We are reproducing these leaflets and explanations of their contexts, not to overestimate the significance of our efforts, but to encourage others to engage in similar endeavors. These are small, practical, examples of modern subversive intervention against the society we despise.
In the summer of '91 there was some possibility of a strike of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers. BART is the subway system covering much of the urban Bay Area. We gave out about 500 copies of "BART ATTACK" (see following pages) to train operators, station personnel, and janitors. We began at a station near the southern terminus of the San Francisco portion of BART in Daly City. We leafletted train operators, playing leap-frog from train to train, from San Francisco to the McArthur BART station in Oakland, one of the three Oakland stations that all BART trains pass through. There we positioned ourselves at different ends of the two platforms, meeting drivers heading in all directions.
Some drivers were gruff and stand-offish; others were enthusiastic. A few took leaflets to reproduce on BART photocopiers. Within a few days, drivers were telling us that the leaflets had been circulated throughout the system. Some of the people we talked to assumed we were relating to them and their struggle on the level of charity, a notion we tried to dispel. Others recommended we give copies to their union shop stewards. We answered that what we were talking about involved them taking autonomous action outside of and against the union, its functionaries, and its decision-making apparatus - and that if they left things up to the union they would be screwed over.
Satisfied we had given as many to BART employees as we could, we rode trains from Daly City into downtown San Francisco and back before the main commuting hours of several weekdays, taping leaflets over advertisements on the walls of the cars, working the trains in many cases from one end to the other. As we finished at the front end of the train at Daly City station, the driver emerged, declaring, "Guys, you aren't helping us by doing that..." He told us of how he'd been demoted from a series of better-paying jobs and how he'd been an air-traffic controller and lost his job in the famous PATCO strike of 1981. The lesson he appeared to have drawn from the steady decline in his work conditions and living standards was that we shouldn't leaflet his master's property. Against this reactionary proletarian we argued that we weren't leafletting the train for charitable purposes, but in solidarity with the potential extension of their fight against their exploiters, and that we were doing it for ourselves as much as for others. Coincidentally, one of us was jacked up by BART cops as the train he was on pulled into the Montgomery Street Station. The BART pigs weren't able to do anything but try to act military, and we'd given out all our leaflets by then.
Unfortunately, the strike didn't happen. A solid majority of workers voted to approve a wage "raise" (a below the cost-of-living increase), and other "compromises" (attacks). Why didn't a strike happen? Was it fear, or passivity? Were they victims of faith in the union?
In retrospect, we should have emphasized that in the event of a strike, all wage-workers who rely on BART should call in sick, rather than demand "paid holidays." Were such a thing to transpire, this sick-out would be, paradoxically, a mass wildcat strike by completely atomized proles. Maybe next time...
In late September '91 we discovered in a newspaper advertising supplement that "National Temporary Help Week" had been announced for the following week. This target was too juicy to pass up. We wheat-pasted our response on walls along Market Street in the Financial District in San Francisco, where most temp work in the city is concentrated. We also used it as the focus of our effort to interfere with a ludicrous public event sponsored by the temp agency morons.
A few hundred bored people milled around Justin Herman Plaza, a vast desolate space at the northeast edge of the Financial District. This plaza is perhaps the largest stretch of open space downtown, so lots of office workers were there during lunch hour. From 12 to 2 pm, the temp agency clowns had a Las Vegas-style lounge singer in a tuxedo and an electric keyboardist playing lite-rock hits under a gazebo. The temp agencies gave out free cans of Coke and hunks of sugary cake. Of course they wouldn't spring for free vino or booze or a catered spread, just lots of wholesome white sugar and corporate caffeine to get 'em amped up for the return to work.
Two of us showed up with several hundred leaflets, calling out, "It's different from all the rest, different from this bullshit!"
Two different befuddled passersby looked at it and exclaimed, "Hey! This is a felony!" A starched office manager politely and officiously invited us to distribute the leaflet elsewhere. We declined her invitation. A particularly submissive office temp doing a stand-up comedy act incorporated our tract into his routine, reading some of the destructive suggestions over the P.A. system, then lamely trying to cap on us.
We gave out all of our leaflets that afternoon, and effectively marred our enemies' festivities. And we got more of a response than we'd anticipated - a series of conversations with up to 20 office workers at one time, plus some enthusiastic letters. We made the point that we weren't objecting to temporary work on moral grounds, but using our exploiters' celebration of our wage-slavery as an opportunity to attack the conditions that impose dispossession and exploitation on us.
A key question emerged in our discussions. Since we are against the unions and against forming new ones, how can an ongoing collective effort against work manifest itself in the super-atomized social terrain of the Financial District's high-rises? This is a difficult question - but it will definitely involve creating mass organizations of struggle against our enemies. Clearly, we'`ll need to go from individual actions alone towards unitary self-organization. We will have to break down all divisions like "white collar" and "blue collar," "native" and "immigrant," employed and unemployed, union and non-union.
On April 19, '92, around 10,000 people participated in a pro-choice march and rally, part of a national day of protest. We handed out a leaflet making the point that the way to get reforms such as free access to abortion is to make our exploiters fear our power by developing it in struggles, forcing them to grant concessions. The Clinton regime's abortion manoevers indicate to us a pre-emptive strategy to avoid confrontations, not any kind of benevolence.
We also stood alongside the march route with a large banner. No one could miss the bloody red letters stating:
A lot of people seemed to like it, but some were obviously confused about what we meant. A drooling herd of starry-eyed Jerry Brown supporters actually cheered it, showing just how scrambled their brains are... Perhaps the slogans were a little vague.
A stalinist militant came up and jeered, "Nice lettering for a bunch of anarchists." We insisted that we aren't "anarchists," we're anti-state communists.
True, the anarchists at the pre-march gathering loved our banner, though some expressed misgivings. They said they considered themselves part of the left - and their ideas show that they are. They urged us to join their contingent in the march, but we declined. Unlike them, we don't wish to be part of the democratic pro-choice pseudo-community. The demo as a whole clearly represented mainstream, vote-and-lobby, reformist ideology. We weren't there to show solidarity with that, but to communicate to people who may have sensed they were being bullshitted.
Other people had similar ideas, distributing an excellent "I'm Pro-choice and I Riot" sticker (detourning a common liberal bumpersticker, "I'm Pro-choice and I Vote").
Two weeks after this rally, the LA and subsequent uprisings burned a hole in American social peace. For a comrade's account of the S.F. riot, see the journal Wildcat (#16, Autumn 1992 - see address on page 43).
In the two days before Election Day in November, about a dozen people wheat-pasted this poster up in the Financial District and at the M-line stop near S.F. State University. Admittedly, that was pretty abysmal distribution.
Considering that there were more people involved in this effort than in any of the others, we should have been more together, started earlier, and covered a lot more ground, especially working class neighborhoods.
(See the magazine's centerfold for the poster.)