the role of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation and the role of an anarchist federation

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Yorkie Bar
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Sep 30 2009 23:40

Just showing solidarity to fellow workers, surely? (solidarity is JK's name for his cock btw) (jk JK)

~J.

Mike Harman
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Oct 1 2009 04:55
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It sounds to me like it comes down to whether permanent, formal, pro-revolutionary workplace organisations are a worthwhile thing to pursue. It's obvious from the above that SolFed think it is, and that the ICC and others disagree.

This again I think points to the confusion in terminology - but I also think it's a genuine point of disagreement (but one which gets caught up in the terminology arguments).

I'd love to see a permanent, formally organised, 'network of pro-revolutionaries/militants' based around workplace activity - which has points of agreement on fundamentals like representation, mass meetings, etc - essentially broad enough to encompass those of us who agree on this thread (which is somewhat representative of views of at least some within SolFed, the AF and various people who aren't in either), but with a focused scope of actual activity - so that it excludes both union-building activities (a la IWW) and explicitly political activities - basically anything which JK would put into the Anarchist Federation or ICC category.

Where I disagree is that this network attempts to organise a workplace as such - in fact I agree 100% with Steven's point here:

Steven. wrote:
I see what you're getting at here, but I don't think this is a likely chain of events.

I think is very unlikely that any point in the foreseeable future that a group of pro-revolutionaries will have a "critical mass of well-respected militants in a given workplace" who could call a meeting. But in any case, this is not a big issue, because it would not be the group of pro-revolutionaries that would instigate a meeting, it would be the informal grouping of radicalised workers in a workplace.

For example, when I started organising workplace meetings I spoke to five or six workmates, who had all been around for quite a while, then did it with their help.

So the relation between this sort of activity and the network (or "revolutionary union") I think would be more indirect, the network practically would be able to do things like propagandise for mass meetings etc, but not practically organise them itself.

This boils down to the following - I've used network-of-militants vs. revolutionary union to represent the two sides, hopefully to show where the semantic differences either obscure or reflect an actual point of disagreement. If that point of disagreement doesn't actually exist, then we need to clarify that, and IMO get on with sorting it out (although I can't make the bookfair this year).

Network-of-militants position:
1. The network organises the (pro-)revolutionaries.
2. The 'informal grouping of radicalised workers' organises the mass meeting.
3. The mass meeting organises the struggle.
(4. Political groups have members in the organisation but it's not a merger or a federation of political groups since it won't be taking on those functions.)

Revolutionary union position:

1. The network oragnises the (pro-revolutionaries). When it gets big enough, it organises mass-meetings too.
2. This happens, it's a good thing, but it's not a 'strategy'.
3. ibid.
4. ibid - except not sure if they want to turn SolFed into the network itself or not.

Everyone on this thread agrees on 3. I think there's a line somewhere between Knightrose/Alf/Steven/me and SolFed/JK on 1/2 that needs to be explored more thoroughly. I think raw's post somewhat contradicts 4.

I also reckon that if SolFed wants to become this network, it'd be a smoother process to open up networks to non-members, and then if that goes well eventually strip back anything it does which isn't contained in the activity of the networks if a decision was taken that it needs to be the same thing. That's less of an ask than having people 'join solfed', and it's also less of an ask than for SolFed to immediately dissolve itself into a new structure.

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Oct 1 2009 06:54
tigersiskillers wrote:
To echo other people's admiration for the thread, I just think it's a shame this has been too late to have a Bookfair workshop on the issues raised. I'm still mulling things over in my head, but as a member of neither fed it's raised a lot of issues that I would want to see discussed both further and within a larger arena.

Perhaps a meeting somewhere away from the bookfair on the same day, as knightrose suggested, then?

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Oct 1 2009 08:11

I wanted to comment on this as I think that I have a little experience that may be relevant to the subject.

During the second half of the 1980s, I was a member of Communication Worker Group, a Post Office 'rank-and-file' group originally set up by DAM (now SolFed), which for four years produced a regular publication, with a print run of about 6,000, as well as leaflets in what was, comparative to now, a high level of Industrial struggle (which included a three and a half week national wildcat strike as well as countless local strikes).

The group included members of DAM, the AF, Wildcat, and supporters of the ICC, so had quite a mixture of political influences. Nevertheless, in was, in essence a political group, with at least an agreement on the fact that the UCW (now CWU) was a body that was opposed to the workers struggle.

I personally disagree with the position put forward by the ICC as an organisation, at least on a theoretical basis, that these sort of groups by their very nature can not have a permanent existence. Nevertheless, on any sort of real practical level, in the current situation, I would imagine this to be the case as I don't think that it would be possible to maintain these sort of groups outside of periods of struggle, and I don't see that really changing until there is a qualitative increase in the level of struggle as a whole.

What is clear to me though is how 'permeant' networks like this that may exist are by definition political groups, and must as such be based upon a political basis. What Joseph or Solfed envisage as this basis seems to me to be something which has yet to be clarified. Certainly it is clear that they don't foresee a network supporting 'left' slates in union elections, but where they would draw political lines still seems to be rather unclear.

The idea though that it is merely a network of militants working together without any clear political 'guiding principles' seems to me one that is doomed to failure, as I am sure other comrades would agree. In fact CWG split up in the aftermath of the national strike precisely because of these reasons. People in the AF and myself fell on the other side of the argument from comrades in DAM, who had a tendency to end every article for the magazine with 'how we need an anarcho-syndicalist union'.

There are other things I have to say on the subject, but I am going to eat my breakfast now, so I will leave it at that to start with.

Devrim

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Oct 1 2009 10:48
Mike Harman wrote:
Network-of-militants position:
1. The network organises the (pro-)revolutionaries.
2. The 'informal grouping of radicalised workers' organises the mass meeting.
3. The mass meeting organises the struggle.
(4. Political groups have members in the organisation but it's not a merger or a federation of political groups since it won't be taking on those functions.)

Revolutionary union position:

1. The network oragnises the (pro-revolutionaries). When it gets big enough, it organises mass-meetings too.
2. This happens, it's a good thing, but it's not a 'strategy'.
3. ibid.
4. ibid - except not sure if they want to turn SolFed into the network itself or not.

thing is these aren't mutually exclusive, which is why SolFed people have referred to networks as 'unions in formation'. i personally don't like that terminology because it implies the network only has value for what it might become, not what it offers in the here and now. but i think in both cases there will be an informal periphery constituting a workplace resistance group around it.

Mike Harman wrote:
I also reckon that if SolFed wants to become this network, it'd be a smoother process to open up networks to non-members, and then if that goes well eventually strip back anything it does which isn't contained in the activity of the networks if a decision was taken that it needs to be the same thing. That's less of an ask than having people 'join solfed', and it's also less of an ask than for SolFed to immediately dissolve itself into a new structure.

Brighton discussed this at length and opposed it (or abstained, knowing that would mean it failed, i can't remember). The reasoning is as follows; industrial networks, even if we had 500 members would be quite geographically dispersed. E.g. there's only 2 or 3 EWN members in Brighton. So it makes sense for that reason, and for class-wide cross-industrial activity for a network of militants to also meet on a local basis. Like i say even the SAC which is much bigger than what we're talking about organises primarily through locals.

So i think SolFed has the right structure. Now if we were seriously asking people to join us en masse, rather than me thinking out loud on the internet, i'd expect that would go hand in hand with serious discussions about our aims and principles, industrial strategy etc (i mean the constitution was cobbled together with no discussion by one person to stop us getting chucked out of the IWA on a technicality, so it's hardly above discussion).

however i think a more realistic course is a hybrid of this and Raw's mergerism - form a new organisation to be this network of militants organising on an industrial and local basis with an agreed industrial/community strategy along the lines we've discussed. This could be a 'Confederation of Revolutionary Workers', a smaller CNT-type thing without the revolutionary syndicalist baggage. Then SolFed would become an IWA caucus within this organisation, only dissolving itself as and when it persuaded the new organisation to join the IWA. As i said above, the question is whether SolFed people would rather have 500 people acting like a 'revolutionary union' or 50 people talking about one.

Devrim wrote:
The idea though that it is merely a network of militants working together without any clear political 'guiding principles' seems to me one that is doomed to failure, as I am sure other comrades would agree.

Dev, that's a straw man. just because a network isn't ICC-tight doesn't mean it has no political principles. in fact the whole discussion has been of political-economic organisation rather than a purely economic network with no political principles. i mean Tea Break was an example of people from the AF, SF, EKS (now ICC) and others having a common, practical politics (and despite one SolFed member complaining it didn't use the word 'revolutionary union' it basically lifted SolFed's industrial strategy word-for-word. The more substantive criticism was because it was the product of an ad hoc group there was no network to urge people to contact, this hypothetical organisation would address that).

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Oct 1 2009 10:50
madashell wrote:
tigersiskillers wrote:
To echo other people's admiration for the thread, I just think it's a shame this has been too late to have a Bookfair workshop on the issues raised. I'm still mulling things over in my head, but as a member of neither fed it's raised a lot of issues that I would want to see discussed both further and within a larger arena.

Perhaps a meeting somewhere away from the bookfair on the same day, as knightrose suggested, then?

i'm sure we can spare one or two people, but Brighton are cursed with being well-organised so we're already stacked with SolFed stuff for the bookfair. I'd like to make it, and bring along some Brighton critics to see how realistic this all is (i've been quoting one of our harshest critics word-for-word on this thread so i'd hope we're getting somewhere...)

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Oct 1 2009 10:59
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Dev, that's a straw man. just because a network isn't ICC-tight doesn't mean it has no political principles. in fact the whole discussion has been of political-economic organisation rather than a purely economic network with no political principles.

I don't suggest a 'tightness' the same as a political organisation yet there must be some political agreement.

Devrim

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Oct 1 2009 11:01

yes, that's what i've been saying throughout. a network united only by being 'militants' would either not last long or have no defence against leftist politics. i even suggested what these principles might be a few posts back (nicking Brighton SolFed's ones cool )

no1
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Oct 1 2009 11:33
Devrim wrote:
Quote:
Dev, that's a straw man. just because a network isn't ICC-tight doesn't mean it has no political principles. in fact the whole discussion has been of political-economic organisation rather than a purely economic network with no political principles.

I don't suggest a 'tightness' the same as a political organisation yet there must be some political agreement.

Devrim

I think the tightness of political agreement is the sticking point.

IMO there should be a network of workers whose members (1) agree on self-organisation to further our concrete needs i.e. the need for direct action, rank-and-file control, solidarity, mass meetings etc but (2) do not have to agree on revolution and libertarian communism. Agreeing in this way on how to organise is sufficiently tight to enable an organisation to function efficiently, and sufficiently broad to get a critical mass of workers that's required to be bigger than a mere political propaganda group. I would also argue that, as libertarian communists, we know that our needs can only be met in libertarian communism and not within capitalism, therefore it is redundant to demand people agree to revolution. Therefore self-organisation to further our concrete needs is at the same very practical (it can be applied to any workplace dispute), yet also necessarily revolutionary, even though not all workers may will realise that. As these workers' become more politicised through the experience of struggle, most will surely come to agree on revolution and libertarian communism as the end-point of that process of self-organisation for our needs.

At the same time, there is also a need for a group with a much tighter political and theoretical agreement. Their role is to theorise and strategise, and often to initiate workplace groups of the larger network.

I think some of the confusion stems from the idea that we need to have networks defined by either one or the other kind of political agreement. I would argue that we need both, one being a sub-group within the larger network. Solfed's industrial networks are trying to be both at the same, which is what has prevented their growth.

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Oct 1 2009 22:56

Best thread ever! Please get this done. A synthesis organization doesn't have to have watered down politics because we agree on enough things around here as to be relatively tight politically. Folks here who are A-C, A-S, Left Coms, and Councilists probably have more political unity than within their respective organizations. Just call the damn thing Libcom and be done with it and I'm sure a bunch of us yanks and others will follow suit and suddenly it's an international. The infrastructure is already in place with this website. Sorry to sound like a silly schoolboy but I really do find this to be a thrilling possibility.embarrassed

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Oct 2 2009 13:45
Quote:
IMO there should be a network of workers whose members (1) agree on self-organisation to further our concrete needs i.e. the need for direct action, rank-and-file control, solidarity, mass meetings etc but (2) do not have to agree on revolution and libertarian communism.

I don't really see having to agree on 'revolution' as where the problem really lies. There are lots of people who agree on the need for revolution who would have very different politics to us when it came down to practical activity in the workplace. For example it is quite possible to imagine people who call themselves revolutionaries, but believe in putting forward transitional style demands in order to 'make the union leadership fight'.

I think that the questions that really need to be disscused are those such as the nature of union officials. Would a group like this allow union officials to join. When I was on the UCW branch committee at my Post Office I had two hours facility time a week. The branch secretary of a head office, on the other hand, was on full facility time, but still technically a worker in that he was paid by the PO, not the union. The question is where do people stand on these sort of issues.

Secondly, I feel that you misunderstand something when you talk about including people who are not neccesarily revolutionaries. In the current period outside of major strike, the vast majority of workers who argue that action needs to be taken outside of union control and that decisions need to be taken not by the union but through mass meetings probably do consider themselves to be revolutionaries of some sort. I feel that if these sort of groups were set up the overwhelming majority of their members would fall into that catorgory.

When we ran 'Communication Worker', we had two groups, one in London and one in Coventry, as well as numorous contacts across the country. I am not sure about all of the contacts, but I know that every member of both groups was, or had in the past been, a member or supporter of some political group. Despite the popularity of our publication, and the fact that shop stewards in many London offices sold it, it proved difficult to get new people involved. I don't see that times have changed that much, certainly not in any way for the better since then, and imagine that the same sort of problems would exist today. I don't really see how any such group can, at the moment, be anything other than a collection of political militants.

It is, however, possible that during the course of a strike, such a group could attract a large number of new members although in our case we didn't. The question of a political criteria for adherence would then arise again. Would a group accept people based purely on their desire to struggle? What would happen if these people became the majority, and then decided to use the organizations publications to support a 'left' slate in the union's elections? I think that a pitical criteria in this sort of group is crucial.

Devrim

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Oct 2 2009 18:27

This has all been very interesting...
My question lies on the difference between the SolFed and the IWW (I am in the US and don't have much personal experience with BIROC so if there is a big difference let me know)... So if SolFed had some network militants in an non-unionized workplace and was able to call a mass meeting and the mass meeting decided that it wanted formal representation the "revolutionary union" would decline attempting to provide this? Whereas (in practice) the IWW would attempt to cobble some (half-arsed) formally recognized 'Union' together (if that is what the organizing process in that workplace and the mass meeting democratically decided)?
I don't see that there is a big difference between SolFed and the IWW in this instance (this is the way Wobbly "organizing drives" often look in the US), except perhaps that the SolFed "revolutionary union" would refuse to accept the mediation role requested of them by the directly democratic mandate of the mass meeting, is this correct?

Yorkie Bar
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Oct 2 2009 19:14
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I don't see that there is a big difference between SolFed and the IWW in this instance (this is the way Wobbly "organizing drives" often look in the US), except perhaps that the SolFed "revolutionary union" would refuse to accept the mediation role requested of them by the directly democratic mandate of the mass meeting,

Well that depends. If you think that an organisation's attitude 'mediation roles' is not of any real importance, then of course you don't see a big difference between organisations that represent workers and organisations that don't.

Similarly, you probably don't see any difference between an anarchist and the president of the united states, except that one would refuse to accept the representative role requested of them by the democratic vote of the entire population.

And yes, that was irony.

EDIT: Also I have never heard any member of the IWW from either side of the pond even mention mass meetings as part of their organising strategy.

~J.

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Oct 2 2009 19:21
prec@riat wrote:
My question lies on the difference between the SolFed and the IWW (I am in the US and don't have much personal experience with BIROC so if there is a big difference let me know)... So if SolFed had some network militants in an non-unionized workplace and was able to call a mass meeting and the mass meeting decided that it wanted formal representation the "revolutionary union" would decline attempting to provide this?

this is what everyone's said in response to S&S. my understanding is we'd say if you want legally recognised representation, join a recognised union. if you want to agitate for social revolution and practice self-organisation, and organise in the workplace based on direct action and solidarity, then join the SolFed network (these aren't mutually exclusive of course, in that if a workplace mass meeting voted to unionise, SF network members would almost certainly join too).

but we wouldn't 'represent' anyone (i.e. negotiate on their behalf). if that happened, and the workplace unionised, the role of the network would be the same - arguing for and participating in mass meetings open to all workers, and trying to organise solidarity action elsewhere through the network.

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Oct 2 2009 20:01
no1 wrote:
IMO there should be a network of workers whose members (1) agree on self-organisation to further our concrete needs i.e. the need for direct action, rank-and-file control, solidarity, mass meetings etc but (2) do not have to agree on revolution and libertarian communism.

-

Devrim wrote:
It is, however, possible that during the course of a strike, such a group could attract a large number of new members although in our case we didn't. The question of a political criteria for adherence would then arise again. Would a group accept people based purely on their desire to struggle? What would happen if these people became the majority, and then decided to use the organizations publications to support a 'left' slate in the union's elections? I think that a pitical criteria in this sort of group is crucial.

i'm with Devrim here. while for us solidarity, direct action and self-organisation to assert our concrete needs logically prefigures libertarian communism, there are people would agree with them in a particular circumstance as useful tactics, then decide to use the network to 'reclaim the union' (hell, there are 'anarchist-communists' that say this; "Taking back control of OUR unions is part and parcel of the fight to protect what we have won over the years.")

now i'm certainly not against wider groups with looser criteria - like the group you (no1) are trying to get together at your work, or the one that may come out of the Vestas Support group in Brighton, but imho it's a serious mistake to dissolve explicitly revolutionary organisations into these looser groups - the well-worn path of dropping revolutionary principles in order to grow, then wondering how you ended up a leftist reformist.

i think the relation of (formal, permanent, pro-revolutionary) industrial networks to (informal, contingent, militant) workplace resistance groups sketched in this thread goes some way to solving this problem.

Devrim wrote:
I think that the questions that really need to be disscused are those such as the nature of union officials. Would a group like this allow union officials to join. When I was on the UCW branch committee at my Post Office I had two hours facility time a week. The branch secretary of a head office, on the other hand, was on full facility time, but still technically a worker in that he was paid by the PO, not the union. The question is where do people stand on these sort of issues.

like i said on the thread which spawned this one, SolFed bars membership for "full time trade union officials" defined as "one who is employed by the union and accountable to the union bureaucracy rather than the rank and file." i think that's pretty good - obviously there are borderline cases with a formulation like that, but i'd trust the local/network's discretion (and if we found ourselves innundated with convenors on 50%+ facility time with dubious allegiances we could reconsider the criteria).

no1 wrote:
As these workers' become more politicised through the experience of struggle, most will surely come to agree on revolution and libertarian communism as the end-point of that process of self-organisation for our needs.

i don't disagree with this (although it's usually only a minority who draw revolutionary conclusions outside of significant mass struggles), but i think this is an excellent argument for having decent militants involved in workplace resistance groups (even formalising them a bit a la McDonalds Workers' Resistance), who can then elect to join the network if down the road they come to find themselves in agreement with its revolutionary aims as well as its methods. i think this is the difference between 'simple syndicalism' which advocates fighting, democratic unions for all workers - assuming they will become revolutionary...

WSA wrote:
we don’t assume that the unions or other mass organizations that people would form at the present moment in the USA, even if they were self-managed, would be ideologically “anarchist” or necessarily endorse a complete vision of anti-capitalist revolution.

Through the experience of struggle, working people learn more about the system and how to fight it. When people see a larger and more militant movement, this will encourage them to believe they have the power to remake society.

link

...and anarcho-syndicalism, which insists on clear revolutionary objectives (and the attendent shift from 'One Big Unionism' to 'minority unionism'):

SolFed's predeccesor DAM wrote:
Independent unions are not in themselves revolutionary. Clear revolutionary political goals are also vital for any real change to develop. (...) The main aim of any union is to maintain its power within as part of the wider trade union movement and also to exert pressure and maintain influence on the state, management and society as a whole.

(...)

But of all the areas that the unions seek to have influence in by far the most important is its dealing with management, for it is from this area that all their power flows. They must retain the right to negotiate wages and conditions with management. It is by having the power to negotiate on behalf of workers that they retain their influence within the workplace and ultimately attract and retain members.

In turn it is having that control and influence in the workplace that they are of use to the boss class. The unions offer stability in the workplace, they channel workers anger, shape and influence their demands and, if need be, act to police the workforce. Perhaps this is best summed up by a quote from the boss class themselves: a manager when asked by a reporter why his multi-national had recognised unions in South Africa replied "have you ever tried negotiating with a football field full of militant angry workers?"

link

now DAM were by no means as clear on this as our SolFed comrades have been in criticising S&S's conflation of mass meetings and revolutionary unions, but in the WSA quote the union is clearly seen as as the organ of mass struggle, whereas in the DAM's case it's 'a football field full of militant angry workers' (i.e. a mass meeting) of whom none or all may also be committed anarcho-syndicalists (there are other bits of that text which are more contradictory - but as we have seen in this thread that's an occupational hazard of developing ideas).

with regard to the WSA position, i can only repeat my belief that anarcho-syndicalism minus anarchism equals simple syndicalism of the Tom Brown variety, which takes you back to the conflation of revolutionary unions and mass meetings that drew so much criticism in S&S; "The basis of the Syndicate is the mass meeting or workers assembled at their place of work." The WSA address the problem by dropping revolutionary/anarchist principles from the union, allowing them to become mass in the absence of a mass of revolutionaries. We addressed it by stressing such 'unions' must be non-permanent, since a mass of revolutionary workers is not a constant. I really think our critics have helped us move beyond that conception with the insistence the (usually minority) revolutionary union and the mass meeting are distinct entities.

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Oct 2 2009 20:53
Joseph Kay wrote:
but we wouldn't 'represent' anyone (i.e. negotiate on their behalf). if that happened, and the workplace unionised, the role of the network would be the same - arguing for and participating in mass meetings open to all workers, and trying to organise solidarity action elsewhere through the network.

Well, thats fine, and I agree, however in reality in the process of pursuing a grievance at some point a mass meeting often sends some 'representatives' to present their demands to the boss. Would SolFed militants also refuse to be in such a delegation?

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Oct 2 2009 20:57
prec@riat wrote:
Joseph Kay wrote:
but we wouldn't 'represent' anyone (i.e. negotiate on their behalf). if that happened, and the workplace unionised, the role of the network would be the same - arguing for and participating in mass meetings open to all workers, and trying to organise solidarity action elsewhere through the network.

Well, thats fine, and I agree, however in reality in the process of pursuing a grievance at some point a mass meeting often sends some 'representatives' to present their demands to the boss. Would SolFed militants also refuse to be in such a delegation?

i don't think mandated delegates presenting a demand constitutes 'representation' so long as the delegates don't have any power to make a decision on the workers' behalf. you present a demand, en masse if at all possible, then fully discuss any offer in the mass meeting. as soon as you get a delegation negotiating and recommending a compromise over the heads of the workers then you have representation, and the mass meeting becomes a rubber stamp (as at Visteon).

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Oct 2 2009 21:12
Joseph Kay wrote:
i don't think mandated delegates presenting a demand constitutes 'representation' so long as the delegates don't have any power to make a decision on the workers' behalf. you present a demand, en masse if at all possible, then fully discuss any offer in the mass meeting.

mmmhmm... well this is the way even formally contracted wobbly 'job shops' are supposed to operate (which would be what distinguishes it from other Unions). Whether they successfully do this or can with formal recognition is a different matter.

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Oct 2 2009 21:21

Also I'm assuming SolFed (via locals) could initiate projects like Seattle Solidarity (or "workers centers") where one could post up fliers to solicit wage theft or unjust firing grievances and then take direct action against those bosses. Personally I see this as a more useful tactic in the short term given the actual numbers in the groups we are talking about. Would you consider this activity inappropriate for the "political group" (e.g. AF) to engage in?

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Oct 2 2009 21:35
prec@riat wrote:
Joseph Kay wrote:
i don't think mandated delegates presenting a demand constitutes 'representation' so long as the delegates don't have any power to make a decision on the workers' behalf. you present a demand, en masse if at all possible, then fully discuss any offer in the mass meeting.

mmmhmm... well this is the way even formally contracted wobbly 'job shops' are supposed to operate (which would be what distinguishes it from other Unions). Whether they successfully do this or can with formal recognition is a different matter.

well that's fine. i don't doubt that the wobblies are in principle a democratic rank and file union. but the point is they operate by getting everyone to join the IWW, forming a 'job shop', then presenting demands etc. SolFed (and any larger network we'd advocate) is made up of those committed to the aims and principles of anarcho-syndicalism (i.e. revolutionaries), and we organise alongside our fellow workers through mass meetings whether they are members/revolutionaries or not.

by conflating the 'job shop' and the mass meeting the IWW makes the same mistake as Tom Brown - who was of course influenced by the IWW (and the same mistake from a different angle as we made in S&S) - you can have an organisation 'for all workers' or you can have a revolutionary organisation, but assuming you have internal democracy - which for both the IWW and SolFed is non-negotiable - you can't have both at the same time unless 'all workers' or something close to it are revolutionaries - something which only occurs at the rare high-water marks of class struggle.

thus 'revolutionary unionism' is either 'minority unionism' or it's forced to compromise revolutionary principles (or internal democracy). there have been signs of the IWW doing the latter with the no strike deals and MSP debacle, i'm sure lots of members oppose that, but i think it's an inherent structural problem you don't really have an answer to - and i really can't see the famous IWW constitution being changed away from being 'One Big Union' which is the IWW's raison d'etre.

The partial answer seems to be to pursue the strategy of dual-card industrial networking, which basically seems like SolFed's strategy with the straightjacket of the 'anti-politicism' (so networks can't come out as anarchists) and the baggage/problem that the union is constituionally and in the eyes of many of its members a 'real fighting union for all workers.' imho wobblies who want revolutionary industrial networking should talk to SolFed, the AF and others on this thread and pursue the idea of a new organisation along the lines i have sketched (my favoured option, thinking out loud) or a merger of groups (which i think would lose the fact there are distinct roles to be played).

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Oct 2 2009 21:40
prec@riat wrote:
Also I'm assuming SolFed (via locals) could initiate projects like Seattle Solidarity (or "workers centers") where one could post up fliers to solicit wage theft or unjust firing grievances and then take direct action against those bosses. Personally I see this as a more useful tactic in the short term given the actual numbers in the groups we are talking about. Would you consider this activity inappropriate for the "political group" (e.g. AF) to engage in?

direct action casework seems like a mixture of anarcho-syndicalism and radical charity work depending on who you talk to and how well it's done. i think such groups are a step into the 'political-economic' of using direct action to fight around concrete needs and thus out of purely political activity, yes.

that said, some drop most of the politics in encouraging everyone they help to join and in turn help others. there's nothing wrong with that. indeed it's pretty sweet to see non-politicos taking direct action to support one another, but it's almost crossing over into purely economic organising, and isn't the kind of network of militants/revolutionary union i've been advocating.

as far as i'm aware SolFed's two London locals are quite involved in LCAP, but they wouldn't dissolve themselves into it.

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Oct 2 2009 22:23

I actually agree with your analysis of the wobs and if the WSA was more like SolFed I'd probably join, but this side of the pond I have to make do with even more confused organizations and play with them the best one can. My problems with WSA...
a). the IWW actually practices more "revolutionary unionism"/ "minority unionism" than the WSA does (though as Joe K correctly mentioned the US IWW also on occasion formally organizes "job shops" which puts itself in conflicted positions)
b). the theoretical documents of the WSA are a nightmare of confused pareconism (rather than libertarian communism).

But back to the main thrust of this thread... given the level of commitment to the ideal that you are asking of people I'm rather unconvinced of your need for dual organizationalism... it seems the role you are ascribing the "political" org is one of Jamesian "recognize and record" (but this is one of overlap with the pol-econ org) and philosophical "what comes after" theorizing. Why couldn't one have a unitary poli-econ org with poli caucuses (anarchy caucus, women and sexuality theory caucus, atheist caucus, etc.)? I don't think we are anywhere near the numbers or the style of capitalism that would require the type of dual organization historically typified by the CNT/FAI or the AAU-D/KAPD.

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Oct 2 2009 22:42
prec@riat wrote:
I actually agree with your analysis of the wobs and if the WSA was more like SolFed I'd probably join, but this side of the pond I have to make do with even more confused organizations and play with them the best one can. My problems with WSA...
a). the IWW actually practices more "revolutionary unionism"/ "minority unionism" than the WSA does (though as Joe K correctly mentioned the US IWW also on occasion formally organizes "job shops" which puts itself in conflicted positions)
b). the theoretical documents of the WSA are a nightmare of confused pareconism (rather than libertarian communism).

yeah i don't get how 'anarcho-syndicalists' whose idea of an 'anarcho-syndicalist union' is a 'democratic, fighting union' differ from the IWW - except the IWW at least kinda do it while the anarcho-syndicalists tend to talk about it. but this confusion goes a long way back, since anarcho-syndicalism and its revolutionary syndicalist/industrial unionist ancestors were never cleanly demarcated in practice. in large part that's what Brighton were trying to do with S&S, although not without confusions of our own. our new one should clear things up some more, hopefully ready early next year. i forgot you were in the US. commiserations wink

prec@riat wrote:
But back to the main thrust of this thread... given the level of commitment to the ideal that you are asking of people I'm rather unconvinced of your need for dual organizationalism... it seems the role you are ascribing the "political" org is one of Jamesian "recognize and record" (but this is one of overlap with the pol-econ org) and philosophical "what comes after" theorizing. Why couldn't one have a unitary poli-econ org with poli caucuses (anarchy caucus, women and sexuality theory caucus, atheist caucus, etc.)? I don't think we are anywhere near the numbers or the style of capitalism that would require the type of dual organization historically typified by the CNT/FAI or the AAU-D/KAPD.

you could do it that way, yeah. i think if this happens, it will be along the lines of us all founding a new organisation along the lines discussed (industrial/local network of militants with an agreed strategy and set of basic aims and principles), in which we all participate. SolFed would probably argue for it to affiliate to the IWA in our place, then disband ourselves if we got our way (or continue as a pro-IWA caucus if not). the AF would participate in it, and if they found themselves redundant could consider the same. i think in practice the political organisations would probably want to maintain themselves as independent organisations though, although the caucus idea might be another way around it if AF members don't want to keep paying two sets of subs (especially if caucuses could put articles in the organisation's press as part of a healthy culture of debate and political development).

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Oct 2 2009 23:33
Joseph Kay wrote:
direct action casework seems like a mixture of anarcho-syndicalism and radical charity work depending on who you talk to and how well it's done. i think such groups are a step into the 'political-economic' of using direct action to fight around concrete needs and thus out of purely political activity, yes.

that said, some drop most of the politics in encouraging everyone they help to join and in turn help others. there's nothing wrong with that. indeed it's pretty sweet to see non-politicos taking direct action to support one another, but it's almost crossing over into purely economic organising, and isn't the kind of network of militants/revolutionary union i've been advocating.

as far as i'm aware SolFed's two London locals are quite involved in LCAP, but they wouldn't dissolve themselves into it.

I do think Seattle Solidarity Network functions in a possibly qualitatively different way than the various CAP's. Rather than DAC I've been toying with the term GAS (Grievance Action Solidarity). So whether the Libertarian Communist Organization (LCO) has industrial networks that help one communicate with ones co-workers and patiently build specific workplace resistance groups which can add some GAS to any sparks that develop, or one puts out the word that local militants are looking for individual flares of contestation with bosses, landlords, etc. and getting a broader community based resistance group to add some GAS, either way the LCO is putting some accelerant of direct action collective struggle and organizing to a small flame that if left to itself would likely be extinguished.
Also offering political education (via reading/discussion group, etc.) beyond the experience of collective struggle itself is imho the way we get the "non-politicos" to become the militants who might want to join a LCO.

*apologies ahead of time for the goofy "gas" poetics.

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Oct 3 2009 00:12

i do think the approach of 'many small victories' adopted by such groups is a good one, i'm by no means an expert in the model but it's something we've been discussing in brighton (more with regard to LCAP though). i think it's probably something industrial networks/locals should try to include in their practice, so the word gets that direct action gets results, both cos this is a good thing per se and for raising the kudos of the anarchists and thus increasing the influence of libertarian ideas in the class struggle (and so the likely membership of workplace resistance groups the liklihood of mass meetings etc). something from another thread i just remembered that's kinda on this point:

ginger wrote:
There was a brief showing of other leftists for the demo today, and they might start getting involved now, however so far the occupation has been purely comprised of parents and Anarchists with lots of support and practical solidarity from Anarchists throughout Glasgow.

This was in large part due to longterm involvement of individual Anarchists in the area, including with housing campaigns, and through the Burgh Angel. This sort of sustained, committed contact meant that it was an Anarchist who was contacted before the occupation and he let the rest of us know that they wanted our support.

ginger's talking about the AF i think, certainly a political group. but imagine how much more effective such an approach would be if it was based not just on solidarity but on a reputation for direct action winning small victories (not to belittle the activity of the Glasgow anarchists but the organisation mooted on this thread is basically an order of magnitude larger than anything we have at the moment).

raw
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Oct 3 2009 00:31
Joseph Kay wrote:
i'm not insistent that organisation is SolFed, if it requires a new organisation to fill that role that everyone joins then so be it. that might be the best way to overcome sectarian objections.* if such an organisation could be formed with a principled strategic unity, that would be a significant development (i'm aware these discussions are somewhat perennial, we'll see what happens).

* sectarianism as in putting your organisation before the needs of the class struggle.

One way to approach it is for the local SolFed and AF groups to dissassociate themeselves from their respective national federations. Each local branch will then have complete autonomy to develop. Then redefine, as you have laid out, the core strategies that this new federation should possess - work/community/social movement involvement - this process can occur by a delegate system (two people from each group) with the added possibility of new/emerging groups to participate in this process with the end result of having a federation which is structurally and politically set-up to be a combattive movement. Groups can then start to affiliate to it.

It won't be easy but do you honestly believe the SolFed or AF having any sort of effectiveness in the class struggle, have they had? And I am not talking small scale but large effective gains? This isn't a dig btw but I don't believe there have been any. We should stop deluding ourselves in thinking that somehow these structures we have are going to be any use what so ever in the coming years ahead. There is also another issue about change and flexibility. Do those federations posses that capibility? Surely that is what we as pro-revolutionaries are about? Thats what human evolution is based upon.

We all have been in this "game" for a while now, we all have the experience of being from full-time activists to full-time workers. We know how ridiculously difficult it is. The "movement" we have lowers expectations, it sucks out the passion in what we believe and do, because of its inability to reflect the change that is needed to make things happen.

Alessio

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Oct 3 2009 01:12
raw wrote:
One way to approach it is for the local SolFed and AF groups to dissassociate themeselves from their respective national federations. Each local branch will then have complete autonomy to develop.

tbh this sounds like the opposite of what this thread has been discussing; a further fragmentation of an already fragmented and ineffectual 'movement.' we have complete autonomy to develop already because we're part of a federation not a leninist party - if that development took us outside the aims and principles of the organisation we'd leave. but being a part of a wider organisation has definitely benefited us imho.

raw wrote:
It won't be easy but do you honestly believe the SolFed or AF having any sort of effectiveness in the class struggle, have they had? And I am not talking small scale but large effective gains? This isn't a dig btw but I don't believe there have been any.

obviously not. we're 200 people at most combined spread over a country of 60 million. i don't think a merged organisation of 500 people would make 'large effective gains' either, but it would be a better base from which to develop a coherent co-ordinated strategy of how to do so. but as per my previous post, i wouldn't downplay small successes. victories are infectious.

raw wrote:
There is also another issue about change and flexibility. Do those federations posses that capibility? Surely that is what we as pro-revolutionaries are about?

there's no inherent reason they can't. if they prove incapable of change (revolutionary conservatism, lol) then that's probably more a reflection of the kind of people who remain in chronically inneffectual organisations than federal organisation per se. we'll see. i've been impressed with the level of debate in SolFed since our last national conference, which by all accounts S&S helped provoke.

raw wrote:
We all have been in this "game" for a while now, we all have the experience of being from full-time activists to full-time workers. We know how ridiculously difficult it is. The "movement" we have lowers expectations, it sucks out the passion in what we believe and do, because of its inability to reflect the change that is needed to make things happen.

tbh i've felt that about pretty much all the groups i've been part of except my current SolFed local. my enthusiasm probably comes across in this thread - there's no inherent reason revolutionary politics should be martydom (critique of the militant and all that).

fwiw i think that reflects a combination of factors often lacking in the anarchist milieu; a healthy culture of discussion, criticism and debate, an experimental attitude willing to try things and not afraid of failing and learning from it, a stable/growing membership and subs base that allows us to think strategically and long-term instead of constantly asking 'what shall we do?' while running around tail-ending things, really sound people, an outward-looking orientation and good working relationship with others and strong formal organisation to counter the tendencies to the cliqueyness and informal hierarchies that poison a lot of 'radical' groups. fuck, i sound like one of those plastic testimonials on a TV ad grin

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Oct 3 2009 02:15

I'm curious about the caucus idea. Does anyone have experiences with an organization run in this manner? I can see how they could be very useful (in much the way prec@riat outlined above). I can also imagine them to be a source of eternal conflict leading to paralysis. This isn't to say I believe conflict to be inherent in caucuses just that it should be recognized as a distinct possibility. One can imagine, for instance, baboon getting the ICC to filibuster until the organization recognized the Machiavellian nature of the bourgeoisie. wall

Finally, I'd like to second JK's post above regarding raw's comments. That idea sounds like a recipe for fragmentation and disorganization and I think we're looking for the opposite.

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Oct 3 2009 02:20

i've no experience of caucuses, but i guess they could act like 'think tanks' within the organisation; discussing, producing aritcles and propaganda, making proposals for practical activity involving the wider group...

syndicalist
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Oct 3 2009 02:35
prec@riat wrote:
I actually agree with your analysis of the wobs and if the WSA was more like SolFed I'd probably join, but this side of the pond I have to make do with even more confused organizations and play with them the best one can. My problems with WSA...
a). the IWW actually practices more "revolutionary unionism"/ "minority unionism" than the WSA does (though as Joe K correctly mentioned the US IWW also on occasion formally organizes "job shops" which puts itself in conflicted positions)
b). the theoretical documents of the WSA are a nightmare of confused pareconism (rather than libertarian communism).

As the comrade clearly has no understanding of the WSA, let me briefly clarify.

The WSA has never claimed to be a union. When we organized in 1984 we did so as an anarcho-syndicalist "propaganda group" and was affiliated with the IWA. Today the WSA is no longer part of the IWA. Currently our membership contains a variety of comrades who consider themselves class struggle anarchists (including anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian socialists & anarchist-communists). we unite around our "Where We Stand document http://workersolidarity.org/?page_id=78

The WSA is neither pareconist" or "libertarian communist".

We respect folks right to be critical (or not) of the WSA, but at least let's at least be accurate.