For all the conversations around here, and that I overhear and find myself stuck in everywhere I go, about the stupidity and ignorance of “average” people, it’s nice to see that, in the end, Marx, Bakunin, Kroptokin, Malatesta and the like (including myself) have at least one thing going for ourselves: reality. Sure, all those “dead white Europeans” 100-some years ago thought the end of capitalism was a moment away, but despite under-estimating the staying power of the State, they did get it entirely right when it comes to the singular revolutionary potential of the working class. Though the “crisis of capitalism” has lasted much longer than they assumed, the enormity of it’s present state is bringing fresh possibilities. And, just as it should be, it’s the worker’s themselves who are on the front lines. You can have your window-smashing, your ideological debates, and your self-assuring assumptions and over-estimations of your lifestyle’s revolutionary power; I’ll take the working class’ instinct for self-preservation over any of it.
Case in point: union factory worker’s in Chicago who, faced with three days notice that their jobs were being eliminated and their plant closed, chose instead to simply take-over the plant and hold accountable their bosses, their bosses bosses (i.e., the government), and their bosses bosses boss (i.e., the bank). It’s the first factory take-over by worker’s in the U.S. in recent memory, and an important step for the working class in this country. Worker’s throughout much of the rest of the industrialized (and post-industrial) world are much more conscious of the fact that they sell their labor to the bosses under agreed upon pretenses, and unjust violations of that pact can and should be met with a powerful reminder that the wealth of the wealthy is build on the backs of those who labor. Mis-education and ignorance of the population are powerful cards that the capitalists in this country have played like world-champion poker players, but none of it is enough to overcome the fact that the population at large only has so much tolerance for suffering and servitude; the possibility of social upheaval rests squarely on the moment of working people finally having enough, and the “economic crisis” of today is providing the perfect environment for these seeds to germinate.
Now, I know that first paragraph might be a bit over the top; I know that this lone instance is not a massive step towards social revolution. In fact, the situation at this one factory will likely be resolved by the plant owner’s conceding to pay something to the employees and in all likelihood the union may even make some concessions along the way. But the fact of the matter remains that this instance represents just one step along a long road. And the small victory that it does win for these worker’s (their situation will change from three days notice of losing their jobs, their health care, and their vacation time to something close to two months or more of pay and benefits) will have a lasting effect on other worker’s throughout the country, who are or soon will find themselves in the same situation. Most impressively, these worker’s took management’s excuse (“the bank cancelled our line of credit”) and went right to the source, asking how it is that Bank of America could receive $25 billion in Federal (i.e., taxpayer) money and then be directly responsible for the the loss of good-paying jobs. Rightly, the worker’s called this situation exactly what it is: a violation of their rights.
The next step, which is quite possible for us to see in the coming months, will be for worker’s to not merely occupy the factory to demand that management be held accountable to existing labor contracts (in this case, the union contract that the company signed guarantees 75 day’s notice before any job cuts, and that’s all the worker’s are immediately demanding: that the legally binding contract be honored), but in fact the worker’s themselves can and should simply keep the factory (or office or shop or whatever their work is) operating. Once U.S. worker’s begin to realize that they can do the work themselves, without someone sitting in an office collecting a salary on their backs, the revolutionary potential of the moment will be on the verge full-scale social upheaval.
Street fights with cops, symbolic property destruction, these things do and will have their moment of usefulness; in the meantime, the real challenge to capitalism and the State comes when their entire system is at risk; and their entire system is at risk when “average people” understand that the wealth created by their work should be kept in their hands and not funneled away to the top of some arbitrary social pyramid. Congratulations, and good luck, to the U.E. worker’s at Republic Windows and Doors of Chicago.
To expand upon my point of how radicals should interact and support the revolutionary potential of events such as this, and to give a brief update about what has actually been happening at the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago: local members of the IWW (anarchist-syndicalist labor union) and the Four Star Anarchist Collective helped mobilize folks to turn out for a support rally outside the factory where about 100 people showed. They’ve also helped organize (along side leadership and members of UE Local 1110- the union that represents the RW&D workers) a rally this coming Tuesday at Bank of America. At least two members of the IWW/FSAC are inside the plant with the worker’s helping to coordinate next steps as well as the procurement of food and other resources for the worker’s. Surprisingly, and nicely, the more lifestyle-oriented Food Not Bombs has contacted UE organizers and offered to assist in providing food for the approximately 200 worker’s inside. There is also 24 hour security to watch for police raids and management saboteurs. Solidarity pickets have been on-going and another one is scheduled for today (Sunday) from noon-8:00. A decent source for more updates and information is over at pilsenprole, a blog published by one of the Wobblies on the ground. The UE’s website isn’t too bad for updates and further info either.
So if you’re wondering what the face of revolution actually looks like, it’s something akin to this:
Good luck, and solidarity, to UE Local 1110 and the worker’s of Republic Windows and Doors. If you’re in the Chicago area, get down there and offer a hand; if you’re not, help spread the word and take a quick moment to tell Bank of America that it’s their responsibility to use the $25 billion in our money that they were given by the Fed to protect worker’s like these.