May Day 2021

Several syndicalist unions and other groups, including IWW and FAU branches, the SAC of Sweden, the CGT of Spain, an Indian union representing IT workers, the Garments Workers Trade Union Center of Bangladesh, the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan & Iran, Federação das Organizações Sindicalistas Revolucionárias do Brasil, and others have endorsed a call for international May Day actions against wage slavery and austerity:

The May Day statement from the International Workers Association:

General Strike in Myanmar

From ASR 82

A week after a military junta took over the country and declared a state of emergency, protests have spread throughout Myanmar. Textile workers and students quickly went on strike against the army takeover; an initiative which grew in size and scope until it became a nationwide general strike.

Among the unions calling the strike was the Federation of General Workers Myanmar, which has worked with the syndicalist International Confederation of Labor. Demonstrations, strikes and marches continue across the country, including in the factory areas of Shwepyithar, Hlaingthayar and Mingalordon, in the industrial belt of Yangon.

Together with other organizations of the Anti-Junta Mass Movement, the FGWM has signed a declaration demanding the abolition of dictatorship, full democracy and respect for civil liberties, repeal of the 2008 Constitution (imposed by the military) and the immediate release of those arrested by the army during the coup and the protests.

All too often, the media focus on prominent political figures when reporting on events such as these. However, now, as always, it is the workers who make things move forward, who take to the streets to confront the repression, who bring the country to a halt with a general strike and, ultimately, who can stop the coup.

This is not the first time that working people have risen up to confront military dictatorship. When this happens, the army can only back down or unleash bloody repression. All the sections of ICL wish the best for our comrades in Myanmar. They know that they can count on our solidarity and support, as always. [ICL]

Israelis protest for African refugees

By Raymond S. Solomon, ASR 74 (2018)

In the Spring 2018 Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (Issue 73) it was reported that “At least 222 planned expulsions of refugees were halted last year when [many] airline pilots refused” to fly planes with African and Middle Eastern refugees being expelled from Germany.

The same article reported that “In January, three pilots for Israel airline El Al announced that they would not operate flights that were deporting African refugees.” This is, as the saying goes, “the tip of the iceberg” of increasing opposition in Israel to governmental threats to deport African immigrants. On February 27, the Israeli newspaper Harretz reported that:

In an unusual show of defiance, the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency has taken a public stand against the government of Israel and its plans to deport African asylum seekers.

The Jewish Agency Board of Governors published a resolution … at the conclusion of a three-day meeting, urging the Israeli government to grant legal status to 500 African asylum seekers who arrived in the country years ago as unaccompanied minors and were housed, fed and educated in youth villages run by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Education.

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery reports on his blog that many Israelis have committed to giving refuge to African immigrants facing deportation.

The issue of sanctuary for refugees facing death is a very deep one, cutting directly at the heart and soul of many people in Israel, because of the many Jews who were denied sanctuary before and during the Second World War. Anarchists Maria Louisa Berneri and her husband Vernon Richards, editor of the anarchist publication Freedom, wrote about this both during and after the war.

In introductory material to his late wife Berneri’s posthumous collection of some of her Freedom articles, Neither East Nor West, Richards wrote:

We know, for example, that the British government, knowing exactly what was happening in Nazi-occupied Europe, sought to close the last escape-route down the Danube. In 1943 Lord Cranbourne, the Colonial Secretary, wrote to the British ambassador in Turkey to stress that Jews in occupied Europe should not be encouraged to escape, nor should they be organized or helped.

Richards cites a BBC Channel 4 documentary, Raoul Wallenberg: Between the Lines, showing that “400,000 places within the [United States] quota” were not filled, leaving these people to be murdered. Richards stressed that “The United States gave refuge to only 10 percent of the number that they were allowed by law.”

Berneri had great empathy for the Jews faced with extermination during the Nazi horrors. In “Hell Ships for Refugees,” originally published in 1942, Maria Louisa Berneri cites the Italian-language American anarchist magazine L’Adunata about Jewish refugees in a coffin ship going from port to port with desperate passengers who would rather kill themselves than return to Nazi Europe. They were prevented from landing at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also, “Ramon Castillo (President of Argentina) gave the order for them to leave,” after that they were re-embarked and went to a Brazilian port where they were again rejected.

After the Second World War many Nazi war criminals found a safe haven in Argentina and Brazil. Among the Nazis who found refuge was Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz “angel of death” who performed gross medical experiments, including how long it would take a baby to die without food or water, and helped decide who would go to labor and who to the gas chambers. He died in Brazil in 1979. Mengele was also very involved with the murder of Gypsies’ children at Theresienstadt. Eichmann was in hiding in Argentina for many years before being captured.

The above incidents and others like them may well be in the minds of the German and Israeli pilots who have refused and will continue to refuse to fly refugees out of their countries. Today there are a growing number of people determined not to let such episodes of history be repeated.

Selected References

Anatoli (Kuznetsov), A. (1970) Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel (New, Complete, Uncensored Version). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Translated from the Russian into English by David Floyd.)

Berneri, Marie Louisa. (1988) Neither East Nor West: Selected Writing 1939-1948. Freedom Press.

Bettelheim, Bruno. (1943) “Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 38, 417-452.

Bettelheim, Bruno. (1960) The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age. Glencoe, The Free Press. (Bettelheim was held in two concentration camps, and his research after the war explored the psychology of the doctors experimenting on the inmates.)

Morse, Arthur D. (1967) While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy. Random House.

Pelhe, John, Josiah DuBois, Jr. and Randolph Paul. (1943, 1944.) “A Report to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews.” Reprinted in A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust by David Wyman and Rafael Medoff, reissued by New Press, 2002.

To resist Trump’s agenda, Oakland longshore workers shut down their workplace

by Peter Cole

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, many Americans wrung their hands. Some took to social media to express their discontent while others protested. But, perhaps, the most dramatic and important action was taken by dockworkers in Oakland, California: They stopped working. Their strike demonstrated the potential power ordinary people have on the job, when organized.

Longshore workers, who load and unload cargo ships, chose not to report to their hiring hall. As a result, “Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest container facility at the Northern California port, was shut down Friday,” according to the Journal of Commerce. It also reported that all other Oakland container terminals were essentially shut down, too.

Crucially, these workers did not first come together to protest Trump. They belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), one of the strongest and most militant unions left in the United States.

The ILWU, founded in the 1930s, represents logistics workers up and down the West Coast of the United States, in Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia and Panama. For some 80 years, the union has fought for equal rights, democracy, economic equality and a vast array of other social justice causes. ILWU Local 10, which represents workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, often has been at the forefront of those fights.

ILWU members refused to load scrap metal intended for Japan because it had invaded China in the 1930s. The ILWU condemned the racist, apartheid regime in South Africa and Local 10 members periodically refused to unload South African cargo, including in the face of federal injunctions and employer pressure. They also refused, in 1978, to load U.S. military aid for Augusto Pinochet, a Chilean military general who led a coup against a democratically-elected, socialist president, Salvador Allende. On May Day 2008, the ILWU shut down Pacific Coast ports to protest the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Activists take the lead

One key element of ILWU power is its job dispatch system. In the aftermath of its legendary Big Strike of 1934, which briefly became the San Francisco general strike, the union basically won control over job dispatch. Quickly, workers implemented a “low man out” system, which enshrined the idea that the person with the fewest number of hours worked be the first one dispatched. Such socialism in action should not be surprising from a union whose founding members included socialists, communists and Wobblies, the name for members of perhaps America’s most radical union, the Industrial Workers of the World. The ILWU also inherited the Wobbly motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Today, though some workers are assigned to specific companies on a long-term basis, many still are dispatched via hiring halls. This system gives workers incredible power because they decide when to report for work, creating the possibility for workers to coordinate not showing up. The result, as seen on Friday, was to shut down the port of Oakland.

Obviously, many workers, nationwide, do not operate under a dispatch system. But they can still organize something similar without technically calling a strike.

At the end of 2014, New York City police officers coordinated a “virtual work stoppage,” nicknamed the “Blue Flu.” And last year, Detroit public school teachers, enraged by the awful conditions students and teachers suffer from because of a lack of state funding, organized an effective “sickout.” In other words, workers need not officially “strike,” or even belong to a labor union, to engineer a shutdown.

Importantly, Friday’s action was not organized or endorsed by the ILWU leadership. Since its inception, the ILWU has stood on the left tip of the U.S. labor movement, but even this union has become more conservative during the past few decades. Nowadays, rank-and-file activists in Local 10 often take the lead.
“There is power”

Like most unions and working people, the ILWU opposes much of Trump’s anti-labor agenda, which promotes “right-to-work” (more accurately right-to-work-for-less) legislation, condemns public sector unions, seeks to privatize public schools and reverse the Obama administration’s actions on paying more workers overtime, reducing wage theft and ensuring worker safety. Trump’s proposed labor secretary, for one, has made his anti-worker positions clear. (That said, Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is welcome.)

Nor have Bay Area longshore workers forgotten Trump’s insult of Oakland. The president once said, “There are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.”

To resist Trump’s agenda, Oakland longshore workers shut down their workplace and reminded us of the potential of organized labor. As the old song, written by Joe Hill and sung by Utah Phillips, declares, “There is power, there is power in a band of working folks, when we stand hand-in-hand. That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land.”

Peter Cole is a Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia and is currently at work on a book entitled Dockworker Power: Race, Technology & Unions in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. He tweets from @ProfPeterCole.