FAIR ROSTERING: From the left – Max Thorton (5), Shaun (43), Nina (4), Amy (5), Leah (37) and Ben (9). Photo: Simon Oosterman

Shaun Thorton, 43, drives a straddle at the Ports of Auckland where he has worked for 18 years. He met his wife Leah at the port where she worked before becoming a fulltime mum looking after their four kids: Ben (9), twins Max and Amy (5) and Nina (4).

“We want predictability so we can have a family life,” he says. “We only get one weekend off every third weekend meaning I work 35 weekends in the year. I’m striking for the kids.”

Leah interrupts: “and for the marriage”.

“Shaun’s work is a nightmare for me and the kids,” she says. “Dad only went to two soccer games last year and couldn’t come to the preschool Christmas party. We’ve learnt to live with it but it’s far from perfect.”

“It’s clear from the ports casualisation plan that they want drones, when we are actually parents. You can’t sustain a family as a casual and deal with the everyday stuff parents have to put up with. One of our kids has a chronic illness and another is getting progressively deaf in one ear. I should be able to count on partner to help out with hospital visits and specialist’s visits.

“Everyone complains about irresponsible teenagers going out on town and they wonder where their parents are. They are here and in other unsociable jobs. The only other option to this work is working on the minimum wage.

“It astounds me that they are trying to increase productivity by ruining our work life balance – do they want people sleeping on the job?” she says. “Can I complain to the company about not having annual leave or sick days?”

The Wallace family: “It’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too”

FAMILY TIME: From centre left – Mark Wallace, Ashley (9), Rebecca (7) and Katrina. Photo: Simon Oosterman

Mark Wallace is a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He worked his way up from a casual to a permanent crane driver over 18 years. Mark and wife Katrina have two children, Ashley (9) and Rebecca (7).

“I’m trying to protect my family life,” he says. “The company wants the right to tell me at midnight, eight hours before a shift, that I don’t have the shift anymore. How can I plan a family life around that?”

“The company goes on about caring for its employees, but they treat us like shit. We’ve given them the best container rates ever. If they really cared about us, we’d be inside working. We had to strike at Christmas just to get time off with our kids.”

Katrina, is a self-employed dress-maker who works from home.

“I brought the kids down to the picket show solidarity with my husband,” she says. “But it’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too. The company’s proposed changes would be hard for me and the kids. I couldn’t take on huge jobs because I wouldn’t know day-to-day what Mark would be doing. I wouldn’t even be able to count on him to pick up the kids from school.”

The Witehira family: “Keeping family time is more important than a pay rise”

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Jermaine Witehira (31), Jayda (1), Karine (2), Gabrielle (5) and Destiny. Photo: Simon Oosterman

Jermaine Witehira, 31, got his first ever job at the Ports of Auckland where he has been working as a stevedore for 14 years. Jermaine and wife Destiny have three children, Gabrielle (5), Karine (2) and Jayda (1)

“I’m doing this for my family and my mates,” he says. “A 10% pay rise isn’t worth the new casual roster system – family time is more important than a pay rise.

“The company says we earn $91k a year – I‘ve never earned that in the 14 years I’ve been here. I get around $64k but I have to work 24 hours overtime and that costs my family.”

Destiny says Jermaine doesn’t see his kids because he leaves for work at 5:30am and gets back at 11:30pm.

“Being a young family is hard enough, but with his hours it feels like I’m a solo mum,” she says. “If the company gets what it wants I’ll have to put my kids in day care and get a job. The thing is that the job would probably only just cover day care costs and I’d have to find a job that worked around casual hours.”

Brandon Cherrington

FAMILY PICKET: Brandon Cherrington and his 1 1/2 year old daughter. Photo: Simon Oosterman

Brandon Cherrington, 38, has worked at the Ports of Auckland for 1½ years. He is a permanent part-timer and is only guaranteed 24 hours a week. Brandon has a 1½ year old daughter.

“This strike is all about our families,” he says. “We are here supporting the boys to keep and improve our conditions. With the company’s [proposed] new flexibility, they want us to be on call and I won’t be able to plan activities with my daughter anymore.”

Shaun Osbourne

JOB SECURITY: Casual worker Shaun Osbourne on the picket line. Photo: Simon Oosterman

Shaun Osbourne works at the Ports of Auckland. Because he is a casual employee, he hasn’t had a single guaranteed hour in the eight years he has worked there.

“My shifts are allocated the day before I go to work,’ he says. “I could get anywhere between eight and 48 hours a week which could be in the morning, afternoon or graveyard or a combination of the shifts. I won’t be crossing over. We’ve got to make sure permanent workers don’t end up like us casuals.”

Wayne Wolfe

FACTS: Wayne Wolfe has done his research. Photo: Simon Oosterman

Wayne Wolfe, 58, works as a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He has worked on the ports for 35 years. Wayne has three adult children and two grandchildren, including a two-week old baby. Wayne is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.

“Many of these young fellas are casuals and have had busted up marriages because of their casualised hours,” he says. “When I first joined, conditions were brilliant and I am doing my best to leave it that way.”

Ron Bell

PICKET: Local 13 member Ron Bell (53). Photo: Simon Oosterman

Ron Bell, 53, is a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He will have worked on the waterfront for 31 years this coming April and has been union since he was 17. He has four daughters Jac (20), Katherine (18) and twins Samantha and Amanda (15). He is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.

“I just want our guys to keep their jobs on decent hours and not get shat on waiting by the phone 24 hours a day,” he says. “People before us made our conditions what they are today and they should stay that way.”

Ken Ziegler

STAUNCH: Ken Ziegler standing tall. Photo: Simon Oosterman

Ken Ziegler, 49, has worked as a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland for 12 years. Ken is the main provider for his son Carlos (10). He is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.
“It’s really simple,” he says. “The company is trying to casualise the entire workforce to keep labour costs down.”

Napo Kuru

SOLIDARITY: Casual Napo Kuru stands with permanent workers. Photo: Simon Oosterman

Napo Kuru, 27, has worked as a casual lasher at the Ports of Auckland for four years.
“I’m on $16 an hour as a casual and can get anywhere between 16 and 30 hours a week,” he says. “We have the same fight as the permanent boys. They want everyone to be cheap which will drive down everyone’s pay.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Kentucy Fast Core...

Still really enjoying Hellnation. Favorite EP so far: Split w. Sink (1997), which is also featured on Thrashcore.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Communisation as revolution: Endnotes

Endnotes is an irregularly published communist theoretical journal produced by a discussion group of the same name based in Britain and the US. The original group was formed in Brighton, UK in 2005 primarily from former members of the journal Aufheben, after a critical exchange between Aufheben and the French journal Théorie Communiste.

The first issue of the Endnotes journal, published in 2008, presented a debate between Troploin and Theorie Communiste (TC) on the character and meaning of the 20th Century revolutions, with the intention of initiating a wider discussion in the anglophone world around the theory of communisation. It's an excellent read, and is available free online.

Some of the content is quite difficult to grasp, especially in the way TC puts forward its thesis. But persevere—it's well worth it. Even just reading the Introduction and Afterward gives the reader a sufficient overview of the what is termed the programmatic approach of the old workers movement, which after the restructuring of capital in the 60s and 70s is no longer viable (if it ever was):

“The workers’ movement that existed in 1900, or still in 1936, was neither crushed by fascist repression nor bought off by transistors or fridges: it destroyed itself as a force of change because it aimed at preserving the proletarian condition, not superseding it. … The purpose of the old labour movement was to take over the same world and manage it in a new way: putting the idle to work, developing production, introducing workers’ democracy (in principle, at least). Only a tiny minority, ‘anarchist’ as well as 'marxist', held that a different society meant the destruction of State, commodity and wage labour, although it rarely defined this as a process, rather as a programme to put into practice after the seizure of power…”
One of the main concepts throughout the book is that capital is a mode of production, not a mode of management. So when in 1920 anarchists like Malatesta wrote:

“Enter into relations between factories and with the railway workers for the provision of raw materials; come to agreements with cooperatives and with the people. Sell and exchange your products without dealing with ex-bosses.”

TC reply:

“Sell and exchange your products”: in the very injunction of Malatesta to pursue and deepen revolutionary combat resides its failure and reversal into counter-revolution... To take over the factories, emancipate productive labour, to make labour-time the measure of exchange, is value, is capital. As long as the revolution will have no other object than to liberate that which necessarily makes the proletariat a class of the capitalist mode of production [rather than capitalist relations itself], workers’ organisations which are the expression of this necessity will employ themselves to make it respected [ie be in the contradictory position of forcing workers to produce, as in Spain 1936]"

The purpose of the communist revolution is not to simply manage production and distribution without bosses (self-managed capitalism), but to question the very relations that call capital and the proletariat into being:

"What matters in reality are the social relations which determine human activity as labour — the point is thus the abolition of these relations and not the abolition of work."

So where does that leave us in terms of class struggle today? Well, it informs us of the nature of capital and the proletariat in the present cycle of capitalist relations and the struggles against it; that the programs of the past (with their affirmation of labour and the liberation, rather than the abolition, of labour relations) contained the seeds of their counter-revolution and are no longer relevant; and that today's struggle over revindicative struggles (what TC call struggles over immediate demands such as wages, conditions etc.), can become revolutionary:

"whenever, in these struggles, it is its own existence as a class that the proletariat confronts. This confrontation takes place within revindicative struggles and is first and foremost only a means of waging these struggles further, but this means of waging them further implicitly contains a conflict with that which defines the proletariat. This is the whole originality of this new cycle of struggle. Revindicative struggles have today a characteristic that would have been inconceivable thirty years ago."

This is a super brief and biased overview, so I want to include some more quotes that either questioned or clarified my own understandings of class struggle, and give a sense of the texts within. But better yet, you should read the articles yourself!


  • "The fundamental contradiction of our society (proletariat-capital) is only potentially deadly to capitalism if the worker confronts his work, and therefore takes on not just the capitalist, but what capital makes of him, i.e. if he takes on what he does and is."

  • "The positivity of the proletarian pole within the class relation during the phase of formal subsumption and the first phase of real subsumption is expressed in what TC term the “programmatism” of the workers’ movement, whose organisations, parties and trade unions (whether social democratic or communist, anarchist or syndicalist) represented the rising power of the proletariat and upheld the programme of the liberation of labour and the self-affirmation of the working class. The character of the class relation in the period of the programmatic workers’ movement thus determines the communist revolution in this cycle of struggle as the self-affirmation of one pole within the capital-labour relation. As such the communist revolution does not do away with the relation itself, but merely alters its terms, and hence carries within it the counter-revolution in the shape of workers’ management of the economy and the continued accumulation of capital. Decentralised management of production through factory councils on the one hand and central-planning by the workers’ state on the other are two sides of the same coin, two forms of the same content: workers’ power as both revolution and counter-revolution."

  • "Generally speaking we could say that programmatism is defined as a theory and practice of class struggle in which the proletariat finds, in its drive toward liberation, the fundamental elements of a future social organisation which become the programme to be realised. This revolution is thus the affirmation of the proletariat, whether as a dictatorship of the proletariat, workers’ councils, the liberation of work, a period of transition, the withering of the state, generalised self-management, or a “society of associated producers”. Programmatism is not simply a theory — it is above all the practice of the proletariat, in which the rising strength of the class (in unions and parliaments, organisationally, in terms of the relations of social forces or of a certain level of consciousness regarding “the lessons of history”) is positively conceived of as a stepping-stone toward revolution and communism. Programmatism is intrinsically linked to the contradiction between the proletariat and capital as it is constituted by the formal subsumption of labour under capital."

  • "The liberation of labour is impossible because it calls forth its own counter-revolution as capitalist organisation of work." 

  • "The emancipation of labour is here conceived as the measurement of value by labour time, the preservation of the notion of the product, and the framework of the enterprise and exchange. At those rare moments when an autonomous affirmation of the proletariat as liberation of labour arrives at its realisation (necessarily under the control of organisations of the workers’ movement), as in Russia, Italy and Spain, it immediately inverts itself into the only thing it can become: a new form of the mobilisation of labour under the constraint of value and thus of “maximum output” (as the CNT demanded of the workers of Barcelona in 1936)"

  • "The turn at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies was simply the breakdown of programmatism. “May ’68” was the liquidation of all the old forms of the workers’ movement. The revolution was no longer a question of the establishment of the proletariat as a ruling class which generalises its situation, universalises labour as a social relation, and the economy as the objectivity of a society founded on value."

  • "Does that mean that the revolution and communisation are now the only future? Again this is a question without meaning, without reality. The only inevitability is the class struggle though which we can only conceive of the revolution of this cycle of struggle, and not as a collapse of capital leaving a space open, but as an historically specific practice of the proletariat in the crisis of this period of capital. It is thus this practice which renders the capitalist mode of production irreproducible. The outcome of the struggle is never given beforehand. It is self-evident that revolution cannot be reduced to a sum of its conditions, because it is an overcoming and not a fulfilment. It is communisation which renders the contradiction between the proletariat and capital irreproducible."

  • "The abolition of the proletarian condition is the self-transformation of proletarians into immediately social individuals, it is the struggle against capital which will make us such, because this struggle is a relation that implies us with it. The production of communism is effectuated by a class which finds the content of communism in its own class situation... Communisation is carried out in the struggle of the proletariat against capital. Abolishing exchange, the division of labour, the structure of the corporation, the state…, are measures which are necessarily taken up in the course of struggle, with their retreats and their sudden stops they are just as much tactical measures through which communisation is constructed as the strategy of the revolution. It is thus, through the struggle of a class against capital, that the immediately social individual is produced. It is produced by the proletariat in the abolition of capital (the final relation between capital and the proletariat)..."
  • "The crisis of the social compact based on the Fordist productive model and the Keynesian Welfare State issues in financialisation, the dismantling and relocation of industrial production, the breaking of workers’ power, de-regulation, the ending of collective bargaining, privatisation, the move to temporary, flexibilised labour and the proliferation of new service industries. The global capitalist restructuring — the formation of an increasingly unified global labour market, the implementation of neo-liberal policies, the liberalisation of markets, and international downward pressure on wages and conditions — represents a counter-revolution whose result is that capital and the proletariat now confront each other directly on a global scale. The circuits of reproduction of capital and labour-power — circuits through which the class relation itself is reproduced — are now fully integrated: these circuits are now immediately internally related. The contradiction between capital and proletariat is now displaced to the level of their reproduction as classes; from this moment on, what is at stake is the reproduction of the class relation itself."