Category Archives: Labor

“Riding The Zone” Notes

“Riding The Zone” by Rozalinda Borcila

“An FTZ is established in conjunction with international points of entry. Each port of entry can become a zone project; each zone project can produce numerous zones, and each zone can have numerous subzones. The boundaries of an FTZ as they are marked on the maps of the Federal Zoning Board can be a radius of sixty miles or ninety minutes transit from the edges of an inter- national port of entry, and are established by the Department of Commerce. The area inside this boundary is the service area of a grantor agency. It is the area within which a zone can be activated, like a perimeter of off-shorability. In the case of FTZ #22, the grantor is the Illinois International Port District (con- taining the Port of Chicago). Within this service area, business interests work through the grantor to activate or make use of zone for specific footprints. Once activated, a zone is considered outside of the United States for the purposes of trade, tariffs, processing of goods (which includes assembly, disassembly, de- struction, testing, mixing and manufacturing), and other regulations.

When a zone becomes activated it must be completely secured―enclosed by a border, with access points under the jurisdiction of Customs and Border Protection, often managed via proxy (private) agencies. FTZ #22 currently has at least eleven activated zones, including several logistics and warehousing centers, such as the 2,500-acre CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Elwood and the 3,600-acre CenterPoint Intermodal and Logistics Center near Joliet, which together form the largest inland port in the country. FTZ #22 also in- tegrates dozens of sub-zones: smaller, discontiguous, single-user, restricted- access areas that are frequently used as manufacturing sites. Subzones may even be located outside of the boundaries of the grantor territory, but are connected to ports of entry and other “special economic zones” via an ex- panding network of publicly-funded rail lines, roads and inland waterways.

The US currently has over 270 FTZ projects, each with a service area ra- dius of between sixty and120 miles from center, and around 1,000 sub-zones. Manufacturing and waste generating processes, assembling, repackaging, storage, exhibition, shipping, and other processes within the zone legally oc- cur outside of the United States. Commodities that move within the “zone universe”―between zones/subzones, ports of entry and military bases― never enter U.S. juridical territory. This means they can be assembled or stored, repackaged or tested, without incurring tariffs. It means manufactur- ing and assemblage can take place without value-added taxes on domestic materials, parts, labor, overhead, or profit. It also means that materials and commodities appear as continuously moving, never in place.”

“Nested within FTZ #22 are dozens of other special economic zones. The most pervasive of these are the “enterprise zones,” (EZs) which are desig- nated by local (usually state or county) jurisdictions. The location of EZs is not related to ports of entry, but instead identified in terms of “underdevelop- ment” indicators and rhetorically justified in terms of job creation and local development. In these areas, which are not physically enclosed, commercial interests activate zoning to off-shore from the standpoint of labor, land use, and abatement regulations, in relation to local and state taxes, among many other factors. While “job creation” is one of the justifications for EZs, they put into motion incentivizing mechanisms as well as risk management sys- tems that make flexible what exactly counts as a job―the conditions under which people can be hired, retained, trained, discarded, and worked. EZs emerged around the rhetoric of “development,” while creating corporate tax havens that deprive local communities of revenue and subsidize buildings, roadways, water treatment plants and other major infrastructure to encour- age territorial centralization of specific economies.

FTZs and EZs offer “competitive advantages,” an effect of nimble, over- lapping, and contradictory jurisdictional frameworks. FTZ implies that goods enter US territories but remain outside of US trade markets, while EZ implies that bodies that are physically in the US in terms of policing and labor are moved outside of the US in terms of labor regulations and human rights. FTZ has to do with the connection to ports of entry, to the mass move- ment of goods, and the assembly, storage, or destruction of commodities and materials; EZ is tied to managing and speculating upon shifting labor mar- kets, warehousing, and supply chain management of labor as commodity. FTZ has to do with tariff differentials and cost differentials for parts, as well as flexible inventory and storage of commodities (the time value of money, which pertains to price differentials between spot and futures markets, for instance, and “just-in-time” production). EZ has to do with tax differentials and labor cost differentials at smaller scales (competition between states or even counties) and to the flexibilization of work.”

“Gradually, and increasingly after containeriza- tion becomes standard in the 1960s, human associations become separated from commodity movement, even as manufacturing processes become nor- malized as an FTZ activity: FTZ becomes in a sense a regime that separates labor from trade, workers from commodities, producing a de-laboring of the global goods movement.”

“If extra-territoriality and deportability are instruments of statecraft, they are also global regimes. The zone offers a perspective on the articulation of neoliberal logic and the state form: a dynamic process whereby territories and populations are increasingly zoned for optimal insertion into capital circuits, enforcing regimes of stratified spatiality. Our little group had long understood that a politics based on “rights” and “papers” would not allow us to develop a shared analysis of neoliberalism, nor to call the state into question as the necessary and inevitable frame of reference. Riding the zone became a way to explore and also to disrupt specific space-making practices and capitalist relations. We began to refer to an “undocumented perspec- tive” as not merely the perspective, knowledge, or experience of people who are themselves rendered illegal by the state. “Undocumented” came to re- fer not to an identity, but to a set of practices, to the production of social relations that could be resistant to the capitalist relations that characterize the zone.

After the ride we continued to organize, and our actions became increas- ingly public. We also re-crafted our analysis of poli-migra. It seemed to us the violence was of a different nature―and its effects were different―than we had though. Our work still focused on deportation enforcement, but we began to discuss the ways in which criminalizing migration worked to forc- ibly integrate so many aspects of life into the logic of the dominant economic order. In writing about the scale and scope of migrant incarceration, and its connection to increasingly widespread disenfranchisement in the name of the current financial crisis, we reconsidered what we felt was at stake in migrant resistance.

. . . (poli-migra) is also an all-out attack on the communal relations and econo- mies that immigrants are crucial in sustaining: neighborhood arrangements that collectivize domestic and reproductive work, economies of barter and exchange, social and institutional practices of self-governance. In other words, all the social relations that correspond to a definition of communities as living systems. These arrangements are a nuisance from the perspective of capital; they are an impedi- ment to efficiency and profit maximization, [. . .] an obstacle to the total mar- ketization of life . . . (Moratorium on Deportations, from Why an Immigrants Freedom Ride)”

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Thoughts on the Dream 9 Victory

Just wrote this short piece with some help from the ‘rades. Check out the full post here.

The Dream 9 Victory & New Developments in the Immigrant Rights Movement

On July 22nd, the “Dream 9” – nine undocumented activists who were raised in the U.S. since childhood but were recently deported or self-deported to Mexico – attempted to re-enter the country at Nogales, AZ, in protest of U.S. immigration policies. They were arrested and put in federal custody for violation of U.S. immigration law.

While in custody, organizers with the National Youth Immigration Alliance (NIYA) carried out a national campaign to publicize the detention of the Dream 9 organizers and to build support for their immediate release into the U.S. They organized pickets, vigils, phone blasts and sit-ins to push members of Congress into pressuring the Obama administration to approve their release. Meanwhile, the nine activists organized inside the Eloy Detention Center where they were held, at times in solitary confinement, drawing public attention to the conditions inside the detention center and organizing a hunger strike 70 other detainees.

The campaign worked. Two weeks ago, the Dream 9 were released and allowed to return to their home communities in the U.S. Immigration asylum officers found that all nine had credible fear of persecution in their birth country and could therefore not be immediately removed. Their cases now go to an immigration judge who will decide whether to grant asylum, a process that could take years in court.

This direct action by the Dream 9 marks a qualitative turn in the immigrant rights movement and has sparked debate over immigration reform, strategy and tactics in the movement. What follows are several brief points about what is important about the Dream 9.

First, the Dream 9 action is stirring the debate about and moving beyond the strategy of trying to push the Democrats to the left in order to win justice for immigrants. While the national campaign that NIYA was pushing centered on contacting congress to get support, the action itself of openly crossing the border and of organizing inside Eloy went far beyond that strategy. This action is a new form of confrontation. As such, it cannot be considered outside of its development out of 10-plus years of struggle that has advanced from petitions and letter-writing, to confrontations with politicians, to sit-ins and occupations, to coming out “undocumented and unafraid,” to infiltrating detention centers and now to direct and open defiance of U.S. immigration policy at the border.

Check out the full post here.

Notes on Abolish Restaurants

Reading Notes on Abolish Restaurants

I’m reading this pamphlet to help a fellow organizer present a summary of it for a solidarity network we are building in Houston, the Southwest Defense Network. So far, among the potential campaigns we have come across, several have been restaurant workers confronting wage theft or other forms of exploitation in the restaurants they work(ed) for. Continue reading

The Class Individual and the Social Individual

Trying to understand the social individual, cuz I’m trying to understand what Marx meant by universality, cuz I’m trying to understand what the hell is communism. What follows are some passages from Part 2 of the American Worker pamphlet (written by Phil Singer and Grace Lee Boggs).

(Page numbers correspond to the Bewick/Ed edition, 1972; emphasis mine unless otherwise noted)

“The American worker today makes in practice the distinction which Marx made nearly a hundred years ago in theory – the distinction between abstract labor for value and concrete labor for human needs. Marx denied that the essence of value production was the search for profits by the individual capitalists…Marx was concerned with the activity of the workers. By value production he meant production which expanded itself through degradation and dehumanization of the worker to a fragment of a man. The essence of capitalist production is that it is a dynamically developing relation by which the dead labor in the machine, created by the workers, oppresses and degrades to abstract labor the living worker which it employs. Abstract labor is alienated labor, labor in which the worker ‘develops no free physical and spiritual energy but mortifies his body and ruins his spirit.’ Concrete labor for needs, on the other hand, is not merely nor even essentially the labor which produces butter rather than guns. It is the labor in which man realizes his basic human need for exercising his natural and acquired powers.” [46]

Continue reading

A Case for Rape & Domestic Violence Survivors Becoming Workplace Organizers

A good article you should check out if you haven’t seen it before:

My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organizers

Liberté Locke, a Starbucks Workers Union organizer, writes about how violence at work and in our personal lives are similar, how domestic abusers and bosses use the same techniques of control and that we need to fight both.

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence
Continue reading

The Relationship of Race & Class

From Charles Denby’s Indignant Heart (which I discussed briefly here):

“Three years ago the lunch wagon owned by an outside chain company, brought food into the plants to sell to the workers at lunch time. They raised the price of their food after a few weeks. The workers felt this was too much to pay and put up a holler so the union decided to boycott all the lunch wagons. The stewards were to see to it that no one bought anything. The first day no one came near the wagon. The second day five Negroes went to the wagon and began getting food.

The white chief steward yelled and said, ‘Put down that damn stuff.’

The Negroes looked around, very angry, and continued to pick up food.

The steward rushed to me and said, ‘What I say about your people is true, they won’t cooperate. Go over and see if you can stop them.’

I went over and before I could speak one said, ‘Matthew, we want to cooperate but yesterday we went outside and the restaurant where we can eat was packed. There was a long line waiting and half of us didn’t get anything to eat. We were so hungry in the afternoon we had to check out early. We just couldn’t make the day without eating. All the whites ate because they can go in any restaurant. We can’t bring lunch because we don’t have wives to fix them.’

All the restaurants around the plant are jim crowed, there are only three places where Negroes can eat, and there are about three thousand Negroes working on my shift. I went to the white chief steward and told him the story.

I said, ‘If you can get some white workers tomorrow, I will get some Negro workers and we can go out and break these restaurants discriminating around the plant. We will see that the restaurants serve all of our union members. I will stand guard every day after that and guarantee that no one will buy off of this wagon.’

This stunned him. He said he couldn’t do it. He would have to take it up with our union officers and that would take some time. The Negro fellows continued to eat from the wagon and pretty soon all the workers came back to eat there too. The lunch wagon kept selling at a high price which hurt both Negro and white workers.” [148-149]