An empty critique of the Fight for 15

September 3, 2013

FOR THE life of me, I can't understand why I've seen so many comrades gushing on social media over a recent blog post by Adam Weaver criticizing the perceived shortcomings of the Fight for 15 movement.

The method is pure pre-war syndicalism. Everything the author says could be taken from any Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) propaganda piece about any American Federation of Labor (AFL) union from before the war.

Sure, there are some good points scored against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), but all of this has been covered many times, in a clearer and less sectarian way by Steve Early. What is the practical perspective offered? Classic dual-unionist rubbish: "We should not do this though without any illusions of where this is headed and our focus should be the need to build an inside/outside yet independent effort of fast food workers."

By "independent," read "IWW local." The author is proposing to counterpose "red" unions to the mass movement, while attempting to hide his group's disdain for signing contracts and other "business unionist" practices which will make lives better for potentially millions of workers. Just because he's not upfront about it doesn't mean we should pretend like that's not what the IWW perspective is.

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The author gives it away in the final paragraph, though: "Instead of lobbying the same entrenched political system, appealing to change from above, and attempting to retool the existing system of profit, inequality and exploitation..." Yes, "re-tooling the system" to make fast food jobs pay a living wage would be a disaster--or, even worse, passing some sort of national living-wage legislation. The horror! Give me a break.

There is also no recognition that the SEIU is ahead of the curve with initiating this, and has completely out-flanked UNITE HERE and the United Food and Commercial Workers, its rivals in this constituency. Why? Is it possible that they have learned some lessons from the past few years? Looks to me that the answer is "yes"--just look at their breakthroughs in adjunct organizing in Boston and Washington, D.C.

They wouldn't be the first set of bureaucrats to initiate something from above. Whether things stay within their grasp is a political question, and how the left reacts to these strikes will play a vital part in answering it. Instead, Weaver's article presents a 19th-century strategy for intervening in this burgeoning movement.

This is a document that is completely dismissive about the changes in ordinary people's lives that would come from a successful organizing drive in a hyper-exploited, atomized section of the proletariat. Weaver has no conception of the possibility of workers' consciousness changing in the course of these strikes and it is utterly defeatist about the ability of workers to control their own organizations.

I read this as a complete step backward from the analysis of the SEIU that has appeared in, and as typical IWW pessimism and defeatism in the face of waging a political fight against the union bureaucracy.
Charles Peterson, Madison, Wis.

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