"Class Power on Zero-Hours" by Angry Workers

74 posts / 0 new
Last post
comradeEmma's picture
comradeEmma
Offline
Joined: 27-04-18
Sep 2 2020 12:55
Quote:
Leftist Activoids drawn into the Tentacles of the ALP Octopus & Orbit of the Corporate Unions

Starting out strong...

Quote:
However, their organising drives with the IWWGB proved to be unsuccessful. A thorough study of the history of international syndicalism since the late 19th Century would have provided important insights to the Angries regarding a better route to organising ‘tough nuts’ and the role of strike wave movements in the emergence of mass syndicalist union movements

This seems a bit like turning the history of syndicalism on its head, haven't most "mass syndicalist unions" historically come from splits in the "established" craft- or social-democratic unions? SAC in Sweden at least came after the failed 1909 mass-strike(in reality a general lock-out as a start) and leadership had remained passive and stopped the strike too soon. Thought it would still only have about 5000 members and would only start to really grow during the first world war, not much of a "mass syndicalist union"!

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 3 2020 10:47

I'm not denying there have been exceptions (which prove the rule) like the SAC which developed from a relatively small base and then grew incrementally to be a relatively small minority in the Swedish labour movement - and by the late 1920's had been drawn into the Swedish welfare state and IR set up and threw syndicalism out the window - This trajectory must be seen precisely from the fact it did not develop from a strike wave movement and unable to wipe out a major slice of the Social Democratic LO union confederation base. The same can be said with the revived IWW in the USA in the 1930's - it secured a stable base in the Cleveland shops in which it grew incrementally in the context of the fixed term contract system and encircled by today's AFL-CIO and being heavily marginalised. In the mid 1950's with the McCarthy era and Taft Hartley Act, the IWW suffered a catastrophic split with most going over to the more militant wing of the AFL-CIO - the UE (United Electrical). Latest reports I have heard of the UE - seems not much different from the mainstream of the AFL-CIO. Yes in certain cases syndicalist union movements developed from splits in the Social Democratic aligned union movements - eg the USI in italy - but we are talking about massive splits involving 100,000's of workers. That's what we need to get going today. So as to establish a syndicalist pole of attraction in various countries labour movements.
See: 'Revolutionary Syndicalism: An International Perspective' edited by Wayne Thorpe and Marcel Van der Linden.

Awesome Dude's picture
Awesome Dude
Offline
Joined: 31-07-07
Sep 4 2020 05:10

I think the critical review in the Rebel Worker confuses the Industrial Workers of the World - Wales Ireland Scotland England (IWW-WISE) with the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB). I could be wrong and will let them clarify which is which.

Although both are registered and certified by the British governments Trade Union Officer, only the IWW claims to be a "revolutionary industrial union". The IWGB thinks of itself as a militant grass roots lead union.

But with 4 "base unions" (IWW, IWGB, UVW and CAIWU) in the British Isles region (all derivatives of the shutdown IWW Cleaners Branch) it does get a bit confusing.

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 4 2020 12:50

Presumably according to the book - IWW-WISE. However I consider the salient issues are more about the confusion (or is it duplicity?) about syndicalism some have and strategic differences. According to the review article registering and working within the UK IR system is in breach of a key syndicalist principle - advocacy of direct action and this approach leads into the fantasy of incremental growth leading to authentic mass syndicalist industrial unionism. In my previous post I have shown this road leads more into a closer orbit with the corporate unions and catastrophic splits favouring the corporate union set up.
A more appropriate strategy in line with syndicalist traditions/theory and historical precedents is more getting this strike wave phenomena going and in this process slowing the tempo/turning the tide against the employer offensive. In this context facilitating new mass breakaway unions influenced by syndicalism - direct action and ultra democratic processes and through transitional steps e.g. one step could be alliances between these breakaways, getting a syndicalist pole of attraction in the UK labour movement going. It also implies the development of an expanding syndicalist movement and wiping out the base of the corporate unions. Needless to say this approach implies having the industrial strength to defy the current UK IR set up and changing the climate in the labour movement e.g. like in the years of the syndicalist revolt immediately before the out break of WWI, etc (1). It implies also focusing the limited resources and personnel to the transport sector involving outside-the-job organisation assisting on-the-job organisation going. Big actions on the industrial front would facilitate this focusing and inspire people to get involved.
1. See Bob Holtan's British Syndicalism 1900-1914 and John Quail's "Slow burning fuse" about British Anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

bastarx
Offline
Joined: 9-03-06
Sep 5 2020 08:40
Quote:
"A militant with decades of experience across industry combined with extensive historical/theoretical research could perhaps have sorted them out. Put them on a more realistic path, helpfully ‘trimmed back’ some of the middle class/student left sub cultural oppression mongering they have picked up from previous leftist groups they were involved and encouraged them in lines of relevant research. The scarcity of such militants and an associated organisation is symptomatic of the appalling state of contemporary syndicalism in the Anglo World. Whilst a major chasm in the Angries’ historical research is apparent..."

Presumably a militant such as you Mark? Sadly such paragons of proletarian experience and humility are so very rare.

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 5 2020 10:41

Definitely not you! On a more serious note. The book 'Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW' edited by Peter Cole throws light on a gallery of these globe trotting outstanding militants in the heyday of international syndicalism. In those days there would have been innumerable of them. Without them the mass syndicalist union movements of those days - CNT, IWW, FORA, USI etc would never have been built. They definitely would have been involved in helping out the less experienced and less informed militants in terms of providing benefit of their industrial experience and research. Today we have more these mad sect builders and those seeking to copy the ways of the corporate unions on a micro level often heavily influenced by identity politics and Stalinist legacy informed 'political correctness' and obviously very confused about syndicalism.

AngryWorkersWorld
Offline
Joined: 30-04-13
Sep 5 2020 11:00

Let's leave aside the question whether our own 'industrial experience' was sufficient or not - one of our comrades worked as a printer since the early 1980s and was heavily involved in the Wapping strike, others worked and organised in the railways or dozens of industrial temp jobs including car plants. The main 'organiser' of the GMB at Bakkavor is probably more the type of figure you are looking for: a former construction worker from Scotland, who organised wildcat strikes on construction sites in the 1980s. But here comes the problem: confronted with mainly female workers of South Asian background in a structurally weaker (food) industry under conditions of the hostile environment of the Brexit era all his 'militantism' and old-schoool syndicalist wisdoms amounted to very little. This is the problem with syndicalism, a lack of reflection of the various wider social issues that impact on workers' confidence. We encourage everyone to make an effort and go through the Bakkavor wage campaign account and point out missed opportunities - which there were - and make productive proposals. Just to call for a 'strong leader' to 'sort things out' is a dead end...

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 5 2020 11:36

If they had experience in assisting militants in slowing the tempo of the employer offensive and facilitating steps toward strike waves. Their advice based on this experience would be very valuable for you.Surely? If they encouraged research by you into the development of various mass syndicalist movements, focusing on the role of transport workers in these processes again that would be useful eg the role of transport workers in the heyday of the CNT in organising various tough nuts. That advice would be valuable for you and encourage you to adopt a better strategy as outlined in the RW review article. Hardly a dead end but open a new vista for you. What I'm talking about is such militants encouraging lines of research and sharing their strategic and tactical insights. A sort of dialectical relationship. The sort of thing you get with artists and scientists criticising each others work and feeding off each other creatively. Its has nothing to do with bullying or psychological manipulation techniques you have in today's leftist sects/cults. It would be about looking at your strategy/activity in the bigger picture of tackling the employer offensive and corporate unionism.

AngryWorkersWorld
Offline
Joined: 30-04-13
Sep 5 2020 13:12

We are definitely in favour of workers' militants from different sectors learning from each other. Some of our close friends and comrades are tube drivers and RMT reps (friends of the now RMT full-timer who formed the 'work-mates collective'), we invited them and their fellow unionists to the gate protests at the food factories - the problem is that their 'organising' experience in London Underground has only limited relevance in large, but hidden-away food factories run by precarious workers. But even inside the RMT things are not that easy: current calls to form rank-and-file structures to counteract the Stalinist control of the head-office are important and backed by various militant reps, but in the end they remain a tiny minority, even in a 'militant' union like the RMT, which organises the central nodes of the transport sector. Unfortunately there is no magic key and better writing down all difficulties - even if that means that everything seems like 'failures' - then creating the illusion of quick fixes. That was our aproach with the book...

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 6 2020 10:19

With ASN activity in the railways here in NSW- with a little salting and prior contacts, an industry paper and outside the job helping on the job organisation- a militant network was greatly assisted in the railways - winning a great victory against restructuring for privatisation of the Sydney rail network in 1999 leading to a state wide rail lightning strike affecting millions - slowing the tempo of employer offensive. Limited resources and personnel informed by a strategy informed by extensive historical research were focused on one sector and did act as a catalyst to get some important results - impossible without it. Nothing magical about it. No rabbits pulled out of hats!

Your salting in the railways and with existing contacts, getting an industry paper and bulletins going shouldn't be too difficult - learn from our experience and our industrial paper. You certainly could re-energise militants and greatly assist their work. Potentially achieving great things. Getting the different dimensions of industrial organising going on-the-job and outside-the-job. You had important pieces of this transport organising puzzle in your grasp, however you didn't seem to have grasped the tremendous importance of it. You focused on a sector eg West London factories and warehouses which was just too difficult for you to make major progress as mentioned in the review article and your book. It could have also led to an absolute disaster - a major strike defeat due to sabotage and isolation of corporate unions, strike breaking and the state repression, etc. You seem to have worn your selves out somewhat and lost valuable time in focusing on this other sector which has the potential to transform the whole situation in the UK labour movement and open many doors - which are closed to you at the moment. You did learn things but at too high a cost.

If you had the opportunity to interact with one of these key militants I mentioned in my previous posts - they could have provided you with hard hitting valuable criticism - looked deeply into the organising chess game, seen moves ahead and over the horizon which you can't see, but they can. Looked at things in historical context. Probably ripped your proposal apart and argued for this other sector to focus and encouraging you in lines of relevant research. You are not going to like it, but this exactly what you needed. Unfortunately these days we don't have many of these people

Just like a young artist brings his paintings to a Picasso or such to look at and comment upon.
If such bothered to even comment - the Picasso would probably make all manner of devastating criticisms - probably suggests the artist throws all the paintings in the bin and starts all over again. The young artist is angry and doesn't like it - but he sees the tremendous value of the criticism and starts again on the blank canvas.

bastarx
Offline
Joined: 9-03-06
Sep 6 2020 11:37
asn wrote:
Just like a young artist brings his paintings to a Picasso or such to look at and comment upon.
If such bothered to even comment - the Picasso would probably make all manner of devastating criticisms - probably suggests the artist throws all the paintings in the bin and starts all over again. The young artist is angry and doesn't like it - but he sees the tremendous value of the criticism and starts again on the blank canvas.

This is such bullshit Mark, there most likely aren't any Picassos of workplace organising out there and you certainly aren't one despite your long held and loudly propagated delusions. If you are so influential in Sydney public transport, so able to see several moves ahead how come most of the STA depots have been privatised in the last few years?

bastarx
Offline
Joined: 9-03-06
Sep 6 2020 11:38

DP

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 6 2020 21:16
asn wrote:
Just like a young artist brings his paintings to a Picasso or such to look at and comment upon.
If such bothered to even comment - the Picasso would probably make all manner of devastating criticisms - probably suggests the artist throws all the paintings in the bin and starts all over again. The young artist is angry and doesn't like it - but he sees the tremendous value of the criticism and starts again on the blank canvas.

Your orthodox approach to organizing can be summed up as “painting-by-numbers.”

If nothing else, AWW’s greatest contribution with Class Power was immersing themselves as worker-militants to struggle in industries that have amassed new “concentrations” of workers in all their multiethnic complexity. In my opinion, the 3 main chapters weren’t just workers’ inquiries but went beyond that and were thoroughly detailed radical sociological examinations of working class life at a fixed locale along commodity chains within the vortex of global capitalism. I learned immensely from the book. Some bloke from Down Under preaching the lessons of fighting against the privatization of the rails in Sydney to teach Gujarati moms — making samosas for piece-rate on food-processing ready-meal assembly lines — how to engage in class struggle is absurd. It would be like you teaching me to paint.

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 7 2020 12:52
asn wrote:
Latest reports I have heard of the UE - seems not much different from the mainstream of the AFL-CIO.

I’d be interested in hearing what your sources were because from my direct experience of collaborating with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) to organize an event (a railroad worker safety conference) at their union hall in Chicago in 2015, they’re the antithesis of an AFL-CIO union. Have been since, as one of their militants told me, they “fucking quit” the CIO in 1949. They are more like the ILWU (which was expelled in 1949, rejoined in 1988, and quit again in 2013) with its Wobbly roots, both having a collective, democratic process for rank-and-file decision making. UE has been a radical, independent union for 71 years; local officials work on the shopfloor, unlike any AFL-CIO Union I know of, hence the militancy that led to the 6-day Republic Windows & Doors factory occupation in December 2008 (for an excellent account of that struggle, see Kari Lyderson’s Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover and What It Says About the Economic Crisis).

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Offline
Joined: 15-02-18
Sep 6 2020 17:23

It is at least interesting to see how book reviews are a kind of Rohrshach test where the reviewer ends up just making whatever point they want to make, who would have thought that someone would criticise AWW for not seeing the importance of newspapers enough? In retrospect, someone should have done a bingo card of different criticisms when the book came out - "too syndicalist", "not syndicalist enough", "care about newspapers too much", "don't care enough about newspapers" and so on.

On the actual point of "why not all get jobs on the railways?" though, I think that making already-quite-well-organised industries slightly better organised is a good thing to do, but I'm very unconvinced that it does much to make unorganised sectors of the economy any more organised. If you want to see the logistics sector organised, surely that ultimately has to come from within the logistics sector?

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Sep 7 2020 09:22

Several new more and less sympathetic reviews of the book were just published on the Insurgent Notes blog, including one by Don Hamerquist:

http://insurgentnotes.com/2020/09/getting-serious/
http://insurgentnotes.com/2020/09/commentary-on-class-power-on-zero-hour...
http://insurgentnotes.com/2020/09/a-syndicalist-organizing-project-frust...
http://insurgentnotes.com/2020/09/class-power-on-zero-hours-a-brief-comm...
http://insurgentnotes.com/2020/09/class-power-on-zero-hours-lessons-for-...

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 7 2020 12:34

Quote: "Some bloke from Down Under preaching the lessons of fighting against the privatization of the rails in Sydney to teach Gujarati moms — making samosas for piece-rate on food-processing ready-meal assembly lines — how to engage in class struggle is absurd. It would be like you teaching me to paint"

What's this beetle juice you have been drinking? ! You are talking nonsense - I was addressing comments to the Angries and 'saner' others on the board '- I was taking account of the problem of such groups as them and generally in the Anglo world - of how best to deploy limited personnel and resources given low morale in the revolutionary milieu in the context of organising drives. Yes they provided a lot of new info about the sector however at a cost I believe they can't afford eg burnout and loss of time on another sector they should have focused. Its obvious from reading the volume they haven't done research in key areas which could have assisted them or been stimulated to pursue this research by a key militant. Received advice and criticism from such a militant for a better way to approach organising in the sector - and how to tackle the tempo of the employer offensive and the corporate unionism phenomena.

Quote "It is at least interesting to see how book reviews are a kind of Rohrshach test where the reviewer ends up just making whatever point they want to make, who would have thought that someone would criticise AWW for not seeing the importance of newspapers enough?"

In the book they refer to the workplace newspaper as just a transmitter of info. Of course that is the case - particularly this is important re countering management/union propaganda barrages which precede big attacks and so potentially helping spark resistance. But they neglected to discuss all these other dimensions these papers can play. These are valid points made in the review and help develop a better understanding of the role of these papers .

Quote: "On the actual point of "why not all get jobs on the railways?" though, I think that making already-quite-well-organised industries slightly better organised is a good thing to do, but I'm very unconvinced that it does much to make unorganised sectors of the economy any more organised. If you want to see the logistics sector organised, surely that ultimately has to come from within the logistics sector?"

But I'm not advocating everyone gets jobs on the railways. I have a much more nuanced approach. Its more about getting those two dimensions of organisation going and its interaction
- on the job and outside the job. From what the Angries say - they seem to have some contacts in the sector - so not much salting required. However the morale of their contacts maybe a bit low and may take time to get fully perked up. But with some salting and existing contacts they could move more rapidly with the industry paper and so start playing the psychological game as mentioned in the review. They could start building up the outside the job organisation with some from the leftist milieu re helping with distro, following up potential contacts, helping with paper production, intelligence and counter intelligence work, etc. I do like this salting aspect of the Angries work - but I see it of a more short term duration. I worry about the burn out aspect. Its more about linking up or energizing an existing militant networks or building up a new one.
I'm looking at getting strike wave movements going - probably large scale unofficial action leading to major breakaways forming and in this context a new syndicalist oriented alliance of unions leading to a new union confederation forming.
Something like this was starting to occur in the context of the 1947 post WWII strike wave in France (See Bantman and Berry edited volume on Transnational Syndicalism and essay on France). These big actions are likely to raise the morale and inspire workers in the sector the Angries have unsuccessfully focused upon. As part of this breakaway process you could get a mass syndicalist transport workers union going - with their help via cutting supplies at busy times, blockades etc. helping union recognition and conditions strikes. It would be a lot easier to organise a syndicalist union in the sector the Angries have focused. It would of course be a long term indirect strategy.

In 'Down Under' connected with ASN work we played a role in the initial steps of could have led to such a strike wave - in March 2004 for 4 days Drivers for Affirmative Action - an unofficial direct action movement- disrupting much of the railways in the state- involving a work to rule - by train drivers in Sydney/NSW involving 600 drivers - started to inspire other sectors to take direct action eg 600 train guards. Unfortunately we weren't quite quick enough getting a log of claims for the movement going - one day too late - the drivers were bought off with bonuses and rebel guards backed off. In France of course there are such cases as in late 1986 and early 1987 and Dec 1995 you had unofficial industrial action starting amongst train drivers and spreading to other sectors of railways and much of the public sector (in one case by one train driver launching a petition similar in a way to Drivers for Affirmative Action) - with the formation of coordinating committees. We have never had this massive upsurge except say in the case of the 1917 Great Strike wave but the potential beginning of this sort of thing.
Fighting privatisation in the railways and other transport sectors is just one spin off of our work but our long term goal is about getting a mass syndicalist union confederation going. Integral to this work is also tackling the dynamics of the employer offensive.

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 7 2020 12:43

Also you need to account of the Clarrie OShea gaoling related general strikes in 1969 in Vic. This was connected also with the breakway Trades and Labour Council in Victoria connected with Socialist Left ALP so probably looking at official action.

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 7 2020 13:10

Quote: "if you are so influential in Sydney public transport, so able to see several moves ahead how come most of the STA depots have been privatised in the last few years?"

The situation in the STA and buses are much harsher in certain respects than the railways (eg drivers having to get up at 4 am in the morning etc) and some years before the privatisation of Region 6 in 2017 there was a partially successful management/union boss/ALP counter attack against us. It did significant damage to us. Whilst in 2002 we helped establish the grass roots bus workers group 'KickStart' the first such group in 20 over years - with drivers from half dozen depots - a tremendous organising achievement given the harsh conditions. With some of the people leaving the industry and facing harassment on the job - it could not be sustained. We are still very active in the sector. The defeat of the privatisation push in the railways in 1999 however would have had flow on effects in say the buses - delaying the privatisation push there considerably - and gaining time for militants with ASN assistance to organise. KickStart maybe seen in this context. However as we all know the class struggle can see saw, the bosses with the help of the union bosses do fight back. However like the ants when their nest is smashed up - they rebuild it. We are bit like this.

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 7 2020 21:44

All references to labor geniuses akin to Picasso aside, I'd like to continue discussing AWW's Class Power.

Sure, organize on the rails, docks, highways, warehouses/distribution & fulfillment centers, retail, "last mile" delivery, air transport, maritime, docks, logistics planning, etc., etc. But what about food production specifically?

Here's a quote from one of those reviews:

Class Power book review wrote:
As their book was released on the cusp of the covid-19 pandemic, their focus on “essential workers” is prescient—especially regarding food production. The worldwide crisis showed how vulnerable this just-in-time inventory-less production system truly is, as well as how effective workplace actions at chokepoints can be. For radicals to contemplate a world beyond capitalism, simply knowing where our food comes from is indispensable. We cannot transition to another communistic system for all 7.8 billion of us on the planet feeding ourselves without reengineering an alternative to industrial agriculture and highly centralized food processing.

I think this was the relevance of the book, although I think historical accounts of organizing attempts are crucial too.

Where else are there ongoing attempts to organize in sectors that grow, transport (think cold chain here), process, and sell food? Walmart is the world's largest retailer of organic food, but we all know how successful they've been at crushing attempts to organize, especially as production chains have spread across the planet and workers have been assembled in fairly new concentrations. Where, anywhere, have workers gotten traction in these sectors? (honest question)

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 8 2020 12:13

Here's a paragraph to discuss:

Class Power on Zero-Hours wrote:
Collectivising the control over agricultural production
Larger numbers of the urban working class will have to go and convince the ‘owner-run’ farms of the agricultural sector to share their burden and trouble with working the soil and create direct, non-market related links between town and countryside. While urban workers move towards the rural agriculture areas,supporting their seasonal agricultural workers, some of the agriculture and equipment can be brought closer to town – here we might actually be able to learn something from Cuba and the significant experience with urban gardening and rapid conversion from an oil-based agriculture to a less fossil fuel based one after the collapse of the Soviet Union. These two movements, from town to countryside and vice versa, will be a first organic step towards a dissolution of the capitalist geographic division of labour. We can take the first steps in undermining the erosive nature of industrial farming by getting permaculture folks involved, while equally learning from industrial greenhouse production elsewhere (p. 351).

Yes, yes, yes. How are we going to de-commodify the production of foodstuffs, de-carbonize food supply chains, make them ecologically sustainable and break the town-country divide? That quote has some fucking great ideas. Like the Cubans, where necessity -- mostly from lack of Soviet oil & subsidies -- became the mother of invention. Call me a hippie, but we need to start adopting permaculture everywhere there's arable land, not just in rural areas but in urban ones too. The questions this paragraph infers are what we should be talking about, in addition to shopfloor class struggle.

Noah Fence's picture
Noah Fence
Offline
Joined: 18-12-12
Sep 8 2020 20:29
Quote:
Call me a hippie

You’re a hippie.

I don’t actually think so but hey, you did ask!

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 8 2020 23:29
Noah Fence wrote:
Quote:
Call me a hippie

You’re a hippie.

I don’t actually think so but hey, you did ask!

Here's a recent photo. Judge for yourself.

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 12 2020 17:47
R Totale wrote:
I think that making already-quite-well-organised industries slightly better organised is a good thing to do, but I'm very unconvinced that it does much to make unorganised sectors of the economy any more organised. If you want to see the logistics sector organised, surely that ultimately has to come from within the logistics sector?

Great point!

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 12 2020 17:47

I read the book pretty carefully and took a dozen pages of notes.

I also did the same with Jane McAlevey's No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age.

Has anyone else read both?

Class Power takes a critical view of McAlevey's concept of "deep organizing," where I'm in wholehearted agreement with McAlevey, while they seem sympathetic to "base building" in the U.S. -- which I am highly critical of because it's often the ideology of cadre-based sectarian Leftist groups with little or no connection with the working class. In this case, I completely agree with Angry Workers of the World's approach of "getting rooted" away from the academic-activist "cosmopolitan bubble" of the Left.

I've love to have a discussion on this thread comparing both books, one about organizing in the UK and other about it in the US. For the latter, I think McAlevey's chapter on the 2012 Chicago Teachers' Strike is the best account of it that I've ever read. Micah Uetricht's Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity came off like it was written by the union's PR department, and most other accounts are equally uncritical.

McAlevey chapter with a detailed chronicle of the organizing struggles at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina is incredibly inspirational. The workforce was so diverse and in struggle they bridged so many of those divisions. The documentary, Union Time, is also an amazing historical account of that 16-year fight. The organizing by food processing workers at Smithfield is an even more longitudinal version of AWW's 3 1/2-year experience at Bakkavor.

I hope Angry Workers of the World write a follow-up eventually to see whether they left a legacy of class struggle in Greenford and Southall that might rise up again some day. I hope that both happen.

Anyone else have ideas about this?

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Offline
Joined: 15-02-18
Sep 13 2020 20:54

The McAlevey book is on my to-read long-list but I've not got around to it yet. What did you think of the critique of McAlevey's ideas around social leaders? I think I was quite suspicious of that concept when I first heard of it, which was probably at least partly due to my not understanding how it differed from standard leftist approaches of wanting to get local politicians/union officials/vicars and imams*, etc, on side, then kind of came around to it as something that smart people who are better at organising than I am seemed to think was important, but the criticisms that AWW make seem to make sense to me. But if you have a response to the AWW's criticisms on this subject then I'd be interested to hear them.

*and to be clear, I'm not saying that it is the same as those things or that there's no difference, it's probably more that I didn't really understand it when I first heard about it.

AngryWorkersWorld
Offline
Joined: 30-04-13
Sep 14 2020 08:02

Thanks all. Three of us read the McAlevey book and we wanted to write a review, but never got round to it. Some of our criticisms are in the response to Organizing.Work. Our main question to people on forums such as this one is how comrades think that we can re-build a revolutionary working class organisation - or if people see no need for this. Why does it seem so difficult to create political collectives or commitment if it is not mediated by some delusion of a historical mission or vanguardist duty?

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Offline
Joined: 15-02-18
Sep 14 2020 10:51
AngryWorkersWorld wrote:
Our main question to people on forums such as this one is how comrades think that we can re-build a revolutionary working class organisation - or if people see no need for this. Why does it seem so difficult to create political collectives or commitment if it is not mediated by some delusion of a historical mission or vanguardist duty?

That is a big question. My rough answer would go something like, political organisations are only worthwhile or meaningful if they're in some way reflective of a wider mood, or culture or consciousness or whatever, so you can't have an FAI without a CNT, or a Potere Operaio/Lotta Continua without a hot autumn if that's your preferred reference point. Either way, I think that the conditions aren't particularly favourable for revolutionary organisation right now - on that point, I agree with the CWO review, but where I differ is that I think we can do some things that in whatever small ways help create the pre-conditions, or make the conditions slightly more favourable, or whatever. I think the AWW project is worthwhile in that it attempts to address those conditions, and I think that Organizing Work, when they're not just writing bad book reviews, and the likes of Jane McAlevey are also making contributions to that task. If we had more of a solid layer of militants who had experience of the kind of workplace organisation that OW or McAlevey try to promote, I think we would be in a much better place to discuss what sort of political organisation is possible or desirable. Without wanting to comment on how far the US base-building lot actually live up to their ambitions, they do seem to at least be on the same page in terms of judging what tasks are most urgent right now.

That's a very partial and provisional answer, but to fully answer it would be the sort of thing that people write 400-page books about. I suppose one of the other big questions is what form of organisation would be adequate to August 2011, or Ferguson or Kenosha or whatever. I suspect that a hypothetical "party of August 2011" or whatever might look quite different to a hypothetical "CNT-FAI of the call centres and warehouses", I don't know how exactly to reconcile those things.

asn
Offline
Joined: 2-01-07
Sep 14 2020 13:00

"Why does it seem so difficult to create political collectives or commitment if it is not mediated by some delusion of a historical mission or vanguardist duty?"

You need to look at this question in the historical context - take account of the legacy of mass stalininism in the shape of the Communist Parties in the Anglo world and elsewhere for many decades in the 20th Century - they had much better financing and international support ie Moscow Gold so radically marginalised other currents eg non vanguardist groups - anarchists/syndicalists. The communist parties due to these factors didn't face the major splits and instability these other currents/groups faced for some decades. The Trot/Marxist-Leninist groups also transmitted this Stalinist influenced vanguardist legacy often connected with smallish splits from the CP's.
There is a very interesting new book out which looks at the development of Maoism in the USA. It shows based on newly released FBI files - it stemmed from an FBI Cointelpro Operation - there were some genuine individual maoists in the CPUSA in the early 1960's. So as to disrupt the CPUSA - the FBI created a Maoist faction in the CPUSA from these individuals. It led to splits from the CP and a Maoist movement in the US developed heavily influenced by the Stalinist legacy. Probably there were similar developments in other countries at this time with the aid of the Deep State. As yet we don't know the full story.
On libcom there is Ken Weller recollections of 1956 in the UK - where there was 850 CP members were dependent on the CP and Soviet institutions for their jobs - so despite most disagreeing for the party line - for purposes of their bread and butter - they had to go along with the Party Line. The CP UK controlled a lot of unions and many shop stewards were drawn into their orbit or had to - to rise in the bureaucracy and so joined the CP. So drawn into Stalinist legacy and vanguardism. So today particularly in the Anglo world - you have this paradox - the CP's and other Marxist Leninist groups have shrivelled up, but you have the Stalinist legacy hegemonic on much of the Left. If not the vangardism you get the ethical and moral corruption and the psychological manipulation of the sect/cult gurus. For a discussion of this phenonema in Australia in the so called anarchist milieu -ie Jura Books see recent discussion about setting up Anarchist Federations on Libcom on organise forum.

"I think that making already-quite-well-organised industries slightly better organised is a good thing to do, but I'm very unconvinced that it does much to make unorganised sectors of the economy any more organised."

But these industries are so called mostly organised by the 'corporate unions' which are interwoven with the various tentacles of the corporate set up/deep state eg AFL-CIO-CIA and facilitate the employer offensive.

"If you want to see the logistics sector organised, surely that ultimately has to come from within the logistics sector?"

But currently their morale is likely to be low so they won't approach you re organising. However if you can greatly raise their morale - they can be inspired re organising in a new syndicalist union. (With the help of a new syndicalist transport workers union not too difficult to win recognition and conditions disputes.) This is why the generation of the strike wave phenomena is so important - big actions and major victories not the microscopic stuff of the solidarity networks of the so called syndicalist groups in the UK and elsewhere - would be the sort of thing to raise that morale.
Two books to read are Bob Holtan's British Syndicalism 1900-1914 - looks at the massive strike waves in this period in mining and railways - in that context a new syndicalist union emerged in a very difficult to organise sector - restaurants, cafes etc in London - Its discussed in Wilf McCartney's "Dare to be Daniel" which we published many years back and is on Libcom. Wilf was inspired by the upsurge of direct action and made contact with the syndicalist movement and helped get a syndicalist Catering Union going - which emphasised on the job and guerilla style actions. There was a very big syndicalist movement in those days - ISEL (Industrial Syndicalist Education League) an informal organisation with delegates at first congress - 60,000 members and second congress 100,000. Very much a militant workers movement and not one as today with bases amongst lower middle class/student sectors. Light years different from today in the UK and elsewhere.

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Sep 15 2020 00:38
R Totale wrote:
The McAlevey book is on my to-read long-list but I've not got around to it yet. What did you think of the critique of McAlevey's ideas around social leaders? I think I was quite suspicious of that concept when I first heard of it, which was probably at least partly due to my not understanding how it differed from standard leftist approaches of wanting to get local politicians/union officials/vicars and imams*, etc, on side, then kind of came around to it as something that smart people who are better at organising than I am seemed to think was important, but the criticisms that AWW make seem to make sense to me. But if you have a response to the AWW's criticisms on this subject then I'd be interested to hear them.

*and to be clear, I'm not saying that it is the same as those things or that there's no difference, it's probably more that I didn't really understand it when I first heard about it.

Here's what McAlevey has to say:

No Shortcuts wrote:
The process of building a majority and testing its commitment level also allows a far more systematic method of assessing which ordinary people have preexisting leadership within the various structures, a method called leadership identification. These informal leaders, whom I will call organic leaders, seldom self- identify as leaders and rarely have any official titles, but they are identifiable by their natural influence with their peers. Knowing how to recognize them makes decisions about whom to prioritize for leadership development far more effective. Developing their leadership skill set is more fruitful than training random volunteers, because these organic leaders start with a base of followers. They are the key to scale.

When I first read this, I recoiled because it was against my lifelong anti-authoritarian politics. I thought, "just another traditional vanguardist ideology from the sectarian left." But then I reflected more deeply, remembering that when I was on a 4-day strike in 2008 the self-identified activists were actually the first to cross the picket line (granted, out of a workforce of 11, only 7 of us actively struck, 2 honored the picket line by staying home, and 2 scabbed). Those days were on the cusp of social media, but one of the scabs was doing proto-"virtue signaling," by regularly wearing buttons or t-shirts of whatever political cause she supported. One day she crossed the picket line with a button of the United Farm Workers on her hat. I heckled her, saying Cesar Chavez would come out of his grave and slap her upside the head for wearing a UFW symbol while crossing a picket line. She went into the building and within 5 minutes a cop pulled up, went into the building, came out and interrogated me about threatening to "slap" the scab (who was also a lying snitch).

Here's another example from Loren Goldner's excellent "Class Struggle Beyond Unionism: Boston-Area Public Workers' Ferment 1981-82":

Class Struggle Beyond Unionism wrote:
. . . so I was talking to everybody I could, and what was interesting and really intriguing is that before anything happened, there were these people who seemed to be quite authoritative, and experienced militants, people who had been involved in the 60's, and doing all these various political things, anti-Vietnam war, spoke very authoritatively about what needs to be done, and what we need to do, and when I called the first meeting, and got these people to attend this meeting, and I walked into the principal's office and asked for his signature, and he thought this was just a huge slap in the face, and he didn't speak to me for the rest of the year, he was so angry. 'The meeting occurred, and these very people who were so authoritative sat there mute, completely mute in this meeting. People who had never had any political experience were first of all arguing for ... this one woman, who had had no political experience, she understood the dynamics of what was happening, she said: "I don't have an opinion on the strike. But I do have a strong opinion about the right to meet and speak about it. And she was really going against the principal and arguing, defending me. And she really kind of saved me by speaking about how important it was for the faculty to come and hear what everybody has to say. These very people, and this was not just my experience it was the experience of everybody in the coalition, everybody was stunned at who did not step forward who stood in the background, these people who had been active in the union, people who spoke so radically in the classrooms, all these people you would have anticipated being out there first, stood in the background during this entire episode. The only time they stood forward was when the legal channels of the union came in, it's the only vehicle they were capable of moving to.

Here are the key lines: "these very people who were so authoritative sat there mute, completely mute in this meeting" and "these people who had been active in the union, people who spoke so radically in the classrooms, all these people you would have anticipated being out there first, stood in the background during this entire episode."

These people were not leaders, even if they themselves claimed they were. They are the cowards who go running to union bureaucrats or the cops when things get messy. They cannot be trusted.

So who to trust? Those who you know with 100% certainty will have your back. And if you don't know who those people at your workplace are, it's your responsibility to go find them. At my workplace of 11, it was easy. It was two of my co-workers who I knew wouldn't share our secrets with the boss; these two women would tell our supervisor to her face to "fuck off." They would defend other workers, almost as a kneejerk response. The second scab was always talking about how she would never forget how U.S. President Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981, claiming how "pro-labor" she was. That is, until it came down to selling her own labor power. She had been at the workplace the longest, 12 years (without a raise in all that time), and was the first to take a side-deal the boss offered her. And she crossed the picket line before the other scab with the UFW pin.

My trusted two fellow workers were what McAlevey calls "organic leaders." They didn't wear their politics on their sleeves, but everyone knew they could be trusted. But when dealing with a workforce like in the Chicago's Teachers' Union (CTU), the point about "leadership identification" becomes even more urgent. CTU has 25,000 members at 660 schools, so the processing of organizing a fight requires a system where this can be "scaled up." It needed to be methodical and by the time of the 2012 strike, it was.

But an added obstacle was that the state legislature enacted a new law, requiring 75% approval of union members to authorize a strike. So the militants in the union dug down, identified those organic leaders, built a militant force thoroughly prepared to fight (that went outside the workplace and included parents and other working class community members), and 90% of union members voted overwhelmingly (98%) to authorize a strike. The latter is what McAlevey calls the "super majority" necessary not only to strike, but more importantly to win a strike. Which the Chicago teachers did (in all honesty, with the weakness of not stopping 100 school sites from being closed).

The Los Angeles teachers, organized into United Teachers (UTLA), organized in a similar way for their 6-day strike last year (the strike vote approved by 98% of union members), but with workforce of 35,000 (second largest in the U.S. to New York City) and achieved, if not a complete victory, at least they prevented any concessions, got class-size reductions and more staff on sites (nurses, counselors and librarian), in addition to raises and holding the line on further charterization.

For class struggle in the U.S., a deeper look would incorporate the Wisconsin Uprising in 2011, how this affected the Occupy Movement later that year. Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, made a frontal assault on public sector unions, including teachers. I don't think the Chicago teachers would have been so militant without this having happened the year before. Half a decade later, you wouldn't have statewide education workers' strikes in West Virginia (where all schools in all 55 counties shut down, and was not just teachers but other school staff too, like bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, etc.), Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Colorado, Arizona and others. And citywide strikes, like in Oakland, California last year, among several others.