Over the past twenty years a lot has happened in the world of work, and by extension the labor movement. We can use the passage of NAFTA as a convenient marker to assess where we are at currently, since the Zapatistas wisely understood that things would never be the same. I won’t be going over the history since that event, but will merely give a brief overview of some issues that have developed since then that directly affects the punk community and why I think punk and labor issues are related, thereby (hopefully) justifying why a punk labor column is needed.
Firstly, all the avenues the punk scene had created for itself to refuse wage labor, or at least provide a basis for struggling to resist the worst aspects, have one by one been narrowing or closing all together. From the institutional schemes ( unemployment benefits, welfare, student grants etc.) to the autonomous DIY ones ( labels, bands, squats etc.), “the scene” has been torn apart and restructured just as much and in parallel ways to industry and society as a whole. So the punk scene is being forced out of it’s enclave ( an enclave not without it’s problems ) and into the labor market. That is not to say that punks were not “in” that market before, but if many a song were any indication, it was obvious that a job was a necessary evil at best, and one to be avoided if it were possible at all. And many found ways. But neoliberalism has changed the game on us. From a potentially liberatory file-sharing phenomenon, Napster ,through the courts had become a means of attacking one of the pillars of our communities’ infrastructure. The independent labels. Once central institutions capable of coordinating ( along with zines, clubs etc ) our activities, today it is more and more difficult to financially sustain them, with the predictable effect of less new labels being formed on the old models, and more existing ones being either driven out or coopted. New, effective models have yet to be found to counter and overcome these attacks.
Secondly, punk has always had a militant direct action strain that the labor movement could sure as hell learn something from if it wants to actually achieve any of it’s goals and demands and not just sit atop it’s rhetoric. It is clear that the capitalists have no interest in negotiating with a “partner” or loyal opposition, so that route is a dead end from the start. Labor leaders who try to sell negotiations and compromises are already obsolete. What we need to look to are models like Earth First!, the old IWW and direct actions today that are providing models of how to win, by any means necessary. What strike tactics are effective in shutting down production? How can a small group of workers on a job make the greatest impact in slowing production to a trickle? How can we build solidarity with groups outside our workplace, in the community, so we are a political ( not in terms of elections, but in terms of the power to make sure all hell breaks loose if we are screwed ) force. These are questions we need to be asking if we are to build the kind of world we want to live in.
So with that said, I’d like to move on to a more positive note. Obviously, it’s not all doom and gloom. People ARE resisting. Maybe it hasn’t reached the point of critical mass on the social level, but there are plenty of local examples right now to point to. One of the most significant, in my opinion, are the recent waves of fast-food strikes. Really taking off in 2012, these strikes are momentous for what they signify. One section of the working class that has been used as a threat against the established and more powerful sectors of the class ( “Don’t lose your factory job or you could be flipping burgers” ) has increasingly been refusing to play that role any longer. This signals to the corporations that the old game won’t work any more. If nothing would be the same for us after NAFTA, then nothing would be the same for them after these strikes. Several companies have acknowledged that they have been effective, and though none have actually achieved the demand of “$15/hr and a union” yet, several cities have been forced to consider giving in by raising the minimum wage. And the movement does not look to be withering anytime soon. These developments directly involve the punk scene since no doubt some of our brothers and sisters will have been involved directly or indirectly, and so we should be keeping our eyes on expanding and supporting their efforts, as well as initiating more of our own.
So, in the future I will be writing some articles on practical nuts and bolts issues for punks who want to organize at work. Topics such as how to organize to win specific grievances. effective tactics and structures. Legalities and theory, etc. Hopefully my writing will improve with time. I would greatly appreciate any correspondence and feedback going into this. Cheers and Solidarity!