Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson, Oakland ship blockade and the myth of peacefiul protest.

Oakland CA: Successful mass picket of Israeli ship
 "You can't have capitalism without racism." 
Malcom X

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I was thinking about this term "Peaceful protesters". What is a peaceful protest?  I'll answer my own question.  A peaceful protest is one that does not actually respond with tactics that will achieve the stated goals in the event the state, corporation, workplace or entity being opposed chooses to enforce its will.

Here in Oakland CA, we have had a very successful attempt to prevent an Israeli ship from docking at the port.  The dockers, members of the ILWU have refused to cross the community picket lines organized by various groups including the Transport Workers' Solidarity Committee whose calls for action have been up on this blog.

The Israeli ship as recently as this morning (Monday Aug. 19th.) is still in California waters and its cargo still on board.  I was reading yesterday that the police said that they would not interfere with the protest as long as it was peaceful.

I am not in anyway taking credit from the picket and the energy and dedication of those who arrived every day, but let's be clear: the important issue here is that the ILWU members never crossed. In other words, labor was withheld for whatever reason.

A strike is not a peaceful protest from the bosses' point of view because it hurts profits, it interferes with the labor process, a process they rightly control according to the laws of society.  From their point of view workers have collectively agreed to withdraw their labor power after agreeing to sell it.  As we all know, when we do this, the bosses will resort to other methods under their control to force workers to sell our labor power.  They will use the courts, the police and the military if need be. The moneylender will wage a war against us as owners of our mortgage or our car loan etc.  The landlord will demand their rent payment.  If a contract is up, they will use some other legalistic reason to justify their actions, public safety for example. And what is more harmful to public safety than a disruption in economic activity.  Of course, it is that section of the public whose economic interests depend on profits that they are talking about.  Capital hates obstacles.

Were the port bosses and their colleagues in retail, manufacturing and other areas of commerce to have one of their judges issue an injunction to force the ILWU members to work and declare the picket illegal for whatever reason, the cops would use violence and the picket action  would suddenly become a non-peaceful protest if it wasn't withdrawn.

In Ferguson, as they have done consistently since the WTO events in Seattle in 1999 and the global protests that followed, the authorities have attempted to impose "protest zones" to avoid the embarrassment of the nation and the rest of the world seeing the violence US capitalism has waged and is still waging against its own people, the victims of state repression. These are to ensure that the rights of capital and the actions of its state representatives are not impeded and  allow people to let off some steam, in actuality, "letting off some steam zones".

In the case of Ferguson, we should not underestimate the damage these scenes inflict on the phony image of US society the capitalist controlled media shows to the world with the willing cooperation of Hollywood. They learned from their slaughter in Vietnam that images of Vietnamese being burnt to a crisp from Napalm the US dropped on them being shown on prime time TV moved the US public. I remember first reading Negroes With Guns by Robert F Williams and learning of the famous Kissing Case, a black child about to be convicted of a crime for a friendly kiss on the face of a white girl, a child he knew as his mother worked for her mother. This would not have come out were it not for the European press taking it up and undermining the phony image the US media fed the global public.

US labor history is peppered with violence.  But workers, the oppressed, are the victims of real violence, organized state violence.  To take someones home away is violence.  To take a person's job away is violence as it deprives them and their children of food and shelter. When there is no organized leadership and desperation becomes so intense, mass action can have violent aspects to it but it is always a response to state terror in one form or another and it is always a minority and sometimes agent provocateurs as scenes of people wildly striking out deters those sympathetic to the cause from joining them in solidarity.

In Ferguson it is not simply about the assassination of one teenager no more than the Los Angeles riots were about Rodney king.  It is about harassment and bullying and disrespect on a daily basis. It is about sub standard housing, slum lords and the lack of opportunity. It is about no health care and education that fails workers and the poorest among us.  It is about a system that perpetuates violence on its citizens day in day out in all forms.  It is about racism and inequality based on the color of ones skin, one's gender, religion or other aspects of humanity. I remember a guy on meeting me telling me that in Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants don't get along; it's a religious affair. "No it isn't" I replied."  Most Catholics wouldn't have a clue about the theological differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine  But the Catholics knew they had the worst housing, were barred from the best jobs, were treated differently by the cops, were locked out of political power and were the recipients of the most extreme violence when they protested and at times as in all such cases, it may be expressed as anti-Protestant, it's their religion that is the problem but that is not the case and we know it. You see, protests must not threaten the source of one's oppression with the intention of removing it. You'll see what real violence is then.

Without a leadership that can draw together all the forces for change, all the victims of class society, a movement as it arises can and will be confused and at times violent as the state uses tactics to divide it and from its own immaturity. The black cop that the state brought in after the initial violence in Ferguson and who went around hugging people wants more black cops as the solution; but the cops as an arm of the sate are the problem and more black ones won't alter that. The black capitalists want more opportunity for black businesses.  But black capitalism isn't the answer either as capitalism is the problem.  The Irish capitalist class, the Indian capitalist class, the African capitalist class, they will always betray workers. Read James Connolly's Labor in Irish History and for an explanation as to why,  Leon Trotsky's The Permanent Revolution.

We must demand the demilitarization of the police as a start.  As we wrote earlier, get the tanks and Humvees and other military machinery out of our communities. Workers of all communities must demand what we demand what need not what is acceptable to capital:

Massive public investment on housing, health care, transportation and infrastructure spending must be demanded. Jobs for all.

The immediate hiring of hundreds of thousands of teachers and investment in public schools must be a priority as well as the control of public education being in the hands of those that use it, students, parents the communities.

As for housing and the skilled labor necessary to re-build our communities, the building trade unions can set up hiring halls and apprentice schools in the communities that can train and provide labor.  Youth and workers can be taken in on a first come first served basis. How our communities are built, the planning of them must be taken out of the hands of developers, speculators and their politicians whose sole interest is profits.

The police is a social force whose purpose is to protect the rich, the corporations and the capitalist system.  They are sworn to defend the law and the laws are written by the politicians of the two dominant capitalist parties. The laws, like the political parties that enact them, are not devoid of class content.

For policing our communities we can have labor/community committees of public safety.  These committees would have to be composed of elected representatives who are from the community and who are wage earners, unionized and unorganized workers who work in the community as well as representatives of small community businesses.  Members of these committees of public safety would be elected by the community and all excepting worker representatives who live outside it should be residents. Those who are given the task of protecting our communities and dealing with safety directly must live in the community.

The mass incarceration of youth, especially youth of color as a percentage of their population is a product of a policing and justice system that are institutions of capitalism therefore inherently racist and anti-worker. Racism and sexism are institutionally built in to the capitalist system and cannot be eliminated without eliminating the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism is a competitive system that producers winners and losers, more of the latter than the former. It will never resolve social and environmental crises.

These necessities for a decent life can be paid for by ending all predatory wars and occupations and taxing corporations and the rich.  Attempts by the 1% to shift production or export capital (money) must be met by taking in to collective ownership the banks, financial industry and other means that are necessary to maintain a decent life for all.

The most important aspect of demanding and fighting for what we need regardless of how "unrealistic" the spokesperson's of capital  claim our needs are, the struggle for them raises our consciousness, it draws others in to the movement and no matter what level of achievement we reach, it is but one battle in the war for genuine freedom and control over our own lives. In the course of the struggle, the movement will find political expression, will put forward political candidates as an alternative to those in the two Wall Street parties; a political party of all workers will arise out of such a movement.

I commented a few days ago on FB I commented on the young guy interviewed after the looting and such in Ferguson. He said it was what was supposed to happen although he meant a general social upheaval, as it halted economic activity, it stopped the money flowing.  He was right, this is all they listen to, it is our strongest weapon as workers and we must use it.

Added note: these ideas are my thoughts about resolutions of some social issues like the police for  example. I am convinced we cannot reform them, no more than we can make capitalism friendly--it has to go.  This doesn't mean we don't struggle to change things as it is through struggle we learn.  The bst solutions are collective ones as we learn from each others experiences as well.

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