Anarchism and the trades unions

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Padams
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Jan 10 2005 23:18
Anarchism and the trades unions

(First a note on defintions. When I use the term 'Anarchist' I include anarchists, libertairian socialists, anarcho-communists etc. By 'socialist' I mean 'state' socialists such as Marxists, Stalinists etc; although I appreciate that these groups have differences)

I saw a debate a little while ago about Anarchist’s attitudes to trade unions. Many Anarchists seem to be against unions because they are, by definition, part of the capitalist system.

It may well be true that unions are part of the capitalist system and are therefore ‘counter-revolutionary’, but the fact remains that if unions are allowed to become marginalised then the gains in workers rights that have been made over the last fifty years will be lost.

It seems that we need to separate the principle of organised activity in the workplace from the practice of current trade union activity.

Anarchism is fundamentally about individuals and communities taking power back from state and corporate institutions. A major and fundamental part of this must be bringing economic activity under social control, so organised activity amongst lower ranking staff in the workplace seems to be a sensible focus for our efforts.

However, all trade unions (to my knowledge) are dominated by either left-leaning capitalists or socialists, so these unions clearly do not share our aims or principles.

In rejecting unionism Anarchists are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater- there does need to be organised workplace activity, but it needs to have an Anarchist outlook.

There are two obvious forms that this could take- the promotion of Anarchism within existing unions, or activity within workplace based Anarchist organisations.

I don’t see a problem with Anarchists joining conventional unions. All unions, as far as I know, are not trying to instigate revolution or implement socialist ideology; they are simply campaigning organisations for workers rights. Anarchists can get involved in this without compromising their wider, long term, aims.

However, in my view, organised Anarchist activity within existing unions in order to ‘subvert’ them would be mistake. It would have little chance of success, we would not be taken seriously by wider society, we would alienate potential allies in the unions, and it would only confirm people’s view of us as ‘trouble makers’.

So, I suggest that there should be organised Anarchist activity in the workplace, and it should take place as a separate organisation.

redyred
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Jan 10 2005 23:45

Yes.

Jason Cortez
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Jan 10 2005 23:56

There is stuff about union stuff in both history and organise sections of enrager. Here’s some links from/to there

http://www.red-star-research.org.uk/fightframe.html

http://www.radio4all.org/aia/org_labor.html

http://www.iww.org.uk/info/basic.html

http://www.enrager.net/thought/topics/unions.php

Although you don't seem any help with your ideas. I would argue for a dual appoarch both inside mainstream unions and creating workplace organisations based on anarchists princples, at least until we have more of a organised prescence in the workplace. Most @ support workplace organisation and all have problems with TUC style unions. BTW welcome to the forums tongue

Steve
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Jan 11 2005 09:33

Padams, your views seems very close to an anarcho-syndicalist approach and mirrors discussions we have within the Solidarity Federation. We advocate working within the existing unions where appropriate but aiming for our own organisation within the workplace based on anarchist principles. We can't reform the existing unions but cannot alienate ourselves from our fellow workers.

Quote:
So, I suggest that there should be organised Anarchist activity in the workplace, and it should take place as a separate organisation.

I agree entirely red n black star

If you want a copy of Catalyst our workplace freesheet email prestonsolfed@boltblue.com and/or have a look at.

http://www.solfed.org.uk/

http://www.direct-action.org.uk/

Padams
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Jan 11 2005 16:02

Thanks for the links and the welcome.

red n black star smile

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the button
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Jan 12 2005 13:02

Great thread!

Where I work, there's a minority (& I mean small) of union members. After a recent 'consultation' exercise, management are looking to set up a staff association (with senior management represented on it) as well as entering into negotiations with Unison or Amicus about being the recognised trade union here.

I suppose my question is........ how much of my energy should I put into building a TUC union? A lot of discussions about anarchists & unions assume that either there's an established union or no union at all. My situation's kind of inbetween.

I've already been acting as a sort of unofficial "rep" or "steward" for some of my co-workers -- helping them with grievances & disciplinary stuff; pestering management about health & safety. It's been useful with this 'consultation process' in that some of them expressed suprise that I wasn't involved in the management-led 'working party' on setting up the staff association/getting a trade union installed -- cue red n black star -rant from the button about organising being our right & not in the gift of management.... the need to be absolutely independent..... Christ, I can go on a bit wink

Any road up..... your thoughts much appreciated.

red n black star

Steve
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Jan 12 2005 16:30

If this staff association or TUC union is being set up anyway I wouldn't get too involved in initiating it. I would keep arguing for workplace meetings that make decisions that would involve all workers, union or not. A staff association with senior managers is probably next to useless but a TUC union may have some limited benefits. You will have to see how it develops and decide to join either. If your fellow workers look to you already and the majority join then personally I would and even become the union rep/shop steward. You then can use the structure as a cover and call meetings, especially around H&S issues but use them to discuss others things as well and try and build a culture of decisions being made at these meetings.

‘Workmates’ on the London Underground use their membership of the RMT but have their meetings open to unionised and non-unionised workers, permanent and temporary.

Don’t know if this is of any help. It would be difficult to be one of the leading advocates of a TUC union only to start criticising it as soon as it is established. You say that a minority are already in a union. Are you already a member?

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the button
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Jan 13 2005 11:57

Cheers for that, Steve - very useful.

There are about 6 members of Unison here (out of about 400!) & I'm not one of them. They don't have a rep or any kind of organised presence. I asked for a membership form 2-3 times when I first started here, to no avail.

Thing is, the Unison members tend to be supervisors. A couple of them were keen that I join up & start being their union rep(!), but I couldn't help but think that (since I was an admin assistant at the time, & providing them with clerical support) me being their union rep would be -- as far as they were concerned -- an extension of my role as their gopher.

Padams
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Jan 13 2005 14:16

I’d like to reiterate a couple of things that people have posted, and add a couple more.

Regarding Button’s situation with a management-run staff association, a TUC-style union and a possible Anarchist alternative. Imagine them on a line with the staff association at one end, the Anarchist association at the other and the TUC-style union somewhere in between. The staff association will be the furthest away from our principles, but will probably be more effective at certain, basic, things like minimum health and safety standards because it’s closest to the management, but it obviously isn’t going to achieve anything too radical. The Anarchist association will obviously be closest to our principles but, as a less mainstream organisation which is further away from management it will be harder to build support and get results.

So where someone concentrates their energy basically depends on their own priorities and how far they are prepared to compromise. Personally, my plan would be to get involved in all three (if you have the time and energy) then when an issue comes up take it wherever it is most appropriate to get results and benefit your colleagues, although clearly your going to want to push the Anarchist association forward whenever possible. The TUC union will be useful for building a good relationship with the staff if nothing else and the staff association will be good for building a good relationship with management (not very ‘anarchist’, I know, but sometimes cooperation get results more effectively than confronation). This can all be used to build support and credibility for any future Anarchist organisation.

I had a similar experience at Tesco, where a similar sounding staff association exists. The union response was to try to get the union reps into key positions on the staff association, so they effectively became the same thing. Maybe Anarchists could try this, attempting to get Anarchists in to key positions on all three bodies.

A quick word about union recognition. Button says that management are negotiating with Unison and Amicus. If there is no recognised union already, then great, but several unions can be used to ‘divide and rule’ by management. It’s nice to have a choice but in my view one strong union is better than two or three weaker ones.

In response to the latest post from Button, it’s pretty crap that that you had to ask 2 or 3 times for an membership form. Any union member should be encouraging others to join. If you do join keep a few membership forms on you to give people, if you can. As for you becoming a union rep and being their gopher, that depends on the attitude of the other staff. When I was a rep at Tesco the other staff were fine. Union work isn’t easy and being a rep can be a pain in the arse but I would still say give it a go and if it starts going wrong then try to point out that you need to do the job in your own way. On the other hand if the Unison presence isn't very strong and it's not officially recognised and being a rep is more trouble than it's worth, you're not losing much by concentrating on an Anarchist organistion.

By the way, if anyone's looking for a workplace based Anarchist organisation, have a look at the Solidarity Federation (see link from Steve, above).

Hope some of this has been useful.

Keep us informed Button.

I’ll try to keep these posts shorter in future; I keep getting carried away…

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the button
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Jan 14 2005 12:54

Just to clarify...... management are in negotiation with Amicus & Unison about one of them becoming the recognised trade union here -- probably 'cause there are a handful of both here already.

What Padams said about health & safety reminded me of when I was a union rep in an office (different job) a few years back -- and maybe suggests that this is one area where a less confrontational approach isn't always the best approach wink

The scene -- it's summer & it's fucking red hot

Everyone:Fuck, it's hot in here.

Me:It's very hot in here today, & since we can't control the weather, I think the only way to cool things down is turn all the computers off.

Boss:Now there's no need to take that attitude (thinks) Tell you what, everyone can go out & get a can or an ice lolly or something... not all at once, mind.

Me:But surely health & safety is a management responsibility. And if it's too hot in here, you can't stop us leaving the office anyway.

Shortly afterwards - boss leaves office & comes back with a load of cans & ice lollies

A victory of vanishingly small proportions, but it made me laugh.

BB
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Jan 14 2005 15:10
the button wrote:

Me:But surely health & safety is a management responsibility. And if it's too hot in here, you can't stop us leaving the office anyway.

Shortly afterwards - boss leaves office & comes back with a load of cans & ice lollies

A victory of vanishingly small proportions, but it made me laugh.

Nice one B.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jan 14 2005 17:58

Surely as members as the working class, you should participate in whatever unions and unionising that will give you the best representation and working conditions?? If Unison/Amicus offer that, then anyone who argues against The Button joining would be completely missing the point of this 'ere revolution.

Obviously, in the long term, radical/syndicalist unions are the only real answer. I would advocate organising inside your present unions but independently of fulltimers and other such trash, but what do I know...I've never been in a union.

lucy82
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Jan 14 2005 18:22

sorry this is a bit off topic

Its a really odd situation where i work. The union rep is the boss because shes been promoted several times since she first started doing union business. it causes conflicts depending on which hat she is wearing (union or boss) and noone except her is happy with the situation...

i got elected union rep but then we moved offices and there is a ratio of union reps to employees. there were already two in the new office (one being the boss) and because i was new i was forced to stand down.

anyone know if there is any rule that can push her out of that position? because if there isn't, there should be.

Steve
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Jan 14 2005 18:40

Union reps should have to stand every year for re-election, at least they did when I was one in Nalgo/UNISON. Shouldn't there have been an election when you moved office ti decide who would be the rep?

This is the problem with unions including managers. Our manager would turn up to some meetings if he got wind of any possible complaints and there was nothing I could do about it because he was also a member of the union.

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the button
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Jan 25 2005 12:53

Well, we got an e-mail update about 'progress' on setting up a staff association/having a recognised TU. And the 'working party' of 12 is one-third management. roll eyes

Also, neither Unison nor Amicus have got back to the working party about being the recognised TU. roll eyes again. From what I've heard of Unison, they're pretty much refusing to take up any of their members' grievances here, saying, 'Well, there's not a lot we can do... we're not the recognised trade union.' And when they get the chance to be the recognised TU, they drag their heels.

Pretty much par for the course, when your full-time officials get paid and you can't get rid of 'em.

So the story so far is that management need to have something in place by the end of March, because of some EU legislation they have to comply with. And in the meantime, is either Unison or Amicus bombarding us with membership forms & invitations to join up? Take a wild fucking guess.

*** note to moderators -- you could move this to 'organise,' since it's looking that way wink ***

kalabine
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Jan 25 2005 14:44
lucy82 wrote:
sorry this is a bit off topic

Its a really odd situation where i work. The union rep is the boss because shes been promoted several times since she first started doing union business. it causes conflicts depending on which hat she is wearing (union or boss) and noone except her is happy with the situation...

i got elected union rep but then we moved offices and there is a ratio of union reps to employees. there were already two in the new office (one being the boss) and because i was new i was forced to stand down.

anyone know if there is any rule that can push her out of that position? because if there isn't, there should be.

you shouldnt have been pushed out just because you were junior - the position should IME have been voted on - plus the rep should be elected anually anyway

the boss cannot or should not be a rep for the workers ever

kalabine
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Jan 25 2005 14:48

as for whether to build a mainstream union or not

in my experience the best tactic has been to join and help grow the "official" TU, while at the same time trying to push a mechanism that will allow all workers, temp/perm/union/nonunion to work together for mutual benefit and also in a way that can provide support when the union can not, a sort of workers defence association - it can take years but if you're planning to be somewhere for a while why not give it a go?

Joe Hill
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Jan 26 2005 01:37

the reality is that the union is the people in the place you work.