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Abolishing Restauarants: More on the Agitation Debate
Earlier, a debate arose around a particular handbill being used by some radical organizers in New York working around the bus drivers' strike. Recently, Advance the Struggle has pointed to the debate as a signal of Kasama as such (alongside "communization") being capable of abstract critique but incapable of more focused proposals. I take issue with that claim, primarily because they seem to be offering the false equation that Mike Ely = Kasama, and are very much missing the fact that within Kasama there are varying degrees of engagement with on-the-ground organizing (including the organizing that the handbill-at-issue refers to) and there were, within Kasama, varying opinions within that debate.
So, as a member of Kasama (and a proponent of communization theory, for that matter), I wanted to offer a real alternative drawn from real experience as a counter-example.
I did organizing in a former workplace in the food service industry. This organizing ultimately resulted in the threat of a strike against the ownership and the ownership's concession to a contract which directly tied production to wages, as well as raising the entry-wage paid to new employees. It also resulted (after I left) in the maintenance of an independent workers' council at that workplace which is now bringing NEW fights to the ownership as well as pressuring them to hold to their contract.
This organizing gave an opportunity to agitate around revolutionary ideas, which people were very open to. The kitchen (a wholesale one) was composed almost entirely of downwardly-mobile youth who had attained some higher education but were now working for minimum wage as well as immigrant laborers from Mexico and the Philippines. Among my co-workers, almost none had any faith in the system (which I have found to be a pretty common thing among workers in general today), but many rendered this lack of faith into either a cynical attachment to petit-bourgeois ideology, an outright slave mentality (things are going to get really bad so I better search for a strong master), or a latent collapse-ism, with people wanting to buy land somewhere and live off the grid, relearn "primitive" skills, etc.
Almost no one was interested in the idea of a formal "union," as previous experience for some had been that the "union" often just takes money out of your paycheck and acts as one of the corporation's many enforcement wings, like it is nothing but an expanded HR department. There was therefore little interest in seeking out help from the SEIU, or other unions organizing in the food industry -- though the port shutdown DID give an excellent opportunity to agitate around the idea of radical unionism, telling the history of the ILWU and explaining the struggle of the port truckers, etc.
Ultimately, though, I tended to focus more on the idea of forming workers' councils and solidarity networks rather than 'joining a union.' It was a great benefit to have the Seattle Solidarity Network as a reference point in agitation as well as a resource which could be drawn on in a fight. Similarly, the work going on to form the Black Coffee Co-op was an important reference, as I frequently pointed to the cooperative or collective model as an alternate form of production (which would emphasize how much money the ownership was robbing us of). This was done, however, with the important caveat that many co-operatives merely result in self-exploitation at the hands of impersonal market forces.
In making these sort of arguments, I used a lot of materials--from basic SeaSol and anarcho-syndicalist pamphlets to insurrectionary literature like The Coming Insurrection, God Only Knows What Devils We Are and the ever-popular local insurrecto-zine (now defunct): Tides of Flame. But above all the most relevant, most popular and most effective pamphlet was Abolish Restaurants.
Abolish restaurants, produced by "Prole," is one of many pamphlets available on prole.info. The author has also written a similar piece for the construction industry. The pamphlet is intimate, accessible and aesthetically pleasing. It contains a solid underpinning of Marxist economic analysis without the dogmatic baggage usually associated with that analysis, freely meshing elements of anarcho-syndicalism, insurrectionary thought, communization and 'classic' communist history. Most important is that it never falls into the temptation of over-affirming "working class" identity, acknowledging that the fundamental purpose of an organized proletariat is its own abolition as a class--i.e., the "abolition of restaurants."
I don't think I need to go into the details of the organizing project any more than this (since it's also sort of ongoing), but I hope that paints a good general picture. I would also attest to the fact that there simply was a lot of personal change in people, and that the process is by no means over.
I would note finally, though, that though AS accuses "Kasama" as such of ignoring practical/tactical suggestions, many of us are doing organizing on the ground and are formulating arguments for new foci for radical agitation, as well as doing strike reporting and beginning detailed class composition analysis of our region.
Personally, I think that food service is a nodal industry in first world capitalist networks, as it is one of the only industries where primary, secondary and tertiary industry (i.e. productive and reproductive cycles of value) are still often located relatively close to each other in states with large agricultural hinterlands (such as WA, OR and CA). This offers an opportunity for organizing up and down the entire production line. Even though most preserved foods may be imported, there are still many farms in the same region which naturally sell to that region--not to mention the people engaged in preparing that food and the people selling/serving it (whether that be in a restaurant or a grocery store). It also offers the opportunity to mesh a more point-of-production focus with the environmental movement in general, using things like guerrilla gardening as tools for neighborhood or workplace solidarity and opening the conversation about what a post-capitalist food system might look like. This also naturally ties in conversations about race and gender in food production as well as the racialized phenomenon of urban "food deserts" and the wealth of ancestral knowledge about food production, whether held by recent immigrants or by the indigenous members of our community. Finally, there is the simple fact that influence on key food systems will be integral to any revolutionary/insurrectionary process, so we might as well build up that influence early.