Tom Wetzel's home page


Transportation and the City, Past and Present

From Self-managed Solidarity Unionism to a Self-managed Society (from ZNet, June 15, 2009)

Social Anarchism, Individualist Anarchism, the State and Leninism:
A Reply to the International Socialist Organization (from ZNet)

A Libertarian Critique of Capitalism
A Talk to the Alexander Berkman Social Club (Oct 2008)

Workers Power and the Spanish Revolution (in HTML) Aug. 2006

Anti-displacement Victory in San Francisco (in PDF)
(with James Tracy) Dollars & Sense, May/June 2006

What is anarcho-syndicalism?

Workers' Liberation and Institutions of Self-management in The Northeastern Anarchist #11, March 2006

San Francisco Transit Fight
Z Magazine November 2005

What is Gentrification? (revised 2004)

Slaughterhouse Fight: A Look at the Hormel Strike (from ideas & action 1986) (with Jake Edwards and Steve Boyce)

Workers Power and the Russian Revolution
A Review of Maurice Brinton's For Workers Power, ZNet, 2005

Revolution and Syndicalism (Part 1)
Revolution and Syndicalism (Part 2)
A debate with the Workers Solidarity Movement (2003)

The Capitalist City or the Self-managed City? 2004
(from the City Lights anthology Globalize Liberation 2004)

The Hidden Cost of the New Economy: A Study of the Northeast Mission Industrial Zone [In HTML] [[In PDF]
[A Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition report (October 2000).]

States of Affairs
(Entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2003-2010))

The Italian Factory Occupations of 1920 Talk at a conference on workers' self-organization 1988

Origins of the Union Shop (1989)

Life at the Bay Guardian (1987)

What is Class Oppression? Who is the Working Class?

Occupy Wall Street highlighted class inequality in the USA through its talk about the concentration of income and wealth in the hands of "the 1 percent." This does put a bullseye on the ruling class in our society. But much of the talk about class in recent times has focused on income inequality. The idea is that "the 1 percent" are at the top because they have the highest incomes. But this fails to get to the heart of the matter. The existence of different income levels doesn’t explain why there are classes at all. After all, what explains why there are such huge differences in income?

When American union leaders talk about a worker struggle as a “defense of middle class jobs”, you'd think they must lead an organization of lawyers and doctors. Again, this is about income. In the past, unions in some industries were able to use their leverage to secure wage gains that would enable some workers to “lead a middle class lifestyle.”

That way of looking at things is a product of the years of the so-called “class truce” after World War 2. By the ‘40s workers had gained major concessions from the capitalist elite in North America and Western Europe.

These concessions didn’t happen because of the election of liberals and “collective bargaining” by “responsible union leaders.” In the period between World War 1 and the 1940s the entire capitalist order was under assault around the world. There were revolutions in numerous countries, widespread factory seizures by workers, general strikes. Throughout Latin American there were large revolutionary syndicalist labor movements. Repressive dictatorships were imposed in many countries to crush radical working class movements.


Why Consensus Decision-making Won't Work with Grassroots Unionism

Syndicalists have always supported a form of direct democracy based on majority rule. Like most American unions, the Industrial Workers of the World officially endorses Robert’s Rules of Order — although some of their smaller branches use a stripped down version called Rusty’s Rules.(1) The point to taking a vote is that it enables an organized group to come to a decision that expresses the collective will, even when there is some disagreement.

This doesn’t mean that all decisions are made by voting. In grassroots organizations based on majority decision-making, it often happens that most decisions are made without taking any vote — especially in smaller meetings. That’s because people are often able to come to agreement just by discussing the issue or proposal.


Why Revolutionary Syndicalism?

1. A Strategy to Achieve Workers Liberation

Capitalism is at its heart an oppressive and exploitative economic system. The core is the class structure, in which the majority are dispossessed of the means of production of goods and services, and must submit to bureaucratic production regimes, which control our labor so as to pump out wealth privately accumulated by the plutocrats at the top of the heap (and paying high salaries to the bureaucratic class of managers and high-end professionals), and backed up by the coercive force of the state. Working people are thus an oppressed class, although it is also internally quite heterogeneous and various sub-groups are oppressed in various diverse ways.

The working class can't be free and can't ultimately ensure well-being for itself unless it can take over the control of the process of production, and the land and all the means of production, becoming masters of production, in control of our own work of and technological development. To do this means obliterating the institutional power of the bureaucratic/managerial and capitalist classes, so that we are not subordinate to any dominating class. As Ralph Chaplin put it in "Solidarity Forever":

All the world that's owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.


Day of Mass Action in Oakland Shuts Fourth Largest U.S. Port

An armed assault by hundreds of cops evicted the Occupy Oakland encampment in the early morning hours of October 26th. In the wake of that attack, a general assembly of 3,000 people at Occupy Oakland called for a general strike on November 2 to shut down banks, businesses, government offices, schools and the port of Oakland.


Venezuela from Below

Review: Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle by Rafael Uzcategui (See Sharp Press, 2010)

In her essay Latin America & Twenty-First Century Socialism (published as an issue of Monthly Review last year), Marta Har­necker presents a description of “some features” of a decentralized, self-managed socialism based on direct democracy in workplaces and neighborhoods — a picture congenial to libertarian socialists. She also pro­vides an interpretation of the Bolivarian Movement — the movement led by Hugo Chavez — that suggests it is embarked on a transition to this kind of socialism in Venezuela.

Rafael Uzcategui's book marshalls a lot of evidence to challenge that interpretation. Uzcategui argues that a continuation of capitalism is a more likely outcome of the Chavez government than a transition to socialism. Uzcategui also rejects the right-wing fantasy of "Castro-style Communism" being set up in Venezuela.


Organizing Around Public Transit: At the Intersection of Environmental Justice and Class Struggle

From Northeastern Anarchist #15

For the older big cities in North America, public transit is critical to their daily functioning. Organizing among workers and riders on public transit has a strategic importance.

Buses, light rail cars and subway trains attract a diverse working class ridership. Workers in small factories, department stores, hospitals, and restaurants are thrown together on the bus. We encounter retirees going to a doctor's appointment, the unemployed, working class students going to classes at a community college, people of all colors and nationalities, immigrants and native-born. Organizing among transit riders allows the organizers to interact with a broad spectrum of the working class population.

Transportation is how people glue together the various fragments of their lives spent in different locations. If transit workers were to strike, it could bring a large city to a halt. This gives the large workforce of a transit system a strategic position in the local economy.


Debate with the International Socialist Organization

My piece linked below is part of a debate prompted by Eric Kerl's article "Contemporary anarchism" in the July-August issue of International Socialist Review:

I wrote a review of that article which was published on the webzine of the Workers Solidarity Alliance:

In the September-October issue of the ISO's journal the debate was continued with three short pieces, by myself, Sebastian Lamb of the New Socialist Group in Canada, and Eric Kerl.

Read my rejoinder to Eric Kerl's response in that issue of ISR...

Challenges in a Time of Austerity:
Understanding the Economic Crisis

American capitalism faces multiple worsening crises. Vast unemployment, huge numbers of home foreclosures, and cuts to public services are symptoms of an economic system in crisis. The role of the USA as world cop to protect corporate exploitation of labor and resources throughout the world creates human casualties — as in the endless war in Afghanistan — and also shifts resources away from social services that would benefit the working class population. Capitalism profits off the domination and exploitation of labor but also from plunder of the earth’s resources and shifting costs onto others through pollution. The threat posed by climate change is a clear and present danger and evidence that capitalism is not ecologically sustainable.

Radical economists usually distinguish two kinds of economic downturns. First, there are the recessions that are part of the normal business cycle. And then there are less frequent "structural" crises that reflect more deep-seated problems. The present epic recession seems to be a severe structural crisis.


Vacant Hotel Occupied

On July 19th members of Direct Action to Stop the Cuts occupied a vacant 41-room hotel in San Francisco's Mission District. The action was intended to demonstrate the city's inaction on housing. While thousands of people sleep on the streets or live in very crowded living conditions in small apartments, potential housing units sit vacant.


Victory in Fight for Union Freedom in Germany

The FAU has won its appeal on the right to call itself a "union". The appeals court based on its decision on freedom of speech, that people have a right to express their opinion of what a "union" is. The FAU points out, however, that they are still up against the German laws that make it illegal to engage in any direct action if you can't prove you have the power to negotiate contracts with employers. Members of the FAU in Berlin previously were fined and jailed for their boycott campaign against Babylon Cinema.

Fight for Union Freedom in Germany

A struggle by the workers at the New Babylon Cinema in Berlin — a relatively small firm — has now blown up into a fight with much larger legal consequences for German workers. A December 11, 2009 court edict in Berlin now poses some serious questions: Will German workers have the legal right to a union of their own choosing? Will they have the legal right to form grassroots alternative unions?


Chinatown land trust helps low-income housing

By Cory Paul (San Francisco Chronicle)

Just a few years ago, floor boards popped up as Ji Jian-guang walked across his cramped Chinatown apartment. His wife, Ru Mei Peng, washed vegetables in a sink the size of a shoe box. Their two adult sons — along with a daughter-in-law and grandbaby — shared a bedroom split by a bookcase.

Though cramped, 53 Columbus, Room 108, was home. For nearly a decade, the Jis feared they would lose it to encroaching developers.


Tenants Celebrate Conversion of Building to Cooperative

More than 200 people attended a victory celebration June 16th in San Francisco for a group of tenacious tenants who successfully fought their eviction and now are in control of their building through their coop, the Columbus United Cooperative, at 53 Columbus Avenue. This struggle goes back more than a decade ago when the San Francisco Community College District bought a 3-story brick apartment building with the aim of knocking it down to build a new community college campus.


The Shared Equity Solution: A Working Class Program for Housing

From the Hoover administration's housing conference in 1930 to the present day there has been an unrelenting focus on individual home purchase as the means of providing housing in the USA.

Architect's Drawing of Columbus United Cooperative in San Francisco

Since the 1980s efforts to increase homeownership among working class people with lower incomes have included government downpayment assistance programs and attacks on "redlining" practices of banks in communities of color. As banks sought to expand their mortgage business, they increasingly pushed lower income residents into risky adjustable rate mortgages and mortgages with baloon payments. Studies have shown that many people who were directed towards risky loans would in fact have qualified for less risky mortgages.

This did lead to a small increase in the rate of homeownership — from 64 percent in 1985 to 69 percent in 2004 (58 percent in California). Homeownership has been promoted as providing more security than renting since you own and control your own dwelling. But the security becomes illusory when high debt and risky loans drive households into foreclosure. And an epidemic of foreclosures de-stabilizes working class neighborhoods as large numbers of families lose their home.




Workers Solidarity Alliance webzine

San Francisco Community Land Trust
Cooperative conversions of rental buildings and other programs for resident-controlled, permanently affordable housing in S.F.

Video Activist Network Gentrification Report

Car Trouble (from Dollars & Sense)

Carfree Cities Web Site

Participatory Economics Web Site

Workers Solidarity Alliance Web Site

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

United Electrical Workers Union Workplace Rights Page

Agora TV