Differences between the AF and WSM

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gurrier
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Dec 11 2006 14:01
Battlescarred wrote:
I'm afraid your impressions of the AF are fallacious, Guerrier. We organise massive distributions of Resistance around the countrey ( WE've distributed 400 a month in South Wales on a regular basis) and in London we have at least two Resistance distros and up to as many as 6 per month ( that's outside of demos and meetings) We always have a presence of denmos in London ( as well as the recent united contingent in Manchester) and always try to have a stall. We do regular flyposings and stickerings ( which few other anarchist groups seem to do these days) I have never met anyone in the AF who exhibits "anti-organisational" tendencies. ( and obviously in the past there was our massive investment in the Polltax movement, with large numbers of posters and stickers and 2 pamphlets, often reprinted by local poll tax groups)
No, we do tend not to blow our own trumpet, but we are active and heavily involved in Defy ID and have produced several editions of a pamphlet around that issue in a large run, massively distributed free ( as well as two stickers and a poster around the theme). In London some of us are involved in the anti-Olympics group and we organised a meeting about this at last Bookkfair. AFers are similarly involved around the country in various activities, social centres etc.
I'm actually quite aghast at the caricature you have presented.

Okay, as I said before, these are impressions from afar and I'm not pretending to have any great knowledge or insight into how things happen on the ground.

Having said that, almost all of the stuff above is pretty much propaganda production and distribution. The one contemporary exception I can see is the Defy-ID stuff (the poll tax was 20 years ago now) which doesn't seem to be a mass organisation or broad-based campaign in any way. It appears to be more of a seperatist organisation for anarchists as against the more broad based NO2ID.

I know that most of the WSM's practical work involves working as an organisation within campaigns or groups where anarchists are a minority. Stuff like the trade unions, the bin tax campaign, the shell 2 sea campaign and so on. I just don't see the AF promoting their work as an organisation in such campaigns - I'm not saying that youse don't do it, just that the impression doesn't carry across the water from your publications and so on.

Also, I pretty much include ultra-leftism / councilism as an anti-organisational tendency and I do get the impression that there is a certain influence of such ideas in the AF. Although I realise that these currents are not opposed to organisation per se, they appear to me to be opposed to participation in all actually existing mass organisations and the effect is thus the same. I mean, to me, the only difference between a trade union and whatever sort of network of militants that is counterposed to it is that the first exists and has all the practical problems which occur whenever we try to act in a capitalist world, while the second doesn't exist and thus doesn't have to address these practical problems. As I see it, if the networks of militants outside the unions were to succeed and come into meaningful existence by recruiting large numbers of workers, they'd be a union in all but terminology and would face all of the same problems as trade unions face.

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madashell
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Dec 11 2006 14:07
gurrier wrote:
Also, I pretty much include ultra-leftism / councilism as an anti-organisational tendency...

Why, do you enjoy being wrong or something?

Battlescarred
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Dec 11 2006 14:35

KAPD, AAUD, AAUD-E anyone? They were organisations weren't they, and the AAUD and AAUD-E were large organisations for a time

Battlescarred
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Dec 11 2006 14:37

"I'm not pretending to have any great knowledge or insight into how things happen on the ground."
Then why put forward erroneous views on something you admit you don't really have sound info on, but offer an impressionistic view nevertheless?

Battlescarred
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Dec 11 2006 14:39

"the more broad based NO2ID"
Which includes UKIP and the Liberal Democrats!!!!

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AndrewF
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Dec 11 2006 14:40
Battlescarred wrote:
Then why put forward erroneous views on something you admit you don't really have sound info on, but offer an impressionistic view nevertheless?

Probably because what he says may be widely believed and by saying it he is giving you a chance to set him and others right. Or to make snide comments, whatever you think may be most useful.

Battlescarred
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Dec 11 2006 14:41

eh???

gurrier
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Dec 11 2006 15:01
Battlescarred wrote:
eh???

I think it's fairly obvious that what people's impressions of an organisation are should be of interest to that organisation. Even if the impressions are inaccurate, it can allow them to identify things that they're not getting across properly about themselves, image problems, problems in propaganda and so on as well as giving the organisation the chance to correct the inaccuracies in public.

Responses along the lines of "how dare you", "you are a muppet" are singularly unimpressive and miss the whole point to my mind. When people have inaccurate impressions, it is always worth reflecting on whether these could be caused by problems with how the organisation presents itself rather than just assuming that the observer is an idiot.

gurrier
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Dec 11 2006 15:11
Battlescarred wrote:
KAPD, AAUD, AAUD-E anyone? They were organisations weren't they, and the AAUD and AAUD-E were large organisations for a time

True, but in our contemporary situation, I think that ultra-leftism is a concrete barrier to practical organisation. I want to know what we should be doing tomorrow and I find that ultra-leftism offers nothing but negatives and general purpose pie-in-the-sky sloganeering when confronted with immediate problems.

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madashell
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Dec 11 2006 15:15
gurrier wrote:
True, but in our contemporary situation, I think that ultra-leftism is a concrete barrier to practical organisation. I want to know what we should be doing tomorrow and I find that ultra-leftism offers nothing but negatives and general purpose pie-in-the-sky sloganeering when confronted with immediate problems.

While that might be true of councillist groups in the UK and Ireland today, it doesn't make them any more anti-organisational. Nor does it invalidate the wealth of excellent ideas and historical analysis that has come from the councillists.

gurrier
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Dec 11 2006 15:25
revol68 wrote:
ahh but your conflating councilism and other tendencies into one catch all group called "Ultra leftist".

Indeed I am. From the point of view of this particular argument, they are equivalent.

revol68 wrote:
Oh yeah when workers go on wildcat, when they ignore their union leaders and form stike committees and assemblies are they just offering pie in the sky sloganeering?

Nope. But somebody who posits such spontaneous forms of organisation as an alternative to formal permanent organisations is.

gurrier
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Dec 11 2006 15:44
revol68 wrote:
a) I fail to see what's spontaneous about it

Your example was pretty clearly one where structures and forms of organisation spring up in response to events rather than being permanent and pre-existing. You're hardly going to have strike committees in times where there are no strikes. We all know what types of things anarchists should be doing during strikes (which is exactly the type of thing that you mention), the hard question is what we should be doing in the vastly more common situations where there is no strike. In these situations, putting forward strike committees and workers assemblies as a short term approach is just pie in the sky sloganeering.

revol68 wrote:
b) I would imagine strike commitees and workers assemblies are of much more significance than this or that political grouping.

They may have more potential, but the fact that they normally cease to exist once the immediate struggle has passed leads me to conclude that they don't necessarily have more significance.

revol68 wrote:
c) Plenty of councilists have been involved in co ordinating networks of militant workers and putting out publications.

Putting out publications is fairly irrelevant to the argument. Publications are perfectly capable of consisting of nothing more than pie-in-the-sky sloganeering. I also don't see any difference in principle between a "network of militant workers" with permanent existance and a trade union except the former don't really exist and thus there is little chance of reality intruding to test the slogans against practical problems.

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madashell
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Dec 11 2006 15:52
gurrier wrote:
I also don't see any difference in principle between a "network of militant workers" with permanent existance and a trade union...

Are you taking the piss?

Are you seriously suggesting that there is no difference between, say, the education network currently being set up by AF, IWW and SolFed and the AUT?

gurrier
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Dec 11 2006 16:05
madashell wrote:
Are you taking the piss?

No.

madashell wrote:
Are you seriously suggesting that there is no difference between, say, the education network currently being set up by AF, IWW and SolFed and the AUT?

Of course not. The militant workers networks that you mention are tiny and composed almost exclusively of anarchists and political activists.

My point is that if these networks became successful and managed to attract large numbers of workers who weren't anarchists to their ranks, they'd just be unions by another name. They'd face the same problems and issues as any other formal body which contained large numbers of workers united only by economic interests.

gurrier
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Dec 11 2006 16:31
revol68 wrote:
I also like how the mass of workers just join these networks without any sort of change in political consciousness, they just remain the same blind sheep, blinded by short termist trade union consciousness.

Wow. For a start, you have introduced "blind sheep" into it, I don't know where you got that from. In any case, your point is completely confused.

If all the people who join undergo a change in political consciousness in the process, then it's not a union, it's a good old fashioned political organisation where the membership is united by political consciousness, not economics.

The point is, however, that we know very very well from history that workers' organisations which do not require a particular political ideology from their members will attract large numbers of workers who are primarily motivated by their economic interests, if the organisation is successful at fighting struggles and winning gains. Even those organisations which had explicit goals of achieving libertarian communism attracted large numbers of relatively apolitical members in times when they were successful.

revol68 wrote:
That is a different issue than standing in the existing trade union elections and imagining they can be reformed or democratised.

One of the things that we advocate as anarchists is mass based workers organisations which are in the control of their members. Whether we call these "networks of militant workers" or "trade unions" is neither here nor there. The problem is how we get there from here. There is a tactical argument about whether the best route is to work within our current trade unions at the moment or whether it is to set up new organisations with much improved structures, but much reduced strength. To me this is a purely tactical question and indeed the WSM is involved in efforts in both directions (ie. work within SIPTU and work within the IWU). There is pretty much zero evidence to suggest that either approach is more likely to be successful in the long term - plenty of arguments both ways, but virtually zero examples of either of them having much practical impact. I think that focusing on the obvious and well known problems of one approach, while ignoring the massive absence of evidence for the efficacy of the other approach, is just pie in the sky sloganeering.

Mike Harman
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Dec 11 2006 18:12
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If all the people who join undergo a change in political consciousness in the process, then it's not a union, it's a good old fashioned political organisation where the membership is united by political consciousness, not economics.

Then why insist that networks of militants will automatically become a union if they increase in size?? I can see a place for a network of a few hundred or thousand which wasn't a union (whether trade, industrial or syndicalist) but which would function by circulating news of struggles, producing newsletters and pamphlets, arguing for mass assemblies and strike committees when things were kicking off, without substituting for or subsuming those organs, or taking on a representational or institutional role when things were quiet. And yes, it'd be a 'political' organisation, not a union, and very tiny compared to any of the TUC unions.

Also I'd be just as happy to see a number of small focused organisations doing things well as one large one - and if an organisation sets itself up to encourage others to organise themselves then spawning other groups is as succcessful as growing itself. The main issues are not being too dependent on a few people, avoiding formal and informal hierarchies, and not duplicating effort too much - that can be a problem for groups of any size.

I think both trying to reform the existing trade unions, and trying to set up new unions is a waste of time for reasons I've discussed on here before. That doesn't mean I'm anti-organisationalist at all or don't think that an organisation focused around workplace issues is impossible, I just don't think it'll be "mass" until such a point as it'd either become irrelevant or worse a brake on events. Also, I'm a member of a crappy TUC union (but fucked if I'm going to "organise within it"), and if there was a base union or a-s union around I'd probably join if that's what was going on - those are different questions since in both cases I'd be keen to keep my independence from them intact and I'd never want to argue on behalf of them to my workmates.

knightrose
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Dec 11 2006 18:40

Gurrier wrote:

Quote:
I think it's fairly obvious that what people's impressions of an organisation are should be of interest to that organisation. Even if the impressions are inaccurate, it can allow them to identify things that they're not getting across properly about themselves, image problems, problems in propaganda and so on as well as giving the organisation the chance to correct the inaccuracies in public.

I agree. And I think it's interesting to note what comrades think of us.
The WSM has come across to me in the past as a small group of ideologues who engage in extremely lengthy responses on message boards which preclude others from properly participating in discussions. The AF has come across to the WSM as a fairly woolly group of ultra-leftists.
Now we've managed to start doing some serious and comradely discussion on this thread, but with the usual insults doing the rounds too. What encourages me is that a little more understanding appears to be glimpsing the light of day. Can we try and keep it that way?

I suspect that some of the differences in perspective are due to the particluar circumstances both groups work in. I'll have to ask WSMers to bare with me if I get things wrong.

Until recently both the AF and WSM were much smaller. When I joined the AF in 1999, I think we only had around 30-35 members. Now we number around 70. Although we claimed to be an Anarchist Federation, in practice we weren't. We had a group in London and a load of individuals scattered around the country. Even had we been platformist, it would not have been possible to do the kind of "social insertion" work WSM talk about. Moreover, even a London group isn't much use for this kind of work. Living in Manchester, it's easier for me to get to a meeting in Bradford, say, than it is for some London comrades to meet up. Inevitably we functioned as the only thing that was practical, an anarchist communist propaganda group. Now we have small groups in Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham and Surrey. We have the makings of groups in Sheffield and Plymouth. We've finally reached the point where we have become a proper federation. However, does that leave us inb a position where we can collectively intervene in struggles in particular areas? I suspect not, or not except for some of the local groups in their areas. Frankly, it would be easier for me to visit the WSM in Dublin than for some of our Scottish members to meet comrades in London or Plymouth. We still need to recruit more members before we can begin to work collectively in an effective manner in the local class battles.

My impression of WSM is that although have around 35 members, it has most of them in three branches - 2 in Dublin, 1 in Cork. The distances involved are much smaller for thsoe branch members to meet - though I understand meeting up nationally must be a pain given the state of the road network (unlike Britain's brilliant network of linear car parks laughingly called moltorways smile ) So, if WSM members in Dublin want to do work on a local campaign, then it's simpler for them to do so. Thus the "social insertion" policy has some value.

I can't see that changing. We make a virtue out of a necessity, the WSM thinks everyone can do what they do, when in fact it's impossible. The point is not to shout at each other about it, but to learn from each other. I would love Manchester AF to be able to be more effective. But as long as three of us are in one family, stuck on the NE edge of the city, one lives in N Manc, two in S Manc, 3 active not-quite members live scattered around the city (and it's a city of nearly 2 million people) and where there do not exist any city wide campaigns, I fail to see how we can. What we can do is support each other when we are struggling, both morally and physically.

Finally, it wouldn't be too hard to get into positions of influence in the local unions. But to what effect? Nobody goes to union meetings, except the committee members. We'd end up spending all our time keeping hollow structures going. Is it any different in Dublin?

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georgestapleton
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Dec 11 2006 20:00

Would it be possible to have the ultra-left discussion split from this thread?

Although I'm not contributing much. I'm enjoying reading it. (i.e. this thread not the unltra-leftist tangent).

Mike Harman
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Dec 11 2006 22:13

I wouldn't mind splitting it except I don't think it can be split at all. You could start a new thread about it if you want and direct people there?

Dundee_United
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Dec 11 2006 23:06
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I can't see that changing. We make a virtue out of a necessity, the WSM thinks everyone can do what they do, when in fact it's impossible. The point is not to shout at each other about it, but to learn from each other.

Well OK but two of us in Glasgow have been involved in social insertion activities as individuals on our own for years, with some success. We feel that acting as a group would give us even more clout, but there is fuckall reason why one person alone cannot do this kind of activity; there are always social movements to engage with, and where there aren't then you can create them.

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AndrewF
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Dec 12 2006 12:35

It's worth pointing out that one bit of 'social insertion' which had a massive national impact (x-case) happened back in 1992 when I think we only had five members. We've never really written this up properly but the article at http://struggle.ws/wsm/news/2002/anvmarchFEB.html gives some of the facts.

You don't require big numbers because the whole point is to work with those outside the anarchist movement who want to fight on whatever the issue is.

knightrose
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Dec 12 2006 12:39

Well during the Poll Tax campaign, the two of us here were very effective in building a local group, I know it can be done.
But a quick reply to DU - if you "set up" a social movement, that's not insertion. It sounds like substitutionism to me.

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Steven.
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Dec 12 2006 12:46
knightrose wrote:
But a quick reply to DU - if you "set up" a social movement, that's not insertion. It sounds like substitutionism to me.

He didn't say that though.

nastyned
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Dec 12 2006 12:52

Could I have some examples of current social movements I could insert myself into as I'm not entirely sure what people are thinking of here.

knightrose
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Dec 12 2006 13:00

Quick reply to John, this is what DU wrote:

Quote:
there are always social movements to engage with, and where there aren't then you can create them.

That implies setting them up.
I sympathise with his intentions. But I believe you can only engage with struggles that have been set up by others or if the issue directly affects you, then persuade others to help set up a campaign or whatever. You can't just create them out of thin air.
It must be obvious to all by now that I have a certain sympathy with the kind of intervention strategy being put forward.

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AndrewF
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Dec 12 2006 13:15

BTW thanks to knightrose for his long post - it was very informative. And I agree involvement in a local poll tax group is an example of this sort of strategy. Sorry for the short replies but stretched for time at the moment.

Anyway I wouldn't rule out setting up movements as part of this process. We were involved at the formation process of the example I gave but also with both anti-water tax and anti-bin tax campaigns. The point though was from the start these were intended to be broad and not restricted to anarchists or even the left in a strict sense of the word. In the case of the anti-water tax campaign in particular this is illustrated by its growth to a point near the end where 60,000 households had paid to be members.

It would be quite logical that an organised anarchist group would spot the potential for such a struggle before it had spontaneously arisen (actually almost always someone initates things, true spontanety is a dangerous illusion). The more preparation time the more chance of success so it would then make sense to approach other groups and individuals with the intention of be well prepared when people really start to mobilise. In the campaigns above I think the campaigns were in existence months and maybe longer before that point was really reached. See for instance http://struggle.ws/rbr/rbr3_water.html

gurrier
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Dec 12 2006 14:55
Mike Harman wrote:
Then why insist that networks of militants will automatically become a union if they increase in size?? I can see a place for a network of a few hundred or thousand which wasn't a union (whether trade, industrial or syndicalist) but which would function by circulating news of struggles, producing newsletters and pamphlets, arguing for mass assemblies and strike committees when things were kicking off, without substituting for or subsuming those organs, or taking on a representational or institutional role when things were quiet. And yes, it'd be a 'political' organisation, not a union, and very tiny compared to any of the TUC unions.

Okay, I see your point and I was talking at cross purposes a little. I was sort of assuming that the network of militants was counterposed to the union and would not function within existing unions.

A network of militants which operated both within and outside the current unions is a fair enough thing to try I think and it's one of the strategies that the WSM has attempted at various times (SIPTU fightback - within SIPTU, EWN - across unions) without much success I should add.

My problem arises when the network takes a stance against working within unions. That sort of thing could function during a struggle, but even then it would be limited since the majority of workers are highly likely to be members of the union and to look towards it for some sort of direction. Just ignoring the fact that the union exists would sort of condemn it to irrelevance at crucial moments - a vote to use the strike fund for example. At times when there were no major struggles what would the network do? Aside from fairly abstract and general purpose class struggle propaganda, I really don't see what it could focus on. In concrete terms what could it argue for? As I see it, such a network would have to put forward some concrete strategy or else remain wedded to completely abstract and general arguments. It could argue for workers to set up alternative structures which could be utilised in times of struggle (which would make it an alternative union in essence) or it could argue for a particular approach within the existing unions, but if it wasn't to adopt one of these approaches, then what could it do in practice?

Mike Harman wrote:
Also I'd be just as happy to see a number of small focused organisations doing things well as one large one - and if an organisation sets itself up to encourage others to organise themselves then spawning other groups is as succcessful as growing itself. The main issues are not being too dependent on a few people, avoiding formal and informal hierarchies, and not duplicating effort too much - that can be a problem for groups of any size.

Organising themselves to do what exactly?

Mike Harman wrote:
I think both trying to reform the existing trade unions, and trying to set up new unions is a waste of time for reasons I've discussed on here before. That doesn't mean I'm anti-organisationalist at all or don't think that an organisation focused around workplace issues is impossible, I just don't think it'll be "mass" until such a point as it'd either become irrelevant or worse a brake on events. Also, I'm a member of a crappy TUC union (but fucked if I'm going to "organise within it"), and if there was a base union or a-s union around I'd probably join if that's what was going on - those are different questions since in both cases I'd be keen to keep my independence from them intact and I'd never want to argue on behalf of them to my workmates.

To me the completely negative attitude to all possible approaches at building mass workers organisations is sort of ducking the issue. If it really is impossible to build mass organisations of workers, we might as well just give up the game.

knightrose
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Dec 12 2006 15:31

My point, Hoe, is not that we shouldn't set up campaigns etc, it's that it's something we do when they are around issues that eprsonally affect us. So during the Poll Tax, it hit us in the pocket, so we went round leafletting and organised a number of meetings (well loads of them, actually). But we did it in the community we live in. We didn't look at another side of town, say "hey, they should be organising about such and such", and then go in and do it for them.
If you are involved with having your water charges or bin tax raised, then you take the action as both workers involved and anarchist militants.

knightrose
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Dec 12 2006 15:31

My point, Hoe, is not that we shouldn't set up campaigns etc, it's that it's something we do when they are around issues that eprsonally affect us. So during the Poll Tax, it hit us in the pocket, so we went round leafletting and organised a number of meetings (well loads of them, actually). But we did it in the community we live in. We didn't look at another side of town, say "hey, they should be organising about such and such", and then go in and do it for them.
If you are involved with having your water charges or bin tax raised, then you take the action as both workers involved and anarchist militants.

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AndrewF
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Dec 12 2006 15:58
knightrose wrote:
My point, Hoe, is not that we shouldn't set up campaigns etc, it's that it's something we do when they are around issues that eprsonally affect us.

Hey who you calling a hoe?

That aside one of the examples I give was the struggle for abortion rights. Now I'm not a women should I not have been involved in this? Likewise during the water tax campaign I did cross the city to help leaflet estates where none of our members lived and during the bin tax I took part in blockades in neighboorhoods other than my own.

Obviously it makes most sense to concentrate locally but likewise in a city wide situation being locally strong if you are weak elsewhere will probably not be enough - indeed this is more or less what caused the collapse of the campagn in the bin tax struggle as weaker areas caved in even though a few areas are still fighting on.