Anarcho-syndicalists in Britain - SF or IWW?

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May 19 2011 21:00
nastyned wrote:
Fall Back wrote:
Abiding by aims and principles and studying them are very different .

Could you expand on that. I can understand abiding by a constitution but I'm not sure what abiding by aims and principles means.

Not acting contrary to them.

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May 19 2011 21:16
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
You don't even have to agree with the aims and principles to join SF, you just need to agree to abide by them and the constitution (so not do anything against them). So the membership criteria is no way near as strict as Felix is making out.

Well, that seems very reasonable, but this is not the impression one get from following discussions on here. There has been a lot of talk about how one must limit membership to communists only, and the principle criticism ot the IWW has been that they let people join who don't agree with the IWW's revolutionary principles.

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May 19 2011 21:49

Also:

IWW wrote:
All applicants shall agree to abide by the Constitution and regulations of the IWW and diligently study its principles and make themselves acquainted with its purpose. This obligation shall be printed on the application blank.

IWW Constitution, Article II, Sec. 2.

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May 19 2011 22:09
Joseph Kay wrote:
these are just pieces of paper (or strings of HTML). it's what happens on the ground that's important.

This is the key point here. I'm possibly viewing this through the lens of L&S' pronouncements, but it seems the IWW wants to be a 'real' union in the sense of being like the TUC unions, but democratic. Being a revolutionary union isn't principally about ideas (in the abstract), but about practice: how does the union organise? I'm not aware of the IWW doing much dodgy, but on the continent this is manifested in attitude towards things like state subsidies, participation in representative institutions like works councils/union elections, and having full-time officials etc. As the UK IWW is involved with the 'red and black coordination' it suggests that's the kind of unionism to which they aspire - but I dont know how strongly/deeply that's the case, or how many members support or even know about these issues, the red and black coordination etc.

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May 19 2011 22:12
Fall Back wrote:
nastyned wrote:
Fall Back wrote:
Abiding by aims and principles and studying them are very different .

Could you expand on that. I can understand abiding by a constitution but I'm not sure what abiding by aims and principles means.

Not acting contrary to them.

So... behaving as if you believe in the aims and principles, even if you don't really?

Just asking...

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May 19 2011 22:21

No, abiding by them.

posi
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May 19 2011 22:25

I'd echo Ocelot's question. For example . . .

Quote:
Revolutionary unionism, basing itself on the class struggle, aims to unite all workers in combative economic organisations, that fight to free themselves from the double yoke of capital and the State. Its goal is the reorganisation of social life on the basis of Libertarian Communism via the revolutionary action of the working class.

How can you abide by the aim of reorganisation of social life on the basis of libertarian communism without actually believing in it? Just not getting in the way when someone else tries to?

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May 19 2011 22:38

I'm not sure what is so complicated? You have to abide by the aims and principles. You don't have to agree with them.

So for example, if you didn't give a fuck about the environment and didn't agree with "Revolutionary unionism recognises the need of a production that does not damage the environment, and that tries to minimise the use of non-renewable resources and uses, whenever possible, renewable alternatives." you wouldn't be bared from membership, but you would have to accept you are in an organisation which has these politics and act accordingly. So we wouldn't force them to do a talk on wind power, but we'd also expect them not to do one on how good open cast mining is or something.

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May 19 2011 23:36
thegonzokid wrote:
It also sounds a bit like you can't be arsed doing the hard graft of winning people over to anarchist ideas in the here and now, and are just relying on the radicalising effect of class struggle in the future.

Well, yeah, pretty much. I do think people will be radicalised by the class struggle, and not my guys like me preaching the anarchist gospel to them.

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May 19 2011 23:46
Felix Frost wrote:
preaching the anarchist gospel

if this is aimed at SolFed, i'm not sure what it's based on. we're trying to be organising struggles along anarcho-syndicalist lines and winning workers over through successful struggles, which draw in other militant workers and open up a space for discussing why were using direct action methods, i.e. a space in which revolutionary ideas have concrete content. nobody's talking about preaching bakunin or whatever.

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May 20 2011 00:47
Felix Frost wrote:
thegonzokid wrote:
It also sounds a bit like you can't be arsed doing the hard graft of winning people over to anarchist ideas in the here and now, and are just relying on the radicalising effect of class struggle in the future.

Well, yeah, pretty much. I do think people will be radicalised by the class struggle, and not my guys like me preaching the anarchist gospel to them.

So you don't think agitational work is worthwhile at all?? I don't exactly go roaming the streets of Liverpool like a latter-day Giuseppe Fanelli evangelising about the social revolution.

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May 20 2011 05:21
Fall Back wrote:
I'm not sure what is so complicated? You have to abide by the aims and principles. You don't have to agree with them.

This thread is the first time I've heard it put like this, but IMO it makes more sense to say it like this.

There are always going to be people who join organisations 'agreeing' with aims and principles, but who actually don't when it comes down to it (either because they don't get all the nuances when they join, or they have so many of their own nuances that they don't match letter to letter with A&Ps), also people can change their minds after joining organisations but stay in them despite that.

So that seems a better approach than saying on paper that everyone has to agree, but then letting people in (or letting people stay in) who don't really.

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May 20 2011 07:01
Felix Frost wrote:
thegonzokid wrote:
It also sounds a bit like you can't be arsed doing the hard graft of winning people over to anarchist ideas in the here and now, and are just relying on the radicalising effect of class struggle in the future.

Well, yeah, pretty much. I do think people will be radicalised by the class struggle, and not my guys like me preaching the anarchist gospel to them.

Felix, if that's how you think SolFed operates you need to attend one of the organiser trainings. One of the things we specifically say is that 'organising is about action not intellectualising'. As workplace militant we need to be speaking to our workmates about real workplace issues, get them involved in struggle, and then it's that struggle that opens up the space for us to talk about class, capitalism, whatever.

In fact, read that second half of this which is given out at all the trainings:

http://forworkerspower.blogspot.com/2010/10/know-union-hear-union-see-union-still.html

I feel like this reinforces the fundamental point of this thread: SF's strategy is about engaging with and 'moving' non-political workmates to action and building militancy, class confidence, and politics through that struggle. Where I think the difference is between us and (at least some in the UK in) the IWW is the belief that membership comes first and then it's membership--or even worse, recognition--that creates the militancy. We see it the other way around.

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May 20 2011 09:09
Mike Harmann wrote:
So that seems a better approach than saying on paper that everyone has to agree, but then letting people in (or letting people stay in) who don't really.

Also, what else can you do? How do you measure 'true belief'? Entrance exam under polygraph with annual check-ups? And we're materialists after all, being a revolutionary isn't principally about holding ideas in the abstract, but what you do with them. Plenty of people have used their overt beliefs to allow them to act contrary to them ('anarchist/syndicalist' union presidents like John Turner, or the Royalist MPs in the french revolution Zizek likes to talk about).1 Rather what's important is you act as if you're a revolutionary. Most of the time people will do that because they are; we aren't being inundated with membership requests by people who don't agree with us, and since we're happy to organise to support non-members (so long as it's self-organisation not a service relationship), there's no pressure on people to join just to get our help.2 So the only reasons to join are you like our practice and/or long term goals. I think that strikes the balance about right.

  • 1.
    "Appearance similarly overlaps with truth in one's ideological self-perception. Recall Marx's brilliant analysis of how, in the French revolution of 1848, the conservative-republican Party of Order functioned as the coalition of the two branches of royalism (orleanists and legitimists) in the "anonymous kingdom of the Republic". The parliamentary deputees of the Party of Order perceived their republicanism as a mockery: in parliamentary debates, they generated royalist slips of tongue and ridiculed the Republic to let it be known that their true aim was to restore the kingdom. What they were not aware of is that they themselves were duped as to the true social impact of their rule. They unknowingly established the conditions of bourgeois republican order that they despised so much (by for instance guaranteeing the safety of private property). So it is not that they were royalists who were just wearing a republican mask: although they experienced themselves as such, it was their "inner" royalist conviction which was the deceptive front masking their true social role. In short, far from being the hidden truth of their public republicanism, their sincere royalism was the fantasmatic support of their actual republicanism - it was what provided the passion to their activity. Is it not, then, that the deputees of the Party of Order were also feigning to feign to be republicans, be what they really were?"

    - Zizek

  • 2. the CNT have had this problem in places. For them, like the IWW I believe, the requirement to join to get help from the union is meant to act as a check on a service relationship, and also pull people into an anarcho-syndicalist way of doing things so hopefully they stick around. I don't know how successful this is in general, but I know there have been cases of people joining to get resource-intensive individual support, then quitting when it's over.
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May 20 2011 09:23

Footnotes in forum posts FTW

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May 20 2011 09:44
Steven. wrote:
Footnotes in forum posts FTW

this is what a year in academia does to a man :(1

  • 1. Spurious reference for comic effect. Also, Mike Harmann just pushed the forum upgrade live and i wanted to test it.
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May 20 2011 09:58
Mike Harman wrote:
Fall Back wrote:
I'm not sure what is so complicated? You have to abide by the aims and principles. You don't have to agree with them.

This thread is the first time I've heard it put like this, but IMO it makes more sense to say it like this.

There are always going to be people who join organisations 'agreeing' with aims and principles, but who actually don't when it comes down to it (either because they don't get all the nuances when they join, or they have so many of their own nuances that they don't match letter to letter with A&Ps), also people can change their minds after joining organisations but stay in them despite that.

So that seems a better approach than saying on paper that everyone has to agree, but then letting people in (or letting people stay in) who don't really.

Its been put to me before that you join an organisation twice. The first time when you think you understand what you've joined. The second time when you realise what you've joined!

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May 20 2011 10:16

Footnotes in forum posts are definitely a harbinger of the apocalypse.

That said, I hadn't seen that Zizi quote before and it's quite good. Just replace royalist with revolutionary and republican with liberal and you have a history of the left right there.

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May 20 2011 10:17
blackrainbow wrote:
Its been put to me before that you join an organisation twice. The first time when you think you understand what you've joined. The second time when you realise what you've joined!

isn't the second time traditionally referred to as 'resigning'? wink

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May 20 2011 10:29
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I feel like this reinforces the fundamental point of this thread: SF's strategy is about engaging with and 'moving' non-political workmates to action and building militancy, class confidence, and politics through that struggle. Where I think the difference is between us and (at least some in the UK in) the IWW is the belief that membership comes first and then it's membership--or even worse, recognition--that creates the militancy. We see it the other way around.

I don't think that stands up to the evidence. Last year London IWW spent a lot of time on impressive agitation and direct action struggles amongst cleaners (some being 'sans papier') that lead to them increasingly taking a more militant stance against their employers and trade union and ,in the case of the latin american workers association, breaking away from the largest British trade union despite the desperate efforts of the TUC to keep them in there. That process involved a conscious understanding that agitation and education are indispensable assets in raising workers consciousness. I think there is also an attempt to create a simple narrative: SolFed=direct action, IWW BIRA=legal unionism. The organisational efforts of London IWW BIRA suggest otherwise. The same is true of our recent organisational efforts in London education workers union to raise workers consciousness through agitational work such as demonstrations and encouraging workers to use direct action (like work to rule and down 'tools') in order to build up confidence before 'forcing' through demands for a ballot on Industrial action from their union (though you could argue we should be pushing for them to wildcat and whilst ideal I personally don't think thats a realistic prospect given the statistic that this year has the lowest recorded incidences of strike action since records began 80 years ago).

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May 20 2011 10:30
Joseph Kay wrote:
blackrainbow wrote:
Its been put to me before that you join an organisation twice. The first time when you think you understand what you've joined. The second time when you realise what you've joined!

isn't the second time traditionally referred to as 'resigning'? ;)

In my case after having been in all sorts of organisations...yes! laugh out loud

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May 20 2011 10:36
blackrainbow wrote:
I think there is also an attempt to create a simple narrative: SolFed=direct action, IWW BIRA=legal unionism.

i don't think it's so much an attempt to create a narrative, but a reflection of the fact that BIRA is registered with the state. if that isn't causing too many problems at the moment then great, but if you want to be a 'real union' in the state's terms, sooner or later that's going to force you into the position of disavowing unofficial action etc.

also, genuine question, i've been told IWW training prioritises TUC-style rep training on individual casework etc. if that's the case (and while i'm not against knowing the law etc), it suggests a 'legalist' orientation. although i've heard that second hand so i'm happy to be corrected.

i'm sure most Wobblies are interested in direct action, but from the outside the IWW BIRA looks like it's more oriented to legalism. of course, a lot of workplace direct action is invisible and not public, so again if i'm missing something i'm happy to be corrected, this is just my impression.

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May 20 2011 11:11
Quote:
Last year London IWW spent a lot of time on impressive agitation and direct action struggles amongst cleaners (some being 'sans papier') that lead to them increasingly taking a more militant stance against their employers and trade union and ,in the case of the latin american workers association, breaking away from the largest British trade union despite the desperate efforts of the TUC to keep them in there. That process involved a conscious understanding that agitation and education are indispensable assets in raising workers consciousness. .

Not really what happened with the cleaners, whilst the IWW played an important role, it only became a really significant presence at the UBS pickets and the formation of the Cleaners Defence Committee. The cleaners struggle has been ongoing since 2004 mainly organised by LAWAS until Justice For Cleaners was formed

Quote:
"From its small room in Unite´s Manor House offices LAWAS combined advice and representation by workers for workers with a huge union recruitment drive, of which Unite (which was then T&G) was the main beneficiary with new members running into four figures, concentrated above all in contract cleaning. But in the words of a Unite organizer assigned to working with LAWAS, its work was largely ´under the radar´ of the union. The response of the community was overwhelming, and LAWAS became known colloquially ín the community as the ´sindicato latino´. At the same time the Justice for Cleaners (J4C) campaign was getting into gear and LAWAS´s efforts fed into that, as a majority of the workers who approached LAWAS worked in this sector. A good working relationship was developed with individual J4C organisers and activists in activities which ranged from English classes to organizing buildings, and in general promoting J4C in the Latin American community. Indeed LAWAS´s first office volunteer, Jose Vallejo, was reruited within a year by J4C. "

It was mainly with J4C that connections were made with 'activist' groups (SolFed had, had only limited contact with LAWAS before this) and the process which lead to

Quote:
"increasingly taking a more militant stance against their employers and trade union and ,in the case of the latin american workers association, breaking away from the largest British trade union"

took years (in this time the IWW only had little presence, although of couple of Wobs did sterling work over the years). You also distort this process by suggesting that this outcome was largely as a result of the IWW coming in from the outside and organising, this simply isn't accurate. The cleaners themselves were the driving force behind this and their decision reflected long held political awareness which existed before they came to this country, their experience over a number of years and their engagement with supporters from various background too.

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May 20 2011 11:35
Joseph Kay wrote:
i don't think it's so much an attempt to create a narrative, but a reflection of the fact that BIRA is registered with the state. if that isn't causing too many problems at the moment then great, but if you want to be a 'real union' in the state's terms, sooner or later that's going to force you into the position of disavowing unofficial action etc.

As I've explained before its very unlikely that IWW BIRA will ever be a 'real union' even if it were an ambition. The TUC unions are too dominant amongst organised labour and that will remain the case due to their structural importance to capital and its state as brokers in the exchange of labour power for wages. IWW BIRA (and I would argue SolFed) are for the foreseeable future going to remain small agitational and propagandist networks of militants who every now and then get a foot hold in the economic sphere to encourage direct action.

Joseph Kay wrote:
also, genuine question, i've been told IWW training prioritises TUC-style rep training on individual casework etc. if that's the case (and while i'm not against knowing the law etc), it suggests a 'legalist' orientation. although i've heard that second hand so i'm happy to be corrected.

The training structure in London GMB has recently been altered and systematised. This is down to the pressure we've been getting from other Industrial Unions in London (cleaners union and education workers) demanding better basic training provision. Most of the workers who took part in the agitational actions last year had never been in a trade union before so basic education was vital. We provide 4 basic training workshops two of which are TUC standard courses:

Stage 1 workplace reps workshop which runs quarterly.

Stage 2 workplace reps workshop which runs twice a year.

Workplace organisers workshop (our most important course) which is carried out all year round and is run once enough requests make it economical.

training the trainers workshop which runs only if there is demand.

The first two workshops assume complete ignorance and largely involve getting the workers to understand the workplace environment such as employment law, trade union functions, rights of workers and basics of how to conduct disciplinary and grievance disputes. The workplace organisers workshop is pretty much the same as the North American version (AEIOU) but with adaptations to the British workplace. The difference with SolFeds workplace organisers workshop (identical to the North American version?) is the question of unionising. In London we would encourage workers to form an independent union (a wobblie shop floor incorporating syndicalist methods). There is also a motion proposed to the IWW BIRA annual general meeting to demand that all members take the Stage 1 workplace reps workshop and Workplace organisers workshop within a year of membership. This should help approximate a shop floor where every worker is also an organiser and reduce dependence on 'specialist' shop stewards.

Joseph Kay wrote:
i'm sure most Wobblies are interested in direct action, but from the outside the IWW BIRA looks like it's more oriented to legalism. of course, a lot of workplace direct action is invisible and not public, so again if i'm missing something i'm happy to be corrected, this is just my impression.

That's because a lot of wobblies in IWW BIRA (at least in London) are seasoned business union shop stewards (in London GMB we have 3 regular members each having more than 20 years workplace experience). IMHO we would be stupid not to utilise the vast experience accumulated and their experience has helped us escape some potentially nasty situations during our encounter with the TUC last year. Despite that its actually those seasoned shop stewards who describe themselves as anarcho-syndicalists and are skilled enough to know when direct action will have maximum impact (and they prefer it) and when to recourse to legalities.

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May 20 2011 11:36
Jason Cortez wrote:
Quote:
Last year London IWW spent a lot of time on impressive agitation and direct action struggles amongst cleaners (some being 'sans papier') that lead to them increasingly taking a more militant stance against their employers and trade union and ,in the case of the latin american workers association, breaking away from the largest British trade union despite the desperate efforts of the TUC to keep them in there. That process involved a conscious understanding that agitation and education are indispensable assets in raising workers consciousness. .

Not really what happened with the cleaners, whilst the IWW played an important role, it only became a really significant presence at the UBS pickets and the formation of the Cleaners Defence Committee. The cleaners struggle has been ongoing since 2004 mainly organised by LAWAS until Justice For Cleaners was formed

Quote:
"From its small room in Unite´s Manor House offices LAWAS combined advice and representation by workers for workers with a huge union recruitment drive, of which Unite (which was then T&G) was the main beneficiary with new members running into four figures, concentrated above all in contract cleaning. But in the words of a Unite organizer assigned to working with LAWAS, its work was largely ´under the radar´ of the union. The response of the community was overwhelming, and LAWAS became known colloquially ín the community as the ´sindicato latino´. At the same time the Justice for Cleaners (J4C) campaign was getting into gear and LAWAS´s efforts fed into that, as a majority of the workers who approached LAWAS worked in this sector. A good working relationship was developed with individual J4C organisers and activists in activities which ranged from English classes to organizing buildings, and in general promoting J4C in the Latin American community. Indeed LAWAS´s first office volunteer, Jose Vallejo, was reruited within a year by J4C. "

It was mainly with J4C that connections were made with 'activist' groups (SolFed had, had only limited contact with LAWAS before this) and the process which lead to

Quote:
"increasingly taking a more militant stance against their employers and trade union and ,in the case of the latin american workers association, breaking away from the largest British trade union"

took years (in this time the IWW only had little presence, although of couple of Wobs did sterling work over the years). You also distort this process by suggesting that this outcome was largely as a result of the IWW coming in from the outside and organising, this simply isn't accurate. The cleaners themselves were the driving force behind this and their decision reflected long held political awareness which existed before they came to this country, their experience over a number of years and their engagement with supporters from various background too.

I accept all your criticism Jason wink

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May 20 2011 12:01
Jason Cortez wrote:
You also distort this process by suggesting that this outcome was largely as a result of the IWW coming in from the outside and organising, this simply isn't accurate. The cleaners themselves were the driving force behind this and their decision reflected long held political awareness which existed before they came to this country, their experience over a number of years and their engagement with supporters from various background too.

I have previously said it was the result of agitational work mostly involving LAWAs itself and sympathisers (yourself as a SolFed member) and various 'revolutionists' in the form of the cleaners defence committee (and IWW types who were part of it). But I will dispute the implication that the vast majority of LAWAs "reflected long held political awareness which existed before they came to this country" thats only true of a 'revolutionist' leading minority. Many of them had never been in a trade union and see LAWAs as a cultural community.

In fact as you know they could have gone away and setup their own union because they had all the ingredients to do so but for some reason leading members of LAWAs advised their members to go with the IWWv(we openly encouraged them) and that has caused us a lot of problems with the TUC and Unite Union. As you were a SolFed member then what was SolFeds advice to the cleaners/LAWAs?

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May 20 2011 12:14
blackrainbow wrote:
The TUC unions are too dominant amongst organised labour and that will remain the case due to their structural importance to capital and its state as brokers in the exchange of labour power for wages. IWW BIRA (and I would argue SolFed) are for the foreseeable future going to remain small agitational and propagandist networks of militants who every now and then get a foot hold in the economic sphere to encourage direct action.

several points here:

- how much of the future is 'forseeable'? one big kick off like the poll tax or miners strike could change the picture considerably (i suspect we'll see a growth in libertarian militants over the next 5 years from the relatively small student struggles as some of those radicalised are drawn into the organisations/broader milieu). so while i don't think we're going to start functioning as a union overnight (as in being capable of initiating large-scale direct actions, low-level stuff like marching on the boss is well within plausibility), it's pretty impossible to predict the situation in 10 or 20 years, when what we do today may retrospectively be seen as the groundwork.

- why focus on organised labour? that's only a minority of the class and those with generally better conditions. i agree in unionised sectors we'll likely be pursuing a dual card strategy for a long time (but look at the NA IWW posties for an example of how well this can work), but there's all sorts of opportunities for direct action organising outside of traditional sectors, although precisely what form that takes will vary from looser networks in more causal sectors to committees and/or workplace groups in more stable workplaces.

- i would also say that what you're aiming at effects how you organise, even if we're nowhere near it. so if you were trying to be a democratic version of a TUC union, you'd have no problem playing a similar role negotiating conditions of labour power, whereas if you're aiming to be a revolutionary union you'd make sure negotiations are done by mandated recallable delegates from mass meetings, not carried out on behalf of union members for example. stuff like attitude to union full-timers probably comes into this too. if the IWW's nearer the latter view though, great.

blackrainbow wrote:
The training structure in London GMB has recently been altered and systematised.

ok cheers, just wanted to get my facts straight.

blackrainbow wrote:
The difference with SolFeds workplace organisers workshop (identical to the North American version?) is the question of unionising

SolFed's one's been adapted towards our industrial strategy, so not identical either. In short it's something like organiser organises committee, committee organises direct actions (and possible mass meetings), this process hopefully brings militants into SolFed over time, and you may end up with a job branch instead of individual organisers. so the emphasis is on doing the organising, which creates the conditions for education and discussion and the creation of new miltants, and hopefully job branches down the road.

From what you say, and stuff like the Showroom Cinema drive, the IWW's approach seems more comparable to a traditional union model: the role of the organiser is to recruit into a job branch ("wobblie shop floor"), which will then organise actions and/or pursue a recognition campaign to be the recognised union workers join in that workplace. So unionisation is seen in very immediate terms identical or prior to organisation, whereas i we see it as a possible outcome of organisation (and only really important in the longer term).

whilst this may seem subtle, it seems like the difference between revolutionary unionism and rank-and-file/grassroots trade unionism. but again, the usual caveat i'm arguing in good faith here so if i've got the wrong end of the stick let me know. in fact, is there actually a singular IWW approach? as in, have there been organisation-wide discussions which have thrashed out an industrial strategy, or is it more a case of trial-and-error on a local basis? again, genuine questions, as i have little contact with active IWWers down here (i think there's a branch, but don't see them about much).

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May 20 2011 16:57
Quote:
But I will dispute the implication that the vast majority of LAWAs "reflected long held political awareness which existed before they came to this country" thats only true of a 'revolutionist' leading minority. Many of them had never been in a trade union and see LAWAs as a cultural community.

Well that certainly not the impression I have gained over the years but that may reflect that I have been involved in a number of active campaigns which naturally would reflect, me meeting the most 'advanced' workers these in struggles. But your view that the of the majority of those involved in these struggles were largely apolitical and had never been members of union, simply does not chime with my experience. Maybe this reflects the situation with the UBS workers? I am not sure what you mean here

Quote:
and see LAWAs as a cultural community.

are you really suggesting that LAWAS is equalient to something like Latin American Community Arts Alliance? .

Quote:
As you were a SolFed member then what was SolFeds advice to the cleaners/LAWAs?

Well I had only limited involvement with the UBS struggle beyond attending demos and informal talks, mainly because the CDC mat on a day when I had child care commitments. So I did not advise the cleaners as to whether they should form their own union etc. though if I had i would included exploring the option of joining the IWW, explaining what I thought the pros and cons were, as with any option.

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May 20 2011 13:48

,

Quote:
in the case of the latin american workers association, breaking away from the largest British trade union despite the desperate efforts of the TUC to keep them in there.

also this had occurred before the UBS struggle and LAWAS was never formally in Unite and was always independent.

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Latin American Workers in Unite: From heroes to pariahs In September 2009 Unite the union ordered the Latin American Workers Association (LAWAS) without notice to vacate the office which it had provided the Association with in its southeast region HQ in Manor House, thus ending a five year partnership. This followed an organised campaign by officials againt LAWAS, because of the latter´s support for an unofficial dispute and support for undocumented workers.

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On the surface LAWAS was a success story which the T&G/Unite was happy to sell and did so, both inside and outside the union. However, for the many latino cleaners who joined Unite but did not work in the buildings targetted by J4C it was almost impossible to take part in their new union. Lacking a functional branch, LAWAS became their de facto ´branch´, but this put LAWAS under an intolerable strain as it lacked the normal facilities of a branch, and because the union often would not assist when collective issues and organising opportunities presented themselves: the National Physical Laboratory and the BBC being just two examples. Where possible these workers and LAWAS did what they could alone. But without organisational backup this was difficult. It often felt like LAWAS was just there to increase membership numbers and take the strain alone of new members with all their problems. In these circumstances LAWAS made it a priority to educate its new union members. For a long time it was unable to get serious union support despite repeated efforts, so it organised its own English and workplace rights classes, both alone and in conjunction with the College of North East London (CONEL) and the London Coalition Against Poverty - activities which continue to this day.

In 2008 LAWAS gave unconditional support to a number of inspiring cleaners´ campaigns both inside and outside J4C. A public meeting in Elephant and Castle at the end of the year organised by LAWAS and other groups brought together a number of these previously isolated campaigns. A grassroots reinstatement campaign for 5 Colombian cleaners sacked for circulating a leaflet at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) was in full swing, and was important as the first recent example of a campaign driven by Latin American workers. Those workers as well as others from Schroders Bank, and SOAS spoke of their experiences in struggle. Some raised criticisms of the ways union officials had handled their disputes. But as the Bolivian UCU activist who chaired the meeting stated at the end “despite the criticisms we are not anti union, because we are the union”.

The issue of immigration checks and raids was a constant theme at the meeting, as a means by which companies and the government itself were intimidating workers who organised. Unite Regional Industrial Organizer (Jose Vallejo) turned up to make the case for supporting the Strangers into Citizens campaign for a limited amnesty, while the majority present advocated a ´papers for all´ position which would not preclude critical support for the upcoming Strangers into Citizens march. Shortly afterwards his boss, regional secretary Steve Hart, in a sign of things to come, warned one of the sacked NPL cleaners that their campaign was being backed by ´extreme groups´. Needless to say, Unite made no effort to support the NPL cleaners campaign beyond the strictly and legally necessary, despite pickets taking place within walking distance of their national headquarters. Was this related to the fact that one of the cleaners main grievances before being sacked had been the use of an immigration raid to break their incipient organisation?

In 2009 official indifference turned into extreme hostility triggered by two issues: LAWAS´s support for sacked cleaners at the Willis building in the City of London, and its ongoing committment to a full regularization of undocumented workers. In January 2009 a series of unofficial weekly protests by a shop steward and three workmates from the J4C campaign began, after they had been sacked by cleaning contractor Mitie at global insurance giant Willis in the City. The sackings were framed as redundancies after the company awarded the Living Wage but counter-attacked as elsewhere by drastically altering shift times, cutting personnel and smashing union organisation in the process. Union leaders argued they had done all they could and it was the workers fault a deal was not sealed. They disowned the protests, afraid of ´damaging the good relations with Mitie´, as one official put it. The workers felt let down and said so publically after the union withdrew all support. But from then on they concentrated their fire on the two companies, despite legal threats. Other cleaners flocked to the protests, including other ex Willis workers who had found work elsewhere but supported their colleagues´plight. After four months LAWAS and the Coordinadora Latinoamericana forced a meeting with the Regional Industrial Organiser, in which the official pledged to try and open up a new space for negotiation with the employer, presumably making the most of the good union-employer relationship.

At the end as people packed up to leave, the official proposed a trade off for the support offered, whereby the Latin American groups supporting the Willis cleaners would support the May 4 march for a limited amnesty. Suspecting there was more to this, the groups present argued this was a separate issue and should be dealt with as such. The offer of support was then quashed in a letter then sent by Assistant General Secretary Jack Dromey to the cleaners involved, which reiterated that no support would be given and making no mentin of the aforementioned meeting. In response to this a petition with four hundred signatures of trade unionists was raised at union and community events and branch meetings, and publically presented at Unite´s central office in Holborn. Among the signatories were dozens of union cleaners as well as as MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, and film director Ken Loach. When the petition was presented those present were filmed and photographed by a sidekick of the regional industrial organizer, until he was confronted and stopped from doing so.

This was the first sign of a vicious organised public campaign driven from the highest reaches of Unite, initially against the Willis cleaners and ultimately against LAWAS and indeed any critical voices. Leading the attack was the Regional Secretary supported by the likes of Women and Equalities Officer Teresa Mackay (ironic for a dispute involving mainly ethnic minority women) and their internal allies such as the Regional Industrial Organizer. Unite officers went into overdrive to convince J4C branch committee members and the wider union, using highly confrontational language to suggest the workers involved were the main enemy: “people need to decide whose side they are on” wrote Hart in a briefing, contrasting the “mass of the cleaners” with “tiny groups seeking to undermine our united campaign”. And yet when Willis shop steward Edwin Pazmino presented himself as a candidate to the cleaners branch committee at its first ever elections, he gained a credible 29 out of 80 votes, despite never being informed of the meeting unlike other candidates, who were able to campaign beforehand. And if one thing characterised the Willis protests, and previous disputes led by Latin American workers, it was the solidarity of cleaners from different companies, as reported in the Morning Star throughout the long course of the dispute. A leaflet was produced in the name of Justice for Cleaners and distributed by officers, despite not being approved by the new branch committee and certainly not its Latin American cleaner members, who along with many ordinary members almost unanimously supported the Willis cleaners. The leaflet trumpeted J4C´s successes in organising and education. This was ironic, because it was people like the Willis cleaners, and their supporters in LAWAS and elsewhere who had done so much over the years to create these successes in the first place. Instead fellow official and Regional Industrial Organizer Jose Vallejo was lauded to the point of featuring a colour photo of him on the leaflet, along with members of a youth group hired to wave Justice for Cleaners flags.

The ´four cleaners and their handful of supporters´ were described as leading a ´scurrilous campaign´ which did not have the support of the majority of branch members – an allegation contradicted by the support actually received. In another incident, a Unite branch which tried to speak about the dispute was silenced at a regional meeting of the ´United Left´ faction of Unite, to the disgust of many of those present. At a public meeting later organised by the Labour Representation Committee, fellow trade unionists from Unite, Unison and RMT proposed mediation in the presence of Unite officials, amnd suported by speakers John McDonnell MP and NUJ president Jeremy Dear. The proposal was ignored. Why the ferocity of the attacks? This was not the first time union members had criticized official positions, held unofficial protests or presented a petition.

The problem was that Justice for Cleaners was a flagship campaign controlled from the very top since its inception, and image meant everything. While criticisms and unofficial actions were had to be tolerated in sections of the union with a longer history, this new campaign had to be tightly controlled, and if that meant crushing internal dissent by any means necessary, then so be it. They chose to forget the basic point that it is workers who make campaigns, not officials, and sometimes, unfortunately, workers will take their own initiative and also be critical.

The other issue which Unite could not tolerate was LAWAS´s support for papers for all undocumented workers. Only two years previously LAWAS had worked closely with J4C organisers on this basis. Now however the official position had changed and dissenting voices again could not be tolerated. On the May 4 amnesty march organised by the Strangers into Citizens, LAWAS and other groups in the Coordinadora raised the slogans of ´noone is illegal´and ´papers for all´. Incidentally among these other groups were the UK branch of Colombia´s main opposition party (Polo Democratico) and the main Bolivian and Ecuadorian community groups mobilizing diaspora support for left wing governments in their countries - MERU and Bolivia Solidarity Campaign). Hardly extremists! In May LAWAS representative Miguel Puerto asked to meet the Regional Secretary Steve Hart in order to find a solution to the Willis dispute. Instead he was met in worst company management style by not one but three officials including Hart, who instead of entering into a positive dialogue launched an all out attack on LAWAS for its support for the Willis cleaners and its behaviour on the amnesty march. Worse was to follow. Around the same time LAWAS and J4C activist Alberto Durango was arrested in a trap sprung by his employer Lancaster, a tactic used on other migrant workers previously. They were unhappy with his recent activism at the bank. But police and UKBA officials also asked him about his employment at Willis – despite the fact he didn´t work there. But Durango and Schroders cleaners´ public support for the Willis dispute made them think he did. This raised the spectre of a blacklist among cleaning companies. Durango was freed without charges and dismissed. And yet when a picket was held outside the appeal against his dismissal, at which he was represented by a Unite lay representative, his union reacted by ordering an ´ínvestigation´ into him and, on Vallejo´s orders, refusing him access to educational courses! Six months later there has been no result of this mysterious investigation, nor a lifting of the ban. Vallejo then went further by claiming at the cleaners branch committee that those involved in cross-union protests against recent immigration raids at both the Willis building and SOAS (University of London), were being sponsored by the cleaning companies themselves. Apparently other unions (Unison and RMT) were “approaching and dealing with the companies before organising their members” and that “the so-called Cleaners for Justice called the members to disobey and as a consequence some were arrested facing deportation. We should ten [sic] have every reason to believe that the organisers of this campaign, Cleaners for Justice are paid by the Cleaning Bosses to attack the cleaners.” It should be noted that Cleaners for Justice has never existed beyond being a slogan used by sacked Unite cleaners to express their desire for a cross-union cleaners campaign, with the workers themselves in the driving seat. This is an ideal which LAWAS has always supported, in place of the foolish competition which led, for example, to Unite not supporting cleaners strikes on the underground in 2008 but then publically claiming the credit for the successes of the strikes while offering no solidarity to those victimised through immigration arrests and the like as as a result.

Unite then moved to force LAWAS out of its office. At the start of the year he had presented a relative of his to LAWAS as a new office volunteer. LAWAS accepted in good faith. But it soon became clear that this relative wanted nothing to do with LAWAS and instead was there to act as Vallejo´s personal secretary. LAWAS then put forward a new volunteer of its own, as had always been the custom, but was prevented from doing so by the Regional Secretary. Instead the family member came to work an increasing number of days in the office. Volunteers were paid ´loss of earnings´ at aorund $65.00 a day once they had completed some basic training, but the monies paid to her were never revealed by the union despite requests by LAWAS. This stood in complete contrast to the rule enforced by Unite officials for five years whereby volunteers had to sign one and the same weekly expenses form for each day of work. LAWAS held off by making a public statement about all of the above so as not to prejudice Juan Carlos Piedra, a LAWAS and J4C activist who after intense pressure from many quarters had succeeded in getting Unite representation after being sacked for union activity from his job at University College London.

Instead LAWAS sought as always to resolve its problems with Unite by requesting another meeting with the Regional Secretary, and was about to do so but was pre-empted. Firstly, Vallejo took control of the volunteer rota on the basis that LAWAS had been advising workers to join other unions. A ridiculous allegation, because workers simply been advised in LAWA´s bulletins to join the union which corresponded to their workplace or occupation – as previously instructed by Unite officials! Still, LAWAS continued publicizing Unite and recruiting into it far more than into any other union. A week later regional secretary Steve Hart, sensing perhaps that a scandal might be on the cards, ordered LAWAS out of its office without notice. Even after that move a meeting was requested to address the situation, but to no avail.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
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Joined: 5-10-07
May 20 2011 16:51
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Entrance exam under polygraph with annual check-ups?

Yeah, we're not the ICC here...

BR wrote:
As I've explained before its very unlikely that IWW BIRA will ever be a 'real union' even if it were an ambition. The TUC unions are too dominant amongst organised labour and that will remain the case due to their structural importance to capital and its state as brokers in the exchange of labour power for wages. IWW BIRA (and I would argue SolFed) are for the foreseeable future going to remain small agitational and propagandist networks of militants who every now and then get a foot hold in the economic sphere to encourage direct action.

One, I don't think much of the leadership of the IWW sees it that way. And two (see bold), why register with the state at all?

BR wrote:
Stage 1 workplace reps workshop which runs quarterly.

Stage 2 workplace reps workshop which runs twice a year.

Workplace organisers workshop (our most important course) which is carried out all year round and is run once enough requests make it economical.

training the trainers workshop which runs only if there is demand.

This is the changed arrangement? I remember emails coming through that said one had to take stage 1 and stage 2 before before the Workplace Organiser Workshop. If that's changed, great, but it still seems to much emphasis is on:

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employment law, trade union functions, rights of workers and basics of how to conduct disciplinary and grievance disputes.

Which is not really the focus of the OT 101 (AEIOU) used in the States at all.

Also, it seems to imply that sort of organizing model only suits TUC-organized workplaces or that some semblance of TUC-style organization is needed for the Workplace Organiser Workshop to be successful.