Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Pamphlet as Passport (Part 1)

The Pamphlet as Passport

Spain in June was hot. Not in the temperature sense, but in the 'labour stuggle is about to cook off' sense. The rhetoric in Europe isn't about 'recovery' the way it is here in North America: Everything is 'crisis', 'austerity,' and 'we must all sacrifice.' 'We,' of course, means workers and the first target was the militant public sector workers. This sector include staff in hospitals, schools, and government offices. My first question upon arriving in Barcelona to my host was “What's going on, and how do I help?” The response was “Come to our action.”

It was an information picket at a university outside of Barcelona. We had a two-sided handout in wordy and less-wordy form. There were multiple access points to the campus but it was possible to occupy them all with about three groups. I was initially confused about the objectives, and clearly others were as well. Before arriving I thought we were doing a full blockade. Then I later thought we were just handing out flyers, later still I was informed that our objective was to ruin traffic around the university. We were to functionally block the university without announcing it. That didn’t require actually stopping every driver. This was an important distinction.

During the initial phase, when we were just pamphleting, after a certain period of time the drivers began treating the pamphlet as their passport to the campus. After awhile we started getting cars who already had a pamphlet. It was almost cute the way the drivers would desperately wave it in order to get past us. What I realized was that this was an assent to our power. Whether or not they acknowledged the legitimacy of our makeshift passport, they acknowledged our power. Legitimate or not, we controlled access to the campus. Not only that, we had a more lasting effect with the ‘pamphlet as passport’: If these people planned on leaving campus and returning, they had to carry that pamphlet with them the entire day. All of a sudden a shitty piece of propaganda has acquired the status of one of those critical things you carry around with you every day. Like your drivers license.

Let that sink in.

Realizing the power we had and seeing how we could use it shocked me. We speak a lot about class conciousness, but we rarely talk about power. Raising class consciousness needs to have a component that acknowledges the fact that we are using and wielding power. We don’t really have the ability to be surgical with it so it mostly takes the form of “We will fuck your shit up if we don’t get what we want.” This is the core of the strike action. Recognizing this truth is critical. The ‘what we want’ part can be fair, equitable, and irrelevant without a foundation of ‘we can and will fuck your shit up.‘

Class consciousness is not just “Oh my buddy and I at work have the same grievances.” It is the acknowledgement of our collective power and our willingness to use it for our benefit. Exercising that power, even in small ways like pamphlet-as-passport, demonstrate the kind of class consciousness that is the bread-and-butter underpinning day-to-day class struggle. Without this experience and understanding of collective power we risk crippling our own class consciousness.


  1. It was just published in the December Industrial Worker. It should be in on-line in the next few weeks.