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Why does Big Union think it can run rough shod over anarchist organizing?
Basically, because anarchists don't pay union dues.
[not that union leadership has much more loyalty to dues paying members]
As part of the anti-g20 Convergence in Toronto, anarchists, anti-authoritarians and anti-capitalists separated from the Labour march on June 26th. After attempts to reach the G20 Security Fence failed numerous times, rioting broke out in the downtown core of the city. In the ensuing weeks, a frenzy of anti anarchist activity has occurred, including public denunciations by the Canadian Labour Congress, its president Ken Georgetti and CUPE-Ontario and its president Fred Hahn.
This article seeks to explore possibilities beyond the finger pointing, scapegoating and conspiracy theories to demonstrate that there was reason for the riots far beyond the lust for wanton destruction. And in fact, some of those reasons lie squarely within the realm of Labour organizing.
Most anarchists do not organize according to their position in the labour market, so the idea of looking at the labour conditions of anarchist communities, organizations or networks is unusual from both the perspective of union organizers and anarchists themselves. Yet it is worthwhile to explore this perspective to dispel fallacious rumour mongering and also to contribute to further analysis of complex issues affecting solidarity amongst diverse social movements.
“Property was damaged, publicly-owned police vehicles were burned, and innocent people were attacked and detained as a result of taking part in protests. All of this is wrong. What we have witnessed is nothing short of the abandonment of the rule of law, both by a small group who took part in the protests, and by a massive and heavily armed police force who were charged with overseeing them. Due process, civil liberties and the right to peaceful protest have been the victim.” Fred Hahn, on behalf of CUPE-O
The Canadian Labour Congress statement emphasized that they "abhor the behaviour of a small group of people who have committed vandalism and destroyed property in activities related to the G20 summit in Toronto."
In reaction to the rioting, Big Union leadership has thoroughly adopted the corporate police state propaganda of characterizing rioters as thugs and vandals committing acts of crime against an innocent population of law abiding citizens.
About 250 members of various unions wrote a statement insisting that the CLC has not been demonstrating enough solidarity with all arrestees from the G20 convergence, and did not take a strong enough stand against police brutality while it emphasized the denunciation of vandalism. CLC president Ken Georgetti, responded with a personal letter in which he re-emphasizes his denouncement of rioters:
“Unfortunately, all of that attention [referring to coverage in the corporate media] was stolen by a small group of thugs who instead wanted to destroy street cars and public property and vandalize and steal from small store owners on Queen and Young Streets.”
Georgetti's statement is disinformation because it sensationalizes isolated occurrences and deliberately ignores and obscures the bigger picture. While a street car was spray painted with a circle 'a' and a few apples were taken from a small grocery store, these incidents hardly characterize the overall action on the 26th. While technically not a lie, it is patently deceptive.
The CLC describes itself as the 'national voice of the labour movement' yet Georgetti maligns and dehumanizes participants in the rioting so much so that any further exploration into the concept that anarchist/antiauthoritarian organization might have any relevance to labour issues is entirely aborted.
This is the problem when people start using stereotypes and dehumanizing caricatures of real people -the deeper issues and complex realities of the situation are erased or buried under piles of bullshit lies and disinformation.
In reality, the reason the anarchist and union movements are so far apart today is because of actual historic and current events.
Historically, anarchist and union movements rose hand in hand in North America. But there was massive repression against anarchists in the early 1900’s that anarchists and unions never recovered from. This intensive campaign included assassination, imprisonment, smear campaigns and frame ups of union organizers and workers, beatings, mass murders, vigilante thug squads, targeted harassment, mass deportations, and hugely -cooptation of organized labour. **
Today, the reason there continues to be little anarchist-union activity is because of systemic changes in the economy and workforce -moving away from manufacturing based towards service based industries. Over the last 30 years Unions have become increasingly irrelevant to major sectors of workers: the service industry and unskilled labour. This, in part, points towards the gap between anarchists and unions -anarchists are primarily employed in the workforce failed by unions.**
In their race to kiss the asses of the corporate overlords (a dramatic statement, but apt) Big Labour completely fails to recognize the significance of the anti-g20 riots and increasing exploitative conditions in the North American and International Labour markets –as it relates to non-union labour. By thrusting it's criticisms outward, Big Labour veils its own failure to mobilize a coherent and competent resistance to conditions the majority of workers face. The CLC says it represents 3.2 million Canadian workers; “[bringing] together Canada's national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils."
According the Canadian 2006 census, and the 2007 Canadian Gov't Labour Force Survey, there are about 21.5 million people in the workforce. 4.5 million of them are in unions (not all represented by CLC). This means there are over 17 million workers not represented by the Unions -not including black market or under the table workers.
Who are these 17 million people? A large chunk of them are service industry workers and unskilled labourers -the sector most anarchists fall into as workers. Not that most, or even a large minority of these workers are anarchists, but anarchists are a significant organized group within this population. It is only blind prejudice that allows union organizers to ignore this.
Some anarchists do work in unionized (or federated) fields, such as; librarian, home care attendant, paramedic, nurse, teacher. While this is significant in terms of overlapping relationships between anarchist and union organizing, most anarchists work in fields that are outside the scope of union organization.
If a poll was taken of anarchist employment it would look something like this:
landscaper, dishwasher, night janitor, maid, babysitter, childcare worker, waiter/waitress, cook, coffee barrista, general labourer, store clerk, tree planter, mechanic, farmer, bike repairer, computer technician, graphic designer, sex worker, artist/musician, panhandler, busker, uncertified support worker, construction worker, roofer, independant alternative healthcare practitioner, farmworker, warehouse worker, house painter, independent artisans (carpenter, welder, metal worker) etc. along with various odd jobs such as; dog walker, parking-lot attendant, movie extra, piano tuner, ESL tutor, magazine editor, tattoo artist, door to door sales, etc. And still, many other anarchists are outside of the labour force all together: unemployed, university student, high school student, stay at home parent, retired, institutionalized (prison/hospital) or disabled from paid work.
Union leadership understands that they have difficulties organizing the service based labour force. Most workers in this sector do not work for large factories or buildings. They are isolated in small workplaces, have low wages, are temporary, unskilled, and disposable.
Attempts to unionize the service industry and unskilled labour sectors have largely failed because there is no base for union dues to be paid -so bigger unions avoid the hassle for the little pay out. And workers are not motivated to pursue unionization themselves because these bulky monoliths do not reflect their needs as highly mobile workers. These workers do not see their jobs as permanent -or even long term, thus do not see the value in difficult bids to unionize -where they are more likely to just all get fired than receive any benefits at all from joining a union. **
These workers also do not have access to powerful forms of resistance like stopping or taking over the machines and factories -or the means of production. What are they going to do as job action? Sabotage the espresso machine? Yes, in reality, workers in the service and unskilled labour industries do commit acts of sabotage on a regular basis, but this action is disorganized and identified with the personal frustrations of individuals –not as coordinated efforts to gain better working conditions.
Unions are structurally failing to organize this changing workforce in the climate of accelerated capitalism in the globalized corporate economy. The anarchists and anti-authoritarians who broke off from the Union's state sanctioned march signify a far greater importance than hooligans hell bent on destruction. The riots at the Toronto G20, and other anti-globalization riots could very well be identified as a disorganized labour force coming together in resistance against the very corporations that are exploiting them directly and propelling the economic system of exploitation that they are forced to work within.
“Unfortunately our successful and peaceful demonstration was overshadowed by the actions of small numbers of individuals unrelated to our event, who committed serious acts of vandalism.” CLC statement.
Georgetti’s statement proclaims: “We were exercising a democratic right to tell G20 leaders that there can be no recovery from the economic crisis unless they place a priority on the creation of good jobs. We are urging the leaders not to move too quickly to austerity measures and warning them not to chop public services.”
How unrelated was this rioting when it was taken up by people who have been failed by Unions, and directed at the exact same corporate system that is demanding these ‘austerity measures’ the CLC so boldly requests are not enacted too quickly.
How many of the products for sale in those stores were manufactured in union factories, or transported by unionized companies or grown on unionized farms, or extracted by union waged labourers? The vast, vast majority of products in those stores -and in North America in general, is extracted by, manufactured by, transported by, and disposed of by exploited and oppressed workers outside of Europe and North America -and the whole system is blanketed on top of the repression of indigenous people whose land is destroyed in one way or another throughout the entire cycle. These human and social atrocities are not just present in some stores or a few bad corporations, but are perpetuated as an overarching system that spans the entire planet.
While Big Labour complains that the ‘issues’ were over shadowed, choosing to align itself so closely with the police state, Big Labour only further obscures these real issues by contributing to the state's propaganda machine against resistance movements. They also come off as a bunch of NIMBYs who are out of touch and out of sync with the means of resistance many workers internationally choose to utilize in resolving labour disputes.
In the few days previous to the Get off the Fence action in Toronto, Bangladeshi garment factory workers rioted in the Anshulia industrial estate outside of Dhaka. The manufacturing plants in this area supply North American companies including Walmart and H&M. Reports say 1000 police were used against hundreds of rioters. About 100 people were injured, including dozens of police. Factories were destroyed and owners locked down their operations to prevent further damage.
Bangladesh has 4, 500 garment factories which employ over 2.5 million workers. The minimum monthly wage of a garment worker is now 1,662.5 taka ( about 24 U.S. dollars) a month.
Reports quoted Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unit, “There was no option but to go to the streets following the government’s slow move to increase wages of the workers,”
These are the people on the other side of those smashed windows. People who work in deplorable conditions for wages a Canadian worker wouldn't get out of bed for. When
we’re talking about solidarity and movement building, does that include the people who make the products those of us in North America rely on and take for granted? Some of whom were rioting in the streets closing down entire manufacturing districts the very same week of the Toronto Anti-g20 Convergence.
The Canadian Labour Congress issued a statement that denounces rioting during the anti-g20 Convergence. This denouncement dovetailed smoothly into the existing frenzy of anti anarchist conspiracy theories about police provocateurs setting up or provoking the entire thing or just reducing rioters to mindless thugs. While it is expected that Big Labour will denounce anything that moves, the statement contributes to an overall atmosphere of anarchist-baiting --leaving entire swathes of activists and liberals bamboozled instead of looking at real issues in internal organizing and the social contexts of diverse movements. This includes the possibility that the riots occurred as part of ongoing labour struggles against corporate globalization and within the historical context of North American labour movements.
** On uprisings and repression of anarchist labour in North America:
"Sacco and Vanzetti; the Anarchist Background." by Paul Avrich. Princeton Press. 1991
"Where the Fraser River Flows: The Industrial Workers of the World in British Columbia." By Mark Leier New Star, 1990.
"The Drama of Haymarket" an online project produced by the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University
An informative, but very poorly formatted article on Union's difficulty organizing modern labour markets can be found here:
Our Times, "Organizing At A Crossroads; A Good News, Bad News Story." By Bill Murnighan
**Reports of union organizing and the challenges of the changing labour market are mostly from a workshop on recruiting more youth –or any at all according to that workshop—at the 2002 BC Federation of Labour AGM I attended. This was the same year the BC General Strike Committee attended to submit the General Strike proposal to the BC Fed, they actually won the vote, but nothing ever came of it. Too bad.
**Labour Force Survey - Union Membership in Canada 2007
**22 June 2010. BBC. "Bangladesh garment factories shut after wage protests" no author sited.
**July 22 2010. English.xinhuanet.com. "200 apparel factories in Bangladesh shut after Labor unrest over wage hike." By Naim-Ul-Karim
**"Statement by Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress on vandalism surrounding Toronto G20 meeting"
Saturday, 26 June 2010
**Statement by CLC: "Labour’s G20 rally and march drew thousands"
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
**Statement by CUPE-O: "CUPE calls for public inquiry on G20"
Jun 30, 2010
**"Statement on G20 protests and aftermath by CUPE Ontario"
June 30, 2010
Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer, CUPE Ontario