Last time in 'Workers Power' I discussed an information picket that blocked access to a university in Spain and some resulting thoughts on the nature of class power, namely the threat of and willingness to disrupt production. Class consciousness cannot simply be “Oh my buddy and I at work have the same grievances.” We must acknowledge our collective power and our promote the willingness to use it for our benefit. Exercising that power involves being disruptive, sometimes to a degree that we find uncomfortable. However, workers cannot win demands and improve their position without being prepared to significantly upset the status quo.
As a revolutionary organisation, the IWW has a vision beyond just a society where the producers are simply in a better bargaining position. We want to switch the balance of power between classes entirely to ultimately abolish the wage system. Here I think a second event from the action is instructive.
Eventually the cars trying to get through information picket started to get backed up pretty bad. Being the foreigner who couldn’t speak the language, a good role for me was clearly traffic direction. So I directed traffic effectively for awhile. When one of the organizers came to check up on me I queried whether we were trying to fuck up traffic or distribute propaganda. I aksed because we were doing really good at fucking up traffic, but I wasn’t sure how effective the propaganda was when people were furious from having to wait 10-20 minutes to get anywhere. Fortunately our objective was to disrupt traffic and we were doing a good job of it!
If that was the case, why bother with traffic direction at all? Not managing drivers would have created additional havoc that added to our existing disruption, thereby adding to the basis of our class power. Unconciously, my comrades and I wanted to prove that we are capable of managing and maintaining some sense of order at the picket because how we act now reflects on how we will act when we become dominant. If the population at large only ever sees us causing a mess then they will inevitably turn to the forces of reaction to defend them from demonised revolutionaries.
I’m not saying this attitude should stay the cudgel of the working class ― it should still come down like a pile of bricks on our target and when the dust has cleared I am happy with leaving the mess for the ‘haves’ to clean up. But managing the unintended consequences of actions should be part of any strategy which has a goal of fundamentally altering the balance of power. In the case of our action, we could have let the drivers eventually cause a traffic accident. Without our intervention it was not a question of if, but of when.
If our objective is to solely cause enough havoc to force bosses and bureaucrats to cede to our demands, then sure, let the cars crash and burn. But the secondary function of revolutionary unions has always been to prepare its membership to assume the duties of a functional society. I’m not sure we are doing that in the IWW. We must be more capable at brinkmanship while simultaneously being able to manage the potential fallout of it. Within revolutionary unions we understand the need and execution of brinkmanship better than mainstream unions, but I’m not convinced we’re preparing ourselves or our fellow workers for control.
Some radicals are good at raising class consciousness, because we accept the brinkmanship implicit in it. But I want to consider what we should address in our direct action if we ever want the managers’ business to be our business. We have half the formula in place: Our actions should demonstrate power to the boss and, when necessary, the public. That achieves whatever our short-term objective, be it shutting down a university or getting a workers back-wages. I propose that we must also consider collateral damage beyond our objective because this demonstrates responsibility to the public. Having the public recognize both power and responsibility being displayed in class struggle swings their support away from conservative reaction and paves the way for the abolishment of class roles. The public will see the abolishment of class roles as a reversal of positions and it is critical that they see working class people as responsible enough to hold their new class position. Managing the fallout of our actions will give us and the public a glimpse of our power to run a new society, in addition to our power to fuck up the bosses' system of exploitation. To exercise class power without showing the ability to manage the after effects on bystanders is to shoot the enterprise of revolutionary unions in the foot.