ISSUE FOUR WINTER 2018
This issue of Hard Crackers carries excerpts from a book by Dave Ranney about his years as a worker in factories in Chicago’s southeast side. Because he expresses so well the purpose and aim of the journal, we are publishing it as a signed editorial.
As I remembered my experiences of 40 years ago and wrote about them, I found myself alternately laughing and weeping. There is a tendency to forget individual people when we put them into categories. Some politicians, intellectuals and activists refer to “the black community,” “the working class,” “the middle class,” or the “American people” as if the people within each category are all the same. An individual’s racial or class assignment is important because it frames his or her experiences and forms the basis for social movements. But individuals within these broad classifications live individual lives, and have very specific needs, hopes and dreams. Being at the same time black, working class and a specific individual contains a certain tension that Marx called the “social individual.” That tension can at times cause one to withdraw into the world of drugs and alcohol. But at other times it can cause the same individual to step forward and declare (as recounted in this article): “Movin’ us out of here ain’t goin’ to be easy.” My experiences on the factory floor gave me an appreciation for the social and individual dimensions of society and the tension between them. That tension moves people to action. The individuals who make up the working class around the world are thwarted in these hopes and dreams every day, and will be until we are able to band together and create a new society.
One might ask from the vantage point of 2017 whether our efforts some forty years ago made any difference. It is impossible to answer the question in these terms. My factory work certainly had an impact on me, and the way I have lived the rest of my life. I gained insights into how labor in a capitalist society is reduced to a commodity. I glimpsed the potential of a society where labor is a meaningful creative activity rather than a commodity to be exploited. I gained insights into the nature of social class and its relation to race in today’s world. I gained a greater sensitivity to the importance of individuals who make up those categories. I learned how people can change their outlook – change their “human nature” — in the course of a social struggle. I learned first hand about the usefulness and limitations of legal avenues to social change and the proper conduct of intellectuals and the organized left in changing society. Many of these insights were derived from the process of labor as I lived it day by day. Others came from specific experiences such as the Chicago Shortening strike described in my article in this issue of Hard Crackers. Many of these insights came from the words and actions of individual workers as we worked side by side day in and day out.
The factory system in the U.S. is only a shell of what it was in the 1970’s. Factory work has been scattered around the world. And there is no new society as we envisioned it. Sadly, the condition of the working class in the U.S. and around the world is actually worse than forty years ago. As a result, some may conclude that all of these insights I gained were for naught. But I find it difficult to believe that I was the only one who was deeply touched by what I experienced. And if that is the case, others too gained insights from these experiences that could be passed along. As I write this I am seventy-eight years old and will likely never know whether these insights have been passed along to a new generation of workers and radicals who can build on the collective insights of my generation and keep the struggle for a new society alive. But that is my hope and that is why I think our efforts were worthwhile.