Monday, October 31, 2011

Past to Present: Lessons of the New Zealand Labour Movement (video of Occupy workshop)

'Past to Present: Lessons of the New Zealand Labour Movement' was a workshop I gave at Occupy Christchurch.

Due to the massive scope of the topic I limited my focus to major union struggles, but this should not be taken that I believe the union movement is the working class movement in New Zealand. There are so many struggles outside and against the unions that could also be talked about, but time did not permit this.

0.00 to 31.00 gives an overview of union struggles in New Zealand, and draws out lessons that could inform our future activity. Comments and responses follow, and includes talk about the nature of capital, general strikes, Occupy and the workers movement, co-operatives, and whether one can escape capitalism.

There were about 15-20 in the workshop, with people coming and going on the periphery as well. There was lots of nodding, which I guess is a good sign, and I hope this perspective has contributed to the analysis happening down at Christchurch Occupy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The General Strike: The Strike of the Future, by Lucy Parsons

From RecompositionThis is a speech given by the famous anarchist Lucy Parsons. This excerpt in particular is particularly relevant to the Occupy movement and recent discussions of a general strike:

“Nature has (…) placed in this earth all the material of wealth that is necessary to make men and women happy. (…) We simply lack the intelligence to take possession of that which we have produced. (…) My conception of the future method of taking possession of this is that of the general strike: that is my conception of it. The trouble with all the strikes in the past has been this: the workingmen like the teamsters in our cities, these hard-working teamsters, strike and go out and starve. Their children starve. Their wives get discouraged. (…) That is the way with the strikes in the past. My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production.”

For Parsons, a general strike and an occupation are synonyms. 

The rest of the speech can be read here. Other elements resonate greatly with the present moment. Parsons discusses her experiences with the police and state murder of her husband, sadly relevant to recent police violence. Parsons talks about how U.S. residents drew inspiration from struggles around the world, another parallel to the present where protests around the world look to each other for ideas and motivation. Parsons also discusses gender divisions within movements of her day, issues which we still need to address today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

PDF Zine of libcom's introductions on capitalism, class, and class struggle

I've just finished designing a downloadable, ready-to-print PDF adapted from's introductions to capitalism, class, and class struggle.* Includes graphics (the prole pyramid is the centerfold). Hope that it may be of some use.

*a section on unwaged work has been added.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Occupation or Just a Gathering?

From The “Occupy Wall St.” model has done what many have tried and failed, it has pushed past the apathy and created a venue for possibility. In cities and towns across the country people are finding one another in situations few ever dared to venture into before. Meetings are being held, food shared and ideas discussed. But as one participant put it - “The fuzzy ultra-left ideal about forging new kinds of relationships through struggle and finding each other and such can’t just be about meeting in space and time, otherwise we could start a bowling league and be done with it.” What the gatherings themselves lack is a coherent substance, a sense of self-understanding. Towards this end, we raise the following questions.

An Occupation or Just a Gathering?
The term occupation is often associated with a few things, namely the idea of disruption of or interference with the flow of goods or capital. When you ask for permission, when you seek a permit, the “occupations” become ‘camping’ and the term becomes a catch phrase.

The original encampment, which has spawned many franchises in it’s wake, has been likened to other movements from around the globe, most notably the Tahrir Square occupations this past January. The major differences between the movement currently emerging in the US and those of the square occupations throughout Northern Africa and Europe is strength. It was not merely the fact that 50,000 people took over Tahrir Square, it was the fact that they would not be forced to leave that made the difference. As a movement they were ready to physically defend the areas they had liberated and attack those trying to destroy it. By deciding on a strategy of “non-violence,”we have cut our legs out from under ourselves. They do not hold Zuccoti park, it is given to them under police supervision, and will be taken away just as easily when the moment is deemed appropriate, i.e. when the police and the mayor have had enough.

When the Occupy Wall St. protestors took their message outside of the NYPD contained area they were attacked. Over 80 arrests occurred when the crowd marched near Union Square. When they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge hundreds were detained and received citations. While the numbers swelled after those attacks, we missed a chance to sway the balance of power for just a moment.
That could change if the parameters of conflict were widened, if new avenues were opened to the possibility of physically holding space, not negotiating for it’s rental. Our individual refusals are small but collectively it is one of the last and strongest weapons we can wield together.

Are we Anti Capitalists or just Anti Corporations?
There is a difference between being an anti-capitalist and being against corporations, or “corporate greed” as some have chosen to describe it. Anti-capitalists reach for a world free of the kinds of social relationships that require domination. Landlords and tenants; bosses and workers; police and prisoners. These are relationships inherent to a capitalist system and to the democracy we live under. It is not indicative of a “broken” system for unemployment rates to soar, inflation to reign and wages to continually drop. The money can not even out, congress can not legislate it’s way to equality. From where we all sit now, our personal freedoms and any wealth we can accumulate is done on the backs of someone else or at our own expense.

Though it may have acquired new forms, none of the poverty or exploitation we are protesting is unique to our modern age of corporate dominance. Regulating or taxing corporations will not come close to solving these problems, because these institutions are only one part of the vast structure of social relationships called State and Capital.

The future is wretched and marked with the poverty we all feel today. This in and of itself is a cause for indignation. When that rage turns towards petitioning congress for a brighter tomorrow or demanding accountability of corporations, we have already lost.

The Police are not our friends!
Capitalism, as a system, is based on a series of relationships between those who have power and those who do not. The police, whether they are a beat cop, a detective or the Chief act as the enforcers of this economic system. They stand between us and the food we need to survive. They evict us from the homes we can no longer afford. Their job is to enforce the laws of capital, the ones created not to keep us safe but to protect capital and ensure the system works as smoothly as it can.
The police who enter our liberated zones, our occupations, are doing so as agents of the State. As individuals they may have families and problems. They may hate their jobs just like the rest of us, but that does not mean they will not do them. If we are to stand together as the proposed 99% we can not allow the thugs and mercenaries of the 1% to pierce our spaces.

Download 'Wobblies Down Under'

Wobblies Down Under

The Swedish-American radical socialist, songster and poet Joe Hill, became a martyr for the working classes world-wide when he was executed in 1915 for a murder he almost certainly did not commit. His ashes were distributed around the world including New Zealand but no trace of them has ever been found here. Researcher Jared Davidson set out to track them down but in the process uncovered the story of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, known as the 'Wobblies') and their repression in New Zealand during the early 1900s and World War 1. (47′06″)
Download: Ogg Vorbis  MP3 | Embed

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Politics averted: thoughts on the 'Occupy X' movement

Politics averted: thoughts on the 'Occupy X' movement
 An analysis on the protests in Ireland and the US from an Irish anarchist. 

What are we to make of the global 'Occupy X' movement which has exploded onto the streets of cities across the world, turning public spaces into campsites of opposition? Certain things are obvious: Firstly, the fact that there are thousands of people across the world taking over public spaces to express their anger at the financial system is undeniably a good thing. Having camped out outside the Central Bank on Dame Street on Saturday night, I can also say that these protests exude a positivity and hopefulness that is so often lacking from the ritualistic parades of anger that make up most protest marches. But there are also, in my view, serious political problems that prevent the movement from moving beyond a 'radical sleepover' and becoming a genuine anti-austerity grassroots resistance movement.

The analysis below is based in my own particular experience of the Dame St. protest on the ground and of the US protests as a media event. Obviously any attempt to discuss a diverse and fluid movement like this as a whole can only ever be approximate and reductive. This account is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to sketch what I see as the major trends and tendencies emerging within the movement, and should be read with that in mind.

Non-politics, incoherence, (neo)liberalism
The 'Occupy X' movement has since its inception shown an extreme aversion to being seen as political. Some aspects of this, such as banning political party banners, are an understandable pragmatic reaction to the tendency of various Leninist parties to hijack these kinds of events by swamping them with flags, banners and paper-sellers. But the anti-politics of the movement, at least on the part of the organising core and the Adbusters collective who issued the call for the original Wall St. protest, is also ideological: an odd synthesis of post-leftist anti-organisationalism (which sees formal political organisations, trade unions, etc. as being necessarily oppressive) and neoliberal post-politicism (which sees a Left vs. Right contest of ideas as being largely irrelevant after the fall of the Berlin Wall). After decades of neoliberal governance and media spin attempting to drive ideology and politics out of public discourse in order to enshrine the liberal-capitalist consensus as being 'above politics' and to reduce political questions to technical ones best dealt with by 'experts', it is perhaps unsurprising, but nonetheless disheartening, to see this depoliticisation reflected in contemporary forms of resistance.

Most obviously, this has been expressed in the movement's unwillingness to attempt to agree on a coherent set of positions beyond some very basic points of unity with no underlying analysis of society. Instead, the occupied space is used by individuals to express a range of incoherent and often mutually contradictory ideas which are related only by being in some sense opposed to the status quo and the political and financial elites. On Saturday, I spoke to individuals who believe in everything from Rawlsian social democracy, to anarchism, to paranoid crypto-anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (the New World Order, etc.), to Stalinism. Of course, the advantage of this is that it's extremely inclusive - the only requirement to participate is a sense that things are not as they should be and that the financial sector and the state are in some way to blame - but this also means that reactionary ideas are treated the same as progressive ones rather than being robustly challenged. In practice, this means that the ideas that come to the fore tend to be those that are already dominant in society: the ideas of the ruling class. In the US context, the dominant messages from Occupy Wall Street have been liberal, reformist and nationalistic: those that posed the least threat to the establishment. For example, a call to "make Wall Street work for America" amounts to little more than a call for increased exploitation of the Third World as an alternative to imposing austerity. A call to reform banking practice to constrain "corporate greed" is merely a call to stabilise capitalism so that the course of exploitation runs more smoothly. The problem is capitalism, not regulatory failure, or corporate greed or a lack of economic patriotism, and the inadequacies of these analyses need to be exposed rather than uncritically welcomed. The Irish protest seems to be following a similar pattern, with a particular anti-IMF/EU flavour.

The theory underlying this anti-politics, so far as I can gather, is this: no two people experience oppression in the same way, and thus any attempt to unite people under a political programme inevitably ends up erasing some people's perspectives. This is superficially quite a pleasing analysis, since it creates a framework under which all ideas can be understood as equally valid, since they all derive from lived-experience, but it's extremely problematic. Implicitly, it denies the possibility of coming to an inter-subjective understanding (i.e. one based in mutual recognition of shared experiences and understanding of differing ones) of oppression through collective discussion and compromise, and instead collapses into a naive relativism that produces a vague and weak politics, which plays into the hands of those who wish to dismiss the protesters as 'hippies' who don't understand the complexities of capitalism. In any case, it's easy to overstate the case for subjective perspectives and ignore the objective factors that shape experiences: the processes and structures of capitalist domination.

Bring back the working-class!
One of the major victories of neoliberalism is the eradication of the working-class from the popular consciousness. One of the results of this is the prevalence of the idea among certain sections of the left that the working-class is no longer relevant to understanding power in the modern world - an outdated idea clung to by old-left dinosaurs. This is reflected in the idea of 'the 99%' which has become the slogan of the 'Occupy X' movement, which expresses a very crude understanding of class, where the ruling class are an arbitrarily defined proportion of the wealthiest people in society. This makes for some great chanting - "we are the 99%!" - but is a poor criterion for membership of an anti-capitalist or anti-austerity movement. Put bluntly: there are an awful lot of capitalists, bosses, managers, bankers, CEOs, politicians, police, prison wardens etc. in the 99%.

Properly understood, class is not a classification system of individuals based on how much money they have, it's a social relation between people that derives from the organisation of labour under capitalism. In other words, it's the way people are forced to relate to one another in order to participate in capitalist society. Class oppression is not a small cabal of the ultra-rich in Wall Street or Washington or Leinster House, it's in every workplace, every police station, every dole queue, every courtroom, every prison and every territory occupied by Western militaries, and can only be sensibly understood as such.

The radically democratic nature of the occupations creates the potential for the movement to evolve in any number of possible directions. Whether or not they become genuine resistance movements depends largely on how much the radical left are willing to engage with them, and re-assert the importance of class politics in understanding and countering oppression, by participating in the actions, discussions, and assemblies. A key hurdle has already been overcome: people are on the streets, expressing their dissent, reclaiming public spaces; it remains to be seen what comes of it.

Originally: October 12, 2011 on Workers Solidarity Movement

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Amsterdam Archives (2011)

In January 1939, the CNT-FAI special services secured 22 boxes of the CNT’s archives just prior to the occupation of Barcelona by the fascist forces of General Franco, and transferred them across Europe to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. This Catalan TV3 documentary (with English subtitles) weaves a thrilling visual tapestry of the CNT’s relations with the international anarchist movements of the day, including the Makhnovists in the Ukraine and the revolutionary movement in Patagonia. It not only talks about anarchism and its history—as well as a sort of anarchism 101—but it looks at the role of records management for social causes. It also shows us through some amazing archives!

Friday, October 7, 2011

'Wobblies Down Under': Labour Day feature on Radio New Zealand

While I was in Wellington for the launch of my book, I managed to catch up with Jack Perkins (of Spectrum fame) for Radio New Zealand National. I'm pleased to say our talk has been turned into a 50 minute feature to be aired on Labour Day, October 24 at 10AM.

Songster, poet and member of the radical socialist Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies, Joe Hill became a martyr for the working classes world-wide. After a funeral in Chicago which attracted over 30, 000 mourners, Joe’s ashes were placed in 600 envelopes with the inscription ‘Murdered by the Capitalist classes’ and sent to Wobblies around the world including New Zealand. No trace of the ashes sent here has ever been found. 'Wobblies Down Under' explores how I set out to track down Joe’s ashes and in the process uncovered a story of the ruthless repression of Wobblies and other socialists in the early 1900s and World War 1.

Featuring music, sound bites from participants in the Great Strike of 1913, and readings from the book, it's well worth a listen. Tune in to 101FM or listen live here:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reproduce & Revolt: stencil & screenprint workshop

On October 2 around 15-20 budding street artists gathered for a community workshop on stencil-making and screenprinting, organised by Beyond Resistance. The three hour session involved a run-down on how to make a stencil, the screenprinting process, and of course, making some prints. There were some nice designs being produced, and thanks to the excellent 'Reproduce & Revolt' book, those of us with limited time or handiwork were able to take home some great wee stencils as well. The odd T-Shirt was also printed... Food Not Bombs Otautahi having planned ahead!

Thanks to the Linwood Community Arts Centre for the use of the space, and everyone who came along. Look out for the next workshop soon.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My screenprinting process

These pics are of an older two colour job for a band called 'So So Modern', designed by Autistk. The poster was printed as an edition of 50 A1's. Hopefully it helps you all understand the screenpritning process a little better.

Here's the seperations. These are the designs, turned into their respective colours/layers, as each colour is printed one at a time. Black on the right, red on the left.

The seps are then stuck to the screen. The key is UV sensitive emulsion (the orange stuff), which is coated onto the screen earlier and needs to be kept out of the light until exposure. I keep my large screens in the attic: smaller screens in a light-safe box I made.

The screen then goes into my UV lightbox for exposure...I use 6 UV bulbs at around 20mins, which burns the design from the seps into the emulsion. The foam on the right pushes the screen flush to the glass when the lid is closed, making a crisp image. You can do this with a halogen lamp, or even the sun.

After exposure, the screens are washed down. The black areas in the design block the light, but the clear areas are burned into the screen. The result is that the blocked areas (the yellowish sections) washes away, making the stencil for printing.

Sweet, so my screen is dry and I'm taping it up so I can print. The orange areas are blocked, so no ink can pass through. It's the other (yellowish) areas where the inks passes through in the printing process.

I use clear packing tape on the gutters, which helps cleaning up the excess ink and stops leakage at the sides.

Screen is locked into my vacuum table using hinges, and the stock is ready to register. I use business cards as a 3 point rego system....I also use that kick arm which holds up the screen and helps for feeding in stock.

The screen is lowered, and I then add the ink. I use waterbased inks so I don't have to deal with chemicals.

Printing the first layer, red. Generally lighter colours go first. This is the repetitive part. So for a 50 poster job I'd do this action 50 times, plus another 50 for the second colour.

And ta da! I work from right to left, and usually get up a bit of pace, which is nice. Loud punk (Minor Threat usually) or national radio is a necessity for this process.

Here's the first colour done.

The screens then get cleaned in my washout area out back. Tape, ink, blood, etc.

Time for the second colour. I line up the second colour with the transparency, then do the same with the screen to make sure registration is ok. This is probably the hardest thing because things can move during the whole process!

Tape it up, line it up, and get ready to brake my back again. Music on.