Author : David Van Deusen
Sections (TOC) :
• Author's Note
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526 Words; 3,318 Characters
• Chapter 1 : Anarchist Theory
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• Chapter 2 : Street Battles, Armed Defense & Insurrection
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• Chapter 3 : Organization Within Anarchist Federations & Labor Unions
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• Chapter 4 : Working Class Power
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• Chapter 5 : The Struggle Of The Farmers
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• Chapter 6 : Direct Democracy & Town Meeting
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• Chapter 7 : Counter-Culture
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• Chapter 8 : The Abenaki/Native Americans
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• Chapter 9 : Anti-Fascism
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• Chapter 10 : On Elections
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• Chapter 11 : On the Road
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• Chapter 12 : Coda/Sports & Politics
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Sections (Content) :
• Author's Note
This book is dedicated to the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective (Vermont), the Ramblers Motorcycle Family (Quebec), and the Peoples’ Defense Units (YPG) & their armed struggle to establish a Free Territory in Rojava. I encourage all readers to support this struggle however they can and give consideration to becoming a volunteer in their international armed forces.
About The Author
This book is a collection of essays I have written over the past two+ decades. A discerning reader will note that some of my more foundational essays such as Black Bloc Tactics Communique, and Neither Washington Nor Stowe (along with dozens of others) do not appear here. These essays (some of which were coauthored with the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective) were (in my opinion) central to the political themes I have written about (and been engaged in) over the years (especially from 1999-2007). Their absence is due to the fact that they have been brought together in the book On Anarchism: Dispatches From The Peoples Republic of Vermont (Algora Publishing, NYC, 2017). What is contained here are those essays that were excluded from that collection (along with some which have been written after its publication). Even so, I trust that some of the words put on page here will be of interest to the reader and to history.
-David Van Deusen, November 5, 2017
The collected works which you are holding represent twenty years of my life as a writer, theorist, organizer, and revolutionary. Most of these essays, articles, proposals, reports, communiques, and interviews (but not all) relate to Vermont as that has been my home (and the focus of my work). The tone and form that each essay takes differs depending on the intended audience; some being written for revolutionaries; others for leftists generally; some exclusively for union members; and still more for the public. Most of these essays have previously been printed in underground newspapers, and a few in the establishment press. Taken together this collected works will provide a window into the multilayered struggle for radical social change in rural Vermont and beyond, as it unfolded over time.
A focused view into any specific social conflict would itself carry a certain interest to the student of political change. But when the subject is Vermont (within a context of libertarian socialist struggle beyond its borders), perhaps this is especially so. This sparsely populated mountainous region represents a northern fringe of the American Empire. Being on this fringe it has sustained a leftward and libertarian trajectory which often runs counter to the currents of the United States. Demographically Vermont should be a solid pro-Republican, pro-capitalist state. Instead it is home to the strongest leftist third party in the country (the Vermont Progressive Party), has sent a socialist (Bernie Sanders) to represent it in the United States Senate, and has a vibrant social movement. Hence, the story of struggle in Vermont is not just a provincial tale; rather it is an expansive lesson waiting to be learned by those who would risk change. In putting together this collection it is my intent to allow the reader to draw such lessons as they may find from our common success and failure.
The reader will also discern an interplay in the events and efforts the essays reflect between theory and action; neither acting as the driver alone. This interplay is necessary as the politics of social transformation cannot be dogmatic. If there is an absolute path towards victory, we, as a people, have not found it. Nor has any cult of personality delivered more than the expected. As such, I am loathe to paint any single approach to fundamental change as exclusive to another. In all likelihood there is no map with X marking the spot of social revolution. Rather social revolution is more likely something we will stumble upon like a drunk in the night, and then spend the next hundred years trying to dissect and categorize. And even then, we may find that our conclusions lose meaning without a living context.
Therefore, in this meantime we experience as our lives, the best we can do is what we can: subversive art, clandestine operations, militant street actions, building of counter-institutions, union organizing, and even the occasional election should not be understood as mutually exclusive endeavors to an effective movement. Together they are a mosaic that gives depth to our noble if quixotic adventure into a future yet unwritten.
-In Solidarity, David Van Deusen, Cabot Vermont, May 1, 2017
• Chapter 1 : Anarchist Theory
• Chapter 2 : Street Battles, Armed Defense & Insurrection
• Chapter 3 : Organization Within Anarchist Federations & Labor Unions
Proposal To: The Federation of Revolutionary Anarchist Collectives-Great Lakes Region
Submitted By: The Black Heart Anarchist Collective-Columbus Ohio, December 25 2001
Columbus, Ohio, 2001 –We do not question the need to form tightknit membership based revolutionary anarchist federations. This need is self-evident. We recognize the need to do so on a regional basis, so that organization can be more responsive to the cultural, social, and economic particularities of the region in which it is situated. Regional organizations also carry the added benefit of being autonomous and self-sustaining. Therefore, if one particular federation suffers internal problems, the broader organized movement cannot be dragged down with it.
To date, upon the continent of North America, there is only one such federation (the Northeast Federation of Anarcho Communists-NEFAC) and, to our knowledge, only one other in the process of forming (the Federations of Revolutionary Anarchist Collectives-FRAC). It is our hope that individual anarchists and collectives located within different regions will take it upon themselves to form additional regional bodies in the coming months. We also urge NEFAC (and FRAC after it is officially launched) to give whatever support they can to persons/collectives which take the initiative in forming such organizations. We must strive to develop such federations all throughout the continent so that a strong and organized revolutionary anarchist movement of the working class can begin to engage in concerted campaigns which bring us closer to the social revolution, which is both necessary and encompasses that which we desire and our passions demand.
Regional federations should develop out of the experiences of individual anarchists and collectives as found within the given social environment. They should be founded upon anti-statist, anti-authoritarian principles which are compatible with the basic tenants of revolutionary socialism. In a word, they must seek to bring forth a world in which the means of production are owned and controlled by those whose present social position is that of the poor and working class. Such a world must function according to participatory and directly democratic means while guaranteeing a material, political, and social equity for all, as well as deliver a society which is both more interesting and esthetically pleasing by virtue of the unleashing of the creative aspirations of the masses.
“From each according to their abilities. To each according to their need.”
These federations need to be composed of dedicated anarchists who understand the need of struggle, and who through experience also understand the pragmatic means by which struggle can potentially be transformed into victory. They must be rooted in their local communities, or, in some cases, be fully immersed in their life on the road. This, along with a commitment to the revolution, must be the minimum requirement for membership into the collectives which compose the various regional federations.
We welcome the formation of FRAC, of which we hope to be part of. We hope that this potential organization will become operational and manifest during the course of the coming year; even more preferably by May Day, 2002.
In is of our opinion that soon after FRAC becomes politically functional, it should seek to establish formal ties, while still maintaining federation autonomy, with NEFAC in the form of a strategic alliance and a program of mutual assistance. The adoption of such strategies and programs should be facilitated through open proposals, discussions, and debates through the means of an internet listserve set up exclusively for these reasons, as well as by direct correspondences through the mail, telephone, and personal meetings. Mutually agreed upon points should be ratified at an annual continental alliance congress, at which delegates from all federations should be present. The exact process by which ratification should occur should be decided at the first such congress.
In turn, these federations should encourage the establishment of further regional anarchist federations. Their structural goal being the establishment of such groupings throughout all distinct cultural, social, and economic regions of North America.
Prior to the formation of such other regional federations, independent collectives should be encouraged to formally connect themselves to the broader anarchist alliance on a provisional basis. The status of such independent collectives should remain provisional until such time when they themselves organize a regional federation within their area of operation. At that time, such federations should be encouraged to join the broader anarchist alliance as fully recognized and equal partners. The process by which future regional anarchist federations should be functionally incorporated into the alliance should also be decided at the first continental alliance congress.
Such federations, while developing autonomous point by point programs based on the needs and desires of the broader poor and working class communities living within their select region, need to create a formal inter-federation anarchist alliance, and move to develop a mutually accepted North American revolutionary strategy. However, in order for any emerging continental anarchist strategy to become effective, the various anarchist federations, from whom such strategic proposals can be expected to emanate, must develop a dynamic relation within the broadest tenants of the contemporary social movement. Here the federations must help facilitate a macro and micro structure through which it can effect a further radicalization of the mass movement.
We must recognize that the regional federations will, at least at this historic juncture, most likely will materialize as small, tightknit membership organizations with a likely constituency of maybe 100-500 members per region (as is the present case with NEFAC). Such small organizations lack the mass base for them to go-it-alone. Therefore, for them to be effective in regards to radicalizing the broader population, they must have a sophisticated method of interacting with the masses at large. Here we contend that the best way for such small highly politicized federations to do so is through working directly with larger radical leftist organizations which already exist, and in turn to encourage a concerted effort on their part to engage the rank and file of the even larger left-leaning/more liberal mass organizations such as within the labor movement and the social justice movement.
We must strive to democratically consolidate the efforts of the already organized masses so that the revolutionary aspirations of the self-conscious poor and working classes can begin to spread like wildfire. And where the masses are not organized and are still slumbering in the delusions of consumerism and institutional oppression, we must directly facilitate the basic awakening of class consciousness and help provide the social and political vehicles necessary for a broad based class struggle.
A Structural Proposal
We contend that such regional anarchist federations should act as the facilitator of a more radical world/class analysis. Such leanings can already be found among the natural inclinations of the poor and working classes, as well as among the more oppressed people generally. Even so, in order for such a highly radical and politicized membership organization to be effective, it must not seek to be the official umbrella of the larger movement. Rather it must, in part, work within the broader mass movement in order to influence its course. This is in no way meant in imply that the revolutionary politics of the federations should be watered down in order to create a quasi-reformist united front. On the contrary, we believe that a well-organized system of inter-organization fluidity can result in the presently liberal influenced elements of the mass movement becoming further radicalized without the anarchist federations compromising their revolutionary positions. We assert that this can best be achieved through select members of the federated collectives joining and participating in other larger organizations which are not specifically anarchistic.
“All workers are socialists, regardless if they know it or not.”
We see this strategy as two prong. First, certain members of the federated collectives should join already existing larger radical left-wing organizations. Second, members of these other organizations, as emanating out of local chapters, should be encouraged to become involved in the even larger left-leaning liberal influenced mass organizations as found within the labor movement and the social justice movement. Here we mean specifically that of Anti-Racist Action (ARA) and, possibly, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). We view these organizations as gateway groups with the potential to act as a link between the highly politicized and strictly anarchist left, and the mass base of the largely liberal influenced labor movement and social justice movement.
This is not to say that the federations should seek to infiltrate, control, or manipulate such organizations. That is a dirty task best left to dirty authoritarian and self-destructive groups who lack popular support. For us, we must be very open about our presence within other organizations, and not seek to control them, but rather to foster a more thorough radical social and political analysis into their world view.
When the federation alliance adopts a strategic platform which requires the participation of these gateway groups, the platform should be brought to the local chapters of these organizations through the dual members. At that time the proposal will, of course, be discussed and debated. If the proposal is unacceptable to these organizations, it should be brought back to the federation alliance for necessary modification. Likewise, when and if certain strategic initiatives develop from these larger organizations, they can quickly be brought to the federations’ attention, again, through the dual members.
This task of inserting federation members into ARA and the IWW will not take an extraneous amount of work, as many of us, especially those of us who are involved with the formation of FRAC, are already members of such organizations and are only now coming to form more specifically anarchist collectives which we already hold dual membership in. However, the formation of federated collectives should not be carried out as an unofficial leadership clique within already existing groups. Nor should such collectives be formed as paper organizations, essentially existing in name only with all local organizing and actions being done solely through the broader group of which members are part of. Nor should groups such as ARA be weakened to critical points through the formation of such collectives (i.e. through a significant amount of members leaving in order to form anarchist collectives). Here we must strike a reasonable balance, and seek to organize in such a way as those already existing larger radical organizations are strengthened rather than weakened.
We suggest that we strive for a balanced ratio whereby at least two ARA and two IWW chapters exist per every one federated collective. In areas where ARA and IWW chapters do not exist, federated collectives should make it a priority to help establish such chapters, and in turn these chapters should be composed of a large majority of individuals who are not also members of federated collectives. In addition, we recommend that only a small amount of members of each anarchist collective hold an active dual membership within their collective and another broader organization such as ARA or the IWW. This would ideally translate into federated collectives having one or two fully recognized members within each ARA and IWW chapter within the area of the federated collective’s zone of operation. Even so, we recognize the necessity of each federated collective making such exact decisions on their own, based on the specific dynamics of their local scene. Even so, maintaining a tight limit on the number of dual members per collective would seem advisable so as we do not get ourselves into a position where we create an organization while retaining a super-active role within an existing organization – thereby creating twice as much work for each member. We recognize that ultimately workloads will be decided by the individual and we are not to say who can handle what. However we must create a balance wherein we do not over extend ourselves, and thus do two times as much half-ass work, rather than focus our time and abilities on limited projects which we carry through with the utmost of thought and effort.
The role of such dual members would, in part, be to keep the federated collective in contact with the day to day campaigns and operations of the broader organizations while simultaneously suggesting a more radical politic to the local chapters of these other organizations. These gateway organizations should then come to fulfill certain structural roles within the broader continental-wide working class strategy for social revolution.
For such an organizational plan to be successful, NEFAC, FRAC, and future regional federations would have to prioritize the task of creating new ARA and IWW chapters in areas where the federation is active. At the present time there are roughly 11 ARA and 10 IWW chapters in NEFAC’s region of operation; this in comparison NEFAC’s 7 federated collectives and few support collectives. In kind, there are roughly 21 ARA and 12 IWW chapters in the broader region of FRAC’s area of operation; this in comparison to an undetermined number of potential FRAC collectives. With the possible exception of FRAC in relation to ARA’s, the above ratios are still too unbalanced to maximize the effectiveness of anarchist federations in relation to the developing broader radical community. Therefore, these less sectarian groupings must be strengthened and chapters need to multiply so that the developing discontent of youth and workers can be effectively channeled through the organized bodies of radical opposition.
Why Anti-Racist Action?
ARA presently encompasses 50 chapters throughout North America and is a nonsectarian organization which functions upon directly democratic principles. Its primary focus has historically been to attack fascists at the street level, and in doing so allowing for the space necessary for leftists to organize in a somewhat less combative social sphere. One of its strengths is that it has a certain appeal to young people who, although they may not recognize themselves explicitly as anarchists, come to identify themselves as militant anti-fascists. For many people ARA becomes an impetus, through direct political experience, for individuals to gain pragmatic insight and to develop a more radical world view. In addition, some ARA chapters have been successful in entering coalitions on the local level that, for better or worse, are more representative of the broader social justice movement. In some cities, such as Columbus Ohio, ARA chapters have official representatives in coalitions such as Jobs With Justice, the local anti-war group, a community newspaper, etc.. These are positive characteristics that should be continued and further pursued.
We recommend that ARA chapters continue their direct and militant anti-fascist work, while also making it a priority to connect with the broader social justice movement in the area in which the chapter in question is active. These two facets of ARA activity should, respectively, be the first and second priority of the organization. And in its capacity as a vehicle connecting the more radical element of the broad leftist movement with the more democratic socialist/liberal element it must seek to suggest a more thorough militant energy into these historically less dynamic tendencies –not necessarily by engaging the leadership of such organizations, but by making strong connections with the rank and file of such organizations. ARA must build strong grassroots connections between all spectrums of the social justice movement, thereby creating necessary connections between the more militant left and the mass base of organized status quo opposition. It will be through such constructed inter-organizational relationships (between the anarchist federations and the larger radical gateway groups, between gateway groups and the mass organizations) that future continental-wide strategic programs can be brought from the relative isolation of the federation, to the already organized masses.
We recommend that ARA chapters utilize a similar model as that discussed above relating to federation dual members. Furthermore, the ARA-social justice movement dual members should not be composed of persons already serving in a similar capacity in relation to the regional anarchist federation and ARA. To do so would translate into federated members taking on a disproportional amount of work, as well as compromising the political autonomy of the ARA chapter in question. We do not and cannot advocate the development of inter-organizational relations whereby the regional anarchist federations come to artificially dominate other larger groupings. When federation/alliance policy/strategy comes to be accepted by larger groupings and/or the mass organizations, it should do so through the conscious adaptation of such principles by the free constituency of the organization.
“The bourgeoisie came to power because it is the class of the developing economy. The proletariat cannot itself come to power except by becoming the class of consciousness.”
-Guy Debord, Society of The Spectacle
It will be through the building of such positive working relationships that the more liberal inclinations of the moderate left can begin to be subverted, with the effect of establishing a more spirited movement with clear rank and file respect and understanding between those who advocate more direct action and those who historically, although sympathetic, display more timid characteristics and reformist platforms. Without the building of such networks the process of bringing more activists to a more radical/revolutionary line can be expected to be obscured by the perceived lack of more militant options.
We also must recognize the changing of the political climate; first following Genoa, and second since the September 11th attacks. Genoa revealed a growing conservativism among the broader leftist organizations in Europe. For it was many of these organizations which not only publically denounced the actions of the Black Bloc, but some of them went so far as to physically restrain them or prevent their free movement during street battles with police. It is rational to expect that this trend, insofar as Europe seems to be on a similar political and social trajectory as the U.S. (only in a more advanced stage), will eventually make itself domestically manifest in the near future. And again, September 11th brought a massive rise in the overt abilities of the police state, again effectively spooking many less radical elements of the North American left. Therefore, groups like ARA should be encouraged to build strong relationships with the rank and file of these groups in order to help foster a feeling of courage and hope as well as to attempt to prevent (or at least minimize) any trend aimed at the further de-radicalization of these larger social justice groups. We must remember many of the consistent 10,000 or so direct action protesters at the more recent demonstrations have emerged out of these groups. To lose them would clearly weaken the effectiveness of large actions at this time. Finally, it is through positive contact with groups like ARA that we can better guarantee the general support for ‘diversity of tactics’ as has grown out of A20 (The Battle of Quebec City).
ARA, while still retaining its first priority of attacking fascists on the street level, has the potential to act as the bridge between the broader social justice movement and the highly politicized anarchist federations. Through strong working relations and a concerted effort on the part of the regional anarchist federations and ARA chapters, we will have the capacity to create stronger more effective continuum ranging from the anarchist federations all the way through the much larger and presently liberal-dominated social justice movement. And it is through the establishment of such a continuum that a strong sense of solidarity and more radical consciousness can begin to more fluently move throughout the ranks of the masses.
Why The IWW?
The Industrial Workers of the World is a labor union/organization which functions according to directly democratic principles and has the stated goal of the workers seizing the means of production. The IWW contains approximately 55 North American chapters with a total membership of around 1500 persons, making it one of the largest anarchist influenced organizations in North America. In addition, the IWW officially represents several workplaces and produces a monthly newspaper (The Industrial Worker) which boasts a fairly broad distribution base. This labor union/organization can trace its roots back to the turn of the century, with its political heyday centering around the time leading up until World War I when its membership was estimated to have been over 100,000.
The IWW’s long history is significant in that it was this union which played a pivotal in gaining many of the basic rights which the North American worker nominally has today (i.e. the eight hour work day). Many other skilled trade unions, such as the electrician’s union in NY (IBEW), presently require that apprentices take a college level course which teaches about the history of labor movement. And within these courses, a significant amount of time is given to the historical efforts of the IWW. In other words, even though this union is quite radical, it has maintained a certain degree of psychological acceptability even among the more conservative elements of the unions.
Today the IWW is still active within the labor movement. More recently there have been several IWW organizing campaigns aimed at unionizing select workplaces as well as concerted efforts to gain workers’ benefits at non-unionized shops. The IWW has also marched with larger unions at all major anti-globalization demonstrations from Seattle (N30) to Quebec City (A20). It was the IWW, along with elements of the Sheet Metal Workers & United Steel Workers, which acted as the radical contingent within the usually subdued labor marches. In Seattle it was these elements which led the breakaway march to the downtown area (the site of the major protester/police clashes). On local levels, IWW chapters have, at times, made headway in regards to connecting with other more mainstream union locals. At times these connections have been utilized as a de facto common front aimed against anti-worker corporate interests.
Structurally the IWW functions on a democratic delegate system. Major decisions are made collectively at annual conventions. Membership can be achieved by being in a workplace represented by the union, being in a local chapter formally recognized by the organization, or simply by being a dues paying worker. All members are required to pay a monthly dues ranging from $6 ($72 a year), depending on income. Members are allowed to retain an additional membership in a different union (i.e. AFL-CIO). There is only one paid member of the union –that being the elected Chairperson.
We contend that this organization is potentially capable of being a strong force within the labor movement and within the movement towards social revolution generally. It is nonsectarian, although it’s implied politics clearly favor that of anarcho-syndicalism. Its focus upon the obvious struggles of the worker, in the workplace, make it potentially appealing to a wide range of working class persons. Its acceptance of members who hold an additional membership within another union makes it an organization with potential to enter the political arena of the large unions such as the UAW and Teamsters. In many regards the IWW has the ability to act as a powerful gateway organization between the anarchist federations and the 13,000,000 union members throughout the U.S. Also, its primary function of organizing non-unionized workplaces holds the potential to bring more working class persons into the organized ranks of the movement.
We recognize that some anarchists from within the federations may assert that the IWW, as syndicalists of a certain stripe, hold certain ideological differences with certain tendencies within anarcho-communist groups. Here we would counter with the claim that the social revolution, as well as the free society which emerges through this struggle, will take on many forms within the general parameters of direct democracy and socialism. Certain regions, or even certain industries, will come to organize themselves along lines which are consistent with the basic notions of anarchism and which best meet the challenges of their particular circumstances. Therefore, we do not see the slight ideological differences between the various anti-authoritarian-socialist organizations as problematic inasmuch as we view them as healthy differences within a united yet diverse movement.
As a potential gateway organization, the federated anarchist collectives should approach the IWW in the same ways (as recommended above) that we approach ARA. We should help build chapters where there are none, and we should have a select number of dual members who join locals. In turn, the IWW, while maintaining their first priority of organizing the unorganized, should begin to place select IWW members within the larger unions. Ideally each IWW chapter would have at least one member also being a rank and file member of a larger union, and another member joining a larger union in the role of a staff organizer. In the same way that we advocate ARA developing stronger inroads to the social justice movement, we see the IWW as a means to develop a continuum between the anarchist federations and the broadest elements of the organized labor movement.
Developing such connections with the mass union rank and file is unquestionably a required task that needs to be carried out. We all recognize the official leadership of the large unions as bureaucrats who, more than often, place their interests as powerful figures within the status quo above the best interests of the working class as a whole. Before and since Seattle, these power brokers have been turning 10,000s out into the streets in order to demand ‘fair trade’ and ‘a seat at the table’ (meaning representatives on such capitalist organizations as the World Trade Organization). When and if this moderate request is granted by the plutocracy, it must be expected that the ‘leaders’ of these unions will make an effort to gain the complacency their members. No longer will they be officially mobilized for mass actions against the economic structures of capitalism. No longer will they be officially agitated on the issues of neo-liberalism. Their leaders will seek normalization of the relations between capital and labor. They will attempt to deliver stability as the price for more power within the framework of ruling class homogeny. We must plan now for this eventuality and we must find ways to limit the ability of the bureaucrats to turn back the tide of social unrest. When these leaders call on workers not to attend demonstrations, we must have other voices ostensibly from within their ranks who can out shout the conservative hierarchy. We see this as a task well cutout for the IWW.
However, the fact that the IWW is maybe 99,000 members smaller than they were before World War I, and the fact that they only officially represent a tiny number of small workplaces, makes this organization a questionable ally with a seemingly dead end trajectory. This being said, we would argue that with some slight internal modification this organization could quickly experience a full renaissance. First of all, the organization needs to win a big victory. It cannot wait for its bread and butter to walk upon the plate. It needs to identify a larger nonunion workplace of maybe 1200 employes with optimal conditions for organizing. Once this target is found, at least 75% of its resources, over the course of a year, should be geared to win this victory. Such a large win, in addition nearly doubling membership, would massively increase the economic abilities of the organization, effectively generating thousands of dollars a week for the union; which in turn could be used on massive educational campaigns and additional union drives.
However, for such a victory to be turned into a sustainable success we recommend that the IWW repeal its current policy of not automatically deducting union dues out of each paycheck. The system they currently operate under, that of voluntarily handing over dues to the local shop steward, suits its present conditions of only representing small workplaces. But once those numbers grow into the thousands, it would seem advisable to do so automatically in order to maintain efficiency and to guarantee a more or less set income every week. The resulting economic stability would seem to better serve a sustained mass organizing drive –the kind of which our times absolutely demand.
Another retarding factor regarding the IWW growth is its policy of requiring a set monthly dues from all card carrying members –regardless of whether or not they are presented by the union or active members within a local chapter. These dues are seen by many poor and working class persons, who are not officially represented by the union, as a means by which to throw away some much needed cash that could better be spent on food and rent. The minimum dues of $72 annually is a lot of money for a person making $9000 a year. If the IWW did away with the economic requirement it would not be surprising to see their membership grow by 2000 from this change alone in a single year; all told it is conceivable that it could reach a total of 10,000 within five years. But here of course the question becomes ‘if these potential members are not in a represented workplace and if they are not politically active within a local chapter, then why bother considering them members of an organization they do not take an active role within?’ Here we have to understand that the social revolution is not simply a political question demanding political activity. It is first and foremost a social question, and with that the question of social identity becomes a major factor. For ultimately the social revolution, as mapped out by Mikhail Bakunin, requires the development of a class consciousness among the great majority of laborers. Without the development of such no political revolution will arise out of the masses that carries with it the broader social aspirations of a classless, stateless, free society. And with the above in mind, we view it as a positive thing if a worker comes to identify him/herself as one who supports the world view of leftwing syndicalism –and namely that of the IWW. The moment of such a self-realization is a moment of which class consciousness, ever so slightly, advances. And with that, this new identity should be supported through the incorporation of that worker into the larger community of the radical left. To give that person an IWW union card would, at the very minimum, help further the physiological grounding of that person as one that sees themselves on the radical left. And here, even if that worker does not take an active role within the broader IWW, it can be expected that s/he will at least talk about her/his views with other workers and friends, and in kind educate them about the organization in which s/he is a member. This activity can be expected to result in more workers becoming interested in the IWW and some may even join, and others may even start an active local chapter. Thus even the way in which a worker comes to identify her/himself bares with it the potential to further the growth of class consciousness –as well as, in the long run, increasing the operational effectiveness of the radical left as a whole.
If the IWW does not make these changes or develop a different means by which it can demonstrate a sustained growth and influence within the broader labor movement, we must be prepared to modify the above recommendations. For if the union fails to emerge as a significant force within labor, then it may become necessary for the federations to limit their interaction with the IWW in favor of helping develop independent anarchist labor unions. In a word, either the wheel we have will work, or, regrettably, we must reinvent the fucking thing.
The above has been presented in order to better frame the question as to how the emerging anarchist community can disseminate a revolutionary disposition among the broadest elements of the working class and social justice movement as a whole. We recognize that some persons/collectives will charge us with putting the cart before the horse (so to speak). This, in that we advocate building semi-formal relations throughout the broadest aspects of the left in order to effectively carry out a North American anarchist strategy which does not sufficiently exist. However, we see such structure as being necessary to construct prior to or simultaneously with the construction of such a plan of action. For any such plan would wither away in its own isolation within the anarchist ghetto if it is not allowed the social motion that this proposal, or a similar such model, would better allow for.
Of course we recognize that the above model must be allowed the space for general modifications within certain regions. In select areas it may make more sense to engage in gateway organizations other than ARA and the IWW. However, for the most part we believe that the above groups fit these roles well.
Finally, we would like to end this proposal by noting that while the language found throughout this document is political, and although we obviously view the formation of political organizations and the development of political strategies to be both necessary and positive, we do not and cannot understand the political struggle to be the be-all-and-end-all of the anarchist movement. On the contrary, we see this struggle as being fundamentally of a social kind, and as such we understand the struggle towards revolution to be largely of a cultural sort. We see capitalism and all authoritarian systems as manifestations of a culture of death and oppression; an anti-culture. We see the developing anarchist movement, by enlarge, being the realization of the social revolution through the development of a working class counter-culture. And while the politics are an absolutely necessary facet of this struggle, we see them as representing no more than the skeleton of a complex and horizontal social fabric which can and will surmount the palisades of anti-culture.
“There are a thousand hacking at the braches of evil to one that is hacking at the root.”
-Henry David Thoreau
The Black Heart Anarchist Collective,
The Midwest, North America
• Chapter 4 : Working Class Power
• Chapter 5 : The Struggle Of The Farmers
Northeast Kingdom, Barton VT, Spring 2003- Less than thirty years ago there were 4,000 dairy farms throughout the Green Mountain of Vermont. Today there are just 1200 remaining. Out of these, farmers and agricultural experts state that 200 or more are facing the very real possibility of being forced out of business in the coming year. These farmers are currently receiving between $10-$11 per hundred weight for raw milk. This is down approximately 40% from a year ago when the going market value was regularly $17 per hundred weight. At the present wholesale price many family farmers are unable to cover the basic costs of living. In contrast, the retail price of processed milk has risen and so called co-ops (who are middlemen) & processors are seeing record profits.
For many of these farmers hope is being kindled through the formation of a new organization called the Dairy Farmers of Vermont (DFV). The intension of this organization is to band together as much raw milk produced in the state as they can, and then proceed to collectively bargain with dairy co-ops and processors in order to bring up the prices. Peter Sterling, an organizer for the group, states “we intend to push the processors to pay the farmers a fair and stable price and put that into a long term contract.”
The organizational drive of DFV was launched in earnest over the course of this past winter. Their immediate goal was to represent one third of all raw milk produced in the state, and then in the spring move towards negotiations with the co-ops and processors. Since then they have met their initial goal by signing up over 300 dairy farms, representing a staggering 850,000,000 lbs. of raw milk. DFV organizers now project that negotiations will begin in a matter of weeks.
On Saturday, April 26, forty dairy farmers gathered in the Barton Grange Hall for a chicken dinner and some live country/bluegrass music in celebration of meeting their spring goals. In-between music, food, and drinks, Anthony Pollina (a DFV organizer and leader in the social democratic Vermont Progressive Party) facilitated a conversation during which the farmers expressed deep concern over dropping prices and the lack of communication & accountability of the co-ops/processors. Farmers also articulated the negative effects so called free trade has had on the industry. One farmer brought up the fact that large amounts of raw foreign milk, subsidized by the Canadian government, is now being shipped to processing plants in New England at the expense of Vermont farmers. This farmer went on to explain how this corporate practice is a result of NAFTA & the policies of the World Trade Organization, and how this not only hurts Vermont farmers, but are also undermining the rights and hard earned gains of Quebec farmers and their organizations. While many present expressed deep frustration with the situation, the night as a whole was marked with optimism that DFV can and will make concreate gains for the Vermont family farmer.
DFV also hopes to facilitate the purchasing of a farmer owned processing plant, possibly in Springfield Vermont. The estimated purchasing costs are presently estimated at three to four million dollars. When asked by this writer, Peter Sterling asserted “we are currently working on this and it is moving very quickly.” If DFV can do this, it is expected that the rate of return for participating farmers would drastically increase as the cost of the middleman would be completely taken out of the picture.
When negotiations get underway, DFV will have farmers, allied labor leaders, and attorneys on their side of the table. DFV intends on making the process open to the public and democratic. Any final agreement between themselves and the co-ops/processors will have to be ratified by a majority of the member-farmers before it is final.
Northeast Kingdom, Vermont, Fall 2003- As of this coming December it will have been one year ago that the first meeting of the Dairy Farmers of Vermont (DFV) took place. In an old barn in Derby Line, a couple of farmers and two organizers (Peter Sterling and Anthony Pollina) shot the bull about the need for a farmer organization here in the Green Mountains. With that, they began what many thought would be impossible. At first folks said “farmers will never join an organization.” Then, hundreds of them did. Even then, naysayers scoffed that the co-ops/processors would never agree to bargaining meetings. They did.
The Dairy Farmers of Vermont, a democratic organization representing 314 Vermont farms accounting for one third of all raw milk produced in the state, have recently completed the first round of negotiations with the so-called co-ops/processors. The meetings were held in Vermont’s Capital City of Montpelier. The stated goal of DFV is to bring up the price they receive for their product to levels which will guarantee the survival of the family farm. To date the price of raw milk continues to be close to $11 a hundred weight. This is down from the $17 that they were receiving a year and a half ago. In spite of these falling wholesale prices the retail price for a gallon has risen during the same period. At the current level, numerous farms have gone under and those that are still in operation find it hard to cover the basic costs of electricity, fuel, and supplemental food for their family.
This first round of talks occurred within a fog of mutual mistrust and hostility. Many farmers harbor negative feelings towards the co-ops. The co-ops ostensibly set the rate the farmers receive for raw milk, and they are therefore the obvious target of farmers who are upset about the plummeting prices. This mutual hostility is furthered by the fact that the co-ops, theoretically owned by member-farmers, have evolved into capitalist corporations which seek to further their own agenda as opposed to acting in the collective interests of its participants. They clearly do not answer to the individual farmers, and they rarely show any interest in the thoughts, concerns, problems, and wellbeing of the farms from which they collect their raw products (just ask any Vermont farmer!). Irasburg dairy farmer and DFV member Maureen Lehouillier says “the co-ops are bleeding the life out of dairy farms.” Even so, the first round of talks is being heralded by farmers as a good first step in the right direction.
The DFV negotiating committee, made up of farmers & allies from organized labor, held three separate meetings with representatives from Agrimark, the St. Albans Co-op, and the Dairy Farmers of America cooperation (the latter two are both members of the umbrella group Dairy Marketing Services). Each of these meetings counted ten to twenty farmers in attendance. DFV organizers are calling these meetings significant in that it was the first time that the co-ops and the farmers were able to sit down and have serious conversations about prices and the industry in general.
At the meetings DFV laid out various options. One was that the co-ops raise the price they pay for raw milk, or at least eliminate certain deductions that they take out of the farmers’ check such as the ‘hauling fee’ (a fee for the use of milk trucks), ‘truck stop charge’ (a charge for the milk truck actually stopping at the farm), and the ‘promotion charge’ (a charge supposedly for the marketing of the collective product). It was pointed out that the hauling fee and the truck stop fee are redundant and unnecessary and that all these various charges culminate in a substantial price reduction as far as the farmer is concerned. The second option put forth by DFV was that it is increasingly possible that they will purchase their own plant in Springfield Vermont, and market a new line of “Vermont Made” milk. If this becomes a reality it is understood that such a farmer owned operation would effectively eliminate many of the middlemen, and therefore raise the amount of revenue that actually makes it back into the farmers’ pocket. DFV argued that if and when this occurs, the co-ops must begin to work with them in good faith or risk being cut out of the equation. Here it should be mentioned that the St. Albans Co-op currently owns the “Family Farms of Vermont” line of milk, but has thus far put no significant resources into its promotion. DFV asked this co-op to give, sell, or redirect the bottling of this product to DFV through the future Springfield plant (this “Vermont” milk is currently bottled in New Hampshire). While St. Albans has not yet agreed to these possibilities, they have not ruled them out.
As a whole, DFV members and organizers contend that this first round of negotiations, while reaching no reaching no definitive conclusions, have gone well. The meetings with the Dairy Farmers of America and the St. Albans Co-op were more or less cordial given the starting point.
The meeting with Agrimark (who initially refused to meet with DFV) was more confrontational, but not without some promise. Dairy Farmers of America, for their part, appeared interested in working with DFV in the production of a well marketed Vermont brand of milk (one that would presumably be of high quality and carry a slightly higher retail price that would directly benefit farmers). It appears possible that they could work with DFV in regards to their proposed Springfield operation.
In regards to DFV charges that the co-ops can afford to pay farmers more than they currently do, Dairy Farmers of America representatives alleged that it was not the co-ops which are responsible for the low wholesale prices. They claimed that much of the blame should be laid on large retail operations such as Wal-Mart, other large chain stores, and cheese processors; all of whom compel the co-ops to sell them milk at reduced rates. The DFV negotiating committee countered that if this is true, then the co-ops should be willing to stand together with the farmers and their organizations in order to confront these corporations in a united manner. When asked about this possibility by CT News, DFV organizer Anthony Pollina said “what we are looking for is farmers and organized labor to take on not only the [so called] co-ops, but the Wal-Mart’s of the world, so farmers and consumers can get their fair share.”
Another round of negotiations as well as special Town Meetings are planned for the coming months. DFV spokespeople say they are optimistic that this second round will lead to more concreate results. Now that the general parameters of the negotiations have taken form, the co-ops are encouraging the organization to come forth with more detailed concreate proposals. Any eventual agreement and contract reached between the negotiating committee and the co-ops will have to be ratified by DFV member-farmers; one farmer, one vote.
In related news, rumors have been circulating that political officials in New England have been considering reviving a version of the now dead “Northeast Dairy Compact” (previously killed by the Republican controlled U.S. House and Senate). The revived program would take form in a manner aimed at circumventing the need for Congressional approval. The rumored multi-state agreement would link the retail price of milk (which has been on the rise) with the price received by farmers (which has been on the decline), setting a ratio whereby the wholesale price would become more stable and fair. In other words the agreement would stipulate that if the retail price was to rise by a certain amount, then the farmer would have to be paid an equivalent amount more for their raw product. CT News will be following both these stories and will be bringing you news as events unfold.
Montpelier, Vermont, July 29 2006- With the price of raw milk remaining at unsustainable lows, Vermont’s dairy industry faces what many farmers and experts are calling ‘a crisis of historical proportions.’ Non-organic dairy farmers are currently receiving $12 a hundred weight; that is $5 less than two years ago, and the same price, unadjusted for inflation, that they received as far back as 1994. This latest downturn is forcing farmers to tighten a belt that, according to the Dairy Farmers of Vermont (DFV) organization, is already cutting off the life blood of the state’s dairy industry. Since 1975 an estimated 2900 farms were forced to close. Of the approximate 1100 that remain, many are on the verge of a similar fate.
In response the Douglas Administration has been seeking to make low interest rate loans available to farmers as a means to stem the time of closings (already 100 over the last year). However, DFV, which represents over 300 farms, insists that such measures will do little or nothing to reverse the tide of collapse.
“[Governor Douglas] offers programs of low interest loans which [farmers] don’t need. They won’t take them because they can’t afford any more loans. They are already maxed out,” asserts DFV organizer Peter Sterling.
Instead, DFV is rapidly moving forward with its plan to open a farmer owned processing plant and to bottle a Vermont brand of milk. DFV intends this brand to be both affordable and widely available throughout New England. And by cutting out the current co-ops/processors, DFV expects farmers to be paid between $17-$19 a hundred weight over a two year contract.
Currently famers are compelled to work under the thumb of the so called co-ops, which are supposed to negotiate the price received from processors further down the line. Such processing plants are often located out-of-state and do not separate Vermont’s milk from that of the rest during pasteurization and bottling.
The idea of a farmer owned milk plant was first floated by the organization in 2003. In 2004 DFV came to the Vermont General Assembly asking for $500,000 towards the purchasing of such a plant in Springfield, VT. Under pressure from the Governor the bill died in the VT House. This time DFV claims to have backing from sufficient private investors and expects to be in operation, somewhere in the Northeast Kingdom, by winter.
“The leading candidate for the location of the processing plant is in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont… because that is where most Vermont dairy farmers still exist. We want to be close to the dairy farmers for many reasons, not least of which is that it lowers the shipping costs,” says Sterling.
As for the startup capital, “it will cost anywhere from two to three million dollars to get the processing plant going with the packaging, the add marketing, and all that. We are raising it from private investors who believe that this is a good investment for Vermont’s economy and rural communities,” continues Sterling.
DFV projects that the plant will initially include slightly less than twenty farmers but will seek to expand as fast as possible. DFV spokesmen contend that opening such a farmer owned processing plant will also have the ripple effect of driving up wholesale prices across the region.
“We want to draw as much Vermont milk as we can through this plant. For every farmer we get to bring their milk through this plant we will make the farm economy that much stronger… the goal is to change the system by giving farmers not only control over their milk but giving an independent, truly farmer owned outlet for Vermont milk,” states Sterling.
Montpelier Vermont, August 1, 2006 – In 2002 a group of Vermont dairy farmers approached organizers Anthony Pollina and Peter Sterling and asked them to help form a democratic organization that could effectively fight for farmers’ rights. What grew out of this is the Dairy Farmers of Vermont (DFV). Today this grassroots organization consists of over 300 farms representing a staggering eight hundred and fifty million pounds of annual raw milk, or one third of the total produced in the state. They expect to open a farmer owned milk processing plant sometime shortly after the year’s first significant snow fall. What follows is an interview with DFV organizer Peter Sterling about the organization, their future plans, as well as the general state of agriculture in Vermont and beyond.
David Van Deusen: Peter, what is the situation with Vermont’s dairy farms?
Peter Sterling: Under Clinton and the Bush administration there has been enormous consolidation in the processing industry. Where [Vermont] farmers, twenty years ago had 15-20 places they could sell their milk, now they basically have two…Agrimark and Dairy Farmers of America, [the latter of which] gobbled up the St. Albans Coop.
Because farmers don’t have enough places to sell their milk these two big corporations, which control 85% of the fluid milk in New England, can dictate the price. And they often dictate horrible measures. Farmers have to pay the transportation cost. When gas prices go up, they tag farmers with a surcharge for hauling milk. They charge farmers a fee for those ‘Got Milk?’ ads. Dairy farmers pay for those with a surcharge that is taken out of their milk check. It has basically created a slave system for farmers.
For example, farmers, when they get their milk check every week, have no idea for how much it’s going to be for. Imagine anybody else being asked to go to work and run a business and not having any idea how much their product is going to sell for. You would never ask a teacher or a politician to do that. They know what their pay stub is. But farmers are slaves to this system, when the milk prices plummet there is nothing they can do. These big milk guys, if they had their way…they would have just one big farm with 10,000 cows. Because for them it is inefficient to make all these stops.
So what you’ll notice is the big politicians like [former Vermont Governor, Democrat] Howard Dean or [current governor, Republican] Jim Douglas or their AG secretaries pay lip service to farms going out of business, but they always say ‘don’t worry, the amount of milk Vermont is producing is not falling.’ Like that’s the measure of how good things are going.
Van Deusen: Could you name the different milk co-ops in the state?
Peter Sterling: For conventional [non-organic] milk there is Agrimark which makes Cabot cheese which we all know, which does not use all Vermont milk, so that is an issue. Then there is St. Albans Co-op. Then there is Dairy Farmers of America, which is the [largest] corporation in the country for milk. St. Albans Co-op, because they are gutless dogs, signed [in 2004] what they call a marketing agreement basically making them one and the same as Dairy Farmers of America…Because they knew their farmer-members would never support such a thing, they called it a ‘marketing agreement.’ They didn’t technically let themselves be taken over, but the staff is all the same now. St. Albans Co-op is controlled by Dairy Farmers of America…which is part of Dean Foods and [other] big corporations. So you can say that Agrimark, St. Albans and Dairy Farmers of America are the three biggest co-ops, but really there is just two. It’s really bad.
What the St. Alban’s Co-op did was disgraceful. Their members found out on the WCAX news. That’s crazy. They turn on the TV and find out that their co-op signed this agreement with this corporation that is driving farmers out of business across America. Dairy Farmers of America, for example, one of their classic moves is to buy up processing plants and then close them down. And they will close it down, not because it isn’t profitable, but because it will be more profitable for them if there was less competition from processors and the farmers would then have to ship [milk] to their plants that already exist elsewhere. Bad news!
Van Deusen: How would you describe the co-ops in relation to the farmers and the processors?
Peter Sterling: They are the middlemen. They pick up the farmers’ milk, they are supposed to negotiate the prices for the farmers, and they don’t really do any of that. The co-ops are supposed to take all these actions to benefit farmers, and they really just take it to benefit their board of directors and their corporate bottom line. St. Albans, even though they call themselves a co-op, as well as Agrimark, technically are not.
I can give you a lot of examples of the bad things they do…[For instance] we got fourteen St. Albans farmers to write to the director [of the co-op] saying ‘let us see the details, the paperwork, let’s talk about it.’ No. They wouldn’t even tell their own farmers about it. Yeah, it’s really bad. Really disgusting…
One of the things that keeps farmers from really speaking out is the reality of dairy farming which is the milk truck has to come every day to pick up their milk. And if the co-ops were to black list a farmer or take some kind of revenge action…then the farmer would lose thousands of dollars in addition to their cows getting sick because the milk has to be picked up every day. For example, we had a farmer, his father came up to Montpelier [the capital] to testify [in front of the state legislator] about something the co-ops were doing which was bad. The co-ops, in addition to picking up the milk, also test it to make sure it is pure and clean. A couple weeks later they sent a guy down to test his father’s milk, who had never ever had a problem with bacteria count or anything. The co-op guy looked at him and said ‘no, your milk is not good this week. We’re not picking it up – there is too much bacteria. Good-bye.’ That was basically a giant ‘fuck you…’ The tester even said something like ‘you should have been here working on your milk instead of going to Montpelier…’
Van Deusen: Can you say which co-op it was, and who the farmer was?
Peter Sterling: No…But it’s true, and that is how they got back at the farmer for speaking out.
Van Deusen: Was the farmer a DFV member?
Peter Sterling: It was a member’s father…That is the kind of thing that [the co-ops] will do if they feel they are threatened.
Van Deusen: Let’s back track for a moment and get back to the question of consolidation versus retail prices. To play devil’s advocate for a moment, if milk is a commodity that we value and want in society, and if it’s cheaper for consumers to have it consolidated in one massive farm, or a few massive farms, then what is the argument against such consolidation?
Peter Sterling: There is a few. First of all, the price to the consumer, when these consolidations happen, doesn’t necessarily go down…Really what happens is that there is more profit for the processors. Number two, farming has an enormous impact on our landscape. If done well it can have not such a big impact, and it actually can be quite beneficial. If done poorly, meaning very concentrated with 1000 cows on the land, that is very bad for the environment, and really it’s also horrible for rural communities in Vermont. When a farm goes out of business, it’s not just the farm that goes out of business, it’s the guy who hauls his milk, it’s the guy who sold him feed, it’s the guy who sold him tractor parts. The whole community suffers. So what you’re talking about is the [potential] savings of a couple of cents on a gallon of milk for the consumer [verses] the collapse of a rural economy-you know, Barton, Enosburg Falls, Newport, Troy. I’d like Vermonters to ask themselves, would they be willing to pay another quarter for a gallon of milk knowing that not only would the environment be protected through more sustainable practices, but on another level these rural economies would be sustained. I think any Vermonter would part with a quarter per gallon of milk [to sustain family farms].
[In addition] the kind of farming that these guys are demanding is changing the landscape of Vermont, and not for the better. When you have a farm that has 900 cows on it, that’s absurd for the Vermont landscape. It’s not something the Vermont landscape can sustain. Wells will go dry…You cannot put big farms on little pieces of land in Vermont.
Van Deusen: How much is milk going for right now per hundred weight?
Peter Sterling: Every farmer has a different [agreement], but generally its $11 - $12…If you adjusted that for inflation, that’s what they were making in 1970. You can’t [sustainably] farm for something like that.
Van Deusen: How many farms have we lost in the last generation, and more specifically in the last couple years?
Peter Sterling: Well the [State] Ag Department really clamps down on that kind of info… [Even so] in 1980 there were [close to 4000] dairy farms, easy. But now there is less than 1200. It’s going fast. What happens is there is a minimum number of farms you need in an area to make it viable. The guy who hauls the milk, a trucker, he’s not going to drive up to Newport to pick up from one farm. It’s not worth his time. So if there is only two farms in Newport he ain’t going up there and [therefore] that farm is done. So you need a minimum number of farms and we’re getting awfully close in some areas.
But what is really happening, what you can say is the general theme, is that older guys, [say] a guy who’s fifty and on the verge of getting out of farming, [is] not going to take out a loan to stay in business, [he’s] going to cash out now. Why take on another $60,000 of debt if you know the milk prices aren’t going up?
Van Deusen: Are there any areas of Vermont that you can specifically name that are getting close to being unable to sustain dairy farming?
Peter Sterling: Off the top of my head, it’s getting awfully tight down in Bennington County. There are not a lot of farms left down there…That is exactly what has happened down in Rhode Island. [In Rhode Island] there [are] only four dairy farms left. They can’t make money because nobody wants to drive their trucks down to pick up their milk. I’m saying you could see that in the near future in Vermont, and that is something a lot of people worry about.
Van Deusen: Of the 1100 dairy farms currently operating in Vermont, how many cows does the average farm have?
Peter Sterling: The state doesn’t release this stuff. They are very cagey. Even though the law requires them to do so, they don’t. [Even so, we know] there are only 25 large farm operations, which…is someone with more than 500 milking cows. For Vermont that is very large. [On the other end of the spectrum]you don’t have that many conventional farms that are able to make it with under 100 cows anymore…The average size is getting bigger. In 1950 you were considered a very big farm if you had 50 milking cows, now you can’t make it with under 100 because farmers are being pushed to produce more, to put Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) in their cows, to make more milk to make more money, which doesn’t work. The more [milk] they make, the more the price falls…Organic is completely different…
Van Deusen: Are you seeing Dairy Farmers of Vermont farms also closing down because of the low milk prices?
Peter Sterling: We have seen a couple. What a bunch of farmers have done, because they saw this coming…[is] they went organic. The key with organic and why it’s so attractive to these guys, is because they get a guaranteed contract. Organic milk is so in demand that the organic companies will give you a two year contract at $24 a hundred weight…They will [also] help with $30,000 for the transition. If you’re a conventional farmer your milk prices fluctuate every week or two, but these guys will lock in for two years. That is the way to run a business. For two years you know how much you are getting…
Because there are [many] farmers in Vermont who don’t use BGH it’s not too hard [for them] to make the transition. They had to wait awhile and do some paper work and bullshit like that, but it wasn’t like a radical change in their operation. So [many] who want to stay are trying to make it as organic farms… There is a huge demand for Vermont organic milk, way more than is currently available from Vermont farmers, that’s for sure.
Van Deusen: Do you have organic farms that are part of DFV?
Peter Sterling: Yes and no. Yes in that they joined us to do collective bargaining, but the processing plant that we are opening will not be organic. We are going to do BGH free. But we have farmers who started with Dairy Farmers of Vermont then left to go organic.
Van Deusen: In 2004 the price of raw milk peaked at $18 a hundred weight. What effect did the farmers see from that?
Peter Sterling: It wasn’t long enough to get these guys out of debt. That’s the problem. They all go into such massive debt when the milk prices drop that they can’t get [even]. That is why the state’s program to give these guys loans is such fucking bullshit. These guys can’t use any more loans. They’re loaned out their fucking asshole. [Really] it’s about getting more money for their milk. [And] if you’re a corporate guy, like Douglas, the only thing you don’t want to do is give [farmers] more money for their product. That would mean you’re lowering your buddy’s profit.
Van Deusen: Can you talk some about the history of the Diary Farmers of Vermont organization?
Peter Sterling: We started in the winter of 2002, when the milk prices dropped to one of the most historic lows of all time…It went down to $12 a hundred weight, which was the actual price they got back in 1984 (which is what they are getting again now)…In response to that, farmers called Anthony [Pollina]. [*Note: Pollina is a long time Vermont organizer and supporter of farmer & worker rights. He received 25% of the vote in Vermont’s 2002 Lieutenant Governor’s race as the Progressive Party candidate.]
Van Deusen: When DFV first started, from what I understand, the goal was to sign up one third of all the raw milk produced in the state, which you did, and then to try to negotiate prices with the co-ops and processors on behalf of the 300 plus represented farms. This was, of course, an attempt at collective bargaining. What was the idea behind that, and why did it fail?
Peter Sterling: The thought behind that was that even though co-ops, in theory, are made up of farmer-members and farmer-members sit on the board, in reality the boards really don’t represent farmer interests. Co-ops stopped doing the farmer advocacy for farmers that they should be. So instead of pushing the processors to give the farmers more money for their milk, [the co-ops] got into bed with [the processors]. So farmers kind of felt like the co-ops weren’t their voice anymore, and they wanted a voice to help them get more money for their milk. That is why we thought collective bargaining, a model which works for unions, would be very effective. We thought if we had enough milk behind us the co-ops would have to say ‘ok, we have to talk to you otherwise we’re going to have a serious problem.’ [This is the case] because no matter what [the co-ops] say, they really do want these guys’ milk.
The problem we ran into [that the co-ops] at the end of the day did not really believe farmers were going to walk away from their co-ops. [The farmers] did not have enough places to send their milk. That really hit us hard…Even in face to face talks [the co-ops] had no intention of helping farmers in even something as minor as removing the one dollar a hundred weight surcharge for farmers to have their own milk shipped away to these guys to make all the money. When we realized that there was no legitimate alternative for farmers to pursue for their product, we realized we had to crate that. And we thought that creating some sort of Vermont brand for their product would give the farmers the alternative they needed…an alternative place to send their milk. That has taken a lot of our effort of late.
Van Deusen: I understand DFV got very close to opening a farmer owned processing plant in Springfield, Vermont, a few years ago. Didn’t the legislature shit the bed on that one?
Peter Sterling: No, the Governor did. We needed half a million dollars to help the farmers’ purchase the plant and the equipment. The Governor did not think that was a good investment. The [Democrat controlled] Senate passed it, and [Douglas] used his man in the House [which back then was controlled by a Republican plurality] to block it, and the Governor refused to support it, and that is what killed it…Jim Douglas was saying from the beginning that he would never sign a bill that would give farmers that money. So it was hard to get momentum for it.
Van Deusen: So the Governor killed it. What was his, along with Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr’s reasoning?
Peter Sterling: Well, Steve Kerr is just a lackey for the corporate guys. Douglas’s reasoning was that the state should not be giving money to individual businesses because it might harm other businesses that compete with it. [It’s all] such fucking bullshit. That is the biggest lie I ever heard in my whole life. I mean the State of Vermont gives money to businesses every single day. So he just needed a pretext to protect the profits of his corporate buddies. The real reason is St. Albans Co-op and Agrimark Co-op didn’t want to see another [more equitable] place go get [farmers’] milk because it would make them have to raise their prices.
Van Deusen: Recently Governor Douglas sponsored a ‘Farmer Summit’ aimed at solving, what some have termed, the current crisis in Vermont Agriculture. Did DFV have a presence at the event?
Peter Sterling: Anthony [Pollina] went to it… [But] the Farmer Summit, again, is just Jim Douglas trying to grab a newspaper headline saying he cares about farmers. When it really comes down to it he doesn’t do anything to help farmers. He offers programs of low interest loans which they don’t need. They won’t take them because they can’t afford any more loans. They are already maxed out. It was really just a way for him to look good in public. He won’t do anything to really help farmers like make sure the state buys Vermont milk and basic stuff like that. [The summit] was just a lot of politicians flagellating themselves.
Van Deusen: I know DFV has also been working on getting Vermont milk into schools and other public institutions. What is the status of that campaign?
Peter Sterling: Well the legislation did not make it out of the [Democratic controlled] House. It is unfortunate… But Dexter Randle, a dairy farmer from Troy, a Progressive [Party] legislator who was also one of the founding members of the Dairy Farmers of Vermont, introduced that bill. One of the cool things about Dairy Farmers of Vermont is that we encourage farmers to become politically active [and] two of our farmers actually ran for office and won. Dexter Randle from Troy, and the other is [Democrat] Harold Gerhard who lives down in Addison County. He ran for State Senate and won. So for me, having two more farmers elected is really great.
Van Deusen: You now have two DFV members elected to Vermont’s General Assembly. In addition, David Zuckerman, a member of the Progressive Party from Burlington, himself a produce farmer, has been appointed to chair the House Ag Committee. Unlike in 2003, the Democrats now represent the largest elected parties in both legislative chambers. Left of the Democrats, the Progressives [which are essentially democratic-socialists] now have six seats in the House and expect to add to that in November. In the electoral field you seem to be in a better position than two years ago. How does DFV assess the electoral situation for the next legislative session?
Peter Sterling: Anthony [Pollina] actually did most of the lobbying, but I would say we [are] seeking a solution outside the legislative arena for this. We [are] going right to funders to help us fund the processing plant because after our experience in the last legislative session in 03-04’ we [don’t] want to waste our time. We [want] to go right to where we knew we [will] be most effective, and that is starting a processing plant. [Even so] Anthony is particularly active in lobbying the state institutions like… UVM to buy Vermont milk. [Still] we are also realistic in that we have to keep the focus on what we really want which is a farmer owned processing plant that will supply a Vermont brand of milk to folks.
Van Deusen: In the face of opposition from the co-ops, the processors, and the Douglas administration, the Dairy Farmers of Vermont have been trying to rebuild, and trying to establish their own processing plant without the benefit of state money. What can you say about the status of this project?
Peter Sterling: The trick with a processing plant is to find a place that has a guaranteed market… So it’s really finding a market for our milk which is the challenge. So Dairy Farmers of Vermont feels it has got a good location in mind [and] we are working on the details. We feel like we really got some market secured for some Vermont brand of products that don’t currently exist. Right now, the way we are going to make it in the market is by being able to say that all of our products are made with 100% Vermont milk, and none of the co-ops can say that because they blend all their milk. Like Agrimark blends their milk with New Hampshire milk, Massachusetts milk… They all blend them in big tanks, and they don’t separate it which is crazy because you think that they would want to say ‘[made] with 100% Vermont milk’ but they can’t say that. So what we are going to be doing as Dairy Farmers of Vermont is be the only company that sells its milk regionally using the Vermont name. Of course, there are smaller outfits like Monument Farms, Stafford Organic…[and]Thomas’s Dairy… Those are three Vermont brands, but they are tiny and they stay tiny because they just want to be family operations. Dairy Farmers of Vermont’s plan is to become statewide, region wide, using the Vermont name as our selling point. That is something nobody else is doing. And we think that is going to work really soon.
Van Deusen: What do you think that is going to mean for participating Vermont farmers in regards to the price that they will receive for raw milk?
Peter Sterling: What we would do is give them a guaranteed price, a contracted price for two years that would be in the $17-19 a hundred weight range… That would mean that farmers would no longer have to suffer the fluctuations of a market that currently gives them anywhere from $11-$18 a hundred weight – more towards $11 than $18, believe me.
That is huge for farmers because, again, there will be a contract and they will know what they will be making for two years. One of the most important things that farmers want is this security. Even if it’s just $17 they will know that they will be able to make their loans, and do all these things based on how much money they know they will get. That is a big deal to farmers. [And] just as important as helping…[the]farmers that supply the plant, it will create another place where farmers can go… with their milk… and the other co-ops [will thereby] be forced to raise their prices [paid] to Vermont farmers. So we believe that this will actually have a ripple effect on all of Vermont dairy farmers. That is really the goal;, to change the system by giving farmers not only control over their milk, but giving an independent, truly farmer owned outlet for Vermont milk.
Van Deusen: Do you have an estimate as to how much startup capital DFV will need to open such a processing plant, and where will that money come from?
Peter Sterling: I think it will cost anywhere from two to three million dollars to get a processing plant going with the packaging, the ad marketing and all that. We are raising it from private investors who believe that this is a good investment for Vermont’s economy and rural communities.
Van Deusen: Where is DFV looking to open the plant?
Peter Sterling: Right now the leading candidate for the location of the processing plant is in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Mostly because that is where most of Vermont dairy farmers still exist. So we want to be close to the dairy farmers for many reasons, not least of which is that that lowers the shipping cost.
Van Deusen: How will DFV take care of the shipping?
Peter Sterling: We will do what other companies do and that is hire a couple truckers. We may end up buying our own trucks or leasing them… We will do all the quality testing ourselves…and then work with some distributors who go to stores already and have them make the delivery of the Vermont milk company products part of their routes.
Van Deusen: Initially how many Vermont farms will participate?
Peter Sterling: I would say that there will be less than twenty farms initially. But still, that is a good chunk for right off the bat. Some farms may choose to send only part of their milk to us for whatever reason; some farms may choose to send all of their milk, so we won’t exactly know till we’re running.
Van Deusen: Is the idea to increase the number of participating farms over time?
Peter Sterling: Oh, yeah. As fast as possible. We want to draw as much Vermont milk as we can through this plant. For every farmer we get to bring their milk through this plant we will make the farm economy that much stronger. And they [the farmers] won’t have to deal with [current] the slave co-op system.
Van Deusen: What is the timeline for this plant opening?
Peter Sterling: If all our ducks were to fall in a row, before the end of the year.
Van Deusen: Are you going to have the ability right off the bat to get this Vermont brand of milk onto shelves all throughout the state? Where will this milk be sold?
Peter Sterling: That is the plan. Our hope is to have it available all throughout Vermont. We don’t see this as specialty co-op item. We see this as affordably priced milk… There [are also] other products we want to make that are going to be good… Even if we process milk, we could then sell that milk to a cheese maker who wants to be able to say that their cheese is made with all Vermont milk. It might have another label on it, but the farmers would still be reaping the economic benefit of selling them their milk. So fluid milk is just one of the possible products. There are many possible products. There is cheese, there is yogurt, all the possible value added products in addition to fluid milk.
Van Deusen: How are these decisions, where to open a plant, what to produce, etc., reached? How does DFV internally operate?
Peter Sterling: [DFV’s] board is made up of all full time dairy farmers. Not gentlemen farmers or out of state farmers. [The board is] all fulltime dairy farmers who vote on every decision, unlike current [dairy] co-ops… [They are all] elected by the membership.
Van Deusen: Are the elected board members from different regions of Vermont?
Peter Sterling: We did strive to not only have geographic diversity, but [also] size diversity, meaning smaller farms, medium size, large, etc.
Van Deusen: I understand that back when DFV was trying to conduct collective bargaining with the co-ops, you had allies from within organized labor helping you with this. Will such good relations continue when the processing plant gets off the ground? Do you foresee the workers in that plant being unionized?
Peter Sterling: They better be. I certainly think we would encourage them to be. I don’t think we should even consider opening up a processing plant that wouldn’t be a union shop. I think that that is a requirement for us. To me [unions] are good for workers… why wouldn’t you have one?
Van Deusen: Family farmers across New England, in different parts of the country and beyond, are facing similar problems to those in Vermont. How do you see the struggle of dairy farmers in Vermont affecting the national debate? Do you see Dairy Farmers of Vermont growing beyond our borders?
Peter Sterling: Our sincerest hope is that other farmers will see Dairy Farmers of Vermont as starting this model plant as a way to start their own plant. And that means, of course, taking back their own means of production.
Van Deusen: Is there any thought that down the road DFV could evolve into a larger farmer organization that would include other farmers outside of the dairy industry?
Peter Sterling: Well that would be amazing. But right now it takes so much energy to organize dairy farmers, you know guys that are working 70 hours a week for low pay. Once we get this processing plant going I think you could see different [projects] sprout up that would support local Agriculture, like a farmer owned (or state owned) slaughter house for people who want to slaughter their animals locally and things like that. You could see this thing blossoming into something beyond dairy farming.
Van Deusen: Do you have any final thoughts to add?
Peter Sterling: Farmers will never be able to succeed with the current system… Guys like Douglas are not doing anything. Farmers need to take action. By taking action and starting a processing plant they are insuring that there will be a place for them to sell their milk that will pay them a fair share. If you look at every newspaper article there is, all Jim Douglas’s solutions, he never once mentions that farmers need to be paid more for their milk, and that [in part] is what we are about.
• Chapter 6 : Direct Democracy & Town Meeting
• Chapter 7 : Counter-Culture
• Chapter 8 : The Abenaki/Native Americans
• Chapter 9 : Anti-Fascism
• Chapter 10 : On Elections
• Chapter 11 : On the Road
Personal Journal Entry, July 21, 1995: Flying past suburban shadows at 60 mph on greyhound, heading east, stopping only for too few smoke & meal breaks and too often for unknown reasons other than to annoy passengers eager to be further from what they left behind in San Francisco or points thereafter; The American West by bus. 
In Sacramento, I had an untoasted-cold bagel with cream cheese then back on the road. Someone said something about the American River, but we kept going anyway. Greyhound never does stop for beauty alone, but it did stop somewhere in the Sierra Nevadas for a smoke. Beauty by happenstance. A child cried.
Reno for dinner, 6:00pm, no time to gamble. I only have $25. I wasn’t hungry but it was a dinner stop. Cup of black coffee and toast. Now 23 dollars remaining in my pocket. I had a smoke; GPC brand. In a greyhound minute we’ll all be off again –some to work construction in Salk Lake City, others to climb the Rockies for a summer adventure.
Two passengers across the aisle are from the Czech Republic here to tour the USA for first time; oh how huge the States must seem to them. They tell me the Republic is doing fine now, turning capitalist; they hope the US will befriend it; “money abundant, only a few minor problems brought about by turning free market; drugs, robberies, murders, depression”; nothing the USA didn’t have to deal with 100 years ago (and failed).
Some on the bus must assuredly be visiting family, or meeting their sweetheart in some small Utah town (population 300). Still others are probably embarking on one last trip knowing that they are dying; all of us are definitely dying in the way that life hinges its meaning on this common conclusion. I suppose I am dying in that way too, but I’m also headin’ to Denver.
My girl will be in Denver to meet me. So will Jerry, sunburnt and tired from the road, riding his 1100cc motorcycle all the way from Jacksonville. Scott’s still lingering in SF trying to hustle a way out while sleeping with an attractive Height Street waitress 10 years older than him. Hollywood must seem so far away from him now.
Tomorrow Colorado! Hopefully I’ll be able to turn $130 in food stamps into an adequate purse to present to my girl for fuel to get us back over the mountains. Salvation is never free.
The bus is pushing east again; wrestling with the hills and contemplating the desert and with the desert, and I sit and contemplate contemplation. Tomorrow Denver; but first we will face the wheeled asphalt night and see what’s around the next bend.
• Chapter 12 : Coda/Sports & Politics
November 30, 2017 : Anarchist, Socialist, & Anti-Fascist Writings of David Van Deusen 1995-2018 -- Publication.
April 19, 2020 : Anarchist, Socialist, & Anti-Fascist Writings of David Van Deusen 1995-2018 -- Added.
February 15, 2022 : Anarchist, Socialist, & Anti-Fascist Writings of David Van Deusen 1995-2018 -- Updated.
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