iSlaves: Presentation on Foxconn

Ralf Ruckus from the Gongchao Collective in China will be in the Bay Area this weekend doing the following public presentations (called iSlaves: Workers’ Struggles in Chinese Production):

San Francisco – Friday, May 17, 2013, 3pm, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, St. San Francisco, CA 94103

Oakland – Saturday, May 18, 2013, 8pm, Bay Area Public School, 2141 Broadway, Oakland CA 94612

San Francisco – Monday, May 20, 2013, 7:30pm, Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia, near 16th Street, San Francisco

from the Gongchao collective website:

The company Foxconn employs more than one million people in China alone. As the world’s biggest contract manufacturer it works for Apple and many other electronics brands. Foxconn’s workers are the iSlaves who face horrendous working conditions while producing communication tools like iPhones and iPads. In 2010 a series of worker suicides shook the Chinese Foxconn factories and drew world-wide attention. The management promised to improve conditions and pay higher wages, but the situation has not changed much since: Foxconn accelerated the relocation of factories to the Chinese hinterland, employs student interns as “cheap” labor, covers up work accidents, and still relies on its militaristic management regime. However, Foxconn-workers are far from being quiet victims. They have used every-day forms of resistance against the rhythm of the assembly line and have been able to stage strikes in various Foxconn-factories around China.

Statement from a Resister

Statement From A Resister – Leah-Lynn Plante from Because We Must on Vimeo.

On the morning of July 25th, 2012, my life was turned upside down in a matter of hours. FBI agents from around Washington and Oregon and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents from Washington busted down the front door of my house with a battering ram, handcuffed my house mates and me at gunpoint, and held us hostage in our backyard while they read us a search warrant and ransacked our home. They said it was in connection to May Day vandalism that occurred in Seattle, Washington earlier this year.

However, we suspected that this was not really about broken windows. As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as “evidence” as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day. While we know that knowledge is powerful, we suspected that nobody used rolled up copies of the Stumptown Wobbly to commit property damage. We saw this for what it was. They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt. Since then, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we have learned that this Grand jury was convened on March 2nd, 2012, two months before the May Day vandalism even took place.

I was served a subpoena to testify before a Grand Jury on August 2nd, a week later. I hastily packed my life up into boxes, got rid of almost all of my personal belongings in preparation of incarceration. I was dismissed that day after refusing to testify and re-subpoenaed for August 30th, which was pushed back to September 13th. In that time I did a lot of self care, got my affairs in order and got advice from other people who have either resisted Grand Juries, gone to prison or both. I returned to the Grand Jury on September 13th where I was granted immunity. When you are granted immunity, you lose your right to remain silent and can be thrown into prison for civil contempt. Between consulting with my attorney and an hour long recess, I narrowly avoided a contempt hearing simply because they ran out of time. I was dismissed and was told I would receive my 4th subpoena. I walked out of the courthouse just in time to witness Matthew Kyle Duran, my fellow resister, being taken away to prison in a police van. It broke my heart to watch them kidnap an amazing and strong person and take him away from his friends and loved ones. Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik has met a similar fate for refusing to testify on September 27th. Right now, Matt and Kteeo are both sitting in prison cells for doing nothing but remaining silent. I have nothing but love and admiration for them both and I know that thousands of others feel the same. On the drive home that night my brain felt like it was short circuiting. A few days later, I received notice that my next subpoena was for October 10th. They also notified my lawyer that they were preparing for a contempt hearing.

Court dates aside, my life has been a roller coaster. Thanks to unrelated events, I have suffered with severe depression and PTSD for many years. These are now much worse and new things trigger me. For a while after the raid, I was in a constant state of panic and I could barely eat. Every time someone knocked on the door, every time I heard any sort of loud sound in my house, my heart sank and I thought “they’ve come for me.” To the day of this writing, I haven’t slept a full night since that cold July morning thanks to nausea inducing anxiety that wakes me up between 4:00 and 7:00 every single morning. After a couple months, the initial panic has faded into grim acceptance. Despite my mental health issues, I never once considered co-operation and never would. It is against everything I believe in. On my right arm I have a tattoo reading “strive to survive causing least suffering possible.” This is something I live by every single day and will continue to live by whether I am in a cage or not.

I cannot express in words how grateful I am to all those who have shown us support and solidarity, especially our friends, partners and loved ones. We will all get through this together. I know I am a broken record with the following sentiment, but I feel like it’s worth repeating. They want us to feel isolated, alone and scared. I know that even though Kteeo has been held in what is essentially solitary confinement, she does not feel alone. I know that Matt does not feel alone. I know that I will not feel alone. When they try to mercilessly gut communities, we do not scatter, we grow stronger, we thrive. I view this State repression like this: The State thinks it is a black hole that can destroy whatever it wants. In reality, it is much more like a stellar nursery, wherein it unintentionally creates new, strong anarchist stars.

I do not look forward to what inevitably awaits me today, but I accept it. I ask that people continue to support us throughout this process by writing us letters, sending us books, donating and spreading awareness.

My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10th, 2012 and I am ready to go to prison.

Love and solidarity to all those who resist,
Forever in silence.

Leah-Lynn Plante

Southern California Warehouse Workers on Strike

Workers Call on Walmart to End Unsafe Working Conditions, Illegal Threats, Spying and Intimidation by Management

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Warehouse workers went on strike to protest unfair labor practices they have faced on the job Wednesday morning, following months of working in hot temperatures under extreme pressure in a major Walmart-contracted warehouse in Southern California.

Workers—who do not have a recognized union—walked off the job during the first shift at an NFI warehouse in Mira Loma, California to call for an end to retaliation and unfair labor practices. Workers have been fighting for more than a year for safe working conditions and for Walmart to take responsibility for conditions in the warehouse.

“When we spoke out to change terrible working conditions, workers were suspended, demoted and even fired. They spied on us and bullied us, all because we are fighting for dignity” said Limber Herrera, a warehouse worker for four years.

The strike comes one day before workers and their supporters begin a 50-mile, six-day pilgrimage from the warehouses to Downtown Los Angeles.

Workers face inadequate access to clean water, work under scorching heat that reaches well over 100 degrees, and have little access to basic healthcare, regular breaks, and properly functioning equipment. Their wages are low –$8 per hour and $250 a week, or $12,000 per year. Workplace injury is common.

But when workers tried to offer solutions to fix these abuses, they have been met with illegal threats and intimidation by management. Workers are employed by NFI and a temporary labor agency, Warestaff. Both companies are Walmart subcontractors, but the retail giant has ignored repeated attempts by workers to meet and address the inhumane and illegal conditions in its contracted warehouses.

As the largest retailer in the world, Walmart dictates the standards of operation in the logistics and distribution industry.

“These workers have exhausted all options,” said Guadalupe Palma, a director of Warehouse Workers United, an organization committed to improving warehousing jobs in Southern California’s Inland Empire. “Walmart must stop ignoring warehouse workers and intervene to uphold its own stated “Standards for Suppliers,” eliminate inhumane and illegal working conditions and sit down directly with warehouse workers to hear about their experiences in the warehouses and figure out how to improve working conditions.”

More than 85,000 workers labor in warehouses in Southern California, unloading merchandise from shipping containers that enter through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and loading it onto trucks destined for retail stores like Walmart. The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating numerous federal charges filed by the warehouse workers.

WHAT: Press Conference to Launch Warehouse Worker Pilgrimage
WHEN: 10 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 13
WHERE: 601 S. Milliken Ave., Suite A, Ontario, California 91761
WHO: Warehouse Workers
Assemblymember Norma Torres
Rev. Eric Lee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Art Rodriguez, President of United Farm Workers of America
Members of the clergy
VISUALS: Warehouse workers and their supporters will hold a short press conference in front of a warehouse and then commence marching up Milliken Ave. with signs and a backdrop of some of the world’s largest warehouses.

Warehouse workers will embark on their 50-mile march Sept. 13. They will sleep on church floors and rely on community organizations for support and meals. Marchers will be joined daily by supporters and elected officials. Workers will hold daily media events and will be available for interviews in English and Spanish throughout the entire march.

Follow the march on social media using the hashtag #WalMarch

[originally posted by Warehouse Workers United at http://www.warehouseworkersunited.org/southern-california-warehouse-workers-on-strike]

Madeline Lane-McKinley and Jeb Purucker: Master Plan Critique

Editor’s Notes: The premise of this essay is a critique of how the student left appropriates and historicizes the Master Plan. The essay is co-authored by Graduate Students (and comrades) Madeline Lane-McKinley and Jeb Purucker and is one of many articles written for a March 1st zine at UCSC. -CB

“We are paying more than ever before and getting far less in return.”  This is the line repeated ad nauseum by well meaning students and professors across the UC system.  At UCSC, it is the argument at the center of the “Teach the Budget” curriculum being disseminated in lectures and sections.  But it also an admission that we have already lost the battle.

Still, the statement is not exactly false: tuition has tripled over the past decade while services, TAships and whole departments have been – and continue to be – slashed left and right.  To speak of this process in terms of the widening gap between the price we are paying for our education and the value we are getting in return, however, is to conceive of the problem through the same logic that Mark Yudof and the privatizers use to raise our tuition in the first place.

While opposition to what is being called the ‘privatization’ of the university is definitely growing, so far this growth has been largely through internalizing many of the basic contradictions of the system that we are trying to oppose.  And it is in this sense that the Student Left – in its response to a crisis – produces and perpetuates its own crisis.

On the one hand, we say that higher education is a right, or that it is a public good that should be provided by the people of California free of charge.  On the other hand, we say that the measure of the brokenness of the system is the degree to which what we are purchasing from the university is overpriced.

The local constellation of anti-privatization at UCSC is “Teach the Budget” – a comprehensive curriculum which has supplied Teaching Assistants, Staff, and Faculty with a lesson plan for addressing the budget cuts in undergraduate courses – and it is by no means exempt from this internal crisis of the Student Left.  While “Teach the Budget” has undoubtedly raised the campus’s level of awareness of the budget cuts, and has ostensibly “radicalized” many of the graduate- and undergraduate students who comprise the current student movement, it is nevertheless a very clear distillation of what is now rendering the anti-privatization movement ineffective.

Here, it should be useful to elaborate the generic narrative of the ‘budget crisis’ at hand, which is premised on the “Master Plan for Higher Education” – a document from 1960, in which the current system of public universities in California was set up.  Signed by then Governer Pat Brown, the father of current Governor Jerry Brown, the plan held that a robust system of higher education was something that benefited the entire state, and that access should be provided for all qualified Californians free of charge.  The result of this was a “boom” in California: the concentration of well funded research universities contributed to the explosion of the Tech sector in northern California and Aerospace  in the south.  This is no small part of what made California the eighth largest economy in the world.

Then, according to this generic narrative, tragedy struck.  Sometime before 1978, Californians allowed themselves to be convinced that taxes are unequivocally evil and the result was Proposition 13.  This law capped property taxes and made it impossible for the legislature to raise future revenue without a 2/3 majority.  This was part of a broader tax revolt of the late seventies that would bring Ronald Reagan to the White House and Margaret Thatcher to Downing Street.

Trends continued, and by 2004 Governor Schwarzenegger and the leadership of the UC and CSU systems were ready to consider a dramatic revision of the 1960 master plan.  The deal they signed, called the “Compact for Higher Education,” involved the universities agreeing to accept smaller portions of their budgets from the state, with the understanding that the shortfall would be made up by heavier reliance on private sources of revenue—grants, investments, and, importantly, tuition.

This basic story leads to an easy diagnosis of the problem.  Sometime between 1960 and 2004, we as a society changed the way we think of the value of an education.  In 1960, a university system was valuable as a public good that benefited the people as a whole.  Now, we think of our degrees as commodities that we as individuals purchase from a university that is increasingly indistinguishable from a private corporation.  On this logic, the value of an education should be more or less quantifiable on the market: we can get upset about tuition increases insofar as they raise the sticker-price of an education above what that education will bring in return, but we can’t be opposed to fee hikes in principle.

According to this stock narrative, the solution to our current predicament is relatively straightforward: we need to build a social and political movement that can reverse this trend of privatization.  We need to get back to an era when we as a society valued universities as part of the commons and was willing to pay enough in taxes to maintain them.  We need to return to that great, utopian master plan; we need to undo the travesty of neoliberalism.  What could be more obvious than this?

However, while the simple solution of this generic narrative of ‘crisis’ provides an easy means of “radicalizing” students, it is nevertheless the sort of naïve and ahistorical thinking that is ultimately dangerous to the Student Left.  An account of how we moved from valuing education as a public good to thinking of it as a private commodity may be a coherent narrative, but it is by no meas a history.

More precisely, this story is the mythological underpinning of the dominant, programatic strain of the current Student Left.  The narrative of ‘crisis’ which seeks its solution in the Master Plan, that is, absurdly romanticizes the document as an alternative to privatization.  This absurdity becomes immediately apparent as soon as we actually look at what our historical counterparts in the 1960s thought of it.  Here is an excerpt from Mario Savio’s famous 1964 speech, which was one of the foundational moments of the “Free Speech Movement” in Berkeley— a sort of Ur-text of 1960s radicalism:

Well I ask you to consider — if this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the Board of Directors, and if President Kerr in fact is the manager, then I tell you something — the faculty are a bunch of employees and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw materials that don’t mean to be —  have any process upon us. Don’t mean to be made into any product! Don’t mean — Don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!

While the Student Left frequently appropriates Savio as an activist icon – along with UCSC radicals like Angela Davis and Bettina Aptheker – this contrived legacy is, in fact, an erasure of history.  What we have to keep in mind, here, is that the student movement of the 1960s involved a fundamental opposition to the Master Plan.  Today, on the contrary, the Master Plan represents the limit of possibility to our current narrative of privatization as a ‘crisis’; it is the absolute horizon beyond which radical imagination breaks down.

A properly historical account would require that we not think of the distinction of public universities and privatized ones as two opposed ideals, between which we simply have to make a choice.  If our comrades in 1964 already saw privatization built into the structure of the public university, then we have to inquire into the forces that caused this logic to manifest in one way in the sixties and in a different way forty years later. We need to see both the 1960 Master Plan and the 2004 Compact for Higher Education not as opposed principles but as historically specific – and more or less adequate—attempts to address the role of universities in the capitalist society of the day.   What changed between 1960 and 2004 is not simply the ideological value attached to higher education (or to taxes), but rather the objective requirements that capitalism has for universities in general.  The Master Plan cannot be extracted from the context of a post-war expansionary world economy, Keynesian policies of government expenditure, cold-war defense spending and a thriving industrial American economy resting on massive government subsidy to education.  By 2004, the world looked nothing like this, and there is no going back.

In its imperative to return to the Master Plan, the Student Left is by no means unique but is rather part of a broader crisis of thought today.  This is a crisis of historicity, for which the main locus is a troubled historical narrative of the 1960s.  ‘Historicity,’ in this sense, is the experience of history; it is the experience of making history.  To this process, the 1960s has been instrumental in the production of radical subjectivities – but this process must be acknowledged as working within the telos of global capital, rather than against it.

The myth of the 1960s is an originary narrative, according to which there was once a time that can still be returned to – a time that will renew our social movements, and our conditions of possibility.  Historically, the critique of this myth has been an effective strategy of the Right for precluding revolutionary energies and promoting expansionary capitalism.  While the Right has certainly profited from the notion of an “end of history” in the post-soviet era,  this mythologization of the 1960s must be recognized in the political calculus of American Liberalism as well.  In 2008, this is precisely what happened for the Democratic party: between its primary candidates of Obama and Clinton, it was the myth of returning to the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, both now rendered obsolete with figures of “post-race” and “post-feminism.”  This campaign of “hope,” with all its echoes of the 1960s, and its highly manufacted historicity, was counter-revolutionary to the core.

Here, we might interject with a distinction between this liberal tendency of mythologizing the 1960s and the general Leftist line of critiquing the Obama administration and corporatized politics at large.  Such an interjection, however, would miss the point: rather, the Left must now disentangle itself from this myth of the 1960s completely.  While it may be clear, especially at the impasse of another presidential election, that Obama’s campaign of 2008 very much drew from the 1960s as a narrative of nostalgia and pastiche, it should also be clear that this narrative is the mythological underpinning of many far more radical social movements.  Just because we have a critique of liberalism – as merely propogating privatization – we are not immune from this broader historical critique, this crisis of historicity.  As a means of producing a collective, radicalized politics, the Left has been animated by a return to a different, yet all the while mythological notion of the 1960s.  In this sense, the 1960s provides a legacy, a set of icons, a set of slogans – as Marx would have it, “the time-honored disguise and borrowed language” of a previous revolutionary moment.

The fetishization of the Master Plan takes this one step further.  What we are gesturing back to now is no longer even sixties radicalism, but the thing that those much romanticized radicals were already against.  The question that we have to ask is: why this regression?  Why does our historical imagination latch onto this moment and see it as the antithesis of the forces we are trying to combat in the present?  This is a bigger question than can be fully addressed here, but we can perhaps begin to sketch out the elements that an answer might include.

If the Master Plan cannot be disentangled from the moment of post-war expansionary capitalism and the military-industrial-university complex that sustained this growth, then a call for a return to that model of university funding requires not just a return to an older way of valuing education, but a return to an earlier phase of capitalism itself.  Herein lies the naivete of a politics based on the myth-image of the sixties.

This is precisely what many of our comrades in the student movement (and Occupy more generally) are calling for, though usually the military-industrial element to this is shrouded in confusion.  Built into the call for a return to the Master Plan is a broader goal of restoring Keynesian levels of government investment in a range of services and programs for which we as a society used to pay.  What this misses is that the shift away from Keynesian policies is not simply something that bad people (be they neo-liberal politicians or Chicago economists) tricked us into.  The reason that we can’t simply press the reset button on the past forty years of government tax and education policy has to be sought not in political history at all, but in the objective transformations of the industrial base of capitalism itself.

We are used to thinking of the last forty years as a dynamic time for global capitalism.  It has seen fantastic increases in personal fortunes and the extension of capital into every corner of the globe.  But what is becoming increasingly clear is that this “growth” is largely the result of a massive upward redistribution of wealth.  Underlying this whole process is an industrial base which, despite periodic flurries of activity, has been decreasingly dynamic since the early seventies.  When one actually crunches the numbers, the rate of profit in industry as a whole—not just in the United States, but in the world more generally—has been tapering off.  Simply put, the world’s capacity to produce stuff has skyrocketed to such an extent (and so much capital has been sunk in this productive capacity) that the rate of return for each individual capital is suffering. In this context, in order to keep the ship upright, capitalists are now seeking gain elsewhere.

The narrative that we are used to telling, about the policy shift towards deregulation, tax cuts and the enrichment of the ‘1%’ at the expense of everyone else explains very little.  Instead, it  needs to be viewed as the effect of this much larger hollowing out of the profitability of capitalism as a whole.  Any explanation of the crisis in university funding has to be sought here, rather than in some mythologized account of the glorious sixties.

The result of this inability to grasp this historical flat-lining of capitalism leads us to a strange duality in the way we speak of the crisis.   The logic of capital has developed to such an extent that we no longer even have the language to articulate an oppositional politics without resorting to the categories that we are trying to oppose.  This explains the first symptomatic slip of many of our comrades who describe the crisis in terms of the divergence between the price of an education and its ‘value’.  The flip-side of this is that when we do sense that something is lacking in this description of our crisis, the only recourse we have is to an ever receding and mythologized narrative of a time when some other oppositional discourse was still possible. The fact that we have landed on the Master Plan—itself a document that is inseparable from a certain moment in the development of American capitalism— suggests just how totalizing the crisis has become.  The result is that we are constantly bouncing between these two ways of framing the problem, between thinking in a language that takes the terms of capital as eternal and total, and thinking in terms of an equally ahistorical and sanitized image of our own past.  This antinomy defines our present struggle.  It is this opposition that we must now break open.

And that — that brings me to the second mode of civil disobedience. There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!

– Mario Savio: Sproul Hall Steps (UC Berkeley), December 2, 1964