The Big Sleep

For nine days in November/December 2012, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach lay sleeping. Fifteen container vessels sat anchored off the coast. We were told that “featherbedding” will not be tolerated and the management complains of operational “nightmares”. The supply chain oneiric aspires toward an efficiency it can never obtain under capitalism, but it won’t ever be able to believe this. Instead, it intends to produce/instrumentalize more docile and flexible humans—and fewer of them.

The clerical workers of the main Southern California ports struck against this logic. According to “Bloomberg” (the man, the business organ), the workers were hurting no one but themselves. Their economic impact to industry was $2.5 billion per day — yet, “Bloomberg’s” chief concern had, of course, nothing to do with market impact—the true concern was for their beloved truckers… “They’re dying,” says the organ.

The clerical workers have arisen. They struck to protect themselves from the company axe. Management hopes to outsource or casualize the labor force in order to adhere to Lean dogma—an efficiency imperative with it’s roots in Taylorism’s scrupulous accounting of non-essential action, but made even more sadistic by the newer ‘just-in-time’ gospel of late-capitalist globalization. Essentially, value is denied whenever workers stand idle. Ironically, 800 clerks triggered a chain reaction of idleness—a repudiation of the new rhetoric of the ‘value chain’. Their picket lines weren’t crossed by their comrades on the docks—and the entry point for nearly half of all goods flowing into the U.S. was effectively at rest—asleep in the harbor.

What if this idleness spreads? Then the nightmares of management and capital will intensify. The man (quoted above) who speaks of nightmares is a logistics operative in the Southern California trade corridor. One of his specialties is the importation of hunting trophies—animals of distinction that were killed elsewhere and that must now enter the country as sculpture. This section of their website includes informative features on “hunting drones” and “hunting the pressure” created by other hunters—the technocratic management of animal death.

photos: huntingtrophy.com (a subsidiary of Coppersmith Global Logistics)

 

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]

Cops and Cowards: Reflections on the Recent UC Regent Protests « Anti-Imperialist Inc.

via antiimperialtheorizing

i am not particularly concerned with a majority of the activity that occurred Thursday, January 19th at the UC Regents meeting in Riverside, because the energetic ad hoc efforts of the student organizers from all of the participating UC’s speaks for itself.  The day represented a solid advancement for Southern California student activism. It is an advancement that has been growing and will hopefully continue to fuel a sense of urgency for Our struggle.

What i am concerned with in this essay, is what has been lacking from the critiques of Thursday the 19th: creativity, tactical analysis and above all: a look into the events that unfolded while the cops still maintained their presence on campus post-meeting. This moment, for me, crystalized an idea that has been floating around the UC community/blogosphere for some time now, the struggle cannot only pertain to austerity and fee hikes, but the opportunity has been widening for making domestic militarization a central focus of Our praxis in the student movement. A decision that has the potential to connect the struggles of the UC’s, to the struggles in the prisons,  to the struggles anti-violence groups face, with the struggles of immigrants rights groups and with the struggles of  communities across the state. The movement  for the people by the people has to recognize the enemy of the people. And at the moment, thanks to their own efforts, its becoming pretty clear who that is.

Earlier accounts of police violence at the Davis and Berkeley campuses have been vainly provincialized, described as epic calamities – where moral outrage was merely the result of police crossing the boundaries of whiteness. So with this understanding, I do not want to dismiss the importance of acknowledging the privileged perceptions amongst the liberals and a majority of UC advocates, as a barrier between understanding modes of domination in the US and within the UC community itself. This understanding is the basis of my politics and this essay should be read with an assumed understanding of the context in which it is written from. However, it should be made very clear that a militarized police presence is, nonetheless, the divide between Us students and any dream of completely controlling Our educations. The police were the physical wall between Us and the Regents on Thursday the 19th, they were the lurking force that surveilled organizers prior to the meeting, and outside of the University they are the physical embodiment of all that is so completely fucked in Our society.

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Our Art World: Toward Actualizing a Post-Fordist Bohemia









This is not a rant.

Preamble

This is not a complete document, it mustn’t be.

It is my reflection upon a slice of LA’s “art scene” between the years 2006 and 2010. Though I have been a participant in LA’s art worlds since 1999, 2007 marks the general emergence of an ongoing commitment to a distinct and discursive social practice in the region.

The aim of this essay is to look at the social rules under which this specific scene operates. It is written as an open, public analysis of this cooperative social creation. It is sloppy. It also aims to help towards getting stuff done, effectively. Only through honest critical analysis and dreaming do we have perspective.

As Brian Holmes writes in Artistic Autonomy and the Communication Society,

My belief is that you can lonely have a real democracy when a societal concern with the production of the sensible is maintained at the level of a forever unresolved by constantly open and intensively debated question. This is why I like to work with Francois Drake, because he has developed a method, a kind of artistic trick- the “question banks” and associated procedures- that allows him to explicitly bring the sensible world into collective questioning. What we really need is to spend a lot more time asking each other whether our cultural fictions- our architecture and images, our hierarchies and ambitions and ideas and narratives- are any good for us, whether they can be used in an interesting way, what kind of subjectivity they produce, what kind of society they elicit.

In order to occupy everything, we must also constantly and realistically re-imagine how to best occupy our own perch.  I write to reflect on the ground from which our individual and collaborative projects might be strengthened. So as to see who we really are and help us imagine who we can be.

I write in general terms, that is the nature of this essay. It glosses over individual practices and distinct collective projects to gather a mist of generalities, a tone of discourse.

There is much writing about creative cities. There is much writing about post-fordist labor and its relationship to the new social practice. I write to reflect a little of that community within Southern California from the inside.


Preface

This is about WE in Southern California. We who enrich our region’s intellectual and cultural life by committing to participate in cultural and political conversations at spaces like The Public School, LACE, Sea and Space, G727, FOCA, Outpost (which I rarely attend), and a host of other temporary and more long term galleries, project spaces, initiatives, and conferences. It is written for the artists, writers and thinkers who generally talk in order to create something together here somehow.

Within the creative world, and specifically within our sphere, it is possible to suggest that all of our work, whether done alone in a dusty studio or together as a collaborative – is cooperative. While Southern California’s geography is isolating, its constellation of ideas, its intellectual life, is rich. This case can be made for any milieu, so I repeat it here over and over: Southern California’s rich soup of intellectuals, visionaries, inventors, visual artists and  project spaces constitute a collaborative creation. This is our scene. It is a collective project created by many.

Didactically again, we are a we. We are a we, albeit a we constructed from the actions and thoughts and creations of mostly independent individualities.

So in this together bounded by geography, interest and degrees of participation, our thoughts are challenged in these social contexts and settings.

Individually here present, our contributions are limited by our schedules (that zone of conflict between bodily needs, income needs, speculation, the search for joy etc…)

But when together, our possibilities are expanded in context.

We occur in dialog and on Facebook and at small non-profit spaces. We care about the political life of our city, state, country and world. In this desert south of the Tehachapi it is also us who have carved a specific niche in the art world for political practice.

Thus construed as a something, I now qualify what I perceive as the basic operating assumptions of this creatively radical culture we participate in down Los Angeles way.


Body

When we are actively together among peers, there is a general assumption that we agree on what is said in total. This is my first point.

It is also my first point that this working assumption allows for the socialization of our group, thus constituted. There are squabbles and debate, sometimes we’ll attend an outside where the content is way off the map. But our space is constituted on a general agreement of a set of unspoken principles – this is standard for any sociological group. What is curious here is that we are a discursive grouping that never makes clear its ideological principles. In practice we censor ourselves not through ideology but through socialization.

This is notable. Do we miss an opportunity for self-constitution if we generally clarify what we do agree upon? Would the act destroy what is central to our lightly rigorous commons? I would argue that if we are not ideologically rigorous, let us name this and embrace this generative position for all its potential!
This is funny!

But this process does not occurs because we don’t have the time or place- the motivation really, to really understand our and our peers’ goals.

Why is this? This comes to a second important point. We participate generally in this collaboration for individualized political reasons. Here I use the gross definition of individual politics; including in this definition games of positioning that are idealistic and pecuniary. So then, to presently clarify our personal reasons and goals would be difficult. It could reveal schisms between action and word – or better – between the act of speaking and the potential for (future) individual gain. Remember, we are a multi-generational body of cultural workers who often bring collective knowledge and practice into privatized channels for profit (these channels are of course academic jobs, curatorial work, writing gigs, gallery jobs, lectures and speaking fees, the sale of artwork.)  This is a contradiction, though perhaps is not so different from the rest of our culture… a culture just learning again that to be poor and in need is normal. It is a contradiction perhaps unique to our milieu but perhaps even more unique to our era. To recognize and collectively and honestly evaluate this conflicted position might constitute a path through this moment.

Due to this general culture of collaborative obscurity, we have rarely worked rigorously together on a singular political project.

Though our topics (insurrection, student unrest, prisons, public space, labor, open access, environmentalism, post-marxism, etc…) easily suggest focused ideologically based activist/art hybrid projects like “Picture the Homeless,”  a creative contingent for a major anti-war march, or the invention of a creative approach to precarious labor like San Precario. How about a collective revisioning of space like “The Midwests Radical Cultural Cooridor.” We have not done this.

(Yet, it should be noted that we have have organized a few big umbrella projects- Beyond the UC Strikes (Continental Drift), Publico Transitorio. Their nature clarifies further the individualized nature of our collaboration. Both projects acted as social umbrellas or frames for individual voices. The collective voice of the projects’ organizational perspective and structure was consciously obscured to facilitate the individualized voices of singular participants.)

Our interests are too fickle for concerted collective creative focus. Together we are generalists. We act in an apparently casual manner toward the things we care deeply about. Our public culture tracks this tendency with a calendar that remembers a broad range of topics. Our calendar, our public space is bottle rack, a capturing vessel to share privatized creation. It allows a space where we do not have to suss out a collective goal, while allowing for the resemblance of general agreement.

When we do create something, these somethings are art, a text for a singular and carefully curated event, discourse or website. Rarely are these projects emerge from a concurrent social movement (be those movements political or cultural).

And when we display specifically our artwork (the highest commodity form of our collective labor) in our common contexts, it is as often at the behest of an outside curator. An outside curator acting invited as an interloper between our practice; between our practice (though often the curators share similar assumptions as our own). And as I get older, I am pressured to only share work with curators who would pay me, and thus money and the curator fall between us.

We know then that a deeply critical engagement is thus meant to be practiced in isolation. We are light in our analysis. We are light on rigor. Even The Public School models the learner as an individual self-guiding through through a collective drift of a structure. This is a school with no prerhequisites or entrance exams.  Its multiple curriculum allows for equal part intellectual achievement, equal part attainment of social status through hobby, socially-responsible consumer patterns, and smart art production. This is not an ironic statement, it is the marker of our day.

For the privatized artwork that is critically engaging and/or smart– what are their intended political results? Here I do not ask about the more mundane business truths of capitalization. Our works (in performance or sculpture) are generally effective in two ways.

One, they act to map complex emotions and thoughts through socialization. When viewed or engaged with via participation, the work leaves an impression, a memory.

Two, the work models possible behaviour patterns – interpersonal behavior, behavior between ourselves and our unique SoCal urban space, between ourselves and (potential) resources (social or material) and technologies. This work shows possible futures.

These two effects idealize the notion that consumption of work by viewers contributes to an edifying, exemplary or more responsible relationship to the world.

What I am trying to do in this article is another effect… as mentioned in the Artistic Autonomy and the Communication Society essay by Brian Holmes. I am stating that an intimately reflective mirror can successfully ground the creation of realistic but outrageous possible futures. Currently, we are limited by our lack of self-visioning.

We are involved in important work here. What is our culture of criticism? Is there any? Studio visits? Gossip? Public conversations? Someone elsewhere who writes about your work? We do not have a system to analyze our works within the framework of our own ideals – that critically views what has been done and whether the desired political effects have been achieved. This too is left in the private realm.


Conclusion

Our scene is self-selecting. “Come if you are interested.” A conversation around its constitution, in terms of race, gender and class is rarely engaged.

One more thing, how might we build an institutional memory for this scene despite the obvious limitations? How do we lessen redundant projects so that the generations moving through our scene are able to build off of other’s work? What sort of institution could financially and structurally facilitate the most audacious projects that are totally in line with the highest ideals of the scene?

What we really need is to spend a lot more time asking each other whether our cultural fictions- our architecture and images, our hierarchies and ambitions and ideas and narratives- are any good for us, whether they can be used in an interesting way, what kind of subjectivity they produce, what kind of society they elicit. But to do that effectively, we also need to invent new fictions, to shake up the instituted imaginary with what Castoriadis calls the “radical” or “”instituting” imaginary. Only by actively imagining different possible realities can we engage in the operations of desymbolization and resymbolization, or in what Bureau d’Etudes call “the deconstruction and reconstruction of complex machines”- taking the notion of machines in the strong sense whereby it denotes the symbolic, technological and human assemblages that configure ourselves and our societies, and make them work in specific ways they do.

Our scene is a complex machine we have so far scarcely analyzed from within. Let us own a rigorous analysis in order to reconstruct it in a way to more effectively launch our already amazing fictions – our privatized works. Let us critically analyze the intricacies and conflicts of our post-fordist bohemia. Let us understand it for what it is so that we can better understand how it might become what it (larger society) could be.

As an author of this piece, I have my vision for how I would analyze and reconstruct. But it is far more productive to do this together. Also, I’m currently in Germany.


Thank you Michael Wilson for your motivation and Christina Ulke for your contribution of ideas.

Victor Valle Address at Riverside Unitarian Church

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Note: Victor Valle gave the following address as part of the second Empire Strikes Back organizing conference.

Thank you. It is an honor to be with you in your moment of struggle.

I want to spend the next ten minutes thinking about a long-term media strategy for supporting the efforts of groups like Warehouse Workers United, and, if possible, to take a page from their playbook – their May, 2009 occupation of the road leading in and out of the Mira Loma distribution hub. Later, I want to consider another kind of occupation that could help win supporters to the warehouse workers drive to organize the Mira Loma distribution hub, as well as other unrepresented logistics workers in the Inland Empire.

But first I want to send you greetings from Warren Buffet. He recently bought billions of dollars of BNSF stock saying that the railroad represents the next century of growth. Trucks have peaked, he says. He has bet his money on a century of increasing trade hauled by rail, growth that will require new investments in logistics infrastructure, from rail spurs to warehouses to compliant politicians. He would have bought shares in that mega-railroad, Union Pacific and your neighbor, if his competitors had not already bid up the price to high.

What does Buffet’s forecast mean for Riverside and San Bernardino counties? The logistics industry will come out of its slump sooner or later, and the development of warehouses and distribution centers and so forth will resume. We know that L.A. County is built out, and that only the Inland Empire can take up the slack.

Now, let’s not get too excited about Buffet’s vote of confidence. The logistics industry will continue to grow here, but that doesn’t mean it will stop relying on armies of low paid temporary workers, or suddenly welcome unionization so that its workers can begin to earn wages and benefits comparable to their brothers and sisters in L.A.

I don’t think, in other words, that Mr. Buffet is voting for your excellent work ethic alone. It’s more like he is voting on your excellent productivity and the cheapness of your labor. That’s what tickles his dear little (it has to be tiny) capitalist soul: the long-term convergence of rebounding trade volumes and low-priced labor supported by public subsidies and tax breaks supplied by your local department of privatized government.

After all the schemes for speculating on the fickle future of money have failed, the only sure thing, at least for now, is the fight for extracting raw materials, to manufacture those materials into goods, and the movement of those goods to market.

Well, we certainly don’t have the stock portfolios to bet on his designs for the future. But we have something he has. We have the time, the same century he is looking ahead to, and the certainty that capital cannot float in the air forever, that it must touchdown somewhere to become productive again. The latest string of burst market bubbles make that abundantly clear. After all the schemes for speculating on the fickle future of money have failed, the only sure thing, at least for now, is the fight for extracting raw materials, to manufacture those materials into goods, and the movement of those goods to market.

These certainties of production and distribution will continue to make the Inland Empire the middle of something; certainly not the American homeowner’s dream. Too many abandoned homes for that. No, Riverside sits in the middle of the struggle over the future of global trade, who will reap its rewards, and who will pay its penalties. We should anticipate this struggle, and plan for its duration in years and decades.

That’s why I want to wrap up my talk by making a proposal. I would like to see the formation of an investigative corps similar to the Innocence Project at Northwestern University, where students do the legal research to overturn wrongful convictions. Except that this will more like a Guilt Project modeled on SPOTUS.org, a kind of clearing house for investigators who solicit donations to investigate a mutually agreed upon target. Or maybe we can call it the People’s Bureau of Investigation. Seriously speaking, though, the point of the project would be to train a new generation to investigators to attack a target of lasting value in their locality. People would have to arrive at consensus about their target. For example, the bureau could relate the step-by-step process through which privatized government made a place called Mira Loma. The team would go back to the beginning, not only retracing the genealogy of laws and politics that gave developers control of the county’s development industry, but call out the individual developers, government technocrats, and elected officials responsible for permitting that privatization.

The team could not tell this story by only focusing on money and politics, however. They would have to deconstruct the culture that made that privatization seem so natural and good that few bothered to complain about it when it was first proposed. They would have to identify, like so many strains of infectious bacteria, the narrative technologies with which they sold most people on the benefits of wall-to-wall warehousing. And eventually, when time came to share their results, the investigators would have to explain to everyday citizens, your would-be supporters, how corporate power and money made their political representatives into the willing servants we have today, how it molded their winning personalities, in other words, from the seed or spore.

If what I am saying sounds farfetched, let me assure you, I am not that crazy. It is possible to do the kind of research that would allow us to take a penetrating x-ray of local power. I believe I did it in my latest book about your neighbor. It’s called the City of Industry: Genealogies of Power in Southern California, and it lays out a prehistory of privatization in the far west. I don’t have the time now to layout Industry’s privatized pedigree, to tell how the railroads, developers and wily bureaucrats schemed to deprive the working class residents of the revenues and control over the La Puente Valley’s industrial transportation corridor. Just take my word for it. Industry’s privatization offered a kind of dress rehearsal for what happened in Mira Loma, and what we can do to prevent it from happening again.

And here’s where the idea for occupation comes in. Students and professors should not be content to go on strike in hopes of shutting their universities down. Students and professors should re-occupy their classes so that they can put them to better use. The day-to-day work in the classroom should be about making conceptual weapons, the kind warehouse workers, for example, can use to win broad support for their next actual occupation. I am not talking all the classes; just enough resources to sustain a multi-year effort of just one or two investigative methods classes tightly focused on the local political economy of the logistics industry. Investigative teams would learn how to make different kinds of public records requests, to use FOIA and the Brown Act, for example to obtain documents, and to re-purpose proprietary databases such as Co-star to undercover and map the political economy of warehouse redevelopment subsidies. The emphasis would be on learning and experimenting on field methods, and on learning how to best organize and preserve the results of each quarter’s research for the next class.

A PDF of Victor Valle’s address is available here