About the US leftist group Solidarity

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Schwarz's picture
Schwarz
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Dec 5 2011 20:27
About the US leftist group Solidarity

Excuse me if some details remain vague, this relates to a current drive in its early stages so we can't tip our hand yet.

Anyways, some friends and I in NYC are helping rank-and-file folks from a local industrial union with a direct action campaign that could be pretty exciting. As we've forged connections we've met several folks from Solidarity who have decent influence in this particular union and, of course, a relatively large presence in organized labor here - for a leftist group, anyway.

The ones I've met seem to be well-meaning, but (surprise!) highly sectarian trots whose rhetoric is rigid and alienating. I've looked at Solidarity's website and they seem to be a typical of socialist organizations: unionism from below, anti-imperialism, anti-discrimination, a focus on achieving 'political' power, internationalism and so on. The thread from a few years ago on the SIEU/CNA battle had some interesting information about their ties to the Labor Notes clique. I'm interested if anyone has had direct experience in dealing with Solidarity.

My default stance is caution when dealing with leftist groups. I've seen them undermine some great efforts. How does Solidarity stack up viz. groups like ISO, RCP, LRP, etc.? How hierarchical and centralized are they? Is it true that have an anarchist/syndicalist contingent? In general, since it seems inevitable that we'll have to work with them in some capacity, what should we look out for?

Thanks in advance.

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Juan Conatz
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Dec 5 2011 20:43

Solidarity put a lot of work into Teamsters for a Democratic union back in the day and still are involved in it. They also started Labor Notes, although I've been told it is now an independent publication with no direction from Solidarity, but with involvement from individual Solidarity members.

They're multitendencied and allow factions within the organization. I believe a couple minuscule Trot sects dissolved into tendencies. I believe there is a Luxembourgist tendency. Supposably, there were/are a number of former anarchists who joined in mass after Love & Rage dissolved, but that might just be myth. They're involved in a Left Refoundation/Regroupment conference with New York Study Group (the NY branch of Solidarity now?) Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, Left Turn, and softer Maoist Freedom Road Socialist Organization (as opposed to the harder Maoist, Freedom Road Socialist Organization that puts out the Fight Back! newspaper and was raided by the FBI recently).

They're a mixed bag, in my opinion. They had a branch in Madison. We (the IWW) were on friendly terms with them. They mostly seemed involved in running a leftist bookstore there. During an attempted student occupation though, they caucused with other Trots and were a very conservative force though.

Schwarz's picture
Schwarz
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Dec 5 2011 21:22

Thanks for the great background info, Juan.

Juan Conatz wrote:
During an attempted student occupation though, they caucused with other Trots and were a very conservative force though.

This is the kind of thing I'm afraid of. Are you comfortable giving more details? Perhaps they are decentralized enough that your particular experience was on the initiative of local Solidarity members, but I'm trying to ascertain a modus operandi so we can be prepared if we have to do battle in planning meetings, during demos, etc.

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Hieronymous
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Dec 5 2011 22:21

In the Bay Area, they are mostly elderly descendents of the Hal Draper-led I.S. Clubs and are presently indistinguishable from local Labor Notes cadre. In my opinion they're conservative Trots with no connection to class struggle.

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jesuithitsquad
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Dec 5 2011 22:31

My experience with individual Solidarity members is that they are well-meaning and really, truly believe they are doing 'socialism from below.' But I've not dealt with the group and base this only on my interaction with individual members. (One of the members I've talked with actually believes it's "pretty much an A-S group.")

My overall impression from things I've read, plus my individual interactions is they are less-trotty than the ISO, but again, I could be completely wrong.

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Dec 5 2011 22:41

lol, I was trying to remember if I wrote about this, when I realized I did, I couldn't remember if it was an email, blogpost or what. Haha, found it though

Quote:
UW-Madison Occupation
While much of the attention has been on the collective bargaining aspect of the situation in Wisconsin, students have had their own issues with the various budget proposals. One of the most important was the possibility, backed by the UW-Madison Chancellor, of splitting UW-Madison off from the rest of the UW system.

After a couple months of discussion, a group of students occupied part of Bascom Hall, a building where traditionally occupations have occurred. Although there were hundreds at the preceding rally and at the initial occupation, after talking to the Chancellor, their numbers declined and a long discussion began on whether they were going to try and spend the night.

A group of faculty, union staff and some from the various socialist groups argued against staying over "strategic" reasons as well as the low numbers, while others argued for staying, saying it was a wasted effort if the attempt wasn't made. A vote happened, and a majority were for staying. Later another vote happened which the majority were for staying even if the police told us to leave.

After a series of university officials came and talked to us and realized we weren't going to leave, the police were called. The expectation was that the police would be calm and understanding, if not friendly, and we would be able to stay the night. For most people during the protests, their experience with law enforcement was a positive one, with police being mostly hands off. Unfortunately for the occupation, this would not be the case. Around 30 officers, almost matching the number of occupiers, gathered outside while one came in and ordered us to leave, giving us 60 seconds to decide or be arrested. Being caught off guard by this firm attitude, the decision was an unanimous vote to leave. The occupation ended on the first day.

When I got to the occupation, there was a lot of discussion going on about whether to stay or not. The people most for it were kids from the Autonomous Solidarity Organization (ASO) and the Student Labor Action Commitee (SLAC), as well as some traveler kid anarchist medic folks. The people most against it were people I knew were ISO or part of this independent splitoff from the ISO that only exists in Madison.

The argument dragged on and on and a lot of the SLAC kids kind of just walked off and regrouped, somewhat sick of the whole conversation. The discussion had paused for a half hour. The ISO people, the independent socialists and Solidarity people and others caucused. They were most about wanting to leave because of the "low" numbers, lack of publicly known demands and because they thought they had accomplished what they set out to do.

At the Labor Notes Troublemaker School in Madison, I talked to the author of this book (who is also a Solidarity member) for a long time, as we were tabling next to each other. I thought he was pretty solid and respected his perspective. He seemed closer in outlook to the IWW than some of the more conservative Trot strands.

But, if I remember right, Solidarity came out with an article at some point calling the general strike premature and a bad idea. I can't find it, but I remember we in the Madison IWW were talking about it a lot, kinda pissed. So I don't know, I think mixed bag.

syndicalist
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Dec 5 2011 22:57

I thought that most NY Solidarity folks are ex-members of the International Socialists, with some former Socialist Workers Party folks thrown in. These folks would be mainly older comrades (late 50s +). I thought they have attracted some younger folks, but I would only know the older ones. And those folks, I haven;t seen in years anyway.

Some NY Solidarity members are involved in TWU Local 100; some used to work for AT&T. They believe in a sort of rank-and-filism from below, but are not adverse to elected and staff positions.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 6 2011 01:42

I used to know members of their predecessor group, I.S. Solidarity is a multi-tendencied organization. When it was formed in the merger in 1986, they had some non-Leninists who came over from the Solidarity Socialist-Feminist Network (the origin of Solidarity's name). That was the leftwing of the New American Movement who rejected the merger with DSOC that formed DSA. so they were the anti-social democrats in NAM. Around that time Sheila Jordan (who was later elected to the Oakland School Board) told me some of them were anarchists.

Some of their younger members seem sympathetic to aspects of anarchism, from what I have read. But I've also run into members of ISO who interpret their group's politics in a very libertarian way. I read Solidarity's press regularly and they come off in their formal writing as fairly non-sectarian...much less so than ISO...but this may not be the case in actual practice. In other words, the individuals may talk a good line, but as a group I would be dubious.

In particular, i think Solildarity has too much of a tendency to look over its shoulder at what the union bureaucracy will go along with, at least at the local level. a related problem is their tendency to support "going for power" in the unions, that is, election to gain control of the union apparatus.

redsdisease
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Dec 6 2011 02:08
Schwarz wrote:
How does Solidarity stack up viz. groups like ISO, RCP, LRP, etc.? How hierarchical and centralized are they?

From what I gather, they're a more diverse, less rigid group than any of the groups that you mentioned.They don't seem to have a single mo, as far as I can tell. As a result their practice is going to be less predictable than more centralized groups. They seem to have a fair few anarchist friendly members, but just as many conservative trots. And what syndicalistcat said about them not wanting to stray too far from union leadership is probably pretty spot on.

I'd say be cautious when dealing with the group as a whole, but they likely have some really solid members who are worth working with on an individual basis.

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Dec 6 2011 02:13

Yeah, syndicalistcat is right on. It's important to keep in mind that the major work Solidarity is known for is involvement and support for reform slates like TDU or reform slate minded Labor Notes.

Also, I think Nate has called them 'social democrats pretending to be revolutionaries pretending to be social democrats', which I always thought was spot on, lol

Alexander Roxwell
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Dec 6 2011 02:43

Solidarity was formed by a merger of three separate groups back in the 1980s or so. They will not bite your head off and will work with anyone who will work with them. One of the three groups came out of the Socialist Workers Party and adhered at the time to Leon Trotsky's theory that Russia was a "degenerated workers state" but the other two groups came out of the group that Max Schactman led that broke with Trotsky on that question for a theory that Russia was a "bureaucratic collectivist" class society. Those groups have always had large minorities that rejected the "bureaucratic collectivist" argument either for a Tony Cliffite theory or a C.L.R. James type theory of "State Capitalism."

Their theory of "socialism from below" is a sincere belief and has become their trademark. Overall the group's adherence to "Trotskyism" is very loose.

The chief criticism that one could make of the group is that they are organizationally (but not politically) "Menshevik" and do not practice "democratic centralism" altho they would tell you they formally adhere to it. This makes them less assertive than they could be and so when members are operating within a Union they are less empowered to take on the bureaucracy than they might otherwise be. They were very slow to wise up to Andy Stern's shenanigans in SEIU. Trotsky would have called them "left centrist" and I would agree with that.

The last thing you could ever charge them with would be “sectarianism.”

The creation of Labor Notes was perhaps the greatest achievement of the Left in the United States since the 1930s. Unlike many would be vanguard parties Solidarity made no attempt to "maintain control" of this group of militant workers as their wholly owned "front group." This alone should tell you of their value.

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Dec 6 2011 04:54

they are a multi-tendency organization. their politics and membership tends to vary greatly depending on locality. There is a sizable caucus of orthodox Trots in Solidarity, but I also know some good anarchos as well as out and out social-democrats/liberals.

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Entdinglichung
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Dec 6 2011 08:56

from the people of solidarity, I met around 10 years ago, I got the impression that it is a rather loose network where every branch decides its policy without asking the coordinating body for permission, ... more Draperist-Mandelist than Leninist-Trotskyist

Android
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Dec 6 2011 12:24
fnbril wrote:
There is a sizable caucus of orthodox Trots in Solidarity,

Yeah, there is a Fourth International Caucus inside Solidarity, which is supporters of the Mandelite FI unless I am mistaken.

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Entdinglichung
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Dec 6 2011 13:04
Android wrote:
fnbril wrote:
There is a sizable caucus of orthodox Trots in Solidarity,

Yeah, there is a Fourth International Caucus inside Solidarity, which is supporters of the Mandelite FI unless I am mistaken.

I think, the FIC today only exists on paper and for electing delegates to the FI world congress every couple of years but they are not orthodox ... there are some pretty orthodox people called "Refoundation and Revolution" (former Trotskyist League (US)) who are members of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-ordinating_Committee_for_the_Refoundation_of_the_Fourth_International but they are a tiny group and I do not think, that they have a large influence in Solidarity, maybe in one or two local branches

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Entdinglichung
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Dec 6 2011 13:09
Juan Conatz wrote:
Supposably, there were/are a number of former anarchists who joined in mass after Love & Rage dissolved, but that might just be myth.

as far as I know, they joined the (pre-split) FRSO, not Solidarity

syndicalist
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Dec 6 2011 13:17
Entdinglichung wrote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
Supposably, there were/are a number of former anarchists who joined in mass after Love & Rage dissolved, but that might just be myth.

as far as I know, they joined the (pre-split) FRSO, not Solidarity

Pre-split FRSO, for sure. Maoids.

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Dec 6 2011 16:22

They have tonnes of influence in my union. We are one of the only unions that sends executive members of our national executive committee to their conferences as well as rank and filers. In my local labour notes is distributed on the floor almost as widely as the local newsletter. They are really into union democracy and are really genuine about that however in the Canadian Posties union democracy also means a democratically elected leadership that decides policy at the top, pretty much democratic centralism.

They are also big into "non collaboration" rhetoric, but at least in the postal workers, they also are very heavily reliant on legal processes and the chain of command in the union. This is where the anarchists have come into conflict as our work relies heavilly on rank and file initiative. Folks feel it undermines leadership to have workers taking action without asking permission from the local, regional or national office. In a certain sense it does undermine a certain kind of leadership, but it also builds leadership on the job.

Anyways I guess what I'm saying is as long as we stay within the realm of calling for more democracy and a more radical outlook they are pretty easy to organise alongside. Just don't do anything without permission from the union leadership. It will be interesting to see what happens with the ILWU and the port shut down on the 12th and how Solidarity and Labour Notes come out in the wash.

Schwarz's picture
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Dec 6 2011 16:28

Thanks for all the great comment, folks. We'll keep it all in mind moving forward. Sorry I can't say more, but hopefully interesting labor things will be coming out of NYC in the next month or so. Time will tell!

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Entdinglichung
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Dec 6 2011 16:42

they also publish the magazine "Against the Current" which contains a number of useful articles: http://solidarity-us.org/site/atc/articles

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Dec 6 2011 17:31
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
It will be interesting to see what happens with the ILWU and the port shut down on the 12th and how Solidarity and Labour Notes come out in the wash.

Want to bet they already have the article written, declaring victory for the union, regardless the outcome? Seems like the Labor Notes boilerplate. On their pages militants unionists are always snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

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Dec 7 2011 17:50

Well, that's just good propaganda. Do they take a stand on the shutdown then? I think the bigger question confronting everyone on this is are we going to challenge the unions exclusive right to stop work at their operations? Or do they just dodge the question?

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Dec 8 2011 06:23

there's supposed to be an interview w/ the Seattle ILWU local on why they oppose the 12/12 action out soon.