Revolutionary unions and the use of "professionals" in disputes

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Apr 12 2016 03:27
Revolutionary unions and the use of "professionals" in disputes
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Steven. wrote:
zaczek wrote:
militant-proletarian wrote:
The GTC is nothing more than a cooperative with people who knows what to do in complex cases or conflicts where workers legally need to watch their backs. It's a service if you like, and a job like that must be paid or do you work for free?[...]So yes we need people who know what to do, the same when you go to a doctor from whom you expect some knowledge about your body and health.

And how exactly is that different from mainstream unionism and mainstream associations?

Yeah, if you're seriously trying to argue that no "revolutionary" organisation should ever try to use legal means to help with disputes, then I don't think you're going to find many people to agree with you here. And TBH it's a completely different discussion, so you should start a new thread about that and stop derailing this discussion.

There is already a thread about the CNT supposedly using legal maneuvers to secure the IWA name. By "use legal means to help with disputes", I think Steven is refering to disputes with employers and/or the state and not internal disputes or disputes against other working class associations.

It seems to me that the methods being used by some revolutionary unionists in recent years, resulting in impressive offensive and defensive victories or steady growth in numbers, depend on a clever balancing act between direct action and using employment law where it advances workers interests. Is the use of employment law and courts reformist or is it an unavoidable "dirty" reality at the frontline of class struggle? Does it inevitably lead to bureaucratic control with paid professionals and experts making decisions for workers or can rank and file workers remain in the driving seat at all times?

syndicalist
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Apr 12 2016 16:21

What's the GTC link again?

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Apr 12 2016 17:08
syndicalist wrote:
What's the GTC link again?

According to people on that thread, the GTC is a workers' co-op of lawyers, which is contracted by the CNT to work on their behalf on some issues. Nominally it is independent of the CNT, however some have argued that it's not that independent, and one person alleged that one of its worker-owners is the wife of a current or former leading CNT activist. If you think this is relevant. I don't, particularly.

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Apr 12 2016 17:32

Of course we should use both paid staff and the courts where possible.

A common anarchist mistake is to conflate the existence of bureaucrats for the rule of bureaucrats.

syndicalist
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Apr 12 2016 17:46
Steven. wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
What's the GTC link again?

According to people on that thread, the GTC is a workers' co-op of lawyers, which is contracted by the CNT to work on their behalf on some issues. Nominally it is independent of the CNT, however some have argued that it's not that independent, and one person alleged that one of its worker-owners is the wife of a current or former leading CNT activist. If you think this is relevant. I don't, particularly.

Steve --- Do they have a website? That's what I'm looking for.

I'm mainly curious as what extend the use of lawyers have become in the CNT. I've seen what appears to be an uptick in their use over the years, so my curiousity has been peaked.

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Apr 13 2016 03:20

There was a recent academic article in English by Beltran Roca, a sociologist & CNT member in Cadiz, which was a case study on the use of a lawyer by the CNT union of Puerto de Santa Maria. He says it led to more than 1000 percent gain in membership, including sections in four or five companies with 50 or more employees...mainly in the metalworking & cleaning sectors. Lawyer was hired to provide legal advice to workers, it was a service the CNT provided. Led to some struggles over things like wage theft and the like...sounded similar to what workers centers do in the USA. He said the local union's original purpose was to build a union in the smaller retail & service businesses that dominate in Puerto de Santa Maria but the CNT has not yet found a way to build an organization in this sector. He also said the union was often not able to hold on to many of the new members, who joined while their own issue was in play but dropped out later.

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Apr 13 2016 03:39
Quote:
A common anarchist mistake is to conflate the existence of bureaucrats for the rule of bureaucrats.

I mean, cay you separate the two? I'd argue a bureaucracy create bureaucrats and not the other way around, know what I mean?

Admin, or course is necessary, but clearly paid organizational staff develop a set of interests and priorities different from those of the larger organization.

redsdisease
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Apr 13 2016 04:43
Pennoid wrote:
Of course we should use both paid staff and the courts where possible.

A common anarchist mistake is to conflate the existence of bureaucrats for the rule of bureaucrats.

I'm certainly not opposed to using lawyers when needed and having (limited) paid staff in revolutionary unions, but when you consider that the bureaucratic service model of unionism is far and away the dominant model of unionism in the US (I'm not as familiar with Spain but I suspect that it's similar) I can understand why a lot of revolutionary unionists are skeptical of anything that may lead in that direction.

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Apr 13 2016 06:44
syndicalistcat wrote:
There was a recent academic article in English by Beltran Roca, a sociologist & CNT member in Cadiz, which was a case study on the use of a lawyer by the CNT union of Puerto de Santa Maria.

Is this article available somewhrere on the web? I know his book and some of his articles and we made of booklet in German of one his writings about the CNT Sevilla couple of years ago. But I could not find that said article.

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Apr 13 2016 13:26
robot wrote:
syndicalistcat wrote:
There was a recent academic article in English by Beltran Roca, a sociologist & CNT member in Cadiz, which was a case study on the use of a lawyer by the CNT union of Puerto de Santa Maria.

Is this article available somewhrere on the web? I know his book and some of his articles and we made of booklet in German of one his writings about the CNT Sevilla couple of years ago. But I could not find that said article.

Robot ---- Perhaps this is the one Cat is referring to: https://libcom.org/forums/thought/debate-cnt-27122007

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Apr 13 2016 13:55
syndicalist wrote:
Robot ---- Perhaps this is the one Cat is referring to: https://libcom.org/forums/thought/debate-cnt-27122007

I don't think so. That article is from 2007 and as far as I do remember the syndicate at Puerto de Santa Maria was not set up before 2010 or so.

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Apr 13 2016 14:14

As with all questions of organization and tactics, "what's the balance" or the right "mix"? And as small workplaces become more then exception than the rule, this places a different slant on things. Though the union I used to belong to, District 65 (http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/wag_006/bioghist.html) , all of its "founding locals" were composed of small shops. Granted there were contractual relations, but not a whole lot of reliance on lawyers. In areas of concentrated shops, a key is strong committees or other similar multishop worker controlled engagement. This is an interesting article on a relative more recent experience (one where libertarian workers were also involved): http://www.labornotes.org/2004/11/steward-system-key-building-downtown-w...

In terms of small shop organizing, these are three interesting pieces:

1. " Small is not beautiful: Working at the San Francisco Bay Guardian " https://libcom.org/library/small-not-beautiful
2. " Lessons from small shop organizing "https://libcom.org/blog/lessons-small-shop-organizing-20122013
3. " Notes from the class struggle: small group workplace organising " https://libcom.org/library/notes-class-struggle-small-group-workplace-or...
4. " Concrete examples of non-Labour Relations Board unions (Part II) - Phinneas Gage "
https://libcom.org/blog/concrete-examples-non-labour-relations-board-uni...
5. " Precarious and pissed off: Lessons from the Montpelier Downtown Workers' Union, 2003-2005 " https://libcom.org/library/precarious-pissed-lessons-montpelier-downtown...
6. "A More Perfect Union? Montpelier's downtown workers are fighting for their rights — to organize"
http://commonstruggle.org/node/1140

Mark.
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Apr 13 2016 14:14
robot wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
Robot ---- Perhaps this is the one Cat is referring to: https://libcom.org/forums/thought/debate-cnt-27122007

I don't think so. That article is from 2007 and as far as I do remember the syndicate at Puerto de Santa Maria was not set up before 2010 or so.

There's a longer article by Beltrán Roca Martínez here, but again I don't think it's the one being referred to:

https://libcom.org/library/anarchism-anthropology-andalucia-analysis-cnt...‘new-capitalism’

syndicalist
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Apr 13 2016 14:22

Ah, that's the one I was looking for, Mark. Maybe not Robot, but that's the one I thought had the info. Tho the whole voting thing is instructive in light of the other conversation (https://libcom.org/forums/news/cnt-leaves-iwa-intends-start-new-iwa-0504... )

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Apr 13 2016 17:44

robot, the article by Beltran Roca is available on the web, in PDF form, but I can't seem to find it at the moment.

Mark.
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Apr 13 2016 17:53

This one?

http://www.academia.edu/21446243/The_Role_of_Social_Networks_in_Trade_Un...

More articles here:

http://uca-es.academia.edu/BeltránRoca

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Apr 13 2016 17:54

in regard to use of staff, I think the stance of the University Professional & Technical Employees at University of California (affiliate of CWA) is interesting.Their position is they refuse to have staff do things the members can & should do. So in particular they do not have staff to handle grievances or do negotiations with management. Rather, they do have a staff person who trains rank and file members on how to do these things...stewards doing the grievances & a rank and file negotiating committee for negotiations. I think they are correct in not having paid staff to do these things. Members have to live under the contracts & the results of any negotiation.

On the other hand, there are techniques in negotiating but these can be taught. I notice CGT in Spain has classes in its worker social center on how to do negotiations. So if we take the UPTE position an education role is performed by a staff person....persumably a more experienced member who has been hired to do this.

Another criterion I've sometimes heard is it's okay to have staff to do some technical task, like keeping books or giving legal advice. But even these are things people can learn. I've heard of people using "Labor Law for the Rank and Filer" by Staughton Lynd for workshops on workplace strategy.

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Apr 13 2016 18:05

Mark, Yes, that's the article. Thanks.

What he was interested in that piece is the way recruitment to the union worked along lines of personal social networks. So he did a kind of mathematical study of the links that lead to membership. Not surprisingly, most were links to others at work, but some people were brought to the union via people in other community organizations. His study revealed that only about 8 percent of the new members joined the union for reasons of ideological affinity. On the other hand, people who joined on the basis of affinity tended to stay more committed to the union & were less likely to drop out.

He also provides some general context of the labor situation in Andalucia. He says the Workers Commisssions and UGT have declining membership, their membership tends to be concentrated among men, and in middle working years. The three grassroots unions in Andalusia, CNT, CGT and SAT on the other hand he says have been growing in recent years, and tend to have more younger members and more women members.

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Apr 13 2016 18:28

It's worth considering how the bureaucratic layer came to dominate in unions. in the USA this sort of emerged in late 1890s to early 1900s in several ways. In the 1890s the delegates were often radicals, anarchists or socialists, and they'd get fired. Workers didn't want to lose their commitment & knowledge, so they hired them to do that full time. This was origin of the business agent system. But then the paid BA mediates between workers and bosses, and over time they would develop a circle of cronies through getting them jobs from contractors or helping them on their issues. They wouldn't train anyone how to do grievances so a pattern of dependence developed.

Control over hiring halls was another way favoritism & ddpendency would enter the picture. In early 20th century so much work was very precarious hiring halls were important in quite a few unions. But again officials could use their relations with employers to get jobs for their friends. And then there was the development of "collective bargaining" by paid officials, and the officials kept anything they learned to themselves & tried to "organize the employers" by being conciliatory & guaranteeing "labor peace" through no-strike contracts.

So what we see here is how the paid people were becoming mediators, brokering sale of labor power to employers, and developing a kind of clientelist relationship where union members are dependent on them.

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Apr 13 2016 18:37

Just a small comment on this subject. Personally I'm not an anarcho syndicalist/revolutionary unionist. However I think if you have any sort of anarcho syndicalist/revolutionary union which starts getting anywhere in terms of numbers then you will get into this dilemma. Although I think that a more important problem which arises is that if you get more and more members it is inevitable that either the union remains democratic, and becomes less radical as larger proportions of the membership are less radical, or the union stays nominally "radical" but ceases being democratic as it is run by a radical core. I think both these issues are related, and basically big reasons why I'm not an anarcho syndicalist.

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Apr 13 2016 19:18
Steven. wrote:
I'm not an anarcho syndicalist.

What do counterpose for workplace organization?

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Apr 13 2016 19:34
syndicalist wrote:
Steven. wrote:
I'm not an anarcho syndicalist.

What do counterpose for workplace organization?

Sorry not sure what you mean here?

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Apr 13 2016 19:52

Re: S-cat:

This book was really informative on that front:
https://books.google.com/books?id=VMEXIuaAM8YC&pg=PP4&lpg=PP4&dq=making+...

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Apr 13 2016 20:13
Steven. wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
Steven. wrote:
I'm not an anarcho syndicalist.

What do counterpose for workplace organization?

Sorry not sure what you mean here?

Oh, basically all I was asking what form of workers organization do support?
If not anarcho-syndicalism as a workplace strategy, something else perhaps?
That's what I meant. Not asked in a disrespectful or hostile way. Just out of curiousity

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Apr 13 2016 23:33

Hey, yeah I didn't mean my question to be argumentative, I just wasn't sure what you meant.

Basically I don't think that workplace organisation should be based on your political views, as I don't see how you can ever get the majority of the workplace in a proper anarcho-syndicalist organisation, unless it is a very small, lefty type workplace anyway, or unless actually you let people join who have completely different political views. But then of course it will cease to be a radical political organisation, and just be a standard union.

So I believe in having radical, political organisations of the working class, whose members agitate and organise at work and help each other where they can. But the core of any organisation in a workplace is the informal workgroup. So we should try to build these. And these can often include people with politics completely the opposite of yours. As for the specifics of how to organise I think they depend on the particular circumstances in a workplace, so I can't really be more prescriptive than that. Sometimes it would be worth joining a union, but sometimes it wouldn't. But whatever you should try to organise across all different divisions, between permanent and temporary, union and non-union, etc and begin to deal with issues together, collectively, and with direct action.

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Apr 13 2016 23:37

thanks for that reference Tarwater

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Apr 13 2016 23:42
Steven. wrote:
Hey, yeah I didn't mean my question to be argumentative,

Actually, I was thinking the same on my behalf as well

Thanks for the explanation

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Apr 13 2016 23:45

the idea that the union will become less radical as it grows presents a static picture of the consciousness of the members. but the fact is, unionism historically only tends to grow in big spurts in periods of large strike waves. The struggles & growing worker social power through solidarity and participation in struggles can lead to growing class consciousness and radicalism in that membership. This is why the picture of a more conservative union after growth isn't always what happens.

This happens sometimes...seem to have happened with the French CGT in its huge growth spurt from 100,000 to 700,000 by 1912 or so. Strikes led to government & employers becoming more concilitatory, more electoral socialists became active in the union, and reformist tendencies grew.

But that didn't happen with the big growth period of the Spanish CNT from 1917 to 1919, when union grew to about a million members, mainly through general strikes in Barcelona and Valencia. These large struggles in that case coincided with a process of class formation in which worker consciousness changed. In his history of the CNT in Valencia, Furkiss deals with the claim that the workers "were still mostly still republicans". He gives counter evidence to show that working class political consciousness had changed from what existed in Valencia before World War 1, when a local populist Republican party had major working class support.

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Apr 14 2016 01:00

I'm not sure there's really a suitable comparison in the U.S. to whatever is happening or not happening with the CNT and lawyers in Spain, but if I had to guess, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) here would be the closest. Using this, by filing an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint, the NLRB, if it takes on your complaint, more or less acts as your lawyer against the company and its lawyers.

The IWW has no problem using these, although not everyone agrees on how they should be used, and I suppose there is a small minority that believes they should never be used.

I agree a lot with Kevin S. in his article 'Wobblies and unfair labor practices', in which he states:

Wobblies ostensibly use ULPs as a last resort when other forms of escalation fail. In practice, folks often treat them as a form of escalation. In truth, they are a form of de-escalation. A phrase some Wobblies use is: “Direct action is our sword, while labor law is our shield.” A better phrase might be: “Direct action is our sword, while labor law is capitalism’s shield.” The whole point of labor law is to restrain workers’ power, encourage class collaboration, and prevent economic disruption.

With some of us in the Twin Cities, we've been critical of this orientation to 'File ULPs', as if it some automatic step in a campaign. While a couple of people have gotten their jobs back, the vast majority of ULPs drag on for years. The ULPs for the firing of the core organizers in the Jimmy Johns campaign 5 years ago are still unresolved! In the meantime, that campaign fell apart and no longer exists.

Speaking of Jimmy Johns, Kevin S. also states:

It’s problematic that ULPs are treated as standard union practice. ULPs often act as a relief valve when struggles reach a point where further escalation poses hazards for the union, especially potential legal consequences. This happened when Jimmy John’s fired six Wobblies. A plan to escalate through a series of direct actions fell apart when an action was canceled due to the lawyer’s concerns about potential legal issues. The lawyer was afraid direct action would have negative repercussions for the fired workers’ court case. The decision not to use direct action transformed the workers’ struggle into a legal battle.

Now this account of what happened is contested, but I believe this version of events.

In my personal experience, as an outside organizer for a campaign here in Minneapolis a few years ago, he had 5 organizers fired. We filed ULPs and did pickets of the workplace in question. The pickets themselves were the most militant and disruptive we've ever had. We planned them well and executed perfectly. We pushed what we were doing to the very limit of the law and to be honest we were probably breaking the law. The only way we could have done more is if we did 'hard pickets', where we purposefully blocked entry, refused to move and would have been willing to get arrested.

However, the NLRB told us that if we did anything in our efforts against the store that would have resulted in a legal firing, than we would forfeit our ULPs. We ended up settling with the enterprise before this fact became important, but this is a good example of the carrot and the stick that labor law is. By relying on these legal proceedings, you can run up into a situation where the NLRB lawyers are dictating your campaign.

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Apr 14 2016 06:21
syndicalistcat wrote:
the idea that the union will become less radical as it grows presents a static picture of the consciousness of the members.

Bit of a derail, but there's also the point that anarchism isn't just any political idea, it's a set of practices repeatedly rediscovered by workers in struggle (with or without the presence of self-identifying anarchists). But this is a recurring and off-topic discussion so I'll leave it at that.

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Apr 14 2016 07:34
Steven. wrote:
Basically I don't think that workplace organisation should be based on your political views, as I don't see how you can ever get the majority of the workplace in a proper anarcho-syndicalist organisation, unless it is a very small, lefty type workplace anyway, or unless actually you let people join who have completely different political views. But then of course it will cease to be a radical political organisation, and just be a standard union.

So I believe in having radical, political organisations of the working class, whose members agitate and organise at work and help each other where they can. But the core of any organisation in a workplace is the informal workgroup. So we should try to build these. And these can often include people with politics completely the opposite of yours. As for the specifics of how to organise I think they depend on the particular circumstances in a workplace, so I can't really be more prescriptive than that. Sometimes it would be worth joining a union, but sometimes it wouldn't. But whatever you should try to organise across all different divisions, between permanent and temporary, union and non-union, etc and begin to deal with issues together, collectively, and with direct action.

And that's the right answer!

Much as I'd like all workers in any given workplace to be influenced by anarchist ideas, I don't see it happening. That said, anarcho syndicalism doesn't necessarily mean every one is an anarchist.

In non revolutionary times though, any permanent union organisations will have a tendency to become less revolutionary and more like mainstream unions or die... or they become small, more politically focused propaganda groups.