May 15, 2013
The May 2013 Workers Power column, "Expanding Your Congregation of Fellow Workers," is now on-line. Since I actually wrote it myself, I have included the full text below.
Expanding Your Congregation of Fellow Workers
If you have been active in the IWW for a while, you have probably come across a pamphlet called “Rusty’s Rules of Order”— the pamphlet that serves as a guide to running effective union meetings. It attributes the following pearl of wisdom to Rusty, “an old Wobbly,” who served as a mentor to many younger Wobblies in the 1970s and 1980s: “Always conduct your meeting as if there were 100 people there, to be ready when the time comes when there are 100 people there.”
The IWW’s growth over the last decade has caused me to think a bit more about these words. The union now has more than twice the membership it had 10 years ago. More importantly, the union’s level of labor organizing has increased dramatically. In the last few months alone, we’ve seen pickets and a strike in the Twin Cities, a successful union election in Grand Rapids, Mich., a victory in a struggle for back wages in Portland, Ore., and a wage increase for cleaners in London. What’s more, all of this growth has been matched, or maybe fueled, by the creation of new IWW infrastructure. Since 2000, we have created the Organizer Training Committee and the Organizing Department and revamped the Work People’s College. In addition, the Industrial Worker has become an important place to reflect on organizing theory and methodology.
All of this is great, but it still has me thinking about Rusty’s advice. Why? Because in my time with the union, only rarely have I attended any sort of meeting that was designed for 100 people. Most meetings I have attended are exactly the opposite. They are run like discussion groups between friends. The rules of debate are frequently opaque and difficult for newcomers to follow. New members are seldom instructed on how to participate. Long-time members often dominate the debate.
If the IWW is going to continue to grow, our meetings will not only have to be designed to accommodate 100 people but hopefully 1,000 someday. Maybe that is optimistic thinking. Or maybe it is good planning. The Occupy movement attracted thousands to democratically-run encampments in New York, Oakland and other major cities. I meet more politicized and militant workers in their teens and 20s now than I ever did when I was that age or even in my early 30s. Recent upsurges of organizing by fast food workers and others who have long been considered unorganizable by business unions suggests that the possibility of a revitalized labor movement is on the horizon.
I hope that the IWW will take a major role in this revitalization. In order for that to happen, we will need to think seriously about how we behave organizationally. We will need to ask questions like: What does an IWW branch with 500 members look like? What does one with 2,000 members look like? How are branches of this size different from branches of 10, 20 or even 50 members? How can a branch with 10 members grow from 10 to 50 to 500 members? It might seem strange, but one place I suggest we look to for answers to these questions is the religious community. Organizations like the Alban Institute focus much of their energy on helping congregations address the organizational challenges they face at different sizes and figuring out how to transition between sizes.
There are two things that the institute has observed that might be particularly useful for members of the IWW when thinking about the culture and growth trajectory of branches. First, folks at Alban have noted that different size congregations have different kinds of cultures. Broadly speaking, they have identified five types of size-based congregational cultures: family, pastoral, program, corporate and mega. Each of these cultures has their own characteristics. The description of the family sized one might sound familiar to some Wobs because it “functions like a family, with appropriate family figures... matriarchs and patriarchs [who] control the church’s leadership needs.” While the fit isn’t exact, this might describe many smaller branches where long-time or founding members set much of the agenda and make it difficult for new members to integrate or develop in leadership roles.
The second thing that the people at Alban have observed is that organizational culture is generally stable. Religious communities face developmental tasks if they are going to grow from family to pastoral size for example. Most of these tasks are centered on creating new leaders, increasing programming and developing infrastructure for integrating new members. They are also usually accompanied by conflict. People who had power in the smaller congregation are asked to share it with the new members of the now larger congregation. The details are probably irrelevant for the IWW’s purposes, but the point is crucial: for a branch to grow, intentional changes in culture and infrastructure are almost certainly necessary. And those changes are usually accompanied by conflict. If those intentional changes are not made, or if conflict is avoided, then growth will almost always be temporary, and the organization will revert to its stable, smaller norm.
If we were to apply these observations to the IWW, we could study the different size branches that exist in the union and look at how their cultures differ. We could try to figure out if there were particular patterns of conflict, cultural or organizational change that occurred when branches moved from 10 to 50 or 100 members. And we could begin the process of imagining the kinds of conflict and culture change necessary to grow a branch from 100 to 500 members.
So maybe Rusty’s advice shouldn’t be taken quite so literally. Instead of thinking about how a meeting with 10 people should be run as if it were a meeting with 100 people, maybe we should be thinking about how to grow a branch with 10 people to a branch with 100 people. That might mean we are intentional about how we function within branches of both sizes.
May 14, 2013
May 13, 2013
Juan Conatz maintains the Workers Power archive over at libcom. He's fallen a bit behind with the archive this year but in the last few days he's put everything that run in the Industrial Worker thus far in 2013 on-line. The March Industrial Worker featured a great column by the ever fabulous Liberte Locke called "Christmas at Starbucks." Read it here.
May 9, 2013
Here's a new poem inspired by the warmer weather.
The Same Blessed Nothing
The mayfly and I
are the same.
Cellophane wings tear,
as spring arrives.
The mayfly and I
are the same.
is the same blessed
in the space
of the infinite.
The luminescent turning
of star dust to star dust,
the slow lumpy unwinding
of energy into stillness.
The mayfly and I
are the same,
our scales but slightly different.
May 7, 2013
I am working on a term paper about the Spanish Civil War at the moment. This afternoon I came across a quote from Murray Bookchin describing anarchism. It is one of my favorite descriptions:
Unlike Marxism, with its founders, distinct body of texts, and clearly definable ideology, anarchistic ideals are difficult to fix into a hard and fast credo. Anarchism is a great libidinal movement of humanity to shake off the repressive apparatus created by hierarchical society. It originates in the age-old drive of the oppressed to assert the spirit of freedom, equality, and spontaneity over values and institutions based on authority. This accounts for the enormous antiquity of anarchist visions, their irrepressibility and continual reemergence in history, particularly in periods of social transition and revolution. The multitude of creeds that surface from this great movement of the social depths are essentially concrete adapations to a given historical period of more diffuse underlying sentiments, not of eternally fixed doctrines. Just as the values and institutions of hierarchy have changed over the ages, so too have the anarchic creeds that attempted to dislodge them.
Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years, 1868-1936 (New York, San Francisco and London: Harper Colophon Books, 1978), 17.
May 4, 2013
Someone put a rare mix from legendary Detroit DJ Ken Collier up on mixcloud. For those that don't know, which I assume is just about everyone who reads this blog, Ken Collier was one of the big earlier DJs from Detroit and, therefore, one of the pioneers of techno, house and dance music in general. He's been compared to Larry Levan and Ron Hardy. People like Derrick May and Chez Damier learned to DJ, in part, from listening to and watching him. I never got to hear him play, though I have heard his brother Greg a couple of times. This mix is apparently from the Detroit gay club Heaven and if you listen to this mix and then listen to a Derrick May mix from the early 90s you can definitely hear the connection. So, check it out here.
Apr 27, 2013
A friend of mine, who is also a scholar, has blog called What in the Hell? in which he poses questions that he has come across in his work or his organizing and then tries to answer them. At the moment I am working on a bibliographical essay on race and performativity. One of the terms that the authors I am reading tend to like a lot is genealogy. Apparently, this is a term that is related to the philosophy of Michelle Foucault. I don't know much about Foucault and I haven't found the wikipedia definition of genealogy to be super helpful. So, I was delighted to come across a defintion of genealogy as a method in Judith Butler's Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. She writes, “A genealogical critique refuses to search for the origin of gender… rather, genealogy investigates the political stakes in designating as an origin and cause those identity categories that are in fact the effects of institutions, practices, discourses with multiple and diffuse points of origin.” (Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), viii-ix)
Apr 26, 2013
Earlier this month I preached my sermon "Unknown Visions of Love" at First Parish in Milton, Unitarian Universalist. Apparently the congregation records and uploads video of all of their services. If you'd like to see me preaching you can view the video here. Once I'm done with finals I'll probably spend some time analyzing the video to see if I can figure out some ways to improve my preaching by watching it.
Apr 6, 2013
One of my undergraduate degrees is essentially in poetry. I still occasionally write poems. Here's one now. It came to me while biking to school this morning.
A Game, Remembered
Now let us praise small things:
spring cerulean sky;
Homer’s words about our star;
wind penetrating bone;
the ball’s unsettled arc, thrown by a small child, my son;
unworded sounds, delight, disappointment, fear, accomplishment;
another toss, a catch, a bounce, a drop;
a list’s connecting pattern;
a final line tying, summing, incomplete conclusion.
Apr 1, 2013
Recently, I wrote a paper for a course I took with Harvey Cox on the theological views of the civil rights activist, labor lawyer and radical theorist Staughton Lynd. I interviewed Lynd as part of my research and he's given me permission to publish the transcript from the interview. I hope to turn the article into a journal article over the summer. As such, I am not posting it.
Reading through your work it seems to me that you place a great emphasis on the centrality of conscience as a source for moral authority. Is that correct?
I don’t think either I or Quakerism is unique in that. Quakerism speaks of that of God that is in every person. Marcus Rediker at University of Pittsburgh uses the big word antinomianism to describe the direct connection between the believer and God. And that too points to conscience because it emphasizes that connection over and above the idea of some sort of institutional church.
You place a great deal of emphasis on spontaneity and, it seems to me, also tradition. Is there a tension between spontaneity and tradition?
I am not quite sure where tradition comes into that. I did not grow up in any specific religious atmosphere. My father had gone to Union Theological Seminary. An experience he had as a summer preacher greatly influenced me. My mother grew up in a congregational church and took that very seriously until she got to Wellesley and read Hegel.
It is also the case that from pre-kindergarten through the twelfth grade I went to Ethical Culture schools in New York. That was a kind of Reformed Reformed Judaism. Above the platform was the slogan “The place where men meet to seek the highest is holy ground.” I am very attached to that place, that school, those words. I have been astonished to speak with some of my closest childhood friends and they do not remember those words. That was, and remains, about all the religion I had. That is, when we gather together to imagine the most, the highest, we can something sacred is going on.
Has Ethical Culture continued to be a factor in your life?
It is a difficult to know what that would mean. There are not very many Ethical Culture societies around. In the early 1960s my wife and I joined the Quakers. The Quakers have a great deal in common with Ethical Culture. So to that extent I did continue in that specific tradition.
Have you experienced a tension between the Left and religion?
It depends on the particular period of my life. In the South from 1961 to 1964 there wasn’t much tension because the Southern Civil Rights movement was permeated with something that could be called spiritual or religious. Its leaders were often ministers. People often met in churches. The moment of the most religious awareness that I experienced in the South was during the orientation for the summer of 1964. It was when, in Oxford, Ohio, word came to us that James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were missing, and, we presumed, dead. There was then a small meeting of SNCC staff and myself. I was there because I was going to play an important role with the Freedom Schools. When I say small I mean no more than a dozen. The very first thing that happened was the singing of a song that to my great anger is parodied as a summer camp song, Kumbaya. [Lynd then recited lyrics of the song from memory.] That was most intensely religious moment of my years in the Southern Civil Rights movement.
When you go onto other movements, it gets more complicated, because there wasn’t the same spiritual or musical component in other parts of the movement. We were in connection with the draft resister movement in Chicago. I remember we gathered to send some young people off to appear in court, where they might be sentenced to years in prison for draft resistance. We sang “Amazing Grace.” That was a song from the 18th century British anti-slavery movement. That was the best we could do in that situation.
In Youngstown, where Alice and I have lived since 1976, what has come closest to that is singing the song “Just my hands/ Just my hands can't tear a prison down” at the end of a meeting. That song has had a religious feeling to it when we have sung it in a circle. But nothing like the religious atmosphere of the Southern Civil Rights movement has come my way in the last fifty years.
Do you think that it is a reason for, and I am not sure of the right adjective, the success, the strength, of the Southern Civil Rights movement?
There are questions about the right adjectives. In the case of the Southern Civil Rights movement, after obtaining the Federal Voting Rights Act, and even before that, the movement pretty much disintegrated. Similarly the movement against the war in Vietnam, while it was successful, has not prevented what we used to call the seventh war from now. We are now about seven wars from Vietnam.
Alice and I made several trips to Central America in the 1980s. We have since continued and made several trips to Mexico. Our daughter Martha lives in Guatemala. We have had a deep encounter with liberation theology. I would say personally for us, the most important religious experience has been encountering Latin American liberation theology. Not everyone has had that experience and not everyone can go to Latin America.
Although, I have some questions about it. When we attended the neighborhood church in Managua, Nicaragua, they used as their liturgy the peasant mass. Part of that mass says that we know you Jesus. You are with us when we stand in line to get paid at the end of the week and you are with us when we go across the street to get a snow cone. That’s a very attractive image and there are certainly passages in the New Testament that suggest it. But there are also many passages, many parables, that I find baffling, that suggest that we should turn to the master, the absentee landlord, for an answer. I don’t understand how the person of Matthew 25 can dispense that kind of wisdom. Liberation theology has been very influential but I don’t take it hook, line and sinker. If you want an example of the problem look for the parable called the wicked husbandman. That parable, in almost the identical language appears in the synoptic gospels, but also in the Gospel of Thomas. You tell me how the person who took the side of the absentee landlord in that situation could be the Jesus of liberation theology.
I have noticed reading through your work, and certainly in your recent Accompanying, an increasing reference to religion. Has religion become more important to your thinking as you have gone on? Or is that a misreading on my part?
I would put it this way, growing up, although I don’t pretend to have mastered Das Capital, I think was pretty familiar with the Marxist classics and pretty much accepted them. Religion came later. When my father or mother would refer to a particular bible passage we would look at them perplexed. We didn’t go to church on Sunday. We went hiking instead.
Over the years, I have become more interested in the Christian tradition. If someone put me up against a wall I would say that Christian metaphysics strike me as childish. Metaphysically I am more-or-less a Buddhist. The ethics of Christian tradition are stronger than anything else that I have found. I would also say that I haven’t abandoned Marxism. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone can make sense of where this country is at without talking about Marx and Marxism, capitalism and imperialism. However, perennial critic, I very much adhere to the strain in Marxism best represented by Rosa Luxemburg. She said that Lenin had a soul of overseer and was in general much more oriented to working class self-activity than Marx or Lenin. I would go easy on the notion that I have foregrounded Christian New Testament and backgrounded Marxism. We have been to half a dozen retreats by John Dominic Crossan. I am trying to find a way through what is left of my life with the two lamps of the New Testament and liberation theology ethics and Marxism to guide me.
In your recent work, though there are suggestions of it earlier, you emphasize the importance of decency in working for social change. Does that call for decency have religious roots?
I do think, that, Todd Gitlin in his book on the sixties, refers to my sweetness of character. I think it is true that both Alice and I have sought to recreate the group atmosphere that we experienced in the Macedonia Community Cooperative when we were in our mid-twenties. That was more than fifty years ago. We have tried to describe it, in Liberation Theology for Quakers, it just left an impression on us. Sitting in a circle, by a fire, someone would offer an idea and we would listen, put another log on the fire, and someone else would offer an idea or respond. Quaker meetings attempt to replicate that atmosphere, though we never have experienced it as deeply as we did at Macedonia.
Stokley Carmichael has described the seeking of consensus in the Southern Civil Rights movement. He talked about how consensus was important because people were taking risks with their lives and you couldn’t ask them to do that if they didn’t agree with the decision that had been made.
I was distressed beyond the words by the way that the way both SNCC and SDS crashed. I have often said that I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder when it comes to national meetings and organizations. I have found that young people in the Occupy movement seem to say that it was all Cointelpro. Yeah, Cointelpro was part of the scene but basically we did it to ourselves. I have seen the same thing in the trade union movement. A reform slate gets elected to a local and pretty soon they are tearing themselves apart.
Decency then is very important thing to me. And I don’t think that you can say religious people have any particular claim to it. You certainly don’t find it in all the texts from the first Christians. Also, Alice and I have encountered religious people who have fared very poorly as members of families. I tend to think that nature has given us the family as a sort of first model of the way the world might be. We devote a lot of attention to our three children, our seven grandchildren and our two great grandchildren. That is the model that life provides. At the very least we have the challenge of making something of that model.