1984 WSA: Conference for a new national libertarian workers organization

Selected documents from the founding conference of the US libertarian workers' organisation, Workers Solidarity Alliance, with some notes added in 2011 by one of the participants.

Brief Intro:

A few weeks ago, there were a couple of internal WSA conversations about the founding intent of the WSA. I thought it would be interesting to see what our intentions were near 3 decades ago. The substance of the Conference Call letter appears below, with a couple of notes and document links.

I have also taken the liberty of transcribing an article W.V. Gordon and I wrote on the founding conference. This article appeared in the north american newspaper STRIKE! (a paper many of us also participated in working on, along with "ideas & action".

Trusting you will find these of interest. And helps gives a sense of who were and what we set out to do in 1984.

---- Syndicalist (May 2011)

Conference for a new national libertarian workers organization

Fellow workers:

During the past year or so, there has been talk about creating a new organization in the U.S. which would embrace and further anarcho-syndicalist activity. Accordingly, we, members of the Libertarian Workers Group, ideas & action collective and others, are now calling a conference to be held in New York City over the Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-25 [1984].

It is our intention that this will be the founding conference of a new national organization, which we propose to organize as the U.S. section of the International Workers Association. (See attached copy of the IWA principles).

Purpose

We support the development of shopfloor forms of unionism, but the organization that we propose is not intended to be a labor union, but an organization of anarcho-syndicalist militants, which would promote the development of anarcho-syndicalist activity, such as direct workers action and self-managed forms of worker struggle.

We want an organization that is oriented towards activism and which is based in struggles in the USA of today and in support of our fellow workers in other lands. We are not oriented in taking over or building up any existing organization (such as the IWW)*, nor do we envision this new organization as a federation of pre-existing anarchist groups.
We envision an organization based on individual membership, which would include people active in labor struggles, feminism, Latin American and Eastern European solidarity, anti-nuke and anti-militarist activity and other areas. We are hoping that anarcho-syndicalism, as understood and evolved within the framework of the IWA, can serve as a minimum political foundation for our organization, recognizing that each individual or group may vary to some extent from the common basis. It is not our intent to have an organization that would be monolithic or incapable of reaching out to new people.

As an indication of our proposed basis of working together, we are including a draft of a proposed statement of our principles for the new organization. This draft is tentative and is subject to discussion and changes at the conference. [Note: the document adopted became the basis for the WSA’s main “Where We Stand” document.]

In order to ensure that we do not waste time and energy or repeat mistakes of other libertarian organizational efforts of recent times, and to ensure that we create a viable organization that can have an impact, we are asking that people should become activity involved in this organizing process and attend the conference as a voting active member only if they are in substantial agreement with what we are trying to do."

[ Rest of call involves conference specifics, call for cash, and names of Organizing Committee ]

* Historical context:
In the period between the 1981 demise of the ACF and the 1984 formation of the WSA, a number of factors lead to what we tried to convey as a position of neutrality. The two main drivers here, was the intense internal IWW factionalism of that period. Reflecting our desire to steer clear of being accused of meddling in the affairs of the IWW we tried to develop a position of neutrality.The second reason was some of our own founding member’s differences with the IWW based on a) either their own recent experiences inside the IWW and b) a principled position that they did not see the IWW as a viable option.

Unlikely this would even be a thought in 2011.

---- END ----

STRIKE!, February 1985, Page 4
“WSA holds founding conference in NYC: The Return of the Anarcho-Syndicalists”

"On the weekend of November 23-25, a conference was held in New York City to form a national libertarian workers organization. Delegates and observers from New York City, San Francisco, West Virginia, Massachusetts, upstate New York and Quebec were in attendance. Interested comrades from Philadelphia, Montana, Alaska and Iowa were unable to attend. Greetings and acknowledgement of invitation were received from the International Workers Association Secretariat in Madrid on behalf of IWA affiliates. In addition, word was received from several IWA affiliates, including the Norwegian Syndicalist Federation, the Regional Organization of Argentine Workers (FOR A), the Dutch Syndicalist Union (OVB), the Rebel Workers Group of Australia and the Italian Syndicalist Union (USI). Acknowledgements were also received from the Portland, Oregon FOCUS and various revolutionary syndicalists from upstate New York. Greetings to the conference came from the Movimiento Libertario Cubano (publishers of “Guangara Libertaria” in Miami, Florida), exiled Argentine workers in Spain (publishers of “La Abeja Obrera”), the Clark Fork Valley IWW branch and the [underground] Emanuel Goldstein Group in [Stalinist] Poland.

Those participating agreed on the need for an organized expression of working class Anarchism. Until nowhere has been no existing national workers organization engaged in explicitly anarcho-syndicalist activity. Furthermore, apart from the New York-area Libertarian Workers Group, there has been no U.S. affiliate to the International Workers Association (IWA). As a result, all of this has changed.

A new organization, the Workers Solidarity Alliance, emerged from the conference with two principle goals. Although it is not itself a union, the primary purpose of the new group will be to promote and contribute to autonomous workers’ struggle founded on the Anarchist principles of direct democracy and direct action. In addition, through affiliation with the IWA, the new organization will work towards solidarity with other sections of the Anarchist workers movement. Workers Solidarity differs from previous attempts at a U.S. libertarian workers’ organization in being a formation in which individuals may belong and participate, rather than a federation of local groups. Given that working class Anarchist militants are numerically few and geographically scattered, it is expected that this new form will help overcome the isolation that has lately characterize our efforts.

The Conference was marked by a rare fusion of realism and enthusiasm. Workshops were held on international solidarity work, cultural activity, workplace experience and the need for a broader, total definition of human liberation within the libertarian workers’ movement. There was debate on the proposed paragraphs dealing with sexual and racial discrimination in the statement of principles. It was decided that the proposed wording was far from adequate, and commission were formed with the tasks of developing alternate statements. In connection with this, a Women’s Commission was initiated, mandated with the responsibility of drafting a substitute statement on sexism and sexual politics.

The conference concurred with the Northern European sections of the International Workers Association in their support for the claims of the CNT/AIT as the legitimate organized expression of anarcho-syndcalism in Spain. This question of CNT patrimony has arisen from a recent attempt, supported by the Spanish social democratic government, to deprive the CNT of its financial restitution, disputing its rights in favor of a marginal accommodationist faction.

The formation of national commission to carry out tasks mandated by Workers Solidarity was implemented at the conference. An area in which these commissions will operate will be that of international solidarity work. A commission for Latin American was the focus of much discussion. Included in the mandate of this commission will be continued support for a journal [“No Middle Ground”] devoted to information on libertarian activism in Latin America and the Caribbean. Commissions dealing with E
astern European and South African workers struggles were also initiated. Other areas for commission work adopted were cultural activity and the unemployment problem. It was determined that “Ideas & Action” will henceforth be the official organ of Workers Solidarity [Alliance]. The network involved in the production and promotion of this journal was instrumental in organizing this founding conference.

The Conference decided to explore possible participation in the call to action for April 29 [1985] designated as “No Business as Usual”. This action is designated to be a concerted protest to the continued momentum towards a global nuclear war on the part of the superpowers. [The US and the former Soviet Union] Tentative plans for the commemoration of the [100th Anniversary of the] Haymarket event and an international revolutionary workers conference to coincide with commemoration set for 1986 were also raised for possible involvement.

Since the primary purpose of the Workers Solidarity [Alliance] is to promote working class Anarchism, it was decided to include within the proposed statement of purpose an analysis of what the present-day working class is. The increasing proletarianization of segments of society and the changing class composition of those who create wealth without controlling it make it necessary to look beyond nineteenth century formulations which ignore a vast array of those who are presently workers in an objective sense. As a section of the International Workers Association, it was agreed that Workers Solidarity [Alliance] should seek and maintain fraternal/sororal relations with those groups who, while not Anarcho-syndicalist, actively work towards the goal of workers autonomy. At the same time, we wish to remain uninvolved in the internal disputes of other [North American, read IWW] organizations.

Concerning the existing trade unions in the United States, our work will always be amongst the rank and file membership and not include attempts to capture leadership or bureaucratic structure of those unions. We will remain always critical of all hierarchal and reformist forms.

The conference ended with a cultural event that was well received and attended. The tone of the conference was encouraging given the recent absence of an explicitly Anarchist workers’ movement. Participants debated vigorously and honestly without forgetting that we are comrades bound by the same ides and vision. The desire to be realistic was not used as an excuse to compromise our libertarian principles. The creation of a national anarcho-syndicalist organization in the United States has long been on the agenda. Now the first step has been taken."

--- Workers Solidarity Alliance

Comments

Steven.
May 15 2011 23:09

Have moved this to the library section, thanks for posting!

syndicalist
May 15 2011 23:52

Ah, no wonder I didn't see it.

syndicalist
May 16 2011 18:49

Sorry, I don't see this on the library.

syndicalist
Jan 28 2013 15:27

1984 founding "Where We Stand" document:
http://cjyu.tripod.com/princip.html

syndicalist
Mar 31 2015 23:57

Having been asked on this thread http://libcom.org/forums/north-america/anarcho-syndicalist-organization-20042013 about what was the original intent of the WSA, I suspect these 1984 pieces should give a glimpse into our original thinking.

All comments here are my own.

Readers need to put things into a 1984 context and not a 2015 one. The times and situations are very different and folks should appreciate those differences.

As to our thoughts on why a band of only 25 people didn't declare itself a union is at least three fold. I'm not sure if our European comrades thought in terms of becoming "union initiatives" until many years after they reorganized. And some of these conversations really started to shift in that direction (amongst many English speaking comrades, either as first or second language), with the 1990s concept of "industrial networks". [Note WSA actually endorsed and tried to build industrial networks in early 1990s. The networks didn’t take off and so we eased back from them. Concurrent to this we were in the process of writing an organizing manual. We never go it done. But we did publish a couple of issues of an internal organizer bulletin aimed at practical workplace stuff].

Fleshing this out, I'd say these are the three things as why we did not declare ourselves a union.

First: We did not believe a small and largely scattered group could simply "declare" itself a union.

Second: We did not want to be seen as or become a competitor to the IWW. Aside from the many issues that separated the IWW from anarcho-syndicalism, we just felt on principle it was bad form and bad politics (in the "diplomatic" sense). And given that a number of our members were also IWW members we felt that this was proper.

Third: Many of the founding members were also members of reformist unions. Some with several years invested in trying to build rank-and-file activity. Tactically we did not believe the way to go was to simply say we’re union. But we clearly were seeking to engage as anarcho-syndicalists and to bring workers into the WSA in a process of helping them learn more about anarcho-syndicalism and become conscious anarcho-syndicalists.

What was our strategy? It was: “To encourage the development of a workers' movement based on direct action, solidarity and direct democracy, we favor the formation of action committees in workplaces as well as networks of anti-authoritarian workers in industries or companies.”

With an additional aim of building a movement of “Self-managed workers' organization, such as workplace assemblies, rank and file coordinating councils, and unions free of top down control.” “Where We Stand” (WSA, 1984) http://cjyu.tripod.com/princip.html

A comrade wrote in the above linked thread:

“ … I thought you are anarchosyndicalist organization, so I read your organization statements to find out that there is no open mention about it.”

Founding WSA members, all anarcho-syndicalists, did not believe in using what we considered “buzz words.” We tried to lay out our views in a way that avoided terminology that most would have no idea what we meant. So we tried to do it in a way that avoided certain words, but laid out the concepts. Additional literature and one-on-ones did open up to buzz words and the goal has never been to hide or conceal.

In fact, in an article which was circulated at the time of our founding conference, we wrote:

“…[t]he Workers Solidarity Alliance, emerged from the conference with two principle goals. Although it is not itself a union, the primary purpose of the new group will be to promote and contribute to autonomous workers’ struggle founded on the Anarchist principles of direct democracy and direct action. In addition, through affiliation with the IWA, the new organization will work towards solidarity with other sections of the Anarchist workers movement..

“…The desire to be realistic was not used as an excuse to compromise our libertarian principles. The creation of a national anarcho-syndicalist organization in the United States has long been on the agenda. Now the first step has been taken."

(STRIKE!, February 1985, Page 4, “WSA holds founding conference in NYC: The Return of the Anarcho-Syndicalists” )

By “realistic” we simply meant that we would try not be bite off more then we could chew.

The comrade further stated in above captioned thread that " I thought anarcho-syndicalist organizations were unions."

I would say that in most instances, a majority of instances, this is probably so and probably preferable. Our dilemma has always been the very mixed nature and union (both reformist and IWW) or non-union membership, work with (before recouperation) workers centers and other forms of alternative labor, their work situations and so forth.
We have always tried to respect the balance of different approaches and so forth.
For decades the agreement has always been to try and build anarcho-syndicalists and exert influence where we could. This best suited our particular situation.

As time is moving on let me try and wrap this up.

As I’ve said before 2015 is not 1984. When we first got started we were a minority of a minority. The 21st Century has become a different time, different possibilities and so forth. Anarchists in the workplace? IWW growth? “Mass anarchism”? You know, none of that was really on the table and some of the possibilities so distant and limited 40 and 30 years ago. As Anarcho-syndicalists we were laughed at, never taken seriously, ridiculed, same for the IWW, that’s how it used to be. Now, much different. Because the world and times are different.

Anyway, has WSA succeeded? Has it failed? Yes and no. Can it go forward and help spark discussion and movement towards a US anarcho-syndicalist movement in the 21st century? Who really knows at this point. But there are still some of us who would like to believe that decades of effort will pay off in some way, in some fashion and some how. And it is because of a firm belief in anarcho-syndalism that WSA members will continue to pose the questions and try to help build anarcho-syndicalism. And maybe one day there will be large identifiable numbers of people who are also anarcho-syndicalists, no matter what the organization’s name may be. Broadly speaking, one can only hope that their most productive years spent in the movement were not wasted.