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Anarcho-syndicalists in Britain - SF or IWW?

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cantdocartwheels's picture
cantdocartwheels
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Jun 12 2011 07:59

jesus wept 8 pages of this tedious and embarassingly circular crap. Give it a rest people, you're all just saying the same things in more and more long winded ways anyway

As BR says (tho he has said it a lot and still returned to this thread repeatedly), have this discussion in the pub, it'll be more productive face to face than its ever going to be online.

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Jun 12 2011 10:18

CDCW, me and BR are good comrades in the real world and I have no doubt when it comes actual solidarity between SF and the IWW, he and will be the first person each other call. And, in fact, real world co-operation tends to be what we discuss in person. I should also note that one of my consistent arguments on this thread is that SF/IWW solidarity will be easier if we establish our differences (particularly in terms of strategy) and find common areas for practical activity. So if you find this tedious, that's fine, there's no need to post on the thread.

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Jun 12 2011 10:20

BR, in my last post I was mostly responding to this bit by HonestKaos:

HK wrote:
I"m not sure how many of the people on here have actually tried to organize anywhere, but there ain't that many anarchists out there. So, if you would like to try and convert all your coworkers into some sort of anarchist philosophy...be my guest. You will only succeed in alienating yourself and your campaign will not go very far.

So most of that last post wasn't addressed at you, although I had been drinking for a number of hours when I posted that, so fair enough if that didn't come across. embarrassed

HonestKaos, though, I really do feel I need to clarify this point: SF's model is literally the opposite of what you propose above. We've created the committee model of organizing because (as I say at every organizer training I give) it allows us, as anarcho-syndicalists, a practical way to organize struggle in our own workplaces alongside our non-political/non-radical workmates, but to also to maintain the consistent anarcho-syndicalists character of our organization. We only ask co-workers to join if, through struggle (and the space for discussion struggle opens up), they come to embrace anarcho-syndicalism. But our strategy in no way based on trying to 'convert all our co-workers into some sort of anarchist philosophy'. It is explicitly the exact opposite.

Also, that first bit really got my back up. I've done serious fucking organizing in my workplace and we've pushed forward some real struggles. Others in our SF local have built hundreds strong directly democratic, federated rank-and-file networks that included union members, non-union staff, and contract workers that have led full on disputes---and done so explicitly in an attempt at following the SF industrial strategy. So I found that sentence really patronizing.

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Jun 12 2011 10:34

BR, regarding industrial networks, I think you put more importance on them than we do. Our networks are not a numbers game; it's not about getting a certain percentage of an industry into a network then leading struggle. It's about the members in the networks building struggle in their workplaces and using those networks to link up struggle, produce lit, develop strategy, bounce off organizing ideas, etc.

Regarding the growth of networks by recruiting from the libertarian community. Our belief is that as we undertake effective organizing, folks can either decide to dual-card (and we've seen a lot of this recently from both AF and the IWW) or just work alongside us. I mean, they won't have voting rights or access to internal communications, but it's not like we won't work with other anarchist militants in industries we're active in simply because they don't join a network.

BR, my point wasn't that BIRA was in danger of signing no-strike deals in the UK, but that by taking on the legal, representative functions of a trade union (in a word, mediating struggle), they'll eventually be forced to fall foul of the all the pitfalls of 'business unionism'--no matter how red the the preamble is. In the US we see this in no-strike clauses, in the UK, it warning workers off going to far in terms of shopfloor action.*

*I know you say the choice is still the workers, but the warning itself could affect their decision not to take action. Not to mention, this just shouldn't even happen in a revolutionary union and, if it does, it's simple existence should be grave cause for concern. Also this was in one of BIRA's first campaigns. If the union had 100,000 members and a treasury to match, that concern of getting sued would exert much more pressure on the leadership to keep a lid on things.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jun 12 2011 13:59

I think that this thread has improved somewhat since my last contribution, largely due to a more level-headed person exposing the SF 'line' (if such a thing does in fact exist).

That said, I think BR's criticisms of the Networks in his last post are largely valid (even if I'm not sure if I agree with his conclusions: namely, that we should open up the Networks to non-SFers). I don't think we've really managed to square this round hole, and we have no real solution for fellow travellers in our industrial sectors who wanna organise with us. Do we set up a parallel network with them, LEWG style? That's definitely not really an option for me, cos it would essentially mean having the same conversations/discussions over two different meetings, which is my idea of hell.

Taking the LEWG example, maybe we could do something looser: a network of contacts on hand to support workers in our sector when they find themselves engaged in organising: prepared to picket, blockade, etc, etc. I'm not sure, I'm kinda thinking aloud here, partially cos I probably have more conversations about my workplace with non-SFers than actual SFers right now.

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Jun 12 2011 15:37

Caiman - sorry but what the fuck? We've been discussing this shit internally for 3 years. None of those questions are new - or even particularly interesting or relevant. Honestly, it would really be better if you joined in the debates we have internally (where unlike in libcom, they are actually of value) than joining in Blackrainbow's tired and tedious sectarian campaign against SF, badically for being anarcho-syndicalists.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jun 12 2011 15:52

That's a really unfair characterisation of Blackrainbow's posts. Also, I've never been to Weekend School and i don't have the time nor the energy to keep up with most "internal SF discussion" (whcih is mostly restricted to regular Libcom posters or internet-savvy types anyway...can hardly be said to be inclusive). Actually, tell a lie, I've been making an effort to check the forums when I can but they're dead right now! Am I not allowed to comment on something if it was mentioned in a fucking IB in 2005 or something?

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Jun 12 2011 16:20
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
That's a really unfair characterisation of Blackrainbow's posts.

Um, did you miss "The problem I have, if it is a problem, with SolFeds Industrial Networks is that you have to be a member of SolFed by joining the nearest local and by extension agree with SolFeds aims&principals and constitution" - you honestly going to say this doesn't fit into a 6-7 year sectarian narrative against anarcho-syndicalism?

Quote:
Also, I've never been to Weekend School and i don't have the time nor the energy to keep up with most "internal SF discussion" (whcih is mostly restricted to regular Libcom posters or internet-savvy types anyway...can hardly be said to be inclusive).

Sorry, are you on different internal lists to me? The vast majority of people involved are not libcom posters, and the debate is at a high level. Honestly, I really think it's off launching (frankly ill-informed) public attack on your organisation when you haven't attempted to raise this internally.

Quote:
Actually, tell a lie, I've been making an effort to check the forums when I can but they're dead right now! Am I not allowed to comment on something if it was mentioned in a fucking IB in 2005 or something?

Of course you're "allowed" to say whatever the fuck you like. But I am obviously going to call you when you join in an attack on our organisation by someone hostile to anarcho-syndicalism. These are hardly peripheral discussions - it's been the major intellectual theme within our organisation for several years!

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Jun 12 2011 17:23
Fall Back wrote:
Um, did you miss "The problem I have, if it is a problem, with SolFeds Industrial Networks is that you have to be a member of SolFed by joining the nearest local and by extension agree with SolFeds aims&principals and constitution" - you honestly going to say this doesn't fit into a 6-7 year sectarian narrative against anarcho-syndicalism?
Fall Back wrote:
than joining in Blackrainbow's tired and tedious sectarian campaign against SF, badically for being anarcho-syndicalists.
Fall Back wrote:
But I am obviously going to call you when you join in an attack on our organisation by someone hostile to anarcho-syndicalism.

LLLLLLLOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL!

Heresy of heresies. [frothing at the mouth] Call for an inquisition against all heretics who dare speak ill of the one true revolutionary faith!

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Jun 12 2011 17:28
Fall Back wrote:
Um, did you miss "The problem I have, if it is a problem, with SolFeds Industrial Networks is that you have to be a member of SolFed by joining the nearest local and by extension agree with SolFeds aims&principals and constitution" - you honestly going to say this doesn't fit into a 6-7 year sectarian narrative against anarcho-syndicalism?

Sorry to disappoint you dear. I haven't been around the anarcho (syndicalist) faithful any where near that long.

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Jun 12 2011 17:29

Nope, I'm pointing out you have a hostility to our politics, just as say, I have a hostility to left communism. Nothing about heresy, just pointing out that you have an a priori objection - your very objection to our politics is that they are anarcho-syndicalist.

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Jun 12 2011 17:48
Fall Back wrote:
Nope, I'm pointing out you have a hostility to our politics, just as say, I have a hostility to left communism. Nothing about heresy, just pointing out that you have an a priori objection - your very objection to our politics is that they are anarcho-syndicalist.

Ok Fall Back. But I do think your use of the word "hostile to our politics" is a bit too strong. Lets just say we have a "healthy difference of opinion"... like a wolf and a lamb would have on the question of veganism wink

Caiman del Barrio
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Jun 12 2011 19:56

Fall Back well done for dragging this thread down.

Try reading my posts...I haven't suggested opening up the networks, in fact, I've stated my opposition to it. You may have forgotten (ironic no? wink ) that I've been away quite a bit over the last few years, and only actually moved closer to EWN when I became an education worker in the UK.

My feelings on the networks are far from fully-formed (I made that clear no?), hence why I'm kinda floating ideas. What would a loose network of education workers supporting each other's struggles as a means of complimenting EWN's lack of saturation actually damage, outta interest?

I know I've hit a nerve with an old debate which has never properly satisfied EVERYONE (c'mon, newer members have been asking the same questions for years!)...but please remember, I'm not in N London! wink

nastyned
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Jun 12 2011 21:33
Fall Back wrote:

Um, did you miss "The problem I have, if it is a problem, with SolFeds Industrial Networks is that you have to be a member of SolFed by joining the nearest local and by extension agree with SolFeds aims&principals and constitution" - you honestly going to say this doesn't fit into a 6-7 year sectarian narrative against anarcho-syndicalism?

This sounds seriously mental to me.

So moving swiftly on I'll say that in amongst the internet crap I've found the discussions of BR and CS have been very interesting.

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Jun 13 2011 09:18

Yeah, Fall Back, I think you're starting to sound a little bit mental there (even if I think BR has been a bit disingenuous/provocative at points and that Caiman is bending over backwards to appease him so as not to look 'sectarian'/'mental')..

Anyway, not everyone who disagrees with SF is 'hostile' to the IWA and anarcho-syndicalism! It sounds like an anarchist ICC.. "beware: the swamp!!!"..

smile

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Jun 13 2011 13:26

Ed - okay, so you don't think there's been an ongoing narrative against Solfed for years (since EWN launched pretty much) that the Industrial Networks should be open to non-members? I honestly don't think anyone who has posted on libcom last few years can dispute this.

radicalgraffiti
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Jun 13 2011 14:02

I don't think that wanting to joining the industrial networks without joining solfed is a narrative against solfed

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Jun 13 2011 14:03

No, I don't think there's been an ongoing narrative against Solfed.. there have been people saying they think the industrial networks should include non-SFers, both inside and outside SF.. I was one of them once when I was young, naive and needed the money.. I don't think I was against SF or anarcho-syndicalism, I just didn't get why things were the way they were..

Now I'm not disputing that there have been discussions around this issue, I just think it's silly to characterise it as being against Solfed/IWA/anarcho-syndicalism/Durruti's memory.. you can't just retroactively cast the rejected elements of a debate as being against the organisation that had the debate.. otherwise we could also say that Strategy and Struggle was part the "ongoing narrative against Solfed"..

Now stop being silly.. tongue

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Jun 13 2011 14:14
Fall Back wrote:
Ed - okay, so you don't think there's been an ongoing narrative against Solfed for years (since EWN launched pretty much) that the Industrial Networks should be open to non-members? I honestly don't think anyone who has posted on libcom last few years can dispute this.

I don't think that this is an 'anti-SolFed' narrative, but given that it has been explained that they are an intrinsic part of the SolFed organisation, it is pretty bizarre.

To me it seems pretty obvious; You need to be in the Cub Scouts to play for the Cub Scout football team.

What people calling for SolFed to open these groups are doing is asking for SolFed to change their entire internal structure and possibly strategy as well.

It is hardly surprising that they didn't jump up and change their whole organisation immediately when a few people who weren't members asked them too really.

Devrim

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Jun 13 2011 14:44
Ed wrote:
No, I don't think there's been an ongoing narrative against Solfed.. there have been people saying they think the industrial networks should include non-SFers, both inside and outside SF..

There's a HUGE difference between arguing to change your own organisation and spending 5+ years repeatedly telling another organisation they should totally change and abandon their politics. It is massively uncomradely - it's as if our interaction with the AF was "your politics are shit, just be anarcho-syndicalists". I mean plenty of us might think that, but we're not going to demand it of another organisation. I find it incredibly hard to take people in good faith when they are *still* saying shit like that now, especially when it's solely used as a stick to beat SF with - if people really thought "open" industrial networks were the way forward, then why aren't they forming them? There's nothing in our politics, strategy or practice which says we'd boycott such organisations, and yet no one ever done this.

Quote:
I was one of them once when I was young, naive and needed the money.. I don't think I was against SF or anarcho-syndicalism, I just didn't get why things were the way they were..

Well to be blunt, this is because you (along with the rest of us in the local at the time!) didn't have much of a clue what A-S actually was. This was a failing in our education as an organisation, altho we're massively improving on this - altho obviously there still exists problems (eg Caiman wink)

Quote:
Now I'm not disputing that there have been discussions around this issue, I just think it's silly to characterise it as being against Solfed/IWA/anarcho-syndicalism/Durruti's memory.. you can't just retroactively cast the rejected elements of a debate as being against the organisation that had the debate..

Eh, honestly, I don't know how else you can characterise a lot of this stuff from some people (altho definitely not all) as being based on a pre-arrived position that "anarcho-syndicalism is teh bad" - otherwise you'd expect all these people who find our elitist closed industrial networks so alluring, then they'd join SF.

Quote:
otherwise we could also say that Strategy and Struggle was part the "ongoing narrative against Solfed"..

S&S didn't argue for this!

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Jun 13 2011 14:52

the thing that baffles me the most is the industrial networks are by far the least dynamic and active part of SF, and are much more a long-term project limited mostly to sporadic propaganda output for the time being. in some places we're not far off forming industrial locals, which might mean the networks can begin to take on more of the active organising side of things currently done by locals. but as has been pointed out, the networks are SolFed in the same way a Unison local government branch is part of Unison.

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Jun 13 2011 15:06
Fall Back wrote:
Quote:
otherwise we could also say that Strategy and Struggle was part the "ongoing narrative against Solfed"..

S&S didn't argue for this!

iirc the 'conclusion' to S&S (which was more of a question) was SF could either continue as a propaganda organisation (in which case the networks would implicitly be separated off) or get its shit together and become a functioning network of militants with an industrial and local structure. from the post-S&S discussions there was an overwhelming consensus for the latter - what we're now calling a revolutionary union initiative.

i can see why people wouldn't have wanted to join SF a few years ago, because we weren't in great shape organisationally and while we had a decent strategy on paper lacked the impetus to pursue it in a joined up way as a national federation. but since the 'S&S debate' we've been getting our shit together, sorted out a training programme, got some badass new web infrastructure, formed several new locals and most importantly began acting more like the kind of organisation we want to be.

so while S&S basically sat on the fence over networks, posing instead two options, the developments since have rendered the whole debate obsolete imho. of course i'm aware there's a time lag in perceptions here: a lot of the stuff that started life 2 years ago (training, pamphlet series, website revamp, 'direct action solidarity' like Office Angels) has only been becoming visible outside the organisation quite recently.

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Jun 13 2011 15:35
Devrim wrote:
I don't think that this is an 'anti-SolFed' narrative, but given that it has been explained that they are an intrinsic part of the SolFed organisation, it is pretty bizarre.

Speaking as a member of the ancient anti-anarcho-syndicalist conspriacy I think there would have been less confusion if the Education Workers' Network was called SolFed Education Workers.

john
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Jun 14 2011 10:32
Joseph Kay wrote:

Just to expand on this, the strategy could be something like: register with the state and get certified, thus being capable of organising lawful industrial action. Then, go to groups of workers who are either non-unionised or being denied a ballot by their union hierarchy (as happens frequently), who can either breakaway or dual card with the IWW and get their ballot that way. There could be something added to the constitution that no officer or committee of the union has the power to deny a ballot request and must authorise it asap, to guard against the exec getting conservative over fears of getting the union sued. Now IMHO that wouldn't be a revolutionary union, but a rank-and-file (industrial) trade union. That doesn't make it a bad thing. And while I would argue such democratic unions tend strongly to bureaucratise despite best intentions, but such an organisation could potentially push things forward and attract some of the most militant sectors of the TUC unions. But like I say, nobody seems to be making this argument, or even recognising potential problems involved in such a legalistic approach (like Vince Cable's threat to just change the law to deal with effective action). And of course whatever the merits of a rank-and-file controlled trade union, it isn't anarcho-syndicalism (the topic of this thread).

yes, this does seem to sum up pretty well a strong strand of opinion within the IWW - although there are of course multiple strands of opinion

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Jul 7 2011 14:22

Juan-
Some of us have a slur for the whole "get serious, organize, leave politics" thing in the IWW- Don't Think, Organize! (credit: oliver)

No strike clauses-
It's actually worse than people have honestly said. Every shop with a contract with the exception of two longstanding bay area shops (both within the city of berkeley, under basically either liberal industries/political environments and tiny shops) has a no-strike clause. This includes the older shops in Boston (gone?), Seattle, and a number of shops in Portland. Some include labor-peace agreements, and one contract actually went so far as to reject a grievance procedure in favor of management-worker collaboration committees that had no teeth for settling disputes (at a liberal social service ngo). Between the stage of "let's be serious and win some real changes" and "the workers don't want to engage in the fights necessary to win a militant contract" is a serious of populist and pragmatist manuevers.

I'm not interested in BIROC vs SF disputes so I'm going to sidestep that and think it should probably be laid to rest. A couple of questions though

Networks-
Within the solidarity unionist tendency in the IWW there's a range of opinions over what the role of "the union" is. This ranges from being the structural site of collective bargaining (non-contractual or not) to being an intermediate network of militants attempting to facilitate other structures of mass struggle. I'd play FORA & CNT somewhat near the latter, and SF it appears in between. Any thoughts on why it's better for the networks to be a part of SF, rather than SF as operating within?

Dual Unionism-
What's the take away from these fights? I can see some parallels to the US situation in the IWW, where there's some hell bent on integration with the labor legal regime so as to secure primarily material gains which they believe will radicalize workers. There's others who want facilitate building consciousness in struggle, and networks that can be prepared for objective shifts in the class. How does this stuff break down & where does splits/divisions serve and hinder us? I don't have the answers and I tend towards the split side, but I'm working through this.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 7 2011 16:43
Fall Back wrote:
Ed - okay, so you don't think there's been an ongoing narrative against Solfed for years (since EWN launched pretty much) that the Industrial Networks should be open to non-members? I honestly don't think anyone who has posted on libcom last few years can dispute this.

Oh HAI Rata.

Fucking embarassing. Who dragged this thread up again? wall

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 7 2011 16:48
Joseph Kay wrote:
the thing that baffles me the most is the industrial networks are by far the least dynamic and active part of SF, and are much more a long-term project limited mostly to sporadic propaganda output for the time being.

The most baffling element to it seems to be the apparent satisfaction with (or at least terminal ignorance of) the inertia of the network(s). Manchester are improving in this respect, but it's been via a non-sectarian (and by that I mean willing to work with others) approach.

What I can't quite square is how current SFers present the current situation as a solution. It just doesn't tally with the industrial activism which is undertaken by the organisation. The validity of the arguments against opening up the networks should in no way be misconstrued as a justification of them as is in the status quo.

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Jul 7 2011 23:29

I'm probly being thick here but could someone tell me what the SF industrial networks would be do differently if they were to "open up" to non-members? I don't really understand the issue. For whatever little it's worth, I think Devrim's analogy is a good one - you want to be on the scouts football team, you gotta join the scouts.

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Jul 7 2011 23:58
Nate wrote:
I'm probly being thick here but could someone tell me what the SF industrial networks would be do differently if they were to "open up" to non-members? I don't really understand the issue. For whatever little it's worth, I think Devrim's analogy is a good one - you want to be on the scouts football team, you gotta join the scouts.

I think that there is actually a very important question here about the nature of workplace organisations. SolFed has its strategy and I am not bringing it up to argue against that, but more in a general sort of way.

back in the late 80s when we ran a group in the Post Office in the UK, we had all sorts of different people in it ranging from a lone SWP member (the only SWP postman in London to A(C)F members and DAM (now SolFed) members ex-Solidarity members and even a sympathizer of the ICC or two. Eventually after the 89 national strike disagreements about the unions pulled it apart.

I think that people outside of SolFed who have been talking about opening up their industrial networks to outsiders probably feel that people with such similar politics should be working together on things. It is a natural thing.

However, it seems to me that this idea is basically a "let's get over any 'sectarian' differences and all work together sort of thing. Yet to have real joint work, I feel that there must be more than this. You need some sort of agreement on a strategy. SolFed, whether we agree with it or not, have one, which as I understand it is at the basis of their entire political outlook. If you agree with their strategy on this, and after all how workers organise is probably the key practical question that we face in everyday work, perhaps you should be in their organisation.

Perhaps the real question that those people should be asking is how can the people in SolFed industrial networks co-operate and do joint work with other individuals and groups?

Devrim

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Jul 8 2011 07:04

Devrim, despite our disagreements in the past, that is a great post.

I don't have time to go into open/closed networks discussion atm (and where we could improve our networks, which seems widely acknowledged), but the general feeling is that as SF undertakes practical activity, people will come to us. We've definitely seen this in the recent months. Even some of those individuals who previously would have joined an open network but didn't want to join SF (for whatever reason) have now expressed interested in joining SF outright.

And, of course, SF's goal are two-fold: to grow into an effective A/S union and to see A/S methods implemented across the class (JK talks about creating a situation where self-organisation is normalised across the class, the default response to problems at work). Because of this, how we relate to non-radical workmates and engage them in struggle (and hopefully develop their politics in the process) is integral to our strategy.