Archive for the 'Workers/Unions' Category

The Proletariat and the “Creation of Class”

In an essay on Mao Zeodong’s philosophical  thought Richard Johnson writes:

Because, relative to that of the Communist, the socioeconomic persona of the proletariat is limited–and, give the empirical existence of political vicissitudes, may remain so indefinitely–the chance that from such a basis alone will be launched a coherent, direct, and enlightened politics, is slight.  Understandable then, in this light, is the enigmatic logic of the Manifesto, where, inscribed among the historic character of communists, is the task of the “formation of the proletariat into a class.”  The apparent paradox that an entity that is already a class, must be made to become a class, is comprehensible when it is remembered that the historical process of consciousness is not identical to the consciousness of the historical process; that, moreover, “ideological forms” have a historical depth related to, but not immediately determined by, material development.  It is thus by this logic that the qualitative transformation of empirical, perhaps sporadic, political action into direct, and conscious, class-based political programs exists within the historical scope of an organizing medium led by a group of enlightened elites, vis Communists (211-2).

Reference

Johnson, Ricahrd.  “A Compendium of the Infinite: Exercises of Political Purpose in the Philosophy of Mao Zedong.”  In Critical Perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought, eds. Arif Dirlik, et. al., 207-233.  Amherst, New York: Humanity Books.

Sartre on Class Consciousness

In his work, The Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre elaborates on class consciousness and the formation of working class groups fighting for their own interests:

The events we have studied occurred at a particular moment of the historical process, in a particular field defined by class struggle; and the class struggle itself takes place between [individuals] who are produced by the contemporary mode of production…Conversely the working class defined itself by and through this struggle by its degree of emancipation, that is to say, both by its practices and by its consciousness of itself (which amounts to the same thing). But in truth, the workers’ tactics, the militancy of the proletariat and its degree of class-consciousness are determined not only by the nature, differentiation and importance of the apparatuses (unions, etc.) but also by the more or less immediate opportunity for serial individuals to dissolve their seriality in combat groups, and by the aggressiveness, violence, tenacity and discipline of these groups themselves in the course of the action they undertake (699).

Source

Satre, Jean-Paul.  2004.  Edited by Jonathan Ree and translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume 1.  New York: Verso.

The Worker, Scarcity, & Violence

The mines of Serra Pelada by Sebastião Salgado.

The mines of Serra Pelada by Sebastião Salgado.

Jean-Paul Sartre writes:

Engels was right to say that very often, when two groups engage in a series of contractual exchanges, one of them will end up expropriated, proletarianised and, often, exploited, while the other concentrates the wealth in its own hands.  This takes place in violence, but not by violence: and experiencing exchange as a duel in this way is characteristic of the man of scarcity.  Though the result is appropriated in violence by the dominant class, it is not foreseen by the individuals who compose it. (Sartre, 153-154)

Source

Sartre, Jean-Paul.  Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume I: Theory of Practical Ensembles.  Edited by Jonathan Rée Translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  London: New Left Books, 1976.

Italy During the Time of the Soviet Revolution

Italian factory occupation

Italian factory occupation

In their edited work, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, editors Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith write about the period right before the founding of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI):

[I]t was not until the spring of 1920, on the eve of the great Turin metalworkers’ strike, that Gramsci began to pose correctly the relation between mass institutions and the revolutionary party.  He then wrote an article-destined, to the horror of the P.S.I. delegates, to be described by Lenin as “fully in keeping with the fundamental principles of the Third International”-entitled “For a Renewal of the Socialist Party”, in which he said, notably: “The existence of a cohesive and strongly disciplined Communist Party which, through its factory, trade-union and co-operative nuclei, co-ordinates and centralises within its own executive committee all of the proletariat’s revolutionary activity, is the fundamental and indispensable condition for attempting any Soviet experiment.”  But by this time, as Gramsci was to recognise with bitter self-criticism in subsequent years, the task of national co-ordination of the proletariat’s revolutionary activity had been left too late.  The April metalworkers’ strike was in fact the high point of revolutionary mass struggle in the postwar years; and it was only after its defeat that the Ordine Nuovo group attempted to sink its theoretical differences with Bordiga, in order to participate in the process of creating an Italian Communist Party.  It was only after the defeat of the factory occupations in September, i.e. after the effective end of the period of postwar revolutionary upsurge, that the Party was in fact formed-on Bordiga‘s terms. (Hoare and Smith, xl)

Source

Gramsci, Antonio.  Selections from the Prison Notebooks.  Eds. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith.  New York: International Publishers, 2008.

The Assassination of Rolando Olalia

Rolando Olalia of the Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor Center

Rolando Olalia of the Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor Center

Kim Scripes writes about the assassination in 1986 of KMU chairperson Rolando Olalia:

There was a mass outpouring of grief among Filipino workers and peasants in response to “Ka Lando’s” assassination.  Twenty-five thousand people spontaneously protested outside the military headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.  But the biggest show of respect was the 12-hour funeral march that drew close to one million people.  (Scripes, 47)

After the killing of Olalia and the deaths of other workers rights activists and KMU union women and men the KMU began to actively campaign against the right-wing Aquino government.  Scripes quoted then newly elected Chairperson Crispin “Ka Bell” Beltran as saying:

UP to that time, KMU was totally for the preservation and protection of the Aquino government; we can say, without any fear of contradiction, that Lando Olalia was sacrificed for this government.  Evidence is now cropping up [that] he was targeted to create chaos, especially among the workers’ ranks.  The anger [of] the workers against the government [was supposed to] create a revolutionary situation and then the military would have this as a pretext to crush the workers’ movement and establish a civilian-military junta.  The over-all game was to move the Aquino government as a whole towards the right.  And under the complete control of United States imperialism.

After this incident…we adopted an oppositionist stance [to] the policies of the Aquino government.  (50)

Source

Scripes, Kim.  KMU; Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994.  Quezon City, Philippines: New Day Publishers, 1996.

The funeral march of Rolando Olalia.

The funeral march of Rolando Olalia.

Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines

KMU Rally

Kim Scipes interviewed a top leader in the Kilusang May Uno (KMU, or May First Movement) Labor Center in 1986 about what it meant to be a genuine and militant trade union:

By “genuine,” we mean that the KMU is run by its members.  The members are given all information and decide the policies which run the organization.  By “militant,” we mean that the KMU will never betray the interests of the working class, even at the risk of our own lives.  The KMU believes workers become aware of their own human dignity through collective mass action.  By “nationalist,” we beleive the wealth of the Philippines belongs to the Filipino people and that national sovereignty must never be compromised.  The KMU is against the presence of the U.S. bases. (Scripes, 10)

Scipes states that:

The statement about never betraying the interests of the working class, even at the risk of KMU leaders’ own lives, is not hyperbole; many KMU organizers, leaders and members have been arrested and or killed. (ibid.)

Source

Scipes, Kim.  KMU; Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994.  Quezon City, Philippines: New Day Publishers, 1996.


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