By the Disgruntled Crossing-Guards Collective
How do we resist? How do we resist capitalism, this system based on a logic that reduces human bodies, nature and life itself to mere economic inputs to be bought, put to work and then sold for profit? How do we resist its exploitation in our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our communities?
This question is about how we organize ourselves and what tactics we use. It has always been the key question and all of our struggles, past and present, are dedicated to answering it. And it is through struggle, not some sort of so-called intellectual activity separate from struggle, that we come up with our answers.
The struggles of French workers that was the Paris Commune (1871) gave the radicals of Mikhail Bakunin's and Karl Marx's days a vision of participatory democracy and of an economy run by those who actually do the work. The sit-down strikes of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and of American auto-workers in the 1930s showed how the newly-emerging assembly line, itself meant to weaken the power of skilled or craft workers, could be brought to a standstill by workers siting down at their machines and refusing to work. Beginning in the 1960s campus strikes and occupations showed how students too could resist by refusing an education meant only to turn them into obedient workers.
Today it seems that our various struggles are coming up with another “answer” or rather part of an answer as no single form of organization or tactic is ever enough on its own. The struggles I have in mind include most loudly the piqueteros or the unemployed workers movement of Argentina that began in the mid-1990s.
How do workers who no longer have jobs and therefor can no longer strike or shut down production at its immediate site, resist? Their answer has been to occupy and block, even in the face of brutal and sometimes deadly police attacks, Argentina's major highways and bridges. Using this tactic they are able to prevent the circulation of goods and people (or inputs and outputs of production from a capitalist point of view) and in general prevent business as usual. And they have won victories that seemed impossible only a few years ago including an employment insurance-like program whose funding they have used to build an autonomous network of worker-run shops and stores.
Closer to home, the leading practitioners of this tactic have been indigenous peoples who, like the piqueteros, have repeatedly occupied land, roads and railways in their struggles against Canadian colonialism. This recent wave of struggle includes the Six Nations occupation of land and of Highway 6 near Caledonia, Ontario, several occupations of railways across the country in solidarity with the Six Nations and most recently, the occupation (using an old school bus) of the major Toronto - Montreal railway line as well as the blockade of the major 401 highway by the Mohawk of Tyendinaga near Belleville.
Of course throwing a wrench in capitalism's movement of products and people is not “new” especially when talking about strikes by transportation workers including the summer 2006 strike wave that included strikes by Montreal public transit workers, Greyhound drivers in Western Canada and Canadian Pacific Railways and Canadian National Railways conductors and maintenance workers. However two things stand out about these recent struggles.
First, capitalism has changed in a crucial way. While capitalism has always depended on the smooth flow of products and people, this dependence has today reached new heights. In response to the factory-based struggles of the industrial worker, capitalism has exploded the large factory or workplace into an infinite number of fragments kept together through networks of high technologies and transportation infrastructure. This is not the capitalism of the factory town but rather of the network where a car is made up of parts produced in 100 small factories, in 10 different countries and then delivered to thousands of dealers to be sold to millions of consumers all over the globe. In the service sector, think of the thousands of McDonald's and Starbucks stores spread out over the world yet linked by information technologies and rail, highway, ship and plane.
From the point of view of those who struggle, the ability to disrupt the smooth flows of capitalism thus becomes an important source of power, perhaps as important as was disrupting production in the factory in the era of the factory town. The fact that the two-week CN workers' strike alone caused hundreds of millions of dollars in profit losses leading to such headlines as the Toronto Star's “Companies alarmed by CN strike” is a testament to the potential power that we can gain from this tactic.
Second, and even more important, is the potential that this tactic may spread to the struggles of people not only outside of the transportation sector but excluded from or on the margins of the economy as a whole. It is hard to think of people more excluded from the economy and society (and thus disempowered) than unemployed workers in the South or indigenous nations in Canada/Turtle Island. But, by disrupting capitalism's flows of products and workers, these two groups have been able to gain tremendous victories (as in the case of the piqueteros) and attract more attention and force more movement on the issues than decades of so-called peaceful negotiations ever have (as in the case of the Six Nations).
These two struggles are showing something very important to us, to the unemployed factory worker whose job has been moved to where workers are more intensely exploited, to the young worker making minimum wage at a multinational chainstore, to all the people and communities that have been the target of the neoliberal onslaught (think run-away factories, cuts to social programs, police oppression, land grabs, etc.). They are showing that, despite our marginalization and apparent powerlessness, we too can organize our communities and disrupt this insane economic system by clogging its channels, by disrupting the smooth flows of goods and people it so depends upon. They are showing that we too can resist and resist effectively.
Of course the state and corporations will defend capitalism from our attempts to disrupt its circulation. The Six Nations blockade at Caledonia was raided by OPP forces and the Canadian government sent Canadian soldiers to the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation's blockade. Both groups face numerous legal charges and the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation is being sued by CN Railway for millions of dollars in lost profits. Blocking a railway line or a highway is illegal. In this sense, this tactic is similar to the strike before it was legalized in the early 20th century. During that time striking workers were thrown in jail and far too often killed in cold blood on the picket lines by police.
But by organizing themselves and their communities, they were able to continue resisting until governments all over the world recognized the right to form a union and to strike. Today, the Piqueteros and the Six Nations (and other indigenous groups) are also showing that an organized community, one that has the solidarity of other communities, can effectively use tactics considered illegal by the state and stand up to the oppression of the state and billion-dollar corporations.
So now that we have these examples what do we do, we who are not directly involved in these struggles? It seems that a good place to start is by learning even more. One article will not due. Learning more may also lead to finding out how we may show some real solidarity with these struggles. Most importantly however, is to go back to and organize our own communities whether this be the workplace, the school, the local punk scene or whatever. Resisting and eventually doing away with capitalism is going to require all our efforts. Just like a local music scene thrives off the interactions and connections it makes with other scenes our struggles need to multiply and connect if they are to resist and eventually do away with the exploitation and oppression that we face everyday.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), http://ocap.ca/taxonomy_menu/1/11
Autonomy and Solidarity, http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/view/2012
Turtle Island Native Network, http://www.turtleisland.org/news/news-sixnations.htm
ZNet's Argentina Watch, http://www.zmag.org/lam/argentina_watch.cfm