On the ‘social strike’: Contribution for the Plan C Fast Forward Festival September 2015

On the ‘social strike’: Contribution for the Plan C Fast Forward Festival September 2015

We send the following thoughts ahead of the Plan C festival hoping that it will allow people who attend the meeting to prepare and people who cannot attend to take part in the debate.

Dear fellow travellers,

In the following text we first summarise basic thoughts about the general political significance of strikes. We then give three examples of struggles during summer 2015, which force us to concretise the debate about 'social strike'. In order to do this we think that we have to critically reconsider theoretical concepts such as 'the multitude' or 'universal rights' which are still prevalent within the 'social strike debate', but which have been put into question by the crisis of neoliberalism and the wave of struggles against austerity post-2009. To develop a new understanding of the composition of the working class will not merely be a theoretical effort, but requires empirical work and a critical reflection of the left's social position. We maintain that when organising "we cannot just start from where we are", but we have to develop strategies looking at the general tendencies within the whole of the class and its current struggles. A common newspaper could help to organise this effort and help us contribute to future disputes.

We hope that our proposal to set up a UK-wide bi-annual newspaper for analytical reflections of current struggles will find a response amongst comrades of various groups on the basis of common hate for the state and focus on the self-organisation of the working class. We feel that in order to ground the debate about ‘social strike’ we need a publication that looks in detail at strong and weak points of the struggles already taking place and that can therefore make a productive contribution at future occupations, picket-lines and within day-to-day proletarian debate.

1. Very basic thoughts about the political significance of the strike for a fundamental social transformation

Before talking more specifically about the possible meaning of a 'social strike' let's ask ourselves what the general political significance of strikes are for a fundamental social change.

Capital does not dominate us so much by the use of direct violence, but it dominates through the fact that in our daily life we depend on the cooperation of people on a global scale: food, care, clothes, electronic gadgets are produced within a global division of labour. The connections between people are not created by people directly, but through capital in various forms: the money and commodity form, but more importantly, through company and state management. Only through capital do we get in touch not only with other people, but also with the necessary means to produce, with our past labour in the form of infrastructure, machines, work material, energy. Capital seems the precondition for production and that is its power. The cooperation under capital is necessarily hierarchical. Our position within the social division of labour also determines our position within the social hierarchy: do we work alone at home, do we work low paid in manual jobs, do we help controlling or managing other peoples' labour, do we have access to the labour-market?

A strike is therefore not just a mechanical act of 'stopping the wheels' in order to enforce our demands. Only once workers stop working does the social cooperation become visible and with it the underlying hierarchies: the engineers realise that they depend on the work of the cleaners, the 'Polish' and 'Indian' workers have to overcome their barriers in order to make a strike successful. In this sense the significance of strikes is that in the confrontation with capital, people can and have to question their social position within society.

A strike is not just an act of refusing to work, but once workers organise strikes themselves it produces new social relations: on a small scale the experience emerges that if we can organise to stop work together, we can also organise work differently, potentially without the mediation and control of capital. This is the revolutionary core of strikes, which is different from demonstrations, riots or occupations - where the means of producing something new are necessarily limited.

Here we see that not every strike necessarily develops this potential: many strikes remain limited to a specific profession, or company. Other workers or people might feel the impact, but are not included, which often results in the strike not being effective: capital can use other workers to undermine the strike. This forces workers to think and act beyond their immediate surrounding, increasingly on an international level.

Here it also becomes clear that the limitations of 'trade union strikes' are not merely based on the fact that a bureaucracy curbs the activity of the rank-and-file. Legal and formal boundaries set by the labour law limit the ability of workers to reach out to other workers who are linked to their work materially, but separated formally through different contracts, sectorial boundaries etc. Workers remain within their workplace and the main power of capital - that it appears as the precondition of social cooperation - is untouched.

If we ask about our role regarding strikes and their social dimension then we should start from what is already potentially given: self-organisation of workers is not just an ideal, but day-to-day work is largely only possible because workers improvise and cooperate beyond management work-rules every day and we can build on that experience. Most strikes are potentially 'social strikes' because most workplaces and workers are already linked to, and dependent on, many other parts of social production and reproduction. We can support workers in making use of these links in order to expand their struggle. We need debates and inquiries about how we can do this - that could be the potential of the 'social strike debate'.

2.Social strike – We don’t need more campaigns, but a debate about coordinated strategic interventions in addition to day-to-day organising

Of course it is possible at the current stage to have a European-wide coordinated day of action with banners, food kitchens and media presence in front of this or that company or site of social reproduction – this would not do any harm at all, but at the same time it symbolises a certain detachment from day-to-day working class struggle and an absence of a more concrete common strategy. We agree with the comrades of the IWW (New Syndicalist) when they emphasise the need for local organizing as a precondition for thinking about a ‘social strike’. At the same time we would maintain the need to debate what a coordinated strategic intervention could look like – be it on a transnational level, be it only for a short period of time. We will give three examples of concrete situations of class struggle during the last three months in order to demonstrate that our problems lie less in a lack of ‘campaign infrastructure’, but in a lack of a common understanding of what is working class (strategy) today.

a) The situation during the ferry workers’ strike in Calais
b) The strike at German Railways, in nurseries and at German Post shortly before the Greek referendum
c) The so-called ‘Polish strike’ in the UK

The situation during the ferry workers’ strike in Calais

The current practical efforts of solidarity for refugees is a hopeful sign, which is not merely an expression of charity. Nevertheless, in terms of strategic intervention we missed a good chance to address the more complex composition of the working class in Europe today. During the French ferry workers’ strike in July 2015 we were facing following situation: on the UK site the RMT blamed the UK government for selling off their share of the Eurostar ‘to the French’; at the same time the union of the striking French ferry workers blamed ‘the English’ for blocking them access to the port and therefore causing job losses; workers made use of the logistical bottle-neck by blockading both port and tunnel; this caused hundreds of truck-drivers to get caught in a jam (looking at the general composition of truck drivers we can assume that many of them will have been ‘self-employed’ or on other forms of precarious contracts, often from Eastern Europe, who will have lost ‘time and money’ due to the strike); migrants in Calais tried to make use of the general strike-induced logistical break-down and get either into the tunnel or into the trucks.

The situation we face here symbolizes pretty well the divisions and interdependence of different working class segments in Europe today: how unions represent the struggle as different ‘national’ interests, the division between more permanent and more precarious workers, the tension between workers and impoverished proletarians with different ‘status’. The situation would have allowed an intervention, which addresses these divisions without glossing over them and nevertheless tries to point towards a common systemic enemy. We can't say in what concrete form this might have been possible, but some ideas could have been a solidarity blockade with the strikers, common leaflets or meetings which addresses the conditions of each working class group (ferry workers, truckers, migrants), trying to establish links to Eurostar workers who had their own disputes in the past, finding out about the legal concerns of the truckers regarding being caught with a migrant on board etc. We think that the reason we didn’t intervene to generalise the conditions faced by different segments of the working class, all rubbing along together in Calais, is less due to a lack of transnational coordination, but more due to a lack of theoretical understanding which allows us to grasp the complexity of the working class today. Facing the situation described above we would very likely have been trapped in two reactions: either neglecting the divisions in a ‘we are all poor people’ type of humanism which might ask for different rights for different categories of people, or ‘let’s help those who need the help most’ type of charitable attitude, which disdains the ‘economic interests’ of striking workers.

The strike at German Railways, in nurseries and at German Post shortly before the Greek referendum

Another chance of an international intervention emerged during the recent strikes at German Railways, at nurseries and the postal service which all ended shortly before the Greek referendum.
Since Syriza came into government the struggle against austerity increasingly took the form of a dispute between national governments. The ruling class tried to frame the general problem of crisis and worsening of living conditions as a 'Germany vs. Greece' problem. Without going into detail we can say that the German state tried to avoid these strike disputes (involving a significant number of workers in Germany) overlapping with the referendum in Greece in order to maintain the carefully constructed ‘lazy Greeks’ – ‘colonial Germans’ type of division within the working class. We can also say that the unions helped to settle these disputes quickly, in particular the postal strike – after having previously made sure that the nursery and postal strike would not overlap either.

Furthermore, the outcome was disappointing for the workers, e.g. the outsourced DHL workers in the postal sector were stuck with their precarious conditions. An international intervention at this point might have been very symbolic, but we would have been able to relate it to a concrete situation of mass struggle with the potential to undermine one of the main divisions within the EU.

Here we face the problem that in order for us to organize a political intervention we cannot rely on the trade union apparatus. It would have been problematic to back up a strike 'for the sake of internationalism', while the actual way the strike is led (in this case by the ver.di union) ended in defeat and disillusionment. We can see this also with the ongoing attempts to build a rank-and-file organisation of Amazon workers in France, Germany and Poland - an important example for the possibility of a 'transnational strike'. The ver.di apparatus, which only represents the permanent Amazon workers in Germany (which has been a reason for the limited impact of the strikes there) is more eager to build ties with the bureaucracy of Solidarnosc, rather than workers rank-and-file union organising at the Amazon warehouse in Poland through the IP (Workers' Initiative). And the unions don’t want to get their hands dirty by seeming to encourage ‘illegal’ activity like blockading trucks.

Going via the short-cut of the trade union apparatus as a reaction to us feeling largely detached from many sites of working class struggle can be fatal, and building direct links with active workers takes time. The social strike needs patience. Here in the UK we have a great chance to establish links with Amazon workers given the direct international contacts and insightful reports we have from workers in Germany, Poland, France and India. We should take this opportunity seriously.

‘Polish strike’ in the UK

The so-called ‘Polish strike’ in the UK in August raises at least three points relevant for our debate. On social media and in newspapers 'self-proclaimed representatives of Polish migrants in the UK' called for a one-day strike in reaction to the 'anti-Polish' propaganda. Firstly, the strike call was an expression of the general tension within the working class in the UK, especially after the media campaigns against EU-migrants paved the way for significant benefit cuts, resulting in a clear two-tier workforce in terms of social wage, and fortifying the consolidation of the low wage sector. Not surprisingly, what has been enforced against the migrants is now supposed to be extended to young workers (under 25) in the UK. The groups who called for the strike have their finger on the pulse.

Secondly, the UK left is largely out of touch with these (migrant) workers of the low wage sector, which has the tragic result that the Polish far-right and conservative middle-class forces mobilise these workers on patriotic grounds. They changed the discourse from 'strike' to 'blood-donation for the UK' in order to prove that Polish are the better migrants.

Thirdly, the ‘social media’ type of mobilization for the strike confined the strike-call to the ‘Polish community’. What can we learn from this apart from the fact that the strike call was largely an unsuccessful gimmick? We can deduce that the use of ‘social media’ and ‘community channels’ was the only way to keep it a ‘Polish affair’. Even if leaflets distributed at workplaces would have only been only in Polish, it would have generated interest by other workers of the largely multi-national low-wage sector, who are in the same situation. We should bear that in mind when thinking about how to mobilise.

To sum up, we think that these three examples demonstrate that the question of how to intervene depends less on the development of a sophisticated infrastructure and network, but on political clarity regarding a complex composition of class and actual practical experiences within the proletariat. We think there is no harm in supporting strikes with a food kitchen or with external support, e.g. through blockades. But we would stress that most strikes are not weak because workers did not eat or because their strike was not 'publicly visible' enough. The main isolation of strikes relates not mainly to an abstract 'social' or 'public', but they remain separated from those workers more directly linked to them, e.g. ad-hoc teachers from permanents, warehouse workers from truckers, disputes at the workplace from disputes in the living sphere. We think that in order to think more strategically about the meaning of the social strike we have to make both a theoretical and empirical effort.

3. The notion of ‘multitude’ and ‘democracy’ will render the social strike-debate toothless - We have to shed the ideological baggage of neoliberalism, which should have been wiped out by the crash 2008 and the experiences and limitations of the ‘anti-austerity’-protests from Occupy Wall Street to Syriza

The era of neoliberalism and 'information society' (IT bubble) was the era of post-modern thought, which also dominated the theoretical understandings within the radical left and still reverberates in the debate about the ‘social strike’. We can’t go into detail here, but want to point out the general problem. To summarise briefly: replacing a sometimes rigid and often monolithic concept of ‘working class’, the post-modern concept of ‘multitude’ (Negri and other post-autonomists) accepted the general fetish of neoliberal capitalism that either we are all indifferently/immaterially connected in a big network of value production. In this network we produce value by merely breathing in and out, or, on the other side of the coin, that we are all just atomized, precarious and supervised subjects, who have to compete by marketing our inner-selves. Once we see the working class as a mass of atomized individuals within a network of value production, the focus will inevitably be on their different status ‘as citizens’ and the step from theoretical concepts of ‘multitude’ to political strategies such as ‘real democracy’ or ‘universal rights’ or 'hailing the UN' (Negri) is only logical, but fatal for strategies of fundamental rupture.

We think that even under the conditions of neoliberalism, e.g. the social experience during the IT or real estate bubble, when many workers became ‘shareholders’, the concept of ‘multitude’ tended to disguise the material hierarchies within the working class, first of all between intellectual and manual labour. The ‘feeling of precarity’ became a thin blanket, which could be wrapped around both precarious lecturers and low-paid cleaners, but which left the general hierarchy outside the picture. The movement itself had to discover this. During the course of the Occupy movement the fissures within the ‘99%’ emerged: what explains the power of the 1% if not the material divisions within the 99%? Although largely unhelpful, the emergence of the ‘privilege’ discourse was an expression of the fact that the movement realized its own separation from, and divisions within, the large parts of the proletariat in the US.

These deficits in theoretical understanding of ‘what is the working class today and what makes their struggles revolutionary’ has got material reasons, they are not just false consciousness: the relation between strikes and 'popular movements' (Arab Spring, square occupations etc.) during the post-2009 mobilisations against austerity and dictatorships was complex. Given that the social strike debate is largely an outcome of the limitations of the post-2009 struggles we should re-examine them. We limit ourselves to the following rough points:

a) We witnessed a paradox when in 2010 the biggest global strike wave in history roamed the globe, which can only be compared in magnitude to periods like 1918 or 1968. At the same time strikes were declared to be socially marginal. Why is that? These strikes were not without economic or political impact, e.g. the strike of Suez port workers gave a final blow to the Mubarak regime, but unlike in previous periods the strikes did not give birth to an image of a 'social alternative' or to a wider political expression that would enter the rest of society. In 1918 there was a direct link between the organisation of a strike and a proposal of alternative social/political organisation in the form of councils. The lack of it today is less due to a lack of political imagination, but the fact that global production chains pose a challenge to ideas of 'self-management' on a factory, town or national level.

b) In this situation the 'political expression' was left to the popular movements in the streets and squares, which largely addressed and attacked the state. Proletarians took part in demonstrations and clashes, people made important experiences of horizontal forms of organisation, but due to the detachment from the productive sphere the movements ran into walls. Only at the point of their dead-end they revealed their inner-contradictions and different interests of their participants: the informal alliances of poor proletarians and precarious 'professional or middle-income classes' turned out to be fragile. The public discontent and its focus on the state in the form of the ‘new populism’ (Real Democracy etc.) reached its dead-end either through repression (Egypt), integration (Syriza) or farce (Corbyn Labour resuscitation). The 'hope in democracy’ has largely become an expression of the underlying aspirations of a precarious professional class and the structural limits of governance in times of capitalist crisis became apparent.

c) The movement is grappling with this challenge both theoretically and practically. There have been experiences where 'new forms of horizontal organising' came together with the question of day-to-day material struggle and power of the class, e.g. in Barcelona the square occupations became a support base for the nurses strike or organised networks against evictions. These experiences are minoritarian, but point in the right direction.

The discussion about the ‘social strike’ would entail a reflection on the outcomes of crisis and movements since 2008 and to develop a theoretical framework for research, a new concept of class composition. What is the basis for a revolutionary rupture? The mass experience of injustice of poverty creates anger, might lead to mass re-appropriation, but does not necessarily develop power vis-a-vis the state unless it comes together with the collective experience and knowledge of social productivity (mass workers in agriculture, care work, manufacturing, energy production, transport, communication). This is indispensable to be able to imagine not only how to topple the state, but how to produce a new society.

We can say that these experiences of injustice of poverty, of atomization vs. collectivity and of social productivity are unevenly distributed within the global working class, according to uneven development between regions, sectors, ‘private/public’ spheres. The unevenness explains most of the hierarchies within the class. The experiences are unevenly distributed, overlapping only partly, but they are not disconnected. Sometimes connections are slim, e.g. in the case of the private agency which supplied both security guards during the Ferguson riots and scabs during the national oil workers strike in the US shortly after. Whilst a tenuous connection, it became a basis upon which young black proletarians and picketing oil workers came together, helped through an intervention by IWW comrades. We see that our theoretical efforts will not be a mere ‘mapping of workplace connections’, it will have to contain a lot of elements of class experiences beyond the immediate production process, e.g. the current material and emotional make-up of proletarian households or the material and ideological basis of ‘minority communities’ within the class. Politics of class composition would take up the challenge to retrace the connections and to help fortify them, wherever they are too weak – which is not only a theoretical effort, but mainly an empirical and practical challenge - leaving our immediate surroundings (be it a comfort zone or not).

4. We cannot just ‘start where we are’! – Working class strategy will not mainly emerge from the conditions and organizing of students, teachers and baristas!

The prevalence of theoretical concepts like ‘multitude’ (as much as romantizised notions of an unhistorical ‘working class’ of most of the Marxist-Leninist variants) is explainable also because of the composition of the radical left. Being dominated by students, people in ‘student-jobs’ (editors, freelance IT workers) and ‘precarious teaching positions’ there is a danger of extrapolating general working class conditions and political strategies from one’s own experiences of, e.g. atomization or feelings of individual competition. The same is true for the trade union left, who largely views the working class through their experience of permanent employment in more stable sectors. Empirical research about the general conditions and composition of workers in the UK is necessary, it hasn’t been done thoroughly for a while - and it cannot be done as a research of outsiders.

We won’t be able to develop a working class strategy as long as we take our own immediate situation as the starting point of politics. First of all, it assumes that our position in society, be it in the intellectual department or behind the counter of a fast-food chain is somehow a ‘neutral outcome’, and not due to social tendencies and (unquestioned) personal decisions. We also have to politicise this part of our lives - how do we reproduce ourselves, where do we work and why there? Secondly, while it is always right to fight wherever you are, if most of the revolutionary syndicalist organisations and their not insignificant number of members mainly focus on ‘wage theft’ campaigns in marginal jobs, the scope for the development of wider working class strategy is limited. Comrades, don’t get pissed off by our arrogant comments, let’s all continue to fight the bosses wherever we are, but let’s start talking about the bigger picture, too.

5. The ‘social strike’ debate cannot just add a ‘social element’ to the old concept of ‘general strike’ – it has to break with it

Based on the theoretical, empirical and practical effort lined out above we can actually think about working class strategy in terms of social strike:

a) which current struggles and sectors bring together workers’ collective power with a potential of generalization, e.g. because their issues don’t only relate to their particular professional group (zero-hour contracts, minimum wage, strict control over performance)?
b) which struggles have the potential to extend self-organisation within the immediate sphere, e.g. the workplace, university, housing estate, to a larger section of the class organically (migrant composition of the workforce, experience of private renting)?
c) which struggles manage to undermine certain hierarchies within the class from below, e.g. the migrant logistics workers in Italy due to the offensive character of their struggles or struggles which break the isolation of the household?
d) what is the potential of struggles to develop coordinations independently from the existing trade union institutions?

In our initial paper we gave examples from the US, where over recent years various struggles developed, each of them carrying a significant element for the potential to develop a new working class movement: Mexican/hispanic strike in 2006 (material power of migrants, undermining the national border regime), Occupy (horizontal and international organising), series of prison revolts and hunger strikes (taking on the state regime and Afro-American/Hispanic divisions), Chicago teachers and Wisconsin strikes (experiences in dealing with the labour bureaucracy), riots in Ferguson and Baltimore against police repression (urban poverty and proletarian violence), warehouse and fast-food workers mobilisations (organising wage pressure from below in new industries) and oil workers strikes 2015 (economic power in a central sector). We have to think about strategy in this context: what is the basis for these elements to come together, what are their material divisions?

We think that by looking at the actual composition of class we have to rid ourselves of the idealistic notions of the ‘general strike’, which basically says that by a united call and beavering efforts of organizing an otherwise divided class can ‘stand up like a man’ - which was basically the image of the general strike disseminated by the various proclaimed leading and 'unifying' organisations. We reckon that the unification and generalization within class struggle only arises out of a process of many struggles at different positions within society which materially challenge and overcome divisions and synchronise themselves only over a period of time. Only the struggle itself changes those who struggle and overcomes barriers. We can contribute to this process once we understand the ins and outs of struggles and their wider material and social context.

6. What could be a concrete strategic step? - In the current situation we propose a bi-annual newspaper for the reflections of the strong and weak points of the struggles in the UK, as a tool both for analysis and concrete practical intervention and support

The theoretical and practical necessities mentioned above seem like a mountain, but we don’t think we have to choose between either a lot of theoretical churning or empirical research on one hand or hyperactive campaigning on the other. What can allow us to work together beyond our specific local or sectorial activities? Our proposal is fairly simple:

* The publication of a bi-annual UK class struggle paper, focusing on analysis about conditions within the class and struggles; without a compulsion to proclaim victories or to defend particular organisations; based on workers' interest to learn from experiences to be able to struggle independently from trade union apparatuses or the political class; apart from providing analysis of experiences and wider contexts of struggles the paper should point out concrete resources and experiences of proletarian mutual aid.

* The production of the paper should allow comrades from various regions within the UK to develop a regular debate about struggles around us, but at the same time also produce something which can be useful when visiting occupations, pickets or meeting interested workers; this is why we think a hard-copy form is crucial.

* There have been papers which had a similar function, e.g. The Catalyst, but they have become defunct; other coordinations, e.g. the Shop Steward Network have been limited to certain sectors and been taken over by the middlemen of the political parties; as far as we are aware of there is no paper which fulfils such a function of independent working class reflection of what is going down, in the here and now.

* It would require certain requirements and commitments: a common basic political framework: starting from anti-statist and anti-institution proletarian self-organisation; looking at how struggles can overcome hierarchical divisions and challenge the powers; going out of your way a bit to places where things are happening, in order to have face-to-face conversations; being open for debating the reports; a commitment to circulate the paper not only at the usual demonstrations or conferences, but at concrete sites of struggle.

Hopefully the paper could help to create an independent network of comrades of various organisations within the non-statist left and interested working class militants who have become disillusioned with party politics. If you interested in participating, drop us a mail: angryworkersworld@gmail.com


Sep 13 2015 08:35

Wow, this stuff is really vague for me and ultimately, it is probably wrong-headed intellectualism, seeking the places where a few activists can experiment. I don't see how such abstractions will encourage workers to organize themselves.

Also some statements here seem incorrect to me. First of all, you mention the so-called "Polish strike" and say that "the groups that organized the strike" had their fingers on the pulse. However, there were no groups organizing the strike. That was a gimmick of a few people and the reason that nobody came was not even because right-wing people started calling for an alternative action, but simply you cannot be a couple of friends sitting behind computers and calling for a strike. Regardless of what the issue is, one has to have real organizing going on.

It seems to me that what is really happening with these "ideas" is that fewer people who want to mobilize workers have any real mobilizing skills and power in workplaces and are looking for different ways. I'm not against looking for different ways, but mostly I just hear talk.

Then there is the potential vanguardist aspect of this all. For example, you incorrectly define attempts of individuals from mainstream unions (Ver.di, IP) which do not act in a rank and file way as something that it is not - which is an attempt to made rank and file organizing. This is just laughable, especially from the point of view of rank and file workers from our union which organized successful actions of agency workers which all the mainstream unions ignored. So then you get a couple of salters who go into Amazon and invite a few leftists from Ver.di to "organizing meetings" which exclude organized rank and file workers and workers in general and this is supposed to be some step in a transnational strike? Sure - if you think strikes can be called by a handful of leftists, Bolsheviks, etc. without the participation of at least some group of workers. There was this international action now here in Poznan with less than 20 people out on the streets protesting Amazon and not more than a handful could have been local workers ... local workers don't even KNOW about this. So then the Amazon bosses rightfully make this to be about a handful of nuts and then claims that workers are happy and don't go to these things. Well, most workers won't organize themselves there, that is true, but even those who do are cut out because this is not rank and file but vanguardist.

Anyway, I am not opposed at all to any attempts to spread proletarian self-organization, but seeing the messy thinking on the above 2 points, probably the first thing that needs to be done is to define what is NOT self-organization and just the games of a few people.

Sep 13 2015 08:47

We really, really need to learn to write in a way that doesn't exclude the general reader if a newspaper is to be of any use to people outside of a minority milieu.

Appropriate language is important, what is appropriate in an academic paper is not appropriate for general communication. That doesn't mean dumbing down, it means understanding the concepts you're trying to describe well enough to be able to paraphrase them, and explain them in more than one way. You need to be able to present examples, allegories, and show how the concepts relate to people's lives. That means you have to understand people's concerns and the practical issues people face.

The writing in the article above pretty much turns its back on the people it's trying to mobilise.

Sep 13 2015 10:30

I agree with the above. Part of the left have created their own language and subculture which is very alien to some workers who would want to organize on the grassroots level but do not come from this sociological background.

As I said before, what needs to be done is to clearly define what grassroots self-organization is and make it clear. But I see the definition here is far from clear for me. So I think it is no wonder that my comrades who came from a initiatve to self-organize themselves as precarious workers outside of the reality of legalized, hierarchical and representative unionism are alienated but also excluded from all transnational plans, be it from the union bureaucrats or the leftist intellectuals who, quite ironically in my opinion, talk about precarious workers and against union bureaucracy but either act as bureaucracy themselves or disappear these people since they act outside the left ghetto.

Sep 13 2015 12:10

akai - one of the practical suggestions made by the piece is that comrades should abandon the facade of their particular organisation and discuss the situation of the wider global working class. You have ignored this practical suggestion and instead boasted about your anarcho syndalist group's success in achieving gains for workers at amazon. No doubt these workers thank ZSP for their support, yet still the question of revolution/what to do beyond organising where u are is left untouched by your comments. Sorry if this comment is abstract - the question of how to achieve communism is also abstract.

Sep 13 2015 12:41

If there are some inaccuracies in the AWW interpretation of some recent attempts at strike action I'm sure they would be happy to accept that, but overal the political analysis of this text in it's emphasis on the critical importance of self-organised strike action in the the development of working class autonomy and beyond is entirely sound. As regards the language and overal approach of the text readers should understand it's purpose in relation to the particular composition and context of this Plan C event - it was not aimed, as some of their other material has, at some more specific organising effort amongst their fellow workers.

Sep 13 2015 14:13

Autonomice, your remark is rather contradictory. I never remarked that workers need to build facades, but they need to be organized in some way into a body that functions and can at least coordinate - unlike the so-called Polish strike that did not have any organization behind it, thus, despite having worldwide publicity, the type of which most grassroots workers' organizations could not even dream off, they couldn't manage to mobilize more than two handfulls of Polish workers.

Second, I find your problem about what is going on and went on in Amazon to be problematic. In Amazon there was and is a group of people who are organizing in a grassroots way, despite the actions of mainstream unions trying to replace the initiatives with their own hierarchical unions. Part of these people did not organize themselves in any way. They protested, even refused to work at some point (some modest strike action which had no coordination and no effect). Most of these people just calmed down, quit, drifted apart - others joined ZSP and continue efforts. However, maybe you misunderstand the purpose of joining in an existing union federation, which is to get some solidarity and practical support from others. From the way you write it, ZSP is like an external body which supports workers from the outside and the workers themselves cannot possibly be the agents of their own actions, nor part of ZSP. Which shows a basic lack of understanding and basically disrespect for what these women did and how they mobilized themselves against all odds and try to keep something together, despite the efforts of the mainstream unions to get everybody into line behind their union bosses instead.

I suspect that the comrades over there are mostly thinking about how to get more people on their side and cooperating than they are planning on how to coordinate a social revolution. I am pretty sure people are up for discussing the wider problems of the working class but I would caution to bet that at the end of the day, people are more interested in doing the organizing they need to get some practical gains on the ground and having more like-minded people around them than they are in making high-flung and abstract ideas about the world revolution.

Sep 13 2015 16:51

akai - the organisational facade which you insist on defending at all times is the ZSP. The ZSP did this, the ZSP did that. Ok I dont want to diminish the role that the ZSP played in providing practical support, and solidarity. However, being an organisation ultimately interested in the (abstract) notion of revolution, perhaps comrades would like to move beyond proclaiming victories for their organisation. I'm all for practical action. However whether u like it or not this requires a look at how the working class exist on a global scale, first and foremost, how they are connected via the production process. This is how u can turn an abstract notion, such as a social strike, into reality. As Spikeymike said, this piece is specifically for comrades at Plan C who are talking about the social strike.

Sep 13 2015 17:13
I'm all for practical action. However whether u like it or not this requires a look at how the working class exist on a global scale, first and foremost, how they are connected via the production process

I'm confused. Doesn't practical action require a look at the local conditions? After all, what works in one place may be counter productive somewhere else. This is not to say that an examination of the conditions of existence of the global proletariat should be avoided though. For example, CLASSE in Quebec had a notion (and pushed for) of the social strike and how to make that a practical reality. But this notion was very much wedded to the specific context of Quebec and the history of (student and community) struggles there. Or more accurately, it perhaps reflected a Montreal specific context. I don't think that what they did there can just simply be copied. Then again, I may be completely misunderstanding what you're saying (so apologies of that's the case).

Edit: missed this comment:

yet still the question of revolution/what to do beyond organising where u are is left untouched by your comments.

I guess I see where you are coming from a bit better now, but in my experience at least, organizers too often jump to the "beyond" question even before trying to organize locally. I think that the main problem is not a lack of thinking about the global or how to organize beyond your locality, but rather too much of it. The local is almost always neglected for the global, the national etc. when almost any successful strike, direct action or whatever is typically anchored very locally. I understand the limits to this thinking (and you point to it in the piece; how come the wave of protest worldwide didn't translate into something more), but I think it is strategically dangerous to always think in terms of "spatial" expansion of struggles rather than thinking about how local existing struggles can be extended in time and beyond what was the impetus for the struggle in the first place.

Sep 13 2015 19:10

Autonomice, I would venture to guess that people on the ground in places like Amazon understand the global context in which they work perfectly fine. The Amazon project in Poland is clearly an attempt to undermine workers in places where they are more organized and earn more money and I don't think there is anybody who doesn't know it. That said, what we have on the ground is a concrete group of people who are struggling to take more control of their lives and for the first time are dealing with self-organization and all the difficulties it brings. I would say that I am morally supporting this concrete group of women for what they decided to do - stand up for themselves - which has nothing to do with any "facade" as you put it, but with concrete people and situations.

On the other hand, a bunch of people who don't work in Amazon talking about the meetings of less than a dozen activists, from mainstream hierarchical unions talking about the transnational strike of Amazon workers. In the same breath that they talk against the mainstream unions and for grassroots organizing, they can't catch the crazy aspect of this situation.

Anyway, go ahead with your social strike, just don't be surprised if some people prefer to organize together with their colleagues or in their neighbourhood than through intellectual networks that speak in their name but exclude them.

Sep 13 2015 20:15

Plan C comrades wrote an article earlier this year about the concept of a social strike. This is a contribution to that debate as they are having a national conference this month in the UK. You are right that the idea of a social strike currently only exists in the warped imagination of some fringe leftists and therefore the language isnt what you'd (typically) hear in a pub after the third pint takes affect. Well this piece suggests we concretise this idea with the production of a bi annual newspaper. A waste of time? Maybe. The ideas of some abstract time wasters who wished they were sunning themselves in an Italian squat? Perhaps. However, I personally prefer the newspaper idea to the tired 'lets organise where we are, all we need are victories to show our fellow workers', speel that ive been hearing from you akai and your fellow travelers. Im not saying dont do it, but there comes a time where winning wage theft cases and proclaiming victory to the anarcho syndicalist union gets in the way of actually thinking what to do next. As far as i understand solfed and iww national conferences dont discuss the current crisis of capitalism and its effect on the composition of the working class. Rather they talk union business (which is no doubt important and fascinating). Now I love a bit of organisation as much as the next comrade but the way I see it is that talk of union policy and the need from libcommers to speak on behalf of their organisation has become a barrier to discussing other more important issues. As I belong to no organisation to which i feel a duty to defend, you can tell me if im saying is horse shit and I won't get defensive or offended (well only a little)

Sep 13 2015 22:49
However, I personally prefer the newspaper idea to the tired 'lets organise where we are, all we need are victories to show our fellow workers', speel that ive been hearing from you akai and your fellow travelers.

A lot of groups that do local organizing also publish newspaper, magazines and/or journals. And it's not like a newspaper in which the conditions of the global working class, forms of organizing etc. hasn't been done before.

Sep 14 2015 06:57


Truly I hope that whatever newspaper that comes out of this project will have more interesting contributions to revolutionary thinking than the rant you just posted and I do hope it will give you some personal satisfaction. That said, it is really quite a misunderstanding and I'd say a bit arrogant to assume that all different people who decide to organize inside the working class around certain concrete issues are only concerned with them and that these things are reduced only to getting people's wages and that nobody thinks about what to do next. Especially if you are talking about organizations that do call for social revolution and are not in any way traditional unions, neither in their scope of activity or way of operating.

For me personally, I have never been one to uncritically cheerlead any organization or another and if I talk about some victories of one organization or another, it is because I don't live in some priveleged country where simple matters like getting your pay can be taken for granted or where there is any tradition of people self-organizing themselves outside of hierarchical organizations which practice class collaboration (most trade unions). So frankly I am just happy when people take action and join up and know that this is often some changing moment for people involved. The majority of the people are women, some of which are insufferable positions at work of being hassled and discouraged against doing anything by male pig union leaders. Also, since the majority of these women are precarious workers, they know what capitalism has done to the working class and can get the global picture by knowing of the experiences of other people. It is really not something so complicated that it cannot be communicated to people by other people in a meaningful way.

After all this time of being active in politics (almost 40 years), I have simply come to the conclusion that sitting on some pedestal and handing down analyses and formuals for this and that does not do as much to bring revolutionary thinking to people who don't have intellectual and political backgrounds and just being on the ground with people trying to fight and talking to them about how one issue or another is connected to larger problems and trying to bring people together, avoiding the atmosphere which is often created in intellectual circles,which is often elitist and exclusionary.

Sep 14 2015 10:37

Since this AWW text is precisely critical of campaign type calls by small pro-revolutionary political groups seeking to somehow initiate a wider social struggle and rather encourages patient long term groundwork organising based however on a strategy gained by the collective sharing of experience accross the wider spectrum of 'anti-state, anti-institutional' political/economic organisations and activists, such a project would seem to welcome and be open to yourself and others in the spirit of critical engagement, though sadly it may still prove overly ambitious and premature in the current climate.

Sep 14 2015 11:50

It might be open although some minds behind it seem already closed. smile

I think I have added a bit of critical engagement already and whatever people want to make or not make of it is up to them. Going back to part of my original comment here, we ain't gonna make any revolutionary movement playing on the bosses terms through legalistic unionism, collaborating with bosses or building on initiatives of hierarchical unions, Bolsheviks, vanguards and would-be politicians so any project that looks to these sorts is a step in the wrong direction.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 14 2015 23:18
However, I personally prefer the newspaper idea to the tired 'lets organise where we are, all we need are victories to show our fellow workers', speel that ive been hearing from you akai and your fellow travelers.

Whatever differences you may have with Akai, I think it's pretty demonstrable that concrete victories - far more than newspapers or blogs or pamphlets or whatever - are far more effective at getting people involved in struggles and organizing.

I like to write and I've been involved with a fair few newspapers in my day, but I don't think I've ever seen them get more than a handful of non-already-politicized people involved in organizing. On the other hand, try talking to folks at the Brighton Hospitality Workers, for example, about the power of disputes and victories to get people involved.

Im not saying dont do it, but there comes a time where winning wage theft cases and proclaiming victory to the anarcho syndicalist union gets in the way of actually thinking what to do next.

So, this may be true, but my God are we not there yet. You need a series of concrete tactics and victories to decide, practically, where to go next. And as awesome as stuff is with BHW, for example, even they're no where near to needing to start strategizing at that high level of global capital movement.

Sep 15 2015 15:14

Hey Chilli hope ur enjoying life in the United Snakes. We've met before, during the last IWW training session you gave before you fled across the pond.
The sterling work of Brighton comrades is not in question here and any strategies and conclusions about proletarian action should be drawn from workers and their experience of organising.
However, lets be honest here, the hospitality sector in Brighton is not a stronghold of the working class. The supply chain servicing this sector, (the production and circulation of the commodities required to keep restaurants and hotels going) is being concentrated into larger and larger factories and warehouses run by larger and larger production and logistics companies where the conditions are becoming more and more similar (minimum wage, zero hours, no sick pay, etc). This presents an opportunity for workers to use their power as all the grievances workers experience are being organically located in one area (organic because the workers of the logistics companies supplying hotels are part of the same process of commodity production as the people working in the kitchens). The bosses know this and are using the weapons of zero hour contracts, agencies, racism and sexism to break up the collectivity that organically exists.
Its true that workers at Brighton restaurants are at the sharp end of exploitation and Solfed are acting as a catalyst for these workers to self organisation. Hats off to them.
These hospitality workers are spread out via many different companies, meaning that workers will have to go out of their way to contact other 'hospitality workers'. This link is not organic as they work for different companies so they dont have a material connection to these other workers (unlike workers at macdonalds, as we're seeing States side). The idea of the one big union overcoming these divisions doesnt cut the mustard, as these are how the workers experience these divisions everyday.

The organic links between the working class are strengthening as the crisis continues and the government is using all its tricks (nationalism, racism, force, etc.) to stop these links from becoming political.

Part of what this newspaper will aim to do is go to sites of disputes and build connections with workers already struggling, try to deepen the struggle (e.g. talk to the drivers at a warehouse complex and maybe other large warehouses around the country).

This may sound ambitious, but if workers are already on strike then they become open to the possibility of these connections being made. In times like these, when a pay rise is out of the question particularly for migrant workers in the low wage sector , workers will need to build these connections between themselves in order to enforce demands. If they dont then they can forgot out a payrise anytime soon.

fingers malone
Sep 15 2015 16:10

Surely this doesn't need to be presented as two competing types of organising, the two sectors are different, people are organising in the way they feel is most appropriate in the sector they work in, that's a good thing all round surely.
Neither organising drive takes away from the other, afaik they are quite far apart so I don't think there's much overlap but if both spread and end up in the same area then hopefully the two could be complimentary.
Also, I believe Brighton Hospitality Workers also produce a paper wink

Sep 15 2015 16:36

No they definitely arent opposed, but I would encourage comrades from IWW and Solfed to write what they think about this concept of the 'social strike' based on their experience of organising, rather than the current workplace training programmes and union business (which I will stress again are important). I think both are needed and hopefully this will be followed by some strategic decisions to get jobs in certain sectors or locations (such as has happened before with the IWW and anarcho syndicalists). I dont think the 'organise where you are' response cuts it, as mentioned by the piece, what job you take is a political decision (epsecially for younger comrades who dont have families and generally have less responsibilities to others) Hopefully the 'new syndicalist' blog is a step in this direction.

Yes ive read the brighton BHW newspaper it's good

fingers malone
Sep 15 2015 16:39

But I'm not going to write about the concept of the social strike based on my experience of organising because I've read the social strike stuff by plan C but I don't actually understand what they are saying.

Sep 15 2015 16:50

I lost off what most people say on here years ago, but worse again I can't work out whether it's aimed for internal consumption or for the burgeoning PhD qualified proletariat.

Sep 15 2015 17:01
I dont think the 'organise where you are' response cuts it, as mentioned by the piece, what job you take is a political decision (epsecially for younger comrades who dont have families and generally have less responsibilities to others) Hopefully the 'new syndicalist' blog is a step in this direction.

This gives me a lot of pause. Sorry, what job you take is not a political decision. In fact, for a lot of people it is not a decision at all, but a compulsion to take whatever job you can. And in any case, "organize where you are" is not at all incompatible with "political choice of a job" given that you would organize where you are based on that decision. But, what you are arguing demonstrates a really limited understanding of the working class (and also of your militant anarchist); no dependents, young (early 20s), little debt, lots of time and if you can chose your job it typically means that you're not that poor. But more alarming about this "political decision" is that it sort of valorizes the professional organizer as the vanguard who will go into an important industry and organize it.

What you're arguing is actually pretty old hat. It's been tried before lots of times and did not necessarily do much. In fact, it often proved to be counter productive. In the 1970s in Norway, such self-proletarianization was quite common among the maoists. They left the universities, picked the "key" factories in which to work so they could push for revolution. That period is today ridiculed in Norwegian pop culture.

I get that Plan C is trying to get away from "folks politics" as the accelerationists argue, but it seems like what you guys think is new and original to the "movement" has been tried and tested before, for either better or worse. In fact, this stress on extending struggles immediately reads to me like the massive failure of the anti-globalizaiton movement. There was way, way too much focus on the global, the regional and the national, not to mention summit hopping, with the result that a lot of local organizing just did not happen. Or if local organizing did occur, it typically ended because of the desire to go big immediately. No concern was showed for how to extend local organizing initiatives in time.

FWIW, I am not saying that Plan C and what you are doing is crap, far from it, I hope you will do well as any experience and discussion is better than nought. But it seems like you haven't necessarily understood why there is an emphasis on local organizing or why there has been such a turn post 2000. A focus on the local is far from myopic or reflective of some folk politics, but rather a recognition that organizing from scratch (and let's face it, that's what we are all doing) requires that we deal with issues that people care about; those issues are typically local reflecting a specific community or work context.

Sep 15 2015 21:30

So I'm actually a lot more sympathetic to a lot of the stuff in the article above. Perhaps I've read it a bit differently (or wrongly) but I think a lot of the questions it raises are actually quite good..

About jobs being a 'political' choice, I'm not sure that 'political' is the best word to describe what AWW mean. I think the problem they see with just 'organise where you are' is that where a lot of the radical milieu 'are' are sectors which reflect our own class composition (a significant chunk being what Juan once described as 'downwardly mobile middle class', which I think is quite accurate). So, like, 60% of UK school leavers don't go to uni (and so won't go into graduate jobs); that's not a demographic reflected in radical circles, which effects the jobs people go into and, therefore, where we 'are' when we organise.

I think what AWW are trying to do (and I might be wrong) is look at ways we can go beyond the 'small shop' organising that goes on and more into those larger concentrations of workers which is currently developing (esp with the increase of online shopping etc) which has the capacity to really disrupt the circulation of capital (more than, say, organising in retail/hospitality or even a lot of the public sector).

For some of the other stuff, I agree with the criticisms laid out here. I'm not exactly sure what use a bi-annual newspaper would actually be, I think there are enough publications as it is! And without wanting to self-promote, I think libcom works as a multi-tendency discussion forum and could perform the same function.. more important, I think, is how to get the different people doing decent organising across different groups (AWW, Brighton SF, Sheffield Wobs etc etc) to discuss with each other and find ways to support each other practically..

Sep 15 2015 21:43
Spikymike wrote:
As regards the language and overal approach of the text readers should understand it's purpose in relation to the particular composition and context of this Plan C event - it was not aimed, as some of their other material has, at some more specific organising effort amongst their fellow workers.

Ah right.. I think I see what this is about; it's a dual approach of writing impenetrably complex theoretical tracts for those who like to talk about "the workers" - whilst counterbalancing this with dumbed down tub thumping aimed more at said workers? Perhaps a flippant summary but that's about it isn't it? The Road to Wigan Pier on theory steroids.

Sep 15 2015 22:00
About jobs being a 'political' choice, I'm not sure that 'political' is the best word to describe what AWW mean. I think the problem they see with just 'organise where you are' is that where a lot of the radical milieu 'are' are sectors which reflect our own class composition (a significant chunk being what Juan once described as 'downwardly mobile middle class', which I think is quite accurate). So, like, 60% of UK school leavers don't go to uni (and so won't go into graduate jobs); that's not a demographic reflected in radical circles, which effects the jobs people go into and, therefore, where we 'are' when we organise.

Thanks, this makes much more sense. But I still think that the practice of deciding where to work based on your organizing is not necessarily the best one to make and could prove to be counter productive in the end. I think it is much better to just establish relationships to people in those sectors rather than doing the vanguardist/ salting thing.

I think what AWW are trying to do (and I might be wrong) is look at ways we can go beyond the 'small shop' organising that goes on and more into those larger concentrations of workers which is currently developing (esp with the increase of online shopping etc) which has the capacity to really disrupt the circulation of capital (more than, say, organising in retail/hospitality or even a lot of the public sector).

Sure, this makes sense strategically and is something that e.g. Beverly Silver argued in Forces of Labour and has been somewhat of a staple in autonomist-inspired projects, i.e. identify the most "advanced" sectors of the working class. Silver, IIRC, pointed out that textile workers (perhaps not surprisingly) were the most "advanced" in terms of struggle (going by the number of strikes and industrial actions) in the late 19th to early 20th century, then it was the auto-workers (and she points out that strikes in key factories, especially parts, had effects beyond just that particular point of production).

But I think that purely focusing on such a strategy will miss the point. Surely, class struggle is not some form of war where the only thing that matters are the key strategic locations to capture or hold. It rather involves a large section of society, irrespective of where they work or if they're even working. So IMO, it's not a choice between retail/hospitality and logistics/walmart/amazon, but rather both.

Sep 15 2015 22:07
Khawaga wrote:
I dont think the 'organise where you are' response cuts it, as mentioned by the piece, what job you take is a political decision (epsecially for younger comrades who dont have families and generally have less responsibilities to others) Hopefully the 'new syndicalist' blog is a step in this direction.


Sorry, what job you take is not a political decision. In fact, for a lot of people it is not a decision at all, but a compulsion to take whatever job you can.

You can drop the patronising tone mate, I was obviously talking about political activists and comrades taking jobs as a political decision, not the general working class. As I already said in my post this is what the IWW and anarchosyndicalists have always done, I believe its called 'salting'. Were these comrades secret millionaires? The reason they could do it was that it was a collective effort organised through the union, exactly what AWW were proposing.

Sep 15 2015 22:16
autonomice wrote:
The reason they could do it was that it was a collective effort organised through the union, exactly what AWW were proposing.

Just quickly coz I really need to go to bed (and also coz I would like to steer you and Khawaga away from a pointless row and more towards constructive discussion), is this what AWW are proposing? I think AWW are great at putting forward the questions we need to be asking and have some great analysis as well, but I'm not sure what their organising looks like. I was under the impression that they're more anti-union than groups like Solfed or IWW but maybe I'm wrong?

Chilli Sauce
Sep 16 2015 03:19

Hi auto,

You know, any time I write a post not realizing I know the person I'm responding to and then, after finding out I know that person, I always think I sound like a dick. (Watch how many ups I get just for that line...).

Anyway, yup, settling down here in the States. I tried to put you in contact with someone, right? You'll have to PM and let me know if that ever worked out.

Anyway, I still think you're slightly asking the wrong questions.

One, while of course once we have the organisational power we should use our industrial muscle where it has the most effect. But, as a movement, we have very limited resources and very limited organizing skills. I think we hone those skills where we're at then build up links through shared and practical experiences of struggle.

As other people have said, I think we're far better off offering our support to - and learning from - the struggles that pop up in those industries with more industrial power. An organized presence from a group of workers from one workplace or one industry at a dispute at another workplace or industry seems to me a better way to build up those links in a far more practical way - and again brings me back to the importance of organizing where we're at.

Two, I'm not sure that hospitality workers would actually have to reach out that far. Most restaurant workers that I know and have known do a serious amount of job hopping. I'd actually argue it's one of the organizing strengths in that industry - precisely the fact those social networks already exist across companies.

Anyway, as others have pointed out it's not an either/or situation and I do wish you the best of luck with the project. I still think the idea of a social strike - or even discussing a social strike - is pretty dubious without a massive, massive amount of on-the-ground organization. And maybe newsletters can be part of that. But, personally, I view newsletters much the way I view demos and marches: they're good as an element of self-organisation by workers in a struggle, but not so much as a catalyst for one.

Sep 16 2015 13:56
You can drop the patronising tone mate, I was obviously talking about political activists and comrades taking jobs as a political decision, not the general working class. As I already said in my post this is what the IWW and anarchosyndicalists have always done, I believe its called 'salting'. Were these comrades secret millionaires? The reason they could do it was that it was a collective effort organised through the union, exactly what AWW were proposing.

And even if you're talking about political activists and comrades, I think it is problematic that people decide their jobs based on where you can organize/what is the most advanced sector. In fact, when I made my comment I was only thinking of political activist. The example I listed was from Norway; it was only done by the Maoist party (AKP-ML) as a collective effort. It was disastrous. But then again they were Maoists who were more equivalent to Bible-pushers than people who knew how to organize on the shop floor. My view on this is that you take the job that you can get or (gasp), the one you want because everyone fucking know that work is miserable enough as it is. If organizing is the only thing that keeps you going to work in the morning, you'll likely end up very depressed. Also if you don't like the job and/or may not be good at it, it may be harder to actually organize.

While salting (as I did mention above) has been a strategy among wobblies and syndicalist, what they mostly have done is to agitate generally within the working class and not just pick this or that job. For example, the reason the IWW was strong among maritime workers wasn't because they salted, but because workers started organizing there. In Spain, in the 40 years before the revolution, they didn't pick this or that sector but agitated everywhere. I am just not convinced that salting work much better than trying to just link up with workers in those sectors. Not that is an either/or.

As I said, I do wish you all the best in your project. Indeed, I'd be delighted if your strategy of salting works, if your notion of the social strike catches on etc. But it seems like you guys are extremely defensive about your position... (understandable for sure, but not very productive).

Sep 16 2015 14:37

After reading through some of the comments here, I think I get a better picture of what AWW is writing about. That said, there are some aspects of it I'd think critically about, but maybe another time.

A comment about speaking on strategy. I think that if anybody is serious about some strategy for strike actions, then it is best not to discuss it publically where you could tip off bosses. Revolutionary pipe dreams are one thing, but any strategy that could actually be implemented in the near future should not be so transparent to the bosses.

Next, certain strategies, like salting, are not effective or ineffective in and of themselves. A lot depends what exactly it is that you want to achieve. Some part of people are interested in organizing or taking swipes at capital but not necessarily encouraging the building of grassroots and non-hierarchical workers' organizations. In some cases, this method might encourage the leadership roles of outside organizers to direct workers. And here, there often is an element of building the union brand as being more important than other aspects of the struggle.

Case experience in point is exactly the Amazon workers where an initiative started by precarious women workers without organizing experience has been constantly undermined by a more mainstream union sending in salters. To make matters worse, in a competition to get more people under one union, the activists of that organization use as an argument that they comply with the laws of the state and discourage workers against other organizations that have no such fetish. So salting can be used by more mainstream unions to send more experienced people in to actually act against more radical, grassroots organizations. Proponents of these „strategies” always refer to building their power but not to the project of worker self-organization or radicalisation.

Then we can add the question of integration of bosses and supervisors into a union. Also a current issue at Amazon where workers complained about their supervisor, who is also the Chairperson of said „alternative” union. How can the most class conscious and clear-thinking workers be convinced to support unions if the leader is the boss? Answer: they can't. Only certain mentality accepts that.

Another question is about how the building of economic unions functions vs. the building of unions with a wider social view. Some left tendencies and even a few anarchists ones have bashed anarcho-syndicalists for being too political and think politics should take a back seat to economic unionism. In such cases, many views could be tolerated in an economic union. But, for example, if you want to encourage international worker cooperation, it is difficult to be taken seriously if your Chairperson is, like in the case I mention, an Islamophobe anti-immigration person who makes his views known on the job. If our ideas include a wider social strike or any international action, we need to make sure that what ideas we are spreading at the workplace are consistant with this aim, not with the aim of dividing people according to nationality or race.

In terms of this one concrete example given in the article, while I agree with the criticism of ver.di, you've misidentified what things look like in reality on the ground and shouldn't use it as any point of reference as an alternative for ver.di, Solidarity etc. It's a bit different, but not too much and I don't believe it holds much hope. This is not only because of the bad practices mentioned above, but about the way that the company is much ahead of the workers and limited ability to make long-term lasting damage against this company.

For me a better project is actually grassroots organization and meetings, not meetings of salters or a few individuals with aims to build non-hierarchical networks. And what I mean by that is not the networks of a few leftists, pro-activists and salters but of interested workers.

Anyway, I suppose AWW's text contradicted itself in this point, probably due to lack of knowlege. But if it was not due to that, then the idea is a bit shady.

fingers malone
Sep 16 2015 21:32

Ok can someone explain 'social strike', I've read the article, but what would make a strike a social strike specifically? Give some really clear examples please?