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Posts from May 2005

Peace Officers, redux

(Link thanks to Lew Rockwell [2005-03-02].)

I’ve commented on the obliteration of any notion of proportionality in modern police forces before (in GT 2005-04-26: Peace Officers and GT 2004-11-14: Civil defense). The plain, ugly fact is that what we have today is not civil policing, but rather paramilitary cadres occupying most of our urban centers. Cadres of paras who feel no particular qualms about using physical violence to maintain order and control in any and every situation, without any particular concern for whether the force matches the threat. In Aurora, Colorado, this took a turn for the straightforwardly absurd:

Police talked to the Chuck E. Cheese manager, who told them that a customer had refused to show proof that he had paid for food. The manager said the man was seen loading his plate at the salad bar.

The officers confronted Danon Gale, 29, who was at the restaurant with his children, aged 3 and 7. Patrons said the popular kids pizza parlor was packed with children and families at the time.

According to police, Gale was asked to step outside to discuss the incident.

According to witnesses (Gale) refused to cooperate with police and a struggle ensued, said Larry Martinez, a police spokesman. He said that Gale became argumentative and shoved one of the officers, a fact disputed by another patron.

One of the officers kept poking the gentleman in the chest, Felicia Mayo told the Rocky Mountain News.

She was there with her 7-year-old son. She told the newspaper that Gale told the officer You don’t have to do that. She said Gale never put his hands on the officer who was confronting him

The argument escalated until Gale was shoved into the lap of Mayo’s sister, who was sitting two booths away, holding a 10-month-old baby. That’s when police pulled out a Taser stun gun to subdue him.

They beat this man in front of all these kids then Tased him in my sister’s lap, Mayo told the newspaper. They had no regard for the effect this would have on the kids. This is Chuck E. Cheese, you know.

Gale’s two children were screaming and hollering and crying as Gale was hit two times with the stun gun.

Police arrested Gale as his children and other customers watched. They took him outside, leaving his children inside the restaurant.

Gale was arrested for investigation of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and trespassing.

— NewsNet5.com 2005-03-02: Dad Accused of Chuck E. Cheese Salad Theft Zapped by Police

Cops bully people, hurt them for no good reason, use tasers to end arguments, and then make up lies to cover it up. If you or I did that, we would be in jail. Cops did it here, so we are treated to this:

AURORA, Colo. — Aurora police have reviewed a weekend incident in which a man accused of stealing salad from a Chuck E. Cheese salad bar was hit with a stun gun twice by officers and said that proper procedures were followed.

… which, apparently, is supposed to make everything alright. As long as the police department determines that cops are following the procedures that the police department determined to be proper, blasting 20,000 volts through a man who is at most guilty of grand salad bar larceny is a perfectly appropriate response to the situation. Move along, citizen, nothing to see here.

Support your local CopWatch.

Further reading:

Écrasez l’Wal-Mart

As a nice set piece to my May Day paean to wildcat unionism–that is, workers organizing themselves on the free market, without the suffocating patronage of the government, Ampersand passes along a nice reminder that modern corporate capitalists–the Behemoth from Bentonville chief among them–are not creatures of the free market; they are Frankenstein creations of government privilege for the bosses. Jonathan Tasini at TomPaine.com (2005-04-21) is mired in a host of confusions about free market economics, but he is precisely, and importantly, right to remind us that Truth is, Wal-Mart could not survive in a real free market. Remember that we are talking about a company that routinely robs the land that it needs for its gigantic stores by Mau-Mauing local governments into using eminent domain powers and handing out tax-funded subsidies. Remember that Wal-Mart’s business model for the past decade has been directly dependent on the repression of workers’ wages by the government of Communist China.

Putting aside the morality of forcing people to work in slave-like conditions, the so-called free market does not exist in China when it comes to wages. China artificially suppresses wages by anywhere from 47 to 85 percent below what they should be, according to the AFL-CIO’s complaint about China’s labor policies filed with the United States Trade Representative last year. With Wal-Mart as its willing customer, an authoritarian regime ruthlessly warps the market for wages by enforcing a system that controls where people can work and imprisons and tortures people who attempt to organize real unions or strike. Maybe the rock-bottom labor costs are really behind Wal-Mart’s slogan always low prices, but the company is certainly not an example of how to win in a free market economy.

It’s easy to see why Wal-Mart and its conservative defenders discard ideology: money. By ignoring free market principles, the left-wing Harvard Business School estimates that Wal-Mart reduces its procurement costs by 10-20 percent, primarily by taking advantage of the artificially suppressed labor market in China.

Back at home, Wal-Mart’s free market mantra stops at the water’s edge of the public till. By one estimate, Wal-Mart has pulled in $1.5 billion dollars in taxpayer funded subsidies (see www.walmartwatch.com). And that’s at the low end, because subsidies are sometimes hard to track based on the lack of public reporting requirements. Wal-Mart is happy to cash in on government largess like property tax abatements, infrastructure support, free land and just straight-out cold cash–all of which are the antithesis of free market ideology.

Free software advocates sometimes like to point out that there are a couple of meanings of the word free; there’s free as in free speech and free as in free lunch. The thing about Right-wing blowhards is that they routinely support pro-business giveaways, whether in the form of subsidies to Wal-Mart, endless coercive monopolies for pharmaceutical companies, or government-enforced union busting (see: right-to-work laws; see also: Taft-Hartley). When they start pontificating on the virtues of the free market they never mean it–unless by free market means a market that’s free as in free lunch, i.e. a government-guaranteed market for big consolidated businesses that they don’t have to work for or earn.

That’s the real reason to oppose Wal-Mart: not because they supposedly represent the worst of the free market (it isn’t a creature of the free market at all), and certainly not because of some cracked anti-consumerist claptrap. The problem with Wal-Mart is that they steal your money and use it to keep their business running whether you want to shop there or not. But it’s for precisely this reason that I think the best way to take the fight to Wal-Mart is not to dismiss the free market or to try to block Wal-Mart through local zoning controls. Wal-Mart is what it is today because it’s better at manipulating the State than you are, and there is no reason to think that that’s likely to change substantially as long as they remain what they are. (Trying to turn Leviathan against Behemoth has always been a sucker’s bet.) If Wal-Mart couldn’t survive in a free market, then the best way to fix what’s wrong with them is to make them compete on a free market–a real free market, not the corporatist sham market of today–a market where workers organize in freely-constituted unions that aren’t subject to the constraints of government colonization, where competitors can enter the market without having to buy off town and county governments and homeowners aren’t forced to sacrifice their own homes on the altar of Commerce. The system of state patronage is the problem; freedom, as usual, is the solution.

May Day, May Day

Today is May Day, or International Worker’s Day: a day to celebrate the long, hard struggle of workers for freedom, self-determination, and a better life. The day originated during the heady days of the Eight Hour Day campaign in the late 19th century, a campaign led not by bureaucratic union bosses, much less by Marxist thugs, but by ordinary workers agitating and organizing amongst themselves. Most of them were anarchists, and their struggle was as much against State power as it was against the bosses (part of the reason for May Day commemorations, mind you, is to remember the Haymarket martyrs, anarchists murdered by the state of Illinois).

One of the (many) crimes of the state socialists in the 20th century was their wholesale theft of May Day; what had been and properly remains a day for celebrating the free actions of ordinary workers became, in the bloody talons of the so-called workers’ states, a day for celebrating socialist God-Kings and hideous parades of military power. The folks over at Catallarchy have gone so far as to name May Day a Day of Remembrance for the victims of state Communism. What they are doing is important. The Moloch of Marxist-Leninism consumed more victims than any other power that the world has known in history–through mass executions, through unbelievable mass starvation, through pestilence, through death camps, through war. History is important and memory is political; the stories are harrowing but they need to be told. But I do not think that May Day is the day for the solemn observations. I think that this gives the butchers too much credit. Marxist-Leninism stole May Day from anarchists, from workers, like it stole everything else it ever gained in the 20th century. It did its best to silence its victims, like it did to silence all its other victims, with a bullet to the head and piles of pirated loot to parties and unions that would toe the Bolshevik line. I will not give up May Day to them any more than I will give Juneteenth up to William Tecumseh Sherman or give Easter up to the Holy Inquisition. (If you’re looking for a day of remembrance, I’d suggest the 6th of March, the day that the Kronstadt massacre began.) But today is the International Workers’ Day, not the State’s day–meaning neither the bureaucratic-managerial state so beloved of the conservative AFL-line unions, nor the blood-soaked workers’ states (a contradiction in terms). As I said last year:

May Day is a celebration of the original conception of the labor movement, as expressed by anarchist organizers such as Albert Parsons, Lucy Parsons, Benjamin Tucker, and others: a movement for workers to come into their own, by banding together, supporting one another, and taking direct action in the form of boycotts, work stoppages, general strikes, and the creation of workers’ spaces such as local co-operatives and union hiring halls. The spirit was best expressed by John Brill’s famous exhortation to Dump the bosses off your back–by which he did not mean to go to a government mediator and get them to make the boss sit down with you and work out a slightly more beneficial arrangement. Dump the bosses off your back! meant: organize and create local institutions that let you bypass the bosses. Negotiate with them if it’ll do some good; ignore them if it won’t. The signal achievements of the labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th century were achievements in this spirit: the campaigns that won the 8 hour day and the weekend off in many workplaces, for example, emerged from a unilateral work stoppage by rank-and-file workers, declared by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, and organized especially by the explicitly anarchist International Working People’s Association, after legislative efforts by the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor failed. The stagnant, or even backsliding, state of organized labor over the past half century is the direct result of government colonization and the ascendency of government-subsidized unions.

— GT 2004-05-01: Free the Unions (and all political prisoners)!

I don’t really have much to add to what I said before; you can get most of what I would have said by reading what I did say last year. All that I have to add is that the labor news this year has proved it again: when workers free themselves of the State, workers win.

[The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ victory in the Taco Bell boycott campaign is] also — although you won’t hear this as much — a major victory for government-free, syndicalist labor organizing. The CIW is not a bureaucratic government-recognized union; as a form of organizing it’s far closer to an autonomous workers’ syndicate or a local soviet (in the old sense of a democratic, community-based workers’ council, not in the sense of the hollow state apparatus that the Bolsheviks left after the party committees seized power at bayonet-point). Of course, not having the smothering comfort of the US labor bureaucracy to prop them up has often made things harder on the CIW; but it’s also made them freer, and left them free of the restraints on serious and innovative labor activism that have held the government-authorized union movement back for the past 60 years. (Example: the strategic decision to target Taco Bell in the first place–that is, the whole damned campaign that allowed the Immokalee workers to win such a huge improvement in their standard of living–was a secondary boycott, and so would have been illegal under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Act. But since the CIW doesn’t need a permission slip from the NLRB to engage in direct action, they won the day–not in spite of, but because of their freedom from government restraints on labor organizing.

— GT 2005/03/23: El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

(You can read more at GT 2005/03/23: El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! and GT 2005/03/30: Anarquistas por La Causa.)

Dump the bosses off your back. Free the Unions–and all political prisoners!

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