When Italian students established some nascent independence from their official organizations in 1968, sections of the movement called for greater contact with industrial labor. At the time, they knew where to find them. The Left had flirted with a strategic alliance between technical, white-collar workers and students, a link that made sense given the former’s academic training. But the interest proved to be ephemeral. As the struggles of Southern migrants working in the Northern factories of FIAT escalated, the students opted to forgo technicians as the “ideal vector” between themselves and the working class. University radicals dodged unions, too, instead forging direct links at the gates of automobile factories, where they distributed literature and held assemblies. Militant strikes grew more frequent and student revolutionaries clamored to come into contact with history’s apparent vanguard.
The worker-student assembly became a principal organizational form during this cycle of struggle. Much of its work involved the production of literature for distribution in the factories. After work, laborers would rush to the gates and recount what had happened that day. The students took dutiful notes, and stayed up until the early morning hours fashioning them into weapons. These pamphlets were important circuits of communication, an alternative current for workplace cooperation, which encouraged rather than repressed militancy, while evading union channels that would have had the opposite effect. The practice engendered lasting relationships between militants and the mass worker, giving rise to more formal organizations like Lotta Continua (Continuous Struggle). The importance of collaborative theoretical production was not lost on these new groupings of intellectual and manual labor – Lotta Continua ran a widely read newspaper. Its pages weren’t just filled with reports of tactical inventions in the factories; in some respects, it was its own innovation.
One of the paper’s most popular elements was Gasparazzo, a comic strip character who turned the moral condemnations of laziness issued by bosses and bureaucrats alike into a point of pride. Drawing references from a shared culture of struggle, the comic protagonist represented the tension between a subject that workers could identify with, and the iconic revolutionary that Lotta Continua hoped to meet. The cartoon elevated the everyday experience of the mass worker into an animating force of revolution. What’s more, militants working from the very shop floor cultures that were discovered and developed by the comic strip, generalized the mass worker’s tendency toward listlessness on the job into a tactical interruption of capitalist valorization. Slowing down production became a favorite expression of their opposition to the Taylorist organization of the workplace.
Much credit is due to the strip’s creator, Roberto Zamarin, a graphic designer who boasted an impressive professional career before devoting himself to the agitprop of the extraparliamentary Left. But his work was the product of a continued encounter between communists and factory labor, without which Gasparazzo would have been impossible.
Zamarin would die in 1972, his hero shortly after. The restructuring of the FIAT’s production process in the early 1970s came with massive layoffs, which hit shop floor radicals harder than most. It also made the slow-down tactic difficult, if not impossible to employ. Luckily, Gasparazzo’s family, under a diverse array of banners and a plurality of movements, would carry on the anti-capitalist resistance.
From the perspective of students and academic workers, the concept of the vanguard had engendered cross-class relationships with an industrial working class, which in turn informed the strategic and organizational content of their combined resistance. But those models found limited purchase as the objective situation changed. When the insurgent FIAT employees were hit with targeted firings and layoffs, the utility of old forms faded, and difficulties in translating the industry-based perspective to new movements outside the factory gates threw groups like Lotta Continua into crisis. The growing rifts in the party, particularly between feminists and male factory workers, exploded during a party conference in 1976. Reflecting on this changing class composition, the party decided to dissolve itself.
Despite the larger collapse, the organization’s editorial collective continued to publish Lotta Continua as a newspaper without a party. Attempting to overcome its distance from existing movements, the paper opened a readers’ letters section for its daily publication in 1977, titled “Dear Comrades,” and Lotta Continua’s circulation swelled. In a period of six years, over 8,000 letters were submitted, and a sizable number of them – 1,000, in fact – were published. In 1980, the London-based publisher Pluto Press presented 350 of these letters in English translation.
The hope and fear that so often join new weapons also accompany these letters. Yet we should avoid being too sentimental about these stories of interpersonal crisis, lest we overlook the crisis of political forms that gave rise to them. The letters section was a response to a very specific conjuncture, in which proletarian activity was both disparate and unknown. When the gates where students met “history’s vanguard” were either missing or locked, revolutionaries dissolved the old organizational forms based on yesterday’s alliances. With new subjects, “Dear Comrades” wrote towards a different kind of cooperation. Most of the letters contain at least a trace of desire for an encounter across sections of the class. But it is often more explicit than that. Immigrants ask for more socially immersive organizing and outreach. Mothers write for sons to come home. Prisoners want pen pals, and one man really needs the rabble-rouser who borrowed his bike at the demonstration to return it. Even reflections on communist strategy provide an address so someone can follow up the debate. There is plenty of talk about enemies and what to do with them. But the column was addressed to comrades, and it is the practice of friendship that seems most pressing.
Dear Comrades was the critical infrastructure that simultaneously discovered the prevailing need for communication in the class, while making modest gestures towards satisfying it. Our situation is not that different – the organizational forms and tactics of Occupy have faded, but people and their networks are still trying to persist. We still can’t find the gates of “history’s vanguard,” but that might be reason to celebrate; encounters never take hold without surprise. It is towards this goal that we revive the practice here.
Class war is not contained by municipal codes
At any major demonstration in Oakland, you will see police from all corners of the East Bay. Class war is not contained by municipal codes, even when it has historically echoed in them. As inner-cities gentrify, low-income and working-class families are moving into the suburbs and upper middle-class families have taken flight to exurbs or into the city. The low-income jobs of the future are more likely to be found in Decoto than Dolores Park, and consequently the demographics and community issues in suburbs are beginning to resemble big cities.
The community college I attend, City College of San Francisco, is engaged in a community-wide struggle against austerity and union-busting after the Accreditation Commission of Community & Junior Colleges has threatened to revoke the college’s accreditation for failing to function within a limited budget and not implementing a chain-of-command style of governance. By law, an unaccredited institution loses state funding and ceases operation. This is significant because City College of San Francisco serves a diverse population of 85,000 students, mostly from low-income and working-class communities of color from all around the Bay Area. Much grassroots attention on public education downsizing tends to focus on inner-city schools like CCSF. However, what is happening to schools in inner-city neighborhoods may be a repetition of what has already happened in suburban schools.
Although the stunning news to close down City College jolted many teachers, students, and community members, the cries of austerity rang a similar tone to those I heard while attending high school thirty-five miles southeast of San Francisco. In 2006, the Western Accreditation of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the parent organization of the ACCJC, evaluated James Logan High School in Union City, a multi-ethnic East Bay suburb, and thereafter the New Haven Unified School District began laying off untenured teachers and staff, slashing teacher salaries, cutting funding to enrichment programs, and closing down schools. Like City College of San Francisco, James Logan High is a large and diverse public school serving 4,500 students (largest in the state), ranging from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, including 30% of the population being recent immigrants. The two school closures targeted working-class schools: an elementary school in a predominantly Black neighborhood and a middle school in a [email protected] neighborhood. The two campuses are now a charter school and for-profit college, respectively.
It is not just that many working-class communities in the suburbs and cities are locked in the same struggles. One of their struggles is precisely that urban residents are being evicted from their communities, and suburban residents are losing economic security. And this has been reflected in resistance. As more low-income and working-class people move into the suburbs, their struggles are bridging the gap to the bigger cities; and the urban proletariat has similarly established ties with the neighboring communities. There’s a reason why protests in the periphery and in the core are always proximate to a BART station. During Occupy, buses would regularly run in a circuit of Stockton–Modesto and Oakland. Occupy Oakland did not just tweet about striking licorice workers in Union City, and protests against the occupation of Afghanistan in Fremont. It brought people to materially support these fights, too. Anti-foreclosure actions bring people out from across the area, and Union City’s high-school walkouts are led by students who commute from Oakland. Nothing positive will come by accelerating the immiseration of suburbs or the dispossession of urban proletarians. Our struggle is about keeping a foot in both camps.
Communities may be geographically split by the forces of capital, but they are doing their best to retain political contacts and communication. As organizers in the East Bay and beyond, we need to do whatever we can to deepen these ties. We need to continue orienting our movements regionally. After all, the pigs are doing it.
Inderbir Singh Grewal
Lifelong Bay Area community member
We were many, we were strong: lessons from University of Sussex and the pop-up union
I do clerical work at the University of Sussex. In May 2012, the University announced plans to outsource 235 jobs to private contractors. These included all estates and maintenance workers, porters, cleaners, catering, and hospitality staff. I wasn’t one of those directly affected, though at the time was on a casual contract.
Immediately after the plans were announced, the three campus trade unions – UCU (academic and high-grade non-academic staff), Unison (clerical/cleaning), and Unite (estates, maintenance) – organized two mass meetings. The first, the day after the announcement, attracted 60 people. Several days later, over 250 packed into a lecture theatre. In response to a contribution from the floor, there was a unanimous show of hands for industrial action against the plans. Students vowed militant support for staff.
We were many, we were strong. Then the demobilizing began. At first, we were told that management were refusing to talk to the unions, and therefore they couldn’t enter dispute yet. And when we could, it would take at least 6 weeks. Unison deserves a special mention here for trying to deter their members from attending demonstrations organized by rank-and-file workers.
Over the summer, students were away, and the handful of worker-activists became increasingly frustrated with silence and inaction from their unions. The unions for their part blamed management, saying that as they weren’t being told anything, they had nothing to tell their members. When the autumn term arrived, the “movement,” such as it was, was dead.
It was at this point that militant workers and students began regularly meeting. Members of SolFed (a revolutionary union initiative with a small presence on campus) had begun canvassing campus for contacts and putting different groups of workers in touch with one another. As yet there was little in the way of a plan, but building horizontal contacts would benefit the struggle later.
After Christmas, now seven months after the initial announcement with still no sign of action from the campus trade unions, students took the initiative. On February 7, 2013, they occupied a campus conference centre following a demonstration organised by students and rank-and-file staff. The occupation jolted life back into the anti-privatization struggle, inspiring many staff who had begun to give in to fatalism, and providing a meeting place and base for organising efforts.
At this point, staff started to discuss what to do in the face of union inaction. Occupying students joined the canvassing and contact-building efforts. The plan we hatched was twofold: to push as hard as we could within the trade unions for joint industrial action, while developing an alternative structure for an official strike in case that failed: a “pop-up union.” The Pop-Up Union was launched at a national demonstration on March 25, 2013, with over 1,500 participants.
Management tried to squash the burgeoning movement with a court injunction banning all unauthorised protest. But while the students were evicted by bailiffs and riot police, staff picked up the slack. At this point, more people were attending the Pop-Up Union meetings than the official joint trade union meetings. Momentum was building.
Within a week of launching the Pop-Up Union – 10 months after the initial announcement – the campus trade unions suddenly acceded to demands for an indicative ballot for industrial action, promised as a precursor to a full ballot for strike action. Unison tried to sabotage even this – turning a yes/no question into a four-page survey, then declaring the results too confusing to announce, and lying about the turnout. Results were very strongly in favour of action: 75% (UCU), 85% (Unison) and 93% (Unite) on strong turnouts.
When once again the promised industrial action ballots failed to materialize, the Pop-Up Union announced plans for ballot for industrial action itself. Membership began to swell, making the Pop-Up the second-biggest union on campus, reaching previously non-union staff as well as uniting staff from the three recognized unions.
Time was tight, with summer holidays once again approaching (a weak time to take industrial action). In the end, the ballot was stopped by threat of legal action. The Pop-Up made some basic mistakes in the highly complex legal process and was forced to back down. The window for action was missed, and the outsourcing now appears to be going ahead, seemingly with the blessing of the campus trade unions.
But it’s not a total defeat. Once the Pop-Up threatened action, there were some concessions made to the recognised unions over pensions (one of the points of dispute). And while the outsourcing looks to be going ahead, vital rank-and-file contacts have been made, trust in the empty promises of the recognized trade unions – which dragged their heels for over a year, and in the case of Unison, actively sabotaged the movement – has been dispelled, and the beginner’s mistakes which scuttled the Pop-Up ballot have been learned from.
A Sussex uni worker
I was working with them to pay for my education
When I was attending Cypress Community College in Southern California, I worked at Labor Ready, a construction temp agency, so that I could pay for school. The work was backbreaking and exploitative in many ways, but those of us who worked usually were in need of fast money. Fees at the Community Colleges were gradually increasing due to state disinvestment. My increasing educational expenses forced me to find whatever work was available, and most students were in the same position. I witnessed many students having difficulties trying to work and keep up with the increasing costs of education, some of them being forced to drop out. Many of us were workers and students at Cypress, but our struggles remained separate and we remained vulnerable. At work I would be physically beat down, and at school I would have my pockets emptied.
When I transferred to the University in Santa Cruz, I expected fewer students to be working alongside their studies, but I found that things were often worse. Many of my friends were working upwards of 30 hours at a low-wage job every week. And that excludes the unpaid or poorly paid internships, the research positions, the endless resume padding, and the schoolwork itself, which, frankly, almost isn’t more than a vocational certificate. The jobs are sporadic. Turnover is crazy. The work students are doing is even stranger. Foodservice and retail work is expected of college students, but a lot of women do domestic work with kids and the elderly for the wealthier communities around the university. And many more help fuel the local tourism economy. I know some students who spent last summer working as agricultural laborers in the fields by Watsonville, because other jobs weren’t available.
I also witnessed something else in Santa Cruz: students replacing jobs traditionally reserved for a sector of unionized service workers. Teaching assistants are taking out more loans or finding other jobs because undergraduates are taking over their section duties, so that they might have a leg up when they’re in grad school. Students are taking over the role of counselors in the ethnic resource centers, while they’re filling the dining halls too. Ahead of contract negotiations for the graduate students and service workers, you have to wonder if the strategy is to employ even lower-wage undergrad scabs.
When I was working at Labor Ready there were a few workers who talked about getting an education because they wanted to do better, ironically, I was working with them to pay for my education. The identity of workers and students often become interchangeable, as many view education as a precursor to work. I feel that the distinction between the two doesn’t correspond to my experience.
I got involved in labor organizing on campus. We were students and workers, and we shared each other’s struggles and successes as they were our own. For some, the benefits of combining the student and worker struggle are unclear. Some of my peers have expressed concerns about investing finite student time and resources into labor struggles, because they dreamed that the low-wage economy was something they could rise out of. But I think it’s a reality for many of us during and after college.
But even as students, worker solidarity is like a fork to our knife. Separate we have some power, but when we come together we can get through the toughest of obstacles. I feel that it is a good analogy first because it comes down to sustenance, and I believe as workers and student we look to preserve our livelihood the same way. And second, because if necessary, the tools of labor can always be fashioned into weapons.
Eddie “Potato” Sanchez
Put organizing before organization
We are still finding lessons from the last cycle of California’s student struggle. Among them, the need for channels of student communication, an organization that could register and recollect insurgent knowledges to guard against the dangers of undergraduate turnover and opportunist intentions. In the fall of 2011 and again in the spring of 2012, the struggle was animated by radical rank-and-file activity, even when it was directed by the lackeys of the Democratic Party. And not once, but twice, did they sell out those same students for a pretty picture in the newspaper.
It is true that the construction of the California Student Union (CASU) began after the high point of struggle in the universities. But, unfortunately, this was not the only event that had cast its shadow over our union building. In the same spring of the first CASU conference, we learned about the massive student union in Quebec, and their strike against tuition and state repression (behind every fee hike, a line of riot cops). CASU has inherited Quebec, and more recently Chile, as not only union models worthy of repetition, but as goals to reach in their own right. Next steps are frequently discussed in reference to our Canadian counterpart, and the purpose of the union itself often amounts to a tactic, albeit a successful one, employed by the unions: a general strike.
The debates we’ve been having over horizontality and centralization have an important part in movement building, but arguments over organization have become a substitute for organizing the thousands of students across this state. The fact is that these conversations are not a prerequisite to the hard work of building a base and growing power. Sometimes, they’re even counterproductive.
Instead, CASU’s Regional and statewide meetings could be spent learning about the conditions we share across campuses and the positions particular to us. We could discuss the relationship of individual organizers to the diverse student bodies they hail from, and talk about strategies to build a base back at home. Instead, we’re obsessed with the bylaws of a relatively marginal organization, and the procedure for a possible strike vote, while we consistently gloss over what collaboration will look like in the six months before our next meeting. Maybe it’s time to reverse priorities; perhaps our conversations about structure could be informed by our strategy for growing the union across different campuses.
The authors do not believe the current strategy will not successfully build a union; students will not flock to an organization because it is an amalgamation of the radicals on other campuses across the state. They will join a union when the organization provides a way to advance the struggles students are always, already involved in. We need to stop pretending that CLASSE has all the answers; our association will be won by reading the pedagogies of the poor and pissed off in our own classrooms. What are our campuses fighting against, and how can we join that fight? We need shop stewards in every education struggle across the state.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a time and a place for conversations about structure; in fact, history shows that they’re important. Unionists in Canada stress the importance of codifying the improbability of bureaucracy through an insistence on the democratic character of the organization. But we should remember that the standards of transparency and direct democracy that CASU has correctly adhered to does not guard against all forms of bureaucracy. When CASU’s active participants shrink, our constructions become obstructed from the view of students struggling with debt, learning, police, and work in our schools. This becomes a cyclical process of growing irrelevance. When we obsess more over mimicking the structure of other organizations than we do learning about what will empower us and others across California, we’re just dooming our own association.
Undergraduate unionists around Santa Cruz and beyond
Regional student power centers
I’ve been organizing with the California Student Union (CASU) project since its inception as a working group created during the first Southern California Education Organizing Coalition conference, held in January 2012 at Pasadena City College. Inspired by international student movements with strong student unionist foundations – like those found in Canada and Brazil – the student union working group put out a statewide call for campuses to start working collectively to develop a movement toward student unionism and form alternative models of democracy capable of mobilizing students en masse against the privatization of education. Since that time, three statewide conferences have been held during which students have discussed and voted on next steps as a coalition of campuses within all system of education in California (K-12, Community College, California State University, University of California, and private universities).
While these conferences have served as good steps in building statewide relationships and achieving some collective decisions, I believe it would be stagnating to continue relying on them as the sole spaces for CASU organizing. Unfortunately, because of time demands placed on students by school, work, and local organizing, it is easy for this to happen. But if CASU is to grow, students’ abilities to communicate and organize outside of statewide conferences must grow.
As it stands, comprehensive outreach and resource materials, communication systems, campaign action plans, trainings and workshops, etc. have yet to be developed. Working groups have been established to address these needs, but they have remained fairly inactive and with the same small group of people doing most of the work. I believe this lack of student engagement and commitment to organizing outside of conference spaces is CASU’s biggest weakness at the moment, and what is causing the project to be stuck in a catch-22. Because there is a lack of outreach and education for existing and potential members, there is a lack of engagement and commitment. And because there is a lack of engagement and commitment, there is a lack of outreach and education.
One possible long-term solution to this problem would be the development of “regional student power resource centers” that could provide students with the stability, skills, and incentives needed for CASU to grow. These would be regional hubs where students could develop trainings, hold meetings, create a resource library, build relationships, share experiences, and educate and train each other across campuses. Students could also use these centers to connect with local social justice organizations and collaborate on trainings and workshops to broaden students’ capacities, perspectives, and consciousness. This kind of networking would help students build campaign support networks as well as a social justice internship and job database, ensuring that students have a path toward making a career out of changing the world if they wish to. To limit the threat of administrative repression/retaliation, these centers could be established off-campus, with collaboration between the centers and on-campus groups and organizations. Since CASU currently has no constant source of funding, outreaching to existing community organizations to provide both an organizing space and their mentorship may be most viable.
In order to make these spaces a reality, it is still important for students to form or join working groups and figure out next steps together, such as drafting letters to community organizations, collecting organizing resources, and proposing incentives to draw students to the centers and keep them active. In my eyes, there is no alternative to collaborating with others to strategize and implement concrete organizing goals that move projects forward. So, if interested in joining the working group currently developing these student resource centers in California, contact me at vanelops AT gmail.com
CSU Dominguez Hills
California Student Union, Organizer
is a city of lines straight and single.
Absent are cosines, contours, curves of any nature.
Streets form grids. Parks, squares.
Some are rectangular, but none circular.
Churches are boxes. Schools, pentagons.
Five is golden, but rings are not.
Pythagoras pervades where partridges pace, wings sans waves.
Desks in schools yield didactic discipline,
factory lines to cubicles of control.
Unemployed workers loiter near the gates,
but their disorder simply fuels the implosion of exclusion. Hospital beds meet beds upon more beds,
insurance primacy replacing patient privacy.
Prickly prison cells waste into cholera coffins, coffins into columns, into columns of collars.
Collars of white drink the coffee of black.
Coffee, the inmates harvest; columns of plants, their domain. Eminent domain turns black into bottom,
and the white still sips in cappuccino calm.
Sugar cubes of cane are stocked neatly at night, disturbed by day, while trash is taken by trucks, trucks that truncate trunks,
trunks of trees that have chosen to grow out of line,
trees with no place in Linnaean nomenclature.
But let’s get real
and release this nomenclature from Calvino’s noumena.
It’s not the cityscape that’s escaped Kublai Khan’s gaze
but the relations producing his accumulation,
the Leviathans seen only through microscopes of microagression, experienced as iterations of varying alienation
but more or less the same shit.
So here’s my shit,
mopped and aired out, mapped and maxed out,
a debt of rage that’s got no ceiling,
a Leviathan that for some time I’ve called Ledian.
Ledian is a Leviathan
because when Camila Lopez has been there for nine years covering for restaurant managers half her age,
they thank her with a write-up
after calling in with a toothache at six am
and arriving at work at seven,
with Manager Molly stumbling in at eight without having anyone to cover her ass as usual.
Manager Molly? Occupy Molly.
That’s what Server Barry said when she fired Busboy Trey
for sleeping in the backroom amidst his finals,
some days before college graduation,
some days after he told her in a preshift meeting
that making us answer questions
like why it’s vital for service servants to attend to guest requests and giving us petty rewards for vapid responses
reverts us all to kindergarten.
“Ledian loves children,” and making us feel like ones.
Sleeping on the job?
Food and Beverage Director Harold slept with sex workers upstairs in comped suites, while downstairs
Bartender Tyrone got fired for comping two drinks.
Just talk to the three cocktail servers
good ol’ drunken Harry’s groped at multiple holiday parties, the kind of comp that needs no signature.
But shit, we all know how it is,
which brings me to another point: “It is what it is.”
Foodrunner Kaenan utters that defeated, demoralized phrase
when he’s scheduled for two doubles and three back-to-backs
because Manager Sakina fires more than she hires,
or when he finally brings that up at roundtop roundtables
and she retorts with some circular logic
no one can question her on,
kind of like that schoolyard bully
who you knew was spewing all kinds of ignorance
but were too short or powerless to stand up to,
except for now you’re a grownup and have rights or something.
Housekeeper Kiara uttered it
when her friend Jada was fired for clocking in earlier than allotted,
when her supervisor Jayla got away with stealing her tips,
when Rakesha made Nadine clean twenty-one rooms while pregnant,
when Deron got a warning for refusing to turn over a bedbugged bed
because our “team member” handbook tells us we can’t resist managers’ requests.
Perhaps that’s what Molly was getting at with her kinderquestion.
the company told housekeepers they didn’t get a legitimate raise last year
because they wouldn’t have free food on the fucking plantation otherwise.
HR Director Shannon and her to-hell-with-good-intentioned AmeriCorps son
would probably call that extreme,
but not Ana, who transferred from front desk to housekeeping
for better pay, only to assert that slavery isn’t just about compensation,
some weeks after Hadi the lobby attendant
said his firing was cruel and unfair,
ridden with arbitrary undertones
of undesirables, favorites, frenemies
and all other dynamics through which we do in fact
end up eating each other like dogs,
giving capital all the bones and fossils it needs to keep fueling the system.
Grace, the only other Asian housekeeper, said Hadi was too outspoken,
but perhaps that’s what happens
when you come to this country on political asylum
and realize that your supposed freedoms and recourses,
the “peer reviews” dangled before you like green card carrots,
are just props in nonunion shops.
the company really does love to drill certain points,
simply because it has few others,
that it tells workers they wouldn’t have a caf with a union,
when at the Marian they’re told they don’t have a caf because it’s not union,
that they asked Houseman Caleb to influence his coworkers to not vote for one,
but when it came down to Caleb’s own interests,
when he raised his own concerns
in those meetings they like to call “open door,”
he learned it’s open ‘cause it’s a fucking black hole.
Caleb vowed he won’t attend one ever again
because at the end of the day,
after getting everyone to sign on that dotted line,
corporate really is just thinking,
“We still got those black motherfuckers in our pockets.”
Dasha doesn’t know where to begin
with those stale ESL prompts about what immigration means to her.
What’s she to write? That in the land of the unequal free,
she’s only made $31 after bussing 100 covers
and needs to pick up yet another part-time position
to afford extra classes in a backbreaking attempt to realize that elusive dream?
Ajit loves lecturing us about his early FOB days, about how he made it,
sometimes bussing a table or two, a bit clumsily at that,
though that doesn’t actually concern him because
it’s just a “demonstration” of how he climbed the jagged jacob’s ladder.
But sooner or later he, too, will realize
it’s only nice white boys who become general managers,
tending to the farm with proper white man decorum,
schmoozing with higher powers in white man speak,
waltzing past employee meetings with white man stride,
stealing white man glances at black housekeepers’ asses,
thinking they don’t notice,
but wake the fuck up, Frank: They notice. And they remember.
What really gets me, though, are the rulers we don’t see,
the ones running the show, running boards, running colleges,
who say they’ll consider student concerns about where tuition money’s invested
but then look at the labor grievances that actually get recognized
and say, “Well, that’s not genocide.”
You’re right, Craig: It’s racist sexist classist exploitation.
I don’t get as sick
when Bellman Randall checks my ass out,
or when Grant looks at me like he’s ready to sodomize,
when Cook Cody told me he’d like to cum on my face,
or when Jasmine scolded Kevin on my behalf because I was too timid to.
Because in this pervasive shitshow of power, I admit,
I let my coworkers get away with these unjust showcases of power.
Because in this pervasive shitshow of powerlessness,
guilt exists where action does not,
and guilt’s not a reason to reduce my standards for humanity for anyone.
So in this Linnaeus of infinite Ledians, Fukuyama was right:
The end of history is here.
partridges remain parched,
and people are passive, pacified pacemakers waiting for some kind of signal to be pumped.
To my comrades waiting for that signal, restraining their impulse to strike: Don’t.
Don’t listen to unioncrats tied to Democrats.
Don’t wage battles only to make wages rise.
Don’t expect respect to resurrect in this deveined, devolved democracy.
We can call for reforms, pressure the NLRB,
try to play Monopoly games with corporate campaigns,
but the violence won’t stop until we the people dismantle the master’s house,
until we reconfigure strategy and reclaim solidarity as the weapon it’s been and can be.
Juntas are toppled not when people scheme in siloed circles
but when they take open blows to expose each Leviathan for the beast it is,
when they stop taking orders from others, sin any patrón,
when they realize that workers are leaders
not because they’ve been identified
but because they’ve been reassured
that they can shout and shout and shout some more,
protected not by some technocratic negotiation or backdoor deal,
but by a genuine trust in their desire and in the fact
that our sisters and brothers in the grind might hesitate at first,
might be too bitter or too afraid or too tired to believe,
but when presented with a backbone and with a pulse,
their embers of anger sustained by an acuity of vision and audacity of action,
they’ll have no other choice – no other reflex – but to unleash their voice, too.
This poem is dedicated to the memories of Pavlos Fyssas and Shehzad Luqman
The writer lives in Queens and can be reached at salts.of.the.earth.unite AT gmail.com.