Thursday, October 07, 2010

[olympiaworkers] Solidarity


Down in an old buoy tender, a small ship that places buoys in the water
and repairs buoys, I am working down in a very small tank below the bilge.
We are working on rebuilding a sea water system that supplies sea water to
the ship. On ships sea water is mainly used for the firemain, cooling water,
flushing water, and ballast. The sea water comes up into the ship in what is
called a sea chest, that is an opening in the bottom of the ship that is
like a square box. Most ships will have a number of sea chests, depending
upon their needs. If the piping of the system goes above the waterline that
system will need a pump to move the water down the line. If the system stays
below the waterline head-pressure will move the water.

The system I am working on needs pumps. This means that the pumps also
must be below the water in order for them to be primed. The forward sea
chest is located down in a tank and has a 6 inch pipe coming out of it. Most
piping used is schedule 40 pipe, that has to do with the wall thickness of
the pipe, and it is good for up to 150 PSI (pounds per square inch). But on
salt water pipes schedule 80, double the wall thickness, is used because
salt water corrodes steel pipe. So 6 inch schedule 80 pipe is rather heavy.
Because of where the water line is most of the piping must be run through
two tanks then up to the pumps. These tanks are small with not much room to
work and only two people can work down there at a time. That means one
pipefitter and a welder. My pipes come down through a soft patch in to the
ship, but getting them to the tank and down through tank cover, I need help.
"Hey buddy can you give me a hand?" I ask a nearby pipefitter. That worker
knows that in order to get the job done at times we need to help each other.
Without question, without having to be told by some boss, that worker helps
out. You can see this on most jobs. This is natural solidarity, the
willingness to give a hand when needed.

Wake up in the middle of the night. Try as you may, you just can't go
back to sleep. So many worries, so damn alone. Bills adding up like maggots
on a corpse. You pay some some of the bills, then don't have the money to
pay the other bills. Do you pay your rent and not pay your lights? Do you
pay the tickets on your old clunker of a car or do you buy clothes for the
kids? Do you fix your car so that you are legal or do you buy medicine for
your aching body?

The judge asks you if you have anything to say and you tell that beast
that you only have so much money and if you fix your car and buy insurance
then other needs will go unfulfilled. The judge says, as that beast has said
to countless folks just like you, "The law is the law and there are no
exceptions to the law!" But you know that the laws are all written for the
rich and damn the poor wherever they maybe.

So there you are alone, worrying about the way things are. It seems you
were born into a world that ain't meant for you to ever make it. But you see
on TV all them well off people and wonder why, no matter how hard you work,
you will never be among them. They are well off because you and millions of
other folks aren't. Countless times throughout your life you are told about
personal responsibility. How whatever happens in your life you and you alone
are the one to blame.

You seek help and though there are programs, they all belittle you, shame
you for the idea that someone else has to help you out.

Charity is the act of those that have more than they need giving to those
that have less than they need. Their hearts bleed for you all the while they
make it known that they are the better people and one such as yourself
should be forever thankful. Though you are taught not to question the way
things are, can you help but wonder why most of the people are just like you
and the better off folks are so few?

The answer is greed. The rich folks believe that it is their God-given right
to exploit the world and all who live upon it for their personal wealth.
And that the bad people of the world are those that seek to change that

We bleed and die for the rich, fighting their wars where we try to kill
people of other lands who are just like us. We bleed and die for the rich in
the factories producing their wealth. So what can we do about this? Line up
behind politicians and parties where we delegate to others our hopes for a
better life? That be nothing more than a fool's path for there is no one out
there we can depend on but ourselves. There is something out there that the
rich folks fear. They fear it more than an enemy's army or even the wrath of
their God. That dreadful horror of the rich is solidarity of the exploited
and oppressed. While plundering the earth and robbing the people to amass
their great wealth, the capitalist class has also wielded epic effort
historically to keep working people divided and fighting among themselves.
They know that if working people stood together in solidarity, their way of
life would end. Solidarity is more than a slogan or a song, it is a
natural instinct. Solidarity is people helping each other fulfill their

Natural solidarity can be found throughout our society. It could be just
helping someone whose car broke down. Or in times of great need lending a
hand. I remember a few years ago when a river was flooding its banks and I
went down there to help build a wall of sandbags. I knew the people who
needed help. As I was doing my part I looked around and saw that there were
a number of people helping out that did not live there. I asked one person I
knew who were those people and he said that some of them he had never seen
before. They were just there to help out. There were even kids there helping
out. As I was working a young girl, no more than 8 years old, comes up to me
and hands me some water to drink. I looked into her eyes and I could see
that she wanted to help, no one had to ask her to do that. Natural
solidarity is an instinctive part of humans. She was no less important than
anyone else there because she, like everyone else, was doing what they were
able to do to help. Natural solidarity does not need bosses or great
philosophers, people can see what needs to be done and they do it. I later
asked around to try to find who asked that little girl to hand out water
bottles. I found out that she saw a box of water bottles and just started to
hand them out to people working to hold off the flood. That is natural

No society can function without natural solidarity. In the society we live
in we have this thing called capitalism that seeks personal profit for
services and the production of goods. This system suppresses natural
solidarity and replaces it with personal greed. Everything is looked upon by
the capitalists as how it can be exploited for profit for a few. It is for
that reason that working people are exploited, the environment is polluted
and so on. This has created a world where most people do without so that a
few can have far more than they need and it is doing great harm to our world's
ecosystems. This will continue as long as we are forced to live under this
system. Capitalism cannot be reformed.

Shall we leave the survival and well-being of the people and the planet to
a system that cannot change its direction away from the exploitation of all
for the benefit of a few? It does not take a great look at our world to
clearly see that a change must take place. History has given us many
examples that changing who runs the system or even changing the name of the
system does little or nothing to change the exploitation of people and the
planet. Matter of fact some of the worst polluters have been so-called
socialist states.

The change that must take place has to, in my view, take place not only in
changing systems but also in changing the way we live. We must not longer
seek to rule over each other by competing for political power. Political
power and greed must be replaced with a common goal, the well-being of all.
And for that to become a reality, solidarity must become a way of life.
Solidarity is not charity. Charity only reinforces the class system.
Solidarity is helping each other out when needed.

In order to make solidarity a way of life we need to look upon each other
in a different manner. Though we all are distinctive individuals, each
having their own desires, hopes, skills and talents, we are all in the same
social boat together. All of us who are not of the ruling or managing
classes are exploited and oppressed in some manner. Some are exploited and
oppressed more than others, but as long as there is a class system in place
there is the reality of exploitation and oppression that we will always
face. In this society it is common to look at others as lesser than we are
and not realize that only helps keeps us in our place. That viewpoint only
aids the capitalist class in their purpose and helps keep all of us
exploited and oppressed.

It may be race or sex or religion or ethnicity, it could be what part of
town someone lives in or what their culture is, the list of reasons people
use to think they are better than someone else is almost endless. It is not
a matter of having to like everything, but rather realizing what you do like
is directly connected to what everyone else likes. There are forms of music
and culture that I don't care for. That is based upon my personal likes and
dislikes. But that does not mean that I should view what I don't care for as
lesser than what I like or that those who like other music or cultures
should be oppressed.

The only way oppression and exploitation can be challenged is to organize
against it and to stand up to it. This needs to be done by those of the
different types who directly oppression affects. Oppression and exploitation
strips us of control over our lives and seeks to suppress our
self-expression that defines who we are. Thus the struggle for liberation
from oppression and exploitation needs to include self-determination both as
individuals and as groups of people based upon the different forms of
oppression and exploitation.

The culture of the class system grants privileges that are denied to
others. The further up the hierarchy of the class system one is, the greater
those privileges become. Thus how real other privileges are is based upon
class privilege.

Such privileges as race privilege and sex privilege are designed to keep
people in their "place" and the system uses other oppressed and exploited
people to enforce this. Even though at the bottom of the class system these
privileges don't amount to much, the poor folks are told that if others,
such as people of color or women, makes gains through struggle that they
will lose something and thus those people are a threat to them. The fact is
that for those of the working class there are really only two things that
privilege grants them:

1. The right to be less oppressed. A White worker is oppressed by class
but is not oppressed by race, and so on.

2. The right to help maintain the system and culture of oppression by
helping to enforce it.

Back in the days of the old south (that is the south of the US) there was
a system and culture of segregation and heavy oppression of black people.
Black people organized a Civil Rights Movement to directly challenge
institutional racism. Many poor whites were used to try to help suppress
this movement. Some bought into the lie that black people were trying to
take something that they had. Some just sat on the sidelines not wanting to
get involved. But a few realized that if you ain't got nothing, you ain't
got nothing to lose and those who were trying to use them were those that
had most everything and thus were the reason they had nothing at all. And
thus it was not black people who were the threat to them but rather those
who exploited them who were to blame.

Long ago when I lived in New Orleans a black veteran of the Civil Rights
Movement told me that economically poor whites gained more from the Civil
Rights Movement than did poor blacks. The reason was that when the rich
white power structure, as seen in the White Business Councils, mostly
collapsed, that gave room for poor whites to make gains. Though the system
of oppression and exploitation continued, and racism was still a part of it,
the struggle of black people was a threat to poor whites but they also
benefited from it in real terms.

All resistance to the way things are is connected in two ways. First, all
oppressed and exploited people are that way because of the class system and
capitalism. Next, the privileges granted by the system are only a means to
help keep the system in place. Thus, all resistance benefits all of the
oppressed and exploited. And the only protections from oppression and
exploitation are to get rid of all oppression and exploitation.

We need to respect the importance of self-determination and not interfere
with that process. Some may point out that self-determination does not
always go where they would like it. But we all must realize that all
struggle for liberation from oppression and exploitation is a continuing
process, even among high minded anarchists. If we believe that true liberty
and self-management are the only means to get rid of the class system then
we must understand that others will reach the same conclusion. For example,
the Black Panther Party was a self-determination organization and was a
progressive step in the process. It collapsed because of government
repression and the conflicts created by a hierarchical structure. Learning
from that a number of former Black Panthers became anarchists. Some people
of color have organized as anarchists and for them anarchism has become a
part of self-determination organizing.

Though we need to respect self-determination organization, but we also
need to realize that we do have connections and how well our liberation goes
depends on all of us. Thus we do not seek to control or interfere with
self-determination organizations but in times of need and when asked, we do
need to stand in direct solidarity with them.

Forms of oppression tend to overlap. For example women may organize
women's groups that include women of color. So those self-determination
organizations would overlap with self-determination organizations of people
of color.

The largest area of overlap is with working class self-determination
organizations. Yes, such organizations as the IWW or anarcho-syndicalist
unions are self-determination organizations. The reason why this is true is
because they seek to organize working folks to the point that they can take
control over their labor and determine for themselves how their labor will
be used. That is what is called worker self-management.

Like all forms of oppression and exploitation, class oppression and
exploitation is directly connected to all other forms of oppression and
exploitation. And thus the working class directly benefits by standing in
solidarity with other self-determination organizations. This is important
for three main reasons:

1. All oppression and exploitation is connected and none can be liberated
without liberation for all.

2. By standing together in solidarity people learn about the cultural
oppressions that exist even in self-determination organizing. For example
there is still racism and sexism within the working class. Black
self-determination organizing could free black people from the white power
structure, only to find some black people replacing the white bosses.

3. The capitalist class is very powerful and well organized with control
over governments. It will take even greater power to free ourselves. Thus
there needs to be united solidarity action by all oppressed and exploited

Solidarity should become a way of life for us all. It should be as much a
part of our natural life as eating, sleeping, or anything else. From giving
a helping hand to the person next to us when they are in need, to standing
in direct solidarity with other oppressed and exploited people, to walking a
picket line in support of striking workers, to standing together in direct
action against the dirty rotten system, solidarity needs to become our
reality of living and in that way we are creating a new world for the
well-being of all.

Arthur J. Miller

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