Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Why I'd rather eat soup than burn Starbucks

I'm afraid that I didn't make it to Queen Street on International Workers Day to join the 'autonomous black bloc' advertised on indymedia by somebody named 'bro'. I didn't notice any reports of insurrection and burning Starbucks stores in Saturday's Herald, so I assume that the vast majority of the proletariat shared my lack of enthusiasm for bro's demand that they 'put on glad rags and raggy rags and bring a mask and converge behind the anarchist banners and flags at Britomart'.

I did manage to make it to a May Day lunch held by the Auckland branch of the Tertiary Education Union (that's their logo at the top of the post), where I devoured several types of delicious soup along with copious quantities of bread. I'm not actually a member of TEU, but I justified my scrounging by pointing out that I'd helped Skyler, who is a delegate, prepare some of the soup. (I'm the only one who cuts onions in our household; Skyler often tries the feat but, being a vegetarian, invariably finds herself feeling compassion for the vegetable and weeping uncontrollably).

The TEU was formed at the end of the last year by the fusion of the Association of University Staff and the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education. The union represents a wide range of occupations on campuses, and while I downed bowl after bowl of soup I overheard security guards and senior lecturers engaged in animated discussions about strategies for forthcoming negotiations with university bosses.

I know that the TEU wouldn't be sufficiently revolutionary for heroic insurrectionists like 'bro' or Jared Davidson, the anti-art activist who condemned universities as cesspits of bourgeois decadence in one of his recent raids on this blog, but I think that everyday, undramatic activities like making soup for your fellow union members and engaging in long-winded but democratic discussions are more in the spirit of May Day than the antics of hyperactivists like 'bro'.

It's the mundane work of building and strengthening unions that prepares the way for genuinely radical actions, like the recent spate of factory occupations by European workers fighting to hold on to their jobs in the face of global recession. Over at his blog Sit Down Man, You're a Bloody Tragedy, the brilliant Owen Hatherly has been celebrating the news that the workers at a string of plants owned by the auto parts company Visteon have won their demands for a vastly improved redundancy package after a series of protests that included occupations.

In France, which has a far stronger labour movement than Britain, workers have taken to detaining bosses who threaten them with reduandancy. The tactic has become so widespread that a consultancy form is now offering courses for executives on how to avoid being 'bossnapped'. Factory occupations and other militant forms of industrial action cannot be created by anonymous postings to indymedia by activists who like to wear masks; they have to be based in the solidarity of large groups of workers. May Day should be a time to salute all the delegates and grassroots union members who are doing the unspectacular but vital work of building that sort of solidarity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you eat drink or sip soup?

i sip, i don't eat it.

11:42 am  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

I use a straw so I don't have to dryclean the balaclava.

3:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taking part in a non-existent action which you oppose or eating free soup and bread? Hmmmm. Not much of a choice.

Seriously but: the occupations, bossnappings and sabotage have taken place without union authorisation and in opposition to them -- a relevant point surely?

6:27 pm  
Blogger Asher said...

In all fairness, I and others made much the same points as you're making here, on the Indymedia thread itself, and nobody seemed to agree with the person making the anonymous callout...

11:00 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

What is wrong with Starbucks?

I like going to Starbucks.

1:29 am  
Anonymous Joel said...

//and while I downed bowl after bowl of soup I overheard security guards and senior lecturers engaged in animated discussions about strategies for forthcoming negotiations with university bosses. //

Coming from VUW I find that quite unusual from my experience there.

5:35 pm  
Blogger Jared Davidson said...

Hi Scott,

Check out my blog for May Day events in the South Island and what we got up to. I'd really appreciate it if you didn't lump me in a box without knowing me (ie as part of some kind of destructive 'black bloc' with no idea of what it means to 'build the new in the shell of the old'). I feel I've given you plenty of personal respect and debated ideas, so it would be nice to return the favour, or at least find out other projects I'm involved in such as the Labour History Project etc etc.

Again, my email is below. Feel free to converse any time. garage.collective (at) gmail.com


7:32 pm  

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