#StagehandView: First, We (Re)Organize Ourselves …


You’ve heard me talk about organizing. A lot. I’ve written about it here and elsewhere. But I can be a little stupid sometimes, so it only just dawned on me that all the local 205 members I’ve been talking organizing with probably assume I mean the external kind where a union targets a group of unorganized workers, brings them into the union, and negotiates a new CBA.

That type of organizing is a big part of the equation. We definitely need more of it.

But there’s a more fundamental, intra-union type of organizing that has to happen first because it serves as the foundation for the external kind. This kind of drive for primary, internal organizing has to grow out of the culture of a union local. Which is probably why it only seems to happen when the members actively run things instead of sitting back and relying on their e-board to handle all the work. It manifests in well-planned (and well-executed) bottom-up contract campaigns featuring strategic collective actions that back up the representatives at the bargaining table. Another sign that a union has embodied the organizing model is the presence of a lot of diverse, pro-active committees that accomplish assigned tasks on schedule. Internal union organizing boils down to the members making their local work for them by [You’ve figured out where I’m going with this, haven’t you?] working for their local.

Don’t sneer. Sure it’s trite, but that’s because it’s basically what JFK said.

You got a problem with JFK? I mean besides his pharmaceutical and sex dependence? … Or his refusal to push civil rights legislation. … But I’m http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2011/01/20/133083711/jfks-inaugural-speech-great-but-incomplete-on-racegetting off topic.

I kind of feel like our local might be starting to move toward embracing an organizing culture. At least a little. Maybe I’m just a starry eyed dreamer, but according to President Magee, we had over 70% voter turn-out in the last election, and that was despite all of the balloting silliness. We just need to figure out how to keep up this momentum and use it to our advantage.

Like the human body, if an organization sits still for too long it calcifies and starts to decay. Entropy affects collectives as much as it does individuals. And local 205 has been sitting still for a long, long time. So we need to keep figuring out ways to lube our squeaky joints and grind away at our shared rust.

I’m a writer and an editor. That means I’ve started writing and editing for the local. It helps the union and it helps me build my online platform. Everybody wins.

What are you when you’re not a stagehand? How can your unique skill set help?

Or, even more fun, what do you want to learn how to do? Our newsletter’s layout editor, Brother Ellinger, is a great example of how a lot of times you don’t have to be qualified to start volunteering, just interested and available. You can learn on the job. Years ago when we first started Stage Call, he volunteered to do the layout because he wanted to master the program he uses to put each issue together. I’d say we all benefited.

Because it’s not just about voting, though high election turn-outs are a good thing. It’s not just about paying dues either, though the money we amass can be a great weapon. It’s about the business union system – along with the thousands of passive, seemingly helpless members it continues to create – being just as much a part of the problem as Radical Right assholes like the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist.

Unlike America’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to spawn rich, Nazi-esque dickheads, which I don’t pretend to understand or know how to curtail, union members can control how we organize our reactions to those dickheads. We’ve cowed these guys before and we’ll do it again. If we we’re willing to work for it.

Unions have always been attacked from the far right, that’s a constant. Kind of like stagehands bitching about stuff, it’ll never stop. Unfortunately that means the union reaction to it can’t either. And, worse, we will never achieve any sort of ultimate victory. All we can do is choose to fight or choose to surrender.

I agree that the neverending class conflict caused by cannibal capitalism sucks. But how’s that relevant?

#StagehandView: White Privilege and Cannibal Capitalism

This week was supposed to be all about parliamentary etiquette. But you’re in luck because I had an exchange on Facebook the other day which I’m going to write about instead. It started when I posted an essay someone shared on the timeline of a friend. I recommend reading the article. It’s concise and talks about another, I’m guessing longer, piece on “white privilege” which I have not yet read. If you want to, here’s the link. If not, it basically does a pretty good job of parsing out the term white privilege into many of its perhaps lesser considered facets. In essence, the author makes the (I believe valid) point that white privilege exists in many aspects across all sectors of our society. It’s not just an economic term that deals with relative wealth.

White PrivilegeThat’s not to say relative wealth is not a huge part of white privilege, but it’s messier than that; there are no clearly drawn lines. For example, one type of white privilege the author noted was the fact that most white people in America get to choose whether or not to live and associate with other folks who look like them. That’s not as true for most blacks. Another way whites are privileged is how they are treated by banks, law enforcement, and the education system.

So that’s the basic set-up.

After I posted this link on my friend’s timeline, one of his FB friends ripped into it.

My friend’s friend attacked the entire idea of white privilege, rather than the nuanced critique of it found in the article. Given that he showed no evidence of having read the article, I chose not to engage in a FB “debate.” But I gathered from his comments that he’s a military recruiter who regularly interacts with very poor, very desperate white people. Given his day to day experiences, it’s not surprising that he views the term white privilege as just another wedge being used to keep the working class divided. And he’s right. Race identity has a long tradition of obfuscating class distinction, especially in the U.S.

Examples: Poor Southern whites mostly sided with their exploiters to die by the tens of thousands in defense of American slavery. Similarly, impoverished African Americans have been used as strike breakers against racist, if not whites-only,  unions since the end of the Civil War. And the use of ethnicity to divide the working class isn’t limited to black vs white. But that’s a whole other discussion.

So yeah, my friend’s friend has a point about white privilege being a touchy trope. But that shouldn’t put it outside the realm of discussability. And the concept should not be summarily rejected as a tool for viewing and discussing our culture. Especially not by working class people who are trying to at least slow down the cannibal capitalists who so adroitly manipulate white privilege to their advantage.

Read the article and decide for yourself. But I think white privilege is a complex bundle of ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. It’s more than a purely economic concept. And it does a disservice to working people to oversimplify it like my friend’s friend. To reduce it to its economic factors is to cede the argument before it’s even begun.Cannibal Capitalism

Human existence is about more than consuming and excreting. We are innovative and creative beings with needs and curiosities far beyond feeding and sheltering ourselves. Workers are more than bio-mechanical units of production. I get that our current iteration of Western Civilization is a realm where the fight for economic justice has forced its way to the top of our priority list. But that doesn’t make other, non-economic, factors unimportant. On the contrary. When working class thinkers and agitators bow to the pressures of expediency and disregard the non-economic, but still fundamental, realities of human life, we tacitly agree to their irrelevance. We grant the victory to the cannibal capitalists who have always maintained that the vast majority of humans are merely semi-disposable units of production. And that degrades the promise of all humanity.