Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair: Report back from Indigenous Workshop.

From the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair held at the Abbotsford Convent over the weekend:

An Indigenous Activism workshop was held in the old Bishop’s office. Guest speakers were Indigenous activists Viv Moore, Robbie Thorpe and Rodney Augustine, who provided a good balance of opinions, stories and ways of presenting them. One can forgive Robbie for being somewhat confrontational – he is a veteran fighter for Indigenous rights and has suffered a life time of racism and injustice.

Straight to the point about the history of invasion, continued colonisation and the issues that continue to beset our First Nations people today, he gave the audience plenty to think about. Viv provided a perspective on activism from her experience of it as an Indigenous woman, and Rodney spoke on the issue of rampant mining; it’s devastating impact on his country and the community as a whole, and what the land and protection of it means to him personally.

There were some members of the audience who showed great respect and knowledge of the situation for the original inhabitants of our country and provided further valuable insight with their intelligent and thoughtful questions. All in all, this was a very provocative and informative event.

SK

A Melbourne Wob reviews the 2nd annual Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair.

The 2nd Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair held on Saturday August 4th 2012. A jovial crowd visited the 40 stalls and 20 workshops/talks at the Abbotsford Convent.

Bookshops, campaigns, Clubs, distributors, networks, solidarity and other stalls were set up from 9am and the space opened to the public at 10am and closed at 6pm (See www.amelbournebookfair.org for more details of stalls and talks/speakers).

The Kids Space had screenprinting, a toy library, art supplies and reading. Next to this was the imaginative “Iddy-biddy anarchist” stall with small figurines assembled as in a protest holding signs attached by the kids and passing adults with creative minds.

Inside the big space IWW had a stall with badges, Cds, Dvds, pamphlets, patches, stickers. t-shirts. The latest edition of our paper Direct Action was distributed too. $300 was made on the stall. This money will be used to pay costs of keep us supplied with materials on the stall for our next public outing.

Wobblies from Adelaide, Brisbane & Sydney met up with Victoria members. Thanks to all who travelled and helped out on the day.

There was a “high tea” outside in the open under a tree in the courtyard at 3pm where Wobs, partners, friends and comrades munched on scones and plotted the downfall of class society.

The talk STUFF YOUR BOSS doesn’t want you to know had IWW and Melbourne Workers Solidarity Network and others talk about exploitation and organising resistance.

An education industry workshop focussed on student struggles with some lecturers and teachers present who spoke about Cuts at TAFEs and Universities.

Latin American Solidarity Network had a stall and did a workshop on Latin American Grassroots Movements and their upcoming conference in November in Melbourne (see www.latinlasnet.org).

Women’s Web had their new book “Betrayal” on women and work in Victoria for sale and we bought copies for the IWW library and stall to have (see www.womensweb.com.au).

Fine weather meant the outdoor courtyard area could be used too: for example a group photograph was taken with individuals wearing t-shirts of letter to spell out “STAND UP FOR THE BURRUP” and a banner signed to hand over to the Elders later this year. This was organised by the Indigenous solidarity (Walmadan Country is Calling, Stand Up for the Burrup, Yindjibarndi) stall crew (see www.indigenousheritage.info).

There was also outside in the courtyard  a debriefing by The Lizard’s Revenge, festival of dissent outside BHP-Billiton’s Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine in outback South Australia. Those present heard of the traditional owners concerns,
– the link with Fukushima nuclear reactor that uses Australian mined uranium,
– of the travellers experiences,
– arrest updates,
– some music and saw or participated in zombie flash dancing etc.
see www.lizardsrevenge.net  &  www.acecollective.org

IWW members participated in the organising collective for the event and plan to do so again next year for the 3rd Bookfair in August 2013.

The next similar event will be “Camp Anarchy” on the Labour Day weekend 9/1011 March 2013
Site is Camp Eureka, 100 Tarrango Road, Yarra Junction Mel Ref 288 K10
$25/20 per night (Waged/Unwaged) kids free.
see www.campanarchy.org

Dear reader please note I could not write about stalls and meetings I did not attend, mostly my time was on bookfair related stall or errands, answering questions for those new to event or seeking people etc. Others who can expand this with their own experiences please share.

V

On Power and the onus of responsibility: A rejoinder to Daniel Lopez

This is just a quick reply to your ‘Replying to the IWW on the IWW’, Socialist Alternative, July 16. The reply comes from someone who is not an IWW member. Although, given my own views on the efforts “of the union movement to challenge capitalism” and the success of those efforts, that fact is most likely to change in the immediate future. Besides, in regard the union movement in this national context, the view from 2012 could not be that we are seeing a movement brimming with health and vitality. True enough capitalism might be suffering from something of a crisis but most of its wounds are self-inflicted and it is quite clear that the neo-liberal agenda is rolling on despite that crisis. A fact that ought to render debates such as this one something of an embarrassment or at least urge us to use our intellectual energies more productively (said with all the irony of one willing to expend such energy by joining such debates).

While there are a few points I wanted to make I will restrict myself to two, the first more related to formal issues rather than the substance of what you say and the second directed at a more substantive issue. For the most part I wont directly engage the question of vanguardism. I would, however, say that IF what the term represents “in the classic Marxist understanding, is simply an advanced section of the working class – advanced in terms of politics and militancy”, as you say, then we are not dodging the issue of elitism. Semantically the term ‘advanced’ has both a descriptive and an evaluative moment. If it were only in terms of militancy then perhaps we dodge the charge of elitism by thinking ‘advanced’ descriptively, so, in terms of being ‘up the front’. But its when we think about what it would be to be ‘advanced’ in terms of ‘politics’ that the worry of elitism emerges. Elites are those members of a group that are ‘set apart’ and privileged or ‘advantaged’ in some respect. The militant might be descriptively advanced, at the front so to speak, but when we turn to consider what it would be to be advanced in terms of politics that descriptive reading becomes harder to sustain. Identifying some group as “advanced in terms of politics” seems to differentiate, or set apart, that group in a way that establishes a ‘special’ status for them, which the word ‘advanced’ does, it attributes it a preferential status. Such statuses are ‘positional goods’, they define desirable positions, so, one would prefer the status ‘advanced’ over the status ‘less advanced’. What is it to be more advanced in respect to “politics” anyway? What practically would be the import of picking out a group as ‘advanced’? Which leads to the question: by what (or perhaps by whose) criteria do we define the ‘advanced’? There would seem to be a few different ways of defining it, and clearly both politics and militancy are pluriform anyway. In any case I set that aside and will restrict my focus to two complaints.

The first complaint, and I think it is a complaint that cuts across many debates of this sort, is that the author should try to moderate some of the language, which, from time to time struck me as rhetorical, personalised and occasionally lacking in substance. It takes away from the argument and makes it seem as if the author had personalised the criticisms far too much. It also gives the piece the feel of a polemic, which immediately raises questions about its objectivity, for the key tools of the polemicist are rhetoric and sophistry, the idea being not to seek truth, or even justice, but victory – which might be a lovely way to place practice over theory, but that ought not come at the expense of truth.

So, to talk about Ben using “tired anarchist clichés about revolutionary socialism” is to me problematic: firstly because the picture of the anarchist wheeling out clichés about revolutionary socialism is itself a bit clichéd: Is it not the common complaint on both sides that each can only speak of the other in terms of clichés? If that is the case then one wonders if anyone ought to speak at all. Is not the most common complaint from any identity group about other identity groups the complaint that the other only deals in caricatures, cartoonish images and clichés? One need not recount the value comedians have managed to claw from such scenarios marked by a kind of mutual lack of generosity, as that theme seems to have given life to political satire for some time now. Clearly it’s unhelpful and unproductive, particularly against the backdrop of our times.

I have similar feelings in regard to the claim about Ben’s preference for grinding “a much worn old axe”, which of course suffers the same problems, the claim is snarky, a bit of a cliché, perhaps ironic (in the sense that what is said seems to grind ‘old axes’ of a different sort) and in the end sounds rhetorical. On my reading the primary ‘cliché’ and the primary ‘old axe’ that you see Ben leaning on relate to the issue of vangaurdism, which, as I have said above, your reply did not deal with in a way that left me satisfied that it was, in fact, a mere ‘cliché’ or mere ‘old axe’, your response did not convince me that this issue was a non-starter. As such referring to it in the terms you do seems rhetorical, or at the very least you have evaluated matters in a way that is far stronger than your reply seems to warrant. By suggesting that the complaint is clichéd and an old axe you deliberately trivialise it, unfortunately this is rhetoric that your readers may repeat. That’s just two aspects of your opening paragraph, I won’t push this line of thinking further as it would seem nit-picking, although a look at your section heading ‘Vangaurdism, statism, and other anarchist swear-words’ also seems, at the risk or repetition, rhetorical and clichéd, and, worse yet condescending, but it does take us to what seems to be a core worry in your reply.

The second problem I find is the engagement with what is described as the “centrepiece of Ben’s response” – I take no exception with that description, clearly the argument was an important part of the response. In fact I find the argument an important one generally. That is the source of my problem with your remarks here: I think that your treatment of that argument, insofar as it fails to acknowledge what is morally at stake in it, which you really ought to have done, is problematic. I take it that Ben’s point is that power needs to justify itself to those who it seeks to exercise power over and this takes moral priority over the requirement for those who want to resist that exercise of power to justify said resistance in the face of power. And (clearly) this is the case no matter whether the resistance is ultimately successful or not. So, in terms of priorities, power needs to show not only that it is generally legitimate but that any specific exercise of power is also itself legitimate, justified and so just, and this takes priority over any demand for any individual or organisation representing individuals to justify resistance to power. It’s a simple priority rule and I think a morally sound one.

Think about it in terms of the state, states have no intrinsic worth whatsoever, any value that any state has derives from its capacity to help create the conditions amenable to the flourishing of the individual denizens of that state. Further any particular action of the state is not itself legitimate purely qua action of the state; value only accrues to such actions insofar as they also serve to facilitate flourishing. I take that as a truism, at least at the theoretical level, so a truism regardless of whether or not it is evidenced in practice. Asking the state, and so power, to justify itself here would be asking it to show that its actions were in fact, rather than in rhetoric, such as to facilitate the flourishing of those who inhabit it. Or, for any particular exercise of power, asking power to justify itself would be asking power to show that its specific exercise of power is at least conceptually compatible, if not practically compatible, with the flourishing of all. Clearly this is a reasonable demand to place on power; clearly the state does not act reasonably when it curtails rational and autonomous actions of those whose flourishing it was constructed to facilitate.

If individuals, or organisations supporting individuals, are made to justify (or legitimate) their opposition or resistance to power, then the burden is placed where the resources are fewest. We have to be very careful where we place such burdens. This is not just the claim that in regard to the legitimacy of the action the burden of proof lies with power. Of course it does! It makes sense to insist that this is so; that the burden of proof lies there. But beyond that it is also a question of justice, asking individuals, or organisations supporting individuals, to justify themselves to power in opposing it, does not model equality at all, indeed it seems the perfect model of inequality and thus a model of immorality, for it seems to work under a presumption favouring power, even though power is already in a favourable position simply in virtue of the fact that it is power. This serves power against individuals because a) it asks those who are to be acted upon to show that they ought not be acted upon, when it is absolutely clear that the actual burden of proof runs the other way, it lies with those whose actions ramify to others to show that such ramifications are legitimate or even acceptable; b) it asks those who are not well resourced to expend their resources justifying themselves to those who are well resourced and who can use those resources to buy or obtain physical, intellectual and social energies that support their already privileged position. If power is meant to serve individuals yet individuals are made to justify themselves to power, then ethically the cart is put before the horse, individuals themselves are subordinate to and thus dominated by the ‘machine’ that is supposed to serve them or serve their interests.

The above position is an important one. I think you move to fast if you fail to recognise that this position is the core of the paragraph you quoted, challenged and more or less dismissed. The position seems to me to be rather easy to defend and morally important, yet its almost trivialised in your response. That, in my opinion, is a moral failure, perhaps politically astute, perhaps instrumentally rational in terms of positioning, but a moral failure nonetheless. As such, I think, it’s damaging to the intellectual quality of the piece you authored.

Philip Andrew Quadrio
Blue Mountains, NSW
21/7/2012

Statement in solidarity with Domino’s delivery drivers.

The Industrial Workers of the World, Melbourne General Membership Branch stands in solidarity with Domino’s delivery drivers in Brisbane, Queensland who have seen their pay slashed by 19% overnight.  This brazen attack on their workers by Domino’s is shameful and must be resisted.  The members of the Melbourne GMB offer their support to the drivers in any way possible.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
IWW Melbourne GMB

Statement in solidarity with striking Coles workers.

The Industrial Workers of the World, Melbourne General Membership Branch stands in solidarity with the striking Coles warehouse workers in Somerton, Victoria.  At a time of growing attacks by employers worldwide, they have made the brave decision to withhold their labour to fight against outsourcing, casualisation and concessions. The members of the Melbourne GMB will assist in any way possible to assure that these workers see victory in their fight.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
IWW Melbourne GMB

Support striking workers at Somerton

600 workers at a Distribution Centre in Somerton (Victoria) owned by Coles have been on strike since Tuesday July 10. As a result of a deal done during WorkChoices, their jobs were outsourced to Toll Group, resulting in them having inferior pay and conditions compared to directly employed workers doing exactly the same job at Coles’ other national distribution centre in New South Wales.

The Coles workers are seeking 5 modest claims:

  1. Time for workers to have with their family: rostered days off for day shift workers and voluntary work on public holidays.
  2. Shift loadings to be paid for an entire shift and not a couple of hours.
  3. The automatic right for all casuals to get a permanent job after 6 months work.
  4. The right to union representation on the job
  5. Fair wage increases

The workers at the Coles distribution centre are employed by a third party, Toll Group. In many workplaces around Australia, Toll Group are forcing an increasing percentage of their workforce to work as long term agency casuals.

Toll, who are themselves a third party employer for some of Australia’s largest corporations, have been known to use up to five different labour hire agencies in the one workplace. This ensures a large percentage of the workforce don’t have employment protection and remain casualised.

And as the strike enters its seventh day, management at the Coles Somerton National Distribution Centre have inflamed the situation in attacking the rights of working people by seeking injunctions to prevent 20 union members from continuing to picket the site.

We believe this is an attempt on management’s part to try and break the unity of workers instead of negotiating with them in good faith.

There are two things you can do, no matter where you are in Australia, to support the Coles warehouse workers:

  1. Donate to support the Coles warehouse workers. These workers will continue to face economic hardship. Every day they continue a strike that we all benefit from is another day they don’t receive pay from their employer. By making a donation you will ensure those that are brave enough to fight against militant employers are still able to feed their families and live with dignity.

    Account name: NUW Vic Coles Somerton Relief Fund
    BSB Number: 063 074
    Account Number: 10014540
    Branch: Commonwealth

Donate to support the Coles workers here: http://www.nuw.org.au/get-informed/news/newsitems/donate-to-support-workers-at-coles-somerton

A Reply to ‘One Big Union? The IWW in Australia’

In April, an edited transcript of a talk given by Daniel Lopez at Marxism 2012 entitled ‘One Big Union? The IWW in Australia’ appeared on the Socialist Alternative website. This article, in offering a discussion and critique of the IWW and of syndicalism more generally, appeared to present the historical Industrial Workers of the World primarily as a syndicalist response to attempts to reform class society that took its cues primarily from Marxism. However, just as the IWW ‘remembered Marx’s advice: “That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves,”’ Lopez contended, so too were they ‘at pains to distinguish themselves from the Australian anarchist scene, which existed on the far fringes of society, and was highly individualistic.’

As such, Lopez argued, the Wobblies were ‘trail-blazers’ who ‘were also fighting to work out a revolutionary working class strategy before the experience of the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution and subsequent 20th century revolutions had decisively resolved most of the questions they were struggling with.’ In order however to ‘to save the effort of thousands of dedicated revolutionaries from historical waste, it was also necessary to understand their limitations—and, paradoxically perhaps given that they were ‘trail-blazers,’ the folly of their syndicalist ways. This appeared to be revealed in the state repression inflicted on the Wobblies, who, in not having ‘perspective for building a party’ that could ‘anticipate and cope with periods of illegality’ inevitably found themselves unable to recover.

While the issue of state repression is certainly a pertinent one to consider given the history of its use against the IWW in Australia, whether this of necessity negates revolutionary or anarcho-syndicalist strategies and forms of organisation as such is arguably much less clear-cut than Daniel Lopez would have us believe. The fact that Lopez’s argument against the IWW’s approach to class struggle appears to centre on the issue of responses to state repression would also appear to put the cart before the horse in terms of the kinds of basic democratic assumptions that function to defend the freedom of the individual against the workings of arbitrary, coercive power structures.

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