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Anarcho-syndicalists in Britain - SF or IWW?

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Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
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May 25 2011 17:13

Okay, this is going to be a long one. Sorry. I'm going to reply as I read the thread, so things I say have probably already been said by someone else. Sorry again.

BR wrote:
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.

I'm mostly going on what you've said, mi amigo. You're the one bringing up the importance of labor law and trade unions functions to the workplace organizer training. This in line with the overall strategy of the IWW--not the least of which includes registrations and individual representation. And this is backed up by other conversations that occurred on Wobforum and the UK IWW lists I'm on. So that's what I'm basing my critique on.

BR wrote:
If you have, you may have been surprised with the similarities to the OT 101.

As I said:

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.

BR wrote:
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?

Mate, no, it's not. Of course, it "would be stupid and unfair not to instruct the workers of potential dangers regarding 'legalities'", but that's not the same thing as choosing to take actions which further expose your revolutionary organization to extra legalities. When that happens, you have the organization warning workers not to take certain activities because, in registering with the state, that organization chose to put themselves in a more vulnerable position. And, while the decision may ostensibly be left to the workers involved, there's no way (or at least no way to ensure) having such a warning won't influence their final choice.

JK wrote:
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.

Beautifully put JK. That needs to make it into the new industrial strategy pamphlet.

BR 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 that's the thing I don't understand again. The whole purpose of the state-sponsored 'labor relations regimes' is precisely to dampen the raw power of organized workers and turn unions into vehicles which exist to "exchange of labour power for wages as a broker". If the UK IWW thinks that's a problem, why did they get registered? If you think that, why are you in the IWW?

(I should note here that the US IWW--which I was active in--was also registered with the state and had contracts with mgmt rights and no-strike clauses. However, there was a definite "anti-contractualist" current who'd learned from these mistakes. I don't see that in the UK IWW.)

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May 25 2011 18:35

Partly off topic but just on that bit by JK that Chili quoted, I like it too, and it sort of reminded me of this bit of an essay by Don Hamerquist that I liked -

Quote:
The Communist Manifesto spells out a couple of general principles for the relationship of communists to the mass struggles of working people. To paraphrase: communists should “represent” the interests of the whole in the movements of parts, and they should “represent” the interests of the future in movements of the present.
Angelus Novus
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May 25 2011 19:11

Nate,

the problem I have with statements like Hamerquist's is the problem I have with all these sort of world-historical, mystical conceptions of what the "interests of the whole" are.

I mean, don't get me wrong: I have some ideas about what people should do, and the point of political organization is to get together with other people who share your ideas. The problem I have is when one starts to impute some teleological world historical mission as being immanent to the movements one is trying to address.

Every little sectlet has its own particular shibboleths concerning what the "interests of the whole" are, and every little sectlet is prepared to accuse all the other sectlets of being "sectarian" for trying to impose its own shibboleths upon the movement.

Whether anarchist, syndicalist, council communist, or some variety of Leninist, everybody claims to be representing the "interests of the whole", whereas everybody else is a sectarian upholding the purity of their program.

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May 25 2011 20:36

Which is precisely why i think it makes sense to let 'the whole' decide for themselves (e.g. via mass meetings) whilst not necessarily going along with it, depending on what it is (class collaboration, bigotry etc), fwiw.

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May 25 2011 23:47
Joseph Kay wrote:
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.

Reading it again I've got to say its bollox. I'll try to rewrite it in plain english. I'll stick to my other points but I do think the tread is in danger becoming circular (nastyned and JKs exchange being an example). We've had these arguments on different threads so I'll only talk about the IWW and SolFed.

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May 26 2011 01:30

i think i know what you're getting at (a sort of councillist 'everything we create as an asset today will be a barrier tomorrow' thing), but i don't want to assume that's your argument and reply in template style as that's what leads to circular talking past each other clusterfucks!

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May 26 2011 05:52

Angelus, agreed. Though I think most of what I've been part of there's been a hesitation to intervene in the (subjectively and ideologically interpreted) interest of the whole or anythign else much and instead too much "listen to what the people alraedy there are saying, leave it all to them", so I found that quote helpful for pushing a bit more in the other direction. We should have ideas about what people should do (I often don't have such ideas except at a very small scale), and we should principles (I tend to think of them as universalist ones but whatever we call them, stuff that we all on libcom agree on, opposition to divisions and hierarchies in the class etc), and we should try to see them play out.

ajjohnstone
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May 27 2011 17:10

"..if in doubt, reach for the dialectic!"

And indeed those in the OBU did, particularly Dietzgen.

http://www.marxistsfr.org/history//canada/socialisthistory/Docs/Imposs/Impossibilists5.htm

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May 27 2011 20:17
Joseph Kay wrote:
Which is precisely why i think it makes sense to let 'the whole' decide for themselves (e.g. via mass meetings) whilst not necessarily going along with it, depending on what it is (class collaboration, bigotry etc), fwiw.

pretty interesting in the light of the real democracy now! stuff…

i often wonder how extreme to get about this. of course some all should only participate as individuals ie camatte, wolfi…

we've seen this debate elsewhere a few months back about if a political group should relate in mass meetings as a group or only as individuals with basic principled/universal ideas.

basically i think it comes down to are you participating with a political line of intervention, or are you participating as a member of the mass group for the sake of the tasks at hand.

i don't have answers. but that is one of my favorite parts of the communist manifesto.

in mass meetings would solfeders participate as a group, or as individuals of the assembly?

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May 27 2011 20:32
sabotage wrote:
we've seen this debate elsewhere a few months back about if a political group should relate in mass meetings as a group or only as individuals with basic principled/universal ideas (...) in mass meetings would solfeders participate as a group, or as individuals of the assembly?

certainly in SolFed (and i imagine the IWW perhaps more so), we don't have a requirement for theoretical/tactical unity* and have no means to enforce collective discipline beyond disaffiliating people who seriously breach the A&Ps. i think that would tend towards participating as workers, and working through our disagreements within the wider group. of course on basic A&P stuff like racism/sexism/class collaboration we'd be on the same page, but there's big scope for genuine and honest tactical disagreement. in fact just from my limited experiences at work and in the sussex uni occupations, it's rarely obvious at the time what the best tactics are and egalitarian debate is generally wiser than any individual participant - or caucused line for that matter. even if we all got together in advance and agreed a 'line', individuals would still be free to vote whatever way. and i think if you view democracy as a deliberative process rather than simply a decision-making process, then it makes more sense to argue it out openly in the wider group and thus bring more people in and hopefully bring some along with you.

* as in whatever your theoretical reasoning you're welcome if you want to organise that way, and we only agree a broad strategy and individuals/locals have full autonomy pursuing tactics in accordance with it (within the A&Ps of course)

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May 27 2011 20:40

yeah honestly i largely agree. and despite being in a platformist group or whatever that is pretty much which mK Ultra said in another thread, that we should participate as workers. honestly i think if there is any rule to mass open assemblies that should be it, as a way to work against political intervention from other left groups. i am not saying trots should be kicked out, but they should be asked to participate as workers, and if they don't act accordingly than dealt with, etc

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May 28 2011 08:13
Harrison Myers wrote:
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 week.

Not forgetting the radical student movement late last and early this year. The organisation developed through the needs of the struggle.

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Jun 8 2011 17:43

So I just got my new UK IWW membership card and to give credit where credit is due, it is pretty fucking slick.

However, in the letter from the acting BIRA sec, it includes this about the training program:

Quote:
Organisers [training workshop]: Learn how to organise a union in a workplace...[to] eventually gain a 'recognition agreement' between the employer and the union.

Which, btw, would also explain why BIRA pushes the reps training so hard. If the goal of the training program is representation and recognition, it makes sense why BIRA needs certified reps.

Also of note is the section of the letter concerned with BIRA's application for a "certificate of independence" in which they are "waiting for a response from the government" so BIRA can "operate on a level playing field with all other British Trade Unions, fighting for recognition rights and the ability to lawfully carry out 'collective bargaining'."

From this letter it would seem that BIRA--or at least its leadership--really is basing their strategy on the "three R's" of trade unionism: registration, representation, and recognition.

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Jun 8 2011 17:54

.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
From this letter it would seem that BIRA--or at least its leadership--really is basing their strategy on the "three R's" of trade unionism: registration, representation, and recognition.

Chilli seeing as you hate IWW BIRA so much why not just restart paying your dues directly to the North American administration? Please request to be taken off all internal IWW BIRA email lists and let us live in peace. I think your being very unfair to us at the moment with your extremely hostile attitude and insisting on remaining in the organisation in bad faith

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Jun 8 2011 18:17

I know you are, but what am I?

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Jun 8 2011 18:31

To be honest, I was paying my dues to N. America, but it was requested that I pay them directly to BIROC, so that's what I did. But since I'm no longer editing my N. American publication, I probably will let my dues run out.

That said, I don't think I'm being hostile. A lot of the discussion on this thread focused on the legalistic aspect of the IWW. You asserted that this was one part of the strategy, but that other approaches were also being used. But you're the only one saying this and the documentation from BIRA seems to confirm that the leadership is pursuing a very singular strategy.

I'll also note that I rarely ever post on BIRA lists and it's never, ever anything close to hostile. The last time I posted was to send a solidarity statement from NLSF, for the love of god! I think I've actually been really good at finding productive ways for LSF and LIWW to work together--sharing literature, working on joint(ish) training projects, and, oh yeah, proposing a joint campaign.

As I've pointed out before, I'm all for two different organizations pursuing two different strategies (in this case IWW and SF), but as the title of this thread is "Anarcho-Syndicalists in Britain: SF or IWW", the critique I'm offering of the UK IWW seems very relevant to that particular question.

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Jun 8 2011 23:44

i don't see anything hostile about chilli sauce posts.
but i have noticed that blackrainbow doesn't seem to be able to engage in anything resembling serious discussion

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Jun 9 2011 15:09
radicalgraffiti wrote:
but i have noticed that blackrainbow doesn't seem to be able to engage in anything resembling serious discussion

I've been the only IWW BIRA member willing to answer questions in this thread. I think JK and I have got into some serious discussions about political and organisational differences. So I fail to see how you can justify that opinion. But I'm getting the feeling what you dont like is my style of argument rather than the content of what I've put forward?

About Chilli. What he was refering to was recent internal communication from the IWW BIRA about our new rule book and membership cards from the acting national secretary. I think it was unfair of Chilli to pick bits of the letter and draw conclusions based on what he thinks of the organistion as a whole. I dont agree with everything SolFed does but I have never and would not use SolFeds internal communications aimed at members to advance any arguments publicly I have against the organisation (someting which I would consider a comradely conduct).

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Jun 9 2011 15:09

Fellow Workers,

I think at this point the old salts in the IWW would say , "shut up and organize". The IWW is the bastard child of anarchism/socialism/trade unionism, so in a sense it defies easy definitions, which is one reason i like it. I think that might be what makes the IWW "different" and hard to pin-down.

We also must remember that this isn't a pissing contest, or it shouldn't be...We all want to create a new world within the ashes of the old. The IWW, also being shaped by its history, realized that it was disadvantageous to focus on anything but what Industrial Unionists should be doing...organizing in the workplace. Also, the IWW is not apolitical as much as it is ultrapolitical...it attempts to transcend the mire of ideological squabbling because such things are rarely productive and waste energy/time in an endless circle-jerk. It should be an organization where anarchists, socialists et al. set aside ideological differences and organize/create working class solidarity at the point of production.

The IWW is ultimately about pragmatism AND radicalism. Concerning the state itself, when/if we ever have the One Big Union of Industrial Workers, you will see the end of the state. The working class so organized on that large of a scale, able to wield industrial control would bring the state to its knees. Remember, talking about smashing the state without being able to smash the state is just academics.

Taking state power through military warfare, as we all know, is suicidal to any revolutionary movement ( so far at least) ie. Russia, China, Cuba. So then what/how do we effect real revolution against capitalism? We must subvert it at the point of production and create class consciousness.
OK sorry im done *steps off soapbox* smile

Cheers from across the pond!

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Jun 9 2011 15:12
radicalgraffiti wrote:
anything resembling serious discussion

By the way what do you mean by serious discussion?

radicalgraffiti
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Jun 9 2011 15:37

blackrainbow - it seemed to me you where not engaging with peoples actual arguments

honestkaos - the issue is how to organise

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Jun 9 2011 16:07

The thing is tho, BR, earlier in the thread you accused me of not knowing what I was talking about because I'm not super active (or active at all really) in the UK IWW--i.e. that I hadn't been to the training program so I'm not in a position to judge. Now that I'm quoting from an actual IWW text, you're telling me I shouldn't do that either. You're making it tough for me to make an argument.

honestkaos,

This thread was about anarcho-syndicalists in the UK. BR seems to feel there is a place for them in BIRA. I, on the other hand, think the strategy of the UK IWW is not compatible with anarcho-syndicalist methods, goals, or organising strategies. This doesn't mean I don't think the IWW shouldn't engage and organise with, alongside, and in mutual support of anarcho-syndicalists. Just the opposite in fact. I just think we just need to be more honest about the strategy and goals of the UK IWW.

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Jun 9 2011 16:08

I should also not that BR and I get along great in person and, as he know, I have a lot of respect for him. However, we're like an old married couple when it comes to libcom.

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Jun 9 2011 16:30
blackrainbow wrote:
I think it was unfair of Chilli to pick bits of the letter and draw conclusions

Well, if someone from SolFed was claiming something, and internal documents showed the opposite, quoting them might not be 'right', but it's at least a case of two wrongs. I mean it's highly pertinent to the discussion: would anarcho-syndicalists want to get involved in an attempt to form a union, which from the off seems committed to a legalistic approach, registering with the state etc?

Now the argument goes that the IWW is open to various different approaches, including non-legalistic, non-representative ones. But I don't know if you can have your cake and eat it. If IWW BIRA gets the state to certify it on a level playing field with all the other British trade unions, then it will have to act like all the other British trade unions, including repudiating unofficial action (which opens the way for those taking it to be sacked without the union being allowed to support them).

Now obviously there are also benefits to being registered with the state, including a degree of protection for union activities (which for example the CNT enjoys, but Spanish labour law requires less compromise). But i'm not convinced you can be both a legal union and a direct action union at the same time under current UK industrial relations law.

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Jun 9 2011 17:17
radicalgraffiti wrote:
blackrainbow - it seemed to me you where not engaging with peoples actual arguments

honestkaos - the issue is how to organise

No offense but now I'm inclined to think you're avoiding my question. Can you please quote anguments posted on this thread in which I have failed to engage in "serious debate"

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Jun 9 2011 17:44

oh brother.... again...i think this is all indicative of why the IWW is structured the way it is....these conversations have been happening for over a century.

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Jun 9 2011 18:16
blackrainbow wrote:
radicalgraffiti wrote:
blackrainbow - it seemed to me you where not engaging with peoples actual arguments

honestkaos - the issue is how to organise

No offense but now I'm inclined to think you're avoiding my question. Can you please quote anguments posted on this thread in which I have failed to engage in "serious debate"

it's more a case of absence of arguments

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Jun 9 2011 18:48
honestkaos wrote:
oh brother.... again...i think this is all indicative of why the IWW is structured the way it is....these conversations have been happening for over a century.

Just to reiterate, this discussion is about the UK, and there's some important differences in legislation (I don't know about structure as I'm not a Wobbly). So even if a registered/certified union is ultra-democratic, it's officers are obliged to repudiate unofficial action and deny use of union resources, and furthermore are forbidden from assisting any workers subsequently victimised for unofficial action. They're also not allowed to do anything subsequently to cast doubt on the sincerity of their repudiation. It's probably amongst the most restrictive union legislation in the world, and I can't see how democratic structures are any defence against those kind of consequences, which are designed precisely to prevent autonomous grassroots direct action.

Now I can imagine an argument here about local ballots, no higher body capable of denying a ballot etc, but what's worrying is nobody is making these arguments, or even seeing what the big deal is about jumping in with the state in a rush to be like all the other trade unions.

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Jun 9 2011 19:40
blackrainbow wrote:
radicalgraffiti wrote:
blackrainbow - it seemed to me you where not engaging with peoples actual arguments

honestkaos - the issue is how to organise

No offense but now I'm inclined to think you're avoiding my question. Can you please quote anguments posted on this thread in which I have failed to engage in "serious debate"

I got to be honest, BR, I do feel like I've asked you some pretty direct questions you haven't answered. I don't want to be that douchebag who list all the unanswered questions on the thread, but....

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Jun 9 2011 19:43
honestkaos wrote:
oh brother.... again...i think this is all indicative of why the IWW is structured the way it is....these conversations have been happening for over a century.

Honest, this is about active organizing.

In the US, the IWW has no-strike clauses and mgmt rights clauses in contracts. In the UK, already there has been one campaign where the union warned workers off taking action due to getting the union sued.

Just simply "go organize" doesn't explain the existence of these things in a revolutionary union and how to prevent them in the future. Furthermore, by registering with the state, it's precisely about the structure the UK IWW is choosing to take, the strategy choices that led to that decision, and how that relates to the preamble.