Partial victories or impotent co-option?

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Vaneigemappreci...
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May 10 2005 10:37
Partial victories or impotent co-option?

It is often said that the greatest perceived victories of the old workers movement (the eight hour day, pensions, safety at work, the establishment of unions) are also conversely their biggest weaknesses since these advances have acted only to buttress the condition of the working class and amount to no more than fragmented concessions dished out to the working class by capital Rather than edging the working class closer to an all encompassing emancipation from the dictates of capital these concessions have acted to assimilate the interests of the capitalist class into that of the workers by linking financial benefits to productivity and loyalty, they have also eliminated some of the less palatable aspects of capitalism such penury, malnourished workforces etc. In short they have made capitalism more stable and profits have been maximised through the increase of relative surplus value through the intensification of work and the permeation of capitalist accumulation into leisure and free time. Of course we cant say that because these developments have buttressed the system they are necessarily unwanted or backward, relative stability and boredom are more attractive than absolute material poverty and disease.

However these partial reforms seem to have dried up recently, we are definitely on the back foot, we haven’t really moved on from the fight for the 8hour day and even this right is being eroded. The question is; can a campaign for partial workplace reform be linked to a desire for the overthrow of capitalism in its totality? If a campaign for reform which consciously pushes capital to its breaking point (by making demands that undermine capitals ability to reproduce itself, demands that cant be met) is implemented with a public strategy of abolishing capital as a system, could it work in practice. For example such a campaign could start with something simple such as a demand to reintroduce pay for lunch as opposed to pay being docked for how long you have off work for lunch, you could have a set of campaigns that highlight the all encompassing nature of work by demanding that commuting time is paid for as work time or that as a minimum commuting costs are covered by the wage. These are all simple and fairly insipid demands but could be the basis for something more decisive.

Since we cannot demand that capital commits harri-kari, we can only carry out the execution ourselves, would it not be best to organise solidarity and put down the roots of sedition in basic workplace demands? The problem we may face is that because of all the legal red tape and bureaucracy each demand could take years to come to fruition, and that we could easily become bogged down and turn into union bureaucracies which simply oil the cogs of capital. What are peoples opinions? Are partial demands useful as part of a wider attack on capital?

AnarchoAl
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May 10 2005 12:33

There wouldn't have been a worker's movement at all if it couldn't make short term gains. Who's going to join a group just for a far-off vision of revolution?

Then you start to get into relgious-style stuff, toil now and a better life after the revolution shall be your reward. IMO short term gains are essential to any movement.

Pah!
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May 10 2005 13:53

short term gains could be the improved human relations that uniting for struggle brings, without the need to compromise . although its cant hurt (much) to ask them to stop poisoning our planet and killing and enslaving people in the meantime.

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 10 2005 14:15

Thats part of the problem, any demand made inevitably becomes watered down and can quickly turn into an assault on working conditions when we have to involve ourselves in the mucky business of compromise and mediation with the bosses. Whereas a policy of conscious subversion of capitalism is far more attractive than sitting round a table negotiating contracts.

AnarchoAl
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May 10 2005 14:40

Maybe to you, but most people care about their wages and working conditions more than "a policy of conscious subversion of capitalism".

At their highest strength, some unions managed to have maangers removed from the shop floor. The early struggles that gave them that power were wage and conditions struggles.

It may not be sexy or knock the system out in one blow, but that's the real world. Libertarian Communism can only be created by the struggles of the oppressed and must emerge out of their subjective desires and opposition to their own oppressions.

I see your concern about a drift into reformism, but having a pure anti-capitalist union of 5 people isn't very useful.

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 10 2005 14:54
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having a pure anti-capitalist union of 5 people isn't very useful.

and having a pro-capitalist union of 20,000 is equally as useless!

Surely the point is to spread anti-capitalist sentiment and to develop anti-capitalist unions, reformism is on the back foot at its best.

I'm employed, have been for almost a year, now i can talk to my employers regarding wage rises etc, even if they dont and wont listen, but believe me the prospect of a world based on an inversion of capitalist social relations is far more inspiring than getting an extra 20p an hour.

and why does it say 'council communist' beneath my name? I didnt do it.

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Steven.
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May 10 2005 17:16

VAC - there are standard taglines for those with certain numbers of posts. You can change in your profile

henry
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May 10 2005 17:36

Short term gains are important if you add them up over a period of a few hundred years. There is a massive difference in the standard of living, health and human rights, compared to say the Victorian period. And these gains were made by activists fighting the system for big gains, failing in their goals but gaining enough to inspire the next generation to try a little harder.

Unfortunately today, the unions, NGOs and other pressure bodies are not prepared the 'demand the impossible' and gear their activities to getting small gains. In this modern society with access to information and resources we should be pushing for as much as we can get in regards to a free and equal society, but capitalism is also battling hard and has succeeded in buying off and corrupting much of modern society.

So we need to get out there and 'demand the impossible'.

Steve
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May 10 2005 19:09

Workers winning gains is important but it is more important how they win them. If we do it though our own strength and through direct action then it can build self-belief and the confidence to ask for more.

The reformist unions are built on collaboration and conciliation and the gains we have made in the past through strikes etc are being watered down and compromised. Laws are being brought in around equality and diversity in the workplace in an attempt to end discrimination, trouble is our basic working conditions are being eroded so it simply means we are all being screwed equally.

Faith and trust in the unions is fast disappearing. Disenchantment with them is growing and many workers are still in them through sheer force of habit or in a vain hope that they can offer some protection. I’ve been a union member for thirty years and at the moment I really don’t know why I still am.

We need to start again build up new workplace organisations from basic principles of solidarity and direct action. It’s not easy as the link has been broken and many younger workers do not have the experience of unions that many of us older ones have had.

Capitalism and the state tell the workers to accept “the logic of the market”. The reformist unions must either surrender or fight. When they try to fight they fail since they are not built to attack capitalism or to rely on their own strength. They are service institutions and a burden on the backs of the workers, not tools for self-activity and emancipation.

We need new unions. We need to be building them now and stop pissing around jumping from one trendy cause to the next. Those unions need to have the ultimate goal of libertarian communism but at the same time be prepared to fight for basic rights from the length of the tea break, to basic health & safety to better pay and conditions and job security.

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 11 2005 08:13
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Capitalism and the state tell the workers to accept “the logic of the market”. The reformist unions must either surrender or fight. When they try to fight they fail since they are not built to attack capitalism or to rely on their own strength. They are service institutions and a burden on the backs of the workers, not tools for self-activity and emancipation.

We need new unions. We need to be building them now and stop pissing around jumping from one trendy cause to the next. Those unions need to have the ultimate goal of libertarian communism but at the same time be prepared to fight for basic rights from the length of the tea break, to basic health & safety to better pay and conditions and job security.

Youve hit the nail on the head there mate, the current unions are nothing but a tool for integrating workers along corporate lines, for example the PCS seem to do more to get women into management and get members vouchers at BnQ than do anything progressive or subversive.

Shouldnt we get building then? Shouldnt our aim be the creation of a broadly anarchist/socialist union that fights for reforms and revolution?

Steve
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May 11 2005 08:17
Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
Quote:
Youve hit the nail on the head there mate, the current unions are nothing but a tool for integrating workers along corporate lines, for example the PCS seem to do more to get women into management and get members vouchers at BnQ than do anything progressive or subversive.

Shouldnt we get building then? Shouldnt our aim be the creation of a broadly anarchist/socialist union that fights for reforms and revolution?

That's why I'm an anarcho-syndicalist and member of the Solidarity Federation whose aim is to do exactly that.

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Steven.
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May 11 2005 08:18

But who will join an explicitly anti-capitalist union? It won't be a union - it'll be an agitational group, like all the current @ groups...

Steve
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May 11 2005 08:35

Are you saying that workers will never join an anti-capitalist union ever? I'm not saying it will happen today or tomorrow but we have to push the idea anyway. Workers have joined such unions in the past and still do so in other countries.

If I didn't think workers would ever come over to the ideas of anarchism I may as well give up now. Surely if they do then they are going to organise along anarchist lines in the workplace. I really can't see them staying in bureaucratic reformist unions, can you? The idea is to start building the new society in the shell of the old, to start learning how to organise in a different way to how we are taught we should otherwise we just leave a gap for the authoritarian left to fill.

Btw Vaneigemappreciationclub I have to admit that the first para of what you quoted was taken from the IWAs Mayday statement, I just thought it said exactly what I wanted to say.

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 11 2005 10:19

John-thats what is needed, not just a union that works for partial gains in the workplace but also acts as an agitational force, working for partial gains can form part of this agitation, however the goal must be to undermine capital as a whole, the structure and actions of such a union must mirror this goal. Like steve says if we dont beleive that the working class in britain will embrace and develop anarchist ideas and realise these ideas in action-what exactly is the point?

Who are the IWA? What moves are solfed making at the moment?

AnarchoAl
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May 11 2005 10:30

People will and do join anti-capitalist unions. It's not like it's just anarchists who've spotted that their boss isn't their friend.

Steve
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May 11 2005 10:43

Sorry the IWA is the International Worker's Association the anarcho-syndicalist international to which SolFed is affiliated as the British section. It has groups such as SF in various countries around the world as well as unions. It also has friendly relations with other militant anti-capitalist unions.

SolFed are doing work around casual/temporary workers and the ‘casualisation’ of the workplace, i.e. the eroding of terms & conditions for all workers etc. One of our members is involved in the ‘Workmates’ group on the London Tube which is run on anarcho-syndicalist lines and which is for union and non-union members, temps/casual workers and full time workers involved.