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Elections in the unions

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AndrewF
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Mar 20 2006 16:29
Elections in the unions

I see the question of what position an anarchist organisation should take to elections in trade unions has popped up on a couple of threads recently so I thought it might be a good idea to start a thread on that question alone. It might be worthwhile to read the WSM position paper on the unions as part of this discussion, see http://struggle.ws/wsm/positions/tradeunions.html

I'm addressing the Irish situation and Irish anarchists specifically as I don't see a point in repeating the ideological debate of the international movement here - I'm happy to do that in one of the major forums if anarchists from outside Ireland want to do so.

In terms of Irish anarchism there is no real controversy about anarchists going forward for election to 'rank and file' positions like union rep., shop steward or I think branch committee and/or trades council. ( I may be wrong about the last two - I'm just saying so because WSM members have held both positions as various times in the past without controversy. )

Likewise there is no disagreement that an anarchist cannot take a position that involves having power over the membership, as it says in the WSM postion paper No WSM member will accept any unelected position that entails having power over the membership. A few years ago we had a member resign over just this sentence because she wished to (and became) a branch official in SIPTU.

The disagreement that seems to exist is how does an anarchist organisation deal with elections to such a position in a trade union. And in particular the examples of Des Derwin and Carol Anne Duggan who were both rank and file factory workers who ran for national SIPTU positions as part of a proclaimed strategy of building a rank and file movement in SIPTU.

The WSM position paper says

We fight to change the role of the full-time officials - not to change the individuals who occupy the positions. Their decision-making powers have to be removed and returned to the rank & file membership. They should be elected and paid no more than the average wage of the people they represent. They should only serve for a fixed period of no more than five years after which they return to ordinary work. The unions will have to win the demand for jobs to be kept open in order for this to be realistic.

and

Where revolutionaries can gain enough support to win election to national officerships in large unions, or indeed small ones, this support should not be used to merely elect a candidate. Instead it should be used to fundamentally change the structure of the union in such a way as to return power to the membership and turn the officers into administrators and resource people rather than decision makers.

The Aims and Principles of Organise! don't address this question directly, but they do say

While rejecting the trade unions as beyond reform we will continue to be active in them at a ‘shop-floor’ 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.

However in person and online individual members of Organise have strongly expressed the opinion that Organise! is against any support for radical candidates running in union electiions beyond the rank and file level.

That is a summary of my understanding of the respective postions of the two organisations - it is possible I have missed policy statements from Organise! on this question although I have spent a bit of time checking their website.

It is my opinion that there is no real gap between the two organisations of any importance because there are no strong contradictory written policy expressions of such a gap. There is clearly tactical disagreement of this question but in terms of the WSM we admit that this disagreement is the subject of internal debate and in terms of Organise! we only have individual expressions of particular positions on this.

I think we should however to very wary of a tendency to seize upon the small difference between the two organisations that may exist and blow this up into a major issue to 'explain' the need for two seperate organisations. If you look at trotskyist politics you will see that happen all the time - for them it makes sense because organisation A needs to 'prove' it is the real leadership of the working class while organisation B are a dangerous set of renegades who seek to lead the workers away from their real leaders. That sort of analysis of differences is why trots often hate the trot group that is closest to them (and from our POV identical) many that any other.

So having outlined what I see as the positions and having warned of exaggerating differences I want to look at the actual question of what position to take with regard to radical candidates for non rank and file positions.

I'll start off by saying that I actually think both positions quoted leave quite large areas uncovered and contain contradictions within them.

The first question is what position should an individual anarchist take to a union election in general?

I'd argue that they are not identical to parliamentary elections so we cannot simply extend our analysis of parliament to the unions. There is a tendency in anarchism to do so and thus reject any idea of elections and indeed voting but neither Organise nor the WSM have taken such crude positions in the past so why do so here?

For the sake of argument lets assume we are talking of positions that are subject to at least some level of mandate and recall as is the case with the SIPTU examples under discussion.

There are at least three possible general positions an individual anarchist could take

1. Never to vote for any candidate, no matter how radical or rank and file.

2. Only to vote for candidates that have a track record as a rank and file activist and who are standing on a platform of greater union democracy and running as part of building a rank and file movement.

3. Voting for one candidate or another in any election where there seems to be any real difference between what the candidates stand for.

These are the questions an individual anarchist faces whenever their are elections but they are also the questions an anarchist organisation faces unless it decides simply to stop functioning as an organisation each time this question arises.

My own position as an individual is between 2 and 3 because I recognise that which individual gets elected to a post in SIPTU can have a big impact on what happens in the union in relation to what sort of support workers in struggle get from the union. But in relation to the public position of the anarchist organisation I've tended to argue for a position in the WSM that is closer to 1 than it is to 2!

As I've become aware of the contradictory nature of my own positions on this I've tended to gravitate over time to 2 as I reckon its pretty daft to do one thing but argue for the organisation to say something else.

In general I think this is one small example where the tiny and insignificant size of anarchist groups in the last decades has led us to take positions of purity on the expectation of having no impact anyway and hence not paying the price for positions that sound good but would deliver problems.

I think its useful to do a mental exercise where anarchists are no longer a tiny fringe within a particular union but instead are the major oppositional force in it. A situation where a large minority of our fellow workers pay real attention to what we say and may well act on the advice we offer.

In that situation the anarchist influenced vote might well be enough to swing most elections.

I'm presuming this is in the context of most of our effort being in building a real rank and file movement within the union - one that is capable of delivering real solidarity whenever workers go into dispute.

In that case are we better in such disputes to have a union executive dominated by right wing professional union bureaucrats trained in HR colleges. Or one dominated by rank and file workers elected from the shop floor on a program of promoting union democracy and militancy.

One such executive will work to limit militancy, restrict solidarity, isolate struggles and look for legal hoops through which workers must jump before taking action. The other may well do the opposite. Remember this would make all the difference as to whether workers in dispute are 'official' and thus qualify for strike pay.

I think if we are ever that successful the answer to the question of elections will be very, very obvious and the punishment for advocating the wrong answer will be very, very severe.

dara
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Mar 21 2006 23:37
WSM wrote:
3.7 This bureaucracy, not just because of the individuals in it but because of its objective position in relation to the membership, has to be opposed to workers' self-activity on most occasions. It is, by its nature, authoritarian.
WSM wrote:
4.1 The response of many on the left is that we have to elect and/or appoint 'better' officials. They see the problem primarily in terms of the individuals who hold the posts. This stems from their conception of "socialism" as some sort of giant state enterprise bureaucracy where things are done "for the workers". Workers' self-activity occupies no leading role in their scheme of things, just as real workers' control is not part of their plan for a "socialist" society. Their ideas are rooted in an authoritarian view of the world.

Ok, i think this deserves debate, so i'll try now.

The problem in my view is that it is not the leaders of SIPTU that are the problem, it is the structure. The structure, is one that is disempowering for the members, that enforces passivity, ensures inequal access to information, and ensures that communication between workers is mediated by bureaucracy. For me, the purpose of any anarchist organisation within such a union should be arguing against the internal structure, pushing for more power for the grassroots to effect decisions made. The purpose of the revolutionary organisation is, at all times, to advance the self-activity of the w/c.

My problem is that the self-activity of the rank and file is not advanced by electing a candidate on a reform platform, since this suggests that the members should elect someone to fix the union for them. It is, in effect, deferring responsibility for union reform.

martinh
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Mar 22 2006 09:48

FWIW this might be worth broadening out beyond Ireland. At least 3 SolFed members in London voted in the last Unison GS election for Jon Rogers and if we'd had our act together might have made a call for others to do so. (In the end he got less than the SP hack). He's a principled Labour lefty and we've worked with him before and compared to Dave prentis anyone looks good. As individuals we all thought it was the right thing to do, while holding no illusions as to it being revolutionary if he'd won it probably would have made a difference, even just to the current pensions dispute. Even the challenge from the left at the time made Prentis pretend to care about the issue.

Regards

martin

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AndrewF
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Mar 22 2006 11:26
dara wrote:
The problem in my view is that it is not the leaders of SIPTU that are the problem, it is the structure.

Sure but no one here would disagree with this, the bulk of the position paper is outlining this.

dara wrote:
For me, the purpose of any anarchist organisation within such a union should be arguing against the internal structure, pushing for more power for the grassroots to effect decisions made. The purpose of the revolutionary organisation is, at all times, to advance the self-activity of the w/c.

Again I don't think there is any disagreement on this

dara wrote:
My problem is that the self-activity of the rank and file is not advanced by electing a candidate on a reform platform, since this suggests that the members should elect someone to fix the union for them. It is, in effect, deferring responsibility for union reform.

Again there isn't much disagreement here

I'm not simply being pedantic I think with this debate its very imporatant to explore exactly where the actual disagreement is. Making general arguments that simply restate the common anarchist position won't help resolve the issue they will just lead to the feeling that people are setting up strawmen.

The disagreement is really whether in the context of the anarchist organisation putting almost its work into helping to build a grassroots in the union it would support, oppose or say nothing about a candidate from that grassroots that decided to run for a position on a platform of reform and who saw there campaign as a way of reaching beyond the usual layer of grassroots activists (candidates have a certain level of access to all union members through election material and can be asked to address individual branches). In the case of Des this is exactly what happened.

Policy wise both organisations rule out one of their own members doing this but if your involved in a larger network then not every member will share that PoV. So how do you deal with the situation where someone decides to run?

--

MarthinH's post is interesting because it confirms what I suspected which is that on the ground individual members of an anarchist organisation facing a union election are quite likely to vote for a candidate whose election would make some sort of real difference. But I'd be quite surprised if the same individuals would argue for SolFed publishing an article advocating a vote for such a candidate. There is something worth thinking aboout here as this appears to be an example of an organisation adopting an ideologically based position that its individual members do not intend to follow because they reckon doing so would be counter productive. Whatever way you look at it that sounds unhealthy.

BTW not having a go at SolFed in particular above, its the example we have on the table but I suspect the same thing happens in a lot of anarchist organisations. If anything its a point in SolFeds favour that one of it members can admit the compelxity of this situation.

gurrier
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Mar 22 2006 12:39

In a situation where anarchist support could significantly influence the outcome of an election, I think that we would be able to force specific measures onto the platform of the candidate. So, for example, we could go to the candidate and negotiate a list of specific democratisation reforms that the candidate would have to promise to implement in order for us to throw our backing behind them. Then we could happily campaign on these issues rather than simply asking people to vote for a candidate who we feel is a better man for the job. To me, that would be a good way of moving the whole election thing in a more democratic direction, with people voting for specific policies rather than voting for individuals. I even think that there wouldn't be too much problem with our own members running for positions with a very clear and enforceable policy proposal.

I'm generally a bit wary about us putting work into election campaigns when we would not be willing to run ourselves. If we think it's worth putting work into getting somebody elected, then surely it would be even better if we had candidates who would run themselves.

So, if we had a precise list of policy measures and some strategy for enforcing these on the candidate that we supported (or recalling the candidate if they got carried away with their power) then I think we should be willing to both support candidates and to put forward our own candidates.

IrrationallyAngry
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Mar 22 2006 13:25
martinh wrote:
At least 3 SolFed members in London voted in the last Unison GS election for Jon Rogers and if we'd had our act together might have made a call for others to do so. (In the end he got less than the SP hack). He's a principled Labour lefty and we've worked with him before and compared to Dave prentis anyone looks good.

That genuinely surprises me for a few reasons:

1) Some member of one of your sister groups on another list was recently arguing that real anarchists don't vote even in referendums let alone in elections to positions. That was in the context of him giving out about anarchists who voted against various EU treaties. He was from one of your little propaganda groups though, so he might just be a doctrinaire nut.

2) On the specifics of the last Unison election, Rogers is by all accounts a nice guy but hardly much of a radical. He wouldn't for instance share Des Derwin's rank and fileism or vaguely revolutionary politics. In fact he was standing as the candidate of a barely existent broad left as part of an SWP inspired left vote-splitting operation. It was obvious from a long way out that the only effect of his candidacy would be to take some votes from a much stronger and more left wing candidate.

Deezer
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Mar 23 2006 01:20

Joeblack:

Quote:
In terms of Irish anarchism there is no real controversy about anarchists going forward for election to 'rank and file' positions like union rep., shop steward or I think branch committee and/or trades council. ( I may be wrong about the last two - I'm just saying so because WSM members have held both positions as various times in the past without controversy. )

Seems pretty uncontroversial although I do often have doubts about Trades Council posts particularly where there isn't even the cover of a claim that you represent anyone (in my case I'm still a SIPTU delegate to the Belfast Trades Council but I'm not elected working or a shop steward) and in general Trades Councils are not at all representative of the Trades Union movement or its members. Having said that they do come into their own (or at least the Belfast one does) in terms of co-ordinating solidarity for workers in struggle, the FBU dispute, postal workers dispute and Joanne Delaney campaign being cases where the Belfast Trades Council did provide welcome and effective solidarity across sections of the TU movement.

Joeblack:

Quote:
Likewise there is no disagreement that an anarchist cannot take a position that involves having power over the membership, as it says in the WSM postion paper No WSM member will accept any unelected position that entails having power over the membership. A few years ago we had a member resign over just this sentence because she wished to (and became) a branch official in SIPTU.

The disagreement that seems to exist is how does an anarchist organisation deal with elections to such a position in a trade union. And in particular the examples of Des Derwin and Carol Anne Duggan who were both rank and file factory workers who ran for national SIPTU positions as part of a proclaimed strategy of building a rank and file movement in SIPTU.

The WSM position paper says

We fight to change the role of the full-time officials - not to change the individuals who occupy the positions. Their decision-making powers have to be removed and returned to the rank & file membership. They should be elected and paid no more than the average wage of the people they represent. They should only serve for a fixed period of no more than five years after which they return to ordinary work. The unions will have to win the demand for jobs to be kept open in order for this to be realistic.

The thing is Joe there are unelected positions that entail having power over the membership of a Trades Union and elected posts that also entail having power over members of the Trade Union - and the posts in question in the Des Derwin thing are such posts. Nor can building a rank and file strategy come from the top down, and while Carol Ann Duggan was a shop floor worker she is also a member of the SWP. The WSM position on this amounts to a campaigning position for democratising the unions that I believe ignores the role of the Trades Unions and the TU bureaucracy.

Joeblack:

Quote:
Where revolutionaries can gain enough support to win election to national officerships in large unions, or indeed small ones, this support should not be used to merely elect a candidate. Instead it should be used to fundamentally change the structure of the union in such a way as to return power to the membership and turn the officers into administrators and resource people rather than decision makers.

While the rest of this post has so far been in a personal capacity I can safely say that Organise! do not see it as the role of revolutionaries (certainly not libertarian communist ones) to be trying to gain support for elections to national officers posts whether you believe that this can 'return the power to the membership'.

Quote:
While rejecting the trade unions as beyond reform we will continue to be active in them at a ‘shop-floor’ 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.

However in person and online individual members of Organise have strongly expressed the opinion that Organise! is against any support for radical candidates running in union electiions beyond the rank and file level.

The bit in italics is from our Aims and Principles but I'm confused at yer use of the word 'However' it implies there is a contradiction between the A&Ps and what members of Organise! have said to you - there isn't. For further information there is this from our article on the Irish Ferries dispute:

Quote:
It is increasingly clear that the trades unions are inadequate when faced with the day to day realities faced by the working class people who make up their membership. All too often the workers must battle their union hierarchies before they can bring the struggle for better terms and conditions to the bosses.

As the contradictions between our experience and the direction of the trades unions becomes more starkly revealed tensions will increase within the labour movement. Recent years have seen the establishment of new unions in Ireland, the short-lived ILDA and the IWU. We do not encourage splits from the existing unions at this stage but we do recognise the necessity to foster connections and solidarity networks amongst rank and file workers, across barriers of trades sectionalism. We do believe that the working class is capable of forging a new revolutionary labour movement from out of the remains of the old, a movement that breaks with reformism and adopts a revolutionary perspective capable not only of winning immediate demands but in the long-term capable of challenging capitalism itself.

You've warned of exaggerating differences and then you go on to put across a point of view, with a limited disclaimer that this is subject to debate in the WSM, that is clearly not compatible with the written or verbally expressed position of Organise! Informing our position is not a question of how similar or dissimilar national executive TU elections are or are not from parliamentary elections but rather that our emphasis is on "ordinary people coming together to win change through their own efforts", an emphasis on solidarity and direct action that rejects "the notion that ordinary people are powerless, and so must leave the important decisons to someone else" and lay the framework for workers control of our workplaces and communities. The quotes are from the issue of Workers Solidarity that urged SIPTU members, not to build a rank and file strategy, but to elect Des Derwin as general Secretary of SIPTU to do just that from above.

In your musings on 'real' anarchist influence in the Trades Unions:

Quote:
In that case are we better in such disputes to have a union executive dominated by right wing professional union bureaucrats trained in HR colleges. Or one dominated by rank and file workers elected from the shop floor on a program of promoting union democracy and militancy.

One such executive will work to limit militancy, restrict solidarity, isolate struggles and look for legal hoops through which workers must jump before taking action. The other may well do the opposite. Remember this would make all the difference as to whether workers in dispute are 'official' and thus qualify for strike pay.

I think if we are ever that successful the answer to the question of elections will be very, very obvious and the punishment for advocating the wrong answer will be very, very severe.

If we are in a position where our ideas and our activists are of real influence in the labour movement I think you have ignored what may be the only real option open to us. One elected official given the structures of most TUs will not be able to deliver democracy or militancy, replicating even the election of one or two militants/radicals across the movement seems unlikely and the same problems of sectionalism and the role fulfilled by social democratic/reformist/conservative unions are likely to remain. Are you aware of the levels of, and often the non-existant level of strike pay even in 'official' disputes Joe? This is a non-argument, particularly given that increasingly 'strike pay' is raised outside the confines of the union in dispute by workers acting in solidarity with each other.

The other obvious answer is to break with moribund Trades Unionism in the creation of a revolutionary labour movement. That may seem a bit of a way off but no further off than your senario where we are instead successfully influencing workers to elect radical candidates to executive posts in the current unions.

gurrier:

Quote:
In a situation where anarchist support could significantly influence the outcome of an election, I think that we would be able to force specific measures onto the platform of the candidate.

So its a question of workers control or lobbying then? And in how many unions can your candidate actually implement the reforms you demand of them on election - the bureacracies are generally much more stifling than that. Neither can the folk deciding to back a candidate simply recall them afterwards in the vast majority of TUs there is simply no mechanism for this.

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AndrewF
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Mar 23 2006 10:59
Boulcolonialboy wrote:
The bit in italics is from our Aims and Principles but I'm confused at yer use of the word 'However' it implies there is a contradiction between the A&Ps and what members of Organise! have said to you.

'However' was not intended to imply a contradiction but to say that verbally individual members of Organise have said things in addition on your written position. I use that form because I am cautious of assuming what an individual member of an organisation says about something is the policy of the organisation. This wouldn't apply in the WSM so I don't want to assume it necessarly applies with regards to an Organise member (You may remember I tend to get annoyed when someone presents what some WSM member said to them at some point in time as if it was WSM policy. So I avoid doing the same thing with other organisations).

In general policy should be written, it can't really be a verbal thing because for instance (in the WSM) after six months how is a new members going to be able to relate a policy that was agreed at a DC meeting but for which there is no written record. In the public sphere at least Organise actually don't appear to have an explict policy on TU elections although you may of course have a written non - public document. Or I may have missed something.

BTW on the Irish Ferries quote I don't see anything to disagree with in it in terms of our position paper.

Boulcolonialboy wrote:
Informing our position is not a question of how similar or dissimilar national executive TU elections are or are not from parliamentary elections but rather that our emphasis is on "ordinary people coming together to win change through their own efforts", an emphasis on solidarity and direct action that rejects "the notion that ordinary people are powerless, and so must leave the important decisons to someone else" and lay the framework for workers control of our workplaces and communities. The quotes are from the issue of Workers Solidarity that urged SIPTU members, not to build a rank and file strategy, but to elect Des Derwin as general Secretary of SIPTU to do just that from above.

One swallow does not a summer make!

In other words it really makes no sense to select one article from Workers Solidarity and claim that it is somehow representative of our real position when there is not only our position paper (which explicitly rules out the broad left 'change from above strategy) but 100's of other articles published over a 22 year period! Also Workers Solidarity is meant to reflect policy it does not make policy so articles in it cannot over rule policy agreed at conference.

Actual WSM position wrote:
The response of many on the left is that we have to elect and/or appoint 'better' officials. They see the problem primarily in terms of the individuals who hold the posts. This stems from their conception of "socialism" as some sort of giant state enterprise bureaucracy where things are done "for the workers". Workers' self-activity occupies no leading role in their scheme of things, just as real workers' control is not part of their plan for a "socialist" society. Their ideas are rooted in an authoritarian view of the world.

http://struggle.ws/wsm/positions/tradeunions.html

That said your 'summary' of what we published is really very careless. Even Des was not standing to change things from above, what he said in the interview we published with him when we asked him "How do you think this can be achieved?" was

Des wrote:

Not by electing a different General Secretary. But

that vote can be a focus for what will achieve it. For

members, who want change, to organise to bring it

about. To organise, even before that, to be able to

act, or to assist those acting, even when the support

of our leaders is missing. It won't be overnight. Not

with disorganisation and disinterest on the shop

floor and non-attendance at Branch meetings. Not

with social partnership as the accepted norm.

Beginning with networks and bulletins and on to

stronger link ups, a movement can take off. And

take up, on the job, in the Branch and from the

podium of Conference, an agenda for change: free

collective bargaining, solidarity and sympathetic

action, campaigning on the social wage, open

debate on major issues, changes in the Rules and

the structures of the Union, election and

accountability of officials.

The root will be, as it always was, strong Sections

and Section Committees in the workplace. That

agenda is not fully agreed, or even fully envisaged,

even among all those supporting my candidacy. It

doesn't have to be. There is enough common

ground to take first steps - another has led off before

me - and hammer out the agenda along the way.

Nothing can be forced on people - especially by a

lone General Secretary - because it will take a great

many members acting in agreement to effect even

the first real changes.

http://www.ainfos.ca/02/sep/ainfos00473.html

Why pretend that his position, never mind ours was "not to build a rank and file strategy, but to elect Des Derwin as general Secretary of SIPTU to do just that from above"? This very obviously is neither true nor fair.

Is the real importance that it allows you to disagree with us on something - something that is really of very minor importance. I think it's important to learn from the mistakes of the international anarchist movement (and indeed the trots) where instead of debate you get this sort of misrepresentation and as a result a lot of hot air and bad feeling.

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Shorty
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Mar 23 2006 14:45

Good to see we're actually getting some discussion going rather than repeating what's already been said but rewording it. smile

JoeBlack2 wrote:
I think it's important to learn from the mistakes of the international anarchist movement (and indeed the trots) where instead of debate you get this sort of misrepresentation and as a result a lot of hot air and bad feeling.

You've previously said that discussions about international groupings are not of great importance while we are currently so small in Ireland (I'd agree), but if we are discussing this and in terms of the "differences" between WSM and Organise!, aren't the WSM closer to the CGT and Organise closer to the CNT interms of work councils in spain?

Just throwing that in there, don't let this go off on a tangent, maybe this needs to be split to another thread, though it is related.

gurrier
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Mar 23 2006 18:05
Boulcolonialboy wrote:
So its a question of workers control or lobbying then? And in how many unions can your candidate actually implement the reforms you demand of them on election - the bureacracies are generally much more stifling than that. Neither can the folk deciding to back a candidate simply recall them afterwards in the vast majority of TUs there is simply no mechanism for this.

Yep, I realise all this, I'm talking about a hypothetical situation where there was a sizeable anarchist influence in a trade union. In that case I think, of course, that we would be spending almost all of our time and energy building rank and file organisation in opposition to the bureaucracy - whoever that was. However, life isn't always so simple and simply ignoring all elections - even when their outcome could make this task significantly easier - wouldn't neccessarily be the best strategy.

Let's say there were 3 factions in a trade union, the anarchists with influence over 30% of the membership, the right with 40% and the social democrats with 30% and the right and social democrats were both running for election on different platforms. For example, we can imagine a situation where the government is getting worried about the growing influence of anarchists and is promising legislation to criminalise more forms of industrial action, the right wing candidate promises to sign up to this legislation and expel anybody from the union who ignores it, while the social democrat promises to call a general strike against it (vey hypothetical I know). In such a situation, where the anarchists are in a position to swing an election and where there is a significant practical difference between the outcomes, I don't think it makes sense to ignore it.

However, I also don't think it makes sense, from our point of view, to simply call for a vote for the better candidate. I think it would make more sense to present the left candidate with a list of unambiguous demands which s/he would have to give an undertaking to follow through on in return for anarchist support. Of course, there are no formal ways to force the candidate to follow through on her promises, or to recall her if she refuses, but in a situation where anarchists have influence over 30% of the membership, there are ways around that - by publicising the promises very widely and by submitting the actions of the succesful candidate to close scrutiny.

We could campaign for an anarchist program of rule changes, for example, and simply say that anybody who made a firm commitment to carry out the program, along with realistic safeguards to make sure that they carried it out, would be worth voting for.

martinh
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Mar 23 2006 20:39
IrrationallyAngry wrote:

That genuinely surprises me for a few reasons:

1) Some member of one of your sister groups on another list was recently arguing that real anarchists don't vote even in referendums let alone in elections to positions. That was in the context of him giving out about anarchists who voted against various EU treaties. He was from one of your little propaganda groups though, so he might just be a doctrinaire nut.

Well I don't think the SF has a position on referenda - TBH we have so few here it's hardly worth it, esp. as so many of them are things that are fairly obvious crap like directly-elected mayors. I'd argue we need to go through what's involved in any of these things and whether they're worth the effort. I tend to think the Nice thing in Ireland was, if only for delaying it for a while and making the argument that it's not just the right who are against the EU.

IrrationallyAngry wrote:

2) On the specifics of the last Unison election, Rogers is by all accounts a nice guy but hardly much of a radical. He wouldn't for instance share Des Derwin's rank and fileism or vaguely revolutionary politics. In fact he was standing as the candidate of a barely existent broad left as part of an SWP inspired left vote-splitting operation. It was obvious from a long way out that the only effect of his candidacy would be to take some votes from a much stronger and more left wing candidate.

Well, it might have something to do with direct experience. He's branch sec of Lambeth LG branch, who have a good record compared to a lot of others in London , including those run by the SP. I'm in the absolutely awful Lewisham branch for historic reasons and think that the SP are certainly doing a better job in Greenwich and Bromley, but there are better organising efforts going on elsewhere. (All this is of course with a general caveat about how none of it is actually much other than defensive). The chief thing to hold against Rogers is his continuing support for Labour, when the Labour left has actually withered around him.

Regards

Martin

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Mar 27 2006 09:01
JoeBlack2 wrote:
Boulcolonialboy wrote:
The bit in italics is from our Aims and Principles but I'm confused at yer use of the word 'However' it implies there is a contradiction between the A&Ps and what members of Organise! have said to you.

'However' was not intended to imply a contradiction but to say that verbally individual members of Organise have said things in addition on your written position. I use that form because I am cautious of assuming what an individual member of an organisation says about something is the policy of the organisation. This wouldn't apply in the WSM so I don't want to assume it necessarly applies with regards to an Organise member (You may remember I tend to get annoyed when someone presents what some WSM member said to them at some point in time as if it was WSM policy. So I avoid doing the same thing with other organisations).

If caution about implying a position from the verbal comments of Organise! members is what you wanted to reflect then I'd suggest more careful use of the English language may be in order because in that context a contradiction is implied by use of the word 'however'.

JoeBlack2 wrote:
In general policy should be written, it can't really be a verbal thing because for instance (in the WSM) after six months how is a new members going to be able to relate a policy that was agreed at a DC meeting but for which there is no written record. In the public sphere at least Organise actually don't appear to have an explict policy on TU elections although you may of course have a written non - public document. Or I may have missed something.

BTW on the Irish Ferries quote I don't see anything to disagree with in it in terms of our position paper.

Yeah it should, at present we are going through the process of preparing motions for our next Congress Joe, these include a more detailed position on the Trades Unions - among other things.

Leave off with the lecturing on how to deal with policy - we have after all only been about post merger for 2 to 2 & a half years.

As for non-public documents, we don't have secret policies but we do have minutes of meetings were these matters have been discussed. There is also the joint AF ASF Trades Unions statement from before the merger, there is not really enough detail in this on specifics on electons but it does state that we would go for shop steward posts. I would suggest however that the fact that we wouldn't countenance elections to national officers posts can at least be implied if anyone expects our position to be in anyway consistent with our analysis of the Trades Unions generally. Can we take this as policy? If we consider it formed part of the basis for the merger I'd say that'd be a pretty safe assumption.

JoeBlack2 wrote:
Boulcolonialboy wrote:
Informing our position is not a question of how similar or dissimilar national executive TU elections are or are not from parliamentary elections but rather that our emphasis is on "ordinary people coming together to win change through their own efforts", an emphasis on solidarity and direct action that rejects "the notion that ordinary people are powerless, and so must leave the important decisons to someone else" and lay the framework for workers control of our workplaces and communities. The quotes are from the issue of Workers Solidarity that urged SIPTU members, not to build a rank and file strategy, but to elect Des Derwin as general Secretary of SIPTU to do just that from above.

One swallow does not a summer make!

In other words it really makes no sense to select one article from Workers Solidarity and claim that it is somehow representative of our real position when there is not only our position paper (which explicitly rules out the broad left 'change from above strategy) but 100's of other articles published over a 22 year period! Also Workers Solidarity is meant to reflect policy it does not make policy so articles in it cannot over rule policy agreed at conference.

Christ sorry, I know I really shouldn't have quoted an artilce about direct action or argued that "ordinary people coming together to win change through their own efforts" and had the audacity to suggest this might be WSM policy (joke grin ). But seriously there was more than just one article on the candidature of Des Derwin - and apart from your attempt at being poetic it is hardly a problem of the Organise! position (or lack of one) that supporting Des's election bid contradicts the direct action article I quoted or that it contradicts the policy statement below (unless of course the mention of 'workers self activity' in your election blurb makes everything alright) that you pasted in your original post.

JoeBlack2 wrote:
Actual WSM position wrote:
The response of many on the left is that we have to elect and/or appoint 'better' officials. They see the problem primarily in terms of the individuals who hold the posts. This stems from their conception of "socialism" as some sort of giant state enterprise bureaucracy where things are done "for the workers". Workers' self-activity occupies no leading role in their scheme of things, just as real workers' control is not part of their plan for a "socialist" society. Their ideas are rooted in an authoritarian view of the world.

http://struggle.ws/wsm/positions/tradeunions.html

That said your 'summary' of what we published is really very careless... [MY EDIT] Why pretend that his position, never mind ours was "not to build a rank and file strategy, but to elect Des Derwin as general Secretary of SIPTU to do just that from above"? This very obviously is neither true nor fair.

Is the real importance that it allows you to disagree with us on something - something that is really of very minor importance. I think it's important to learn from the mistakes of the international anarchist movement (and indeed the trots) where instead of debate you get this sort of misrepresentation and as a result a lot of hot air and bad feeling.

No Joe - the real purpose was to indicate the contradiction at the heart of a strategy to encourage working peoples control of their own struggles and the attempted election of one man to the General Secretaries post in SIPTU. No matter the platform he stands on these are not the same thing, nor given the nature of such elections is encouraging people to vote for Des to sort it out for them going to contribute to such a task - because that is the expectation in such elections. Members look at the blurb, the promises of the candidates, and decide to put a X in a box - they are not engaged beyond this nor do they expect to be in the context of these sorts of elections. And how could they? In reality the candidates in these elections are unknown to the vast majority of the members.

If you want to avoid "a lot of hot air and bad feeling" then perhaps a face to face meeting to discuss such matters - without any alterior motive such as a 'merger' - is something you should reconsider Joe. That and acknowledging the fact that people may well actually have differing positions on this, differences which they do not see as minor.

in solidarity;

circle A red n black star

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Mar 27 2006 09:12
gurrier wrote:
...I'm talking about a hypothetical situation where there was a sizeable anarchist influence in a trade union. In that case I think, of course, that we would be spending almost all of our time and energy building rank and file organisation in opposition to the bureaucracy - whoever that was. However, life isn't always so simple and simply ignoring all elections - even when their outcome could make this task significantly easier - wouldn't neccessarily be the best strategy.

Let's say there were 3 factions in a trade union, the anarchists with influence over 30% of the membership, the right with 40% and the social democrats with 30% and the right and social democrats were both running for election on different platforms. For example, we can imagine a situation where the government is getting worried about the growing influence of anarchists and is promising legislation to criminalise more forms of industrial action, the right wing candidate promises to sign up to this legislation and expel anybody from the union who ignores it, while the social democrat promises to call a general strike against it (vey hypothetical I know). In such a situation, where the anarchists are in a position to swing an election and where there is a significant practical difference between the outcomes, I don't think it makes sense to ignore it.

However, I also don't think it makes sense, from our point of view, to simply call for a vote for the better candidate. I think it would make more sense to present the left candidate with a list of unambiguous demands which s/he would have to give an undertaking to follow through on in return for anarchist support. Of course, there are no formal ways to force the candidate to follow through on her promises, or to recall her if she refuses, but in a situation where anarchists have influence over 30% of the membership, there are ways around that - by publicising the promises very widely and by submitting the actions of the succesful candidate to close scrutiny.

We could campaign for an anarchist program of rule changes, for example, and simply say that anybody who made a firm commitment to carry out the program, along with realistic safeguards to make sure that they carried it out, would be worth voting for.

This is really about tinkering with the existing Trades Union structures then gurrier and its clearly based on staying within those structures, and the rather naive assumption that we'd reach 30% influence before being squeezed out by the hierarchy.

By way of example the NIR SIPTU shop stewards section a number of years back (when I was one of them) tried to take on our full time official after we were shafted on an industrial action ballot. We had around 90% in favour of industrial action and the official withdrew the threat of industrial action - we tried to pass a motion of no confidence and were promptly summonsed to Liberty Haul to be told not only that our official was untouchable but also that we could all be stood down as reps and have others appointed in our place pending a later election (it is in the rule book).

The other option gurrier, one I'd certainly be in favour of if we had 30% of SIPTU, would be to split SIPTU and establish a union that did include delegate and recallable structures. You may actually find that such a move may also increase the likelihood of a 'left' swing in SIPTU and other TU's out of fear of losing more members.

Cheers;

circle A red n black star

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Mar 27 2006 14:35

Honestly if you had 30 percent of the membership of the union you could have just performed a coup'd'syndicat and declared the bureaucracy to be gone.

Which is not too different from splitting.

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Nov 9 2006 13:39
revol68 wrote:
okay i've been directed here by the mighty overlord JoeBlack2 to offer some sort of response to his pathetic blah blah blah

So you start with your usual trolling insults and then you go on to avoid the substantive points I actually raise with ICC style rhetoric - what a waste of time. Your 'position' simply reflects not expecting what you say to have any influence beyond a particular internet sub culture that responds to such rhetoric. You might return to my first post and have a proper go at answering it without the insults etc.

Having got my return in lets try and avoid the usual insult slinging and talk about the actual politics - we both might learn something.

revol68 wrote:
Joes point about strike pay is pathetic, firstly cos I can't remember the last time a union actually gave proper backing to it's members and secondly because the whole basis of self organisation is that we shouldn't have to rely on some crumbs from our union masters table,

1. This isn't a 'hypothetical situation' my dad spent 12 weeks on strike when I was in my last year in school, that was the reason I picked strike pay as an example as it was important to my family back then. I think for most workers who end up in a protracted strike this becomes of major importance and the threat of withdrawal of strike pay has been used by the bureaucracy to bully reluctant workers into a settlement they don't like. I'm pretty sure the TGWU did this to the Gate Gourmet workers to end their strike.
2. Strike pay is not crumbs from our 'union masters table' it is part of the money we pay as union members every month (or week) out of our wages. I presume your not paying unions dues which is why this passed you by. We've already collected the money, why should we have to do it again?
Where I work recently went through a series of mass union meetings resulting in a threat of action (which seems to have succeeded in itself), that threat wasn't for a protracted strike but if it had been I can only imagine the weird looks I would have got if I'd have said we shouldn't seek strike pay from the union but instead raise it ourselves. Its the sort of idea that only makes 'sense' on a left bulletin board.
3. You can if you wish claim both that union elections are irrelevant and complain that unions no longer give 'proper backing to it's members', the basis of my argument is that there is in fact a fairly obvious connection between the two. I stated it explcitly in what I took to be a rhetorical question in the post that opened this thread - "In that case are we better in such disputes to have a union executive dominated by right wing professional union bureaucrats trained in HR colleges. Or one dominated by rank and file workers elected from the shop floor on a program of promoting union democracy and militancy."

revol68 wrote:
Gurrier takes Joe's logic and runs with it, saying that he doesn't rule out the WSM running union candidates, as long as they are somehow "tied to a programme", absolute niave wank and furthermore opposed to the very principles of libertarian communism.

Gurrier is I think in contradiction with our current position here but actually I do think he has a point in that while its an easy position to hold when you have little or no influence, it might need a rethink if we ever got somewhere. Quite how such a rethink might deal with the massive contradictions involved I'm not sure. Anyway its a red herring on this thread as our current position rules this out and in fact we lost a very good member a number of years back precisely because she took up a full time union position. Its not a position in other words we are likely to change easily or in the short term.

revol68 wrote:
If 30% of a workforce were sympathetic to anarchist ideas it makes no differance to me, i don't care if they are sympathetic, what matters is who is willing to struggle, who will take militant action and argue for self organisation.

This is semantics - surely its obvious that 'sympathetic to anarchist ideas' includes central anarchist ideas like being 'willing to struggle, .. take militant action and argue for self organisation'.

revol68 wrote:
The undertone of this argument seems to be that the role of anarchists such as the WSM is to go in and argue to garner support for our ideas and then with this support push for specific actions and struggles.

It's not and that would be a stupidly mechanical view.

There is obviously a strong relationship in any workplace between what you do and what you say in terms of how seriously fellow workers are willing to consider what you say, in particular if it is way outside their normal understanding of things. My experience of industrial action is that WSM style arguments are seen at the start as being too hostile and distrusting towards the union leadership - I really can't image how this ultra stuff goes down with workers who do not already have a considerable experence of struggle.

I do reckon its different where a particular set of workers have an experience of union bureacurats telling them one thing and doing another - but the vast majority of unionised workers in Ireland do not have this experience and are if anything liable to initally see bureaucrats as too dangerously militant (in the recent situation I outline above the full timer at the meetings would consistently reassure everyone that she'd only push for industrial action as a last resort).

revol68 wrote:
Seriously catch yourselves on, maybe less time dreaming up hypothetical situations and abit more learning the ABC's of libertarian communism and the history of workers self organisation outside of "trade unions" would do youse some good.

And for you I'd advise less book reading and more trying to test your position by arguing it at union meetings. The odd looks you get might lead you to reexamine those books and see what you missed (and I think you have missed stuff).

That aside a couple of questions
1. Your accuse me of using 'hypothetical situations' but what I posted is in part based on my experience of being a union member for over a dozen years, of being a union rep for some of that period and my famlies experiences of unions. I'm not claiming to be a particularly active militant, but I'm not being 'hypothetical'. However I suspect you are. Seeing as you raised that issue can I ask if your a union member, or have you ever been? If you are/were have you ever been involved in either negotiations or preparation for industrial action? If not its no big deal (your just out of college and may not have had a chance to join a union) but in that case I'd like you to withdraw your ''hypothetical situations''.
2. Are you arguing against voting in any union election or just being against admitting that you are doing so (i.e. advocating that others do likewise). If it is against voting is that at every level or just to full time positions?

Deezer
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Nov 9 2006 16:22

What is there that we have ignored for 8 months Joe? I've responded pretty much to everything youse have came off with on here - do you just want to repeat the excercise with revol68 in the hope that he'll say something that sounds nasty so you can dismiss all criticism as trolling?

See my above posts - if we aren't going to agree we aren't going to agree but don't pretend no one responded to your or gurriers posts.

My post, followed by Olivertwisters were the last two on this thread so to say there was no response for 8 months is extremely disingenuous.

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Nov 9 2006 16:32
Boulcolonialboy wrote:
What is there that we have ignored for 8 months Joe?

Where did the 'we' come from, I'm addressing revol in those posts not 'we' whoever you mean (Organise I presume? -I wouldn't expect a response from Organise! to a post to libcom anyway.)

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Nov 9 2006 16:46

thanks for the serious reply, I'll try to make some time and reply to some of this later - I do think it could be a useful discussion

(i obviously posted this before revols second 'reply' - and revol I was responding to your trolling on unrelated threads not to organise in relation to the 8 months, also I've no problem with your relative lack of experience or the fact that you went to college so neither was a sneer).

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Nov 10 2006 11:49

First off something of a disclaimer.

The ironic thing about this argument is when the issue of supporting rank and file candidates was first raised in the WSM I argued against it (this was before Des standing, it was another r+f worker, Carol Ann Duggan). I also questioned whether Des's second attempt was worthwhile as I didn't see there being much of an opportunity to use his campaign to build a rank and file network.

So why am I arguing this?

My perspective is that the whole question is one of tactics and not of principles. I think a problem with the modern anarchist movement is the constant tendency to compensate for its irrelevancy by elevating tactics into principles in order to have the (empty) comfort of holding the moral high ground. Alongside this I think all too often in doing so anarchist organisations end up saying one thing while their members end up quietly doing the opposite. Both these outcomes are very destructive.

I think we need to ask more often if what we put forward is realistic. It's easy for class struggle anarchists to laugh at primitvists for coming up with lunatic ideas but I think we need to turn that same spot light on ourselves in quite a ruthless manner. Does what we say make any sense outside our own circles.

My actual position would be close to saying there is really only a point in running such candidates if you at least already have a sizeable rank and file network capable to taking advantage of the publicity in the union press and the opportunity of being invited to address branch meetings. And part of the platform of such candidates should not only be a clear commitment to democratic reform but also a mechanism by which they will resign / put themselves up for a confidence vote if a credible demand for their recall comes from branches.

But this is a tactical position so I'm willing to accept a situation where the anarchist organisation decides to go further or not to go this far. In fact in any real organisation I'd expect the exact position to oscilate around this according to both internal debates and external circumstances.

revol68 wrote:
Of course strike pay is used as a means of bullying reluctant workers into a settlement, that's kind of my whole point.

As the context is that anarchists should or should not play a role in determining who makes this sort of decision this really isn't your whole point and rather goes against it. I introduced it as the sort of example of where its better to have a rank and file militant workers rather than a HR trained bureaucrat, you seem to confirm this above.

revol68 wrote:
But furthermore it's not just a matter of the Union but the role the union has with the state and how this opens it up to having it's assets frozen, recognition withdrawn, etc etc which explains why many unions are so keen to get their members back to work.

For sure, modern anti-union legislation is very clever as it takes advantage of the legality of the unions and their considerable assets to construct a legal framework which when followed greatly weakens the impact of industial action. This is certainly a real problem and part of the reason why r+f candidates would be pretty powerless outside of the context of a militant r+f network.

revol68 wrote:
The whole point of anarcho syndicalist organising is that in not maintaining large funds, nor signing into binding contracts, it was not open to such blackmails. Strike pay was raised on the ground, so as to maintain the widest possible course of action and to combat bureacracies using it to reign in struggles.

If you want to couterpoise an imaginary anarcho syndicalist union to the actually existing unions I agree the imaginary organisation would be better. That is why we identify anarcho syndicalist structures as the example goal in our own position paper on the unions. The problem is that it is imaginary, no such organisation exists in Ireland and so its no answer to the immediate question of a vote in a union that may take place today or tommorrow and which does happen in every union every few years.

revol68 wrote:
The whole world is what we build, our dole and housing benefit comes from our wealth, yet we still talk about fighting for the whole bakery instead of crumbs from the table.

Your comparing apples and oranges when you compare state tax to unions dues. Unions are volunatary associations that workers choose to join and choose to contribute money to. They are in fact already a form of self - organisation if however one that has been seriously twisted by history and legislation.

revol68 wrote:
It's not a matter of having already collected the money it's a matter of will we get it back, and the short answer is generally no and if we do will it come with a host of preconditions?

So again shouldn't we attempt to prevent such preconditions being set?

revol68 wrote:
My whole argument is that getting a few rank and filists on the executive is not a way of combatting this, today's rank and filist is tomorrows bureacrat.

Oh of course this is the danger, this is why I think the platform has to include democratic reforms that would introduce effective recall mechanims ASAP (its worth noting that ineffective mechanisms already exist in many unions).

revol68 wrote:
I mean the ultimate proof of this is how leading CNT/FAI militants ended up putting a break on the revolution when they joined the government, not because they had crap theory or politics but because the position they were in demanded it.

This is a tangent but I think your putting the cart before the horse here. The decision to enter government was made after the decision not to push for complete revolution whatever about the subsequent corrupting effects of there position. But also I don't find the comparision of a union and the state at all useful.

revol68 wrote:
It seems ridiculously niave to think that a couple of rank and filists on the executive cannot only battle the right wingers but a whole strata of backroom bureacrats, careerists that are in deep mediation with capital and the state, to imagine they can do all this and actively support workers in struggles is utopian but think that workers should fight on such a terrain in order to even have a chance of getting strike pay is idiotic.

You should leave out the 'ridiculously naive' and 'idiotic' insults they just get in the way of the discussion - an exchange of name calling clarifies nothing.

Beyond that I agree - a position that saw major change as being possible by getting a couple of rank and file workers elected would be naive. Which is why that is not my position, nor as far as I can tell anyone else heres.

revol68 wrote:
All that campaigning and union politricking is going to happen to the detriment of workers self organisation, why not use that effort to build towards workers providing their own strike support networks (that extend way beyond pitance strike pay).

Your assuming a conflict between these two tactics that may not exists - indeed my case is that there is no such conflict, that each tactic is stronger if accompanied by the other.

revol68 wrote:
This is your basic trot position

I'm tempted to cite the anarchist equivalent of godwins law here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwins_law

But actually you either don't understand what I'm saying or you don't understand the 'basic trot position', perhaps both.

revol68 wrote:
I thought we were libertarian communists, I thought we had no desire to prop up the existing union structures and frameworks, that we seek to win the argument on the ground, to stick two fingers up at the union officials and get on with winning struggles without them, infact to show in action the necessity of moving beyond trade union forms of organising. I mean wouldn't we be proposing that struggles are opened up and organised through workers assemblies, strike committees and hopefully even extending into community assemblies? Do you think even the most left leaning union official will let that happen?

There are a huge amount of assumptions in this paragraph but to answer the question as the end, yes I do think a rank and file candidate would 'let that happen' if they had been elected as part of a movement that held this as its program and which had won effective recallability. The ease with which this could be done would vary from union to union and in some unions a split might be the more sensible route. But above all else these are tactical questions, not ones of principle and I would expect the reform v split issue to change with experience, with circumstances and depending on the union you were talking of.

revol68 wrote:
Well to be honest many workers I know (including my da, whose hardly an ultra leftist) are fairly cyncical of the union leadership.

Sure but as my example was intended to illustrate such cynicism is often from the 'right' (the idea of bureaucrats as mad militants liable to call a pointless strike). My experience is the point at which workers move into action is often the point of greatest trust, at least with the local official, as that official promises all sorts of support from the union. That applies to both my experience on the job and also in various strike support groups. There are other experiences which is again why I think we are talking of tactics rather than principles. A different approach would certainly be possible in a workplace with experience of struggle and bureaucratic sell out (although even there the normal reaction is to seek to join another union perceived as more representative rather than breaking with the conventional union structures).

revol68 wrote:
Furthermore whether or not the rest of my workers think the Union leadership is too militant is of little concern, in the same way that if most of my co workers think the country is being overran by swan eating Poles.

Again your comparing apples and oranges. Fellow workers with reactionary ideas is part of the day to day reality of life. But if your facing into action and those same workers consider the bureaucracy to be pushing you into a strike that is not needed you have a very, very big problem that is of your concern. BTW I'm not aware I've suggested anywhere that you should drop an argument, I'm just suggesting that the argument in itself has very little power in particular if it comes from outside.

revol68 wrote:
I think the scenario's you are putting forward are in relation to workforces with low levels of militancy

I think I've more or less explicitly said that the current period is one of low levels of militancy and again I'd certainly accept that a different tactical approach might apply in different sets of circumstances. Again I'm not so much arguing for a tactic as arguing against any claim to oppose this tactic on principle.

revol68 wrote:
I'd also like to point out that I think shop steward is the highest position i'd be prepared to see anyone in Organise! take,

Haven't you already had a member on the trades council though? (I could be wrong about this). Also what about branch committee (which in SIPTU is mostly composed of members either elected at the AGM or delegated from the sections who get no benefits from serving).

Above this the WSM position explicity rules out our members standing and pretty clearly Organise would adopt such a position if the question arose.

revol68 wrote:
it does not mean that it is a position completely unproblematic in itself, just that i feel these problems are more manageable and the contradictions less jarring than at other positions, of course this again depends on the union, workplace and a host of other factors.

OK here you seem to be adopting a realitvely sensible tactical position based on judging a number of factors. What turns it into a principle when you go higher up?

revol68 wrote:
This is very disingenous, the hypothetical situations

Not 'disingenous' I simply misunderstood what you were referring to - you did seem to be suggesting that the strike pay example was not a real one. I'd agree that my 30% etc was hypothetical though.

revol68 wrote:
In regards to full time positions i'd be opposed to voting per se and would expect anyother libertarian communists to do the same. Regarding lower levels well not on principle but i could see situations where i would not vote and argue for others not to vote.

So your basically saying its a tactic at low levels but a principle at high levels? Could you outline why its a principle at high levels as I think this is the core of the argument here.

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Nov 10 2006 12:46

Just thought I'd throw this in, on the general question of "rank & file" movements.

the DAM in 1991 wrote:
The attitude of the post-war rank & files towards the trade unions, all without exception never sought to challenge the reformist nature of the unions. Instead of developing a revolutionary alternative in the workplace, they concentrated on trying to reform union structures, often seeking to do little more than making unions more democratic and accountable to 'ordinary members,' which in reality meant little more than the tiny minority that attended branch meetings. This meant that much time & energy was spent working within the union structures outside the workplace....

It is true to say that rank & files did some excellent work around various disputes, but by acting as a group standing somewhere between the union & the workplace they also played a negative role. By constantly arguing for changes to the union structure; the need to make branches more democratic; the need for the leadership to be more accountable, etc, they not only offered false hope, but channelled energy & discontent away from the real problem -- the social democratic nature of reformist trade unions.

A bit dated, by all means, but good stuff nonetheless.

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Nov 10 2006 12:49
revol68 wrote:
Joe are you for real?

Once again I'll ask you to refrain from the personal abuse, its not constructive and it doesn't help clarify anything.

revol68 wrote:
You know very well why it's a principle at higher levels, it's basic anarchism, developed from over a centuries experiance. The fact that union officials are away from the shop floor, are protected by all sorts of legislation from recall, and as such aren't very accountable, that it develops a gap between the workers and their organisers etc.

OK this is useful.

I'd agree (as should be obvious from what I've already posted) that the key question here is one of recall. The conclusion I'd draw from this is that where recall already exists (via the possibility of motions of no confidence) or where it can be created then there is no question of principle, just a question of tactics.

I'd also agree that capitalism has created barriers to the exercise of recall among them the possibility of a recalled official taking an unfair dismissals case. But then capitalism has also created barriers to effective strikes, does this mean be abandon the tactic or that we take this into account and discover ways to either defy or circumnavigate around it.

BTW your throwing around 'over a centuries experiance' in a not very useful way. Any survey of anarchist organisation in the workplace would include situations where unions or sections of unions were taken over by anarchists, a process that included running in elections. Even the CNT had its origins in the fusion and splits of pre-existing unions but the anarchists won these sorts of battles in other countries, these struggles are often where syndicalist unions originated.

revol68 wrote:
You keep saying that a rank and file candidate would only work with a militant workforce behind them, but if we have a militant workforce why do we need them? I don't want to reform the unions, to engage in the leftist battle to "democratise" them, I want to show their limits, support workers going beyond these limits and ultimately workers breaking from such structures.

You are presuming such a militant workforce would also share your program of 'breaking from such structures'. This may not be the case and indeed there would be lots of examples of militant workforces who remained very loyal to their union (the 1984 miners strike being a clear example). Such workers would however be open to demands for democracy which are very often correctly seen as simply being 'common sense'. Why abandon a fight that might bring real results in favour of just sloganeering for an ideal few are interested in?

Again the split v reform is a tactical question, not one of principle. What makes the most sense will depend on a given situation and indeed a defeated struggle for reform is often the immediate trigger for a split.

AndrewF's picture
AndrewF
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Joined: 28-02-05
Dec 11 2006 16:26
the button wrote:
Just thought I'd throw this in, on the general question of "rank & file" movements.

It's interesting as a critique of particular tactics employed by a particular manifestation of rank and fileism at a particular place and in a particular time. But there is not enough details here to be truly interesting nor is there any sort of argument that this is what would happen in all circumstances.

Deezer
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Dec 16 2006 14:39

Yep, Joe I was on the Belfast Trades Council - a position I could barely justify when I was working and an elected shop steward but which I didn't stand down from for some time after this was the case. My attendance was however more and more sporadic.

My position was never one of representing 'anarchism' or 'Organise!' though I tried to represent the interests of those workers who elected me as a shop steward and to help the work being done by the Trades Council and others to strengthen solidarity between workers with those of us who were is various disputes. Although I must admit that as a delegate I was viewed by others largely in terms of my politics (as well as my union membership).

It was a useful body during disputes, as I've said it did co-ordinate some level of cross sectional support during a number of struggles and this is possibly its most effective function. A lot of the time though its about jobism, creating jobs for the boys, its political direction is CPI dominated (or NIC-ICTU dominated with a pretty compliant CPI most of the time). More fundamentally though there are limited situations in which a Trades Council post can be said to be 'representative' of anything other than various political tendencies that exist in the unions, Trades Council policy is detatched from the aspirations of working people and is generally guided by the concerns of the dominant political 'faction'. I don't believe this is an argument for more anarchist participation in Trades Councils though, quite the opposite really.

Cheers