Recomposition: At War With Calendula

Recomposition. Aug 29:

At War With Calendula

by Peter

Small businesses are widely believed to be better places to work or better for the planet or both. They’re not. Small businesses are just smaller, less successful versions of large businesses, and they’re often as bad or worse to work for, as this story illustrates.

A call came into the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Hall in Portland. The front-end staff of a small, recently opened restaurant had struck the week before. The owner’s immediate response was to fire all four of the strikers. Although this was the IWW’s first contact with these workers, the union decided to support these workers in negotiatinga settlement to the strike.

The negotiating committee of four workers and union representatives arrived at the restaurant at 9:15pm on a Sunday, approaching the owner on the sidewalk as he returned from taking an order on the patio. Catching his attention, they waited until he was through taking his order, and notified him that the IWW would now be representing the fired workers. When the union representatives requested a meeting be set up to discuss resolving the strike, the owner replied, “You are trespassing. If you don’t leave my property right now, I’m calling the police.” Although this response may seem typical, this was not your typical employer.

Revolutionary Adventures in Petit-bourgeois Capitalism

For those who are not aware of him already, Craig Rosebraugh has made himself into a household name in the Pacific Northwest. About the same time the Portland Police department broke his arm during a rally to free political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, Craig was the press spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front-Earth Liberation Front. For years, his house was regularly raided and openly surveilled by the FBI, and he was eventually subpoenaed, first to a federal grand jury in Portland, and later to testify before Congress, both times regarding ‘ecoterrorism.’ A number of local organizers, (including myself–a member of the IWW assisting the striking restaurant workers) supported Craig, organizing a local support committee to combat the grand jury. Craig took a principled, political stand in the face of the attacks against him from the state, refusing to testify before the grand jury, and openly defending actions against property in front of Congress. Although always controversial both personally and politically, his principled stance won him the respect of many local revolutionaries, even if there were numerous disagreements with his understanding of revolutionary politics.

Most recently, Craig himself decided to launch a small capitalist venture to continue to fund his ‘revolutionary’ projects. His upscalevegan restaurant in SE Portland was billed as Portland’s progressive eatery, with the menus and ads touting organic food, recycling, and well treated workers as the base of the business. The workers who appeared at the IWW Hall soon after the strike told another story, however. They had applied at Calendula excited at the idea of helping to promote healthy, vegan food. After working for eight months to build the business, they repeatedly found the promises made uponemployment primarily health care and a respectful work environment—unfulfilled. After two rounds of wage cuts left them back at minimum wage, the workers decided to act. The striking workers made it clear that their primary issue was not wages, but the lack of respect for the workers within the restaurant.

Abigail, was one of the striking waitresses. She posted this to Portland’s Indymedia site in response to attacks from the owner and by other Rosebraugh supporters, “There is no doubt that Craig worked hard, he did, however it often felt like he was working against our collective flow. His ego often blocked communication, when our lead server voiced our collective concerns he pronounced that if we were not happy then we should all leave, and she was sent home on one of our busiest nights. We had to cover for his egotistical decisions always. He made rash decisions like laying off our awesome busser, while lowering our wages and changing the menu. So that we were working harder, with lower morale, with less wages. Instead of lowering prices and seeing results first.”

Jimmy Ray, another striker, responded to criticisms of the strikers on Indymedia in this way, “As an employee on strike from Calendula, I would first like to state that this entire debate is not about money. In Craig’s advertisement he rants on about the mad cash we were making at his floundering business. The issue at hand is not about Craig lowering our wages, but is about respect and a concerted desire to retain our dignity. Furthermore, the issue could have been quickly resolved had Craig agreed to listen to our grievances. Instead, he chose to treat us with disrespect, accusing us of trespassing and calling the police when we peacefully approached him to negotiate. In the long run, this has forced him to take out expensive full-page ads and hire high profile lawyers to speak on his behalf. Ironically enough, had Rosebraugh simply listened to us and responded tactfully and with respect, his money could have been saved. Additionally, after free meals and beverages were eliminated, the floor manager attempted to discuss the staff’s grievances with Rosebraugh, only to be sent home ‘for having a bad attitude’ on the night of our extremely busy grand re-opening party. That set precedence for the rest of us, and we became fearful of discussing our concerns with Rosebraugh. Indeed, when I did attempt to discuss my own issues with Craig (being passed up for a promotion which had been promised to me), he accused me of having a bad attitude and insisted that, unless it was ‘in my heart’ to work for him, we’d separate. If Rosebraugh believes these conditions constitute a “respectful work environment,” he has a very skewed definition of the term.”

Recognizing that Craig was a favorite target of the boss’ press, right-wing groupings, and the state itself, the IWW approached the strike at Craig’s restaurant carefully. The union decided to withhold publicizing the struggle, denying press interviews and attempting to persuade the owner to negotiate through contact with various members of the local left, rather than using the more common approaches of pickets, media, and bad publicity—thus avoiding giving right wing groups, the press, and the state more fodder against an individual who had taken brave stands against them.

Rosebraugh Counterattacks

For three weeks, the union attempted to get Craig to negotiate. During this time, both the striking workers and the union denied the press interviews or information, not wanting to play into right wing blood lust for the former ALF/ELF spokesman on the other end of the dispute. Craig’s response was to hire a lawyer, and in conversations with community members attempting to mediate he declared he would “close the business before he would hire those workers back.” Finally, after three weeks of stonewalling from the owner, the workers went to the press. Three local papers covered the story, and Craig responded by spending almost $3000 on a full-page ad in the two local weekly papers. His advertisement names the four workers and one IWW representative with full legal names, and accuses the IWW of trying to shut down Portland’s “Most Progressive Business.” In a string of lies, the ad accuses IWW representatives of bringing a mob to intimidate and harass Craig during his peak business hours.

The most visible gauge of the debate within the “activist community” in Portland revolved around the Portland Indymedia site. From accusations of the IWW being a part of a COINTELPRO operation (carried as far as naming specific striking workers as cops) to condemnation of the IWW because it allows its members and organizers to eat meat, a rather entertaining discussion ensued.

ARISSA is an organization launched by Craig a few years back, ideologically driven by Craig’s first book, “The Logic of Political Violence.” Rosebraugh’s supporters and members of ARISSA went on Indymedia to post numerous accusations of police infiltration and state collusion, specifically naming the IWW and striking workers as provocateurs and agents. The posting of unfounded and unverifiable accusations in a public forum goes beyond the obvious attempts at displacing responsibility for the strike on Craig’s behalf. It enters the dangerous, irresponsible realm of snitch-jacketing: opening those truly struggling for a better world to manipulations by the state. Following the thread of debate on Indymedia, the accusations quickly became picked up and repeated as fact, although no individual or organization had produced a shred of evidence to verify them.

Where Does the Activist ‘Left’ Stand on Class?

Craig himself has been a very visible and vocal name within Portland’s activist community. Because of this, the Indymedia debate was largely split along two lines. In the minority of those posting, there were those who recognized that workers’ struggles against boss-imposed direction and discipline against the alienation that capitalist work relationships foster, regardless of good intentions, is at the base of the struggle for the new society. These folks supported the IWW and the strike. On the other, there were those who argued that for a broad range of reasons–Craig’s past work, the media’s blood lust for him, the fact that the restaurant was all organic and vegan and locally owned, or that Craig’s intention with the restaurant was to, “fund social change ventures”—that the union should not have involved itself in the strike. To those on Craig’s side of the fence, the IWW was guilty of undermining the community, the struggle, and the revolution itself by supporting these workers. A number of people, Craig included, even argued that the workers had no right to protest because with tips they were making a better wage than other workers in the area.

These responses from Rosebraugh, ARISSA, and the Portland activist community provide an excellent demonstration of a number of limitations of a class-less “progressive” politics. Even when playing lip service to worker’s struggles, to liberation, and to revolution itself, the “activist” left is dominated by petit bourgeois voices. This is not meant as a simplistic assessment of individuals based on class background. What this actually reflects is how the activist left, which has often the people who have the most access to resources. Because class and class interests have not been at the fore of the “new anti-globalization” activist movement, it has not been capable of developing a politic capable of assuring that leadership and voice will be given to social groupings currently disenfranchised within this system. In missing this critical understanding—an assessment of which class and which portions of that class are most likely to push struggles into revolutionary directions—this movement has missed the target entirely. The voices currently dominating the discussion have class interests incapable of bringing a meaningful criticism of capital and the social relationships that result from capitalism.

This is a significant reason why this “new activist left” does not have a mass base or appeal within the working class. Due to its lack of class position, it is those who have access to resources that get to define the politics of this movement. When those resources and the privilege that come with them come are questioned in struggle (no matter how small), real principles go out the window. It’s fine to talk about saving forests, monkeys, and fighting imperialism outside of the Empire itself. It is also tactical to host, “Ending white supremacy” trainings and sessions deconstructing privilege. But when real struggle comes to these leaders’ own backyards and they find themselves in a position where their own relationships to capitalism are seriously questioned, class interests themselves speak louder than revolutionary sloganeering.

This small strike brings to the fore why the “activist left” has little interest to that broad, stratified and diverse mass we call the working class. In challenging the alienation that is a necessary by-product of work under capitalism, the struggle against that alienation is the actual basis of struggle for a new world. The voices leading the “activist left” are incapable of allowing a criticism that answers to the daily struggles of workers and to their alienation. This is in part because they cannot grasp the real meaning of these struggles but even more, they can’t grasp the actual experience of that alienation. Their class positions guide their actions, regardless of their theoretical understanding (or misunderstanding) of the struggle we face.

Particularly telling are some of Craig’s arguments in his paid advertisement: that the workers were well paid (a debatable assertion), or that his actions in the restaurant were justified because the restaurant was going to fund his “social change ventures.” The statements made on Indymedia by the workers themselves are arguments that a meaningful revolutionary politic must be based on the rejection of capitalist work models themselves. This politics is a yearning for worker control and not simply a struggle for wages. It’s a struggle to reclaim that large portion of their lives working for someone else and to reorganize it in a manner that suits their own inclinations, regardless of the “revolutionarily consciousness” of their boss.

Workers’ Struggles are Struggles Against Work

It is the struggle and rejection of work itself, and the alienation that is inherent in wage labor, in which the seeds of the new world lie. Any “revolutionary” movement incapable of seeing the rejection of work itself as the basis for struggle will find itself unable to relate to the daily struggles of the only class of people who are capable of bringing this decrepit system to its knees, regardless of whether the facet of struggle is against police brutality, environmental devastation, prisons, poverty, or any of the other potentially explosive contradictions that our society confronts. It is within the struggles workers are constantly waging to reclaim control of the workplace itself that revolutionaries must learn to recognize the potential revolutionary force in those portions of the population so often dismissed by activists as “backwards” and inept.

Lessons in Intersections

The situation with Craig Rosebraugh and his little adventure in petit bourgeois capitalism have only brought a suppressed contradiction within this new activist left to the fore. The activist community is comfortable fighting for rights for animals, for an end to clear cutting, for more bikes, and even sometimes advocating armed struggle as an avenue for social change. As a white-led and largely privileged strata, there is a massive disconnect between reading Ward Churchill and writing your thesis on armed struggle and actually being a part of organizing a movement capable of asserting its own power and defending itself. Craig’s inability to recognize how truly relinquishing power and privilege are necessary in creating the space for revolutionary leadership is an excellent example of this stumbling block. This same political trend is good at holding trainings and workshops on deconstructing privilege and speaking the language of “communities of color” and ”revolutionary feminism,” but as a movement it is incapable of opening spaces where theses communities and perspectives can actually lead a movement. It will continued to be incapable until it not only speaks of, but puts into play a recognition of class, and how it interacts with racism, sexism, and all of the other destruction reaped upon our planet and our lives. This is not an argument that the long sought after unity of the working class across racial, sexual, and other boundaries will simplistically come about as a result of workplace struggles. It is simply an acknowledgement that to even begin to confront the central questions of race, class, and gender in building a revolutionary movement, a recognition of the limitations and misleading nature of the activist left’s politics must be given.

What happens when the interests of those truly disenfranchised (and the only class capable of making the revolutionary change we envision) come into conflict with a fearless leader who is using a capitalist enterprise to further his revolutionary projects? There is no longer a fence for “anti-capitalists, anarchists, radicals, or progressives” to sit on when it comes to class.

The activist left’s defense of Rosebraugh’s actions against wildcat activity by workers within his restaurant provides a long-needed clarification of the position of a number of organizations and individuals within this milieu. Craig’s thousands of dollars of advertising are a great opportunity for the IWW to define itself as clearly committed to a revolutionary model that is led by workers themselves. In doing so, it has placed the IWW in a position of alienation from portions of the activist left but opened itself to an explicit commitment to supporting workers in their struggle to regain control of their workplaces and their lives. (Four new workers called to join the union in the two days after Rosebraugh’s ad was published.) Not only is this clarification useful, it is necessary if we are to build a mass movement with class and race at the fore. What this small struggle has done is force the activist left to declare its alliances–on one side the workers, and on the other, an opportunist, underdeveloped politic. This opportunistic side of the left’s own class interests leave it unable to see how the struggle of workers against not only poverty but for control of the production process itself is the only basis on which we can begin to build a new society.

For those not in the IWW, or not engaged in organizing around workplace struggles, this is an opportunity to reflect on how we must break with this class-less left if we are to develop organizations capable of interacting with the real struggles of oppressed and potentially revolutionary strata within the United States itself. There is a massive segment of the population forced to struggle daily against numerous contradictions, which threaten to open this state to a real revolutionary upsurge. A movement led by petit bourgeois class interests will at best co-opt these upsurges, and at worst be entirely incapable of engaging them. If we plan to be a part of those struggles, to engage with them, or to work alongside them, we must drop the baggage of the existing left, and forge a new movement with an explicit commitment to developing leadership and analysis outside of that milieu.

This article first appeared in the Industrial Worker newspaper.

This entry was posted in Analysis, News - All, News - Portland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Recomposition: At War With Calendula

  1. Anonymous says:

    The workers have long since personally apologized to Craig and blamed being instigated by that super sketchy Katherine girl who disappeared afterward just as suddenly as she had shown up. This involved only 3 people out of a staff of 20 who did not have ANY problem with Craig and issued public statements defending him throughout this incident. This whole thing was very sketch. Shortly after this happened his dumpster was set on fire and another activist’s flier (who had been arguing with Craig) was stuck near it to frame them. The activist immediately made up with Craig and denies setting the fire. The next day, the Federal agent who had been following Craig through out all of the Grand Jury resistance showed up for dinner & implied involvement with the upset. A few months later Craig was again subpoenaed for ELF Grand Jury (which he again resisted!). Craig is about to release a well funded documentary about the Gulf oil spill. It seems a very convenient time for an oil company PR firm to search for anything to discredit him and use grass roots activists to do their dirty work for them. Anyone who has read his autobiography or attended his lectures on FBI and Private I/PR Firms targeting activists would know this is not the first time this has happened. The FBI has regarded Craig as a top domestic terrorist threat. It is not paranoid or unrealistic to think this reappearance of this article all over activist sites is orchestrated.
    The following is a statement issued by Craig several YEARS after this incident:

    April 15, 2008

    Today is my 36th birthday. For the last twelve years I have been subject to a wave of severe governmental repression as a result of my political beliefs and activities. From surviving a ten year FBI, ATF, and US Justice Department investigation, which consisted of constant monitoring, two raids on my homes and businesses, thousands of dollars in property stolen, car chases, psychological harassment, eight federal grand jury subpoenas, and constant attempts at questioning, to physical assaults including surviving a broken arm attack by the Portland Police, to hundreds of death threats over email, telephone and direct mail, to being forced to appear in front of Congress, to facing dozens of years in prison on multiple occasions, to being befriended by undercover private investigators with ties to the CIA, to surviving an incredible misinformation campaign that has continued through to this day, I have not only survived, but put up with sheer hell the last twelve years all for one reason: I believe our government is unjust, I believe our country was founded upon principles and practices of injustice and that it is all of our responsibilities to do whatever we can in our lives to create justice, to put an end to human right abuses, environmental destruction, and animal exploitation.

    The misinformation campaign surrounding my business practices at Calendula Café in 2004, was just the latest example of rumors and gossip purposely spread to shadow and negatively impact my credibility both locally and nationwide. This was not the first, and I am positive it will not be the last time individuals have attempted to spread untruths about me in hopes of creating further divisions among us, a methodology that has been used for decades to render social and political movements to the brink of collapse and failure. The fact that the activist community at large has, and continues to be, so eager to spread gossip, rumors, and misinformation before, or most often times instead of, seeking the truth, serves to tear apart the very efforts that many of us have and continue to risk our lives for.

    The following are facts documented by eyewitnesses and/or court documents:

    1) As I mentioned before I have been subject to misinformation campaigns for the last twelve years resulting from my political volunteer work – from being an political organizer nationwide to taking part in over a dozen civil disobedience actions for justice issues, to being the spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. In the late 1990s, a misinformation campaign began against me and a couple of other organizers locally that ended up driving a wedge in a local grassroots nonprofit organization leading to its demise, while simultaneously leading to me being discredited nationwide. Court documents have shown that the organization was infiltrated by one or more individuals who were government agents, the same individuals who were responsible for starting and spreading the lies.

    2) Calendula Café was started in 2003 as a fundraising project to raise money for a social justice community organization in New York. It was determined that because of the political beliefs and practices of myself and colleagues nationwide, we were not able to receive funding from the traditional means of grants or donations, and we collectively decided – just as was the case in past movements and groups such as the Panthers – that we would try to start some businesses to raise money that we could not elsewhere obtain. I tried to open and operate the business as ethically as possible, while still holding true to its one and only purpose, to raise money for the community based justice organization in New York. The food was entirely organic and all vegan. All of the paper goods were 100% recycled. All of our food scraps both pre and post consumer were composted. We donated to local justice causes. Most employees began at Calendula at above industry standard wages. I had even wanted to provide healthcare options and gym membership availabilities to employees (something unheard of in most small start-up restaurants and businesses), but couldn’t until we were actually making enough money to afford it. Because of the lack of money I wasn’t able to pay myself anything for the first six months of the restaurant’s life, even though I was putting in 80-100 hours per week of work.

    3) As the cost of running the restaurant mounted (high start-up costs, very high organic inventory costs) it was clear the restaurant had to either cut back some hours and wages or go out of business. At the time, the average server was making over $20 per hour after tips were factored in. I know this because I maintained the financial records daily (in addition to cooking, waiting on customers, managing, cleaning, etc.). I made the decision to cut back the servers base wage (before tips) to what the industry standard was, so the restaurant could stay open. This meant servers were still making $18 – $25 per hour including tips. Even when I was able to pay myself a meager wage at the restaurant, the servers always made more money than me, the cooks, and the dishwasher. Yet, some of them were upset by this, viewing it as a lack of respect for them.

    4) A short while later one individual in particular, Katherine Atkinson, simply refused to do her job. After asking her repeatedly she continued to refuse so I fired her. Three more servers who were close friends of her also refused to work and were let go a short while later. They refused to do side work, believing it was above them. Yet, including myself, everyone in the restaurant had side work – something quite common in restaurants – including cleaning, resetting tables, cleaning silverware, etc. There had never been any talk of unionization among these four employees, and neither myself nor any other employee at the time heard anything about them attempting to unionize.

    5) What one employee did hear gets to the heart and truth of this whole misinformation campaign. One of the longest term employees, who had been there from the opening and remained almost to the closing, was told by Atkinson, the one it turns out that talked the other three into refusing their work, that she was going to “bring Craig down” and that she was “going to have Craig wrapped around her fingers.” On her very first day of work, months before her refusal to do her job, she vocalized this to the long-term Calendula employee. I did not find this out until after the four were fired and after the situation blew up.

    6) After the four were fired, they went to the IWW office and had a meeting with Pete Beaman, who without question and taking their word as truth, agreed to try to help them. Of course, since they were not unionized while working at the restaurant, all they could do was try to cause as much trouble as possible for me – and initiate a campaign of misinformation that would serve to eventually close the restaurant and discredit me and my political work nationwide – a mythology that obviously continues to this day.

    7) Along with their newly found representative Pete Beaman, the four tried to contact me to get their jobs back. Their methodology wasn’t a phone call or email to set up a meeting but rather they purposely waited until the busiest evening of the week and approached the restaurant during the peak dinner hour to make a scene. If that wasn’t enough, Pete Beaman, leading the group, approached me in a muscle shirt, in an aggressive stance attempting to intimidate me. I refused to talk with them and they refused to leave and began harassing customers. I finally told them I was calling the police (which I never do on principle and didn’t that night – I called a couple of friends who brought weapons over to defend the building.)

    8) If that wasn’t enough, Pete Beaman, seeing an opportunity to use my name and credibility to make a name for himself and his local IWW chapter, continued to push the issue, contacting the local newspapers and writing a slanderous article published on the internet, full of misinformation. Within a matter of days, the story of Craig Rosebraugh being a union breaker and a strike breaker went national and still to this day people, like yourselves, believe the lies without question.

    9) The servers claimed that I treated them poorly – I never yelled at them, called them names or insulted them. The only thing I did do was expect them to work, and when they didn’t they were fired. I will admit openly as most of my closest friends will attest to, that I am not the easiest person to be around or work around sometimes. You try living through what I’ve lived through and see how it affects you. I did the best I could. I never set out to be anyone’s best friend in the restaurant endeavor. I set out to try to open as ethical of a restaurant as possible, treating people the best I could, while making money for justice causes.

    10) In the end I was only subjected to another misinformation campaign that has affected the political work that I have risked my life and freedom for during the last twelve years. These following things are for certain:

    A. Katherine Atkinson, on her very first day of work – told another long term employee that she was going to “bring Craig down” and have me “wrapped around her fingers”
    B. A few months later, Katherine Atkinson was fired for refusing to do her work
    C. Katherine Atkinson immediately called three other servers and convinced them to refuse to work, which led to them being fired (something one of these servers admitted later they regretted)
    D. After being fired, Katherine Atkinson organized a meeting with IWW representative Pete Beaman, who eagerly agreed to try to help the four
    E. Peter Beaman, seeing the opportunity to make a name for himself and his IWW chapter, assisted Atkinson in spreading a misinformation campaign against me locally and nationwide
    F. I have never been and am not anti-union. I actually have supported the IWW and have played benefits for them, well before Pete Beaman was ever involved.
    G. I, nor my close colleagues, still do not know who Katherine Atkinson really is, but we have our suspicions.
    H. This was just the latest in a long line of examples of repression against me as a result of my political beliefs and work.

    I get tired of having to defend myself and reputation for something I didn’t do. It takes physical and mental energy away from the political pursuits I care deeply about. All the spreading of misinformation does is serve to create divisions within the movement, weakening the movement, and rendering it ineffective. This is exactly what the federal government and its corporate leaders want. When you spread misinformation you are not only affecting the personal lives of people like myself, but you are doing the dirty work of governments and corporations who sit back and laugh, watching us continue to fight among ourselves. Please think before the next time you spread rumors, gossip, and misinformation. If you care about justice in the world, you owe it to your family, friends, community and yourself to find out the truth.

    I believe my political history and testimony from my closest friends as to my nature as a compassionate, caring and dedicated person speaks for itself. Whatever you believe, I will still be out there dedicating my freedom and life to trying to make the world a more just place. I sincerely hope you will join me.


    Craig Rosebraugh

  2. P. S. Eudonymous says:

    Craig’s public as an activist with his real name. Other people in here are not so it’s fucked up to print their real last names in this comment. Maybe you’re the cop, Anon, since you’re supplying real last names and shit.

  3. conatz says:

    As one of the editors of the blog (Recomposition) that reposted this from the IWW website, I can assure you we’re not a part of some shadowy conspiracy to sully this person’s name to coincide with whatever ‘radical project’ he’s involved in now. Rather, we’re a group of Wobblies who write and repost stuff we find interesting.

    When supposedly radical celebrities become bosses and hire wage labor, and then face what often happens in wage labor – class struggle- we find that interesting.

    A lot of the defense here is a either a near conspiracy smokescreen or uses pretty much the same talking points most bosses do (including those at Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, various warehouses, etc). Basically, questioning the agenda of the workers as a personal vendetta, playing up the benevolent character of the boss and labeling the workers/Wobs as aggressive. I can say from experience as an organizer and as an active member of the union, these talking points are nearly always 100% bullshit.

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