Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Valley Metro: Driving Us To Work

Phoenix Insurgent

Providing more evidence of the growing attack by the bosses on us workers (and highlighting the capitalist irony that we don't even want to work in the first place), various news outlets report the impending firing of four light rail operators. Using the (dubious) excuse of increasing costs, the bosses have imposed a literal speed up on drivers, forcing the remaining workers to produce more in the same time. That's nothing new: bosses commonly use bad economic times (although, do we workers really know any other kind?) as an excuse to broaden and intensify their attacks on our lives and the way we organize work.

In the New Times coverage, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 president Bob Bean lamented the false promises given to light rail drivers: "You held town hall meetings where you preached to these operators about how they were going to be treated, and when asked about continuous work you told them they had no worries."

Valley Metro is driving us to work.

I can certainly sympathize with the position the workers are in. When I was in the APWU, as work volume steadily fell thanks to increasing computerization, the bosses and union politicos called a joint meeting and assured us all that our positions were quite safe. "Don't go getting second jobs," I remember them saying. Of course, the predictable layoffs followed just weeks later.

That was twelve years ago and I was a young, naive anarchist at the time with an incomplete understanding of the true recuperationist role of union leadership and absolutely no idea that Capital used technology to shift control from the shop floor where we workers can use it for our own purposes into the hands of management and a trusted cadre of technicians. Considering Valley Metro's stated plans for a driver-less "sky train" system "connecting" to the light rail and circling the airport, perhaps this is a lesson worth learning. How much power and freedom will train operators have at work once those things take over the entire system?

Valley Metro's proposed driver-less "sky train".

But my union had marched in the Labor Day parade with one of those infamous "workers and bosses working together" banners with the shaking hands and all. That should have been the first clue about what was to follow, but I was glad just for once to be making a decent paycheck. The betrayal by the local as well as some by my so-called "fellow workers" certainly opened my eyes. I'd just signed a new lease on a new, better apartment a month before. The job I got to replace it paid half what the old one did. Of course, I'd still rather not have been working at all. But capitalism demanded I do so if I wanted such luxuries as a roof over my head and food in my body.

The funny thing was, we were losing our jobs to a sort of speed up. A speed up imposed by technology. The computers were doing more and more of the work that we used to do, leaving those of us low on the seniority ladder competing with the careers who regularly (out of proficiency and boredom) did the work of two or three lower level workers. We could have stopped those layoffs if we just stuck to our work quotas, but the union wouldn't have it. In the pocket of management, they lied up until the day we were booted out the door. Now, I wonder if those remaining workers can do anything at all to fight the boss, what with the bulk of the work taking place in the silicon chips guarded in far away server farms. Would a strike be noticed at all under those conditions?

I bring this up because when I hear Mr. Bean threaten to escalate things to a "higher level" if the union isn't satisfied with the reasons for the dismissals, I am deeply skeptical. Why accept the layoffs at all? Nevertheless, an escalation of this class war is exactly what is needed. One thing is for sure, regardless of the politics driving union leadership, the power to do something is in the hands of the train drivers themselves.

Light rail: All about the money.

As Valley Metro's own figures testify, ridership is way up and the light rail has become and integral part of many people's travel to work and back. I've written about the light rail before and the role it serves as both dutiful servant of Capital and handmaiden of the ever-expanding control grid. While we workers may use it on the weekends sometimes (if we have the time) to entertain ourselves, the primary purpose of the new train system is the re-ordering of our lives and the re-making of the city to be more efficient for the business class who sought primarily to link the yuppie parasitic colony downtown with what was hoped to be a complementary yuppie settler outpost in Tempe. The yuppies in the million dollar condos in Tempe could travel back and forth to their cubicles at work without rubbing shoulders with us common folks on the bus. Likewise with the downtown bourgeois class.

Like the trains that crossed the West, bringing war to native peoples and exploitation to workers trudging towards California to escape serfdom in Europe and drudgery in Eastern factories, and likewise moving Capital and resources (now summed up in the succinct phrase, "human resources") across the plains, the light rail remade our city and our relationships.

The yuppies moved in. The rents and house prices went up. Some of us were forced to move out to the dreary plastic suburbs to make room for them. The dreams of the new architects of the "creative class", now as empty as the twin towers that loom over Mill Avenue and the vacant storefronts of downtown Phoenix. They look ridiculous to us now. Of course, we never believed in them anyhow. I guess we were never "creative" enough to see it. Those of us who slaved away our 40 (or 50 or more) hours a week made up for our falling standards of living with credit card debt and rising home prices. Now that's gone too. And here we are, finally talking about a fight back. Let's get to it then!

So, while the fantasy has faded, the light rail is still there, taking people from place to place day after day. It is a weak spot in the capitalist armor. If local rail workers can strike at the local rail in way that disrupts the ordinary operation of Capital and at the same time broadens the opportunities for riders to control their own lives, they may have a chance at not only hitting back against the bosses' assault at work, but also at making connections that aid the larger fight to control our own lives for ourselves.

Under capitalism, our lives are a blur...

Creative thought is necessary. What if, instead of a slow down, rail workers offered a free day? Perhaps we could have a "general strike" in the form of a city-wide "take the day off and ride for free" campaign. If there's one thing the bosses understand, it's revenue. Deny them a day of their "taxation on movement" (i.e., fares) and offer everyone else a chance to disrupt the ordinary capitalist organization of their day. Watch the bosses cringe as their surplus value disappears for a day. Let's take back the control of our day with the gift of some free movement. Maybe take in a baseball game or something. Maybe go to a park. Maybe go to a museum or the library. Go visit grandma. Maybe hit some bars up and do some delightful day drinking. They all sound better than working. Let's turn this from a labor dispute into a dispute with laboring! If the union bosses don't like it, that doesn't mean we can't still do it!

How about linking demands for no layoffs to a reduction or elimination of the fare? If the train benefits the capitalists, why don't they pay for it? Or how about demand that anonymous travel is a human right and dispense with the security cameras and various other Big Brother technologies that have turned the light rail and it's park and ride lots into just another extension of the police state apparatus? How much would be saved by eliminating those jackboot security contracts? Let's boot Wackenhut from security! How about eliminating management? That would save a lot. No to advertising on the light rail: must every place be covered with the propaganda of capitalism? How about demanding the hiring of more drivers so that you all can work less for the same pay? 40 hours a week is tyranny. Use your imagination. Then think what else you can imagine imagining. What would you really want, if you could get it?

Find connections where possible. Grocery workers have authorized a strike, is there anything that can be done together? Think creatively about tactics. A few years ago I saw wildcat taxi drivers block City Hall by loading Washington Street up with cabs and then walking away, locking their keys inside. Think of the possibilities... and then think where it could lead. Maybe we can do without the boss entirely. Make a struggle creative and broad enough and there is no end to the possibilities.

Our lives belong to us, not the boss. Let the fightback start now! Occupy the light rail: Occupy our lives!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Anarchists bring wreck to Pittsburgh, police use sonic military weapon

Kudos to our comrades taking struggle into the streets for the Group of 20 summit held today in Pittsburgh. I've been following most reports updated on the G-Infinity indymedia site, and some of the local TV stations coverage. A quick rundown, over 1,000 people came out in opposition to "abstractions" like the misery of global capitalism, the day saw lots of confrontations with police, some police vehicles attacked, rock throwing at riot police, a few attacks on banks, and some destruction of corporate businesses. Nice start.

Aside from our usual expectations of the state (massive riot police presence, indiscriminate brutality, use of chemical and "less lethal" weapons, deployment of military to assist policing/surveillance) in response to protest and confrontation, today has seen an escalation by the authorities with the introduction of the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) military sound weapon. Before its deployment today, the LRAD was being used against insurgents in Iraq and more notably repelling Somali pirate attacks from their raids on cruise ships.

Below is a video of the LRAD in full effect today, as a precaution you may want to lower your computer's speaker volume.

A friend in Pittsburgh said tomorrow should be an interesting day, as there were a low number of arrests, with the latest estimate being 20, hopefully anarchists and other anti-authoritarian militants will continue to confront the state and capital in the streets of the PGH.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Safeway and Fry's workers threaten strike: Some thoughts on the coming fight.

Phoenix Insurgent

The Arizona Republic reports that 20,000 Fry's and Safeway employees have voted to enable the strike option in case negotiation with the companies don't result in an agreement. This is great news. The ruling class wages its class war and it's time to fight back. In all likelihood the vote is a bargaining maneuver in the eyes of the union bosses, and workers should expect to get some resistance from their leadership if the rank and file press the strike to move forward.

Basically, the union bosses may have allowed this to move forward for reasons other than actually engaging in a strike. This is how it goes, of course, with them. While the boss is there to exploit you, the union is there to manage you. This becomes clear when strike actions are threatened or take place, and Safeway and Fry's workers should prepare themselves for this sellout by their leadership. At the end of this piece I have some suggestions for workers about to engage in this struggle.

However, before I get into that, some things strike me initially when looking at this story. First of all, when I look at the comments section on the article, never have I seen such reactionism against the efforts of workers fighting to better their conditions. Commenter after commenter expresses downright reactionary positions.

Predictably, the Republic article missed some key points, framing the article in such a way that definitely tends to provoke these anti-working class politics. However, while the Republic piece makes a point of mentioning the health care cost increases that the union is fighting, it is left to Fox News of all places to give us the meat of the matter:
Safeway employees say they have not received a raise in 8 years. For example, an all-purpose clerk makes $7.25 an hour and it would take 10 years to earn $12.05 an hour.

"We want better wages, better pensions and better health care benefits," says Sean Owen, a Fry's worker. "I believe companies turn a profit... we deserve a share in that."

The company is trying to get employees to pay partial payments per week per person for union dues and health insurance.

Safeway owns their own health insurance policies, but the company is attempting to give raises to top employees only.
This broader view contrasts sharply with the Republic's shoddy coverage.

Still, the posts in the comments section of the Republic article are just to the right of Adolf Hitler and represent a general tendency of many workers to replace their class consciousness with the reactionary politics of the capitalist. As such, posters on the thread can be seen roundly and almost universally denouncing the workers in their struggle against the boss.

The first comment, posted by Tom5635 misses the point entirely, but reflects a general failure represented on the thread: "What greedy idiots I pay over 3 times that amount per week. They should be glad to have jobs at all these days. I hope they do go on strike and the stores simply replace them. If they strike I will buy 100% of groceries at Fry's."

Rather than seeing his own exploitation mirrored in and related to that of Safeway and Fry's workers, he denounces them and exalts in the domination of the boss. His position, instead of being one of solidarity, amounts to a rationalization of his own exploited status. "I'm screwed so therefore so should you be" sums up his pathetic position. Tom5635 can't imagine that defending the status of other workers might aid his own fight (by raising the bar and challenging the capitalists).

Paralleling this position is the pro-scab arguments that populate the thread. Says Doug9311, "There are a LOT of people that would gladly take their jobs if the current workers are that unhappy. Where can I apply? Heck, I'll fire off an online app right now !!!" This again reflects the poor development of the class consciousness of the Arizona working class. Likewise, it points to the way that capitalism can use crisis to undermine our solidarity, pitting us against each other. While the reasons why someone may express this position in these economic times are obvious, such opinions must be met firmly with a no-compromise attitude. The struggle of the workers on strike is one that will benefit all workers in the end, and so opportunistic scabs and pro-scab rhetoric cannot be tolerated.

Another tendency common on the thread centered around bourgeois and ruling class "criticisms" of unions as backward, useless or even bad for workers. This is a weak argument that again represents the logic of the boss. A poster going by the name GOLDMENTOR sums this up, "UNIONS S U C K!! They destroy everything and everyone in their path!!!" Various other shades of this argument appeared frequently in the thread.

Are unions bureaucratic? Yes. Are unions in most ways well-integrated into the larger capitalist system of exploitation? Yes. Are unions populated by petty politicos who count on the rank and file for a paycheck? Yes. Are unions another layer of management? Yes.

But what commentators keep getting wrong on this thread is that none of those things means that workers struggle is therefore necessarily invalid or bad. Exactly the opposite, in fact, is true. Because the union is a poor tool for class struggle in the current era means we must look to other tools to supplement our power as workers in struggle, such as workers councils, affinity groups and sabotage, amongst others. The bankrupt and backward nature of many unions means that workers struggle is all that much more important, because we cannot count on the union to protect us. We need to use this information to prepare ourselves so we aren't surprised by the almost inevitable sell-out that will come in the struggle.

The lack of class consciousness, combined with the general right wing libertarian (and therefore pro-capitalist) bent to many Arizonans has left them unable to devise a theory for confronting the boss. Instead, their arguments lead them back into the circular logic of defending the boss' attack on their fellow workers and, inevitably, themselves. That's a guaranteed trip to a forced downsizing vacation if I've ever seen one.

Moving on from the disappointing reaction to the article, I'd now like to make some quick suggestions to any Safeway or Fry's workers that may happen upon the blog. First, PCWC will certainly support any strike, particularly one from which emerge true workers democratic forms, such as workers councils. The sooner workers form councils, or elect their own leadership apart from the union politicians the better.

Further, I would advise them that, rather than strike, what they ought to do is occupy the stores. Lockout the bosses. When you seize the store, they can't do business. Once you have the store, destroy the automatic checkout lines. These are the number one enemy that you have right now. They are being used to undermine the value of your labor and to subvert your power at the shop floor. Further, if you do strike, they will be used against you to keep the store open since managers can keep the checkouts open with reduced labor, and if they can sell, then they can keep making money. The point of a strike is to prevent the boss from making money. This may seem extreme, but as workers we are in a life and death struggle against these capitalist parasites. We should act accordingly as we resist the boss and struggle to make our own lives the way we want them to be.

In your negotiations, be prepared to speak out against your own leadership if they seem to be selling you out (this will be easier to do if you have already elected independent workers councils), and demand that the automatic checkouts be removed from the store. This should be a primary demand. You should not wait for them, however. Dismantle or disable them immediately, if only on the way out of the store as you walkout. You'll be glad you did and any further negotiations can be about whether they will be re-introduced, not whether they will stay. This gives your position power and increases the chance that you will win.

Further, make as many connections to the community as you can. Your struggle needs to be seen as everyone's struggle. Remain isolated and you will fail. Finally, look at other recent struggles and learn their lessons. The more prepared you are, the more likely it is that you will win. Resist reactionary tendencies and demand the most you can possibly imagine for everyone. As you get into the fight, you may find that you struggle not just for yourselves, but for others as well. All power to the imagination! Remember: this is a time of capitalist crisis, which means that while we workers are under attack, it's because the capitalists are weak. They fear us. Concerted action, especially when rooted in broad solidarity (sympathy strikes, anyone? General strike, anyone?) can extract real concessions from them.

I encourage you to consider the role of technology in undermining your power at work. In the computer age, technology represents another pathway through which capitalist power flows and attempts to regulate, re-organize and de-skill us. Incorporate that knowledge into your critique of how power operates at your work. I'm sure once you start looking, you'll find it everywhere. Below I have linked some articles that I have written in the past that you may find useful in your fight.

Good luck and solidarity!

(1) Arizona's ever-watchful eye: moving towards a maximum surveillance and deterrence society

(2) GPS and the attack on worker autonomy and unregulated space

(3) One union wakes up to the threat of technology at work

(4) Taxi drivers strike against techno-tracking!

(5) Wi-Fi's Golden Promise and the Jackboot of the State

(6) The anatomy of a typical article on GPS

(7) Future's Past: Technology and the Class War by Other Means - Revisited


In case you need more proof of the importance of the self-checkouts in this fight (or more proof of the reactionary nature of many Arizonans) check out the short discussion on the Arizona Cardinals fan forum of all places. This should clear up all doubts.

Link below:
Fry's, Safeway Employees May Strike @

Friday, September 18, 2009

Heretic revolutionaries and righteous police violence: Considering the double standard

Phoenix Insurgent

The Phoenix New Times has run a truly awful piece as the cover story in their most recent issue. In the article, entitled "Time Bomb", author Peter Jamison launches a full on, one-sided attack on former Weather Underground radicals, attempting to link them to a bombing of a police station in San Francisco in February 1970. Although it does a pretty shoddy job of making the case (the attack was claimed by another group and all the Weather people interviewed deny it), I don't want to go into the details. For me, that's not the most important thing about the article. Anyone with even a little knowledge of Weather and their exploits, as well as the shenanigans of the police following them, can find ample beef with the tone and many -- conveniently -- left out details.

But what I think is most instructive is the bias displayed in the article: the way that the police are framed as good guys and the double standard applied to revolutionaries versus those who engage in every day and ongoing violence (i.e., the police and the military). In the media, police are treated as saints. When they're killed, the media flocks to cover the "tragedy". In his piece, Jamison replicates this tendency to embrace the ruling class myth of the "peace officer" (a phrase he uses to contrast against the violent WU) when he doesn't bother to answer simple question about the policeman killed in the bombing: was he a good cop?

Now, anarchists of course know that there really is no such thing as a good cop (perhaps bad and less worse is a better rubric!), but for sake of argument, I think it's worth considering the fact that we have no idea whether this dead cop deserved this bomb or not? How can we judge whether he is a worthy martyr if the journalist writing the piece won't give us a look into his record? Did Officer Brian McDonnell have a sterling record? Did he have any complaints against him? Had he ever killed an unarmed man? Was he involved in corruption?

These things are all common amongst police. Surely, we need to know this information about Officer McDonnell before we can accept this writer's characterization of him as "peace officer", not least of all a martyr. But this mistake is a common one. We are just meant to believe that he is undeserving of his fate even though we have no information with which to make a judgment.

And since Jamison references the never carried through bombing of the non-commisioned officers dance party, it's worth noting that it goes likewise with soldiers. We see this today whenever a local boy or girl is brought home in a body bag. The hero-worship begins immediately. The flags come out and the tears are quick to follow. At no point does anyone point out that perhaps the resistance, such that it may be, was in all likelihood quite justified in killing the soldier. And likewise never is it pointed out that she was engaged in enforcing the will of the American political elite on poor people abroad. No, the death of the soldier necessarily eliminates all dialogue with regard to the motivations or character of the dead, not to mention what they did before they were killed.

This seems quite relevant but it is of course forbidden in the mainstream dialogue. A couple years ago I listened to testimony from the second Winter Soldiers hearings. One soldier there said after he came home from his first tour, he got the Arabic equivalent of "fuck you" tattooed on the wrist of what he called his "strangling arm". That way it would be the last thing that poor Iraqi would see. He redeployed not long after that. I also heard of an officer in a unit offering several days leave to the first troop to kill an Iraqi with a knife. So, if those soldiers were killed in Iraq and, when their bodies came home, we had this information in the obit, do you think they would get the same reception?

Likewise with cops. What if McDonnell was the same kind of cop as Officers Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss, the murderers of Amadou Diallo? Or what if they were like Johannes Mehserle, the cop who killed the handcuffed Oscar Grant on that BART platform? Well, if that bomb had gotten them, would we all be lining the streets for their funerals?

To get an idea of how this bias plays out, let's consider a section from the article, but let's play Mad Lib with it. I'll leave key parts blank and let's put in different word combinations to see what we get.

Meanwhile, veteran investigators still fume over the ease with which __(a)__ have assumed the mantle of middle-class respectability. When people talk to Noel about the ___(b)____'s avowed intent not to harm people, he likes to tell the story of a 1971 search of one of the group's principal "safe houses," an apartment on Pine Street in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood. Inside, FBI agents and SFPD inspectors discovered C-4 explosives, voice-activated bomb switches, and concealable shivs made from sharpened knitting needles epoxied into the caps of ballpoint pens.

"'Voice-activated switch' means the bomb goes off when a person comes in and talks," Noel said. "This whole image that these were nice-type people is what makes me upset. It's bullshit. That's not what they were. They were thugs and they were criminals trying to overthrow the __(c)___." During the 2008 election season, Noel even made a brief televised appearance with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News to counter the arguments of ___(d)___ apologists who were saying the group had been essentially nonviolent.

(a) Ayers and Dohrn
(b) Weather Underground
(c) U.S. government
(d) Weather Underground
The answers listed above are the original ones, but try putting in something like (a) "Private First Class Herbert Carter, rifleman, 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 11th Brigade of the Americal Division", (b) "US Army", (c) "Vietnamese government", (d) "American military". If you did that, you'd be describing the My Lai massacre. Or maybe, punch in the names of some local abusive cops that you know. The results reveal the bias inherent in the piece quite nicely, I think. Because the actions of the cops or the military serve the interests of the capitalist class, the violence that they engage in goes unremarked on, even to the point that they can be portrayed as non-violent (i.e., "peace officers").

In the case of "Time Bomb", I think that Jamison must be aware of this contradiction, which is probably why he doesn't give us this information. He likewise downplays COINTELPRO, calling it mere "dubious practices". I suppose that's Newspeak for murder, manipulation and surveillance that's against the law.

At the same time, Jamison puts the blame for provoking all this bad behavior not on the cops that did it, but on the broad movement for civil rights including, of course, Weather. One wonders, would Jamison likewise blame the Freedom Riders for the attacks of the Klan? It's a very troublesome logic. That this is obviously ahistorical is evidenced by the fact that COINTELPRO was set up by FBI Director Hoover, a man who made his name in the Red Scare of 1919. So going after the militant and even wishy-washy left wasn't a new tactic to him.

But we anarchists know that the cops weren't provoked. They were just doing what cops do -- protect the status quo. After all, it's not like this was the first or last time that cops have acted in reactionary ways towards movements and the people that compose them. The question that Jamison asks and then answers for us is something like this: how else could Weather consider people of peace like cops and soldiers as legitimate targets unless they were murderous thugs? This is where the elite dialogue leads us, and it's the path faithfully tread by Jamison in his article.

To conclude, I'd like to continue my ongoing series of repostings from the past. Below you can find an article I wrote in 2005 called "Officer Down: The Media and Cop-Killings". In it, I use the killing of a local cop as a tool to analyze the way the media portrays police and the way it reacts to their deaths.

Driving in Tucson today I noticed a giant billboard with the mugshots of seven or eight cops that have been killed on duty in that town looming over the freeway. At the same time, Tucson streets are lined with (regrettably un-defaced) bus stop posters urging us to "thank a cop". For what, I'm not sure, because the saints that peer down from the billboards bear no history and for the most part no one's asking that question. They are the saints of Tucson's capitalist elite. And, as Diogenes said, "In a rich man's house there is no place to spit but his face."

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy the piece. As for a new article, look for a detailed analysis of the local anti-photo radar camera movement to appear here in the coming days. As always, your feedback is encouraged and welcomed.

The Phoenix Media and Cop-Killings

By Phoenix Insurgent

The recent shooting death of Officer David Uribe, shot in the head and neck while making a traffic stop, offers several opportunities for radical analysis. Typical of its easy-going treatment of local police departments, the media fell lock step behind the idea of the police officer as defender of public order and all things good. In fact, where any dissented from the gushing media monotone, they demanded an even more gratuitous lavishing of praise on Uribe and police in general.

Such was the case with John McDonald's melodramatic column in the Arizona Republic. In his sensationally titled article, "The day a cop died, this city lost its soul," McDonald expressed his exasperation at the TV when "two anchors and a weatherman laughed and giggled about the delightful mild temperatures just minutes after detailing the brutal execution of a local veteran cop." One wonders if McDonald even watches local television news, which in fact was dominated by endless coverage of the murder, manhunt and reaction for several days as local talking heads beatified Uribe with all due haste.


The media uniformly treated the Uribe killing as a loss for whole community. Even the killing of an unarmed man by Phoenix PD the very next day could not damper the media's enthusiasm for the story. Remarking on the shooting, Patty Kirkpatrick, a Channel 3 anchor, expressed relief that the conflict had ended in the death of the suspect, rather than a cop. In her mind it was preferable that an unarmed man die than a cop get hurt trying to carry out murder.

On May 12th, Benson's cartoon in the Republic featured a simple sketch of a police badge bearing Uribe's number. Written across a black band of mourning were the words, "thank you." But for what? "When we lose someone like that, we lose part of ourselves," answers the Phoenix Fire Department's chaplain, Rev. Father Carl G. Carlozzi in the Arizona Republic. In a letter to the editor, Patricia Fay of Phoenix explained it this way, "They are my protectors. Someone killed one of my protectors."


But there is a real tension between the public image of policing, defended so single-mindedly by the media, and the reality. Introducing channel 12's coverage of the Uribe funeral the following Tuesday, Lin Sue Cooney described the event as "a whole community" saying thank you. Effusive in their coverage of a car-wash fundraiser for the Uribe's family, local media outlets actively campaigned for valley residents to participate. Can the same police force that regularly kills unarmed people of color be the protectors of the community? Can the same police force that uses Tasers to kill, just as the Phoenix Police did on May 4th, 2005, killing a 24 year-old man, be protectors? Are the same police forces that disproportionately target, arrest and incarcerate the poor, and especially people of color, really defenders of the "community?"

But, everyone knows that police don't protect everyone equally and that they specifically target some segments of the community over others. For years the Scottsdale PD enforced what they called a "no-n****r zone," pulling over and harassing black people driving through the city. Incarceration rates for poor people versus rich people are so obvious that they hardly require mentioning. But many whites still continue to deny the just as obvious disparities in white and non-white incarceration rates. To believe that these disparities exist apart or in exception to the overall system of policing makes no sense. They exist because this is the way the system was meant to function.


The police system is designed primarily to defend the rich and toward that end to police poor people and poor people of color in particular. Made up of reporters primarily drawn from middle and upper classes, and owned by very rich people, the media serves that goal as propagandist for the police and defender of its own class interest, and they reflect the racism that all white people learn in their upbringing.

Let's look at the numbers. According the Princeton Review, the average television reporter, after five years on the job, earned $65,000 dollars a year. In the top 25 television markets the median salary as reported by the Missouri School of Journalism stood at $78,000 in 2000. According to the US Census, that rate stood at nearly twice the same figure for male workers in general, a rate which, it should be pointed out, itself remains higher than the median for non-whites and women. That disparity appears even sharper when we consider the Bureau of Labor Statistics count, which put the average annual wage in the U.S. as $36,764 for 2002. Even print reporters, generally paid less than their television comrades, fair better than average Americans. Clearly there is a class divide between many of us consuming the news and the people reporting, not to mention the editors and owners, and the media coverage shows it.

For example, the bulk of the media ignored a story that ran in the Arizona Republic the 11th, the very day Uribe was killed. Jahna Berry reported that a federal jury had awarded Gerardo Ramirez-Diaz $1 million dollars after a Phoenix police officer shot him in the gut without just cause. And just four days before the shooting of Uribe, in a rare display of public criticism, the Arizona Republic came out against the reinstatement of Chandler police officer Dan Lovelace. Lovelace was fired for using excessive force after he shot and killed unarmed Dawn Rae Nelson in her car, from behind, with her 14 month-old son sitting in the seat behind her. That murder occurred on October 11th, 2001, making the Republic's opposition to Lovelace's reinstatement a little late in coming, to say the least, though it does show just how extreme a case it takes for the local media to take a critical position towards local police.


Much of the coverage Uribe's killing focused on the supposed danger cops face in the carrying out of their duties. Multiple newscasters and residents interviewed regarded the police as "putting themselves on the line" for other people, risking their lives regularly or standing as soldiers on the front lines of American society. But reflecting a rate that has remained pretty consistent, police officers don't even rank in the top ten most dangerous jobs as most recently listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, just a little over a week before Uribe's killing, a farm worker was killed in Arizona when a bale of hay fell on him. Another worker, a roofer, was killed when he fell and drowned in a pool. The first didn't even merit mentioning his name in the brief Arizona Republic article that ran. Both farm worker and roofer do rank within the top ten most dangerous occupations. Interestingly, Latinos represent a large proportion of workers in these fields. Another recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a rate of five fatalities per 100,000 Hispanic workers in 2002 that was 25 percent higher than for all workers. This wouldn't happen if white workers would stand up with Latino workers against these kinds of abuses. But apparently local media finds the deaths of workers, especially workers of color, as too commonplace to merit coverage, even though that contradicts their attitude towards the job of police officer, who they misreport as in constant jeopardy.

So, in order to understand why the media, the rich and so many white people have fallen all over themselves to praise Uribe and to condemn his murder – while rarely admitting police excesses - we have to delve a little into the history of American police forces. The alleged danger of the job doesn't stand up as a sufficient explanation. Policing in America has two main origins, both of which serve to accomplish the same mission: to protect the wealth of the rich and powerful.


The first origin lies in the violent class struggles of the 19th century. During those times, workers were forced into the emerging factory system that the capitalist class was creating in the cities of the Northeast. In these factories workers had little power and were subjected to long hours. When armed class struggle broke out, the capitalists, outnumbered and not generally wishing to risk their own necks in the fighting, created police forces to wage war on the working class in defense of their factories and wealth. The first real police force in the US was founded in 1845 in New York City, center of the country's emerging industrial economy. As industrialism and modern capitalism spread, other cities followed New York's example.

Private property lies at the heart of capitalist exploitation. The authority of the boss derives precisely because s/he owns the means of production – the workplace, the computers, the machines and thus the profits. Because workers' interests depend on a redistribution of wealth and equality in the workplace, this brings us in inevitable conflict with the boss and his lackeys, the police. It's the same thing with the landlord. The landlord's ability to evict or demand rent couldn't exist without the system of private property and the police to back it up with violence.

The second main origin of American policing centers on the slave patrol system of the South. Charged with protecting white plantation owners, the slave patrols, or "patty rollers" as they were often called, brutally oppressed blacks, both slave and free. It is from the slave patrollers that American policing gets many of its traditions and powers. Patty rollers worked specific "beats" and could demand identification from any black person they encountered. The slave patrols incarcerated and returned, frequently with violence, any black person who could not prove their free status or provide written permission for their travel. Even in the North the police were charged with capturing and returning escaped slaves.

The influence of this racist tradition reverberates today in a variety of ways. An Arizona Daily Star review of Department of Public Safety records revealed that during traffic stops police searched Latinos more than twice as frequently as whites. And police searched blacks almost three times as frequently as whites – despite the fact that searches of whites turned up contraband much more regularly. Beyond racial profiling, which brings them into police contact more frequently in the first place, non-whites also face racist judges, unequal access to competent defense and sentencing guidelines that send them to prison at rates many times that of whites.

In fact, the history of Arizona police forces combines both origins. Back in the day, as now, Arizona was a mining state and Latinos composed a large percentage of the miners. In response to militant organizing by mine workers, the state created the Arizona Rangers. Ostensibly formed to combat cattle rustling, in actuality the government used the force primarily against miners and people of color. This tradition continues to contemporary times, and many of us remember the UMW strike of 1983 when then-Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, called out police and national guardsmen against workers in defense of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation. Police guarded scabs brought in by the company, effectively breaking the strike.

It is critical for working class white people to understand the true origins and purposes of American policing and to be critical of both the aims and causes of media defense of police and police departments. In the end, supporting police power means supporting the rich people that exploit the entire working class, white or not. The American system has given white workers privileges that non-white workers don't get, and many of them directly involve reduced exposure to police violence and policing in general. American history has shown, though, that when even white workers organize against the bosses and politicians, the police are brought in against us as well. It's time for white workers to stand in support of communities of color when they organize against the police of all kinds, including La Migra. We need to recognize that the police are a racist institution that cannot be justified if what we want is a world of equality and justice, and media defense of policing amounts to defense of racism and the rich.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Beer & Revolution: Roundtable Discussion on Borders and Movement

This month Beer & Revolution's format is switching from hosting speakers to a roundtable discussion format. The discussion topic will be "Borders and Movement," and we've invited two Phoenix area collectives busy fighting the militarization and ideology of the border. The good people of CAROB (Central Arizona Radicals Opposing Borders) and the O'odham Solidarity Across Borders Collective will be present to offer their perspectives on how we can give the heave-ho to the current society of misery and domination, and start some kind of new project of freedom. This will be an open discussion, and as always we encourage participation, criticism, discussion, and new ideas.

This is the fourth monthly Beer & Revolution meet-up for valley anarchists, last month PCWC brought out northern Arizona anarchist Joel Olson for a chat on fanaticism and the struggle against white supremacy (audio can be heard here). Over 30 anarchists and other politically minded people came out for an engaging discussion, the usual selection of tasty beers on tap, and the opportunity to meet new folks from around the valley.

Join us for Beer & Revolution this Sunday, Saturday 13, as usual this will kick off at 9 PM and the discussion will get started after 9:30 and will be held at Boulders on Broadway in Tempe. This event is free, non-drinkers are welcome too, and don't forget to bring a friend as well! See you this Sunday, cheers!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Audio of the August Beer & Revolution is now online, listen to Joel Olson's talk on fanaticism

by Collin Sick

An eight part recording of Joel Olson's talk from last month's Beer & Revolution has been posted to the PCWC youtube page and is available for viewing. Thirty people came to the third monthly anarchist social night, held at a bar, to hear Joel drop knowledge on his study on fanaticism, and, of course, to throw back some beers as well. The eight parts cover most of the two hour talk, and the following Q&A, the final thirty minutes were left out because many of the questions and discussion were difficult to understand.

Joel's political study of fanaticism has been covered a few times on this blog by Phoenix Insurgent (and on a talk Joel gave on Abolitionism and Wendall Phillips back in 2006), for us at PCWC, we see the fanatic values of the Garrisonian abolitionists as having the potential to be instructive to the American anarchist movement. Anarchists taking in the lessons of the Abolitionist extremists, and their challenges to slavery and white supremacy, may tell us more about the make-up of the next revolutionary movement in the U.S. than any of the fires of Greece, South Korea, or Mexico can. In short, as insurrectionary anarchists, shouldn't we have an analysis of revolt that is both international in scope, and based in an American historical context? This is a question we'll continue to explore in our politics.

Below is the first part of Joel's talk, click here to go directly to the playlist to checkout all eight segments.