Saturday, February 21, 2009

Arthur Miller, IWW

Recently I had the opportunity to meet an important labor organizer with the IWW, Arthur J. Miller. A friend of mine who organizes with IWW is working on a Pacific Northwest labor history zine, in which Miller is a prominent figure for the Tacoma region.

As we drank cup after cup of coffee, Miller explained that he didn't want to be treated like a famous object in any academic historical analysis. Nonetheless, he acknowledged a deficit in labor history, especially the industrial history of South Puget Sound, and a lack of inspirational literature written by workers.

Miller stressed the importance of workers writing their own publications, because workers tend to have their own language - their own "shop talk" as he called it - with which to exchange ideas with one another. Each industry is a bit different. And with today's explosion of new service industries, it's likely that a young worker today would have experience only working with service jobs like waiting tables, or doing customer service. It's very important to organize these industries, and the workers who have experience organizing need to write about it.

My friend and I explained that, as young people ourselves, we only had experience with the service industries. We've waited tables, worked in bookstores, we taught students, we were consultants, and in every job we have been in the store-fronts rather than in the back. We've always provided a service instead of the raw material.

To get an idea for Arthur Miller's own writing, check out his pamphlets "Making Anarchist Revolution Possible" and "Principles of Solidarity". In light of anti-union government tactics in the US, such as the Taft-Hartley Act, which allows the President to suppress strikes with police power, and the various decisions of the NLRB, Miller suggests that labor, as a class, should openly defy anti-labor laws in order to break them open. As he explained to us over coffee, solidarity between industries during a strike is key to preventing scabs, thus key to winning a strike. If a business is on strike, but the delivery service workers keep delivering goods for scabs to work with, it defeats the purpose of the strike. The principle there would be for the delivery service workers to stop delivering to the strikers, being openly defiant toward the scab policy of the other business.

Miller has written longer pamphlets too, and tried publishing a book on labor organizing. But the publishing industry wasn't interested in what he had to say. Even publishers who put out leftist literature, he said, only seemed interested in what academic writers had to say. Miller is not impressed with academic leftist writing. He protested that their work is often disengaged from real worker organizing, and tends to get wrapped up in Marxian analysis. Other workers generally don't understand class struggle from the pages of Das Kapital, but through direct experience being under the thumbs of the ruling class.

The academics stay far away from real organizing, and analyze the workers as if they were ants in an anthill. He described it as a class division, but with some degree of solidarity between. The academic leftist's job is to be an academic leftist, which means nothing more than academia, and nothing less than academia. You cannot count on them to really be interested in worker ideas, worker culture, let alone labor organizing.

I can post my friend's labor history zine onto this blog when it's finished.

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