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Revolutionary Unions

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Ed
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Mar 21 2004 23:42
Revolutionary Unions

Right, now I've been thinking about this for a while now and am yet to come to any firm conclusions in my head. I've been reading a lot about the Spanish Civil War recently (and boring my girlfriend to death talking about agrarian communes embarrassed ) and was thinking about the CNT and @-Syndicalist unions in general.

The basics of my questions comes down to politicisation of the union i.e. should a union be political or not?

I definately think that unions should be organised non-hierarchically etc but do people think it would need to be explicitly Anarchist? I see advantages and disadvantages of both. For instance, an Anarchist union, though politically clear in its goals, wouldn't have the mass support.

An apolitical union, however, would have mass (or at least bigger) support and would still be an example of 'Anarchism in Action'. But obviously it wouldn't have clear goals and could easily get clouded by reformism. This would obviously be shite. But I guess you could still have an Anarchist 'faction' arguing for Anarchist ideals from within it (this would also be easier because it would be arguing from a position where our ideas were in practice).

Anyway, what are other people's views on this? Also, on a side note, what do people think are the best ways to build an Anarcho-Syndicalist union? I mean, it seems like we're stuck. We need members to make the union strong, but we won't get members until the union is strong. So what do we do?

Steve
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Mar 22 2004 00:02
Ed wrote:
Right, now I've been thinking about this for a while now and am yet to come to any firm conclusions in my head. I've been reading a lot about the Spanish Civil War recently (and boring my girlfriend to death talking about agrarian communes embarrassed ) and was thinking about the CNT and @-Syndicalist unions in general.

The basics of my questions comes down to politicisation of the union i.e. should a union be political or not?

I definately think that unions should be organised non-hierarchically etc but do people think it would need to be explicitly Anarchist? I see advantages and disadvantages of both. For instance, an Anarchist union, though politically clear in its goals, wouldn't have the mass support.

An apolitical union, however, would have mass (or at least bigger) support and would still be an example of 'Anarchism in Action'. But obviously it wouldn't have clear goals and could easily get clouded by reformism. This would obviously be shite. But I guess you could still have an Anarchist 'faction' arguing for Anarchist ideals from within it (this would also be easier because it would be arguing from a position where our ideas were in practice).

Anyway, what are other people's views on this? Also, on a side note, what do people think are the best ways to build an Anarcho-Syndicalist union? I mean, it seems like we're stuck. We need members to make the union strong, but we won't get members until the union is strong. So what do we do?

Well I'm just off to bed but a couple of quick points. The CNT had "mass support" didn't it and it had clear anarchist goals. Also if you had an apolitical union, like say the IWW, and anarchists in it arguing for anarchist goals what happens when they win the argument? A mass anarchist union.

As I've said elsewhere ana anarcho-syndicalist union combines the political with the economic. Not everyone who joins such a union will have to be an out and out anarchist that can come with struggle and experience of organising differently.

How to build one? I'll have to come back to that. Just to end with Spain 1936 is not the UK 2004, things change and move on. Anarcho-syndicalism also develops and adapts to different circumstances/countries/times while retaining its basic principles. red n black star

Augusto_Sandino
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Mar 22 2004 14:08

The CNT, in a way wasnt political. The union itself was just a syndicalist union like those in France, but it was heavily influenced by the anarchist FAI/AIT, an anarchist "pressure group" which made it take on signficance as an anarcho-syndicalist union.

And as for unions being apolitical and how to build one, i say results are they key. You need a few members in a stronghold, and with those members you need to get loads of good results. This is the way to gain non anarchist members (all the members dont need to be anarcho-syndicalists by any means), by filling the solidarity gap left by the collapse of the traditional unions. The bottom up structure of the CNT also meant that people couldnt be betrayed, by sell-out union bosses.

Every victory doesent need to be a victory for anarchy either, the best stratergy for mass support will always be fight for the workers, for better pay etc. and to be effective.

Its best to be independant of parties, obviously. But once a union has big enough national bargaining power (like the CNT) go for the politics by all means, as a political force in yourself.

Steve
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Mar 22 2004 14:37
Augusto_Sandino wrote:
The CNT, in a way wasnt political. The union itself was just a syndicalist union like those in France, but it was heavily influenced by the anarchist FAI/AIT, an anarchist "pressure group" which made it take on signficance as an anarcho-syndicalist union.

I think you'll find the CNT was always political. It was, and still is, CNT/AIT. It's stated aim is/was libertarian communism. The FAI (Iberian Anarchist Fed) has never been a member of the AIT. Many members of the CNT were also members of the FAI and there is a continuing debate about whether this is a good thing or not.

Augusto_Sandino
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Mar 22 2004 14:42

Yeah, i know that in practice and in theory the CNT was anarchist, but the CNT could have existed had the FAI never had an influence, and the CNT is just a bottom up union, rather than a dedicated anarchist organisation. Its like the IWW never actually call themselves anarchists, it just was intended that way and came out with a definate anarchist focus.

Im sure you know more about this than me... embarrassed

Steve
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Mar 22 2004 14:48

The IWW have never had specific anarchist goals. They have always been apolitical. All IWA/AIT unions have specific anarchist goals and ways of organising.

Augusto_Sandino
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Mar 22 2004 15:19

So whats the difference between the FAI and the AIT? Are the AIT and CNT the same thing?

JoeBlack
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Mar 22 2004 15:52
Augusto_Sandino wrote:
So whats the difference between the FAI and the AIT?

This can be controversally answered with another question. "Whats the difference between the SWP and Globalise Resistance?"

It often seems that ASers see membership of an AS union in a similar way. The members don't all need to be anarchists but it needs to be controlled by anarchists. That was the original purpose of the FAI with regard to the CNT although I've no idea if this is still the case.

Now in saying this I am not necessarly saying it is wrong but it is a fact that is often shuffled around. We are surprised when non SWPers join SWP fronts and put up with their control of such fronts. Yet what is proposed LOOKS similar.

On the other hand when you loosen political control or the political basis of membership such unions do become more reformist. The Spanish CGT and the SAC both lacked an FAI type structure and both ended up being more reformist than the CNT. But perhaps this is simply a function of more control being in the hands of the membership / less political selection of the membership. In short a consequence either of libertarian organisation OR success in attracting non-anarchist members (and allowing them in).

I've always thought in terms of modern syndicalism an investigation into the reasons the CGT drifted from the orthodox line throws up a lot more interesting difficulties than the more usual catalogue of 'crimes against anarcho-syndicalism' method.

To declare my own interest. I'm a believer in anarchist organisation that is seperate from but involved in union organisation (specifism/platformism). In part this is because I'm not sure in todays conditions you can have a 'revolutionary union' that is also a mass union. In the west at least capital is quite happy to use the carrot as well as the stick so the forces that tended to keep the pre-civil war CNT revolutionary (as a mass union) are much rarer.

Steve
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Mar 22 2004 16:15

The FAI grew up from within the CNT, a big difference to the SWP/GA analogy. It was in direct response to the political situation at the time in 1927 Spain. It operated in small clandestine groups. Today the situation is totally different. Many anarcho-syndicalists, including me, argue against an elite group of ideologically pure anarchists controlling the union because we have more faith in our class and anyway it is against the principles of accountability.

AlexA
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Mar 22 2004 16:25

how is/was the IWW apolitical?

It was always revolutionary, class struggle, and favoured the abolition of capitalism/wageslavery and putting in its place industrial democracy. How's that apolitical? confused

JoeBlack
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Mar 22 2004 16:25
Steve wrote:
The FAI grew up from within the CNT, a big difference to the SWP/GA analogy. It was in direct response to the political situation at the time in 1927 Spain

On the analogy I was just being controversal I don't think its quite parallel and from what you write so far as it is we probably agree that it would be a problem. Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't the FAI principally set up to counter act the danger of reformist currents in the CNT?

As for the 'faith in the class' stuff I used to say this as well but then again large sections of the working class do vote for the labour party and worse. Reformism is not that illogical from a working class perspective if you belive that revolution is not on the cards in the short term. Taking a less militant route that may deliver limited results often seems to make sense. In other words a limited pay rise stemming from partnership negotiations can seem to be more sensible than a strike for a higher rise you reckon you will lose. Things are different if you are sure you can win but often that is not the case and it is dealing with the compromise situation that is the real challenge for a revolutionary union.

Steve
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Mar 22 2004 16:45
alexa wrote:
how is/was the IWW apolitical?

It was always revolutionary, class struggle, and favoured the abolition of capitalism/wageslavery and putting in its place industrial democracy. How's that apolitical? confused

It's apolitical because it does not explicity specify its end goals. Its aim is "industrial democracy" and is vague about what this actually means. Some see a role for the state others not. That is why there have been Marxists and anarchists co-existing within it.

From the IWW website

Quote:
Nevertheless, many of the founders of the IWW were also active in socialist politics. While some IWW members consider themselves anarchists and shun all electoral activity, many of our members are active in a variety of political parties and movements. Other members are simply militant unionists who would disavow all labels. Our commitment to industrial democracy and the abolition of capitalism makes us a ‘left’ organisation more through default than design.

Quote:
This does not mean that we campaign for the abolition of the state, as our sole policy regarding the state is that we do not believe that it should play a role in running the economy. The responsibility for running the economy should lie in the hands of working people themselves.

Anarhco-syndicalist unions however are specifically anarchist.

From the Principles of Revolutionary Unionism (IWA)

Quote:
1.- Revolutionary unionism, basing itself on the class struggle, aims to unite all workers in combative economic organizations, that fight to free themselves from the double yoke of capital and the State. Its goal is the reorganization of social life on the basis of Libertarian Communism via the revolutionary action of the working class.
red_rag
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Mar 22 2004 20:35

Ed, I'm a little confused about what you're advocating. Are you suggesting that completely new unions need to be formed or do you think existing unions can be transformed?

As regards anarcho-syndicalism, this has never been a strong current in the UK. Whilst it became strong in countries like France and Spain from the very beginnings of the development of organised labour, historically it has never taken root here in the uk and, short of a major economic /political crisis, I think it is highly unlikely that it will.

Also, it seems to me that unless activists' are actually in a workplace where there is a specific grievance that is stiring up discontent, then anarcho-syndicalist ideas/practices have very little hope of taking root amongst workers.

For those of us who are not presently wage-labourers -and there are quite a lot of us on the activist scene I think- getting directly involved in workplace struggles is just not possible. To the extent that we can get involved, we merely get involved as people from the outside expressing solidarity. Therefore, might our time be better spent not simply focusing on workplace organising -which is a little abstract unless you're in a workplace- but on issues of relevance to those outside work, or on the fringes of the wage-labour system; i.e., temp workers, the unemployed, students etc?

Steve
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Mar 22 2004 21:20

I think like a lot of anarchists you are looking at the historical anarcho-syndicalist unions from the last century and then saying it can't happen in this country. Anarcho-syndicalism isn't just about workplace organisation. It's about combining political/economic workplace and community organisation in one.

brizzul
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Mar 23 2004 01:42
red_rag wrote:
Ed, I'm a little confused about what you're advocating. Are you suggesting that completely new unions need to be formed or do you think existing unions can be transformed?

I'm not Ed but in my opinion... both and maybe other ways that haven't been thought of before.

red_rag wrote:
As regards anarcho-syndicalism, this has never been a strong current in the UK. Whilst it became strong in countries like France and Spain from the very beginnings of the development of organised labour, historically it has never taken root here in the uk and, short of a major economic /political crisis, I think it is highly unlikely that it will

Syndicalist influence has been there wherever there's been a wildcat or a call for workers' control. These things lefties pretend to love but really hate. We are the only ones who have ever called for workers to ignore all leadership.

red_rag wrote:
Also, it seems to me that unless activists' are actually in a workplace where there is a specific grievance that is stiring up discontent, then anarcho-syndicalist ideas/practices have very little hope of taking root amongst workers.

There is always a grievance be it pigeons shitting on your head to crap toilet rolls its there and it drives people mad. Our job is to encourage confidence in others to have a pop at management and to encourage others to support us in having a pop at management.

red_rag wrote:
For those of us who are not presently wage-labourers -and there are quite a lot of us on the activist scene I think- getting directly involved in workplace struggles is just not possible. To the extent that we can get involved, we merely get involved as people from the outside expressing solidarity. Therefore, might our time be better spent not simply focusing on workplace organising -which is a little abstract unless you're in a workplace-

Yep. I don't see why anyone who doesn't generally work should have any interest in workplace org.

red_rag wrote:
but on issues of relevance to those outside work, or on the fringes of the wage-labour system; i.e., temp workers, the unemployed, students etc?

temp workers are slap bang in the middle of the wages system, people who will *never* gain advantage from reformist unionism. *Only* direct action will win them anything. The unemployed ensure low wages across the board and students tend to be low paid casualised workers as well. Everybody who is not part of the ruling establishment has a role to play in ensuring everything stays the same.

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pingtiao
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Mar 25 2004 11:01

I think that temporary work is where anarchist should be concentrating at the minute.

No organisation has given adequate thought to how the increasingly large number of temp workers can band together can struggle. Temporary workers currently make up 14% of the UK workforce, me included. What are the main issues to address? How can the social divisions imposed by the short contractual timescales be overcome?

Augusto_Sandino
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Mar 25 2004 14:08

Yeah, temporary work needs to be addressed. I heard about a study where unionised, full time sheet metal workers were compared to non-unionised catering workers or something, and the unionised sheet metal workers agreed quotas with the boss, and had a massive hand in administering the plant. Unsurprisingly, the catering workers had nout.

But the way to get them onboard is results, the people i work with are all part time (pretty much), the reason they dont like the union (although most are unionised, the union is USDAW) is because the rep is all but a manager, wearing a suit and doing the bosses bidding, and the union doesent get results. Workers need to be shown what is possible, and be assured that they will get support before they join a union.

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Mar 25 2004 16:05
brizzul wrote:
Syndicalist influence has been there wherever there's been a wildcat or a call for workers' control.

Are you saying that there was anarcho syndicalist influence on the Postal or baggage handler wildcats? confused

Personally i think that those workers probably developed their tacticis from their immediate experience mre than anything else.

I think the idea of a 'union' for temps is a good one. They are continually changing workplace and so no mainstream union is going to touch them. Syndicalism has always been strongest amongst casual workers, like temps.

For this to work, though, we'd have to develop new and useful tactics that actually delivered real results for the temps... I feel a new thread coming on...

Steve
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Mar 25 2004 16:31

SolFed is taking part in an international IWA campaign around casualisation/temporary working. Manchester SF have launched the Manchester Against Casualisation Campaign and I think a lot of effort will be going in that dierection.

You can contact the Manchester Campaign at macc@manchestersf.org.uk

The "Stuff Your Boss" leaflets are also part of this. You get copies from SolFed or download one from http://www.solfed.org.uk/

nastyned
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Mar 25 2004 23:18

I couldn't find the 'stuff your boss' leaflet on the website. could you post a link to the page it's on?

Steve
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Mar 25 2004 23:33

Yeah it isn't easy to find is it? I'll have a word with our web person. Also the one on there is not the latest version. If you go to then main page and scroll down and click on "Events" then scroll down you'll find the leaflet. Hard copies can be got for free from the Sheffield address.

brizzul
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Mar 26 2004 02:04
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
brizzul wrote:
Syndicalist influence has been there wherever there's been a wildcat or a call for workers' control.

Are you saying that there was anarcho syndicalist influence on the Postal or baggage handler wildcats? confused

I use the word loosely. I should have said:

Wherever there is a wildcat and encouragement to stay self managed in their action. Maybe if they were exposed to syndicalist ideas they might not have walked straight back into the bosses/union bullshit.

Syndicalists or people very similar (Council Communists, maybe some individuals from militant or SP when they are not talking shit) are the only people pushing for this. Some people don't realise the pressure put on trade unionists to conform, to wait for the great leap forward / a full time official / a real labour government. I've seen violence between colleagues when the bureaucracy is challenged. There is massive weight placed on the trade unionist to prevent anyone rocking the boat. When they can't do this any longer they call a "day of action" to let off steam.

Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
Personally i think that those workers probably developed their tacticis from their immediate experience mre than anything else.

Yeah good, but we can't keep reinventing the wheel all the time. We *know* from bitter experience that control of struggles must remain with the people in that struggle. Maybe the baggage handlers might have been more successful if they didn't have to learn everything "from their immediate experience" & were able to anticipate the actions of management and the union becuase they always act like robots.

Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:

I think the idea of a 'union' for temps is a good one. They are continually changing workplace and so no mainstream union is going to touch them. Syndicalism has always been strongest amongst casual workers, like temps.

For this to work, though, we'd have to develop new and useful tactics that actually delivered real results for the temps... I feel a new thread coming on...

Again we are reinventing the wheel. Firstly, both the IWA and the IWW have long experience of organising temps and developed "new and useful tactics that actually delivered real results for the temps" decades ago. If you ask they will tell you how to do it.

Secondly a trade union will "touch" you because by joining you are paying a bureacrats wages & making the union "weightier". How much joy you get depends on which union you are in and how much you are able to control the struggle within that workplace.

<strokes beard>If you actually left the hermetic confines of the Brentford Triangle you would know this.</strokes beard>

nastyned
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Mar 26 2004 11:02

But they do do a very good pint of large in the flying swan wink

AlexA
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Jun 18 2004 09:36

Any more thoughts on this topic before we move it to the Archive?

Augusto_Sandino
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Jun 18 2004 10:31

Wheres Brentford?

Barry Kade
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Jun 23 2004 08:50

Good discussion. I think it may be contradictory, because unions are contradictory things. This necessarily lies at the very heart of a mass workers movement, which emerges from within capitalist society, to overthrow capitalist society.

Isn't the basic idea of a union to organise as near possible to 100% of the workforce, to enforce our own labour cartel on the capitalists; - And therefore to collectively bargain for better deal on the sale of this labour, our commodity through the power to withdraw our labour.

In other words, unions are built around the basic struggle to unite us all to defend/improve our immediate pay and condidtions. Necessarily therefore to fight for better terms of exploitation, not to abolish that exploitation.

And this basic need for, and accomplishment of workers unity is still the most powerfull obstacle to capital, and the great foundation of all our basic 'rights' to exist! And the fundamental basis for the growth of any class concious revolutionary movement, in later times?

This basic accomplishment must of course be supported and defended. Even in Britain, here, today, after 20 years of retreat following the miners defeat, there are still 7 million members of TUC affiliated unions, about 29%, of the whole officially employed adult population - almost a third .

Unless a strike ends with workers control, the execution of the boss, and the global spread of the revolution, it will end in a compromise! Even if this is a compromise that temporarily strengthens the workers, - a victorious battle in the class war, - it still ends with a negotiation agreed to by even militant workers.

A union must involve all workers regardless of politics or religion - apart from organised fascists. Otherwise it would encourage scabs. Unless you are in an openly revolutionary moment of history, most workers will not be revolutionaries. In times like these, they will be reformist or worse. Only a minority will be revolutionaries. Yet these revolutionaries, if they are worth their salt will join the other class conscious and militant workers who will also be grouped in the forefront of trying to unite their class.

Surely, as people here have pointed out, in these circumstances if you try to set up a 'revolutionary union' you will either seperate yourself from the majority of your class, or you will have a 'revolutionary union' made up of reformists, religious believers, liberals, conservatives. In this case, do the revolutionaries make it 'revolutionary' by leadership from above or below ? Are they made up of clandestine caucuses, or open currents, influencing thinks through argument and example?

woofnbark
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Jun 23 2004 16:01
Quote:
Wheres Brentford?

West London I think; sort of in the middle. neutral

Steve
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Jun 23 2004 16:34

Firstly the forming of a revolutionary union in this country is a long, long way off. We have to try to put our ideas into the workplace as an alternative. Any future union will come from workers themselves. It won’t be an even development but hopefully when there are enough they would federate into the equivalent of the Spanish CNT.

Yes strikes may end in compromise but that does not mean they are not worth it. Every gain we make gives us confidence for the next dispute and even with losses we can gain valuable lessons. What do we do wait for the advent of a revolution before we start to strike?

We cannot sit back and wait for workers to become revolutionary, it won’t happen. It will be a slow process and unless we learn how to organise in a different way it will never happen. I don’t believe that one day the mass of the population will suddenly wake up and realise that there is an alternative; we have to keep presenting one.

If circumstances do change and the working class do start to become more militant then we have to be ready with our ideas. If then we do get more people accepting our alternative then it will not be up to us to say whether revolutionary unions are formed or not, it will happen anyway.

I think that the first stage will be a split in the TUC unions into various federations on political lines, similar to what they have on the continent. Then hopefully more and more people will be attracted to the idea of a union controlled by the members themselves with no bureaucracy etc. If it doesn’t exist however how will anyone be attracted to it?

Why would a rev. union be separated form the working class? It will only exist when workers want it to. The SF could declare itself a union tomorrow but it would be fooling no-one. I could join the IWW tomorrow but what’s the point? What I do in my workplace is much more important.

Like I said this is all a long way off. In the present it is just a case of trying to get our ideas into the workplace. How this is done may vary according to the situation. It may mean working within certain union structure. It may be working completely outside them or some combination of the two. What it does mean is working at the level of the workplace and being prepared to deal with the day-to-day bread and butter issues that affect us all.