Call for Abstracts: Rethinking Working Class Self-Organization Beyond Unions, Parties, NGOs, and the State

Call for Abstracts: Rethinking Working Class Self-Organization Beyond Unions, Parties, NGOs, and the State

IMMANUEL NESS, Brooklyn College CUNY, USA, manny.ness@gmail.com
ROBERT OVETZ, SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY, USA, rfovetz@riseup.net

The Journal of Labor & Society, in it’s 21st year, is issuing a call for
the special issue “Workers Beyond Unions, Parties, NGOs, and the State?”
to rethink how workers organize and struggle. Co-edited by Robert Ovetz,
Ph.D., a political science lecturer San Jose State University, and
Gifford Hartman, an independent San Francisco, USA based scholar, the
issue seeks submissions from scholars, organizers, and activists
critically reexamining the multiplicity of forms of class struggle
outside of and inside unions, parties, NGOs, and the state happening
around the world.

The rapidly declining power and influence of unions are source of great
concern. Their coninuous decline have presented both a threat and an
opportunity. As the number of contingent workers explodes and union
density worldwide remains stagnant or declines, the effort of workers to
self-organize continues to grow. The absence or weakness of unions does
not mean the absence of class struggle. Freed of the contract, workers
are engaging in short, sharp disruptive direct action and strikes to
shift the balance of power on the shopfloor and in the community. But
these actions are often ad hoc, locally focused and unsustainable.
Despite these limitations, workers are finding new ways to self-organize
on the shopfloor and circulate their efforts throughout the social
factory. The composition of capital’s power over the past 40 years has
been a continual effort to respond to the dynamic recomposition of
working class struggle.

This issue would explore what working class recomposition looks like by
examining case studies of efforts to devise new tactics and strategies of
self-organization. Ideally, this issue will include critical analyses of
a diversity of self-organized workers struggles from several critical
regions. Among the struggles that could be potentially covered would be
the following:

Brazilian Landless Workers Movement’s efforts to seize land and build a
parallel social system
Spainish workers blocking evictions and foreclosures
Mexican workers seizure of an entire neighborhood to reorganization of
it into an autonomous community
Bolivian miners, coca growers, and street sellers in El Alto who formed
community councils that shut down the entire country in the early 2000s
and propelled the MAS into power
Latin American women struggling over the Bolsa Família social wage in
Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela
Industrial workers and miners in India, China, and South Africa who
bypass established unions to self-organize their own wildcat strikes
Kurdish workers self-organized local governance and militias in Rojava,
Syria during the civil war
Wildcat strikes in Egypt during the Arab Spring
Union backed service workers in the US who have been organizing to
disrupt production, protest contingency, and raise wages without seeking
to collectively bargain
Wildcat strikes by logistics workers (eg, truckers, longshore,
warehouse, etc.) and public employees
European anti-austerity movements

Why This Issue is Important

The focus of this issue of the Journal of Labor & Society will be on
worker organizing beyond unions, parties and NGOs that channel and
constrain organizing over the “contract” and into the state through
advocacy, elections and reform. These examples above are rich with
several vital lessons for worker self-organization we wish to see
explored in this issue. First, workers are contesting the organizational
dominance of unions by bypassing and challenging the traditional model
of unions limited to bargaining over wages, hours, grievances, working
conditions, and labor law. Second, these struggles are also transcending
parties, NGOs, and the state at a time of growing widespread resistance
to the imposition of neo-liberal policy by labor, social democratic and
left leaning parties backed by NGOs, unions, and ruling elites in Europe
and Latin America. Such institutions divert conflict by harnessing
workers to the state and capitalism thus diluting the power of
self-organized workers. (S. Marcos, R. Zibechi, M. Glaberman, G. Esteva,
and G. Rawick)

Drawing on the autonomous marxist, anarchist, and syndicalist critiques
of unions and the self-organization of workers (V. Burgmann, S. Lynd, H.
Cleaver, and P. Linebaugh) this issue would explore how workers are
devising new forms of organizing to confront capital at work and
throughout the social factory (S. Federici, S. James, M. Dalla Costa,
and M. Tronti) signaling a turning point in what it means to organize a
“union.”

The debate over whether unions should follow the “service” or “member
organizing” model or through parties, NGOs or the state is moot. Workers
are transforming their organizing into a global uprising that continues
to disrupt the global accumulation and circulation of capital by
transforming the struggle over work into a struggle to circulate class
power into all spheres of life. As capital seeks to colonize all aspects
of life so has working class struggle expanded to meet this threat. The
question this issue seeks to explore is what is the form of the
currently emerging recomposition of working class power?

Publication Plans
After the solicitation of abstracts we will invite full manuscripts for
publication in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Labor & Society.
Abstracts (maximum 500 words, attached as .pdf or .docx files) due by
August 1, 2016
Invitation to submit full manuscript will be sent August 21, 2016
Manuscripts (5,000-7,500) due February 21, 2017
Special issue of the Journal of Labor & Society will be published in
June 2017

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