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Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience

Today there is no labor movement in America other than a disorganized motley crew of unions and activist groups. The old radical labor movement has been coalesced into the institutional framework of the capitalist system. Now, instead of leading the militant rank and file, labor leaders suppress them (Aronowitz, 1992; Brecher, 1997; Mills, 1971); unions in order to obtain contracts gave up the right to strike; more importantly, labor gave up on political action that would challenge the ideological hegemony of capitalism (Brecher, 1997). It opted instead for Samuel Gompers' model of business unionism while aligning itself with the Democratic Party. However, by accepting the institutionalization of class conflict, workers have de facto submitted to capitalist principles, thus, legitimizing an inherent ideology of control and inequality (London, 1989/90).

Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience

John Asimakopoulos, City University of New York, Bronx

John Asimakopoulos is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Bronx Campus. His work focuses on labor, globalization, and Anarchist theory.

Special to Infoshop News, February 27, 2006

Today there is no labor movement in America other than a disorganized motley crew of unions and activist groups. The old radical labor movement has been coalesced into the institutional framework of the capitalist system. Now, instead of leading the militant rank and file, labor leaders suppress them (Aronowitz, 1992; Brecher, 1997; Mills, 1971); unions in order to obtain contracts gave up the right to strike; more importantly, labor gave up on political action that would challenge the ideological hegemony of capitalism (Brecher, 1997). It opted instead for Samuel Gompers' model of business unionism while aligning itself with the Democratic Party. However, by accepting the institutionalization of class conflict, workers have de facto submitted to capitalist principles, thus, legitimizing an inherent ideology of control and inequality (London, 1989/90).

Unfortunately, experience suggests that this is a failed strategy as many writers from the 1970s onward have documented the steady decline in working class incomes, benefits, job security, and overall living standards. For example, in 1969 the Gini Ratio for households was 0.391 vs. 0.466 in 2004 (U.S. Census Bureau, Gini Ratios for Households). The poverty rate for families in 1969 was 9.7% vs. 10.2% in 2004 (U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Poverty Tables). Unionization rates declined from around 36% in the 1940s to under 12% currently. Globalization has accelerated these trends. Meanwhile, the share of aggregate household income received by the top 5% jumped to 21.4% in 2003 vs. 16.6% in 1969. (U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Income Tables). What, then, are workers to do in the face of an unresponsive union leadership, globalization, and downsizings into service jobs? Is the future destined to become one of a McDonaldized world with Wal-Mart wages?

Unions and activist groups need to engage the working-class and cultivate a movement from below according to Anarcho-Syndicalist principles (Rocker, 1938; Voltairine, 1912). The only people that can help workers are themselves through class-consciousness and organized resistance to capitalism. Unions must capture workers' imagination and awaken them from their slumber not through empty rhetoric but through radical actions with real risks and real outcomes. The working-class needs to engage in a new radical economic rights movement detached from the existing institutional and legal frameworks through workers' organizations which are not covered by the now anti-labor National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) (Lewis, 2004). This new movement should be modeled on the U.S. civil rights and labor movements of the past. These movements are an appropriate model because they were effective due to their radical nature. Specifically, they challenged existing institutional frameworks through societal education, civil disobedience, violent resistance, and militant ideology (Asimakopoulos, 2005). Therefore, we need a new militant working class strategy of direct economic civil disobedience with the determination to violently resist reactionary state violence.

Much of the mass movement literature suggests that violent direct action does have an impact on power holders. Fording (1997) reviews this literature starting with the work of Piven and Cloward (1971) who argued welfare spending increases in response to civil unrest in order to pacify the poor. They believed violence would be more effective when the protest group yields electoral power. Fording (1997), using a pooled time-series model, confirms that violence is more effective than conventional means in obtaining concessions. He found that the effectiveness of violence, including looting, rock throwing, beatings, vandalism, arson, etc. depends on four factors. These are the size of the insurgent group, its relationship with broader society, the presence of democratic institutions, and the insurgent group's access to these institutions.

Today, the conditions for successful use of violent civil disobedience given by Fording are present for labor. Thus, we need a new form of violent direct economic civil disobedience capable of exacting significant financial blows to Capitalism. Direct action must be at an increased level of actual and threatened use of violence to increase the effectiveness of achieving working class goals. However, most mainstream academics, activists, and labor leaders oppose militant direct action that would seriously hurt, cripple, or even bankrupt corporations. It is as if labor has become a parasitic organism that can only live off of corporations (Mills, 1971). This is a fundamental mistake related to the general lack of class-consciousness in America. In addition, when writers do suggest that labor engage in civil disobedience they propose non-violent actions such as protest marches (Lerner, 1996). For disobedience to be an effective tool of change the one being harmed cannot be the protester but the protested. This is difficult to achieve with non-violence alone. Instead, citizens must engage in actions that have a direct, immediate, significant, and quantifiable impact on the power holders. Only when the power holders realize that their authority and financial interests are directly threatened will labor be in a position of extracting significant gains.

Globalization unfortunately has privileged multinational corporations relative to a national workforce making it difficult to financially impact such corporations with localized or even national level strikes alone. This is why we need to find additional means through which to inflict a financial toll on anti-labor corporations such as Wal-Mart. To achieve this labor must be re-radicalized and broaden direct action into new socio-economic spheres and at higher levels of conflict.

Violent direct actions which are proposed as a basis of a new economic civil disobedience movement include disobeying restrictive labor laws (Taylor Laws; Taft-Hartley; the NLRB); mass organized lootings of corporate stores, distribution warehouses, and banks; and financial actions. These strategies are suggested as a supplement to traditional work actions which are also encouraged at a higher level of militancy such as mass and sympathy strikes, work slowdowns, sabotage, militant picket lines, plant occupations, etc.

Disobeying the Law

Economic civil disobedience must include disobeying biased labor legislation. When trying to subvert militant resistance to an ideology of inequality and domination political systems often quote the rule of law. But what if the legal framework is part of the problem to begin with? Once it was illegal to have a union, to strike, or for women and blacks to vote. Now we need to continue the civil rights and labor movements by challenging anti-labor legislation. These laws have been mostly conceived, written, promoted, and voted in by capitalist institutions and their representatives (Domhoff, 2002). Malcolm X for example made the following analogy regarding civil rights and law in America which can be applied to labor currently:

When you go to Washington, D.C., . . . to pass some kind of civil-rights legislation to correct a very criminal situation, what you are doing is encouraging the black man, who is the victim, to take his case into the court that's controlled by the criminal that made him the victim. (1965, p. 53)

Specifically, labor law reflects anti-labor policies making many important working-class rights illegal (Lerner, 1996). For example, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 forbids secondary or sympathy strikes and boycotts. This greatly reduces the economic impact of strikes and working-class solidarity across firms and industries. The re-organization of the NLRB has made it very cumbersome to legally establish a union, therefore, limiting union growth. Also, NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph (1938) is used to permanently replace striking workers with strike-breakers. Taylor Laws deny public employees the right to strike. Finally, because labor contracts include a no-strike clause, workers are not allowed to strike for the duration of the contract. Labor law in America is so restrictive that many have argued workers would be better off without it (Flood, 1989/90; Lerner, 1996).

But, when a group is oppressed by law it has the right to actively resist (Thoreau, 1969). For example, the most significant organizing victories in recent years were won by hospital and farm workers which are not covered by the NLRB and by public employees that engaged in illegal strikes resulting in jailings of their leadership (Lerner, 1996). Thus, workers and the poor need to reject such legal frameworks whose compliance is actually based on only two factors: false class-consciousness and state violence. When the first fails through education and vested interests of the elite are challenged, the state is quick to use violence.

Overall, the law permits revolving doors between government and corporate office despite clear conflicts of interest; use of bankruptcy law to break unions, cut wages, and lay-off thousands; the use of prison labor; subsidies to wealthy corporations; the giving of multibillion dollar public resources to corporations for free; corporate looting of pensions; massive corporate tax breaks, evasion, and loopholes, just to name a few. What the law does not permit is secondary or sympathy strikes; a simplified unionization process; the prohibition of strike-breakers; and the universal right to strike any time to name a few.

Organized Lootings

Economic civil disobedience must directly target the corporation as the productive power base of capitalists. The elite use their ownership of the means of production to reap profits by exploiting workers through low wages, temporary and part-time work, and little to no benefits. Today wages are not even sufficient to cover the cost of necessary labor. Workers have no healthcare or other basic benefits necessary for a healthy family life nor are poverty wages adequate for the working-class to raise children and reproduce itself. "In 1968, one person working full-time at the minimum wage would come pretty close to the federal poverty level for a family of four. Today that same full-time, minimum-wage job takes a worker up to just 56% of the poverty line" (Zepezauer, 2004, pp. 136-137).

The riots of 1992 in LA and the civil rights and old labor movement era were characterized by massive looting and anger (Brecher, 1997; Cole, 1999; Rossi, 1973). At their core these events were a revolt against the unfairness of the system. What is needed today is a well organized plan of mass lootings. People must organize to loot major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, for as long as they refuse to become socially responsible employers. This should be done with organized stormings of stores with designated guards and coordinators warning employees and customers not to interfere. In addition, we should also loot the distribution warehouses of major corporations.

Brecher (1997) argues that the common threads among mass strikes like the Seattle General Strike of 1919 are a challenge to existing authorities, workers' tendency to direct themselves, and development of worker solidarity, in other words, Anarcho-Syndicalism. Since workers do not own the means of production, mass strikes aim toward the control of production. This means replacing society's power holders, making mass strikes a revolutionary process. It is suggested that working-class people and unions also focus on the other side of the production equation which is output. Thus, self-management and expropriation of private productive property should be supplemented with efforts to expropriate outputs as with organized lootings. Therefore, the common thread between mass strikes and economic forms of resistance like looting is that both attack the economic power base of the elite challenging the legitimacy of corporate private property. But, is this a new idea? No. Corporate looting has been practiced for a very long time and at a much higher cost by corporations themselves.

To this day corporations routinely loot the poor through poverty level wages, no benefits, and even through the use of prison labor. Corporations also loot the treasury via their tax strategies which deprive government of recourses for social spending. In addition, corporations loot government funds via wealthfare in the form of subsidies, handouts of public resources, military waste, and fraud. Corporate looting however is legal.

According to Zepezauer (2004), corporations in America receive approximately $815 billion a year in wealthfare from the Federal Government alone compared to $193 billion for welfare for the poor (including food stamps, housing assistance, temporary aid to needy families, legal services corporation, low-income energy assistance, head start, and WIC). Corporate wealthfare includes $224 billion in military waste and fraud. For example, Pentagon audits found Halliburton had over $1.422 billion in questioned and unsupported costs (Pleming, 2005). Appearing before a Congressional panel in 2003, a 20 year veteran for military procurement, said it was "the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career" (Eckholm, 2005, p. A9). In addition, the top 10 weapons contractors have all admitted or been convicted of fraud yet continue to do business with the government. The only company ever suspended was GE which was the worst offender. The suspension lasted five days (Zepezauer, 2004).

In addition, there are the massive subsidies to logging, mining, nuclear, aviation, agribusiness, and other companies. On top of that we have a giving away of public resources to corporations for free or far bellow market value. For example, media companies are given public airwaves valued at over $14 billion a year for free provided they serve the public's interests. The problem is "the definition of public interests has become so loose today that the chair of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) says that he has no idea what it is" (Zepezauer, 2004, p. 98).

Compare all this to the annual cost of shoplifting by consumers estimated at $10 billion and employee theft at $15.1 billion (National Retail Security Survey, 2002). According to the same survey, bad checks, cash shortages, and credit card charge backs all together amounted to about 1% of annual retailer sales in 2002. Of course, if an individual is convicted of such offenses they could go to jail but not corporations for their looting activities. So how do corporations get away with their theft? The answer is institutionalized corruption.

For one, these corporations donate massive sums to politicians including bribes. What is more disturbing, because it is legal, is the direct staffing of high political office by corporate executives despite clear conflicts of interest (Domhoff, 1975; Domhoff, 2002; Mariolis, 1975; Mintz & Schwartz, 1985; Mizruchi, 1992). In fact, corporate executives are often put in governmental positions responsible for the policing of the very industries they came from. For example, Vice-President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's CEO. Halliburton received the largest Iraq military contract estimated at over $7 billion without a biding process and then engaged in unsubstantiated charges and overcharging.

Of course, these corporate McPoliticians are not scholars and thus you would expect policy would be drafted by experts in the public's interests. The problem is that the think tanks and various policy institutes from which these McPoliticians obtain legislation and advice are dominated through staffing and financing by the same corporate elite. Domhoff (2002) documented how the conservative right, representing capital, makes consistent efforts to influence public policy. This is achieved by their de facto monopolization of major think tanks, foundations, and advisory groups through their deep financial funding and staffing. For example, The Council on Foreign Relations, The Conference Board, etc., are all major policy formation groups with deep ties to government and mostly dominated by corporate executives and members of the upper-class.

Financial Resistance

Economic civil disobedience must also directly target financial institutions. Major banks and corporations use their financial power to legally and illegally defraud people and the government treasury alike. Under-funding or looting pension funds and using chapter 11 bankruptcy to break unions are a good example of such legalized financial fraud. Corporations and the wealthy, though, also engage in financial theft. The list of frauds, theft, conspiracy, and financial collapse is staggering as exemplified by Enron. According to McLean and Elkind (2003), Enron's top management engaged in systemic company-wide fraud to hide losses. One strategy was to move losses to offshore paper companies. Another way the company made money was through conspiring with power plants to limit power supplies effectively manufacturing the California energy crisis. The crises drove up the cost of electricity for citizens and profits for Enron while costing the state of California $6 billion in overcharges. When the Enron con game was about to implode the company raided employees pension funds.

Enron, however, was assisted in it's looting of employee pensions, the public, and government by major financial institutions such as Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and J.P. Morgan Chase and the accounting firm Arthur Anderson which were fully aware of what was really going on. These companies conspired with Enron out of greed for their very lucrative fees or what we would call bribes. J.P. Morgan Chase in a series of lawsuits and investigations agreed to pay back $3.3 billion. Arthur Anderson was convicted of obstruction of justice (later overturned by the Supreme Court). Two Merrill Lynch executives were also convicted of fraud for their enabling role in the Enron scam (Creswell, 2005).

Other major frauds that we know of include Tyco's, Dennis Kozlowski (CEO) and Mark Swartz (CFO), who looted more than $600 million and were convicted of grand larceny, falsifying business records, securities fraud, and conspiracy. WorldCom (now MCI) CEO Bernard Ebbers was convicted of an $11 billion accounting fraud and agreed to divest personal looted assets worth more than $45 million. Adelphia founder John Rigas and son Timothy (CFO) agreed to forfeit their looted personal assets valued at over $1.5 billion and were convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud, securities fraud, and looting the company and its investors. Global Crossing's founder and Chairman Gary Winnick together with top management falsified financial documents and agreed to repay $19.5 million while Citigroup agreed to pay $75 million for its role in the collapse.

But why target with direct action financial institutions such as banks in addition to the corporations that have engaged in financial abuses? It is well documented that these top financial institutions form direct and indirect interlocks with the board of directors of America's top corporations (Allen, 1977; Domhoff, 2002; Mariolis, 1975; Mintz & Schwartz, 1985; Mizruchi, 1992; U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 1978b). This allows banks to function as coordinators and facilitators of capitalist interests (Domhoff, 1975). For example, banks are the major stock voters in over 122 top U.S. corporations (U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 1978a). This reduces competition among corporations and it creates common business agendas. Financial institutions also assist in formulating unified political agendas for corporations and the wealthy (Domhoff, 1975). Thus, financial institutions function as ringleaders for forming a unified and highly conscious corporate-capitalist class (Domhoff, 1975).

Secondly, these financial institutions usually issue the credit cards of major retailers and other businesses. Thus, if there is a work action at, say Wal-Mart, why not target financially its credit card issuer? This is another way of forcing capitalists to put pressure on other capitalists that are targeted by worker action to settle the dispute as with a sympathy strike. Third, these financial institutions are also responsible for scams and frauds against the credit card users themselves. There is ample data on unreasonable late and other fees, usury interest rates, bate-and-switch offers, etc. which defraud consumers and especially working-class minorities (Rummel, 2004).

Obviously, working-class people have neither the skill nor access to commit frauds of such epic proportions. Some suggested strategies, though, include deliberate worker organized credit card frauds including claiming the card was stolen and refusing to pay for charges. Why target credit cards with direct action? Who owns and issues credit cards: the same major financial institutions that enabled major corporate fraud at Enron, WorldCom, etc. For example, over 72% of the credit card market is dominated by the top five credit card companies including Citigroup Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (Starkman & Mayer, 2005). In addition, banks as the representatives of financial capital should also be targeted with organized lootings. The working class should storm the volts of bank branches distributing the cash to the needy and charitable organizations. People should also refuse to make student loan, car, mortgage, and other loan payments when downsized, on strike, or victims of poverty wages with no benefits. And if the repo-man comes for the house or car let communities say no. Why not have a borrowers revolt as the modern equivalent of Shay's Rebellion and the 1830s land-rent revolts?

Conclusion

In order to secure greater gains for the working-class a new radical economic civil disobedience movement is needed to supplement strike action in ways that increase the corporate cost of refusing to address workers' demands. It is only by attacking the corporate bottom-line that workers today can have any hope of obtaining living wages and benefits as a start.

Given the globalization of the production process, the U.S. working-class needs to take the lead and fuel a renewed effort to challenge capitalist ideology and global structures from within America as was done by the civil rights and old labor movements. You cannot have islands of socialism in a capitalist world. Such islands like Europe will ultimately be out-competed by the lowest cost production regions. To stop the race to the bottom we must first change the power structure within the current global hegemon and then push for global reforms of capitalist institutions like the WTO. For the American working class to achieve true changes toward equality workers need to develop class-consciousness which in turn can be transformed into class-solidarity. This implies moving from becoming aware of one's class position to becoming willing to act on it in solidarity with others. Unions must stop expending limited resources on strategies that are bankrupt such as political contributions. For example, the Republican and Democratic parties from Clinton to Bush have passed free trade agreements with virtually no labor protections despite labor's intense lobbying. Instead, our funds must be used for organizing combined with worker education to raise class-consciousness.

Workers have more power than they realize other than the ability to withhold their labor power which is what the old labor movement did through general strikes. As a class, workers can also withhold their political participation in an inherently biased political system denying it the illusion of legitimacy. This is what the civil rights leaders did when they refused to conform to segregationist laws through civil disobedience. Workers also have a third power: to withhold their economic participation in biased economic structures. This can be done through the new radical forms of resistance outlined here. To be successful the working class needs to realize that all of these tools of resistance have been legislated out of existence by the elite because of their effectiveness. In addition, power holders historically have violently suppressed actions which fundamentally challenged their interests (Brecher, 1997). Thus, when and if the working class engages in new radical action it can expect violent reactions by the power holders. It is this violence that we must resist with violence of our own to bring about fundamental change.

What should we fight for? A guaranteed minimum living standard for all (including housing and income); universal healthcare; fair trade legislation; full-employment policies; industrial democracy as through works councils; eliminating wealthfare; repealing the fiction of corporations as legal persons for accountability; prohibiting corporate involvement in the political process; legislating independence of news media from corporate control/governance. These demands alone would revolutionize the labor movement in the United States first and the world later.

References

Allen, M. (1977). Economic Interest Groups and the Corporate Elite Structure. Social Science Quarterly, 58, pp. 597-615.

Aronowitz, S. (1992). False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness. Durham: Duke University Press.

Asimakopoulos, J. (2005). Learning from the Past: Old Labor, Civil Rights, and Economic Civil Disobedience. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Brecher, J. (1997). Strike! Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Cole, M. D. (1999). The L.A. riots: rage in the City of Angels. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers.

Creswell, J. (2005, August, 17). J.P. Morgan and Toronto-Dominion Agree to Settle Suits in Enron Fraud. New York Times, p. C3.

Domhoff, W. G. (1975). The Bohemian Grove and Other Retreats: A Study in Ruling-Class Cohesiveness. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Domhoff, W. G. (2002). Who Rules America? Power and Politics (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.

Eckholm, E. (2005, August, 29). Army Contract Official Critical of Halliburton Pact Is Demoted. New York Times, p. A9.

Flood, L. G. (1989/90, Winter). Symposium on unions and public policy. Policy Studies Journal, 18 (2), pp. 357-363.

Fording, R. (1997). The Conditional Effect of Violence as a Political Tactic: Mass Insurgency, Welfare Generosity, and Electoral Context in the American States. American Journal of Political Science, 41 (1), pp. 1-29.

Lerner, S. (1996, April). Reviving Unions. Boston Review, 21 (2), pp. 3-8.

Lewis, D. E. (September 6, 2004). Worries about NLRB fuel union campaign. The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 5, 2005 from http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/09/06/worries_about_nlrb_fuel_union_campaign?mode=PF

London, S. H. (1989/90, Winter). The New Industrial Relations Ideology and the Decline of labor. Policy Studies Journal, 18 (2), pp. 481-493.

Malcolm X. (1965). The Ballot or the Bullet. In Breitman, G. (Ed.), Malcolm X Speaks (pp. 23-44). New York: Grove Weidenfeld.

Mariolis, P. (1975). Interlocking Directorates and the Control of Corporations: The Theory of Bank Control. Social Science Quarterly, 56, pp. 425-439.

McLean, B., & Elkind, P. (2003). Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. New York: Portfolio.

Mills, C. W. (1971). The New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders. New York: A.M. Kelley.

Mintz, B. A., & Schwartz, M. (1985). The Power Structure of American Business. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Mizruchi, M. S. (1992). The Structure of Corporate Political Action: Interfirm Relations and Their Consequences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

National Retail Security Survey. (2002) Center for Studies in Criminology and Law. University of Florida.

Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. A. 1971. Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare. New York: Pantheon Books.

Pleming, S. (2005, June, 27). Halliburton's Iraq deals described as contract abuse. Reuters. Retrieved September 25, 2005 from http://www.alertnet.org

Rocker, R. (1938). Anarcho-Syndicalism. London: Secker and Warburg.

Rossi, P. H., (Ed.) (1973). Ghetto revolts. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Rummel, D. (Producer/Director). (2004). Secret History of the Credit Card [Documentary]. United States: Frontline WGBH Educational Foundation.

Starkman, D., & Mayer, C. E. (2005, July 1). Credit Card Consolidation: Bank of America To Buy MBNA. Washington Post, p. A01.

Thoreau, D. H. (1969). Civil disobedience. Boston: D. R. Godine.

U.S. Census Bureau, Gini Ratios for Households, Table H-4. Retrieved November 23, 2005 from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/h04.html

U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Income Tables, Table H-2, Share of Aggregate Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Households. Retrieved November 23, 2005 from http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/h02ar.html

U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Poverty Tables, Table 4, Poverty Status of Families. Retrieved November 23, 2005 from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/histpov/hstpov4.html

U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. (1978a). Voting Rights in Major Corporations. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. (1978b). Interlocking Directorates among the Major U.S. Corporations. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Voltairine, C. (1912). Direct Action. New York: Mother Earth.

Zepezauer, M. (2004). Take the Rich off Welfare. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Corresponding author:
Dr. John Asimakopoulos, 261 Bogert Road Apt. 1A, River Edge, NJ 07661
Tel. 201 797-1758
Email: asimakopoulosj@yahoo .com

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Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience | 43 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: SiberioS on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 02:17 PM CST
I think this article was absolutely spot on, till the end with calls for legislation and the like, right next to sentences about taking direct action and workers councils! Otherwise the piece is strong and shows a plan of attack that I have ruminated on for awhile now.

While some in the past used armed robbery and the like to finance or rob from the great financial institutions, its clear that tactic was problematic at best. The brandishing of weapons evoked an image more of sheer banditry than taking for livelihood, and the efforts required to mount such a campaign was enormous, and unable to be easily reproduced by most people. The idea of simply taking by sheer number, however, is slightly more achievable.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Admin on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 02:37 PM CST
I agree that the part about legislation should have been left out. Otherwise, this is an excellent essay and a wake-up call for people about what really works. Direct action gets the goods. Civil disobedience, property destruction and other tactics are effective. The state doesn't care about permitted marches. That's why they were caught by surprise in Seattle in 1999. After two decades of activism that was controlled by do nothing leftist sects, working people broke free of that political domestication and stood up for their rights. The police around the U.S. at that time didn't respect activists. How can you respect somebody who asks permission for their rights?

I think your comments about bank robberies is just way off topic. This article doesn't talk about such forms of extreme illegalism. This article is important because it reminds people that they aren't even dissenting on the most basic level.

Chuck
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 04:31 PM CST
this is a bit long for me to handle reading on a computer.. from the topic and comments, though, not to mention the listed references, it seems like it would be good to read in pamphlet form, perhaps. is the author copyrighting this? would it be alright to make a pamphlet from it (at copying cost)?

-Mitchell / Wooden Shoe Books
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 06:45 PM CST
this article is formatted into a printable PDF file. http://zinelibrary.net/loottherich.pdf
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Admin on Tuesday, February 28 2006 @ 04:26 PM CST
Right. Can you remove your file from circulation please?

The author sent me another version, so it would be a good thing to delete any files out there which have a different version.

We will probably be printing this article in the new issue of Practical Anarchy.

Chuck0
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, March 06 2006 @ 01:20 PM CST
could you send me a copy of the most current pdf/file?
-mitchell
iamnotanashtray (at) riseup.net
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Admin on Monday, March 06 2006 @ 01:25 PM CST
Sorry. I heard back from the author. The PDF that the Zine Library posted is OK. The author thinks that the above version of his article is the one that he wants disseminated.

Chuck
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: SiberioS on Tuesday, February 28 2006 @ 12:49 PM CST
Well I brought up bank robbery because of its past en-vougeness amongst radical circles as an example of ways to directly loot capitalist systems. But as I said, it was not a easily reproducible tactic, and the risks and attendant backlash seemed not worth the effort.

Easier to pull off, more non-violent possesions or take backs, like the ones described above, are a great example of a tactic that can accomplish the same ends. I was not trying to insinuate that the article suggested bank robberies, but rather, it suggested a better tactic in comparison to past tactics.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 06:21 PM CST
(NOTE: I am attempting to post this in separate parts as the spam guard is causing me trouble.)

Cemendur writes:

This essay is beautiful. I've never seen such spot on analysis written in so easily assessable MLA form. I now know what a computer nerd feels like when looking at
"beautiful code".

I do, however, agree with SiberioS and Chuck0 concerning electorialism.

"For example, in 1969 the Gini Ratio for households was 0.391 vs. 0.466 in 2004 (U.S. Census Bureau, Gini Ratios for Households). . ."

"Fording (1997), using a pooled time-series model, confirms that violence is more effective than conventional means in obtaining concessions."

A short explanation of the Gini Ratio and the "pooled time-series model" would be helpful.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 06:28 PM CST
Cemendur continued:

Chuck0 said, "I think your (SiberioS') comments about bank robberies is just way off topic. This article doesn't talk about such forms of extreme illegalism. This article is important because it reminds people that they aren't even dissenting on the most basic level."

To back SiberioS up, I have compiled the following:

"Violent direct actions which are proposed as a basis of a new economic civil disobedience movement include disobeying restrictive labor laws (Taylor Laws; Taft-Hartley; the NLRB); mass organized lootings of corporate stores, distribution warehouses, and BANKS; and financial actions. . . "
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 06:37 PM CST
But in the long run does 'looting' fundamentally change any social relations?
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 28 2006 @ 12:41 PM CST
By itself, no. But should that matter? It seems to me you question the following:

Should an action be taken, if by itself it won't make fundamental changes?

I think you're setting standards too high. If it were that easy to make fundamental changes, we wouldn't have smooth congruity of the status-quo over time.

Progress is the sum of millions of actions, small and big and of every style. I'm glad all that weight isn't on any person alone, otherwise there would be totalitarianism! :-)
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 28 2006 @ 03:03 PM CST
A mass action like an organized storming of a grocery store would have some real momentum afterwards. people who know what it feels like to smash the barriers separating them from what they need aren't likely to forget it too quickly.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 06:39 PM CST
Cemendur continues:

"But why target with direct action financial institutions such as banks in addition to the corporations that have engaged in financial abuses?. . ."

"In addition, BANKS as the representatives of financial capital should also be targeted with ORGANIZED LOOTINGS. The working class should storm the volts of bank branches distributing the cash to the needy and charitable organizations. . ."
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, February 27 2006 @ 06:43 PM CST
Those quotes were from the article above. The next sentence (dealing with loans) in the last paragraph was being detected as spam.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 12:18 AM CST
Good article, but I think the author makes a mistake by narrowly defining the tactics and strategies described here as "anarchosyndicalist." Anarchosyndicalism implies depending on the well-established structure of a syndicalist organization - a union, though a theoretically revolutionary one - to lead and organize the workers. Anarchosyndicalism might not leave enough room for innovation and spontaneity from the rank and file, and syndicalist organizations often depend on blueprints from 70 to 100 years ago. These kinds of blueprints may be too limiting for a working class uprising in the present day, especially considering the fact that the capitalists, themselves, have found so many innovative ways to decentralize the workplace, separate workers from each other, and transcend the old divisions that formed the basis for older forms of class-based rebellion . (Much of this is described in autonomist Marxist literature - "post-Fordism," the "Japanese" style of factory, "team work," "immaterial labor," and the new methods through which workers are forced to take a more active role in their own exploitation - increasingly confusing methods of managing labor that call for new methods of achieving class self-identity or consciousness.) And, of course, we have the problem that more and more of the working class cannot be located and categorized according to regular work "found" in an officially recognized workplace, and the fact that many workers, over the past several decades especially, have rightly cultivated a rebellion against identifying themselves according to any of the work that they must do for their survival (especially since many workers must end up doing many different things to survive), which goes directly against the categories that syndicalist organizations depend on. (Take a look, for instance, at the categorization of workers in the IWW. It is extremely limiting as well as antiquated.)

Anarchosyndicalism may not leave room for the existence of small autonomous groups, which many anarchists and anti-authoritarian Marxists alike believe is the most appropriate way to carry out direct action against capitalist targets. This article actually describes many tactics that can be carried out by such groups or other, new formations that may arise which are not built upon the existence of a union, whether trade union or "revolutionary" syndicalist.

RS
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 09:47 AM CST
I don't know. I'm an anarcho-syndicalist (although I would self identify as many things on any given day and these labels in no way represent the totality of my being) and have no problems with autonomous, spontanious, decentralized organizing, actions, happenings and function just fine.

Syndicalism on paper looks to be a very concrete/static and rigid, even dogmatic, but in practice is felxible, ever changing, adaptable and is more a tactic for realizing worker ownership of means of production as well as self management than aplatform or program.

Syndicalism is a means and end in the in the sphere of work relationships and and a means for living in general.

Anarchism is a tacic for living.

Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 01:09 PM CST
I'm sure it might seem that way to you, but the previous poster is dead-on correct. Syndicalism, as it has existed as a historical tendency, means something rather specific even if those adhering to it have differing opinions on it. It means trade unions as the organs of revolutionary action. This, to me and many other observers, seems completely ridiculous. Unions can never be revolutionary, and if we look at the history they have never acted in a revolutionary way. Most people reading infoshop probably don't like the ICC, and I disagree with them in many ways, but I think they say it rather well "

The anti-proletarian character of the old trade unions is not simply a result of the fact they are organised in a particular way (by trade, by industry), or that they had
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:02 PM CST
Although I agree on some points I find that the problems are not concrete nor systemic. We are not bound to the past as though its a tangible anchor. These are abstractions, a matter perception as well as practice. The IWW for instance can just as easily be used as a tactic and then discarded when new tools are necessary or needed and/or picked apart for whats useful and what isn't. Most anarcho-syndicalists I know work in exactly this manner. Things are not always black and white, either/or. Anarcho-Syndicalism doesn't exist except where it's being practiced and whats practiced or useful is up to whoever is doing those things at any given moment and are not governed by abstractions in control due to history or previous practice. Syndicalisim needs new tactics and it has the ability for evolution and that evolution is governed by non-hierarchical affinity groups as they see fit. It's not static and rigid just because it has an a history containing now outdated organizational tactics. these things do not define what is and can be right now.

That said, if one finds that the IWW or similair methods of organization are not the right tools for their situation by all means ammend them or pick up something appropriate.

I've read the Zerzan piece but the other I'll look into.

I appreciate the civil talk. I hate it when pissing matches or snide/angry responses are the norm and they often are here on Infoshop ;)
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 02:26 PM CST
P.S.

It's not just how it "seems" as though my lived experience is somehow unkowable to me and I'm in need of a complete stranger who can make these judgements about what is authentic in my interaction with reality.

Thats a little....condescending in the very least don't you think?

It is my lived experience after all.

Just a small point of contention.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 03:06 PM CST
Condescension was not the intention, however if we are to be discussing social theories and practices (like anarcho-syndicalism), then we must look at the actual history of these theories and their corresponding practices. This history exists far outside of the personal experience that any of us have had. The only way we can learn about this history is to look beyond our direct lived experiences (not ignoring them but recognizing their limited character).
The historical experience of anarcho-syndicalism, from my reading and analysis of things, obviously points to the conclusion that it is not a viable theory or practice if the goal is anarchist revolution, and I do not see how any other conclusion can be reached from a thorough evaluation of the tendency.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 03:50 PM CST
Word, I follow what you are saying in this regard.

I absolutely do not believe syndicalism in and of itself has the potential to nor would lead to anarchy.

We do have a definate history that attests to this.

Popularly, more than a few works discuss syndicalist Spain, limitations of syndicalism and the role those limitations played in its demise/re-emergence of the state that was never smashed.

All anarcho-syndicalists I work with directly recognize this and use other tactics in conjunction with syndicalism to effect change as we see fit as well as contracting new political, social, economic and personal relationships.


I would also put forth that I believe anarchy isn't even possible in that it is a natural occuring phenomenon and the best we can do is fill the world with as many anarchists as possible, living as an non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian existance as is possible, using anarchism (that is, practicing the characteristics of observable anarchy as well as theoretical anarchy) as a tacitic for living.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 05:23 PM CST
As a little more interested in historiography than in any specific manifestation of human action (to include ASynd.), I'm weary about the way your insistance on a standard definition of terms removes the effects of change over time and the dynamic flux of human activity...The only thing set in stone is that everything changes.
It would be possible to argue that someone is living out the ideals of the Renaissance today. However, the evidence in support of such a claim would be weaker than to say that the Renaissance is over. For people who claim ASynd., it is not such a weak claim. Some aspects of it have changed for some (as evidenced by the above post) but not so much, I think, that would eliminate the possibility of identifying with it.
So you might be correct in saying turn of the century or 30's Spain Anarchosyndicalism is irelevant, but you haven't convinced me that an evolved syndicalism made relevant in today's context is not "real" syndicalism, and even if so, the fact that those words--AS--are used to describe it doesn't make it irrelevant outright does it?
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 05:36 PM CST
Well, obviously the meaning of terms changes over time, often significantly. "Anarchism", "Syndicalism", "Marxism", "liberalism", etc. mean different things today than they did 75 years ago, of course, no one will dispute that.
However, in the case of anarcho-syndicalism, I don't think that we can say that the meaning of the term is that fluid; it means revolutionary anarchist action through trade unions, the type of action and union might have changed over time, but I don't think one can use the term without referring to this. The word syndicalism comes from the French word syndicalisme, which literally means "trade unionism". That's what syndicalism is, no way around that, a focus on unions. If you don't think so, then it'd be best to use a new word altogether, because it will have no relation to what most mean when they use the term.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Admin on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 05:46 PM CST
What we need to a word to describe a strategy of organizing workers without being married to the unions.

Chuck
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: MagonistaRevolt on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 11:46 PM CST
I've read Bob Black's abolition of Work, and I still think that Unions (in their truest form) are necessary for an anarchist revolution. Want a ludic society that rotates who does the dishes? Well, how do you safeguard from a person being stuck with the dishes every day for 9 hours? In a house of ten people, a person can take the matter into their own hands and have a meeting with the rest of the house. If we're talking about thousands of people, however, of which a hundred or so are somehow shouldered with doing dishes for 9 hours a day, they need a union (as in a manner for collective bargaining) that alerts the rest of the group to the injustice.

I say end the occupation of our lives, but democratize the result as well...
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Admin on Wednesday, March 01 2006 @ 11:57 PM CST
You don't need a union to conduct collective decision-making on a large scale. I think your argument would be stronger if you talked about how unions are a good tool for other things.

Chuck0
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: MagonistaRevolt on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 12:27 AM CST
hmmm... I consider any group that employs collective decision-making to be a union. Is that not its definition? What could possibly be a better definition?
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Admin on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 01:07 AM CST
A union is an organization of workers in a particular workplace or industry. Groups and organizations that use collective decision-making are NOT NECESSARILY unions. I've been a member of many groups that used collective decision-making which weren't unions.

Chuck0
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: MagonistaRevolt on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 12:02 AM CST
whew, I just reread my comment and wanted to add that I DO NOT mean that the offended party should abdicate the solution to their problem to a "union" in the way that unions are set up in this country right now (i.e. with an administration tied to the corporate boot), but as a union of people who have one anothers' back, who are willing to fight for one another to ensure that their collective interests are fulfilled. Unions could disband as insurrectionary affinity groups do, or they could (concievably) continue in the interests of those involved.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 12:41 AM CST
See, this type of thinking is obfuscatory. A union can mean many things, but what syndicalism refers to is specifically TRADE unions, i.e. an association of workers with the purpose of improving their conditions of employment. It is an institution within capitalist society with the explicit purpose of mediating between capital and labor. It is not, and cannot, be a nucleus for a future post-capitalist society because its functions are entirely centered around IMPROVING the conditions of employment, not abolishing them and employment altogether.
Plenty of people try to obfuscate by saying "well, a union is really any organization formed around common interests", but that ignores what most mean when they discuss unions and what the term syndicalism actually refers to.
It is this same type of obfuscatory reasoning that could allow someone to say "Well, a government is really any organization with the purpose of organizing society, so you can't be against government, it'll always be necessary".
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: MagonistaRevolt on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 01:07 AM CST
well, then in that case, write me firmly in with those who consider syndicalism as my favorite tactic to use in order to bring about changes within this capitalist system for the working class (a much needed band-aid). I also believe that anarchist trade unions are not in fact mediators between capital and labor, but are labor's collective voice. I am certainly not talking about conciliatory unions who parry for contracts and peanut concessions in order to hold their place at the corporate table. I am talking about unions who realize their potential to foment a general strike, or who can shut down industries they refuse to work for. The kinds of unions that Voltairine DeCleyre described in The Woman Rebel that Crimethinc was so kind to point out to me in their first issue of Rolling Thunder.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 01:16 AM CST
Fine, but I think the notion that trade unions and syndicalism can ever be revolutionary or helpful to the anarchist cause of abolishing capitalism and the state stands in direct contrast to all historical evidence and experience.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 01:20 AM CST
"...an experience of working class struggle spurs a major advance in the capitalist point of view - an advance which it would never have made of its own accord. The demands of the working class are henceforth recognised by the capitalists themselves as objective needs of the production of capital: and as such they are not only taken on board, but are actively solicited; no longer simply rejected, but now collectively negotiated. The mediation of the institutional level of the working class movement, 'particularly at the trade union level, takes on a decisive and irreplaceable' importance. The platform of demands that the trade union puts forward is already controlled by those on whom it is supposed to be imposed: by the bosses who are supposed to "take it or leave it". Through the trade union struggle, working class demands can be nothing more than the reflection of capital's necessities. And yet capital cannot pose this necessity directly, of itself -not even if it wanted to, not even when it reaches its highest point of class awareness. Rather, at this point it acquires quite the reverse awareness: that it must find ways to have its own needs put forward by its enemies, it must articulate its own movement via the organised movements of the workers." - Mario Tronti, The Strategy of the Refusal
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 12:53 PM CST
It seems that in the U.S. at least the workers are all too often guilty of adopting the bourgeois/protestant work ethic, an attitude that is usually to their bosses benefit and their own personal, mental and physical, detriment.

Instead of struggling for greater pay how about agitating a struggle for less work hours for equal pay, and equal benefits? Which if successful would translate into more time for leisure/intellectual pursuits for workers without a drop in general living standards.

I say equal pay and not greater pay because I'm not so sure that anarchists should encourage workers to struggle for more pay in a society in which the state enforces compulsory income taxation. Under the governments that exist more pay simply translates into more tax revenue for the politicians, bureaucrats and more financing for their military and police apparatus.

T.Rios
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 02:24 PM CST
"It seems that in the U.S. at least the workers are all too often guilty of adopting the bourgeois/protestant work ethic, an attitude that is usually to their bosses benefit and their own personal, mental and physical, detriment"

Boy, you've got it! I'm bougie since due to forces outside my control (like responsibility for a kid or two) i have to work, or my race and education background I can only work for peanuts,...maybe some real bougie privelage would allow me to think about things more and come up with answers ofr other people....

"...I'm not so sure that anarchists should encourage workers to struggle for more pay..."
what about anarchists that are workers? I'm both and no bones about it, want more money, mainly so i can work less....its not like im on a salaried 40hour per week kinda contract, if i make 10% more, I'll work 10% less, not buy 10% more crap.

I agree with a lot of what youre saying, but I was a little offended by the way you said it, like you had the answers even though you put a distance between yourself and "workers". I'd be curious about how you conceptualize "workers", but can garauntee no two are alike.....
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 05:51 PM CST
I don't agree with everything the author writes here, but this is a very useful piece in any case.

Here's the best succinct analysis of how unions have ceased to be mechanisms for wage earners to fight back against capital:

Unions Against Revolution, by G. Munis

http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/munistoc.html
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 02 2006 @ 05:54 PM CST
From the opening doc on the 'Love and Treason' web page:

"...The class struggle is the key liberatory force of our time. Class struggle isn
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, March 03 2006 @ 03:23 AM CST
An eye for an eye leaves the world blind. Self-defense is necessary. Destroying property, under the right circumstances, is a useful tactic. General strikes are more effective than protests. Unjust laws must be broken. But beatings? Give me a break. This is a good article but don't excersize authority over another in this manner, unless you want to become your enemy.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, March 03 2006 @ 10:42 AM CST
this is a great article, but property destruction is NOT violence and we only help the propaganda system stigmatize us by accepting the term violence to refer to a tactic that injurs no one.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, March 03 2006 @ 06:43 PM CST
Agreed, that was a bad choice of terms. However, there is some actual violence that is briefly condoned in this article as well, which I found disheartening and fit the stereotypical "anarchist" as disirous of chaos.
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 05:35 AM CST
you folks should check out what is happening down in new zealand where i live with the anticapitalist unite! union, which has had some big successes see www.indymedia.org.nz and www.supersizemypay.com
Loot the Rich: Economic Civil Disobedience
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 16 2006 @ 02:54 PM CST
I think we should consider more complex forms of economic sabotage, perhaps through hacking or fraud. Maybe we can figure out how to get free printing/copies at major chain stores, or how to get free phone calls. This will pass the expenses onto the corporation while giving us access to services and equipment we would otherwise have to pay for. Maybe pull off some electronic robin hood actions, by taking money from republican bank accounts and donating it to progressive or leftist groups. There's a whole world of possibilities that could be more effective than organized lootings.