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Labor Violence in Longview And Why That’s Not Necessarily Bad

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The Longshoremen’s strike in Longview, Washington, which I have discussed before, has gone hard-core, with union members “unofficially” deciding to bust up the offending company’s property. The company, EGT, violated an agreement it made to use union labor to unload grain. The Longshoremen have supported their Longview brothers and sisters by not coming to work in Seattle and Tacoma, essentially shutting down the Puget Sound docks.

This is kind of a big deal. It’s a small strike in a small town that could have big implications. If the Longshoremen decide to stand strong and expand their sympathy strikes, they could have a real short-term impact on the economy. The Longshoremen have always been one tough union, going back to the days of Harry Bridges.

I’ll be frank here–I have absolutely no problem with the Longview local’s actions of breaking some windows, dumping grain, and damaging rail cars. I know some of you will be outraged by union violence, even though they have hurt no one, but if your livelihood is being destroyed, isn’t that violence committed against you? Certainly this is an extreme action for this day and age, and you wouldn’t want to resort to such actions everyday, but as I have said before, extreme actions need to be part of the union playbook. With all-out war declared against unions, at what point do workers press the boundaries of the law, a legal code increasingly defined to limit people’s rights to organize?

Not surprisingly, the courts look very poorly on such actions, but theoretically at least, so long as the union leadership can prove this is not centrally planned, they might get away with it.

In any case, this is a situation very much worth following.

Update: Here’s Craig Merrilees, Communications Director for the ILWU on the Rick Smith Show, talking about the struggle of the Longview workers.

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  • MikeJake

    At this point, after all the politics and compromise, I think what America needs is a good old fashioned fight.

  • strannix

    I know some of you will be outraged by union violence, even though they have hurt no one, but if your livelihood is being destroyed, isn’t that violence committed against you?

    On the other hand, this plays into the public’s worst preconceptions about unions, which sounds like a very dangerous course to choose in a day and age in which public opinion of unions is very low and declining.

    It seems we’re past the point where individual unions winning some battles is going to do much good. Either unions are trying to get more people on their side, or they’re not, and I can’t imagine a scenario in which this helps the labor movement in the long run. Far more likely that it even further mobilizes political opinion against them.

    And the “not hurting anyone” excuse is risible BS. You could use the same excuse to justify anti-union tactics – “Hey, it’s only economic damage, no big deal, right?” Either you want to get people to think about economic damage as “violence” or yoou don’t – setting that standard for one side but not the other is blatantly fatuous.

    • MikeJake

      Concern troll.

      Pussy.

    • “On the other hand, this plays into the public’s worst preconceptions about unions, which sounds like a very dangerous course to choose in a day and age in which public opinion of unions is very low and declining.”

      At this point, with private union membership this low, what difference does it really make? Not that it is only labor’s fault, but it’s not like labor strategies of the last half a century has worked. I respect the hell out of people who are willing to go all the way to protect their families and livelihoods against the ravages of global capitalism.

      • strannix

        At this point, with private union membership this low, what difference does it really make?

        Are you really suggesting that things can’t get worse?

        At any rate, you seem to be unable to explain the mechanism for how it makes things better. I, at least, can say uncontroversially that people don’t really like reports of violence or unions in general all that much. Your post however, seems to follow the following time-honored internet template of:

        1) Smash some shit,
        2) ?????
        3) Success!

        • MikeJake

          1. Bend over and take it.
          2. ???
          3. Success!!!

          • strannix

            Do you actually have anything to say?

            • I think MikeJake has at least as much to say about this as you do.

              • strannix

                Shouldn’t he say it then?

                And speaking of which, shouldn’t you have a little more to say, yourself? I do, after all, think my real-world concerns have at least some validity, but you seem reluctant to address them besides a “well what they’re doing now isn’t working.” Which is hardly a substantive response.

                But hey, if instead you want to side with the guy whose contribution consists of various formulations of “pussy”, knock yourself out. But don’t complain when I say you’re being fatuous.

                • MikeJake

                  Your super serious real-world concerns are super valid, you super concern troll pussy.

                • strannix

                  Ha ha, I disagree with you, so I’m a pussy troll! You’re really making Erik look good there, after he vouched for you and all.

                  (See, THAT is concern trolling – I don’t really give a shit about Erik looking good. I’m just pretending to in order to make an empty rhetorical point.)

                  (I actually do care about labor unions, though.)

                • Malaclypse

                  Your super serious real-world concerns are super valid, you super concern troll pussy.

                  Really, the use of “pussy” as an insult is something I’d expect to see on a middle school playground, not a feminist blog (unless, of course, Normy is commenting). And repeating it on every comment makes you even more of an asshole.

            • He seems to be making his point fairly clearly, are you just bad at reading?

        • Because clearly union strategy is most understood by bloggers and their commenters…

          • strannix

            I confess that I don’t know what you mean here.

      • Malaclypse

        At this point, with private union membership this low, what difference does it really make?

        Bluto: What the fuck happened to the Delta I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Wormer, he’s a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer…

        Otter: Dead! Bluto’s right. Psychotic… but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!

      • Alex

        I take it you are unaware that the company is in fact using union labor under agreement with an Operating Engineers local, and that a federal judge issued an injunction against the ILWU’s action,’according to the local region of the NLRB.

    • Public opinion of unions is neither low nor declining.

      I could not find a single poll in which unions and bargaining rights did not have majority support.

      http://www.google.com/search?q=poll+unions+2011&hl=en&source=hp&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=

      • strannix

        Are you kidding? From the first page of the Google results you linked to is this Pew result: “The favorability ratings for labor unions remain at nearly their lowest level in a quarter century with 45% expressing a positive view.”

        Also, extensive labor polling at PollingReport.com. Tough news – to the question, “Would you, personally, like to see labor unions in the United States have more influence than they have today, the same amount as today, or less influence than they have today?” only 30% said “more influence” in a poll from just last month. Ouch.

        For the question “”Would you rather be in a union at your job, or not in a union?” back in March of this year, the results were 43-48 against. Double ouch.

        Anyway, looking at the general results, one might make a technical case that union support is not, “declining,” but only when measuring over a very short and recent timeline. Of course labor support is radically lower than in previous decades, and it remains to be seen if the recent uptick is a start of a permanent trend or just a transient result of circumstance, like the occasional break in gas prices.

        But you really have to be Pollyannaish to say that support isn’t “low.”

        • Malaclypse

          From the first page of the Google results you linked to is this Pew result: “The favorability ratings for labor unions remain at nearly their lowest level in a quarter century with 45% expressing a positive view.”

          Which, to be fair, makes them far more popular than either political party, or any of the branches of government.

        • only 30% said “more influence” in a poll from just last month.

          Combined with “about the same” yield a large majority.

          Anyway, looking at the general results, one might make a technical case that union support is not, “declining,” but only when measuring over a very short and recent timeline.

          Indeed. Support for labor was declining for a couple of years, prior to the Wisconsin protests, but it then underwent a rather dramatic turnaround, and continues to grow.

    • Njorl

      I disagree. Working people are pissed off. Close to 20% of Americans who want to be working full time jobs, aren’t. Many who are, are being overworked, with a constant threat of layoff hanging over their head.

      While some might be bitter, and would love to scab and take those jobs, more are pissed off at companies making record profits while screwing over employees. Even those who are resentful of the longshoreman are probably also pissed off at the bosses.

    • Hogan

      Yes, if history has shown us anything, it’s that the American people are fundamentally gentle and peace-loving and abhor violence in all its forms.

    • News Nag

      Stannix, you’re entitled to your yellowbelly opinion (my opinion of your opinion, but you have totally caved in to worry about being seen as “nice enough” in a society where the “not nice at all” take advantage of the “nice enough” to not very nicely eviscerate the very lifeblood and livelihood of families, communities, cities, and, yes, the entire nation. Maybe you’ve noticed this. Maybe you’ve been too busy worrying what “nice enough” people think of you. I don’t know. Only you know that.

      What needs to happen is that the supremacy of inhuman ‘capital’ needs to end. Human capital is the important capital. Until “nice enough” people begin to understand this incontrovertible and crucial fact, then a few broken windows and mild economic losses against the “not nice at all” forces will just have to be accepted as the price of doing “not nice enough” business.

      Speak up for yourself in whatever way works, short of hurting someone else except in self-defense. If someone “not nice at all” tries to hurt you while you’re standing up for yourself, your family, your community, city, and/or nation, then damned well hurt them where they’ll feel it in the “not nice at all” pocketbooks. It’s the only thing that has ever ever ever worked in the least.

      Don’t be lowing cattle, Stannix.

  • Passing By

    Prof.Loomis – “if your livelihood is being destroyed, isn’t that violence committed against you?”

    Every significant economic advance since the Industrial Revolution began has destroyed somebody’s livelihood. Refrigerators destroyed the iceman; mainframe computers destroyed the adding-machine operator; supermarkets destroyed the corner grocer; etc. Do all these count as “violence committed against” somebody?

    • Yes, as a matter of fact, they do, though it is deeply complicated and should be analyzed on a case by case basis.

      But we are talking about technological innovation here, which is a complex issue. We are talking about a company choosing to use non-union labor instead of union labor. So it is an entirely different situation.

      • Non-Violence

        They are using union workers! They have a right to hire who they want to hire. There is NO right to take hostages, damage personal property and threaten law officers!
        They are harming innocent farmers now to, blocking ports and harming the livelihood of those individuals. But never mind, only the union thugs matter. They are losing the PR campaign BIG TIME.

        • Future Rich Guy

          As an aspiring plutocrat, I appreciate that the average American worker knows his place in the scheme of things. There’s a heirarchy, with me at the top, and people like Non-Violence at the bottom, and I respect Non-Violence for knowing this.

        • There is NO right to take hostages, damage personal property and threaten law officers!

          Self defense against a corporation harming them by violating their contract.

          It thought you wingnuts believed in contracts.

    • DocAmazing

      Irrelevant comparison. If we were talking about longshore workers being displaced by container freight, that might have something to do with what you’ve written; instead, we have a simple case of breach of contract and union-busting.

      Let us know when that rises to the level of “economic advance”.

      • DrDick

        Well it certainly does represent and “economic advance” from the perspective of the rentier capitalists who are able to extract ever greater rents as a consequence.

  • Scott de B.

    Polls already show that most Americans feel that unions exist only to benefit their own members, and not workers more generally. I don’t see how this will change that. Organizing the “non-union labor” ought to be the priority.

    • Stag Party Palin

      First, a vote for MikeJake. Don’t let the pearl-clutchers grind you down.

      Polls already show that most Americans feel that unions exist only to benefit their own members, and not workers more generally.

      Of course unions exist to benefit their members. Duh. So do corporations. If you want union benefits, join one. Or start one. In the big picture, of course, the mere existence of unions could be said to benefit non-union workers because employers might do more for non-union workers to keep out the unions. I suspect that advantage is somewhere between slim and none, but what the hey, it’s all theory.

      I don’t see how this will change that.

      Why would they want to? For once, Americans are right.

      Organizing the “non-union labor” ought to be the priority.

      Fatuity alert.

    • Kal

      Unions do exist, first and foremost, to benefit their members. But a fundamental question for non-union workers considering getting organized is – do unions succeed at that? Their record hasn’t been great for a few decades now. Sure, it’s still better to be in a union, but they don’t win much. If union density is going to turn around, non-union workers need to think that the struggle to build a union is worth their while. Union victories are the only way to prove that.

    • Polls already show that most Americans feel that unions exist only to benefit their own members, and not workers more generally.

      No, they don’t.

  • Passing By

    Prof. Loomis-

    Everybody, in any society, has a grievance. And many of those grievances have as much economic and emotional weight as the Lomgview case. But we don’t generally encourage aggrieved spouses, employees, neighbors, etc. to violence … because we see where that leads if it becomes general. So are you claiming some special exception here or what?

    • Stag Party Palin

      … extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!

      No special exception. Barry Goldwater said it was OK.

    • soullite

      But you are encouraging it. By making it the only way in which normal people will ever get a hearing, the US government is encouraging violence. They have made protest irrelevant and often respond with police violence. We have two parties that do 99% of the same things even when an election specifically repudiates half of the things they do. They have made the police our enemies rather than our protectors, and the vast majority of people who have had to actually interact with cops agree with me on that even if the upper-class twits here do not. They have ignored massive unemployment and done everything in their power to exacerbate income inequality.

      Violence has been encourage, even provoked, for years now. To pretend otherwise is to close your eyes and ears to everything that people really are and cling to your storybook fantasies about what people are supposed to be.

      • Anonymous

        Violence has been encourage, even provoked, for years now.

        Abusive husband: “That bitch made me hit her. She made me do it.”

        • Njorl

          You’ve got it backwards. It’s more like the abused wife, who has called the cops to no avail, had a judge tell her she should be grateful to have such a fine husband, stabbing her husband with a kitchen knife while he’s beating her.

          While most of the hubbub about the supreme court concerns abortion, the real change has been about big business. Corporations are people, labor is sub-human.

          • News Nag

            You’re right, Njorl. Anonymous has no clue what “it” is talking about and is merely using the opportunity to vent “its” blind rage against women not liking “it” (“it” probably being too small for most women).

    • DrDick

      Where does it lead if it becomes general? To the 20th century and a dramatic improvement in working conditions and compensation for the average worker. Read some economic and labor history before making truly stupid comments like this. Every right and benefit that workers have today was literally bought with the blood and lives of union organizers in the late 19th and early 20th century.

  • Alex

    The rationale “my economic livelihood is at stake, so therefor I can take extra-legal measures” is the mirror image of the rationale which industrialists used to justify hiring Pinkertons to bust strikers heads and if that proved insufficient, to just fucking kill them. If there is a breach of contract, the ILWU has lawyers and access to the courts to enforce the contract. If such a breach hasn’t been established, then your supposed justification is gone too.

    Unions are imperfect and can make mistakes. Some are downright fucking rotten, which was largely what led Bridges to break away from the ILA and form a separate union. The one thing which distinguished the ILWU from it’s East Coast counterparts was the intelligence and integrity of its leadership in Bridges’ day.

    • DrDick

      The difference is that the corporations have the power and money to buy politicians and Supreme Court justices to change the laws to make their actions legal and to punish workers.

    • Hogan

      If there is a breach of contract, the ILWU has lawyers and access to the courts to enforce the contract.

      You’ve never actually seen a collective bargaining agreement, have you?

      • Alex

        I’ve seen more than you have, I’ll wager and your comment is glib evasion. Is it in the contract or isn’t it. If the ILWU really cares about an issue they have the ability to raise hell, and do it legally. They operate in one of the few remaining environments where “strike threat” retains any meaning.

        • Dale Dribble

          Then you must have missed the standard grievance/arbitration procedures that mean you have virtually no ability to go to court over contract violations, and therefore have no meaningful legal recourse for contract violations that are also imminent existential threats to the union.

          • Alex

            You don’t know what you’re talking about. The ILWU doesn’t have a CBA with this employer, an Operating Engineers local does, so there is no grievance procedure. The ILWU is claiming the company is in breach of its agreement with the port “to use union labor” but the company is using union labor and an injunction was issued against the ILWU by a federal court, which likely means the strike action is unlawful under the NLRA.

            If you think that a greivance/arbitration clause denies access to remedies then you don’t know much about arbitration.

  • dave

    In a culture without socialism, what is left to Trades Unions except the rampant pursuit of self-interest through any means necessary?

  • witless chum

    Good for you, Erik. I agree 100 percent.

  • David M. Nieporent

    I know some of you will be outraged by union violence, even though they have hurt no one, but if your livelihood is being destroyed, isn’t that violence committed against you?

    No. That’s stupid.

    You should stick to making up shit about environmentalism based on science you don’t understand; it’s less embarrassing than your economic posts. But I am curious to hear your response to Strannix’s question: what exactly is your theory for how this is supposed to work?

    • I thought you people believed in contracts.

      I thought you people believed that violating a contract was an act of force.

      • They believe in the sanctity of contracts to the extent that it helps the rich and powerful. Otherwise, fuck the contract.

      • big fan

        Good comments on this thread joe esp the one above. You are still a bit of ass though.

    • Stag Party Palin

      At any rate, you seem to be unable to explain the mechanism for how it makes things better.

      Assuming that is the question Strannix is asking, then then answer has been given elsewhere in comments. Unions won rights with violence. The reason they had to resort to violence was that they had no legal means at hand, either through lack of laws or, and especially true now, lack of enforcement of laws.

      You want my opinion (sure you do) this modest bit of property damage is merely a hint of what will happen in this country if the rule of law continues to be ignored on such a vast scale for everyone below millionaire status. We are in a class war right now. When Amazon starts offering guillotines for sale, you might want to become a Canadian.

      • Malaclypse

        Canada is a socialist hellhole. I’m sure Nieporent will have the courage of his convictions, and move to the libertarian paradise of Somalia.

    • It worked the first time around… You know, when union pioneers went axe handle against gunman to fight for all the rights we now take for granted?

      My grandfather, and his father before him, cracked heads in Britain to set the stage for the revolutionary rise of the middle classes, I KNOW what the fuck happened, I KNOW how it worked, and I am quite confident it will work again.

      It works by standing up for what’s right, for not backing down, and for meeting oppression with bloody violence. It costs money to buy mercenaries, and it’s always more expensive than just paying a fair wage, even not counting the fact that fatcats hang from lamp-posts real pretty when things get rough enough.

      Fuck with the working man and you are in for a world of hurt.

      No war but class war!

      And in passing, Davey boy, any time you feel like having a good old fashioned axe handle session you just stop by the UA496 and I’ll be happy to show you what happens to scabs. And Pinkertons for that matter.

      Piece of shit.

  • soullite

    The notion that destroying property, rather than only people, is ‘violence’ is just one more way the elite muddy the waters. They know that it will be reported as ‘violence’ in the media, and that the population will mostly assume actual violence.

    • Njorl

      It’s worth noting, that violating the law in a manner that causes property damage in a pursuit of obtaining higher profits, at a risk paying damages if caught, is a widely used corporate strategy.

      It is extremely common for corporations to intentionally violate environmental, health and safety laws in a calculated manner, causing damage to public and private property. When they see that the potential profits outweight the possible penalties, they break the law.

      We now have a court system which encourages this corporate philosophy. It seems perfectly reasonable that labor would make the same calculated efforts.

    • Tim

      would you feel the same way if the property being destroyed was an abortion clinic.

      • Malaclypse

        Well, soullite has made clear that abortion rights don’t help him, so he does not care about them.

      • News Nag

        Moron, abortion clinics are and have been blown up. There are people usually involved who die and are wounded. You don’t see the difference because you don’t want to see the difference. I think that means you are legally morally blind.

      • Terry

        Ask me again after some wingnut assassinates a union president.

        • You know it’s funny, but wingnuts don’t seem interested in trying violence with unions. I suspect it’s some deep realization that if they were to try, thy would ignite a shitstorm of unimaginable proportions.

          Imagine some tea party type walking up to a big burly longshoreman and giving him a shove. Why it warms the cockles of my heart.

    • strannix

      The notion that destroying property, rather than only people, is ‘violence’ is just one more way the elite muddy the waters.

      Also worth noting that Erik does exactly this in his post.

      • News Nag

        Yeah, cause you say so. Curious you don’t explain your point. Hmm, could it be your point is nonexistent and/or counterfactual?

  • Anonymous

    right on fight on

  • Regardless of your views on the morality of it, violence in the name of progressive change has generally been counter-productive, especially in this country.

    • This isn’t violence in the name of “progressive change.”

      This is violence in defense of legal rights established through a contract, which are being encroached up by the illegal actions of others.

      I would agree that breaking stuff would be a terrible strategy in the pursuit of a larger political goal, but this isn’t the equivalent of a rally for voting rights or desegregationist hiring policies. It’s the equivalent of self-defense from a mugger.

    • DrDick

      Have you ever looked at the labor and economic history of the turn of the 20th century?

    • The threat of IWW violence in the Pacific Northwest in the 1910s forced the government’s hand to provide loggers with the 8 hour day and clean living conditions.

      There is 1 example of violence creating progressive change right there.

      Not to mention that the IWW suffered far more violence against them than they ever inflicted on the capitalists.

    • What the hell are you talking about? The entire history of labour rights is nothing but people commiting violence until the company finally realizes fighting a war with workers is counterproductive.

    • This is just another example of that bullshit meme ‘violence doesn’t solve anything’… When in fact violence, or the threat of it, is almost always the solution to everything.

      Actually, now that i think of it, the people promulgating that meme are always people who wish to retain a monopoly on violence…From your Mom with threats of wooden spoon and groundings, to goverments urging legal remedy instead of personal vengeance.

      And sometimes they are even right.

      Not this time though.

  • You know what would be an interesting tactic for unions?

    If some of the workers who were on strike against a really slimy, rapacious company did something highly visible for a competitor who was treating his workers right.

    A lot of CEOs have their pet charities; maybe send 5% of the strikers to go volunteer at that charity while wearing their union tee-shirts. Call the media, and have them make statements about what a great cause it is, and laud Mr. Moneybags for how generous he’s been to the homeless kids.

  • Erik,

    I was wondering if you could say something about the difference between this sort of violence (and, for example, the deep green stuff) and John Brown’s? As you wrote:

    Does that seem too extreme? I don’t think so. It’s saying that violent action, even treason, is completely justified if the cause is moral enough. Who is likely to use that message today? Randall Terry and other anti-abortion radicals. They already view themselves as akin to extreme abolitionists.

    Is it the killing of people? In your post on deep green you seemed a bit more open to that, so I’m unsure.

    • A fair question. I don’t know that I have a full system of thought here. But a couple of points. 1) There is a huge difference in violence against property and attempts to start an armed rebellion or engage in open murder. Like with so-called ecoterrorism, burning a bunch of SUVs or dumping some grain is different from killing abortion doctors by many magnitudes. Similarly, one can easily support an action like the Longshoremen engaged in and condemn Alexander Berkman shooting Henry Clay Frick in the face. Even if Frick deserved it. 2) I think we have to take these things on a case by case basis. My worries about the use of John Brown in the present is that it is extreme anti-abortionists who are pumping his memory for their cause. And that’s scary. Brown’s cause was far more just even if he was a madman. Of course, the moral rightness of a cause is in the eye of the beholder. Similarly, the issue of self-defense comes into play. If Brown was wrong, arming slaves to rebel against their masters seems, in theory, to be a good thing so they could defend themselves. The Longshoremen committing property crimes in order to protect their way of life from a company seeking to destroy union labor on the docks also seems to be self-defense. How far one could take this and still be on the right moral side of things, I don’t know.

      I realize that probably didn’t clear much up.

      • Thanks for the reply. Yes it doesn’t seem very systematic. In particular, you don’t seem to separate the first order and second order evaluation, to wit, whether John Brown’s actions were directly defensible and whether lionizing John Brown’s actions now is counterproductive. (To be fair, in the post I linked to there are also some moves involving the prospect for success, which echos just war doctrine).

        Co-option, of course, is a general problem. It seems that labor violence can be pretty easily co-opted as well (e.g., against immigrants).

        I shouldn’t think it would be all that difficult to develop a reasonable account of the justifiability of various forms of political violence. Obviously, there’s a vast civil disobedience literature (King, after all, had to defend his actions as both illegal and economically disruptive; the line between tangible destruction (smashing a window) and intangible (a boycott) can get rather thin.)

        (Sorry to be quick in my response, this really deserves a lot more attention.)

        • If I worked through this more, I would be able to answer your critiques. I see the weaknesses. Unfortunately, I don’t really deal with this much in my book so it’s hard to take the time to seriously think all of this through.

          I also recall reading somewhere that Hitler banned anyone from quoting past speeches or writings against him.

          • strannix

            Ha ha. Shorter Erik: “The very basic implications of the stuff I’m advocating are just too hard to think about.”

            What a loser. Somerby’s been railing on occsion lately against the professoriate as useless intellectual poseurs – I submit Exhibit A right here.

            • Ah yes, I am again reminded why trying to be honest about one’s own inconsistencies on the internet will never have value. Much better to take a hard position and argue it to the end of the earth!

              • strannix

                Much better to think before you post, I’d say.

                Of course, if you wanted to retract your post, on the grounds that you’ve admitted to giving very little thought to what your saying, that would have value. But clinging to it while refusing to do any “serious” thinking … you’re right, that will never have value.

                Why should it?

                • Disclosure: I’m a member of the professoriate too.

                  I’m not sure what the problem is. Loomis made an argument earlier (about John Brown) that I’ve been thinking about. He’s made some other claims (about deep green and labor violence) that 1) seems to be in some tension with the John Brown view and 2) I’ve also been thinking about. While I was somewhat sanguine of the possibility of a reasonable theory of civil violence, in point of fact, it’s almost certainly highly nontrivial whether theoretically, empirically, and, significantly, from a personal point of view.

                  Erik told me what I wanted to know, to wit, whether there was an overarching theory behind these view that reconciled them. His answer was basically, “No, but I think it could maybe be made to work.”

                  I suspect that it can’t, really. But I can see an outline (e.g., John Brown judgement is a combination of condemning second order effects as well as the futility of the plan and something, perhaps, about the difference between self-defense and aiding self defense). But to just offer that would be a tad facile.

                  I think Erik is at risk of having a more or less “violence I happen to like is ok” view, in the end. (But that can be defended in some ways.)

                  The Hitler line was hilarious :)

                  So, in the end, it seems a reasonable casual, but informed, discussion. More like coffee room chat than scholarly exchange. Which seems about right. I’d happily read any article Erik wrote on the justification and efficacy of labor violence and I’m sure he’d take note of any reaction I might have.

                  All of which seems perfectly alright and justifies the post (which I found useful and an opportunity to raise the larger issue) and the response (which clarified his circumstance and gave me a chance to give him some pushback).

                • strannix

                  Agreed on the Hitler line … that actually was funny.

                  But it doesn’t strike you as odd that a supposed history of labor expert like Erik has simply never given these questions much thought?

                  And the norms of “scholarly exchange” aside, doesn’t it strike you as simply responisble, before advocating for union (or enviromental) extremism, to ask one’s self, “How far am I willing to take this? And for what ends is this appropriate?” Especially if one claims to be an expert on those issues?

                • But it doesn’t strike you as odd that a supposed history of labor expert like Erik has simply never given these questions much thought?

                  Which questions? On the question as to whether extreme tactics up to property damage should be part of the union playbook, it’s clear he’s given some thought to that. I think he talks about this in his dissertation, but I’m not able to get a full copy at the moment. My suspicion is that his position is roughly: Certain classes of worker violence is justifiable, indeed recommended, based on it 1) being a form of response to state and corporate violence (where that notion is somewhat expanded to include, as we see here, livelihood destruction), 2) it is likely to be effective, and 3) there aren’t a lot of other options.

                  This leaves open a lot of issues, as Erik acknowledged, including his evaluation of John Brown (and “terrorist” violence) and non-culpable destruction of livelihoods (e.g., technological revolutions), not to mention the problems of co-option and demonization. But, these are non trivial to sort out and I don’t see that they need to be sorted out entirely before making some recommendations.

                  And the norms of “scholarly exchange” aside, doesn’t it strike you as simply responisble, before advocating for union (or enviromental) extremism, to ask one’s self, “How far am I willing to take this? And for what ends is this appropriate?” Especially if one claims to be an expert on those issues?

                  Sure. And a reasonable answer is, “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know, especially for these tricky cases”. There is a systematic aspect to Erik’s response: He thinks, by and large, that we need to go more case by case (or fairly fine grained class of cases by class of cases). I don’t really agree with that, but then I am a philosopher by training and he’s a historian. While there is plenty of grand theorizing by historians, I rather suspect that there’s large swaths of the profession where that’s suspect at best.

                  On the flip side, do you think your response is productive? Of anything? I’d rather have a better theory myself, but only work on it rather idly. If I can prod Erik a bit, that’s great. But I don’t see that your tactics are effective. FWIW.

                • Why on earth would you bother reading my dissertation? Wait until the book comes out, it’ll be worthwhile. And I really don’t deal with these issues in any way in my work, except to explore how protecting themselves from dangerous industrial environments formed the basis of their organizing within the IWW and later, to a lesser extent, with the IWA.

                • Why on earth would you bother reading my dissertation?

                  To further my ongoing quest to provide evidence people can point to when JFL rhetorically asks who else provides links or evidence? (Sorry Joe! Well meant humor!) Because I’m a bit obsessive?

                  More because I was looking for specific evidence as to 1) whether you had address such issues and 2) if not, whether you were in some way derelict, intellectually, in not doing so. I wasn’t planning to read it through, of course :)

                  My causal impression in that the theory of the ethics of labor violence is underdeveloped, esp. relative to say civil disobedience theory or colonial resistance theory. Is that right? If so, is that because Marxism sucked out all the oxygen?

                  (There was some of this round the time of the Seattle riots. But that was mostly a “targeting property” line and pretty uninteresting, if perfectly serviceable.)

          • It’s a tad unusal for someone to Godwin themsevles…but whatever works!

            • Rhino

              I’m try sick of the Godwin meme. Nowadays comparisons to the Nazis are not only frequently quite reasonable, they are sometimes insufficient.

              Why do we act as though people every bit as nasty as Goebbels aren’t numbered among our ‘leaders’ right now? Have none of you actually listened to phelps? To limbaugh?

              These people are scary, and frankly comparison tothe worst monsters in human history is precisely what they deserve.

              • You missed the irony. Heck, you missed that the original reference to Hitler did not involve a comparison between any right wing figure and any Nazi.

                So, your complaint is either an off topic riff (unlikely) or seriously inapt. Hurray!

                • Rhino

                  You brought up the tired old meme, and I disputed the continued relevance of it. I am neither off topic, nor inept, but you appear to lack the intellectual agility to handle an exchange of ideas that might involve, horrors, a brief digression or footnote. Glad to have helped you find something to work at!

                • You brought up the tired old meme

                  As part of a gag that Erik started.

                  and I disputed the continued relevance of it.

                  The gag? It’s funny partly because Godwin’s law is a bit tired on the one hand and commonly misunderstood on the other.

                  And digressions involve change in topic…so…off topic!

                  I trust you understand the difference between being able to handle changes in topic or digressions and being put off by someone blurting hamfisted rants that are at best merely keyword related, but yet spoil the flow of a joke. But, Hitler!

  • latinist
  • Remember when Obama followed in the footsteps of FDR and sent National Guard troops to protect the strikers?

    Yea. Me neither. But I wish he would.

  • chimneyswift

    Strategic note:

    Since union struggles (and especially spirited ones such as this) are unlikely in the extreme to get any high profile media coverage, this can not be too much a PR problem for the union. This constitutes a strategic advantage to the union. To be honest, I hope it is successful and then copied in other actions. Your analysis is exactly correct, to take livelihoods away from workers is an act of violence. These acts by the union workers are entirely moral and justified.

    Also, tactics such as this make a real impact on the mind. The Hobbesians in the boardroom will understand this in a way that they will never understand negotiations.

  • Holden Pattern

    Wow, you really are a dumbass. Breach of contract is breach of contract. Tort is tort. The concepts are completely different.

    • Holden Pattern

      And between me starting the comment and me posting the comment, Anonymous was deleted.

  • UserGoogol

    I have trouble believing in self-defense to begin with. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Why should I be allowed to hurt someone else just because they’re trying to hurt me? If hurting people is wrong, then hurting people is wrong, and if hurting people economically is wrong, then hurting people economically is wrong.

    The whole point of political liberalism is that the power of force needs to be kept in the hands of bodies which can fairly consider all people’s interests before acting. Self-defense is anarchic in every sense of the word, since then it’s just everyone acting for themselves.

    Self-defense is certainly an excuse for behavior (if someone’s threatening your life it would be unfair to expect you to behave perfectly morally) but I have trouble looking at self-defense as a positively good thing.

    • Stag Party Palin

      The reason there aren’t more people like you is that most of them are dead.

    • You’re a bit inconsistent. If hurting people is wrong, period, then how can it be right in anyone’s hands? You hint that it’s not the force itself that’s wrong but somehow the self-interestedness of some of the actors? But then that just concedes that there are cases where violence against persons is justified, just that you think that interested parties are unlikely to be correct about when that’s the case. Perhaps, but surely we can so determine? Someone has to be able to or the neutral bodies are likely to get it wrong too. (And it’s hard to see how state power in the US, which is so dominated by rich/management/capital interests is remotely neutral.)

      • UserGoogol

        I suppose. I was kind of trying to waffle between two slightly different arguments and ignore the fact that they’re kind of contradictory in the hopes that their overlap would be more important than their contrast. And I very intentionally chose to use phrases like “I have trouble believing” and “if violence is wrong” to try to acknowledge the weakness of my argument.

        The original argument I wanted to say was simply that just because the labor union people are having violence committed against them doesn’t necessarily make it okay for them to commit violence back. Maybe it does, but maybe it doesn’t. But with all the concern trolls floating around I felt like I had to make a more substantive argument, and as such had to get into more difficult territory.

        Ultimately I’m sincerely unsure if self-defense is good or bad. I’m aware that it has some advantages. But I do think people should at least be a bit more skeptical than just taking it as a given.

        • Fair enough. Self-defense (esp. defense against imminent threat when there is no reasonable alternative) is standardly the most solid justification for violence. Standard pacifist accounts (e.g., Socrates, Jesus) aren’t appealing to most people, thus tend to be a non-starter. If you allow force at all, you have to work pretty hard to not allow that.

          Given that the illegitimacy of any labor action, much less violent action, is typically presumed by a wide range of people (largely due to systematic propaganda), I think criticism of labor violence has to be carefully handled. On simple consequentialist ground, actions by labor* have generally been either ultimately beneficial or at least genuinely aimed at goals which are either directly or indirectly generally beneficial. Management and capital violence, not so much, and even less so when enforced by the state.

          * Obviously, if you put state communist violence in the scale, things come out rather different.

  • I’ll be frank here–I have absolutely no problem with the Longview local’s actions of breaking some windows, dumping grain, and damaging rail cars.

    I know that hyperbole is a common method when it comes to writing and I’ll admit that hyperbole is often lost on me and that it’s unfair to take it too literally. But do you really mean you have absolutely no problem with the actions you describe?

    I think it’s possible that such violence, even if defensible and justified, has some attendant problems or potentially bad implications.

    The cost of fixing a broken window may not be much (although at my modest income, probably would be a pretty big chunk), but what if the person who owns the building fears for his or her life? That fear in retrospect might be shown false, but how can someone at the time know that their own life is not being endangered?

    Of course, I guess we’re talking about those who own the means of production. But what about someone who works in the building whose window is being broken and who didn’t get the memo that all this violence wasn’t directed at him or her?

    What if some more zealous union members go beyond breaking windows and emptying rail cars to cracking the heads of strikebreakers (after all, “they’re only scabs”)? Of course, this apparently didn’t happen, but it might have.

    I know the spectacle of someone like me, a non-longshoreperson, criticizing others for the use of violence that seems minimal and is in response to a perceived threat to their livelihood, might seem a bit untoward.

    My only point is, that violence always has potential problems, even when it’s justified. And to have “absolutely no problem” with it is wrong. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not a pure good, either.

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  • Destroying property is not violence. It may be illegal.

    But only in late stage capitalism could the destruction of property be equated with human life.

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