What's going on in AFed?

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Craftwork's picture
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Dec 27 2017 13:06
What's going on in AFed?

From what little I know, some longstanding members have left, and there's a meeting in London on its future. What's exactly is going on in there?

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Dec 27 2017 15:17

I am a bit out of the loop because of personal stuff, and don't know what is public domain and what isn't. But basically in the wake of the Bookfair and its aftermath there were some internal disagreements several long-standing members have resigned (although it's worth pointing out that all parties oppose transphobia). It included core members of the London group, which is why I imagine the London group is calling a meeting on its future, as if it is to continue new people will have to take on roles within it.

People more involved in both sides of the discussion are in the libcom forums and so can say more if they want.

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Dec 27 2017 23:47

The people who have left now have this blog:

https://communistanarchism.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-us.html?m=1

As Steven says, the meeting in London mentioned in the OP is a meeting of the London group, rather than a special meeting of the whole federation.

syndicalist
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Dec 28 2017 14:49

Excuse me for asking, as I'm not very up to date with AF or issues at hand.

I read the site of the new group and they seem to be returning to the basis
if the former ACF, which later became AF. Is this a proper first and very superficial
assessment?

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Steven.
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Dec 29 2017 16:04
syndicalist wrote:
Excuse me for asking, as I'm not very up to date with AF or issues at hand.

I read the site of the new group and they seem to be returning to the basis
if the former ACF, which later became AF. Is this a proper first and very superficial
assessment?

ACF only changed its name to AF, its official basis didn't really change

syndicalist
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Dec 29 2017 17:18
Steven. wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
Excuse me for asking, as I'm not very up to date with AF or issues at hand.

I read the site of the new group and they seem to be returning to the basis
if the former ACF, which later became AF. Is this a proper first and very superficial
assessment?

ACF only changed its name to AF, its official basis didn't really change

Ok, my read of the London blog is that AF is a sorta catch all federation
That the ACF was more specifically ideologically inclined a certain way.
Again, I'm just reading text, am clueless on nuances, personalities, situations and other very determining things that go into splits, disagreements and so forth

syndicalist
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Dec 29 2017 19:48

I guess someone thinks my read is wrong, as they down the comments. I'm cool with that. It's just hard to understand what its about then. Shall wait until the respective side issue the usual statements explain their POVs.

Spikymike
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Jan 1 2018 15:48

It is significant perhaps that these comrades (hardly as yet a formal group) have chosen in their blog to republish as an initial explanation of their politics the previous Organise articles under the heading 'In the Tradition-where our politics come from'.

Spikymike
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Jan 1 2018 15:56

And in addition to the above these comrades have also published a very useful considered statement prompted by other reactions to events at the last London Anarchist bookfair both from sections of the AF and others, including on this website, which seeks also to clarify their broader approach to organised activity. Whilst I do not generally self-identify as an anarchist this statement gets much closer to my own views than any others I've seen here.

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Jan 1 2018 16:08

Meanwhile, from the AF Facebook page (for those who don't Facebook).....

2018.. In with the new.
(An end of 2017 blogpost from a member)

A year ago we blogged the view that “2016 was very demoralising, and 2017 is looking worse. “

It certainly feels that way. We’ve witnessed the (hyper-)reality of the new US president and Brexit deliberations trundle on to some kind of deal with the rest of the EU after the formal exit was announced. Some areas of the world (Yemen, Syria, Myanmar) continue to take a huge toll on working class lives and livelihoods through warfare and forced displacements, where we are still mostly disconnected from the horror abroad if not for the repeated calls for humanitarian aid, although the war has come home to England with terrorist attacks in both London and Manchester. The Trump administration has already attempted to reverse decades of sexual liberation and more social policies (such as healthcare) and action against climate change has been scuppered by a protectionist focus on fossil fuels. Immigration controls have been used to restrict freedom of movement into the US to follow up on the promised hard line against Muslims. Diplomacy has evaporated in relation to Korea and Israel. Regional nationalisms have taken hold in some parts of Europe, notably Spain with the Catalan independence drive, also apparent elsewhere such as in Corsica.

In Britain, the Grenfell fire and its aftermath brought into grim and deadly relief the inequalities in British society with its still unabated increases in rent and house prices whilst the choice of insulating materials for social tower block housing sat in the hands of distant bureaucrats including, it appears, neglectful or incompetent building regulations officers, whilst the organised voice of tenants was ignored - being poor means being powerless.

The economy has flattened and interest rates went up for the first time in years, the Bank of England responding to increasing personal debt due to wage stagnation. In other words, austerity is permanent and normal, and growth just isn't there to fix it. At the same time state services like the NHS hang in the balance having little room left for more efficiency savings whilst social inequality only piles on the pressure.

On the otherhand, promise of advancement from entrepreneurship and philanthropy of the rich, especially those who hold the reins of the legacy of dotcom, has been lifted to dizzying heights and we are even asked to consider this a new Golden Age. Private capital *can* solve climate change and other global problems, especially with the use of the technology that created all this wealth in the first place. We'll end poverty *and* go to Mars. No power to the people though who are now asked to worry about their more lowly jobs being done by robots.

The number and knowledge about celebrity abuse cases has increased and wider discussion by survivors on social media about this and legal action taken has highlighted the continued ability of powerful men and institutions in Western society to do as they please. And the authoritarian Left is not excluded from this.

Overall, the Left in Britain is expressing their own ‘yes we can’ confidence, as the leadership cult of Corbyn has been honed to an almost religious level after Labour's General Election boost, but seems to sweep under the carpet the nastier aspects of British politics fostered by Brexit – xenophobia and fear of the other. Most of the effort is focussed on winning in the electoral process, next time, but it seems hard to get away from the fact that they are behind the curve in trying to raise up a leader by populist means.

Anarchists and libertarians are now having to wake up to the real possibility that some of the more liberatory gains in the West since the 1960s will actually be reversed, in the USA for sure (especially for people of colour who may have expected more from the Obama time in office) and probably coming to Britain soon as Brexit gives the space for some of our establishment right-wing to try and roll back human rights here. On the other hand the politics of gender and colour have been a core feature of anarchist movement politics for at least a decade, with an explosion of gender related texts and zines, and non-English workers’ groups at bookfairs. Anti-colonialism has come to mean not only understanding the well-known structural legacy of the European empires (which has led to calls to remove the statues of Great Men from campuses and public places, for example), but it is also a wider recognition in our movement that class struggle cannot be analysed without a deeper conversation about the sources of internal and external dominance. This is not completely new of course as similar questions around ‘white skin privilege’ were around at the time of the dissolving of the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation in the 1990s USA, the same period as when Black Autonomy challenged a Euro-centric anarchist movement to do better.

The AF has been a large part of recent developments, not least our co-organising of the AFEM 2014 international anarcha-feminist conference. However, the result of development of anti-colonial and even more inclusive thinking around colour and gender has clearly challenged the cohesiveness of the anarchist movement which, apart from small pockets of individualism that still exist, has all but adopted a social anarchist perspective in recent years. At this year’s bookfair the distribution of a leaflet against transgender rights (concerning an amendment to the Gender Recognition Act which would allow trans persons to more easily self-identify) was incendiary, being both pre-meditated by Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists and pre-empted by a large number of bookfair attendees who choose to take direct action.

For the AF (and the ACF before our name change) we are proud of our having made explicit the need for struggle against ‘other’ oppressions and independent organisation by oppressed minorities as a core principle of a class struggle organisation since our inception 31 years ago, and this has become more concrete in recent years by inclusion of caucuses (for Gender-oppressed, LGBTQ and most recently for members who have disabilities or mental health problems), a safer spaces policy and production of a text on Privilege Theory. However, differing responses to the bookfair events, and a few years of tension preceding this within AF, has led to 12 of our membership (including all of our remaining founder members) leaving on the grounds that this has gone too far – it being diversionary from the class struggle, merely identity politics being expressed as inward looking sub-cultural disputes, whilst the majority of us who strongly disagree with that view are having to regroup in 2018 to consider the consequences for the AF and our movement (seeing as the Bookfair won’t happen, with the 2017 collective having resigned). Gender politics will be a big part of this, as no doubt will be a more nuanced anti-colonial thinking.

Whilst the last paragraph may leave you thinking we may, after all, be overly self-obsessed, considering the grimness of the world as outlined in the earlier ones and seeming inability of our movement to have much of an impact on it, we are now in a position to move forward more effectively. In 2017 we published one issue of our paper Resistance focussing on housing after the Grenfell fire and practical work by tenants groups, benefits fightback and anti-fracking protests, also looking at organising within the gig economy, another common feature of working class existence in the UK. Our two issues of Organise! magazine tackled prisons and international solidarity in the first and the meaning of revolution in the second. We have been part of making regional bookfairs happen and have engaged in political campaigns where we live. We are committed to a revolution where liberation benefits all. As a key aspect of this commitment we are seeing that the structural barriers to liberation from history are plainer than ever, having witnessed how the authoritarian right (and left) have been acting with increased confidence over the last year. We would be pleased to work with others in the social anarchist and libertarian anti-capitalist movement, to develop ideas and make a real difference together.

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Jan 1 2018 16:15

And on the other hand, the statement that spikymike is talking about (luckily I can link this one because not Facebook)....

https://communistanarchism.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/class-struggle-anarchist-statement-on_1.html?m=1

Spikymike
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Jan 1 2018 16:24

It would seem to me as an outsider that those members that appear now to have left the AF also made their contribution to some of the more positive work of the AF (referred to above) particularly in London, despite other political disagreements now being expressed more openly. Some of that work had advanced to include a wider set of contributors that could presumable still include both remaining and leaving AF members.

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Jan 1 2018 17:55

Hello. You are presumably talking about Rebel City, Spikymike? This had just widened out to include others.

The AF blog article is also on the web: http://www.afed.org.uk/2018/01/01/2018-in-with-the-new/
One important omission on this thread perhaps is our attempt in November to produce a collective statement for publication which was this one: http://www.afed.org.uk/2017/11/20/statements-following-london-anarchist-bookfair-of-october-2017/ which was not perfect but this did aim to represent the most agreed position before the current situation of people leaving. There was most definitely political difference which has not been resolved and the majority view is that a move to a more intersectional class struggle basis for organisation (which our organisation has facilitated though its structure and something we have been discussing for the past few years, as the blog article said) is the right one, and this has been led by members who are living with gender oppression.

This is clearly bigger than AF though as the bookfair collective resigned. Many people are unhappy so there is work to be done. What are you going to be doing yourselves in 2018?

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Jan 1 2018 17:56

Anti-colonialism has come to mean not only understanding the well-known structural legacy of the European empires (which has led to calls to remove the statues of Great Men from campuses and public places, for example), but it is also a wider recognition in our movement that class struggle cannot be analysed without a deeper conversation about the sources of internal and external dominance.
[...]
the result of development of anti-colonial and even more inclusive thinking around colour and gender has clearly challenged the cohesiveness of the anarchist movement

U wot m8?

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Jan 1 2018 17:57

Are they going soft on national liberation?

Burgers
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Jan 1 2018 19:58

AF summed up what they believe with this on twitter [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iDHpVfm6nw[/youtube]

Spikymike
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Jan 1 2018 20:08

As regards an ''intersectional class struggle politics'' there is presumably still more than one interpretation of what this might mean in theory and practice as numerous articles and discussions on this site illustrate - not convinced that the AF have got any perfectly worked out model - but then neither have I.

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Jan 1 2018 20:19

In case any of you haven't yet seen it and in response to the original post, here's the exit statement of those of us who recently left the AF.

Quote:
We are a significant number of Anarchist Federation members, including all surviving founding members, who resigned from that organisation on 17/12/17.

This was due to disagreements over the recent political direction of the AF. These disagreements came to a head over the differences in responses to events at the London Anarchist Bookfair in October.

We disagreed with the statements put out by Edinburgh AF and the ‘Trans Action Faction’. We put forward an alternative statement for discussion which was received with extreme hostility and uncomradely behaviour from a vocal minority. We were no longer able to work in that environment. 

Those of us who have left the AF are re-grouping and re-organising in early 2018. We will focus less on what is essentially a small, vague anarchist sub-culture, but instead, will re-orient towards an outward looking, wider working class politics.

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Jan 1 2018 21:29
Quote:
This was due to disagreements over the recent political direction of the AF.

Just out of interest how was it that people whose politics are closer to liberal idpol than anarchist-communism came to be the majority in the AF anyhow? Isn't there any kind of screening process for new members? Though guess this an academic question now..

Burgers
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Jan 2 2018 08:22

New full statement from those that left.
https://communistanarchism.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/class-struggle-anarchist-statement-on_1.html

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Jan 2 2018 10:50
darren p wrote:
Just out of interest how was it that people whose politics are closer to liberal idpol than anarchist-communism came to be the majority in the AF anyhow? Isn't there any kind of screening process for new members? Though guess this an academic question now..

I'm still not entirely sure if they are actually in the majority but it's a very good question nevertheless; one that I'm sure those of us who've left will most likely be discussing.

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Jan 2 2018 11:09

Anti-colonial thinking is a term for thinking about privilege e.g. taking into account different experiences of e.g. racism, prejudices, discrimination or oppressions which minorities (although doesn't have to be a minority in the face of extreme domination by a powerful group) face or have faced historically. Then the organisation tries to makes that explicit and acts accordingly. Working out how is a challenge so Spikey is right to say we don't have a worked out model but the will is there. We can listen and learn from other organisation and there are clearly some challenges for AF. For example, being a political rather than an economic organisation means that experience of migrant workers within our organisation living in UK might not be a core part of our practice, but maybe that could be developed. This is not liberal as we are not going throw out class or get soft on national liberation. Actually it may help to shed light on current situations like Catalonia as migration into the region for work from other parts of Spain or elsewhere is/was an experience for many and so making that more explicit could arguably help with an antidote to cross-class nationalist sentiment. We've been discussing regional nationalisms in some detail in IFA most recently. It will be interesting to think more about the intersectional aspects of those.

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Jan 2 2018 11:17

Little brother, that post is as clear as mud.

Jim
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Jan 2 2018 12:53
little_brother wrote:
Anti-colonial thinking is a term for thinking about privilege e.g. taking into account different experiences of e.g. racism, prejudices, discrimination or oppressions which minorities (although doesn't have to be a minority in the face of extreme domination by a powerful group) face or have faced historically.

Do you think it's a useful term? As far as I can tell the AF has always been against all forms of oppression, I'm not sure why 'anti-colonial' is needed and I think most people would associate it with opposition to actual colonialism, not opposing oppression in the UK.

Spikymike
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Jan 2 2018 13:56

That class and various forms of social 'oppression' (that could not exist in a truly human community) interact with each other in capitalism seems just obvious, ...but the modern capitalist world is maintained at a fundamental level by the material production and reproduction of 'value' through the mechanism of capitalist competition and class exploitation that manages different and changing levels of social oppression in different times and places across the globe without that threatening it's continuity. In other words some forms of social oppression may benefit capitalism by dividing and diverting opposition to it which however are not essential to it's continuance. As a result autonomous struggles against those oppressions however necessary and deserving of our solidarity do not have any automatic link to opposition to the fundamentals of capitalism. Class is not just an amalgam of different 'oppressions'. It seems to me that the AF over recent times has rightly sought ( if with borrowed theory) to combine recognition of class exploitation with better recognition of different forms of oppression but mostly at the level of subjective experiences rather than their material underpinning. Certainly some of their published statements around 'intersectionality' and 'privilege' leave much to be desired in this respect. It seems to me as an outsider sympathetic to the AF that the differences as expressed so far between leavers and remainers is one of strategy and tactics rather than principles but we will see.

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Jan 2 2018 14:33
Spikymike wrote:
That class and various forms of social 'oppression' (that could not exist in a truly human community) interact with each other in capitalism seems just obvious ... In other words some forms of social oppression may benefit capitalism by dividing and diverting opposition to it which however are not essential to it's continuance.

So, I used to subscribe to a similar opinion to this one but ultimately reject it now. I mean, things like racism and patriarchy might not be "essential" to an abstract ideal of capitalism but, at the end of the day, we're not dealing with an abstract ideal of capitalism; we're dealing with our real, everyday experience of capitalism, and it's that capitalism which is inherently bound up with patriarchal and racial oppressions.

Or, to put it another way, can you imagine capitalism ever actually functioning without also structuring our class and society at large along gender and racial hierarchies? I can't, and as such I find little use in saying they are 'inessential' to capitalism as I imagine them existing as long as the capitalism we're fighting against will.

Spikymike wrote:
It seems to me as an outsider sympathetic to the AF that the differences as expressed so far between leavers and remainers is one of strategy and tactics rather than principles but we will see.

Like you, Mike, I'm another outsider sympathetic to the AF, but from conversations with current and former AF members, I can't help but feel this is yet another personal dispute made political. Perhaps there are also deeper political divisions at play here, I couldn't say. But, again speaking as an outsider, I really hope there will be some way for the two groups to find some common ground again in the near future.

I also can't help but feel that two people with no stake in the health of the bookfair or wider anarchist movement have managed to wreak havoc in both. I think that context should be borne in mind as we act and judge the actions of others.

Spikymike
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Jan 2 2018 15:04

Ok Ed but 'Patriarchy' and 'racism' are general terms that cover a wide and different variety of specifically experienced forms of oppression by different groups of people in different countries in different periods of history at different levels of intensity and which capitalism is able under pressure to amend at least up to a point in ways to it's benefit as much as those experiencing that oppression. Many of the struggles against specific forms of oppression by those who experience it do not, and may have no immediate reason, to extend beyond a desire for a measure of equality on capitalist terms (not to be dismissed either) - there is no automatic extension towards a revolutionary politics with or without the encouragement of our pro-revolutionary minorities.

Dannny
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Jan 2 2018 15:14
Ed wrote:
Spikymike wrote:
That class and various forms of social 'oppression' (that could not exist in a truly human community) interact with each other in capitalism seems just obvious ... In other words some forms of social oppression may benefit capitalism by dividing and diverting opposition to it which however are not essential to it's continuance.

So, I used to subscribe to a similar opinion to this one but ultimately reject it now. I mean, things like racism and patriarchy might not be "essential" to an abstract ideal of capitalism but, at the end of the day, we're not dealing with an abstract ideal of capitalism; we're dealing with our real, everyday experience of capitalism, and it's that capitalism which is inherently bound up with patriarchal and racial oppressions.

Or, to put it another way, can you imagine capitalism ever actually functioning without also structuring our class and society at large along gender and racial hierarchies? I can't, and as such I find little use in saying they are 'inessential' to capitalism as I imagine them existing as long as the capitalism we're fighting against will.

This is my position too. I also think it's likely that if a revolutionary rupture tending towards communism were to take place in any given area, then counterrevolutionary processes seeking to reestablish the basis for capitalism would be reliant on the concomitant re-imposition of patriarchal, racial and nationalist 'norms'.

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Jan 2 2018 15:48

So for clarification, this split off were the ones parroting current cynical right-wing tropes like "free speech" and saying that a respectful dialogue should be had with people who engage in organized hate speech or defend those who engage in organized anti-trans hate speech?

Spikymike
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Jan 2 2018 15:53

Juan - read what they say before making off hand comments like this.

Mike Harman
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Jan 2 2018 17:52

I was a member of the AF for a couple of years but left ten or so years ago.

I agree with Ed's comment, both that I would have argued that patriarchy and racism were inessential to capitalism a decade ago and that I no-longer believe that. This has come from both discussions and from reading people like A Sivanandan on the history of anti-racist struggle in the UK and a lot of other history. There is a whole history of class struggle that was centred on anti-racist and anti-sexist lines which is often ignored or given lip-service by mainstream accounts.

For an example, I re-read Jeremy Brecher's strike not that long ago. The first time I read it in my early '20s, I wasn't very familiar with the history of post-reconstruction convict leasing in the US. As far as I can remember, Brecher doesn't mention convict leasing once in Strike! However convict leasing was a central element in breaking the strikes from the 1870s-1890s, and racial antagonism continued well into and past the race riots against black workers post WWI and wildcats against integration of black workers in the '40s. The second time I read it, after reading 'Slavery by Another Name' (possibly not the best history of convict leasing but it's OK) I noticed the omission.

We can compare these two accounts:
https://libcom.org/history/us-coal-miners-strikes-1894-jeremy-brecher

Brecher mentions both black and Italian groups of strike breakers - some intimidated into fleeing, some who refused to work upon arrival, and differing approaches to them from strikers. However there is no depth on why the strike breakers were there. With black strike breakers they had often been taken, in chains, from prison and forced to work (whether breaking a strike or as bonded labour) under armed guard.

Without knowing the history of the convict leasing system and the areas it was active in, we're just presented with strike breakers who may or may not have been of a different ethnicity to the strikers and may or may not have had the option to quit.

Compare with this on Tennessee https://libcom.org/library/stockade-stood-burning-rebellion-convict-lease-tennessee-s-coalfields-1891-1895 and there's an example of white workers specifically liberating black leased convicts from where they were being held captive to be used as strike breakers.

I don't think Brecher glossed over this intentionally, but understanding exactly why and how there was such a ready supply of labour available as strike breakers - not just un-unionised scabs but pressed/captive labour due to a revived racial caste system helps to understand the strengths and limitations of the early US labour movement. There's also a comparative lack of history on the slave revolts, maroon communities and Reconstruction itself - which again are useful to inform our understanding of how capitalism developed and was resisted in the US and Caribbean.

Much more recently, there's very little written about the strikes of Asian workers in the UK before Grunwick (which unlike Grunwick received very little support from other workers at all), https://libcom.org/history/unity-grunwick-40-years-imperial-typewriters-strike-evan-smith and https://libcom.org/library/women-struggle-mansfield-hosiery-strike cover some of this. That history isn't comfortable reading, but if we look at a lot of the anti-immigration stuff from people like Paul Mason or Len McCluskey, a better understanding of class struggle by immigrant workers in the UK (and union/Labour responses to it) - whether hospital cleaners in London last year or factory workers in the early '70s is one way to debunk the 'immigrants are responsible for lower wages' bollocks.

Spikymike wrote:
Many of the struggles against specific forms of oppression by those who experience it do not, and may have no immediate reason, to extend beyond a desire for a measure of equality on capitalist terms (not to be dismissed either) - there is no automatic extension towards a revolutionary politics with or without the encouragement of our pro-revolutionary minorities.

The same argument can be made for strikes for higher wages and etc. - that they can be co-opted into struggle for union recognition with material demands left by the wayside, that higher wages are granted alongside productivity deals or with no-strike contracts, that self-management within the firm can lead to more efficient capitalism rather than a break with it. But apart from some of the post-left/nihilist lot, we don't write off strikes, we just recognise that they often have limitations, and as importantly try to identify the possibilities that might be opened up and support and document them where we can. The multi-week uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore were against police violence (with some people wanting the abolition of the police and by extension capitalism, some just arguing for 'police reform/demilitarisation', a few for more black cops), but even the most liberal aspects weren't arguing for just more evenly racially distributed police violence (I'm sure someone somewhere did if you really looked) - even if they emphasised that it's disproportionate now or had varying ideas on how to reduce it.