What's your actual workplace practice?

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syndicalist
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Mar 22 2012 14:07
What's your actual workplace practice?

I hope I'm doing this right. I'm mainly interested in hearing and learning about the current, actual on job practices of libertarian workers. This is posed in a friend, comradely manner. Not meant to say one practice is better then another
then another. What I mainly interested in how folks connect their ideas to their actual practice. Oft times connecting the ideological with the daily, on the ground grind, tests us in ways and manners that aren't always covered by our revolutionary manifestos, platforms and programs.

So, it's be good to listen, to learn and to absorb what folks current, on job practices are.

I understand that there are comrades who want to keep their identities low keyed. So, third person stories, so to speak, are cool as well. I'm less interested in where you work (and other sorta revealing stuff), then what the actual practice is.
While my interest is less so in the IWW practices (as they are coved in the direct unionism piece elsewhere on libcom),
folks with experiances at trying to implement same are surely welcome to share those experiances.

I've split this from http://libcom.org/forums/theory/having-critique-trade-unions-04032012?page=2#comment-474634
where I posed the following question:

Quote:
Mar 21 2012 14:24
#74
syndicalist

Let me put this out there -- While a critique of reformist trade unionism is proper, what are the alternative that folks are currently working with that retains control in the hands of your co-workers? For the moment, I'm less interested in the IWW stuff, as their seems to be ample discussion of some of the "direct unionism" proposals and practices some engage in. Are the workfloor organizations you are engaged in building meant to be temporary? Is there a chance that more permanent anarcho-syndicalist forms can be built? Or do you engage in stuff in a more spontaneous way: arguing for workers assemblies in times of struggle, then, sorta fading away, when there's no crisis?

I guess I'm less interested in the theoretical and more interested in the current practice. I realize that ideology oft times gverns the practice, but sometimes I read lots of ideology and no practice. But I am honestly interested in learning what contemporary comrades are actually doing at building their alternative forms of workers organization.

Quote:
Mar 21 2012 17:55
#75
sabotage

Agree with syndicalist a lot. I'd like to hear from those in the communist left who've been posting towards the end of this thread what you are doing for workplace organizing, or at least what models you are proposing/using. As far as I can tell folks are using workplace groups of communists and workers who agree to an anti-capitalist framework that then advocate for shop committees/assemblies, am I right? Sorta like SolFed's strategy but for Marxists? That such workplace cells of committed militants could down the road become larger workplace organizations, but still promote open shop assemblies. Like syndicalist, just wondering what people's actual practice/goals are.

Quote:
Mar 22 2012 04:31
#76
syndicalist

Send PM
Actually, I would like to hear what the current Solfed shopfloor practice is. Or what Solfed militants are doing in their workplaces.

Quote:
Mar 22 2012 08:56
#77
Chilli Sauce

Shit, Syndicalist, that's a big topic. I've just written a piece about some of the stuff happening in my workplace, but I haven't published it yet. Perhaps someone (you? me?) could start a thread for SFers to talk anonymously about what they've been up to at work. Anonymously.

Internally, for what it's worth, the education workers in SF keep sort of running workplace diaries on our internal forums where we update each other on what's happening at work, bounce ideas off each other, and just try to support each other generally.

Finally, at the last anarchist bookfair SF did a (very) abridged workplace organising training. Like the N. American IWW, we advocate workplace committees and once the talk was opened to discussion were like five or six people there (some weren't even SFers, but had been to the training, IIRC) who started off contributions with "In my workplace committee...".

So we are making some headway and I think we've tried to ensure that our theory is informed by our practice. There's even a motion at this year's conference to adapt the industrial strategy to some of the practice that's come out of the workplace organiser training

.

Quote:
Mar 22 2012 08:57
#78
Joseph Kay

syndicalist wrote:

Actually, I would like to hear what the current Solfed shopfloor practice is. Or what Solfed militants are doing in their workplaces.

well, generally aiming at this. Lots of current examples aren't public for obvious reasons (see older stuff like this), though this one and this one have been written up, and Phil's elaborated the latter:

Phil wrote:

In organising terms, most of the actions that I've initiated - from holding mass meetings during walkouts to trying to form a strike committee - have been effectively boycotted by The Clique. There was even effective sabotage, with a planned mass meeting not going ahead because in my absence the leafleting to advertise it was called off.
in another instance, a member was brought up on disciplinary for appearing to follow the SF industrial strategy... obviously not every workplace is this organised, although this kind of thing should be better now we've made training more systematic. In terms of lower level stuff we've been involved in recently, this newsletter gives some idea of the issues.

Quote:
Mar 22 2012 13:34
#79
Alf

sabotage wrote:

Agree with syndicalist a lot. I'd like to hear from those in the communist left who've been posting towards the end of this thread what you are doing for workplace organizing, or at least what models you are proposing/using. As far as I can tell folks are using workplace groups of communists and workers who agree to an anti-capitalist framework that then advocate for shop committees/assemblies, am I right? Sorta like SolFed's strategy but for Marxists? That such workplace cells of committed militants could down the road become larger workplace organizations, but still promote open shop assemblies. Like syndicalist, just wondering what people's actual practice/goals are.

ALF: You're not far off, but the idea isn't to restrict those kinds of groups to marxists (although I think you're aware of that already). I've no doubt that if I worked at the same place as a member of Solfed or AF I'd be working together and trying to create such a group, but the idea would be to create a group open to any worker who was in favour of independent forms of struggle. At the college Miles and I work at we have set up an open discussion forum for staff and students, which has had some success in offering a framework for discussion and on one or two occasions actual decisions about class struggle issues, but it's not a model for everywhere, and I would like to have seen more involvement from people who aren't 'marxists'......

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Steven.
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Mar 22 2012 19:00

Well, I'm not in Solfed, but here's my deal.

I am a union convener for Unison. This does contradict my political views, however as I mentioned on here before I really enjoy the union work, and as I don't have any career options to speak of and I've only got one life I do it.

However, I would say that where possible I try to push beyond the limitations of the unions. By when I organise meetings, I try to get as many workers as possible to come, and invite all workers regardless of union membership/permanent/agency status, etc. And also if we decide on any form of action we try to bring agency workers and non-union members into it as much as possible, and even try to work out ways we could defend them if they were victimised for sticking with us.

I try to help us turn individual issues into collective ones, i.e. if a couple of people get hit with underperformance proceedings we try to take up the issue of workloads collectively. It's very difficult at the moment, with the crisis everyone has been pretty demobilised, and there are so many job cuts (20% at my Council) that people are afraid to put their heads above the parapet nowadays.

We managed to get a very good turnout on strike on November 30, but that is such a big dispute (30 odd unions with 3 million members) that it is pretty much impossible to influence it from a grassroots level. Still, I generally try to push the idea that the "unions" are not actually on our side, and that our interests are different from theirs. And that the tactics of the left like voting in different union candidates/passing various motions is a dead-end. And that the only way we can start to turn things round and win is by organising action ourselves.

In terms of more day-to-day organising, outside of my team there is the shop stewards structure, but within my team the core of workers' organisation is a group of us workers (which fluctuates slightly over time), mostly those of us who have been around for a while and are in the union, who we know are on the same page when it comes to wanting to take on management and stand up for ourselves.

Outside of my workplace, in terms of networking with others, basically I do that through libcom. I also went to the Solfed organising training, which I thought was good, but could do with some tweaking for people who are already in unionised workplaces, which I offered to help do and deliver.

syndicalist
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Mar 22 2012 23:32

Steve, thanks for the reply.

Is a union convener like what we call a chief shop stewart? Elected by all the stewards/members to be the key person to organize stewrad meetings, etc? I've seen
it used a million times and have basically thought of it in this manner. Or is it like a one factory/large shop local union president?

Edit: I see that when I did the position, none of the interesting links appeared. I'll have do do a footnote link or something.

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Steven.
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Mar 23 2012 09:16

Hey, yeah convenor is the name in unison for essentially a lead steward in a department (around 2000 workers) elected by the stewards/members. My role has half-time facility time attached. The local president in the UK is called branch secretary (who will also be a lay member possibly with facility time).

(The links didn't appear in your original post because it looks like you copied and pasted from the screen. To get the links to appear you would need to click the "quote" buttons on the posts you wanted to duplicate, then paste in the text)

syndicalist
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Mar 28 2012 02:11

Thanks folks. I was hoping that there'd be a few more replies about peoples current practice, but that's ok too.

I've not posted about my own, simply because I've been off the shopfloor for so many years that I am simply not current, in that respect. And am most interested in current stuff.

That said, Chilli wrote:

Quote:
Political organisation, or union?
I was a member of SolFed throughout this, which is the British section
of the anarcho-syndicalist IWA. While the IWA has some active union
sections (including the famous CNT in Spain), at the time we were very
much a political organisation. By that I mean a group of people with
similar political ideas, meeting up to discuss ‘politics’ and doing
political activity, like distributing the Dispatch or Tea Break
bulletins. While I could sound off about stress in meetings, as an
organisation SolFed didn’t and couldn’t really help me. ‘Political
activity’ was completely separated from my everyday life. At precisely
the time when libertarian communist politics should have been most
relevant, the opposite was true. And to be honest the last thing I
wanted to do with my scarce free time was go to meetings disconnected
from my life.

For me, this really made me feel like I didn’t want to be part of an
anarchist political organisation, but an anarchist union. In other
words, I wanted SolFed to be an organisation that could support
workers like me in situations like this, whether through training,
networking, brainstorming strategies, sharing best-practice,
potentially meeting workmates outside of work to help with organising
and so on. We simply didn’t have the capacity to do these things at
the time (at least in my Local, and there was little co-ordination
nationally outside of the education sector). I wasn’t alone in these
feelings, and I think SolFed’s made great strides in this direction
over the past 3 years. Certainly, were I to find myself in a similar
situation again, SolFed would be an asset rather than an evening of
alienated political activity with little relevance to my life. And I
know other SolFed members are finding this in their workplaces too,
though obviously it’s a work in progress. Regardless of the
organisational specifics, I think it does make a difference feeling
like you’re part of an organisation that can back you up, even if that
back-up is only support/advice rather than industrial action.
http://libcom.org/blog/credit-crunched-working-financial-services-during-2008-2009-crash-23012012

I found this particularly interesting, mainly because most anarcho-syndicalist organizations (as we used to call 'em: "propaganda groups") were very much like anarcho-syndicalist dual (political) organizations. We wouldn't call 'em as such and they have a different meaning for some, but in essence, we all were.

When manyof us (outside of Spain, France & Italy) first got involved in the 1970s, the 1980s our groups sorta acted in a fashion that allowed for the "political" and the "workplace" (won't say union, cause, in most instances no one was or desirious to be... basically because of high rates of unionisation and lots of folks woking in unionised sectors, different story).
While we didn't see ourselves (well, not those of us in the US) as proto-unions, we did see our role as providing for solidarity work, support for comrades doing "mass work" (workplace, community, anti-racist). A place intended to provide much of what, I gather, the current Solfed is doing/trying to do.

By way of some background.... "training"...who knew from that or heard from that back then.
A lot of it was throw yourself into the fire and get burned....mostly. But, yeah, good that folks have been making efforts to try and systemize experiances and stuff relevant to workplace
organizing.

The north american IWW was not what it is today and "dual carding" was not seen as a positive thing. there were many bullshit fights over it and the IWW was, IMHO, a sad place to be if you worked in a shop represented by a reformist union. I think most of us in the US were members of the IWW at one time. I was even a Branch Secty for a wee-bit.But this was a different time, different place and different era. So, in our context, the IWW was not the same option is it might be today, as like 89% of the US workforce is unorganized.

And so the record is clear (cause the eyes are upon us -:) )..... I salute many of the constructive efforts that north american IWWers are engaged in. And, they too, live in an age of different (better) possibilities then in years gone by.

Anyway, I guss the point I was trying to make, was organizations that do not specifically set themselves up as "unions" (or workplace specific organizations) are, to a large practical/functional degree, political organizations with anarcho-syndicalist ideology/perspectives/guiding principles and aims. I'm sure I'll catch a bunch of hell for writing this, but that's how I see it.

More to folow.

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devoration1
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Mar 28 2012 04:27

I wrote about my personal experience in the thread you linked to about 'having a critique of the trade unions'. Honestly I'm just trying, through practice, to find out the means of combining theory and practice in the real world, at my actual workplace, with my actual co-workers. This includes distributing left communist newspapers and journals, anarchist history books, and syndicalist literature with particularly interested co-workers; discussing unions (AFL-CIO and independent business unions like UE) with other co-workers who have mentioned the word 'union' in the breakroom (including giving them material on said unions and describing the pro's and con's of joining either of them), arguing for more safety and health training with the bosses in private and in front of all workers on my shift, participating in shift-wide discussions about problems (staffing, cost of living increases, the complicated system of how one gets a raise, what constitutes 'abuse' of earned vacation and sick leave, etc), etc.

As well as looking into and contacting local and international organizations; setting up communication with local unions reps, attending labor council meetings, union led protests, tinkering with ideas on how to approach sympathetic groups or those on the periphery of workplace struggle (various Occupy x city groups, the modern SDS, OSHA, etc). Staying in touch with friends with similar politics (anarcho-syndicalist, communist) for joint activity relating to struggles outside my personal workplace (such as supporting the IWW activity at Starbucks and Jimmy Johns).

I'm still young with a lot to learn and enjoy political discussions, weighing the opinions and practice of different organizations within the circle of revolutionary ideas, but getting involved in various avenues of practice as it relates to me personally is the conclusion I came to as to how to best find what I personally can do to 1) help make a difference and 2) gain the experience (positive and negative) to make future activity more fruitful.

We're seeing a large increase in the movement of the international working-class, both in and out of the unions, in and out of political organizations, across national boundaries. Recruitment and interest is seemingly up in most left of center organizations from social-democratic groups to the 'ultraleft'. Marx is selling out of bookstores all over the place (to the point that certain news organizations published stories about the abundance of copies of his work flying off the shelves). I think participation and communication are the best ways to not only catch up with the times of the 'Arab Spring', OWS, port shutdowns, strikes of size not seen in the US in years (35,000 Verizon workers out on strike down the East Coast), but be ready to move forward in a better direction.

I like the ideas of workplace groups of militants and/or pro-revolutionaries, be they organized groups of militants and/or pro-revolutionaries in a given workplace, such a group connected to a political organization or anarcho-syndicalist union, Solidarity Network, even a rank & file group in a union, or none of the above. The discussions going on in the IWW are really interesting, particularly the published articles in Industrial Worker about the direct unionism paper, and discussion relating to Dual-Carders (I know, a subject discussed a lot elsewhere on Libcom).

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Mar 28 2012 10:36

Syndicalist, I'm not sure it was me who wrote that! I mean, I agree with it, but maybe it was Joseph K?

Dev, you still in the IWW?

Syndicalist, I'm going to bullet point stuff about my workplace, please let me know if you'd like me to expand on anything. I'm also going to post up this thread internally in SF and see if we get any more hits:

- I'm in a unionised workplace and, as far as the union goes, I use it for two reasons: (1) To link up with other militants in the area and (2) as cover for holding meetings which I then make sure are opened to as many members of staff as possible. I do occasionally sign people up the union, but it's always with a warning that the unions are shit and that we should expect them to sell us out at some point. That said, we should use them for what they're worth.

- After a series shit experiences, the acting steward and myself wrote a letter to the branch sec requesting that the full time union rep for our sector not come back to our workplace. They haven't and the other branch officials are actually much better.

- I always make an effort to bring together workers across job roles (there's something like 5 different unions in my workplace, with full-time, part-time, agency, and subcontracted workers). It's a conscious strategy and relates to my next point.

- I have two levels of workplace committees in my shop. One is in my department and we're pretty damn organised. For those of you who have been to the IWW's OT 101/SF's intro to workplace organising, the majority of my department are 1s and 2s. The second committee is made up of militants from across different departments and we sort of try to push issues, organise cross-union meetings, picket lines, etc.

- I'm quite lucky in that I have another anarchist/left communist in my workplace who is much older and experienced than myself and highly respected by staff. Me and them do the majority of the background work, both inside and outside the union structure. Our last steward, who's left now, was sympathetic to the anarchy and was a union rep who hated the union. By default, the steward had devised various ways to bring issues to management. Sometimes they involved the union, sometimes they didn't.

- Two of my workmates (including the one mentioned above) have been to SF's intro to workplace organising.

- I invite my most trusted workmates to other SF trainings and activities. These are always practically focused on a real issues and SF's politics are secondary to the practical experience and advice we have to offer.

- We've written a series of collective letters to management. These were always done explicitly outside the union. Management--not surprisingly--always wants to make these collective concerns union issues. My workmates don't have any of it and we've won some pretty notable concessions by raising issues this way.

- I've identified some potential individuals who I'm trying to get more active in workplace stuff. These are folks who are pissed off and have a kind of common sense collective approach. The problem is lack of experience. So I've tried to get said individuals to pick up little tasks (handing in a demand letter, doing some research, getting trained up as a shop steward) in the hopes they'll develop the confidence to become that much more outspoken, militant, and organised.

- I rarely talk politics and put things as plainly as possible - "strength in numbers", "need to stick together", etc.

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Mar 28 2012 10:38

Fuck, that turned out way longer than I expected!

syndicalist
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Mar 28 2012 12:50
devoration1 wrote:
I'm still young with a lot to learn and enjoy political discussions, weighing the opinions and practice of different organizations within the circle of revolutionary ideas, but getting involved in various avenues of practice as it relates to me personally is the conclusion I came to as to how to best find what I personally can do to 1) help make a difference and 2) gain the experience (positive and negative) to make future activity more fruitful. .

I hear you. Experiance is sometimes the best teacher...it often times challenges ones basics in ways that only sometime that's in your face can.

Although I absolutely consider myself an anarcho-syndicalist, and am clearly opinionated about some things, it's important to keep your eyes and ears open to most workplace perspectives. Basically others experiances have both successes and failures. What can I draw from them? How can I best incorportae them into my practice and critique.

Some from my generation were inspired not only by the revolutionary CNT and the revolutionary ideas of the IWA, but also the councilist experiances as well. The wild cat struggles, the experiances of the Italian "Hot Autumn" and the French May Days, various workers movements "from below" and the experiances of more traditional syndicalists and older Wobs all came into play. We mashed up the best of these events, struggles and so forth. It can only strengthen ones ideas, leaves one open to a non-stagnent way of thinking and allows for the ability to think outside of a rigid and strict box.

Of course, this was discussed elsewhere, but I thought the first draft of "Strategy and struggle - anarcho-syndicalism in the 21st century" tried to make an effort at incoprorating some of the better experiances/critiques of worker militants into a contemporary anarcho-syndicalist analysis. I'm not a full fan of the pamphlet, but I respect the effort by a newer
generation of comrades to try and grapple with stuff in the world they face.

Thanks Chili for the bullet points. I'll prolly come back to some of what you wrote in a future posting. Sorry, I thought you wrote the article I quoted from.

What I do find interesting, thus far, is how our "theoretical" ideas often times get shaped and modified by "on the ground" consitions. Particularly those in unionized settings.

syndicalist
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Mar 31 2012 13:48

Thanks Chili, good stuff.

Right quick at the moment.

Quote:
Chili: - I rarely talk politics and put things as plainly as possible - "strength in numbers", "need to stick together", etc.

My fear was always developing a sort of "pure and simple syndicalism" without any political content. But coming out of the box screaming "build a new world" won't win too many friends at first, for sure.I suspect in time this will change a bit. My experiance had thaght me that it does. I'll come to back in another posting.

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Mar 31 2012 17:24

Ah, but it's not without it's politics, comrade. The politics come through in the actions. Folks joke that I'm "the revolutionary" and I have brought workmates to SF stuff which has political content (albeit, again, practically focused).

Harrison
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Mar 31 2012 18:13

I'm not actually in a workplace at the moment as i'm studying, so my post might not be that useful. I just really like this thread as it's rare to get a nice practical discussion on libcom...

syndicalist wrote:
My fear was always developing a sort of "pure and simple syndicalism" without any political content. But coming out of the box screaming "build a new world" won't win too many friends at first, for sure.I suspect in time this will change a bit. My experiance had thaght me that it does. I'll come to back in another posting.

but with regard to political content, i think that there is something to say for how the CNT (currently and historically) fight struggles the other unions abandon, even when it appears that the dispute has already been lost.

So introducing the idea that because of anarcho-syndicalist political content we don't take a standard cynical realist mentality when deciding whether it's "worth" supporting something.

To be honest, i'm basing this off a friend who whilst not being ideological themself, speaks highly of the 'socialist' shop steward at their work as being someone who is always prepared to listen and help if you're having problems with management.

syndicalist
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Mar 31 2012 18:56
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Ah, but it's not without it's politics, comrade. The politics come through in the actions. Folks joke that I'm "the revolutionary" and I have brought workmates to SF stuff which has political content (albeit, again, practically focused).

Not personally knowing you, ok, no dispute.

I guess I misunderstood what you meant by politics. I see political discussion different from syndicalist discussion .... in the sense that you can have very radical workplace action carried out, sometimes, by some very conservative people.

But I get your drift and inviting workmates to events sponsored by a politically inspired syndicalist (anarcho-syndicalist) organization is a political act...in the sense of opening them up to more than just stratight forward trade unionism.

And, yes, of course, we would hope that the way we engage in our actions, the way we share our ideas on the workfloor is both reflective of our "politics" and the libertarian workfloor forms of organization we want to build. Additionally to that, there is the broader non-shopfloor questions that arise. And here is where some of the more difficult bridge cross occurs.

Back again.

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medwards
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Apr 1 2012 23:57

I know you said you're not looking to go over the Direct Unionism debate again, but Recomposition has had a few pieces that are rooted much more emotionally in workers day-to-day lives:
http://recomposition.info/category/life-on-the-job/

Unfortunately this category looks like its got a bunch of nuts and bolts solidarity unionism pieces. I can specifically recommend
http://recomposition.info/2011/10/04/caring-a-labor-of-stolen-time/
http://recomposition.info/2011/07/01/what-do-you-do-for-a-living/

There two others that I think are just outstanding (and slightly less depressing) but I'm having difficulty finding them. I also don't know if these were what you were looking for, they're not really explicit all the time about their politics and its more about how you behave and resist on a day-to-day basis.

Edit: ah! Found them!
http://recomposition.info/2011/05/14/teacher-diary/
http://recomposition.info/2011/05/02/postal-worker-solidarity-defeats-compulsory-overtime/

syndicalist
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Apr 4 2012 01:28

Steve, just curious, howopen are you about your politics? I know in England, folks can be more open to a much larger degree then here in the US. I know that when I was on the shopfloor or in union settings, I was always considered "a socialist of sorts".....this was well before Seattle, afterwards "anarchist" was more on the political radar then back in my most active years.

syndicalist
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Apr 4 2012 01:31

A piece by Scott Piannaples from Miami which I found to be ok:

Moving to Action: workplace organizing beyond recipes
https://miamiautonomyandsolidarity.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/moving-to-action-workplace-organizing-beyond-recipes/

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Steven.
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Apr 4 2012 08:25
syndicalist wrote:
Steve, just curious, howopen are you about your politics? I know in England, folks can be more open to a much larger degree then here in the US. I know that when I was on the shopfloor or in union settings, I was always considered "a socialist of sorts".....this was well before Seattle, afterwards "anarchist" was more on the political radar then back in my most active years.

like chilli, I don't bang on and on about the revolution, however I do talk about politics with my colleagues from a working-class, direct action perspective. A few people in my team, or that I have represented, I have ended up chatting to about politics quite a lot and then they end up asking so I tell them I'm an anarchist. It's known by the other union reps as well.

syndicalist
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Apr 4 2012 12:24
Steven. wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
Steve, just curious, howopen are you about your politics? I know in England, folks can be more open to a much larger degree then here in the US. I know that when I was on the shopfloor or in union settings, I was always considered "a socialist of sorts".....this was well before Seattle, afterwards "anarchist" was more on the political radar then back in my most active years.

like chilli, I don't bang on and on about the revolution, however I do talk about politics with my colleagues from a working-class, direct action perspective. A few people in my team, or that I have represented, I have ended up chatting to about politics quite a lot and then they end up asking so I tell them I'm an anarchist. It's known by the other union reps as well.

Thanks.

Yeah, I don't mean to sound like I'm asking if folks walk into the job with read & black flag and bullhorn ...... I always found it a fine balance and weave of conversation with workmates. I also found how and what to talk about was often predicated with who I worked with, what was in the news, if the union took a "left" position on something, trying to crack the door open a bit on that.

My final shopfloor factory work, I worked with folks from the Carribean (Spanish & Creole speaking), Latin America, African-American and a few Egyptian's (of jewish background).
So there were issues around the war in Latin America (El Salvador, Nicargua, military dictatorships) and the struggle against the Dullavaier regime in Haiti which lead to some political conversation openings. The smashing of the air traffic controllers (PATCO), major workers struggles at Greyhound Bus, Phelps Dodge Copper, the Daiy News newspaper strike, Hormel meatpackers all lead to a greater discussion on working class combativity as well.

Some of the political stuff I tried to weave into the shopfloor stuff. For example, there was a hefty number of Haitian-American's in our shop. So we tried to connect the fight in Haiti (then under dictatorship) to imperialist US policies; to struggles here at home and in the community and trying to tie shopfloor workers to the Haitian Workers Associaition (HTA) in Brooklyn, NY.

At this time WSA was very much a strong IWA affiliate and so we tried to connect of the internationalist stuff with some IWA stuff. Not much, mainly around Latin America. Used some CNT stuff to discuss "our" type of unionism (mainly of the shop assembly type which the CNT was agitating for). Periodic, not regular, but worth trying to introduce to a couple of guys who seemed the most receptive.

Well, anyway, times gone by. But I would agree with the old notion which we've held in WSA, it's really in the practice, not so much the rethoric. The challenge will always be, finding the right balance between rethoric and concrete action.

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Alf
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Apr 5 2012 09:02

I’ve been putting off this response because the question of workplace practice raises so many questions it needs a whole article to do it justice. First off I am impressed by the energy comrades have put into their activity at work. One of the big problems in most workplaces is that the pace of work makes it difficult for workers to stop and think about what’s going on; in education, where I work, (but elsewhere as well of course) there is also the problem that people are so fed up with official meetings that they often can’t face the thought of giving up yet another lunchtime or time after work for the ‘unofficial’ ones. Militants are just as affected by this as anyone so it does take a certain level of dedication to organising discussions, links, protests etc at work.

There are clearly some points of agreement between what people like Steven and Chilli are doing and a ‘left communist’ approach, which would certainly make it possible for the latter to work together with class struggle anarchists where they work, or in groups that operate across workplaces. The key issue is the insistence on pushing for meetings that involve all workers, from different unions or none. This may seem banal but the trade union mentality of organising in your own little union club is very strong – I have given a number of examples from my own workplace, the most recent being this one: http://libcom.org/forums/organise/uk-public-sector-pensions-disputes-09092011?page=1 (actually on p 2). I would also be interested to know more about the ‘committees’ that Chilli mentions at his workplace.

I suppose the key disagreement, certainly between left communists and anarcho-syndicalists, is the old one about ‘politics’. Chili says he rarely talks politics to his workmates, although syndicalist does seem to feel that what he is doing is essentially political, which I would agree with. I don’t agree with the definition of politics as something alienated from real life. Politics is not the end of communism of course, but the working class has to struggle on the political terrain in order to create the conditions for transcending politics. Politics in the broadest sense does keep cropping up in workplace discussions, whether we are talking about elections, wars, the economic crisis and its impact etc. To me it’s obvious that a revolutionary at the workplace would take part in such discussions and even, when there are passionate debates going about them, organise meetings at work to make the discussion more ‘formal’. One of the most successful meetings of the open discussion forum we have at our college was on the Middle East – students took the initiative for organising it and there were over 80 people present. The necessity to connect with issues that go beyond the workplace has always been a key element in the conception of the communist party advocated by the communist left. It became a very acute divergence in the period of ‘Bolshevisation’ of the Comintern, where the Italian left in particular argued against the CI’s efforts to re-organise the base units of the party as factory cells rather than ‘territorial’ sections. For the Italian left this meant an attempt to narrow the focus of the class struggle to purely immediate and workplace issues.

But at the same time the more day to day issues of what’s happening at the workplace or the sector are also political. If you are an oil tanker driver, for example, that’s rather evident right now, but most issues of day to day exploitation at the workplace are also posed on a general political level – the pensions dispute being an obvious example, where the enemy you are facing is quite clearly not this or that employer but the capitalist state as a whole. But it’s not just a question of direct material or ideological attacks from the government. The issue of the trade unions and assemblies is also deeply political. First because trade unions are tied up to the state at so many levels that a rejection of their way of doing things is also one of the first points of conflict between workers and the state. Looked at more positively, the break with the legalism of trade unions, the holding of autonomous assemblies, the formation of strike committees and eventually of workers’ councils are links in the chain between today’s class resistance and tomorrow’s revolutionary struggle, and revolutionaries have to constantly ask themselves whether what they are doing is furthering this process or in some sense hindering it.

It is in this context that I would bring in the question of whether revolutionaries at work should be shop stewards or involved in recruiting or signing people up to the union. I don’t want to get into the issue of whether or in what circumstances communists should be union members, because that is a secondary question which often distracts discussion away from the main one. But to me I just can’t see how you can consistently argue that we have to develop forms of organisation which challenge and tend towards breaking out of the union structure if your day to day actions tend to reinforce the idea that the only way to do things at work is the union way (however ‘shit’ they may be). Acting as a militant rep or steward surely strengthens the appearance that the union can be ‘ours’ as long as we elect the right bloke for the job, rather than recognising that we really do have to self-organise in a different way and with different aims.

That said, this latter point is by no means a new discussion on these boards and I would not want it to be the sole focus of this thread. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to go back to discussing what we do have in common (such as the defence of assemblies) and the see to what extent our disagreements might get in the way of joint activity.

syndicalist
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Apr 6 2012 03:31
Quote:
[Alf].....there is also the problem that people are so fed up with official meetings that they often can’t face the thought of giving up yet another lunchtime or time after work for the ‘unofficial’ ones. Militants are just as affected by this as anyone so it does take a certain level of dedication to organising discussions, links, protests etc at work.

Certainly poses a challenge at times. We used to do quickie shop meetings. usually sround the lunch hour. 10-15 minutes......but that was mainly when it was key stuff/update stuff. Things that would require longer time were harder to get folks attention, but sometimes it just had to be done.

Quote:
Politics in the broadest sense does keep cropping up in workplace discussions, whether we are talking about elections, wars, the economic crisis and its impact etc. To me it’s obvious that a revolutionary at the workplace would take part in such discussions and even, when there are passionate debates going about them, organise meetings at work to make the discussion more ‘formal’. One of the most successful meetings of the open discussion forum we have at our college was on the Middle East – students took the initiative for organising it and there were over 80 people present.

I would agree with the sentiment, but, I suppose it's harder to pull something like that off in a non-educational setting. Perhaps, at univirsities and colleges folks might come out for a lunch time discussion on a political topic. the folks I wrked with would talk politics --- and everything else under the sun --- but I think the setting was not conducive this sort f thing. But all power to yas if you can pull it off.

Quote:
It is in this context that I would bring in the question of whether revolutionaries at work should be shop stewards or involved in recruiting or signing people up to the union. .... But to me I just can’t see how you can consistently argue that we have to develop forms of organisation which challenge and tend towards breaking out of the union structure if your day to day actions tend to reinforce the idea that the only way to do things at work is the union way (however ‘shit’ they may be).

I think is prolly one of the harder questions to takle. As a militant who faced this question, I think it's a real tug and pull. There are no doubts compromises involved. But it don't mean you have to be compromised either.

Quote:
Acting as a militant rep or steward surely strengthens the appearance that the union can be ‘ours’ as long as we elect the right bloke for the job, rather than recognising that we really do have to self-organise in a different way and with different aims.

Alf, I guess it comes down to whether or not the individual sees themself as the "Savior."
A comrade steward would prolly do all in their pwoer to organize those who elected them to the position. Encourage and facilitate fuller and greater worker participation and "ownership" of the daily struggle stuff. granted the steward gets dumped on more from all angles by virtue of being the elected person, but, a stweard can be a facilitator and not simply a union drone.

I'd also think that in some spots, it's just not a wise course to run for and get elected to any shopfloor union position. So I would argue, as with most stuff, a lot of ones tactics and approaches are determined by their "objective" conditions just as much as their political convitions.

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Nate
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Apr 6 2012 04:24

I work at a place with some unionized and nonunionized units. Last time some of the unionized folk went on strike, me and my friends and comrades at work put a lot of time into strike support. A lot of us were IWW but not all of us. The strike was badly run for the most part - a lot of standing around holding picket signs and trying to get cars to honk. We put a lot of energy into pickets really early in the morning talking to delivery drivers at one of the loading docks trying to get them not to drop stuff off. The union leadership saw us as a threat and tried to keep people away from us, and it wasn't too hard because it was crazy early in the morning, but we were also the liveliest picket and some of the most personable people so we developed a reputation. Management flipped out pretty quickly (among other things, a scab hit one of the comrades with his car, it was fucked up stuff) which meant it was working. The union adopted the tactic eventually with the idea of running these kinds of pickets at all the loading docks (we were too few to take on all the docks ourselves) but this happened pretty late into the strike and it basically folded.

That helped give a boost to a lot of our activity in general, and we've generally led with relationships and activity over membership. For a while then we did some confrontational stuff around grievances that some of the union members had, under the pretext of talking to bosses via a steward who was part of our efforts. This was important for those of us in non-union units, as it gave us cover and legitimacy to avoid retaliation. That in turn became a network of people taking action on a range of issues. In the unit where I work we've moved letters and marched on the boss against layoffs and paycuts. Our successes are mixed, mostly delaying rather than stopping stuff. Along the way we've built a lot of relationships and have become pretty highly respected as people. There's been major ups and downs, though. At one point we had a group of about 40 people (not all IWW and not all radicals) that was meeting regularly, with many more supporters, putting out a regular newsletter at work, taking various actions, etc. That turned into an attempt to unionize one of the nonunion job classes (several of us opposed this but most people didn't and we couldn't stop it), which failed in the end. Along the way we ran some actions via informal groupings we built. The union drive failed it washed away almost everything except the relationships and expectations we built through those actions.

In terms of politics, I'm open about my politics and I like to get into it with people. At the same time I try to meet people where their at and appeal to what they believe in. People aren't going to do stuff on the job because I'm a communist, they're going to do it if they think it's right. I do think it's important to try to move people's ideas and stuff, but people who don't share my views aren't going to act because of an appeal to my views. They act because they think it's right according to their views, and being part of collective action plus long term conversations as part of relationships, that helps move people, at least in my experience.

baboon
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Apr 6 2012 12:02

I agree with quite a lot of the previous two posts. In my last job, outside of the union and in an industrial rather than educational setting, there was little problem with engendering political discussion. One had to be a bit courageous to start them up on some occasions (sometimes best not to for various reasons) but otherwise it was a case of the right time. There was a certain avoidence of them but that also reflected a general contempt for "politics" - something that can only be stronger now I think.

I don't think that it's a question of a union drone versus a "saviour" regarding being a shop steward or not. I was a convenor of stewards (unpaid) but was more and more being sucked up into the union machine. The only politics that I came across at the time was a couple of local SWPers but my position, away from the workers and into the union, became more and more untenable for me. I had to quit.

As a shop steward how do you support this sort of activity reported in the Guardian today: "...Usdaw trade union has declared an end to the Unilever industrial dispute in which strikes (hit production)... Usdaw said that its members had reluctantly accepted changes to the pension scheme after staff in Unite backed the proposals. The dispute arose after Unilever announced that it was closing its final salary scheme. 'Usdaw members were left with little option but to reluctantly follow suit or face fighting the company on their own' said Usdaw's regional officer. The GMB has yet to declare an end to the dispute". How do you not conclude from that that the major role of the trade unions in Britain today is to keep the workers divided one from each other?

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Rats
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Apr 6 2012 15:05

"While I could sound off about stress in meetings, as an organisation SolFed didn’t and couldn’t really help me. ‘Political activity’ was completely separated from my everyday life. At precisely
the time when libertarian communist politics should have been most relevant, the opposite was true. And to be honest the last thing I wanted to do with my scarce free time was go to meetings disconnected from my life."

Who wrote this?! How did you read my mind! I'm serious, what the fuck! It was literally a day ago i said "i was dealing with union shit at work all day, i didn't want to come to an IWW meeting!"

I'm currently a 'dual carding' wobbly. I sign people up to the reformist union at work, a hard enough task on its own. I participate in trainings with the union, go to barbeque's at the office, delegates Christmas party, etc.

I spend my days fighting uphill battles against management for basic legal rights - e.g. you can't send permanent workers home without pay when there's not enough work, you can't just cancel shifts, you can't just cut hours, you have to provide us with rain jackets to work in the rain, you have to negotiate a new agreement with us because the old one expired, you can't fire me for joining a union, etc.

I never really understood legal rights, then i discovered how many of them we had, but it was immediately after that i discovered how little showing the boss a piece of paper with a law that says "YOU MUST PROVIDE YOUR WORKERS WITH RAIN JACKETS" actually accomplished. Sometimes it helps if you call the bosses' lawyers and they tell you the company disputed their legal advice - that's if you didn't know the quality of the kind of people who run your life already.

I've learnt a lot from doing what i've done. I've had friends of years take on the same job at different companies, tried to talk to them about the union and... well its a shitty way to work out who your friends actually are. I've been fired and got my job back. All sorts. But we get up every morning and go straight back in, i don't know why. Might have been all those books i read.

Hey i really liked this thread - it's really good to hear(and tell) stories like this and know that comrades i might never meet are having the same thoughts as me(what i mentioned above). Ciao!

syndicalist
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Apr 6 2012 16:05

One last comment on the question of "politics". I never made it a fetish, but always tried to weave it into stuff at appropriate moments. That said, most people care less about your politics when you're not shoving it down their throats and when you're doing good stuff. The introduction to our ideas is not a walk in the door thing. I found that most times it comes after a process of becoming integrated into the workplace, developing mutual relationships and basically just not being an on the job jerk.

Alot of what we do comes in time. This is why I often have my own doubts about "salting". It may be a good learning experiance, but the real challenges are based on pushing stuff forward -- and helping co-workers further their own self-development --- that often times takes years to develop.

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Alf
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Apr 6 2012 16:38

agree with syndicalist about developing political discussion as part of an overall process which involves building up bonds of mutual trust and respect

syndicalist
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Apr 6 2012 16:53
Quote:
Baboon: but my position, away from the workers and into the union, became more and more untenable for me. I had to quit.

Ultimately that's the "power" you have as an indvidual to deal with a bad situation.

Quote:
Baboon: As a shop steward how do you support this sort of activity reported in the Guardian today [Unilever struggle]........How do you not conclude from that that the major role of the trade unions in Britain today is to keep the workers divided one from each other?

I would hope that the revolutionary who's elected to the stewards position would neither support shit agreements or shitty internal union tactics. It's not black and white as many folks like to paint with the ideological paint brush.

It's not the role of a revolutionary who takes on a steward to be the voice piece of some bureaucrat at HQ. Folks elect you (and you run for) cause you want to do right by co-workers, want to help them build self-confidenece and want to adavnce struggle....and that don't always sit well with bureaucrats who want parrots. I think a key is both being elected and maintaining the important bonds of support of co-workers.

In the final analysis, being a steward may not always be either tactically correct or poltically appropriate. But I won't write it off either.

Caiman del Barrio
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Apr 7 2012 17:30
baboon wrote:
There was a certain avoidence of them but that also reflected a general contempt for "politics" - something that can only be stronger now I think.

I dunno, but I think a lot of this may have something to do with the approach that you lot seem to encourage: that of 'discussion' about 'politics' as something abstracted from everyday life. I also think there's a further point to be made about the false distinction between 'political' and 'apolitical' people (which is soul-crushingly common on the leftist/activist scene).

In my experience, speaking as a young person from the postmodern post-political generational swap who works with people of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds, there are no 'apolitical' people. Everyone has feelings on the issues that affect their daily experiences. The point is to harness those feelings as a constructive energy towards the end of improving their lives.

syndicalist
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Apr 8 2012 15:33

I'd be curious what has been your greatest or most memorable workplace vicory..... and conversley, greatest or most memorable workplace defeat. And what lessons have you taken away from them?

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Steven.
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Apr 8 2012 20:51
syndicalist wrote:
I'd be curious what has been your greatest or most memorable workplace vicory..... and conversley, greatest or most memorable workplace defeat. And what lessons have you taken away from them?

syndicalist, these are really good questions, and I think they deserve their own thread. So I have started one here: http://libcom.org/forums/organise/what-have-been-your-biggest-workplace-victoriesdefeats-08042012

if people wish to answer this question please do so there.

syndicalist
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Apr 9 2012 03:46
Steven. wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
I'd be curious what has been your greatest or most memorable workplace vicory..... and conversley, greatest or most memorable workplace defeat. And what lessons have you taken away from them?

syndicalist, these are really good questions, and I think they deserve their own thread. So I have started one here: http://libcom.org/forums/organise/what-have-been-your-biggest-workplace-victoriesdefeats-08042012

if people wish to answer this question please do so there.

Thanks Steve for starting a thread on its own. One of the things that has troubled me about the various Forums that exist, the lack of experiance sharing. I think the one exception to this has been some of the IWW stuff. But, in the main, nearlly all the threads we read tend to place emphasis on how we see ideology or some really good organizational concepts, but not so much the cause and effects of practice. And, I must admit, this is not something new or generalized to today. Even comrades of my generation didn't do much of a good job doing this sort of exchange either.

I've seen many a wide eyed revolutionary get smashed on the shopfloor cause they just couldn't figure out stuff...or were impatient to introduce Bakunin on the first date. Or, getting bogged down in really, really time consuming immeditae "trade union" stuff, while important at the moment and not being able to build a bridge to a more radical content (and sometimes you just can't).. Or thinking ya got your back covered, then everyone running to all corners and you getting your teeth punched, even though folks said (going into a fight) they were all together, How does (for me) anarcho-syndicalism meet our working realities? How do we find a way to get our co-workers to act in more militant ways, when all they want to do is "turf out" the hard stuff to others? I dunno, there's obviously no clear answer to all situations, but it's good to talk about this stuff so we can learn and not always feel alone in our daily drudge of not only building viable shopfloor organization, but also in building "one syndicalist at a time" [OK, I stole the last thing from the spgb, they talk about building "one socialist at a time"].

Thanks for the interest Steve, and all others who have written something thus far.

baboon
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Apr 9 2012 16:19

I'll come back to the split thread in time but the post by Syndicalist above is good for showing many of the problems confronting not only militant and revolutionary-minded shop-stewards at work but also militant and revolutionary minded individuals that may or may not be in a union.

On the issue of the struggle of Unilever's workers to defend their pension conditions: three unions involved - all seemingly in a dance to undermine the workers' strength, dividing the workers into three opposing facets. What do you say if you're a steward of one of these unions, what do you say to your fellow workers, what would your position be? I'd like to hear more responses because this is an eminently practical question (and it also applies if you were a union or non-union individual in this workplace). Syndicalist has a go but I have to disagree with his view, as far as I understand it, that union bureaucrats want parrots for stewards. It's one of the strengths of the union apparatus for the bourgeoisie that it's so malleable and elastic - unlike the state unions of China and the like. I always found that the hierarchy - that I believe is generally aware of its role as a shop floor policeman - would favour militant, argumentative individuals coming in as stewards because this gives the whole structure its continuing credibility and such individuals could be groomed for higher things or remain constraiined in the rules and legality of the apparatus or act as examples for union recruitment and credibility but on a short leash.

Caiman above says "you lot" (presumably the ICC and its sympathisers) talk about discussing politics as abstractions from daily life (or something like that). But there's a clear distinction between political discussion and the general day to day activities of the defence of working conditions etc. I had many political discussions with workers (not in the education sector) but these were built up over time with a certain shared basis - even if we disagreed. Discussions on the nature of the eastern bloc, the Russian revolution, imperialism, etc. These sorts of discussions are separate and of a different ilk to discussing a response to cuts in shift pay or increases in holiday pay for all workers for example. Workers don't generally discuss the falling rate of profit or the lessons of Spain 1936 - but revolutionary minded workers could well discuss these issue if the ambience is right (and the security question is not ignored). Sydicalist puts it well, pointing to the dangers of "introducing Bakunin on your first date". So I don't believe that there's an abstraction here but a necessary division of labour that confronts any revolutionary minded worker or steward when discussing with others.

There's no doubt in my mind that there is a growing contempt for bourgeois politics and politicians. The whole Occupy and Spring movements show it and, however confused, it's in the general response that one gets in the UK talking about the news. It should get easier to talk about more broader, genuinely political issues to workers, students, etc., though it's never going to be easy. For the greatest part of my militant life trying to suggest anything about communism, equality and against bourgeois democracy, the general line from workers was "go back to Russia then". The whole idea was that any defence of Marxism or any argument against the state was automatically interpreted as support for Stalinism (the British state perfected this propaganda while, at the same time, making full use of its Stalinist trade unions in order to keep the working class disciplined, ie, from the 50s, 60s to the early 80s). This ideology was very difficult to fight against and even with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the bourgeoisie presented it as the end of communism and the victory of capitalism, thus giving a twist to the same old anti-working class campaign. Even five years ago in work I found, through wide-ranging discussions, that the word "capitalism" was a taboo word for workers to use (outside of leftists). Now the crisis is the factor and the driving force (unless you think that things are going to get better) and while this doesn't stop - indeed should encourage - the defence of immediate conditions or improvements to this and that at work - it also opens up the possibility for more overt "political" practices which potentially extend wider.