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Anarcho-syndicalists in Britain - SF or IWW?

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888
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Jul 8 2011 07:10

Scott-
I'm pretty sure the Seattle Madison Market branch doesn't have a no-strike clause. They just voted to strike 12-1 along with the shopfloor workers in the UFCW.

s.nappalos
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Jul 8 2011 12:49

Oh really? Interesting. I thought they just voted in between contract periods.

Chili-
"the general feeling is that as SF undertakes practical activity, people will come to us."

I used to believe this, but now I think it's contextual. The reality is that in normal times I don't think you're going to get people becoming revolutionaries overnight because you fought for and won pay when their shop closed for renovation (to take an example). You likely will pick up militants who become radicalized, politicized workers, etc., but in order to have a functioning shop-based anarchosyndicalist union in reality takes a really high level of militancy, willingness to fight constantly for years, and having the resolve to resist very really repression. Work sucks enough on it's own, and it's usually a better deal for people to either lay low, change jobs, or seek out solutions within the existing means of settling disputes. I actually think that most of the time you probably can win more gains with reformist methods, and building revolutionary workers organizations will require objective shifts in circumstances that break down the normal means of settling disputes/incorporating struggle/etc (which may be coming soon anyway).

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Jul 8 2011 16:34

s.n - totally agree dude. My statement was just in relation to non-SF anarchos. The idea initially (at least as I understand it) was that by opening up the networks, we could form better networks of anarchist militants than by keeping the networks solely in SF. We decided against this and since SF has gotten more active in the economic realm (arguably the most workplace-oriented anarchist organisation in the UK, although I'm sure some will disagree), those anarchist have been coming to us anyway and have done so without us opening up the networks.

888 - More info comrade! Link?

posi
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Jul 8 2011 16:51

Just quickly, obv. any serious org of any size will network its members industrially somehow, and having a name for how that happens is fine, and it doesn't necessarily fo

For me, the open question is over how people in SolFed see the move to revolutionary unions happening, both politically and organisationally. I mean, for example (genuinely curious), is it something other than (politically) accept the IWA political framework and organisationally (join SolFed), and when lots of people do that you'll first have industrial networks worth the name, and then, when they get really big, you can call them revolutionary unions?

So the strategy is... a) do class struggle, b) build SolFed?

Or is there some perspective that political reorientation and organisational regroupment will be necessary? I'm assuming that SolFed aren't into the political dilution approach which I perceive (wrongly?) to have been a feature of some European IWA affiliates, who have a relatively minimal political platform. Is that what the 'three nos' are about, btw? Instead, SolFed is more or less into building networks of revolutionary workers who act as political militants at work, and that's their vision of a 'revolutionary union'?

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Jul 8 2011 17:41
Chilli Sauce wrote:
888 - More info comrade! Link?

There's nothing online about it yet, except in the sense of an email of the Seattle IWW's meeting minutes. Unfortunately I missed that meeting, so I don't have any more details. Basically, in the consumer co-op Madison Market, the office workers upstairs are in the IWW, and the cashiers etc. (many more of them) are in the UFCW. Both groups approved to strike by overwhelming majorities, because they disagreed with management's new terms on health insurance and other things in the contract. However, that doesn't mean there will definitely be a strike yet, as management may give in before that happens.

Naturally if the strike does happen the Sea IWW GMB and SeaSol will be giving their full external support.

s.n. - this was in between contract periods, I think. However I'm still quite sure the contract doesn't contain a no-strike clause, I remember asking them about this some time ago.

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Jul 8 2011 20:24

Stealing this from JK:

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 to include the whole workforce.

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Jul 8 2011 21:59

Well said Devrim. On this bit -

Devrim wrote:
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?

Right. And, I'd always assumed that the folk in the network *do* cooperate with other individuals and groups at least some of the time (I've not heard anything to the contrary, someone correct me if that's not the case). I mean, all radicals doing anything are acting within larger grouping of workers who don't share some or all of their views, and all radicals interacting with other workers must to some limited extent cooperate on stuff with people outside their group some of the time.

So the issue is right as you - HOW to co-operate, but the implications in this post (and maybe I've understood) seem to be framing the issue like people think the issue is WHETHER the networks co-operate with others.

Really I think the key is one of transparency and control. SolFed should set the agenda for their networks in the way that they think is best for their organization (and they believe in doing things that are best for their organization which are also good for the class - that's why they, as working class radicals, belong to and try to build their organization). That will of course lead to SolFedders having to navigate working with people who aren't members and who have different agendas, but that's unavoidable.

What I still can't tell is the difference between "SolFed should open up the network" and "SolFed should not move an agenda within the network set by SolFed members in accord with SolFed's aims and principles." Am I missing something?

Edit: Also, on the stuff in Seattle, I don't know if there's a no strike clause there or not but I believe that they're not currently in the middle of a contract. D from Seattle told me about the strike vote and it came up during contract negotiations as a rejection of an offer from management.

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Jul 8 2011 22:10
Nate wrote:
What I still can't tell is the difference between "SolFed should open up the network" and "SolFed should not move an agenda within the network set by SolFed members in accord with SolFed's aims and principles." Am I missing something?

Nate, I'm not totally sure I understand this. Are you saying that since SF and SF members already operate within networks of co-workers and militants, what we are effectively doing is 'moving an agenda within the network set by SolFed members in accord with SolFed's aims and principles'? So that the question of opening the network is redundant?

Or did I totally get the wrong end of the stick on that one?

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Jul 9 2011 01:11

Sorry, I wasn't clear. Like I said I'm not sure I know what people mean when they say "open up the network."

One thing it could mean is "make the network a project where everyone gets equal say in running it regardless of whether or not they belong to SF", because presumably right now SolFedders get more say than anyone else (which sounds right to me!). That would effectively make it a SolFed built thing but not a SolFed project anymore. SFers might still meet privately to talk about how to act within the larger network, but the network would be a kind of organization of its own. Another thing "open it up" it could mean is to do the above but take it a step further and not have SFers even try to move an agenda collectively inside the network.

I'm pretty sure I've read stuff where anarchist groups in the US that are experimenting with solidarity networks are proceeding in one or the other of these ways. I think either one would be a mistake for SF.

If "open up the network" means something else, cool, I may be missing something, like I said.

Is that clearer?

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Jul 9 2011 08:09

Yeah.

So the idea was that we'd open the networks to other anarchists primarily--folks that were interested in the workplace focus of SF, but weren't comfortable joining SF for whatever reason. The networks would have their own democratic controls (exercised by everyone in the network), but would kind of be sponsored by SF in terms of funding, getting them off the ground, etc.

But we decided against it and, although at one point I was on the opposite side of the argument, I think that was the right decision.

no1
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Jul 9 2011 08:39

I think to call it "opening up" is very misleading because the SolFed industrial networks are completely open for anyone to join who agrees with our basic principles (SF members can divide their activity between locals and networks in which ever way they like, so anyone could just join SF and only be active in an industrial network). So I think "opening up" implies admitting members who reject our basic principles or who reject what we're trying to achieve, i.e. build a revolutionary union. IMO this would be a pretty bad idea as it would quickly lead to disagreement and paralysis.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 9 2011 22:42

Hardly anyone's arguing for them being open to non-SFers anyway (not inside
the org anyway), so it'd be good if people could stop discussing that. In fact, my last post was a deliberate attempt at pointing out the apparent conflation of resolving that particular issue and 'resolving' the networks.

Right now, the EWN can't offer much to its members (DESPITE them all being SFers) and i don't see any real drive towards making it more active. Even with all the talk about the political-economic combination, our main/only economic strand is largely hypothetical.

I'm still unsure as to what the solution is if at all. If the network exists to recruit, should we be cold-selling the paper to colleagues? (I know this will get denied as a mischaracterisation, so answer it genuinely rather than rudely.) Personally, I'd much rather be promoting a/s and libcom methods than the party form (and I'm not sure I wanna associate with anyone who differs with me on that). However, I worry I'm in a minority cos this would quite possibly lead to a separate/parallel grouping autonomously forming outside of SF. In fact, in my short time following the network's updates, I've already seen this happen.

I honestly think that it'll be easier to get people organising mass meetings and wildcat strikes, etc, than it will be to get them to join an organisation. Of course, talk to any cenetista, and they'll tell you that even when you do get groups of workers in struggle joining, you're still risking diluting your group's politics, or many of them being paper members only (cos of the CNT quid pro quo), or them leaving soon after. All of these scenarios would foment a de facto two-tier membership anyway IMO.

It's disingenous and naive to suggest that there's an easy solution to these questions, and I worry about some of the vocal members of the organisation who are so confident in their own projections which, lest we forget, are largely based on theory rather than experience. Interestingly, many of the older and more battle-hardened members of the org appear to lack the confidence in debate of the younger ones.

All in all, I know that SF have the right politics, but I think the medium term strategy (and the non-workplace strategy) still have a long way to go and we need to stop kidding ourselves about this.

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Jul 9 2011 23:08

Caiman - I'm somewhat baffled by your post, so I'm going to assume I've misunderstood it, so you may have to clarify.

Our industrial strategy is pretty clear on this. We try and organise mass meetings and direct action of all workers. While we'd obviously want to recruit people who agree with our politics, no one (afaik) would suggest our strategy is to tell people to just join solfed - our strategy is that we push for workplace organisation along anarcho-syndicalist lines.

Some of the other stuff like this "Interestingly, many of the older and more battle-hardened members of the org appear to lack the confidence in debate of the younger ones." is just utterly perplexing - honestly mate, I can't believe we've been in the same organisation for 5 years if you perceive this, because I can't imagine ANYONE else in the organisation has observed this.

To be honest, I really, really hope I've entirely misunderstood you, because if you've genuinely missed what our (long term, publicly stated) strategy says so completely, then that's a shocking indictment on us as an organisation.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 9 2011 23:27
Fall Back wrote:
Our industrial strategy is pretty clear on this. We try and organise mass meetings and direct action of all workers. While we'd obviously want to recruit people who agree with our politics, no one (afaik) would suggest our strategy is to tell people to just join solfed - our strategy is that we push for workplace organisation along anarcho-syndicalist lines.

Indeed, and I joined on that basis. How does this square with the current trend towards prioritising recruitment though? Note the whole tone of this thread: self-important SFers desperately scrambling to distinguish themselves from the IWW in really tedious and self-perpetuating fashion.

And how does this square with the networks proposal? How does the pomposity of the attitudes towards the IWW and the networks square with, say, Workmates, or any sort of industrial organising?

(You're free to answer this one with either an insulting putdown or a genuine reply btw)

Quote:
Some of the other stuff like this "Interestingly, many of the older and more battle-hardened members of the org appear to lack the confidence in debate of the younger ones." is just utterly perplexing - honestly mate, I can't believe we've been in the same organisation for 5 years if you perceive this, because I can't imagine ANYONE else in the organisation has observed this.

Oddly enough, I've just received an email from a Solfedder saying how valid that criticism is.

Congrats on the sarcastic ultimatum though, way to bully and intimidate those trying to participate.

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Jul 10 2011 00:05

Honestly Caiman, it's hard to engage with you if you're going to keep posting in this manner. Passive-aggressive claims of 'intimidation' and 'bullying' really don't do you any favours, so leave it out, please.

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Indeed, and I joined on that basis. How does this square with the current trend towards prioritising recruitment though?

I (genuinely!) have no idea what you're talking about here. Obviously, there might b e stuff going on in your local I haven't seen, but that's not the impression I've gotten from speaking to several of them for various reasons over the past few weeks.

Yes, we've grown a fair bit recently (altho hardly hugely) - this is more down to 2 things, none of which are 'prioritising recruitment'

1. The period - big visible anti-cuts movement, (compatatively) large amounts of publicity for solfed etc.
2. Generally, just having our shit together - emails getting replied to, better infrastructure, organiser training program in place, being better at asking contacts to join etc.

There's been no turn to recruitment at all - and tbh I really can't see where you'd get that from, other than anti-leftist slave morality. It's not a bad that that now we're doing stuff better people want to join us - nor is it a bad thing that we try and persuade people who are close to us to join. If we think we are right, then obviously we should be convincing people of this and trying to get them onside. In most organisations like unions it's been demonstrated time and again (and I'd imagine due to paralysing fear of "not being the SWP" more so for anarchists!) the main thing that stops people joining is simply not being asked - it's not a bad thing that we're trying to get over this. Certainly, even of late our experience in Brighton has been people having to ask to join (rather than being hacked) - sometimes to the extent that people felt they weren't wanted in the organisation as we never asked them to join.

Quote:
Note the whole tone of this thread: self-important SFers desperately scrambling to distinguish themselves from the IWW in really tedious and self-perpetuating fashion.

It's a thread on an anarchist discussion forum, discussing 2 very different models of workplace organising. I honestly fail to see what surprises you! Obviously, the SF members are likely to favour and advocate the SF model, likewise for the IWW. If we think our respective models are the best way to win and make gains, then obviously we're going to argue for them, in the hope that it'll lead to more people working according to tactics we think offer a perspective, instead of those which we feel to be a dead end. I'm sorry you find the thread tedious, and I can respect that (I find most of the debates on libcom tedious beyond reason with an incredibly low level of debate, with a few aberations I've largely found this one to actually be an exception). But arguing strongly for why our industrial strategy - ie, the reason most of us are in the organisation - is preferable to an incompatible one is hardly an obsession with recruitment.

Quote:
And how does this square with the networks proposal?

I assume you mean the proposal re: workplace groups? While I don't have the wording in front of me, I can't see why this would be a big deal, it seems a pretty logical step. I assume it's uncontraversial that SF members in the same workplaces should work together and network, and that they should try get more people in board? Basically, that's all the proposal says - pretty much because it's easier for 2/3/many people to argue for mass meetings, democratic control of struggles etc. etc. than it is for 1 person to. It's not a change in orientation or anything - it's pretty much just anacho-common sense.

If people aren't going to join, fine. We'll still work with them, organise alongside them, we'll still offer them organiser training etc. It's not an either or!

Quote:
How does the pomposity of the attitudes towards the IWW

I don't think disagreeing and arguing against (again, on a discussion forum) a tactic we think is a complete dead end is "pomposity". We aren't arguing against the IWW because they are the rivals - we argue against them because we think they are wrong.

Quote:
or the networks square with, say, Workmates, or any sort of industrial organising?

I don't know what you mean by the networks here. But the industrial strategy and our practice is, in immediate terms, based more on Workmates than anything else. If you look at Workmates, the biggest problem was that too much fell to one guy - another reason it would be good to have workplace groups tbh! I really don't see how there is any kind of conflict?

Quote:
Oddly enough, I've just received an email from a Solfedder saying how valid that criticism is.

Well, as I've said, this is totally at odds with my experience of conference, weekend school, the list etc. etc. Nor is it one of the things that comes up when we've discussed (in tortuous detail!) things that keep people from being involved in the organisation - the opposite in fact.

I really can't see rana or T. from Manchester cowering from debate with the young upstarts for example! smile

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Jul 10 2011 11:45
Quote:
How does this square with the current trend towards prioritising recruitment though?

I've got to be honest C, I don't see this trend either. We've grown--which is great--but when, at least in my local, we meet with prospective members we always inform them (and they usually ask, especially if they're new to the 'scene') about other alternatives. We regularly tell people check out the IWW, AF, or even the Commune and then come back to us if they think we're the best fit for them. And, in any case, we keep them on our mailing list for socials, public meetings, organiser training, etc, and tell them that even if they don't join, if they have a problem at work, we'll be more than glad to offer support.

In relation to this thread, it's been stated again and again that one of the main differences between SF and the IWW is that the IWW want struggle to occur under their banner (and need people to join for this to occur) while SF wants to see A/S methods implemented across the class (and if we grow in the process, great!). But that doesn't at all seem like prioritising recruitment at all to me.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 10 2011 12:17

Chili (and Fall Back, with whom I spoke at length last night), I'm really glad to see how N London and Brighton operate. It seems much closer to my vision of anarcho-syndicalism.

I hope SLSF members are following this thread.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 10 2011 13:28
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Yeah, I agree totally with Chilli and Fall Back.

No you don't. sad

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Jul 10 2011 13:49

Jesus fuck you mentalists, aren't you like in adjacent rooms? grin xx

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 10 2011 14:35

I'm in Essex so no. wink

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Jul 10 2011 19:17

Caiman, I like your points about being modest, realistic about current and likely future limits etc. On this --

Caiman del Barrio wrote:
I'd much rather be promoting a/s and libcom methods than the party form (and I'm not sure I wanna associate with anyone who differs with me on that). However, I worry I'm in a minority cos this would quite possibly lead to a separate/parallel grouping autonomously forming outside of SF.

I've heard a lot of people say variations on this, the stock phrase is something like "I want to build the class struggle, not build an organization." That strikes me as more heat than light and a false dichotomy. There are clearly ways to build organizations at the expense of class struggle, in some contexts. There are also clearly ways in which avoiding organization impedes class struggle, in some context. As you say, no easy answers. Why "class struggle is more important than organization" doesn't shed any real light, though, is that anyone building any organizations on the even mildly class conscious left at all thinks that they are building the class struggle via building their organization, and that they are building their organization by engaging in class struggle. Some people are wrong, of course, but I think these terms are too general to be much use. Instead it's gotta me more concrete and specific (perhaps not appropriate for a public message board) about how X project of organization does build the class struggle, or doesn't, or how Y project of class struggle is going well despite not building organization (or would be made worse by introducing an organization building component as well).

Finally on this --

Caiman del Barrio wrote:
it'll be easier to get people organising mass meetings and wildcat strikes, etc, than it will be to get them to join an organisation.

Probably. I don't see why that's a good idea, though. Easier isn't better. To make the case for this you;d have to show not simply "This is easier" but "Here's why this is a better outcome." Part of why I think this approach is less likely to be better is that methods are ephemeral. A wildcat, a walkout, a mass meeting etc, those are cool and important things that change people's lives. But people are dynamic not just in positive ways but in negative ones too - people can cool down after they heat up. A wildcat on its own that ends in a return to work matters very little. It matters insofar as it contributes to something that comes after it. One point of organizations is to maximize that contribution of stuff that comes after. To put it another way, recruiting via organizing means trying to get people to heat up and then via that heat trying to get some of them into a process where they start to generate their own internal heat source individually and collectively, so they stay heated up for much longer and perhaps come to play more of a role in other people's heating up. Presumably becoming a member is part of that process, and presumably this is part of what SolFed members are trying to do and why it makes sense to be a member of SolFed instead of an individual with A/S views. (And yeah, all of this is really hard, success rates will be low.)

Final thought, part of this I think is about defining success and failure. If success is "getting temporary militant stuff to happen in ways that A/Sers approve of" (which is basically what talk about promoting methods means, I think) that's a different - and, as you say, easier, but I don't think better - standard than "getting there to be more anarchosyndicalists committed to all of this."