AF + Unions

67 posts / 0 new
Last post
Ed's picture
Ed
Offline
Joined: 1-10-03
Apr 25 2004 19:35
AF + Unions

Taken from the AF presentation at the IFA Congress:

Quote:
The nature of unionism in Britain has posed many problems for us when trying to decide on a workplace strategy. The unions are not only reformist but are often totally implicated in the exploitation of the working class. Our experience led us to adopt what some may call an ‘anti-union’ position. We argue that people should not take up positions in the union and that in many cases there is no point in even being a member of the union as its role is counter revolutionary. There is no point in trying to 'democratise' the unions or try and make them more combative. It is in their nature to negotiate with capitalism, not to seriously undermine it. They cannot be reformed. This position has caused some difficulties because as most workplace activity takes place within the context of the official union, what do we actually do? We have argued that we should be trying to organise informal groups of militant workers, whether they be union members or not. The aim is not to establish an alternative union structure, which would only end up becoming another reformist union, but to be a source of revolutionary propaganda and a catalyst for action. We would like to help develop workplace organisation but not in the sense of an alternative structure. We have had some members demonstrate the possibility of such a strategy but only around particular issues for a limited time. At this year’s conference we are going to rediscuss our workplace strategy and we expect this will be on-going. This is one area that the greater experience of other anarchists in Europe would be very helpful.

Right, I was reading the IFA congress stuff and talking to a mate about it and it actually sounds like one of the most amazing things ever. However, bringing it a bit more local, I was reading the AF presentation and saw this bit on workplace struggle which I thought was really weird. Don't get me wrong, I've got loads of respect for the AF and am prolly gonna join but this workplace struggle/union thing has always bugged me.

Now, in this presentation, it comes across as a bit overly purist. I mean, not joining a union because they're 'counter-revolutionary' seems well odd to me. I mean, I agree with most of this and the unions in this country are run by fuckwits who sell-out their members at a moments notice but I'd still prolly join one. I'd rather be in a unionised workplace than not be in one, I just wouldn't have any illusions about how much I could rely on the bureaucrats and would always struggle for rank + file initiatives. BUT I WOULD STILL PREFER TO HAVE A UNION REGARDLESS OF HOW COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY THEY WOULD BE COME THE GLORIOUS DAY! wink

Also, I don't get the thing about alternative structures. Do you think it would be shite to have an Anarchist union? I mean, do you see no place for syndicalist unions in revolutionary struggle?

I'll leave it for now to see where this goes coz I'm quite interested in the AF view on unions as it has always been a real sticking point for me and I've heard different things from different people (depending on how much they wanted me to join? wink )

Augusto_Sandino
Offline
Joined: 21-02-04
Apr 25 2004 19:50

I think a degree of comprimise is nessecary to be honest. You know that Proudhon actually refused to endorse the members of the first international that called themselves "Proudhonists" on the grounds that it would be authoritarian. If all anarchists acted this way, we really wouldnt ever get anywhere.

A union is probably the best stratergy for getting anarchism on the map in my opinion, there just isnt support for any other method. I'd even agree with attempts to subvert existing unions, just for the sake of getting anarchism back onto the political map.

pingtiao's picture
pingtiao
Offline
Joined: 9-10-03
Apr 26 2004 09:28

hello there Ed.

The text does say that "sometimes" ithere is no point being in a union, and in some cases this is true. Some unions are totally useless, but others can still act in a defensive way when properly held to account by their members.

I, and several others I would assume, don't have a problem with being in a union, but do recognise the limited gains that can be made. Strikes called through a union structure must be "official", with notice given and laws adhered to. I think that the "informal" militant network referred to in our propaganda is a way of circumventing these restrictive and counter-productive laws. Personally, I would advocate a dual-pronged approach, with membership of a more militant union for legal purposes and to use when it is useful, and informal wild-catting when that tactic would be of more use.

This to me is the point: tactics. Each structure can have it's uses, and it is silly to pretend otherwise. In the here and now, when there is little likelihood of the emergence of a strong anarco-syndicalism movement, small scale informal networks may well be more useful.

Cheers.

red n black star

Ed's picture
Ed
Offline
Joined: 1-10-03
Apr 26 2004 21:47

Ping, I don't disagree with a single thing you said. But I still don't get the alternative structures thing?

It doesn't just say that building an alternative (anarcho-syndicalist) union is a far off dream but also that it's undesirable because it would just become another reformist union. Does this mean that the AF are against building permanent, formal workplace Anarchist unions because they'll just end up being the TUC minus the hierarchy?

I guess I just don't get what "We would like to help develop workplace organisation but not in the sense of an alternative structure" means in practice. If you could clear this up for me I'd be well grateful.

The Union Gives Us Strength! red n black star

Mr. T

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Apr 26 2004 22:18
Ed wrote:
I've heard different things from different people (depending on how much they wanted me to join? wink )

Or it could just be that they have different opinions you cynic! There is a range of opinions in the organisation about this. At our last conference we had a very interesting discussion on workplace stuff and, as pingtiao said, we're interested in effective tactics which will vary from one workplace to another. The AF in ireland with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation put out a joint statement on trade unionism and industrial organisation before they merged. it's the best thing i've read recently on this (thought not everyone in the whole of the AF agreed with all of it). it's online here

Anyway, Looking at the first bit you highlighted in the quote it does seem a bit oddly worded. i think what was meant there was that sometimes the unions are so shit (e.g. actively working with the management to undermine struggles) that it's not worth joining. Not that at some point in the future they'll be on the other side of the barricade so we shouldn't have anything to do with them.

The second bit you highlighted is a tad more complicated. I don't think anarchist unions are shit but I don't think trying to build them here is the best tactic. If you look at how it is on the continent it seems anarcho-syndicalist unions which stay consistently revolutionary find it hard to grow while those that make compromises and become reformist get bigger. We also have the handicap of having a long tradition of only one union confederation in the country.

As i think we say I see our best bet as trying to make informal links with others (whether in a union or not) and try and push struggles as far as we can. Of course, if there's a huge upsurge in class struggle this strategy may need revising!

RichardGriffin
Offline
Joined: 20-09-03
Apr 27 2004 11:43

Interesting discussion. I read today in the press that between 1995 and 2003 in Britain there have been at least 1,205 cases of anti-union activity by employers to prevent staff voting for union recognition. This begs the question if unions are so shit why do the bosses do all they can to stop recognition. There have also been plenty of cases where the union leadership has been to the left of their members (rather than holding them back). This month EIS members voted for the HE pay deal even though their Executive was pushing for a no vote and a continuation of industrial action, a position anarchists in HE have taken. Given the complexity of industrial relations any general position will inevitably create contradictions.

What though is AF's position on TUs? Like Ed this has been an issue for me (and others) in possibly joining (mind you the fact I work for one may mean you wouldn't want me anyway!) I think it would be useful to have a clear position on the fundamentals.

pingtiao's picture
pingtiao
Offline
Joined: 9-10-03
Apr 27 2004 12:25

Hello Richard.

I'm with you in disliking simplistic generalisations, and have also noticed that the rank and file can sometimes be to the right of the executive. I am unsure of whether it would be possible to get a specific "AF view" on unions, as there seems to be a plurality of opinions on the topic. (that sounded pretty wank, sorry).

I intend to join one, perhaps even try to become a shop steward. I do think that they can be useful (legal protection, contract analysis etc), and could provide a forum for pushing anarchist viewpoints. I'd much prefer it if there was a significant anarcosyndicalist presence in the UK, or if my workmates would be ahppy with unofficial sabotage and resistance...

We use what we can, with no illusions.

butchersapron
Offline
Joined: 25-07-05
Apr 27 2004 14:41

I think there's two different points that need to be seperated here:

1) The AF doesn't argue that people should leave unions or try to destroy them - but we do extend the usual criticism that anarchists have of political parties being inherently authoritarian *forms* by definition and thus not being able to provide us with the needed social change (the revolution is not a party affair etc) to unions - they're explicitly designed as defensive reactions to capitalist conditions, they're accomodations with current conditions and they have to be if they want to be successfull - that's how they manage to survive, by being able to deliver deals to both sides- labour and capital.

That's not to damn them or run around shouting 'down with the unions' that's only to recognise reality - and there's no run-on point that says that these unions cannot provide pretty crucial defence of living standards and other things. Plainly, they do, and are very welcome from that aspect, so the usual crap we get accused of (not by anyone on this thread though) of arguing that we should all leave unions and refuse to take part in collective struggle is bullshit. The fundamental point is that they cannot go beyond this accomodation'

(There's also another argument that this only applies to the modern post-world war two era, and that previous to this groups like the CNT and the IWW could prosper due to a set of objective conditions that existed then but not now).

2) The question of ' alternative structures' seems to me to assume that all workplace organisation has to take on the organisational form of either a traditional union or an anarchist union, but that it has to be a union. We don't. I'd argue that struggles themselves tend to throw up the organisational form most appropriate to that particular struggle - that trying to impose a form decided on beforehand can actually weaken and hold back that struggle. In short, collective workplace action doesn't need to union based.

888's picture
888
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Apr 27 2004 21:50
Quote:
We would like to help develop workplace organisation but not in the sense of an alternative structure.

That doesn't really make sense. How what does organisation mean here and what does structure mean? How can organisation not have structure?

There's also the question of what exactly is a union. If it just means a workplace organisation, then the AF isn't against that...

I'm still not clear on the AF view of what we *should* do in workplaces, despite being a member for several years. Like some guy from SolFed said, how does a federation of workplace resistance groups differ from a union?

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Apr 27 2004 21:56

unions have to be recognised by the management for starters.

butchersapron
Offline
Joined: 25-07-05
Apr 27 2004 22:46
888 wrote:
Quote:
We would like to help develop workplace organisation but not in the sense of an alternative structure.

That doesn't really make sense. How what does organisation mean here and what does structure mean? How can organisation not have structure?

I suspect that in the context of the whole presentation (though i can't be sure) that it refers to 'alternative structures' as being 'alternative *unions*' and that this was taken as read at the meeting - it does seem a bit confusing though doesn't it...

RichardGriffin
Offline
Joined: 20-09-03
Apr 28 2004 09:52

Butchersapron - I think the position you outline in (1) is right and one I would agree with. There is obviously some confusion about the AF's position on reformist unions, but what you say is certainly something I could sign up too. Thanks.

malatested
Offline
Joined: 20-02-04
Apr 29 2004 09:39

For those interested, here is Organise!'s aim and principle on trade unionism. At present we are in the process of setting up an educational workers' network -further details in the next Working Class Resistance out this week.

Al

http://organiseireland.org

Organise! believes that trade unions cannot be used as vehicles of revolutionary change. After year upon year of attacks on our class both the Irish and British based trade unions continue to offer no strategies for effective resistance. Based on ‘social partnership’ and top down hierarchical control of their membership trade unions have clearly become more and more divorced from the point of workers power – the workplace. We reject social partnership between union leaders, bosses and government. In these ‘partnerships’ it is always the working classes that suffer. While rejecting the trade unions as beyond reform we will continue to be active in them at a ‘shopfloor’ level to fight for working class interests at work. We will however be promoting workplace resistance not standing in union elections on so-called ‘radical’ platforms. As such we promote the formation of workplace and community based resistance groups that will act as hotbeds of militancy, promoting resistance and direct action, while building and strengthening links between the workplace and community based struggles. We believe such groups should, as they develop, federate both at local/regional level and throughout industry. Such groups must promote methods of working class activity, which enable us to use for ourselves all the means at our disposal in the struggle against the bosses.

Serge Forward's picture
Serge Forward
Offline
Joined: 14-01-04
May 10 2004 10:37

There is in fact a plurality of opinions within the AF, although the differences are not that great.

On the official level, aside from the Aims and Principles, there's also a document about tactics and strategy adopted at conference a few years back (which I think is in the members' handbook).

Writing from memory here (as i don't have the members' handbook to hand!)... so if I'm make any mistakes, someone will no doubt put me right.

Basically, it argues that unions have many faults. It could be that it's not worth being a member of a particular union because of its role in a partricular workplace. It also says that it is generally better to be in a unionised shop than a non-unionised one. So if there's a union, you're usually better off being a member (though there are instances where this could be a waste of your time and money).

It also underlines some of the major problems of being an anarchist shop steward. It does not say that AF-ers should not be shop stewards, but does advise aginst having any illusions about the position.

Whether you're in a union or not, it calls for the setting up of workplace resistance groups (in fact, AF-ers had some minor succeses with this approach). It advises against setting up alternative permanent union structures.

There was a lot of other stuff as well, but I can't remember at the minute.

Rob

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Mar 15 2005 13:22

It's been suggested we revive this thread as some leftists are mis-representing the attitude people in the AF have towards unions.

People could also use it as an opportunity to say what they think should be i our workplace pamphlet (which will appear one day!)

circle A red n black star

LeonardfromLeom...
Offline
Joined: 20-09-04
Mar 15 2005 13:54
nastyned wrote:
some leftists are mis-representing the attitude people in the AF have towards unions.

Wink, wink!

Rob Ray's picture
Rob Ray
Offline
Joined: 6-11-03
Mar 15 2005 13:55

So in summary then:

SolFed - Want to replace current unionism with A-S unions, failing that they're pro radicalising current unions.

Class War - Pro Anarch unions but in general 'you get the union you create' so firstly pro radicalising current unions.

Afed - Want to set up similar networks to unions, but which have a stated policy of ignoring state law whenever necessary. In general it's a matter of personal choice whether you join a union or not.

Would that be about right?

seanmcheathen
Offline
Joined: 9-04-05
Apr 19 2005 11:02

I'm still not sure on this. would Afed or class war members join an anarcho-syndiclaist union there was one? Do they in other countries? Also what if the alternative networks talked about decide to form into a union? would afed members be aginst that?

LeonardfromLeom...
Offline
Joined: 20-09-04
Apr 19 2005 13:25
seanmcheathen wrote:
I'm still not sure on this. would Afed or class war members join an anarcho-syndiclaist union there was one?

I can think of only one CW member who is a member of the IWW, and he is also a member of another union.

To my mind union membership is low enough in most workplaces these days without prattling about setting up other outfits.

seanmcheathen
Offline
Joined: 9-04-05
Apr 21 2005 15:48
LeonardfromLeominster wrote:
seanmcheathen wrote:
I'm still not sure on this. would Afed or class war members join an anarcho-syndiclaist union there was one?

I can think of only one CW member who is a member of the IWW, and he is also a member of another union.

To my mind union membership is low enough in most workplaces these days without prattling about setting up other outfits.

that doesnt really answer my question.

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Apr 22 2005 19:21
seanmcheathen wrote:
I'm still not sure on this. would Afed or class war members join an anarcho-syndiclaist union there was one? Do they in other countries? Also what if the alternative networks talked about decide to form into a union? would afed members be aginst that?

Some AF members are at present in TUC affiliated unions so there wouldn't be a problem joining anarcho-syndicalist unions if they existed in this country. Thought we'd reserve the right to be critical of them! Some AF members are also members of hte IWW and SolFed.

It might be a problem if workplace networks decided to become a union. I suppose it would depend on how accomodating they became or how confrontational they stayed.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Apr 23 2005 12:29
Quote:
It might be a problem if workplace networks decided to become a union.

The difference between the two being... ?

Quote:
I suppose it would depend on how accomodating they became or how confrontational they stayed.

So there's nothing wrong with unions, just passive social partnership-type ones?

So maybe there is no difference between the AF and SF's politics after all?

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Apr 28 2005 21:36
John. wrote:
The difference between the two being... ?

Unions are permenent, open structures. Our view of workplace resistance groups is for people to foster a culture of resistance that at times forms temporary, semi-clandestine, unoffical groups.

John. wrote:

So there's nothing wrong with unions, just passive social partnership-type ones?

Oh no, our critique goes much deeper than that. To function unions have to seek recognition from the management and enter into negotiations with them to make deals. This is obviously opening up a whole can of worms.

But having said that if a workplace resistance group had formed a network that felt strong enough to launch a CNT-GB or AAU-GB style revolutionary union I think it would be going a bit far to denounce them! We may be influence by the ultra-left but we're pretty pragmatic in practice.

John. wrote:
So maybe there is no difference between the AF and SF's politics after all?

I have in recent years been thinking that despite the differences on paper there are between the AF and SolFed in practice there might not be much real difference. I thought the workplace activity described in the article 'starting out: organising at work' in the latest issue of Direct Action was great.

London AF and NELSF have recently agreed to hold some joint discussion meetings at Freedom so I guess we'll soon have a chance to find out how big the differences are.

pingtiao's picture
pingtiao
Offline
Joined: 9-10-03
Apr 29 2005 09:56

I think that the differences within the AF in terms of politics (from ultra-leftist to platformist to left-communist) are far greater than between the AF and SolFed (and i'm sure the same is true within SolFed).

I hope that greater cooperation comes out of these joint discussion meetings.

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Apr 30 2005 10:48

eek eek Left fucking communists?

Who are these Bolshevik infiltrators? Where's my sabre?

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Apr 30 2005 11:32

Yeah krop despite what Jack says "left communists" aren't libertarian, by their general definition...

pingtiao's picture
pingtiao
Offline
Joined: 9-10-03
May 3 2005 10:01

Ok OK, sorry, not totally up to speed on my Russian revolutionary leftist taxonomy! You get the drift of the statement though...

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
May 3 2005 20:30

Sorry about that - I couldn't resist it.

888's picture
888
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
May 6 2005 09:48

A certain primitivist known to some on these boards yearns for a merging of the two ideologies of primitivism and left communism... in the same pub discussion about a year ago another person (ex-AF) also commented that bordigism had it right, and when a revolution happened there'd naturally be a distinct group of people in the know running things temporarily.

BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
May 17 2005 13:11

Here's a thing i was reading yesterday, thought you might find it usefull, in parts. Although it's not exactly along the lines of the discussion...

http://www.anarchosyndicalism.net/articles/asutility.htm

nastyned
Offline
Joined: 30-09-03
Aug 10 2005 22:35

As I heard this again the other night - why do people think the AF take an 'outside and agains the unions' position when our aims and principles clearly say we don't? confused