UK organisations: where do we stand?

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Django's picture
Django
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May 14 2012 21:16
UK organisations: where do we stand?

So it's been a couple of years since the great strategy and organisational debates on here, which were also taking place within UK orgs and between them. Solfed certainly appeared to get a good idea of what they were about as an organisation from this period, and appeared to get a new lease of life.

I think I'm right in saying membership doubled (albeit from a very low base), I'd be interested to know if this growth has continued and to what extent ideas which were solidified at this time have been put into practice.

It seems like it would be a good juncture to look at any recent organising successes and failures in the UK, especially in the light of a new split in the AF, left social democracy resurgent in Europe, etc. Post up your thoughts on the last couple of years and what future aims and priorities should be.

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Steven.
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May 14 2012 21:27

I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts on this (as a very inactive member of the AF).

I would just say, though, that I wouldn't call Collective Action a split from the AF as such, as it was only four or five people who left.

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May 15 2012 01:11

Just from the point of view of someone who has not been a member of either SolFed or AFed.

I get the impression as an outsider that I know exactly what SolFed are doing and where they're going. And it if there has been a rise in members, then obviously other people are liking this and 'buying' into it.

As for AFed, I just don't understand what they're doing. I don't see what part they play in the 'movement'. I understand you don't always know what role they play unless you're in the organisation. And I know some of them will be active in IWW or some kind of local solidarity group. But there doesn't seem to be much coordination. I think the people who left AFed to start up Collective Action seem to confirm some things that I thought about AFed.

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May 15 2012 03:08

I'm wondering what the other groups are up to.

Is The Commune progressing much? What sort of stuff are they active in apart from discussion groups and selling papers. I kind of like them, but I always got the impression they were a bit bookish.

L&S seem to have gone further away from anarchism, or maybe my perception of them has and they were never that close to it in the first place. It's hard to tell what they're doing though with their non-group-propaganda stance. Do they now see themselves as a purely syndicalist group with their attempt to set up a syndicalist international with that French group?

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 07:48

Bulmer , maybe you should read our publications to see what we are up to
In this issue of Organise! we describe our development and activities and on the 25th anniversary of the AF show how we have developed our theory and practice:
http://www.afed.org.uk/org/org77.pdf
Please read it.
We produce thousands of free newsheets that we distribute on a mass basis, spreading anarchist ideas where they were not there before. We do this on a monthly basis.
We have grown from a very small base with two small groups to many more groups around Britain . In Scotland we are establishing groups where there never have been any. The Scottish groups have regularly run day schools on theory and practice and history that have been well attended.
We have produced a large number of cheap pamphlets over the last period, popularising anarchist communist ideas.
We produced thousands of poster/leaflets for the huge demonstration in March 2011, which proved very popular and spread anarchist views on how we fight the cuts/austerity
Our magazine Organise! has developed theory in the British anarchist movement and certainly the AF has had a positive effect on the whole movement, being one of the more important groups that have moved British anarchism away from liberalism, individualism and pacifism towards social/class struggle anarchism.
We emphasise the need for a specific anarchist communist organisation that we regard as vital for the development of the movement.THe solidarity federation by its own admission is not such athing, and we , and I am sure they, see the differences in the nature of the two groupings
One thing we have developed over the last few years is a widening of our involvement in promoting anarchism outside of our own activities and publications.
This has included geƫting regional bookfairs off the ground in Sheffield, Manchester and Bristol and
supporting others like in Belfast and Dublin. In 2008, our Nottingham group founded an anarchist cultural centre with library and archive, The Sparrows’ Nest,
and this now contains a wealth of material; In addition we have written more than ever for other papers of the movement, including a regular piece for Black Flag and
individual member contributions to Freedom and Shift, and we have contributed artiles and interviews to overseas papers and magazines. Some of our members are involved in libcom which has become an increasingly important online resource for anarchist communication and publications. AF groups are also running their own blogs, publishing local papers, and have initiated local publishing efforts notably in Manchester and London with Peterloo Press and Stormy Petrel. we have contributed as initiators to several local community action groups.
In 2008 we celebrated 100 issues of our monthly free paper Resistance and we are now close to 142.
As well as joint work with the Solidarity Federation, AF members continue to be involved in the IWW.
Our involvement in the International of Anarchist Federations (IAF-IFA) has continued and we have been
especially pleased to have had the chance to strengthen links with other IAF-IFA members by participating in regular international delegate meetings and bookfairs
and hostng overseas comrades in England. We have also formed meaningful relationships with non-IAF-IFA groups including the recently formed FederaƟ on of Anarchist Organising in Slovenia and groupings in Holland, Greece and Macedonia; whilst AF members have also conducted two tours of Central and South America where they met with many groups across the region. The last few years has also seen great need for internaƟ onal solidarity and we have engaged in practical and moral support for comrades in Serbia, Oaxaca (Mexico), Belarus and
Greece, Philippines, Indonesia, as well as Anarchists Against the Wall in Israel/Palestine.
We have put on a speaking tour- still continuing- to publicise the forthcoming International Congress in St Imier.When did an anarchist grouping last organise such a speaking tour?
We have confronted Labour hijacking of MayDay and the anti-austerity movement, most spectacularly recently at Manchester and Nottingham (see the May day 2012 thread for details of this)
Finally, to regard Collective Action as a split seems an exaggeration. Five people left the AF which still has a membership of over 150 and is still growing. Perhaps we don't "big ourselves up" like some groups do but we believe our steady and persistent work is paying off in the long run, without the need for smoke and mirrors, thunder and lightning.

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May 15 2012 08:34

That all sounds good and there is obviously many active members who do a lot of work. But I think it seems like there is no coordination. Everyone is active on different things and I don't see the 'overall plan' apart from doing 'anarchist' things. I hope this makes sense.

I mean I think you need to spread anarchist ideas but a lot of it seems detached from actual practice of building a working class movement. I'm not saying that anything that you mentioned above is 'wrong' or 'bad' but some of it doesn't seem very attractive to people unless they already have some interest in anarchism.

What I think that Collective Action backs up of what I thought of AFed was not that you weren't doing much but that there seems to be a lack of national coordination apart from maybe the IWW (even then I think a lot don't get involved with the Wobs) and handing out propaganda.

Good luck with building the org anyway smile

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May 15 2012 09:07
Django wrote:
Solfed certainly appeared to get a good idea of what they were about as an organisation from this period, and appeared to get a new lease of life.

I think I'm right in saying membership doubled (albeit from a very low base), I'd be interested to know if this growth has continued and to what extent ideas which were solidified at this time have been put into practice.

That sounds about right. In answer to your questions:

  • Growth went crazy for a bit (my local went from 6 to ~18+ dues-paying members in 12 months), but has settled down a bit more steady now i think, locally at least. As you say, it's from a very low base.
  • This has lead to a couple of new locals (Hull, Solent), with maybe a few more in the pipeline
  • The strategy discussions 2009-2011 reached consensus. 2011 national conference in Brighton mandated a pamphlet to sum this up, it was drafted over the year and approved at the 2012 national conference in Liverpool last month. Will be published as soon as it's edited/proofed/laid out.
  • This has also shifted our activities and internal culture, though this is a long-term project. there's been a big push with the organiser training, which has trained hundreds of people (SF and not). We're looking to develop an organising culture where SF members (and anyone else, for that matter) take the initiative in their workplaces, and becoming the kind of organisation that can support that through training, pooled experience, practical support etc.
  • Most of this is currently under the radar, but there's a few good examples of ongoing workplace organising/active workplace committees. this has lead to some members being able to invite workmates to organiser trainings, something it will be good to develop further as it points beyond the existing radical milieu.
  • While we have a pretty good idea of what our workplace activity involves, we've had much less experience with 'community' and unemployed organising (unfortunate given current unemployment levels).
  • So far the former has lead to a basic outline strategy (acknowledged to be something of a placeholder) and the new Stuff Your Landlord leaflet. We haven't had any public anti-landlord actions yet to my knowledge, but it's been threatened a few times I think.
  • The latter has lead mostly to the coordinated anti-workfare campaign. This is much more visible than the workplace stuff (for obvious reasons), and while it has an element of 'weekend warrior activism' to it it's very much driven by people on JSA/workfare schemes/in casual employment. We've produced Abolish Workfare and are supporting the upcoming national conference in Brighton to better co-ordinate national anti-workfare efforts beyond SF.
  • Also important has been the activity of several local gender working groups and the self-organisation of SF women. This isn't particularly visible yet (although a 'Stuff Your Sexist Boss' is in the works on workplace sexism/harassment), but there's been definite steps by women to support one another inside and outside SF.

As a personal comment on the 'developing an organising culture' thing, I know myself I find it far easier to bash out 1,000 word posts on relatively abstract political concepts than I do to strike up a conversation with strangers and persuade them to organise. I think the latter is probably harder at the best of times, but i also think it's outside the comfort zone of many people attracted to anarchist groups primarily through ideas rather than practice. I mean it's a running joke of anarchists lacking basic social skills, let alone organising skills wink It's interesting that the new SF members fall roughly into two groups; students radicalised by the recent struggles, and trade unionists frustrated at the limits of trade unionism.

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 09:18

Yes, but that is the problem with the first group, students, you can not build a lasting organisation on them. This will be a problem with both AF and Solfed, I feel. We may well keep the best of them but I get the feeling many will drift away. This is from empirical evidence accumulated over a long period of activism
And I really don't see how the practice of AF differs that much from Solfed anyway, as where is he coordinated activity you talk about there. I don't really get what you're driving at.

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May 15 2012 09:19

JK will definitely be the minister of information after SF runs the world. wink Good post comrade.

radicalgraffiti
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May 15 2012 09:25
bulmer wrote:
I mean I think you need to spread anarchist ideas but a lot of it seems detached from actual practice of building a working class movement. I'm not saying that anything that you mentioned above is 'wrong' or 'bad' but some of it doesn't seem very attractive to people unless they already have some interest in anarchism.

the idea is to build a culture of resistance in the working class, not to build our organisation.

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 09:36

And yes, that is what the problem is, Bulmer's "partyist" outlook re the movement, something he doesn't seem to have jettisoned with his departure from L&S
Incidentally we have had a strategy meeting followed by a strategy day the day after our last National Delegate Meeting where we are developing an ongoing collective strategy.

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May 15 2012 09:38
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And I really don't see how the practice of AF differs that much from Solfed anyway, as where is he coordinated activity you talk about there.

Can I ask you to expand on this Battle? You know I'm all for a close and comradely relationship between SF and AF, but I think are some very big organisational differences between us--which I can go into if you want to discuss.

Also that last bit, are you asking "where is the coordinated activity" in SF?

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May 15 2012 09:55
radicalgraffiti wrote:
bulmer wrote:
I mean I think you need to spread anarchist ideas but a lot of it seems detached from actual practice of building a working class movement. I'm not saying that anything that you mentioned above is 'wrong' or 'bad' but some of it doesn't seem very attractive to people unless they already have some interest in anarchism.

the idea is to build a culture of resistance in the working class, not to build our organisation.

yeah, I'm involved in organising at my work, which I see as helping build a working class movement. So there my politics show through my actions.

But I also think there is a role for trying to popularise anarchist ideas in themselves, which I also try to do through libcom and I'm glad that the AF does in terms of its publications and other activities.

TBH I think this would be pretty similar to Solfed, where people are active in organising at work but won't be necessary talking about Solfed or anarchosyndicalism.

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May 15 2012 09:57
Battlescarred wrote:
And yes, that is what the problem is, Bulmer's "partyist" outlook re the movement, something he doesn't seem to have jettisoned with his departure from L&S
Incidentally we have had a strategy meeting followed by a strategy day the day after our last National Delegate Meeting where we are developing an ongoing collective strategy.

Sorry if that's how I come across because that was not my intention, but if you read what I said again then I do say specifically about building the working class movement rather than the organisation (but obviously both need to grow).

What I'm trying to get across is that it seems that members of AFed are getting involved in too many things with no real national coordination. Obviously there needs to be a certain amount of local autonomy but there should be a bigger push to concentrate on fewer things to have more effect in those areas, which is something I think SolFed has done well in.

Like I originally said though, you don't always know how an organisation works properly until you are involved in it. This is something I've found out on a couple of occasions.

To be honest, in theory I think I'm closer to AFed's politics than other established groups (although I do like what CA have to say but as they're so small and new, I'll have to wait a while to make a better judgement on them). But from an outsider's perspective things need tightening up in some ways.

I think I saw something someone else wrote here about the best thing CA could be that it improves the organisation of AFed. I hope it does.

I mean all of this in a comradely way, so hopefully it is taken like that smile

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 09:57

I'm talking about what we do on the ground, not our theoretical/organisational differences which I thought I had already made clear in previous emails on this thread.
And what I am saying is , is there any more coordinated activity in SF than there is in AF?

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May 15 2012 10:01
Steven. wrote:
yeah, I'm involved in organising at my work, which I see as helping build a working class movement. So there my politics show through my actions.

But I also think there is a role for trying to popularise anarchist ideas in themselves, which I also try to do through libcom and I'm glad that the AF does in terms of its publications and other activities.

TBH I think this would be pretty similar to Solfed, where people are active in organising at work but won't be necessary talking about Solfed or anarchosyndicalism.

How much do you think being a member of AFed has helped you in your organising at work?

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 10:11

I'm retire now, but we were able in London during recent run-ups to strikes actually organise it so that we were able to leaflet each other's workplaces without any of us being fingered at our own!!!
see here:
http://www.freedompress.org.uk/news/2011/09/27/june-30th-an-anarchist-teacher%E2%80%99s-perspective/

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 10:12

forgot to mention the recent Jock Palfreyman demo where comrades in Hants/ Surrey and London AF were able to mobilise a picket at the Bulgarian Embassy of 30 people.

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May 15 2012 10:18
bulmer wrote:
How much do you think being a member of AFed has helped you in your organising at work?

not a jot. But then nor would need being a member of Solfed have made any difference to me either. Whichever way you look at it, they are external, small political organisations (albeit both trying to be something different eventually). If I hadn't been experienced at workplace organising anyway, then being involved in either could have been useful in terms of gaining skills and experience from other militants. And Solfed's organiser training program I think is a very good initiative which can help do this (which a fair few AF members have been on as well)

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May 15 2012 10:24

Maybe I'm not making myself clear but I suppose my perceptions aren't as relevant as those currently active and in the UK anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter too much smile

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May 15 2012 10:37
Joseph Kay wrote:
'developing an organising culture'

That topic has been on my 'to write' list for a while, actually. Perhaps I'll start a thread on that later.

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May 15 2012 10:39
bulmer wrote:
(although I do like what CA have to say but as they're so small and new, I'll have to wait a while to make a better judgement on them). But from an outsider's perspective things need tightening up in some ways.

Hi bulmer,
How about joining one of the organisations?

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May 15 2012 10:46
Battlescarred wrote:
And what I am saying is , is there any more coordinated activity in SF than there is in AF?

I've no idea about 'more' as apart from the above posts I'm not that up on the AF's activity. I also don't think it's helpful to make a competition out of it (I don't think that was bulmer's intent either; just an outsider's impression). The obvious SF examples are the organiser training and the workfare campaign. I think those are worthwhile activities regardless of whether the AF is doing more or less.

Steven. wrote:
If I hadn't been experienced at workplace organising anyway, then being involved in either could have been useful in terms of gaining skills and experience from other militants. And Solfed's organiser training program I think is a very good initiative which can help do this (which a fair few AF members have been on as well)

I think what's starting (and only really starting) to happen is the training is helping to create a shared vocabulary and framework, so that Locals become a place to bounce ideas, develop tactics, discuss mapping etc in a collective way (as opposed to one person organising at work, and telling others about it). I'm lucky in my workplace to have an SF group (it's a big workplace), which is starting to work something like this. Early days though.

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May 15 2012 10:47
zero wrote:
bulmer wrote:
(although I do like what CA have to say but as they're so small and new, I'll have to wait a while to make a better judgement on them). But from an outsider's perspective things need tightening up in some ways.

Hi bulmer,
How about joining one of the organisations?

If one of them had sections in China I'm sure he might!

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rat
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May 15 2012 10:51

ah...

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bulmer
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May 15 2012 10:51

As above ^^

I was planning on moving back to the UK in another year but due to unforeseen circumstances, I might be here longer than originally planned!

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May 15 2012 11:05
Battlescarred wrote:
is there any more coordinated activity in SF than there is in AF?

Co-ordinated action is always a challenge in a federal organisation, although that has improved in recent years, and I think we're now experiencing federalism as something which enables rather than constrains. Well, I am anyway grin .

The most visible co-ordinated activity SolFed is doing at the moment is probably around workfare, with locals organising pickets of businesses involved in workfare. Even on this, a lot of co-ordination is below the radar (i.e. sharing the texts of leaflets around the organisation without having a 'national leaflet'; choosing targets; picking dates where we can have a lot of locals out targeting the same businesses, etc). But as Joseph points out, there's a flavour of "weekend warrior activism" around the workfare stuff -- which is probably why it's a bit more visible.

In terms of co-ordinating other stuff, it's often a question of locals not being backward in coming forward and asking for practical help from other locals. So if one local has a dispute with an employer, it does a picket and comrades further afield do a comms blockade, for example.

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 11:09

Yeah and AF is involved on national level against Work Fare, not that I in the least intend this to be seen as competitive

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Rob Ray
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May 15 2012 11:16
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Yes, but that is the problem with the first group, students, you can not build a lasting organisation on them.

Just on this, depends on how you approach it I think - I mean they're not going to be students forever. One thing that should be emphasised to new people is that organising around student issues is a precursor to organising around things like employment, so there's a natural follow-on in terms of what they're working with.

Battlescarred
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May 15 2012 11:21

Yes, but in my experience over the last 45 years, many students disappear as soon as they get to their final year/ start looking for jobs, time and time again I've seen this happen. Really think that a firm basis for building an organisation lies outside the student milieu- not that we should not relate to students/organise among them, don't get me wrong.

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May 15 2012 11:27

Mm but does that reflect them being uniformly rubbish or us not offering them a good reason to hang around? In theory, there should be a way to build a flow from uni, to unemployment, to job etc.

Also, one thing about students is that they often move back home when uni's finished (no money etc), which I think often means they seem to drop out when in fact they're just off elsewhere.