Friday, November 20, 2009

"...a trooper's life for every worker killed..."

This week's blog is going to be a bit of a history lesson (if you will), and perhaps a rough draft of what might turn into the introduction and historical contextualization of the movement and union whose art, songbooks, posters, buttons, handbills and leaflets, and newspaper I plan to be examining for my final research paper--the Industrial Workers of the World (or, the Wobblies). I say lesson only because not only have I found that many people have never heard of the IWW, but they are viewed rather negatively by many historians because of their radicalism, and are often ignored. Keith and Sarah's comments regarding how completely useless and emasculated (in fact, often counterproductive and detrimental) modern labor unions have become, gave me the idea to work this out a little, "in here," via this forum.

Labor and class history have been a passion of mine since I was about 17 or 18 (as should be the case for any self-respecting Marxist), and before I go any further, I would like to give a really concise explanation of an event that I read about back when I was 17 or 18 that struck me to the heart, forever stirred my mind and my spirit, and is one of the primary reasons that the IWW in particular, and labor and class issues in general have remained so important in my studies. The event is often referred to as the Ludlow Massacre, and is one of the most lucid examples of the kind of shameless, indiscriminate, and vicious strike-breaking tactics used--without the slightest blink of an eye--by the industrialists and politicians of the twentieth century (in this case, the Rockefellers and Woodrow Wilson).

The Colorado coal strike of 1913-1914 was officially sparked as the result of the murder of a worker by a hired thug of the Rockefeller's Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, and what the workers were striking against, in historian Howard Zinn's words, was "low pay, dangerous conditions, and feudal domination of their lives in towns completely controlled by the mining companies." Basically, they just wanted enough to live with a little happiness, health, and dignity and not in a slave-like state. The IWW led the strike.

As soon as the strike began whole towns of workers and their families were evicted from "their shacks" in the corporation's towns, and moved into giant shantytowns (or colonies) of tents in the hills. Throughout the strike, the Rockefellers sicced the Bladwin-Felts Detective Agency--with their Gatling guns and rifles--on the colonies (full of women and children), and so there were repeated shoot-outs between the strikers and these thugs, resulting in far more striker's deaths, than anyone else's. Regardless, the strikers persevered. When the strike had made it through the winter, the Rockefellers and the government decided they needed to take some kind of "extraordinary measures," and on the morning of April 20, 1914, these measures were taken against the largest tent colony of "a thousand men, women, [and] children."

Two national guard units fired machine guns indiscriminately into the colony, from hills overlooking the colonies. Although the miners fired back, they were completely outgunned, and positioned in utterly vulnerable locations. I'll use Zinn's words to explain the most deplorable aspect of this massacre:

"The women and children dug pits beneath the tents to escape the gunfire. At dusk, the Guard moved down from the hills with torches [and] set fire to the tents....the following day, a telephone linesman going through the ruins of the Ludlow tent colony lifted an iron cot covering a pit in one of the tents and found the charred, twisted bodies of eleven children and two women."

I wanted to include this to offer an idea of what it meant for workers to try to gain anything for themselves in the early and mid twentieth century. In this environment, the IWW stood out as a fierce and steadfast enemy to families like the Carnegies and the Rockefellers. In fact, the IWW stand out as perhaps the most revolutionary, egalitarian, and sincere union in America's history. They are considered an "anarcho-syndicalist" movement. This basically means that they felt--and I agree--that the only solution to poverty and privation is putting the means of production and distribution in the hands of the people. At a time of increasingly virulent racism and sexism, they welcomed every race and every sex, and equally assigned all tasks and responsibilities--women were some of the most powerful orators and fighters amongst them. And when many unions were exclusionary, and only allowed skilled workers, the IWW was all inclusive, and included all industrial workers.

When one studies about any of the different individual labor revolutionaries, activists, and agitators of the early to mid twentieth century, and sees that at one point or the other he or she have belonged to the IWW, than one automatically knows that she or he was fearless and wholeheartedly committed to "the one big union," which is the only kind of union that will probably ever be able to change things for the masses. That he or she was one of those radical individuals that wasn't afraid to strike back when struck--in the face of the kind of indiscriminate and malignant tactics described above, they "promised to take a troopers life for every worker killed."

The IWW did not sign contracts, and looked at each separate strike as but one battle in a class war whose ultimate goal is the means of production, in the hands of the people. A short passage from their founding constitution seems to say it all:

"The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together...and take and hold that which they produce by their labor, through an economic organization of the working class without affiliation with any political party..."

Just as World War II, and all of the nationalist fervor and cracking-down on "un-American activities" spelt the end of leftist labor activism (and to say something to Keith's comments from last week, this period as far as I have studied, marked the end of labor's strength and value for good) in the U.S. at mid-century, World War I was used by the government and industrialists as its excuse to attack and--almost completely--destroy the IWW. Literally, almost every IWW union hall was simultaneously attacked and raided, and about a hundred of its key figures arrested all in one day. Leftist ideologies and Communist party connections and refusal to fight in World War I were the excuses.

OK, I know this is getting long, and I am thankful to any of you who have taken the time to read everything thus far--I'm almost done. So, as I stated, the IWW relied greatly on print technology to agitate, educate, inspire, and organize through posters, buttons, leaflets and handbills, a newspaper, and most importantly, what came to be known as The Little Red Songbook. Singing songs was a fundamental aspect of organizing and striking for the IWW, and aside from being an utterly efficacious way of emboldening men and women in the face of often fierce enemies and dire circumstances, and showing solidarity, I feel that it is one of the aspects of the IWW that illustrates what a genuinely civilized and human institution it was.

The two satiric cartoons included above, are extracted from Franklin Rosemont's comprehensive study of Joe Hill and the IWW, The IWW and the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture, are just a hint of the kind of imagery and messages of the print-culture of the IWW, and are perhaps two of my favorites. The first is by IWW cartoonist, Charles E. Setzer, and it seems that the image is clear enough for you to be able to read it. I chose it because it illustrates the way the IWW supported black workers against things like Jim Crow laws, and the "color bar" in the craft unions--few if any other unions did at this time. The IWW knew that without total solidarity among industrial workers, labor would just remain fragmented and unable to defend itself.

The second is by one of my favorite Wobblies--the labor martyr, Joe Hill, whose famous last words before his assassination, "Don't waste time mourning, organize," remain an inspiration to many in the struggle. I like it especially because it illustrates how important, valued, and equal women were in the movement. Just in case the text is too small for you to read, the homeless man is saying "Gee my feet are sore," and the prostitute is saying "Come inside kid," and underneath it says, "He can't afford to have a home. She never had a chance. That's why they are both selling themselves: the highest bidder."

"If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists..."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sniffin' glue, abscessed anal fistulas, pornographic coloring books...

...and the effects of common pharmaceuticals taken in excessive quantities, are just a few delicious thematic drops in the infinitely eclectic and boundless ocean of topics, themes, digressions, concerns, and tangents in the zines that I have encountered thus far in my research.

The image above, is extracted from Liz Farrelly's graphic anthology of zines, imaginatively titled, Zines (I hope the image is big enough for you all to read the text and see the little stars). It is a page from a zine entitled Kachina, made by someone who goes by the--I'm assuming, pseudonymous--title of Mona Weiner, is produced here in the good ol' U. S. of A., and the material that this particular issue of Kachina is made out of, is cartridge paper.
The subject matter in Kachina is what some people might call, incendiary--maybe even downright dangerous. I love the little amerikkkan flags, made of stars and text which communicates different damning truths about this "culture" of ours, as it slips into a state of terminal decline. 

I figured I'd include an imaginal extract or two from the zines that I am encountering, because I do not plan on focusing on layout, artistic attributes, or formal and technical qualities of zines--it will be hard enough to fit what I have already compiled in 10 to 12 pages, just focusing on the political, social, and cultural issues surrounding zine publishing. So, out of the innumerable quantity of cool, stirring, inexplicably original, astoundingly creative imagery and formats (I have found zines that come in little wooden boxes, and some whose covers are made of materials such as fake fur, foil, and plastic flowered shower curtain rings), I figured I'd at least share one of my favorites, and it is that page full of those dangerous little amerikkkan flags, included above. Since part of zine-making is stealing things from wherever one sees fit, I'm assuming my reproduction of the above page from Kachina is--with regards to matters of copyright--safe, appropriate, and encouraged. 

With material like the page included above, it is pretty easy to argue that there is indeed a continuity in subject matter and intent between modern-day zines, and something like Thomas Paine's pamphlets The Crisis  or Common Sense--likewise, between zines and the radical songbooks of the IWW labor union.

 The sad thing is, my research concerning the many ways the radical, early twentieth-century labor union, the IWW (or the Wobblies) used print technology to organize and agitate, might become my whole topic, and I might be giving up on the zine aspect. Dr. Maruca, upon reading my research plan and how much material I have already compiled, said what I have is more of a senior thesis--not a 10 to 12 page paper. The Wobblies used leaflets, handbills, satiric cartoons (fucking with bosses, strike-breakers, and Pinkertons), and songbooks to agitate, organize, educate workers, and in general, cause a whole shitload of trouble for the malignant industrialists of the early to mid twentieth century. 

The more radical the subject matter, the more irresistible it is...I can't help myself...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Compared to most of this semester's blogathon...

...these blogs focusing on the research for the final paper/project, seem kind of boring. Shit, I do not have to worry about offending anyone with any of my foul language, or any of my acutely subjective broadsides, or any of my damning condemnations of this university's student-body. B...o...r...i...n...g!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

With that said, I do indeed believe I have decided to focus on my 'zine idea, and have found a few sources to deal with, outside of the punk-rock and skateboarding worlds that comprise most of my material up to this point.  One book I found is entitled--creatively enough--Zines, by Liz Farrelly. I haven't had a chance to get to deep into it...but...I am afraid that it is especially focused on layout and other formal and technical aspects of 'zines, and not the social, cultural, and political aspects and relevance that I had hoped to focus on. Although, some of the first 'zines she shows the covers of include some typically incendiary and silly titles, that I have come to love and expect from subversive 'zines--such as Maximum Speed; Crust; Plotz; Cheap Date; Come On In, The War's Fine; Temp Slave; Monk Mink Pink Punk; and of course my favorite, Sniffin Glue. 

Some of the tiles from skateboarding 'zines are just as awesome--if not better--than many of these punk-rock/political titles. For instance, dimentia, Skate Fate, acid love, dancing skeleton, contort, smelly curb, Kill Rocco 'zine, and My Head Size (just to name a tiny little few).

Speaking of skateboarding 'zines, Thrasher Magazine (which many consider the bible of skateboarding, and which started out as a 'zine, and for many years was made of newsprint that turned your fingers black), to this day, does a monthly 'zine round up. Wez Lundry is the dude that does the review, and one of his...uh...barometers for judging the length and depth of 'zines, is the amount of visits to the "throne" that the 'zine will provide entertainment for. In other words, one 'zine might be worth--and I'm quoting here--"a couple of turds" worth of reading (yeah, so much for not offending anyone), or some longer 'zines might even be worth "two or three visits to the shitter."

Another funny part of Lundry's review section, are the little extracts from the 'zines, that he fills the page with. One of my favorites is as follows: The image is of a punk-rock looking guy with a microphone in his hand, who is being choked from behind by a huge bouncer-looking fella', and is surrounded by a bunch of other angry looking fellas' who look like they are trying to get the microphone out of his hand. The caption attached to this photo says: "But the sign out front said open-mike night!"

I guess you had to be there.

Anyway, the other tome I found on 'zines looks to deal with more of their social, political, counterculture qualities, which is what I wanted to focus most of my attention on--especially if I am going to try to illustrate some continuities between punk-rock/skateboarding 'zines, and something like Common Sense  from Thomas Paine. I see many parallels regarding the ways in which they have been published and distributed, and the underlying theme of social, political, and cultural subversion. This second book is entitled Notes From Underground, by Stephen Duncombe, and the epigraph is as follows:

"wandering between two worlds, one dead,the other powerless to be born"

I guess I'll see soon enough if this seems as helpful as it looks like it might be. I told Dr. Maruca that I was a little discouraged about finding sources that would help me to draw some kind of line between early subversive pamphlets and publications in this country, and the 'zines that I have contributed to, and which I have been reading since I was given my first copy of the Anarchist Cookbook and GBH's album City Baby Attacked By Rats by the older punk-rockers and anarchists that got a kick out of stirring my adolescent mind, when I was about twelve years old or so (when I first started listening to punk-rock, I still played with Star Wars figures, and since my folks wouldn't let me leave the house with my mohawk standing up, I would stand it up with Aqua-Net, just to listen to GBH, the Stooges, and Black Flag, and play with my Star Wars figures in the house). Dr. Maruca said something along the lines that I may be wandering in uncharted territory of a sort, which excites me.

I also thought of looking for continuities between 'zines, and the literature and leaflet-making of the communistic and anarchistic labor unions of the early twentieth-century--especially the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World), or as they came to be known, the Wobblies. They relied greatly on leaflets and small song-books to organize, and I see a definite similarity.

Well, that's enough for now. I'll--of course--keep at it. As always, if anyone has any advice, comments, insults, et cetera, please send them along...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Both of the topics that I am considering...

...involve countercultures that I have been immersed in for well over twenty years now. Likewise, both topics will--albeit in varying degrees--deal with subversive and independently produced literature, social and political critique, and art.

The first topic that I am considering (and the one that I am most probable to choose) would be an examination of the fanzine (or 'zine"), and the vital and irrevocable role it has played in the subversive worlds of punk-rock and independently released music, and skateboarding--skateboarding and punk-rock being fairly synonymous for as long back as one cares to remember. I am told that there exist something called "e-zines." These are by no means what I am talking about. What I am talking about, is the myriad of underground, often anarchic, independently produced periodicals from deep within the bowels of the worlds of skateboarding and punk-rock, that genuinely embody the DIY, independent ethos behind these countercultures. These 'zines are often nothing more than 81/2" x 11" paper printed on all sides, folded in half, and stapled, but they are the primary forums for many "scenes" throughout the world, and are vital in this way. In fact, many "scenes" radiate outward from 'zines. The terms "copy and paste," or, "cut and paste" come from making 'zines, because, when one makes a 'zine, generally one literally cuts and pastes. 

That is my attempt to concisely describe what these independent, underground periodicals are--I think I failed, because they encompass so many things. Nevertheless, aside from dealing with 'zines themselves, and the roles they play in "scenes," what they are comprised of, et cetera, I would like to attempt to follow their evolution back to early revolutionary periodicals and pamphlets of subversion and dissidence, that also--of pure necessity--have been independently produced and disseminated, such as, for instance, Common Sense by Thomas Paine. I feel 'zines are yet another generation of the underground press in this country. 

I am a little worried about sources. I have not had a chance to research this much, but I have contributed to a number of 'zines in the Detroit area (and in the other cities I have lived in), and I hope that my experience will help guide my research. Oddly enough, and to give an idea of how eclectic some of these 'zines have been, I have written articels on American history for a 'zine that was primarily a skateboarding 'zine--I am especially proud of an essay I wrote on the Ludlow coal-miner strike of 1913 and 1914, which ended up being called the Ludlow Massacre. 

OK--the other topic I am considering, as I have already stated, also deals with a subversive counterculture--graffiti. Although I have never "painted" myself, I have been a bit of a patron to the world of graffiti, especially in the city of Detroit. For a few years I was the owner of a skateboard company (it seems funny calling it a company) called, Mother. All of the art on our boards and shirts was done by two of the most prolific graffiti-kids in the city at the time (meaning they were up everywhere), Mesh  and Dibs. Not only this, but after the first run of decks, we stopped having the graphics screened on the boards, and instead, Mesh and Dibs hand-painted them all. I would bring boxes full of blank boards to their apartment at Forest and Second, give them money for supplies and food and rent, and they hand-painted all of them. What's funny is, no self-respecting graffiti-artist actually pays for their spray-paint or markers, so despite me giving them money for supplies, they still stole them anyway--yes, truly subversive indeed.

Anyway, despite being utterly esoteric to the untrained eye, graffiti--whether it is the sophomoric characters painted by gangs, or the elaborate works of art by graffiti-kids--is indeed its own written language. It is a truly anarchic activity, in its utter disregard for the integrity of "property." With this in mind, I would like to focus on--among other things--how it is now, that graffiti artists  are being paid massive amounts of money, and being regarded as "true" artists, with shows in galleries and all that. I guess you could say, I am planning to examine the attempted confinement and trivialization of it--or you could say, how the main-stream is attempting to co-opt and control it. This would include examining how the underground world of graffiti is responding--mainly, how graffiti-kids who paint anything other than buildings, trucks, overpasses, et cetera lose respect and venerability the more they paint pieces for galleries and exhibits.

Yeah, the above descriptions of my topics are admittedly real broad and general, and I plan to start narrowing them, and focusing on one or the other this week.