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Anarcho-syndicalists in Britain - SF or IWW?

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Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
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May 20 2011 16:58
Chilli Sauce wrote:
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?

Perhaps one of the BIRA Wobblies can answer better, but as i mentioned before I think this was prompted by the Hull incident where a load of Wobblies were sacked (and lost a tribunal ?) because they weren't a registered trade union. As i understand it the registration process was quite lengthly and expensive, so by the time they were completing it other people were pushing it (L&S? or was it before their time?). So the argument would be the IWW couldn't advance as a union whilst its members could be arbitrarily fired. I'd disagree with the proposed solution (reps from mainstream unions get fired all the time), but as i understand it it came out of experiences with trying to organise as a (democratic version of a) traditional union.

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May 20 2011 18:46

JK, I understand that, but I still thinks there's problem. If "its very unlikely that IWW BIRA will ever be a 'real union'", their strategy should reflect that. So if organizing has reached/reaches a point where the IWW feels only state registration can move it forward, that would seem they are very much trying to become a "real union". But I guess that's kind of what you're saying at the end of your post.

I should also note that at the the last LIWW meeting I went to a couple weeks back, it was specifically said that the IWW wanted to represent workers as opposed to the SF model. Representation is part and parcel of "real unionism", so it seems to me that hoping to be a "real union" or at least taking on trade union functions is very much the approach of the London IWW. I'll grant that this was said by an L&S member, but there didn't seem to be any objection to it in the room.

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fingers malone
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May 20 2011 19:38

Just like to back Jason up about the Latin American cleaners, I was their teacher and they were not at all apolitical. And I don't think they saw LAWAS as a cultural organisation either, as was mentioned it was called "el sindicato latino", it was always seen as a workplace organisation. I didn't get the impression that Unite was desperate to keep them either, given how badly the union was treating them.

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May 21 2011 10:39
Jason Cortez wrote:
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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

I guess what I was trying to say was that a lot of the membership further developed their political awareness in Britain after joining LAWAs and being involved in workplace disputes. But the development of political consciousness is an on going process and a lot of the LAWAs membership would have been 'radicalised' by the political revolts in Latin America before coming to Britain. I think this is demonstrated by the fact that sub-saharan African workers who usually work as cleaners along side Latin American cleaners are more conservative when it comes to workplace agitation. This imo is because there is a 'salvation in christ' reactionary religious wave sweeping sub-sahara Africa as a result of the comprador capitalist classes failure to develop functional capitalist economies (unlike Asian economies that statistically were in comparable circumstances of poverty in1950-1970). In Britain there hasn't been a similar radical community like LAWA amongst sub-Saharan African workers. Instead they have built a sense of community around reactionary religious organisations (evangelical churches with an all knowing and all seeing pastor) reflecting process taking place in sub-Sahara African. But the key is to try and radicalise workers no matter what the starting point is (and its easier if you're working with Latin American workers).

As regards unionisation I guess what i was trying to say was that I get the impression a lot of them had'nt been intensely involved in the trade union movements in Latin American. They've only really become active in Britain through LAWA. Thats the impression I got after organising quite a few IWW training sessions and attending a conference where I was speaking on the behalf of the IWW. I delivered my speech under the impression that most were union members until a leading LAWA member (a translator and shop steward in Unite the Union) told me that "most of these guys have never been in a union". But then again it could be that most of the audience wasn't in LAWA.

Jason Cortez wrote:
are you really suggesting that LAWAS is equivalent to something like Latin American Community Arts Alliance?

No I'm simply quoting the words of another leading LAWA member (UBS defendant). I think he meant that aspects of Latin American working class culture are replicated in the organisation giving it the feel of being a 'cultural organisation'. Also some of the membership consider it as being part of their identity and being an organisation that further enhances it. According to some that 'identity' view has created a degree of ghettoisation. But that's only a limited aspect of the organisation as a whole.
.

Jason Cortez wrote:
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.

Maybe other SolFed members can comment on this?

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May 21 2011 11:07
fingers malone wrote:
Just like to back Jason up about the Latin American cleaners, I was their teacher and they were not at all apolitical.

Was it a union course you were teaching them and if so what was their level of expertise (your students)?

fingers malone wrote:
And I don't think they saw LAWAS as a cultural organisation either, as was mentioned it was called "el sindicato latino", it was always seen as a workplace organisation.

The fact that they saw it as a 'latino union' suggests that they see it as an expression of Latin American unity in the workplace. If a Latin American identity is largely cultural (though I understand there have been hot debates on the topic) then it advances the interests of a 'cultural community' in the work place?

fingers malone wrote:
I didn't get the impression that Unite was desperate to keep them either, given how badly the union was treating them

The cleaners branch was the pet project of Unite the Union southern region sectretary Steve Hart. The Bastard was livid that these uppity 'fresh off the boat' types would dare demand more than they 'deserved'. After all they were guests in Britain and were being given British jobs so they should be more humble like the African cleaner shop stewards. BTW many of the African cleaner shop stewards have rapidly risen up the ranks of unite the union due to their willingness to be compliant like they are in front of the pastor in church.

Out of curiosity are you the person in/with the commune that organised the PIIGS meeing at the last London anarchist book fair?

EDIT: I understand from a TUC course tutor that the TUC was desperate to keep them in Unite the Union. I myself got victimised in Unite as a result of my membership of the IWW and its association with the LAWA.

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May 21 2011 14:01
Chilli Sauce wrote:
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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.

I don't recall any set of emails that said "one had to take stage 1 and stage 2 before before the Workplace Organiser Workshop". Was it a directive emerging from a proposal at an IWW BIRA AGM? If it was then it would be binding.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
If that's changed, great, but it still seems to much emphasis is on:
Quote:
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.

How much is too much or too little "emphasis"? There are some major differences between North American and British labour law and workers legal 'rights'. I've taken both the North American OT 101 and I have also taken TUC Organiser training courses and have to say the IWW BIRA Organiser training is a mix of both. I'm happy with the hybrid we've ended up with because there are aspects of the TUC Organiser training courses that are very useful to organising in British workplace conditions.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
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.

Not at all we teach adapted versions to workers in ununionised work places (the priciples of organisation remain the same). The majority of IWW BIRA members are duel carders in TUC unionised work places so it makes economic sense for us to gear the majority of our training courses for it. Though that could change (in London most definitely) in the near future as we focus on helping organise precarious workers in ununionised work places.

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May 21 2011 17:01
Joseph Kay wrote:
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

I love that you quote yourself as having articulated the heart of the debate. That's awesome. And doubleplus good for being right...! I agree with the larger point. On the other hand -

Joseph Kay wrote:
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.

In that case, then "what's happening on the ground" may well be a diffuse cloud of things, not any single thing. The on-paper and official strategy, if there is one, is likely only one part of that cloud and not at all clear how it relates to the sum total of "what's happening on the ground." As you asked, "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?" If I'm right on this then to my mind that's quite a good argument for SolFed over the IWW (not a definitive or final argument IMO but a strong plus on the SolFed side of the pro/con measure that this thread is partly about), that SolFed has an agreed on organizational strategy which is deeply/broadly shared by membership who are aware of it and played a role in its formulation. But that's a bit different from a fair bit that's been said in this thread.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
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.

That's a legit and an important difference. In terms of how I think this was framed in the opening of the thread though I don't think this is a more anarcho-syndicalist or more revolutionary approach. It may well be but it's more of a guiding hypothesis to be tested in practice over time. No disrespect intended but I don't think SolFed's been at this approach long enough to be able to really say it's the best approach based on the results it's shown. And I can say that in the US that campaigns that went strongly "action over membership" don't necessarily have better results than a maniacal emphasis on membership. If it's all action and no membership then when things die down (and it always does) it's the same radicals left talking to themselves. That's better than meaningless paper members, but I've definitely seen a strong emphasis on membership in the context of action lead to people becoming much more radical through their interactions with other IWW members as IWW members combined with the fighting activities of the organization.

Joseph Kay wrote:
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.

It's likely but not guaranteed to do so -- it will start to exert pressures etc. Absolutely. It's not clear yet that this is really worse though than the approach SolFed is following - the counterargument would be something like "well we'll take compromised significance over marginalized purity" and I think there's good evidence for all positions. Again these are hypotheses to be tested in action over time. If the point is primarily class consciousness and radicalizing/moving co-workers then this can happen at least to some extent within a more legalistic organizational framework depending on its conducted (I think the work of the IWW dual carders among the Canadian posties helps demonstrate that militancy of the sort we want to see can exist within a legalistic frame, and I know a fair few people radicalized by fighting bosses within a mainstream union in the US.) And, I think if these are framed in evaluative terms about what's more left (which are pretty close to associational borders of who is cool enough to get invited to whose put nights etc), that will game the tests and diminish the likelihood of frank assessments happening let alone being shared. Furthermore, I think the relationship between official unionism and unofficial action is complicated (I say this as a pretty convinced 'direct unionist' and admirer of SolFed's line on things). I worked a bit in the mainstream labor movement in the US. One of my first mentors had worked previously for a different union, one that's relatively successful to the degree that any are in the US in recent memory. One of his first assignments as staff there was to buy icepicks and puncture the tires of scabs' cars, on the understanding that if he got caught he'd be denounced and fired. I remember being at another meeting of another union where a high ranking official mapped out a plan to pressure a food company by buying several its product, buying several rats at a pet store, killing them, putting them in the food products and re-sealing them, then slipping them back into ten grocery stores around the city. The strike was settled soon after so it never happened but it seemed to me like a serious proposal. So the disavowal isn't always a sincere one.

Also -- you've talked repeatedly about "trying to be a democratic version of a TUC union." I think the legal components of that are important and you're right that they do exert a pull and will do so even more if this effort succeed. On the other hand, I think the more fundamental issues are about why people organize and I think SolFed is going to have to navigate this as well. This is one of the reservations I started to develop in the backroom discussions as the Direct Unionism discussion paper was being written, though it was closer to a nagging feeling than a worked out position at the time -- the basic divide in my opinion is about a fair days wages vs abolish the wage system. The sad reality is that any fight we're in for the forseeable future -- any fight we can imagine waging that isn't a fantasy, and one which we could realistically be building organizations to carry out in the short term, is a fight for some form of fairer wages, ie, it's a negotiation of some sort over the terms of life under capitalism. Militant forms outside the legal apparatus can be just as reformist/social-democratic if they're simply about winning, because any win in a fight under capitalism (in the sense of getting what we fought for) is still under capitalism. As SolFed transitions to emphasizing more of its economic or fighting side this is going to become a serious center of gravity within the organization -- winning on the economic side vs developing militants and class conscious radicals (I like to say 'making cadre') on the political side. Because of the limits SolFed places on who can join it's likely that the organization will not see as strong of a social democratic/reformist internal current develop. I also suspect that the network/militant clouds of non-members that SolFed builds around itself via organizing will have this current in large percentages, and that the membership limitations will provide SolFed with less of a way to notice these currents and to intervene in those clouds/networks.

(I'm also quoting these last two bits because I like them and want to remember them)

Mike Harman wrote:
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.
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!
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May 21 2011 23:31

BR, I can't find that email. If I'm mistaken, all good. But I do still think it's telling that the IWW developed the rep trainings before the workplace organiser training (and rejected the chance to have it when they first had the opportunity). Sorry.

Anyway, I'm not sure my point is coming across. I'm questioning a lot of the assumptions the UK IWW seems to have built into the way they run their training program. Simply the fact that things like "employment law, trade union functions, rights of workers and basics of how to conduct disciplinary and grievance disputes" are considered so important seems to suggest a strategy very much geared toward becoming a "real (trade) union". As you've presented, it seems to suggest knowing those things (either through experience in a trade union or through the IWW rep programs) is a prerequisite of being able access the organiser training workshop. That seems like an over-reliance on labor law and trade union functions.

Perhaps it's just a varying degree of relevance placed on legality (and even the SF training has a bit of labour law in it), but it seems the legalistic framework that led to certain members of the IWW cautioning the Sheffield cinema workers against getting the union sued is a bit more built into the framework of the IWW than you're suggesting.

It's probably also worth noting the N American OT 101 also incorporates a lot from one of the better organizer programs of a trade union as well. But they dropped out lot of the legal and representational stuff that the UK IWW seems to have put back in.

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May 22 2011 13:36
ocelot wrote:
Not really. The difference between the dualists and the unitarians is that the former accept the Malatestan argument that mass organisations and specific political organisations are complementary but not compatible within a single, coherent organisation.

The intermediate perspective advanced by the MAS compas takes the dualist perspective (i.e. the impossibility of the unitary org) as it's foundation - i.e. that the intermediate org accepts the necessary separation of the mass and specific orgs. In this way, they would be the opposite of the unitarian approach, which aims to replace both mass and specific orgs with a single "political-economic" organisation.

Sorry it took me so long to reply, I was working for a bit and now this portion of the discussion past so excuse me.

Not speaking for MAS, just in a personal capacity couple of things...

1. malatesta- MAS doesn't have a position on this. One person accepts the argument, but also accepts the CNT and the validity of revolutionary mass movements in the right historical context. I reject Malatesta altogether. Part of the intermediate organization article is a refutation of malatesta's syllogism, since it de-historicizes class struggle. There's a range of opinions on this in MAS, but the baseline is the thought that mass organizations should track the class or at least sections of the class in their trajectories of struggle.
2. Rejecting unitary organization: yes, obviously since we're a political organization. It goes without saying though that political organizations always existed in the unitary organizations too, though sometimes only as loose collectives, publishing groups, etc.

The more important point for us isn't a typology of organization forms or levels. Instead it's a methodology and a read on our place in history. Mass, intermediate, and political organizations aren't what they seem & are static. Part of the argument there is that a lot of what gets called political organization and mass organization is misleading, and struggle will often merge and separate them. People took us to be saying for forming out of hand intermediate organizations in every instance, and we clarified that here
http://miamiautonomyandsolidarity.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/towards-theory-of-political-organization-for-our-time-trajectories-of-struggle-the-intermediate-level-and-political-rapprochement/

"Again there is a risk of interpreting this linearly. One should not conceive of this work as literally bringing mass militants to new intermediate organizations (though this is possible) formed as such. As discussed before, all organizations existing today are mixtures of mass, intermediate, and revolutionary with their composition changing as struggles change, militants change them, and new forces emerge within them. An intermediate organization approach then is as much about what our political work looks like and prioritizes, as it is the location of struggle. Intermediate organization is as much an analysis of actually existing practices at the mass level, as a proposal for future work and organizations, and as a methodology for how to act as revolutionaries within these existing practices."

3. dualism vs political-economic distinction: i don't see these as incompatible. Rejecting the political-economic distinction has nothing to do with needing multiple levels of organization. Political organizations are places where people with a high degree of unity can engage in work based on their agreement whether that's theoretical, publishing, or arguing for methods in struggle. That doesn't track any sharp distinction in kinds of work or position, but instead just in aims and unity.

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May 23 2011 04:28
Fall Back wrote:
Yea we should like, just all get along and not care about our differences, because the real enemy is capitalism. Man.

No it's hierarchy. Or maybe binary oppositions. Either way this is why we can't have nice things.

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May 23 2011 11:37
Chilli Sauce wrote:
But I do still think it's telling that the IWW developed the rep trainings before the workplace organiser training.

I don't think thats accurate. As I recall all the training courses (save the Health and Saftey at work and training the trainers courses) were developed alongside each other.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
...(and rejected the chance to have it (OT 101) when they first had the opportunity). Sorry.

That maybe so but we've since developed an organiser training course we're happy with. So I fail to see why we should be disapointed.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
Anyway, I'm not sure my point is coming across. I'm questioning a lot of the assumptions the UK IWW seems to have built into the way they run their training program. Simply the fact that things like "employment law, trade union functions, rights of workers and basics of how to conduct disciplinary and grievance disputes" are considered so important seems to suggest a strategy very much geared toward becoming a "real (trade) union". As you've presented, it seems to suggest knowing those things (either through experience in a trade union or through the IWW rep programs) is a prerequisite of being able access the organiser training workshop. That seems like an over-reliance on labor law and trade union functions.

No offense but you havent taken any of the IWW BIRA training workshops so you're not really in a position to make an informed judgement. Have you taken TUC Organiser training courses? If you have, you may have been surprised with the similarities to the OT 101. The basics of any good organiser training course are the same no matter what the orientation (direct action or legal industrial action). The differences are in the politics and not whether there is too much emphasis on legalities. Depending on your tutor, TUC OT courses are intended only to be a technical instruction and tend to be striped of agitational class politics, Further more they implicitly teach workers to be wary of using 'illegal' direct action. The IWW BIRA training workshops I have held encourage workers to organise around a class line and too use direct action where ever possible. But it would be stupid and unfair not to instruct the workers of potential dangers regarding 'legalities'. Ultimately the decision whether to use direct action or recourse to legalities should be down to the workers directly engaged in struggle.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
Perhaps it's just a varying degree of relevance placed on legality (and even the SF training has a bit of labour law in it), but it seems the legalistic framework that led to certain members of the IWW cautioning the Sheffield cinema workers against getting the union sued is a bit more built into the framework of the IWW than you're suggesting.

We have to tell workers the truth because in every workers struggle some difficult decisions have to be made. That includes the dangers posed to the instrument they are using. As I've articulated before all tactical decisions made were down to the cinema workers directly engaged in struggle. Unlike TUC unions there doesn't exist a material or command structure that would have stoped them taking direct action and surely that's what matters?

Chilli Sauce wrote:
It's probably also worth noting the N American OT 101 also incorporates a lot from one of the better organizer programs of a trade union as well. But they dropped out lot of the legal and representational stuff that the UK IWW seems to have put back in.

As I have just said above, you haven't taken any of the IWW BIRA training workshops so you're not really in a position to make an informed judgement.

EDIT: Just to add to the bit about telling workers the 'truth'. It would be equally damaging to tell the workers that struggle confined to the union form will get them 'victory'. We should be encouraging them to transcend all normative relations including the ones they have with their union (pro-revolutionary or otherwise).

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May 23 2011 17:32

BR - too little time to respond in any detail, but when I first came to the UK, there were already "IWW-certified reps" who'd been through the rep stage 1. The actual workplace organising workshop hasn't been around nearly as long as I've been in the UK.

More later.

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May 24 2011 15:15
blackrainbow wrote:
Ultimately the decision whether to use direct action or recourse to legalities should be down to the workers directly engaged in struggle.

this is a given for anyone of a libertarian inclination. but i also think it points to a significant difference between the two organisations. i don't think a union can be agnostic towards methods of struggle and at the same time be radical or revolutionary. so if those workers are all in a job branch of your union (as aspired by being 'a union for ALL workers'), you have a problem: a 'radical/revolutionary' union doing decidely non-radical/revolutionary things (be that no-strike deals in the states, works councils in europe, seeking recognition and the consequent mediating role of regular TUC unions, or whatever else.

The SolFed approach is that the union should be made up of those sharing anarcho-syndicalist methods and goals, who then organise through things like committees, mass meetings, assemblies etc as necessary to include the whole workforce. those mass meetings can of course decide to do things the a-s union would disagree with (such as the above), but that's why it's important not to collapse them into one another. the a-s workers can make the arguments, and if necessary boycott whatever dodgy thing got voted through, continuing to organise along a-s lines, and if the thing backfires (e.g. a no strike deal), are in a position to win over other workers having taken a principled stand.

Nate wrote:
So the disavowal isn't always a sincere one.

this is usually called the 'nod-and-wink' approach. someone looked up the exact requirements on a registered/recognised union in such circumstances on a previous thread. i can't remember precisely, but i'm pretty sure the burden of proof is heavily against the union. and a union which declares its opposition to capitalism and advocacy of unmediated class struggle in its preamble is going to have a hard time convincing a judge it's doing everything it can to restore order on the shopfloor imho. legal frameworks may vary, but certainly in the UK i think it's an impossible straightjacket.

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May 24 2011 16:10
Joseph Kay wrote:
i don't think a union can be agnostic towards methods of struggle and at the same time be radical or revolutionary.

From my POV the same is true for 'pro' revolutionary unions in times of low class struggle because its impossible to escape the fundamental nature of unionism within capitalist social relations. I think this is where we fundamentally differ and why I'm not too bothered whether IWW BIRA constantly adopts a 'revolutionist' posture. As long as its a rank and file controlled organisation (it can only do this as a minority 'political' organisation under capitalism) It will gear towards a revolutionist direction once the 'masses' are moving in that general direction (although pro-revolutionary militants inside the organisation will have to remain alert for reformist tendancies seeking to opportunistically take advantage of the moment and I agree that having a revolutionary syndicalist frame work does help). I think syndicalist unions (including the anarcho-syndicalist variety) are useful for assisting with the regroupment of militants at the point of production and then acting as a limited platform (cause they mainly operate in the workplace) to agitate for revolution. As class struggle intensifies new organisation of the political-economic variety (early 20th centuary CNT-AIT AND AAUD-E) that pre-figure revolutionary organisation will become possible. Actual revolutionary organisation is an on going process that only takes definitive shape during the intense highs of class struggle and do not emerge from political-economic organisations like the early 20th centuary CNT-AIT AND AAUD-E. As Otto Ruhle says those organisations simply exisit to "keeping the place for the councils' system". So talking of direct action v legalism being the difference between a revolutionary and reformist position during times of low class struggle is IMO rather pointless. What matters is if class unity is being advanced in a revolutionary direction. If we were having the same argument during a potentially 'revolutionary' wave I'd say we should fight hard to encourage the wroking class to immediately do away with all legalites (party and trade union) that they are forced to live with during times of defeat.

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May 24 2011 17:08

the thing is, being revolutionary isn't about abstractly being in favour of a future event, it's principally about methods in the here and now. i think it's a case that if you're not organising in a revolutionary way, you're organising in a capitalist way (whether that's taking on a mediating role, joining works councils or whatever).

i think there's a fundamental difference in analysis here. You're saying "as long as its a rank and file controlled organisation" as if you can just lop off bureaucracy and have a rank-and-file. but there's a well-worn path of rank-and-file controlled unions becoming increasingly bureacratic.

you seem to see mediation as a consequence of bureaucuracy, i see bureaucracy as a consequence of mediation. so if you register with the state and build youself up in a way that doesn't explicitly reject capitalist/collaborationist means of organising, you're going to increasingly be put in the position of policing struggle or face sequestration of funds. that may well create a pressure towards a de facto (or actual) bureaucracy. There's already been signs of this tendency in the Showroom Cinema case (and in the states, no-strike contracts, although i understand there's been a shift to explicit anti-contractualism there).

this degeneration is fundamental to the 'non-political' organising model, but not fundamental to a revolutionary one (hence the CNT insisting on 'the three nos'). so building up ostensibly 'non-political' unions is treading a well-worn path of building new bureaucracies. it seems like 'revolution' as a future event serves to rationalise reformist practice.

fwiw i had a similar conversation with some AF people in Sheffield recently. Their speaker at a meeting introduced them and highlighted the AF's critical stance on unions as the principal difference between AF and SolFed, then proceeded to explain how the AF has helped set up a 'non-political' solidarity union in Sheffield! now the argument for this (in the pub afterwards) was that nothing is revolutionary, so they might as well build something reformist/doomed from the outset* that contributes to a culture of resistance.

i'm glad they're organising and see the need to fight everyday battles, and i think it's better they're doing this than not doing it, but i worry this separation of political organisation and non-political union means a reduction of 'revolution' to abstract ideas and a reduction of practice to reformism. one need only look at the flirtation of some of the platformists with the 'red and black co-ordination' unions to see the curious attraction of reformist unionism to 'revolutionary political organisations'. the strength of direct action is linking the present and the future prefiguratively, but purging the anarchist content from organising seems likely to short-circuit that imho.

* according to AF A&P #7

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Nate
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May 24 2011 17:25
Joseph Kay wrote:
the 'nod-and-wink' approach. someone looked up the exact requirements on a registered/recognised union in such circumstances on a previous thread. i can't remember precisely, but i'm pretty sure the burden of proof is heavily against the union. and a union which declares its opposition to capitalism and advocacy of unmediated class struggle in its preamble is going to have a hard time convincing a judge it's doing everything it can to restore order on the shopfloor imho. legal frameworks may vary, but certainly in the UK i think it's an impossible straightjacket.

Oh right. I'll take your word for it as I know zero about UK labour law. The US labor relations regime is much less incorporative/recuperative, and I think this makes for a bit more room (more incentive and requirement) for reformist unions here to be combative at times (and hence more confusing for radicals). It would make sense that there are penalties in the UK like you mention, as the stick side of the social democracy carrot-and-stick.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I wonder if it might be productive to press on forms of mediation. I share your criticisms of state-based mediation. I also think that there are elements of mediation or at least common effects possible within an organization that steps outside those frameworks, we might say 'moderation' instead of mediation -- stuff like "is this advisable? can we win?" etc. This isn't an argument against going outside the mediation framework, I'm for that, just that I think when we do so we may still have to navigate some similar dynamics. I wish I could put this less abstractly, but, it seems to me that the legal side codifies certain tactics and strategies for organizations, attaching penalties to not accepting that repertoire, and helping create problematic relationships between workers, members, and the people who carry out most of the work of the organization. I think operating as a small fighting organization under capitalism also includes such penalties in a material sense, and those constraints can lead to similar problematic relationships that we have to be aware of.

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Joseph Kay
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May 24 2011 17:52
Nate wrote:
Oh right. I'll take your word for it as I know zero about UK labour law.

ok, i've looked it up (this was the thread i was thinking of).

Quote:
In order to avoid liability in this way, the Principal Executive Committee, President or General Secretary of the union must repudiate the act as soon as reasonably practicable after it has come to the knowledge of any of them, and the union must, without delay:

* give written notice of the repudiation to the committee or official in question; and
* do its best to give individual written notice of the fact and date of the repudiation to (i) every member of the union who it has reason to believe is taking part - or might otherwise take part - in industrial action as a result of the act; and (ii) the employer of every such member.

The written notice of repudiation given to the union's members must contain the following statement:

"Your union has repudiated the call (or calls) for industrial action to which this notice relates and will give no support to unofficial industrial action taken in response to it (or them). If you are dismissed while taking unofficial industrial action, you will have no right to complain of unfair dismissal."

However, even if it takes these steps a union will not be considered to have "effectively repudiated" an act if:

* the Principal Executive Committee, President or General Secretary subsequently behave in a way which is inconsistent with the repudiation; or
* at any time up to three months after the repudiation, a party to a commercial contract which has been, or may be, interfered with by the relevant act requests the union's Principal Executive Committee, President or General Secretary to confirm that the act has been repudiated, and written confirmation is not given forthwith.

link (see 'trade union liability').

of course once they do that, they've negated any benefit to registering with the state in the first place as the action will be unprotected. so there's a real pressure to organise lawful industrial action, which is restricted in a huge number of ways, and clamp down on unofficial action. whilst looking for the above info i also found out a trade union (which probably includes the IWW BIRA, registered with the state) cannot discipline or expel scabs: "Your trade union must not discipline you for choosing not to take part in industrial action." And even if there's a really clever loophole somewhere in there, it would be legislated away the moment it was exploited.

Although for balance, i should point out the European Convention on Human Rights supersedes all other UK law, which must be interpreted in accordance with it:

Article 11 wrote:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

i suspect the second bolded bit would include protecting the employers 'rights and freedoms', rendering the whole thing kinda meaningless. but there might be a potential McLibel style case in it if an alternative union felt so inclined, arguing that the restrictions UK law places on lawful industrial action go beyond what is necessary in a democratc society and to protect bosses' rights (e.g. plenty of EU states have more lax laws without democracy collapsing).

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Joseph Kay
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May 24 2011 18:18
Nate wrote:
I wish I could put this less abstractly, but, it seems to me that the legal side codifies certain tactics and strategies for organizations, attaching penalties to not accepting that repertoire, and helping create problematic relationships between workers, members, and the people who carry out most of the work of the organization. I think operating as a small fighting organization under capitalism also includes such penalties in a material sense, and those constraints can lead to similar problematic relationships that we have to be aware of.

i think i agree with this, if i've understood you right. any genuinely revolutionary union, i.e. one which can't be bought off or incorporated into a mediating labour-relations role, is not going to be tolerated by capital and the state. there will be sackings, media witch-hunts, black-lists, fit-ups, assaults, and murders.* that's going to put immense pressure on people, who've got lives, loved ones, kids etc, and who might opt for the quieter option of just signing the damn contract. is that what you have in mind? or are you thinking more subtle stuff?

I don't think there's much we can do about those things, apart from expect them and inoculate. and they're not specific to union-type organisations, but any revolutionary organisation/movement. On the 'plus' side, such repression means the mask of liberal democracy is slipping which will polarise people, which is part of trying to bring about a revolutionary situation. of course, it might be crushed before that, and that might not materialise if the union is sufficiently demonised. we only need look at the smashing of the IWW in the US to know the dangers. but then Durruti hit the nail on the head here:

Durruti wrote:
They persecute us. Yes, of course they do. We’re a threat to the system they represent. If we don’t want them to harass us, then we should just submit to their laws, integrate ourselves into their system and bureaucratize ourselves to the marrow. Then we can be perfect traitors to the working class, like the Socialists and everyone else who lives at the workers’ expense. They won’t bother us if we do that.

* christ, someone our Polish sister-section were organising alongside was brutally murdered recently, and one of the members of my local has been tabloid witch-hunted recently. and we're barely a blip on capital and the state's radar at present.

Caiman del Barrio
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May 24 2011 18:50

Admin: that's the end of this. No more derailing.

nastyned
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May 24 2011 19:32
Joseph Kay wrote:
so they might as well build something reformist/doomed from the outset* that contributes to a culture of resistance.

* according to AF A&P #7

Except we don't actually say that.

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May 24 2011 19:37
nastyned wrote:
Except we don't actually say that.

care to elaborate?

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Nate
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May 24 2011 20:09
Joseph Kay wrote:
any genuinely revolutionary union, i.e. one which can't be bought off or incorporated into a mediating labour-relations role, is not going to be tolerated by capital and the state. there will be sackings, media witch-hunts, black-lists, fit-ups, assaults, and murders.* that's going to put immense pressure on people, who've got lives, loved ones, kids etc, and who might opt for the quieter option of just signing the damn contract. is that what you have in mind? or are you thinking more subtle stuff?

I meant more short term stuff but that's good points as well. I mean stuff like winnability and selectign fights and tactics. There are some fights we're probly not going to win in a workplace given our current numbers and skill relative to that employer. So we have to decide whether or not to take on those fights. I'm generally for "fight anyway" but I think realities of our organizations mean we really do have to sometimes turn things down, which can be pretty bad interpersonally. In my experience, for instance, it's really hard to overturn a firing. It can be done, but it's crazy hard resource-wise because the fired folk are running out of money and need to look for other work, then need to work their new job etc and it usually takes quite a bit to get a boss to go back on a firing, especially if they've already replaced the fired people. Stopping a firing before it happens is easier, if you can manage to see it coming, by defending someone and deflecting the hammer before it falls.

All that can create two related dynamics. One, don't risk your job (and so, moderate the tactics, modulating them to the current balance of forces). Two, if it does happen don't fight it very sincerely because it's really hard to win (and if other folk are still working there it's hard to be motivated to risk your own job if it doesn't feel winnable), and because if you do fight it a lot then your organization becomes associated strongly with getting fired, the implicit message can become "get involved in what we're doing! you'll probly get fired! and if you do, if you fight like crazy, you'll end back in this crap job! run like hell to stay where you are!"

All of this leads to push-pull within an organization about what to do and why -- take risks anyway vs preserve your job, fight like hell despite the odds vs just help someone find a new job and pass the hat to replace their wages. All sides in that are quite sensible and reasonable - often the "don't fight" position is the more sensible one, and I think there are dynamics here that are in the neighborhood of the official union tendency to be like "be reasonable, calm down" etc.

I raise this stuff largely it's relatively new to my thoughts and writing it out helps me think. Some of this came up for me in the discussions behind the scenes when Chili was making the Direct Unionism thing happen. I started to try to press on ways in which that approach to organizing can still have some dynamics within it that are analogous to what it criticizes in other approaches. Which is not to say we shouldn't organize that way, we should. As you say, I think there's little to be done about this except for expect these dynamics, inoculate, try to keep a level head when it happens, etc.

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Joseph Kay
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May 24 2011 20:25

i pretty much agree with that, with a caveat. it's not so much a case of 'don't fight' but 'pick your battles'. i think there's a difference. and so long as we're not set up in a way we could stop people (i.e. if there's a mass meeting which decides to fight with SolFeders cautioning against it), it's just a case of the workers as a whole going beyond the union. whether they were right to do so will be decided by the result (the famous IWW fan incident comes to mind; if anyone doesn't know what i'm on about say so and i'll explain). i think the union/mass meeting model has that potentiality built in, so even if people were arguing hard against a particular action there'd be no mechanism to prevent it, and the arguments in the mass meeting would therefore be between workers as equals rather than between rank-and-file members and officials with the power to turn on or off the dispute.

nastyned
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May 25 2011 07:36
Joseph Kay wrote:
nastyned wrote:
Except we don't actually say that.

care to elaborate?

Our aims and principles, and a wealth of material on unions and workplace struggles, are freely available on our website.

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Joseph Kay
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May 25 2011 11:00
nastyned wrote:
Our aims and principles, and a wealth of material on unions and workplace struggles, are freely available on our website.

Why don't we play a game? Let's pretend we're members of fraternal organisations, having a political discussion, on a political discussion forum. We can exchange views, correct each others misunderstandings, and maybe even both learn something!

Or, you could just continue to make contentless one-liners in lieu of argument. If i've got something wrong or misunderstood i'm happy to be corrected, but that requires you actually engage in discussion instead of this constant sniping.

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May 25 2011 11:51

[

Joseph Kay wrote:
the thing is, being revolutionary isn't about abstractly being in favour of a future event, it's principally about methods in the here and now. i think it's a case that if you're not organising in a revolutionary way, you're organising in a capitalist way (whether that's taking on a mediating role, joining works councils or whatever).

I said revolutionary organisation is an on going struggle (that includes struggles in the here and now). But we shouldn't permanently equate it with the organisations, methods and strategies we employ today. The struggle is the organisation. I think its best illustrated by a quote from Anton Pannekoek:

"It is only by the struggle for power itself that the masses can be assembled, drilled and formed into an organisation capable of taking power."

He repeated this view in Workers’ Councils:

"The workers’ forces are like an army that assembles during the battle! They must grow by the fight itself"

Joseph Kay wrote:
i think there's a fundamental difference in analysis here. You're saying "as long as its a rank and file controlled organisation" as if you can just lop off bureaucracy and have a rank-and-file.

How can it be rank and file if there is no 'leadership' (bureaucracy) to constantly struggle for power? As a rank and file union grows it increasingly comes under pressure to conform to the structural role it plays under capitalism: a broker in the exchange of labour power for wages. A logic it can not escape. IWW BIRA and SolFed are not under these pressures because presently both organisations don't systematically part take in the exchange of labour power for wages as a broker as the business unions do.

Joseph Kay wrote:
but there's a well-worn path of rank-and-file controlled unions becoming increasingly bureacratic.

I dont think anarcho-syndicalist unions are free from the process bureaucratisation either. There is always a constant fight against bureaucratisation otherwise would there have been a point to form the FAI and challenge the bureaucracy of the CNT which it viewed as having grown to become a mediating link between labor and capital, rather than an independent working class organisation.

Joseph Kay wrote:
you seem to see mediation as a consequence of bureaucracy, i see bureaucracy as a consequence of mediation. so if you register with the state and build youself up in a way that doesn't explicitly reject capitalist/collaborationist means of organising, you're going to increasingly be put in the position of policing struggle or face sequestration of funds. that may well create a pressure towards a de facto (or actual) bureaucracy. There's already been signs of this tendency in the Showroom Cinema case (and in the states, no-strike contracts, although i understand there's been a shift to explicit anti-contractualism there).

.

I don't think its that simple. I think they both feed off each other in a dialectical process. But we find that they emerge from the contradictions in the process of commodity production. Only self organised struggle (which can take different forms) can transcend mediation and bureaucracy not any particular form of organisation i.e. the anarcho-syndicalist union (though it may delay the process of bureaucratisation).

Joseph Kay wrote:
this degeneration is fundamental to the 'non-political' organising model, but not fundamental to a revolutionary one (hence the CNT insisting on 'the three nos'). so building up ostensibly 'non-political' unions is treading a well-worn path of building new bureaucracies. it seems like 'revolution' as a future event serves to rationalise reformist practice.

My point is not so much that 'non-political' syndicalism is not more susceptible to degeneration but that anarcho-syndicalism is also prone to the same disease because of the fundamental nature of unionism. I think the AFed critical series on syndicalism perfectly illustrates my point.

nastyned
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May 25 2011 12:30
Joseph Kay wrote:
nastyned wrote:
Our aims and principles, and a wealth of material on unions and workplace struggles, are freely available on our website.

Why don't we play a game? Let's pretend we're members of fraternal organisations, having a political discussion, on a political discussion forum. We can exchange views, correct each others misunderstandings, and maybe even both learn something!

Or, you could just continue to make contentless one-liners in lieu of argument. If i've got something wrong or misunderstood i'm happy to be corrected, but that requires you actually engage in discussion instead of this constant sniping.

I don't consider posting crude caricatures of our politics as if they're fact fraternal behaviour. And I haven't found trying to have political discussions with you in the past very fruitful and your peevish posting shows I'm unlikley to now.

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May 25 2011 13:09
blackrainbow wrote:
I said revolutionary organisation is an on going struggle (that includes struggles in the here and now). But we shouldn't permanently equate it with the organisations, methods and strategies we employ today. The struggle is the organisation. I think its best illustrated by a quote from Anton Pannekoek:

"It is only by the struggle for power itself that the masses can be assembled, drilled and formed into an organisation capable of taking power."

He repeated this view in Workers’ Councils:

"The workers’ forces are like an army that assembles during the battle! They must grow by the fight itself"

(a) Pannekoek's analysis (in 'Workers Councils' at least) relies on a teleological Marxism: ever-deepening crisis will compel ever-escalating class struggle, forcing workers to organise themselves and overthrow capitalism. Lose the teleology, and the question of strategy comes back in: if it won't happen automatically, how can we move in that direction?

(b) We are seeking to build an organisation through struggles (hence organiser training, direct action solidarity etc), and nobody's saying 'SolFed is the only revolutionary organisation' (unlike 'One Big Union' of course, which does aim at bringing in all workers).

blackrainbow wrote:
IWW BIRA and SolFed are not under these pressures because presently both organisations don't systematically part take in the exchange of labour power for wages as a broker as the business unions do.

but my point is IWW BIRA actively aspires to, has spent thousands of pounds registering with the state in order to be able to, and that's going to effect how they organise. as in as soon as they get enough people for a job shop they try and win recognition and negotiate the sale of labour power, like a 'real' union. at least that's the impression given by the few public cases so far, and the way the IWW is promoted at bookfairs, in literature, on the website etc; 'a union for all workers' not 'a network of broadly socialist/anarchist/syndicalist/shop steward types'.

blackrainbow wrote:
I dont think anarcho-syndicalist unions are free from the process bureaucratisation either. There is always a constant fight against bureaucratisation otherwise would there have been a point to form the FAI and challenge the bureaucracy of the CNT which it viewed as having grown to become a mediating link between labor and capital, rather than an independent working class organisation.

When i advocate the 1920s CNT as a blueprint, pointing out the failings of the 1920s CNT will be a good argument. In many ways the old CNT was trying to be more like 'one big union' in the CGT-F mold - although it's far to complex, historically situated and basically irrelevant to the argument here that i'm not going to go into it. I mean if you want to talk about the CNT, why ignore the last 75 years? The split with the CGT-E was a fairly decisive break with the CGT-F model: rejecting a 'unity' with reformists and declaring a union is only revolutionary if it acts like it, deeds trumping words. And to reiterate: what i'm advocating here doesn't need a FAI to keep it on the straight and narrow, because i'm saying the union itself should combine the political and the economic, i.e. not seek to be 'for ALL workers' on a purely economic basis but for those who share an anarcho-syndicalist approach to organsing.

blackrainbow wrote:
I don't think its that simple. I think they both feed off each other in a dialectical process. But we find that they emerge from the contradictions in the process of commodity production. Only self organised struggle (which can take different forms) can transcend mediation and bureaucracy not any particular form of organisation i.e. the anarcho-syndicalist union (though it may delay the process of bureaucratisation).

if in doubt, reach for the dialectic! wink

tbh this just sounds like a load of Marxist buzzwords combined with a dash of mysticism, not an argument: 'the workers will do stuff and it will be grand'. We are workers. We are self-organising, and actively helping others to do so. Can there be other forms of organisation? Of course - who's saying otherwise? Will these develop in struggle? Again, who disputes this? And who is claiming that SolFed is THE ONE organisation of the working class? Nobody. Who is claiming to be THE ONE BIG UNION FOR ALL WORKERS though? IWW BIRA. So, 'no u', or something tongue

blackrainbow wrote:
My point is not so much that 'non-political' syndicalism is not more susceptible to degeneration but that anarcho-syndicalism is also prone to the same disease because of the fundamental nature of unionism. I think the AFed critical series on syndicalism perfectly illustrates my point.

i'm not going to dissect that at length again as i've spent pages and pages doing so on previous threads. but it doesn't actually demonstrate that at all: it concludes that if revolutionary unions stick to their revolutionary princples then they're "no longer in fact a union but a (more or less) revolutionary group within the workplace"; i.e. the grand conclusion is 'call it something else'. By this logic, the CNT by sticking to its 'three nos' is not in fact a union. Ok, brilliant, you've re-labelled it without establishing anything. The whole piece starts from the assumption that a revolutionary union is an oxymoron, and procedes to 'demonstrate' this through re-labelling things appropriately (is it revolutionary? then it's not a union).

The example of the Dock Workers Co-ordinadora actually proves the opposite of what is claimed: its degeneration precisely demonstrates what happens to economic organisations without a clear revolutionary perspective, and thus the necessity for an independent, revolutionary union like the CNT which can organise independently, including through new assemblies not co-opted into any bureaucratic structure. Of course it's even more silly, because the CNT was a union and the Co-ordinadora wasn't, but a federation of assemblies/councils. So in fact the (political-economic) revolutionary union didn't degenerate whereas the (purely economic) assembies did. thus it's good argument against fetishining the assembly-form and a good case study of how, by maintaining its revolutionary principles the CNT continues to avoid the same fate decades later - contrary to the assertion in the article that degeneration inevitably follows struggle.

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Joseph Kay
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May 25 2011 13:17
nastyned wrote:
I don't consider posting crude caricatures of our politics as if they're fact fraternal behaviour. And I haven't found trying to have political discussions with you in the past very fruitful and your peevish posting shows I'm unlikley to now.

Well as i've said repeatedly if i've got something wrong correct me, don't call me names.

Harrison
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May 25 2011 13:18

nastyned, why don't you correct JK if you think he is wrong? i would be interested to read a response.

blackrainbow wrote:
"It is only by the struggle for power itself that the masses can be assembled, drilled and formed into an organisation capable of taking power."

He repeated this view in Workers’ Councils:

"The workers’ forces are like an army that assembles during the battle! They must grow by the fight itself"

I think this is quite nicely illustrated in Spain over the past few weeks.

However, gathering a sub-section of the working class into a revolutionary framework organised along economic lines (attracting them by class struggle), and using direct action methods to prepare workers for the eventual fight, seems a great way to form a part of the working class into an experienced dynamic combative force that will eventually embed itself into the "worker's army"