IWW red & black flag ban

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libcom
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Jul 10 2012 15:46
IWW red & black flag ban

Admin: Leaked email and subsequent spats split from here.

vilenin
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Jul 15 2012 01:53

No personal report as I was not able to attend the picket today. When I arrived home this was in inbox:

Dear Fellow workers,

I am writing to you to ask that you inform the fellow workers in your Branches of a policy adopted by our committee and endorsed democratically by the supporting branches. That policy is that at demonstrations and pickets that we call we want the flags and banners of our union, and supporting unions such as RMT and PCS, to be displayed.

On recent events we have instructed participants to remove the flag of the CPGB(Marxist-Leninist), at the John Lewis Picket line an activist of Sold-Fed who came to give solidarity asked if he could display a red and black anarcho-syndicalist flag, it was explained we wanted our IWW union red flags, and this was done without any problem.

At the demonstration today a John Lewis red and black anarcho-syndicalist flags were displayed. This was done despite the Cleaners Branch Secretary making clear to the member of the London GMB and the member of Solf-Fed who the day before was on our picket line what our policy is.

Our union is being branded an anarchist organisation by those attacking us as not a real union, not least of all in the press by UNISON who are witch-hunting our union. We do not then understand or agree with members of our union and others organisations making us appear and misrepresenting us as an anarchist organisation. This is not an attack on our anarchist fellow workers in the IWW and should not be viewed as such.

Can you please make clear to fellow workers what our policy is, we are sure this will be appreciated and we know that our fellow workers who have given fantastic solidarity without conditions will respect our policy.

---
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Jul 15 2012 02:54

As if the trade unions--affiliated to the fucking LABOUR Party--aren't political roll eyes

And as if once the IWW--again with its preamble which quotes Marx--won't get redbaited if it ever really starts to threaten capital.

Also, Vilenin, did you join just to post that?

redsdisease
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Jul 15 2012 03:10

"We want you support, as long as... you know... you keep it secret."

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Jul 15 2012 07:33

Basically everyone in the IWW here in North America uses the red and black flag so seems kinda pointless. But posting internal emails publicly is pretty ridiculous and even if I disagree with the email, if I knew the poster above this would be noted in what I remembered about them and what I told FW's to take into consideration when dealing with them.

martinh
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Jul 15 2012 09:14

I was there briefly yesterday and no one I spoke to expressed any hostility to the red and black. I suspect if comrades are asked to take things down by fellow workers, they will. Bureaucrats on the other hand will likely get short shrift.

Regards,

vilenin
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Jul 15 2012 11:34

Chilli Sauce, yes I created this account purely to post that letter. I believe the intent for it was that it would be circulated internally within IWW and subsequently within the groups named in the letter and that the discussion would happen mostly behind closed doors and an outward appearance of solidarity is maintained.
A lot of people who are neither in IWW, SolFed nor CPGP come to those pickets to show solidarity and I don't see any reason why they shouldn't know what is going on in the background.

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plasmatelly
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Jul 15 2012 12:10

VI Lenin..VI Lenin...where have I heard that name before? Just a bleedin' mo! That's the bloke with the hat from Russia! You've got a lot of questions to answer my son!

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Jul 15 2012 12:49
Juan Conatz wrote:
Basically everyone in the IWW here in North America uses the red and black flag so seems kinda pointless. But posting internal emails publicly is pretty ridiculous and even if I disagree with the email, if I knew the poster above this would be noted in what I remembered about them and what I told FW's to take into consideration when dealing with them.

Got to agree with Juan on this one. The whole debate about flags should first get an airing internally before members go else where and post internal IWW material.

IWW is not an anarchist organisation in the BIRA region (although the majority of members outside the cleaners branch probably are)and is not promoted as such. Sol-Fed is not a union (yet) but a political organisation. So although I disagree with the removing of the red and black flags from IWW members, there has to be a consistant policy regarding external political organisations like CPGB, L&S and Sol-Fed (BTW, AWL are swarming around the cleaners branch like flies attractted to shit...so).

orkhis
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Jul 15 2012 13:28
Awesome Dude wrote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
Basically everyone in the IWW here in North America uses the red and black flag so seems kinda pointless. But posting internal emails publicly is pretty ridiculous and even if I disagree with the email, if I knew the poster above this would be noted in what I remembered about them and what I told FW's to take into consideration when dealing with them.

Got to agree with Juan on this one. The whole debate about flags should first get an airing internally before members go else where and post internal IWW material.

IWW is not an anarchist organisation in the BIRA region (although the majority of members outside the cleaners branch probably are)and is not promoted as such. Sol-Fed is not a union (yet) but a political organisation. So although I disagree with the removing of the red and black flags from IWW members, there has to be a consistant policy regarding external political organisations like CPGB, L&S and Sol-Fed (BTW, AWL are swarming around the cleaners branch like flies attractted to shit...so).

But the black and red flag isn't a 'Solfed' flag (even if it's waved by a Solfed member). The principles of syndicalism are surely part of the IWW's history (even if they're not an avowedly 'syndicalist' organisation), so why shouldn't anarcho-syndicalists show solidarity and support by flying their flag? If it's a case of workers not wanting their flags 'drowned' out, then fair enough; but the e-mail doesn't say that does it?

FWIW, that e-mail quoted above is almost as pathetic as the one from the Unison full-timer telling Unison members not to show up at an IWW demo.

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Jul 15 2012 14:08
AD wrote:
external political organisations like CPGB, L&S and Sol-Fed (BTW, AWL are swarming around the cleaners branch like flies attractted to shit...so).

I'm sorry, but you don't think the trade unions this letter so cozies up aren't "external political organisation"? Even an independent trade will have implicit politics (in the UK, generally social democracy), but we're talking about LABOUR PARTY affiliated unions here.

All economic organisations are political and all political organisations are economic. Even the most well intentioned IWW anarchists can't change this.

VILenin, I didn't realise that was private letter when you first posted it up. I thought you were sort of coming on here to scold the anarchists (the name didn't help, comrade), but I think you're entirely right to post it up.

I'd be pissed if someone posted up internal emails in SF--but, then again, in SF I wouldn't have to worry about our strongest supporters being condemned in closed door conversations or what appears to be dictats by people I'm generously going to call officials...

Also, this:

Quote:
FWIW, that e-mail quoted above is almost as pathetic as the one from the Unison full-timer telling Unison members not to show up at an IWW demo.
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the button
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Jul 15 2012 14:15

Six posts about the strike, twelve posts about flags cool

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Jul 15 2012 14:47
Quote:
Basically everyone in the IWW here in North America uses the red and black flag so seems kinda pointless. But banning expressions of anarchist politics is pretty ridiculous and even if I disagree with exposing the email, if I knew the organisation which wrote it, it would be noted in what I remembered about them and what I told FW's to take into consideration when dealing with them.

Fixed wink

martinh
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Jul 15 2012 15:00

FWIW PCS and RMT are not affiliated to the Labour Party. I think its fair to say the RMT are close to the Socialist Party and regularly sponsor "new workers party" type initiatives. PCS (like a lot of public sector unions) don't affiliate and I think have a general political fund to allow them to campaign on political issues without doing it through a political party.

That said, both these unions are default social-democratic, even if they don't give loads of money to the Labour Party. I'd suggest this discussion about pretending that social democratic politics are default non-political ought to be in a new thread. Regardless of the petty sectarianism of the TUC full timers involved in the IWW, this is still a very important strike and should be seen as such. For decades, businesses have used outsourcing as a way of washing their hands of their workers' pay and conditions. This is a lie and we all know it, but to have a strike against your employer and your customer at the same time is a welcome sign. I remember arguing this the last time I was TUPEd, but the only people interested just said we can only have a dispute with our direct employer. The IWW Cleaners are disproving that with their actions.

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Jul 15 2012 15:29

Fair points Martin, although I think it's worth pointing out that the RMT and the PCS are affiliated to the TUC--which does fund the Labour Party.

This is probably well off-topic, but this is something that bothers me as well:

Quote:
As an industrial union, you would have thought that the John Lewis employees and cleaners would be part of a retail industrial union and be taking action together over the trade divides.

The cleaners aren't an industrial union, they're a trade union. Now, really, at this point, it's a pretty semantic distinction, but I do think it says something about the mindset of at least some of the TUC full-timers doing a lot of the organising in the cleaners branch. You don't become an industrial union by adding "allied trades" to the end of your name, you do it by organising industrially: either as cleaners in the retail industry or cleaners the finance industry--which is not say that cleaners across industry shouldn't link up because they obviously should.

Again, none of this should detract from the real organising that's happening on the ground, but as Tommy Ascaso has already alluded to, if we want to see this sort of momentum continue, it uncomradely to not point out where we see the beginnings of that process of "integration into the mechanisms of exploitation."

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Jul 15 2012 16:13

I swung by and the picket was as noisy and vibrant as you would expect. Lots of people with mixed reactions from all, did seem to put some people off shopping so that was good to see.
I was aware that some of the polish comrades in the IWW were told 'no red and black flags' which they weren't happy about. The extension of the branch stamping their control over the picket didn't seem to apply to the AWL who were selling their papers.

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Jul 15 2012 16:23

Chilli wrote -

Quote:
it's a pretty semantic distinction

Semantic maybe, but you're dead right to pull it up, industrial it ain't.

The flag issue shouldn't be here or there, however it's very indicative of how various organisations want to mould the IWW as their own economic muscle. Personally, I come from an anarcho-syndicalist angle and I'd love to think that there was going to be something like an anarcho-syndicalist union coming out of the IWW in the future. But, imo, this just isn't going to happen; and as time goes by, the further from that point they move.
I've a lot of time for the IWW, but I won't mess around trying to wish them into the organisation I would like them to be. And, in truth, I think that the anarchists who joined the IWW thinking that this could be an anarcho-syndicalist union in the making, are now thinking the same. There are more anarchists in Unite or Unison but there's no anarchist wing - and as the IWW grow and continue to move away from where the BIRO started, this will probably be the same here to.
But this doesn't mean we don't support the workers on the ground - and even our friends within the IWW, regardless of flags. Here's wishing the cleaners and the IWW the best of luck.

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Jul 15 2012 17:32

Half a dozen of us (IWW, 1 AF and SolFed members) dished out leaflets at John Lewis in Reading today.
Staff were handed leaflets inside the shop and loads of customers coming into, as well as leaving, the shop took the leaflets that gave an outline of the London cleaners strike.

nastyned
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Jul 15 2012 20:44
Tommy Ascaso wrote:

Frankly, I think the above letter and many of the other goings on the IWW over the past year are an excellent example of the problems with apolitical syndicalism and I'm still unsure why anarchists are involved, especially as there is clearly a strong "tendency to become integrated into the mechanisms of exploitation, through their role as mediators or representatives, and to develop bureaucratic structures and modes of operation".

Probably because though syndicalist unions are constrained by the fundamental nature of unionism the union is a common point of departure for many workers and rank and file initiatives may strengthen us in the battle for anarchist communism.

nastyned
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Jul 15 2012 21:54

No it isn't.

EDIT TO ADD:

And also I agree with this:

"All economic organisations are political and all political organisations are economic."

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Jul 15 2012 23:36
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
If you start treating SolFed like Leninists you're going to burn a lot of bridges very quickly. Out of interest why didn't you add the AF to that list? Are they an internal political organisation now? Would they be allowed to have red & black flags on pickets while SolFed members wouldn't or does the ban apply to them as well?

Frankly, I think the above letter and many of the other goings on the IWW over the past year are an excellent example of the problems with apolitical syndicalism and I'm still unsure why anarchists are involved, especially as there is clearly a strong "tendency to become integrated into the mechanisms of exploitation, through their role as mediators or representatives, and to develop bureaucratic structures and modes of operation".

This thread has been derailed enough as it is, so can we at least keep SolFed - AF rivalry out of it? This policy would obviously apply equally to AF as to SolFed.

Also, how exactly does having a policy of only union flags at pickets make us become integrated into the mechanisms of exploitation?

Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Alright, what aspects of the way the cleaners strike was organised or carried out prepares us for anarchist communism in a way that another strike organised by a TUC affiliated union wouldn't?

So how would it be organised differently by an anarcho-syndicalist union? Apart from using red and black flags at the picket line, that it?

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Jul 16 2012 01:25

Well, for a starters, we wouldn't have registered with the state, had a ballot, or have full-timers from other unions sending out emails about picket line conduct...

Also, we'd call it a retail workers strike because we believe in industrial organisation.

And no one said it /means/ you've become integrated, but that such effort to become a respectable trade union (only allowing TUC flags at your picket) is pretty indicative of an organisation which doesn't particularly have libertarian communism as a goal. Which is fine, of course, and in no way undermines offering support and solidarity to the cleaners involved. I just think Wobbly anarchists should probably view the IWW's actions with the sort of critical eye they'd cast toward any other trade union.

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Jul 16 2012 07:41

Does this mean the IWW BIROC will be leaving the Red&Black Coordination? smile

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Jul 16 2012 09:32

Good on the cleaners. Cool stuff.

I'm not sure what to make of the bit about support from MPs and all.

That internal email is stupid and a mistake on the part of the people who put it out. Leaking internal emails is also stupid and a mistake and a sign of poor organizational discipline/seriousness on the part of the people who leaked it. The turn toward understandably negative responses to that stupid email on here, after the internal was posted, demonstrate that it's not the kind of thing to put out online and certainly not in the middle of something like this. That is: not every stupid mistake needs to be dealt with as soon as possible the instant that it happens. This particular stupid mistake is something to hash out in private while the dispute is going on. If anything's going to be public about an issue like this then it should only happen after the dispute and anything put out and discussed about it in public should be framed in a way that's trying to be reflective and constructive rather than polemical. I'm in the UK so it's hard to get a good grasp of what's really happening but it looks from afar like in the past excessively polemical responses to the problem in the UK IWW, particularly by non-members, actually exacerbated those problems. I've certainly seen this play out many times in the NAmerican IWW between IWW members and nonmembers and between people in different IWW branches. And having been in some nasty internal disputes some of the time a polemical response provides small groupings with a unifying antagonist and those groupings collapse when deprived of that kind of response.

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Jul 16 2012 09:37

You live there, I don't, so I'll take your word on this email's significance. Generally I think people who leak internal emails and other documents are jerks and it's a bad habit to encourage. I realize that someone can leak one thing while recognizing that some other stuff shouldn't leaked, but different people draw that line differently, and the line tends to shift over time collectively in a bad way. At one point in my branch a member was fired in a situation where a co-worker acted in a fucked up way. While we were discussing internally how to respond, someone had heated words about that co-worker. A member was friends with other people who worked there, shared the email, and then it got passed on to management and management knew exactly what had been said and showed other co-workers there. It was a big problem. I realize this is not that but I think leaking internal stuff in the middle of something is a bad road to head down.

no1
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Jul 16 2012 10:40

I agree with Nate that leaking internal emails should be unacceptable in general - there will obviously be exceptions to that, but this isn't one.

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Jul 16 2012 22:25
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I just get the impression that the cleaners branch organises in much the same way as reformist unions and doesn't take the traditional IWW approaches to anything.

The cleaners and their branch have had a lot more wildcat strikes than a lot of the holier than thou "revolutionary" critics (btw john lewis strike is the first official one organised by the branch).

I think this topic needs a new thread. But I'd like to know just how the revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist critics would differently organise cleaners (most of them with no previous political or trade union activism) and get them to collectively take militant action?...Or maybe what the cleaners are doing, i.e. collectively withdrawing their labour power and militantly pursing their [political] class interests, is not revolutionary enough for some anarcho-syndicalists? confused

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Jul 17 2012 18:47

Fair point Awesome Dude.

As I think JK has alluded to previously, this is possibly where UK IWW organising model could be an effective one--precisely where there are groups of workers who want to pursue militant action without getting impeded by their national union, but who still want the limited (and in my opinion largely false) protections offered by a trade union. But that's a particular strategy and, again, I think IWW should understand it as such--accepting the risks of long-term co-optation and understanding where such a strategy differs from the anarcho-syndicalism of the large percentage of the IWW's membership who identify as anarchists.

In fact, I think there could be a really effective complementary relationship between IWW and, say, SF where we support each other based on the kind of action workers on the ground want to engage in. Banning red and black flags at IWW events, however, is not a particularly good way to develop that sort of relationship.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 17 2012 19:57

It's possibly worth noting that SLSF visited seven picket lines on N30 and not one of them requested we put away our flags & prop.

I can't possibly imagine that in a reverse scenario any SFer would request the IWW (or anyone else to the left of, say, UKIP, for that matter) put away their flags.

EDIT: ...except possibly now out of a puerile desire for 'revenge'...

syndicalist
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Jul 18 2012 02:18

I invite anyone who's enagegd or was in actual shopfloor stuff to share experiances here:
"What's your actual workplace practice?
http://libcom.org/forums/organise/what-s-your-actual-workplace-practice-22032012

Rzlj
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Jul 18 2012 10:56

Hi,
I don't live in England, but I've had a chance to attend the IWW cleaners protest. I consider myself a libertarian communist, or an anarchist, or call it whatever you'd like. I believe in workers control of the productive system, in a federated, autonomous and decentralized way.

To obtain this, workers must be in power in their workplace. And a first condition for this is that your wage's secure, your kids are fed and you have the time to engage in workers' organisations. I know this might sound as a step forward towards the 'integration into structures of exploitation'. Fair enough.

I don't know the background of people writing here, I read libcom very often but I've never posted. However, I do not agree with your critique of the IWW.

Have you thought of the status of the cleaners? Many of them are migrants, that means they have a work visa. They also are outsourced labour, which means if they strike, they can get fired much more easily. Now, you try being a Colombian migrant with kids and everything, struggling to get at the end of the month, and not going to a meeting with an MP that may support you in parliament, and maybe get you living wage, just because it doesn't fit with anarchosyndacalist principles - and this also needs to be questioned because, if you look at the history of great anarchist unions like CNT in Spain or USI in Italy, collaboration with burgeois powers was not very uncommon when it came to working conditions and workers' rights.

Having experience in working with migrants (and having been a migrant labourer on minimum wage myself), I can tell it is very difficult to get organised in workplaces if you cannot risk losing your job because you'd be sent back to your country or you wouldn't have any other means to resort to. Think of this things before raising theoretical points.
This is not about theory or principles, this is about people and their jobs.

If we want to move towards a workers' run society, than we must first make sure that people are in the conditions of taking power in the workplaces. Struggles like the living wages serve the purpose of bettering workers' conditins AND socializing principles and political ideas. But you can't do much with principles if you're deprived of the basic means to get by. Old anarchist unions were aware of this, and created mechanisms of mutual help and solidarity to support workers' strike. Nowadays, it seems that very often anarchists read too many books and work too much with other anarchists, losing touch with the real world of workplaces. We'll never get to anarchism if we expect everyone to conform their behaviours to our expectations and ideas.