Anarcho-syndicalist strategy & the meaning of 'union'

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Nov 10 2008 15:54
Anarcho-syndicalist strategy & the meaning of 'union'

there's been a few discussions on this over the last week on threads about the AF and platformist groups, so I thought i'd split them here, into one place...

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Nov 5 2008 08:50
888 wrote:
Joseph K. - no I don't think a revolution is a peaceful situation, that's why I asked the question. Do you?

ok so, you're saying the CNT not collaborating up until then was because of 'peace'? i think a ruling class preference for pistolerismo over social partnership probably played an important role too. however, you're right the subsequent democratic state chose to marginalise the CNT - but this merely illustrates the tension between being a revolutionary organisation and a mass organisation outside of revolutionary events.

888 wrote:
You must necessarily see the integration of the CNT into the Republican state as inevitable, if you believe the general argument put forward on this thread. I don't - I think it could have gone either way. The CNT did not hit a brick wall, it made the wrong decision.

we can play 'what ifs' with history all day, but i don't think it's coincidental the most vociferous resistance to integration came from the base (FoD). i think it's important to learn from history rather than just saying 'it'll work out better next time' like the trots do.

888 wrote:
the CNT was considerably more revolutionary than those other unions, most of which were only marginally syndicalist. There is a deterministic argument being put forward - that "by their very nature" even anarchosyndicalist unions cannot be revolutionary - that is too convenient to be true.

i'm in an anarcho-syndicalist organisation, and i think the essence of anarcho-syndicalism - sovereign mass assemblies, federated using mandated/recallable delegates - is of relevance to contemporary class struggle. the problem with most anarcho-syndicalists is a fetishisation of form over content, hence 'building the union' becomes the goal rather than building the struggle towards libertarian communism.

this fetishism expresses itself in two ways, most crudely as 'one big unionism,' trying to build a mass revolutionary organisation piecemeal until we can declare the general strike (this view is thankfully for the most part obsolete), and more sophisticatedly that such a union could only come into being off the back of mass struggle. the unexpressed correlate here is that it would necessarily wane with the struggle too, leaving behind an empty form if this is denied, or a network of militants if it is recognised and accepted.

therefore if anarcho-syndicalism is to have any relevance it has to give primacy to struggle, and try to give that struggle the form of sovereign mass assemblies, federated using mandated/recallable delegates ('an anarcho-syndicalist union' if you like), recognising that such a form is nothing without the content of militant struggle and therefore that you can't build a permanent mass revolutionary organisation because such an organisation can't exist outside of a (near-)revolutionary situation.

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Nov 5 2008 09:18
Joseph K. wrote:
therefore if anarcho-syndicalism is to have any relevance it has to give primacy to struggle, and try to give that struggle the form of sovereign mass assemblies, federated using mandated/recallable delegates ('an anarcho-syndicalist union' if you like), recognising that such a form is nothing without the content of militant struggle and therefore that you can't build a permanent mass revolutionary organisation because such an organisation can't exist outside of a (near-)revolutionary situation.

But it isn't an anarcho-syndicalist union, is it? I think that this is part of the problem that anarcho-syndicalists face. I actually agree with what you are saying, and think that we have very similar views on these things, but the way that you express it is designed to avoid discussion and clarity with those who hold what you call an 'obsolete view', and while their views may be obsolete there are still many of them in the IWA.

Devrim

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Nov 5 2008 09:47

Dev, it's not at all to avoid discussion - it's come out of recent discussions on strategy within Solfed nationally where these points were raised, there's also an ongoing discussion within our local which should result in us producing something in writing to this effect. the view of building one big union piecemeal does not seem much in evidence within Solfed (although it does exist, and i don't know about the rest of the IWA), the view of seeing any a-s union coming off the back of mass struggle is more widespread, but as i argued above the logical corallary to this is the notion of anarcho-syndicalism i set out above.

now i'm not particularly attached to the terms used to describe such an approach, i've used ones which emphasise its continuity with the anarcho-syndicalist tradition (which has been rooted in mass assemblies from Spain in '36 through Puerto Real to contemporary stuff like Workmates) but if left-communists and/or anarchist-communists agree with it bar the terminology then all the better for it.

(personal capacity obviously)

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Nov 5 2008 11:20
Joseph K. wrote:
the view of seeing any a-s union coming off the back of mass struggle is more widespread, but as i argued above the logical corallary to this is the notion of anarcho-syndicalism i set out above..

This is true. Red unions are built by people proclaiming that they are unions. If red unions emerge it will be through large scale struggles. The poster 'Asn' earlier seemed to have a much more realistic perspective than those who would set up 'unions' now with a handful of people.

Quote:
the view of building one big union piecemeal does not seem much in evidence within Solfed (although it does exist, and i don't know about the rest of the IWA),

It does exist in SolFed though, and it certainly exists in the IWA, witness all of these IWA sections in Eastern Europe proclaiming that they are unions. Maybe it is less in evidence in SolFed due to the experience that DAM had when it declared itself to be a union.

What I wonder about the people in the IWA who hold your position is whether they are hold to this because they don't think it is possible to build mass revolutionary unions before, or because they don't think it is possible to do it now? If the level of struggle increases will they go back to it.

Devrim

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Nov 5 2008 11:41
Devrim wrote:
What I wonder about the people in the IWA who hold your position is whether they are hold to this because they don't think it is possible to build mass revolutionary unions before, or because they don't think it is possible to do it now? If the level of struggle increases will they go back to it.

the point is an anarcho-syndicalist union, defined as mass assemblies using mandated recallable delegates, only comes into being off the back of struggle, and for the same reasons wanes with that struggle (Workmates being a recent example). now there are clearly anarcho-syndicalist tendencies in favour of declaring your micro political group a union, or a 'union in formation,' there are also those who want political groups to take on 'union functions' like defending their members/others with non-industrial direct action (not necessarily a bad thing, although i wouldn't describe it as a 'union function', more solidarity) - this all reflects to a greater or lesser extent the fetishism of form over content i described above. but the tendency i'm expressing isn't outside the anarcho-syndicalist tradition either; if it resonates with other traditions in the workers movement all the better, i'm not interested in brand identity but working class power.

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Nov 5 2008 12:12
Joseph K. wrote:
but the tendency i'm expressing isn't outside the anarcho-syndicalist tradition either; if it resonates with other traditions in the workers movement all the better, i'm not interested in brand identity but working class power.

I don't think that it is a question of 'brand identity' either. I don't think that what you are proposing lies at the mainstream of the anarcho-syndicalist tradition though, and that you will have many arguments on the topic within anarcho-syndicalism.

Devrim

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Nov 5 2008 12:28
Devrim wrote:
I don't think that what you are proposing lies at the mainstream of the anarcho-syndicalist tradition though

maybe not, but i think there's a continuity with what is best in anarcho-syndicalism, which is after all what we should be taking from it.

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Nov 5 2008 16:04
Joseph K. wrote:
Devrim wrote:
I don't think that what you are proposing lies at the mainstream of the anarcho-syndicalist tradition though

maybe not, but i think there's a continuity with what is best in anarcho-syndicalism, which is after all what we should be taking from it.

And the best in council communism, anarchist-communism, and other traditions too. Which is to say that what's best doesn't belong to any particular tradition at all, and all have had extremely low points too.

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Nov 5 2008 16:35
Mike Harman wrote:
And the best in council communism, anarchist-communism, and other traditions too. Which is to say that what's best doesn't belong to any particular tradition at all, and all have had extremely low points too.

i completely agree, and i'm by no means a chauvinist about it and happy to just call it libertarian communism, communism, anarchism or whatever. the point is there is a certain politics (praxis, if that word didn't sound shit) that can legitimately be traced through different traditions in the workers movement without being exclusive to any of them. this is a good thing. there are those more preoccupied with how to differentiate their organisation, 'what makes us unique' etc, but i'm not interested in identity so much as concrete things we can do to advance workers struggles (ultimately in the direction of libertarian communism).

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Nov 9 2008 18:42
yoshomon wrote:
From the Anarkismo statement:
Quote:
A major focus of our activity is our work within the economic organizations of the working class (labour organizations, trade unions, syndicates) where this is a possibility. We therefore reject views that dismiss activity in the unions because as members of the working class it is only natural that we should also be members of these mass organizations...

These positions regarding... unions why I refer to this tendency as an anarchist version of Trotskyism.

i don't see anything inherently trotskyist about being members of unions and being active in them. several of the libcom collective are shop stewards, and my own organisation has this to say...

Solfed workplace strategy wrote:
Mass meetings should be seen as an alternative structure to official union structures that are dominated by full-time bureaucrats. Decisions are made collectively in these assemblies. The work of these assemblies in different workplaces should be co-ordinated by delegate councils.

In the most militants workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at. This may not be possible in other workplaces where it will only be possible to organise such meetings when a dispute arises.

We need a three-pronged approach to the business of actually setting up an independent organisation at work.

1. In a workplace with a recognised TUC union, an SF member would join the union but promote an anarcho-syndicalist strategy. This would involve organising workplace assemblies to make collective decisions on workplace issues. However, workers will still be likely to hold union cards here to avoid splits in the workplace between union members and non-union members.
2. In a non-unionised workplace, independent unions, based on the principle of collective decision-making, should be set up wherever possible.
3. In a non-unionised workplace, that is difficult to organise due to a high turnover of staff or a large number of temps, we should just call workers assemblies when a dispute arises.

"independent unions" in 2 clearly means the regular mass meetings described above rather than a legal trade union, and as such i don't see anything uncommunist about the strategy.

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Nov 9 2008 19:10
Joseph K. wrote:
Solfed workplace strategy wrote:
2. In a non-unionised workplace, independent unions, based on the principle of collective decision-making, should be set up wherever possible.
3. In a non-unionised workplace, that is difficult to organise due to a high turnover of staff or a large number of temps, we should just call workers assemblies when a dispute arises.

"independent unions" in 2 clearly means the regular mass meetings described above rather than a legal trade union, and as such i don't see anything uncommunist about the strategy.

What is the difference between 2 and 3 then?

Devrim

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Nov 9 2008 19:26
Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
In the most militant workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at. This may not be possible in other workplaces where it will only be possible to organise such meetings when a dispute arises.

2 describes the former situation, 3 the latter. in both cases the 'union' (mass meetings/delegate councils) is clearly linked to the level of militancy/struggle, as in the 'non-mainstream' version of anarcho-syndicalism set out above.

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Nov 9 2008 19:35

I don't think the majority of your comrades would read that word 'union' in the same way as you do. Otherwise there wouldn't be any difference between the two points.

Devrim

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Nov 9 2008 19:53

the two points just stress that the important thing is the level of militancy, which should be chanelled into mass meetings. ideally the militancy is such that these mass meetings are ongoing, but in practice this is unlikely, including due to high staff turnover etc, in which case ad hoc mass meetings are also good. the important thing isn't the permanence of the organisation, but the forms given to the struggle and the level of militancy.

it's really very sensible and pragmatic, the workplace strategy is one of the best things about solfed. i mean the word 'union' does suffer from unfortunate ambiguities in english, but the strategy is clearly talking about setting up mass assemblies where the struggle/militancy is suffucient to do so. i think this is something you agree with.

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Nov 9 2008 20:25

JK, fwiw, I read those three points the same as Devrim. 2 - set up a union (anarcho-syndicalist rather than TUC) 3. just hold mass assemblies.

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Nov 9 2008 20:42

yes, but 'anarcho-syndicalist union' clearly means regular mass meetings, with mandated/recallable delegates in order to organise direct action, not a legal union. this is what the Workmates Collective was for example, and that's referred to by solfed members - including the one who was instrumental in setting it up - as an anarcho-syndicalist union.

Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
Decisions should be made collectively. This means they are made by mass meetings, not by officials in union offices. These mass meetings include all those in the workplace, regardless of union membership. It will not, however, include scabs or managers.
Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
Anyone we elect to negotiate with management should have a mandate from the workforce that gives them clear guidance on what is and is not acceptable. Mass meetings of workers need to be able to recall all delegates.
Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
Direct action at work means strikes, go-slows, working-to-rule, occupations and boycotts. We are opposed to the alternative which is 'partnership' with bosses. Workers can only win serious concessions from management when industrial action is used or when bosses fear it might be.
Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
Solidarity with other workers is the key to victory. Workers should support each others' disputes despite the anti-trade union laws. We need to approach other workers directly for their support.
Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
Strike funds need to be controlled by the workers themselves. Officials will refuse to fund unlawful solidarity action. Union bureaucrats use official backing and strike pay to turn action on and off like a tap.
Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
The role of anarcho-syndicalist militants is not to control the workplace organisation but to put forward an anarcho-syndicalist perspective in the meetings of the workplace organisation and attempt to gain broad support for our aims and principles, through propaganda work.
Solfed Workplace Strategy wrote:
Mass meetings should be seen as an alternative structure to official union structures that are dominated by full-time bureaucrats. Decisions are made collectively in these assemblies. The work of these assemblies in different workplaces should be co-ordinated by delegate councils.

In the most militant workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at. This may not be possible in other workplaces where it will only be possible to organise such meetings when a dispute arises.

http://www.solfed.org.uk/strategy/

i think my supposedly idiosyncratic take on anarcho-syndicalism is closer to solfed's strategy than the classical 'build the one big union' historical blueprint one tbh.

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Nov 9 2008 21:08

Its interesting that what you've highlighted here, understanding the "anarcho-syndicalist union" in this way is near-identical to the (draft) AF industrial strategy. We define "union" as a more formal organisation, however. I do think there are people in Solfed, comrades as they may be, who view anarcho-syndicalism in a much more orthodox manner.

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Nov 9 2008 21:25

yes there are, but my point is i'm a strange heretic when i'm closer to our stated strategy than the 'orthodoxy' wink

i mean i think the kind of anarcho-syndicalist union i'm describing is a formal organisation (Workmates had little red/black badges apparently tongue // conceivably they'd collect subs for propaganda/strike funds etc too), but one which is rooted in mass assemblies, which are themselves tied inevitably to the level of struggle. so it is not a permanent revolutionary organisation, if permanent is defined as persisting beyond the decline of the cycle of struggle which gave birth to it (although the hope of course is that formal organisation along these lines will sustain and spread the struggle.)

now it's interesting that in terms of 'what is to be done' there appears to be broad strategic agreement between anarcho-syndicalists* and left communists, the AF and platformists. i'm far from synthesist, but this doesn't strike me as a bad thing; it seems when we think in concrete strategic terms the lessons of the past century of workers struggle are fairly clear to all, despite terminological differences. i'm the last person to try and paper over real political differences, but equally i don't think they should be amplified through semantics when people are basically on the same page.

* in terms of solfed's stated, collectively agreed strategy, as opposed to the possible 'orthodox' views of members.

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Nov 10 2008 00:42
Devrim wrote:
I don't think the majority of your comrades would read that word 'union' in the same way as you do. Otherwise there wouldn't be any difference between the two points.

Devrim

yes Joseph, it seems like you're being a bit optimistic here as to what other people interpret those points as meaning. If the "independent union" referred to in point 2 was in fact just assemblies then it would make exactly the same as point 3

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Nov 10 2008 01:52

JK, it seems like you're doing mental gymnastics to make your ideas mesh with those of the organization you're in even when they are not the same.

Quote:
now it's interesting that in terms of 'what is to be done' there appears to be broad strategic agreement between anarcho-syndicalists* and left communists, the AF and platformists. i'm far from synthesist, but this doesn't strike me as a bad thing; it seems when we think in concrete strategic terms the lessons of the past century of workers struggle are fairly clear to all, despite terminological differences. i'm the last person to try and paper over real political differences, but equally i don't think they should be amplified through semantics when people are basically on the same page.

I am at a loss as to how you arrived at this because it doesn't seem to be true at all. Groups like NEFAC participate in union organizing drives, publish pro-nationalist articles, etc while anarcho-syndicalist groups talk about building 'revolutionary unions' (which are not synonymous with assemblies... or people would just say assemblies instead of unions!) . All of the platformist/anarkismo/whatever groups argue for participation in "popular movements", which I guess a group like the AF argue for too, but all of these things are at odds with a communist approach.

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Nov 10 2008 07:23
Steven. wrote:
yes Joseph, it seems like you're being a bit optimistic here as to what other people interpret those points as meaning. If the "independent union" referred to in point 2 was in fact just assemblies then it would make exactly the same as point 3
yoshomon wrote:
JK, it seems like you're doing mental gymnastics to make your ideas mesh with those of the organization you're in even when they are not the same.

except i've quoted at length from the strategy to show exactly what is meant by 'anarcho-syndicalist union' - and referenced the only such one which has existed in recent british history, Workmates, which was rooted in mass assemblies, an elected/recallable delegate council etc. the difference between 2 and 3 is that when the militancy is such that mass meetings are held regularly, there is a delegate council in place etc then these structures are being called "an independent union", but it's a union as a practice of workers uniting across boundaries ("mass meetings include all those in the workplace, regardless of union membership... Mass meetings of workers need to be able to recall all delegates.") not as a legally recognised body for representing labour within capital. It's by no means the case that everyone in solfed agrees (some would change the strategy to be more like the wobblies, but not apolitical), but the point is this is what our strategy says, explicitly, some people are just determined to read 'legally recognised mediator' everytime they see the word 'union,' i think it's more important to look at what is meant rather than fixating on the terminology.

yoshomon wrote:
I am at a loss as to how you arrived at this because it doesn't seem to be true at all. Groups like NEFAC participate in union organizing drives, publish pro-nationalist articles, etc while anarcho-syndicalist groups talk about building 'revolutionary unions' (which are not synonymous with assemblies... or people would just say assemblies instead of unions!) . All of the platformist/anarkismo/whatever groups argue for participation in "popular movements", which I guess a group like the AF argue for too, but all of these things are at odds with a communist approach.

then you have a very warped idea of communism (anti-civilisation no?). you can insist 'anarcho-syndicalist unions' doesn't mean what it explicity says ("in the most militant workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at") all you want but it's not very convincing, where's your counter-evidence? I've quoted at length, and you've just asserted otherwise. I don't think there's necessarily anything uncommunist about participation in popular movements (such as the anti-NHS cuts or anti-war) either, or necessarily in signing people up to a union (if they just want to participate in a strike without getting fired say).

Devrim wrote:
We had this thing before from people in NEFAC about how those who were against the unions were just 'sitting on the sidelines' etc. It turned out that no members of NEFAC had ever been involved in what we described as medium size workplace struggles whereas most of the left communists had. It is just a nonsense argument.

yes this is a straw man, those most critical of unions are often those with experience of them. this doesn't mean this skepticism should be transposed onto regular mass meetings/delegate councils on semantic grounds alone.

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Nov 10 2008 10:20
Joseph K. wrote:
except i've quoted at length from the strategy to show exactly what is meant by 'anarcho-syndicalist union'

- and referenced the only such one which has existed in recent british history, Workmates, which was rooted in mass assemblies, an elected/recallable delegate council etc

Does anyone in Solfed describe Workmates as an anarcho-syndicalist union?

I'm sure you know more about it than me, but let's go by the only public information available (afaik from Solidarity #3 and #4):

#3 wrote:
On Thursday 13th February, a meeting of the Workmates Collective, attended by 150 or so workers, unanimously carried a proposal to set up a council composed of recallable delegates from each gang. The Collective has been transformed from a handful of RMT workplace reps into the Workmates' Council, moving towards a libertarian formation on anarcho-syndicalist lines instead.
#4 wrote:
In February the ‘Workmates Collective' began organising along anarcho-syndicalist lines by forming a council consisting of a recallable delegate from each gang

Now we both know that there's nothing inherently anarcho-syndicalist about what's described here, and the article itself describes the formation as a 'council' - not a proto-anarcho-syndicalist union or anything. 'Along anarcho-syndicalist lines' in this context really means 'in ways which we'd agree with and support', which is good of course, but there's no claim here that it's a 'union' of any kind - having a couple of Solfed members involved doesn't make it automatically anarcho-syndicalist either. So, a very good thing, anarcho-syndicalists were involved (although even if five solfed members were that'd be about 3%), but not an anarcho-syndicalist union.

Now, while I've discussed the assembly vs. union stuff with you and some other SolFed members (although afaik only from two branches of Solfed), and I think we actually agree on most of these points, it really is intellectual gymnastics to reconcile it with the organisation as such. If you pare 'anarcho-syndicalism' down to 'mass assemblies' - then by removing the specifically union/syndicalist aspect, you're removing everything which differentiates it from councilism, some brands of left-communism, anarchist-communism etc. - at least in terms of how it sees workers organising and that begs the question of why bother calling yourselves anarcho-syndicalist at all.

So while your interpretation of the industrial strategy sounds fine, it's a long way from building 'industrial unions' that 'all workers must unite in', because 'only the industrial unions of the working class are capable of reaching this objective' culminating in the 'general strike which must, from the point of view of revolutionary unionism, be the prelude to the social revolution' - and it's quite possible the interpret the industrial strategy as leading towards that too.

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Nov 10 2008 10:47
Joseph K. wrote:
yes this is a straw man, those most critical of unions are often those with experience of them. this doesn't mean this skepticism should be transposed onto regular mass meetings/delegate councils on semantic grounds alone.

I am not transposing it. I agree with Catch though, and think that is you that is preforming the semantic gymnastics. Basically, I don't think that you are an anarcho-syndicalist in the way that most people would understand it, particularly anarcho-syndicalists. Now, of course you can call yourself what you like, but I think in statements like the following one do minimize differences:

Quote:
now it's interesting that in terms of 'what is to be done' there appears to be broad strategic agreement between anarcho-syndicalists* and left communists, the AF and platformists. i'm far from synthesist, but this doesn't strike me as a bad thing; it seems when we think in concrete strategic terms the lessons of the past century of workers struggle are fairly clear to all, despite terminological differences. i'm the last person to try and paper over real political differences, but equally i don't think they should be amplified through semantics when people are basically on the same page.

* in terms of solfed's stated, collectively agreed strategy, as opposed to the possible 'orthodox' views of members.

I think that there is more than semantical difference here. That is not to say that it is not possible to do some joint work, but it is important to be clear on the differences. One that immediately comes to mind is that there are anarcho-syndicalists who think that revolutionaries should be stewards, and left communists don't.

Devrim

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Nov 10 2008 11:20
Mike Harman wrote:
Does anyone in Solfed describe Workmates as an anarcho-syndicalist union?

I'm sure you know more about it than me, but let's go by the only public information available (afaik from Solidarity #3 and #4)

i'm going on conversations with the solfed guy involved. he considered it exactly what we're working towards (if the level of struggle were sufficient, multiple workmates-esque groups could federate into an anarcho-syndicalist union confederation, and/or disaffiliate from the TUC, but it's still essentially a federation of mass assemblies/delegate councils - the structure is inseperable from the substance; the level of struggle).

Mike Harman wrote:
Now, while I've discussed the assembly vs. union stuff with you and some other SolFed members (although afaik only from two branches of Solfed), and I think we actually agree on most of these points, it really is intellectual gymnastics to reconcile it with the organisation as such. If you pare 'anarcho-syndicalism' down to 'mass assemblies' - then by removing the specifically union/syndicalist aspect, you're removing everything which differentiates it from councilism, some brands of left-communism, anarchist-communism etc. - at least in terms of how it sees workers organising and that begs the question of why bother calling yourselves anarcho-syndicalist at all.

well i'm not particularly attached to the names, so if the dispute is purely semantic. now there's plenty wrong with solfed, but the strategy ain't it. it isn't intellectual gymnastics to quote the strategy saying "in the most militant workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at." now clearly this understanding isn't shared by everyone in solfed, as evidenced by declaring our industrial networks (we only have one) 'unions in formation' the idea of 'building the union' divorced from struggle does exist. although given as it's proving impossible to build anything more than a network of militants outside of mass struggles this experience vindicates my take on things.

Quote:
So, a very good thing, anarcho-syndicalists were involved (although even if five solfed members were that'd be about 3%), but not an anarcho-syndicalist union.

well it was one solfed member i think, but that's not the point. an anarcho-syndicalist organisation is not an organisation of ideological anarcho-syndicalists, but "a libertarian formation [of workers] on anarcho-syndicalist lines." if you're not convinced by Workmates, look at the other contemporary(ish) example of anarcho-syndicalist organising, from the CNT no less:

Quote:
The CNT's involvement meant that the methods of organising and the forms of action taken departed from those common to reformist unions -- with dramatic consequences (...) Mass assemblies both in the yards and surrounding localities involved workers, their families, neighbours and all supporters. Initiating and maintaining entire communities' involvement in mass assemblies alone was fine achievement.

By all accounts the work of the CNT in and around Puerto Real established direct democracy as an inherent part of local political culture and resistance - people deciding for themselves (...) No political party or trade union has anything to offer but yet more bitter medicine and false promises (...) The experiences and actions of Spanish workers have provided valuable lessons in the past, but today as we approach the 21st century new ideas are needed.

Quote:
The most important thing that I would to point out, is that we managed to create a structure whereby there was a permanent assembly taking place (...) What we tried to do in Puerto Real is show that the anarcho-syndicalist union is not just an industrial organisation that takes on factory disputes, but rather has a much wider social and political aim (...) Any decision that was taken in these assemblies of course was independent of any official union presence or official union ideas.
Quote:
Q. Did the assemblies just occur during the strike, or have they carried on?

"There is a permanent dynamic role of the assembly, what we've tried to do over the years is build assemblies for every shift of whichever factory we're talking about that's on the industrial sphere. In the villages and in the town these assemblies still take place. About two weeks ago, around 2,000 people went to participate in the town assembly. So these do take place, but also we're concentrating very much on the estates and local areas - local assemblies, as well as the main larger one.

Q. Do you have recallable delegates, and do have you ever had a case where delegate have not represented the views of the members and have had to be recalled? And we those individuals demoralised or pissed off about that? What did they feel about: being kicked off a task?

"No one has ever had to be recalled, however if any delegate did go against the decisions taken in the assembly they would be recalled and also expelled from the union. But each delegate is there for a fixed period of time, either six months or twelve months, but no one has ever been recalled because no one has ever gone against what's been laid down in the assembly".

now if your point is simply that there's nothing exclusively anarcho-syndicalist about federations of mass assemblies, you're right. perhaps these "21st century new ideas" really represent a convergence of what is best in the anarcho-syndicalist tradition and those of other traditions in the workers movement and a jettisoning of some of the historical baggage. great.

Mike Harman wrote:
So while your interpretation of the industrial strategy sounds fine, it's a long way from building 'industrial unions' that 'all workers must unite in', because 'only the industrial unions of the working class are capable of reaching this objective' culminating in the 'general strike which must, from the point of view of revolutionary unionism, be the prelude to the social revolution' - and it's quite possible the interpret the industrial strategy as leading towards that too.

yes, there is all sorts of historical baggage knocking about with regards to building the one big union for the glorious day of the general strike on the blueprint of '36 (this isn't even how the CNT grew then, but hey), but practice seems to have moved ahead of that rhetoric (cf Puerto Real, Workmates) towards the conception of the anarcho-syndicalist union as the form to be given to high points of struggle, inseperable from mass assemblies. i'd imagine the industrial strategy was written to say the latter without alienating the old school, and it could probably do with more explicit clarification of what is meant by 'union' in anarcho-syndicalist jargon, but the workplace strategy is definitely one of the better things about solfed.

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 10 2008 11:28
Devrim wrote:
I agree with Catch though, and think that is you that is preforming the semantic gymnastics. Basically, I don't think that you are an anarcho-syndicalist in the way that most people would understand it, particularly anarcho-syndicalists. Now, of course you can call yourself what you like

i don't think it's semantic gymnastics in light of the actual practice of contemporary anarcho-syndicalists, wrt things like Workmates and Puerto Real, as detailed above. fwiw i don't really call myself and anarcho-syndicalist because it's a label that immediately invites misunderstanding and juxtaposition to anarchist-communism, council communism, left communism etc, when what is best in these traditions is often closer than the charicatures of each would suggest.

Devrim wrote:
I think that there is more than semantical difference here. That is not to say that it is not possible to do some joint work, but it is important to be clear on the differences. One that immediately comes to mind is that there are anarcho-syndicalists who think that revolutionaries should be stewards, and left communists don't.

well yes, there are differences, important ones, i was perhaps over-egging the point. they don't necessarily preclude things like networks of militants advocating mass assemblies or whatever (not just anarcho-syndicalists who think communists can be shop stewards either).

Mark.
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Nov 10 2008 11:49
Joseph K. wrote:
now it's interesting that in terms of 'what is to be done' there appears to be broad strategic agreement between anarcho-syndicalists and left communists, the AF and platformists. i'm far from synthesist, but this doesn't strike me as a bad thing; it seems when we think in concrete strategic terms the lessons of the past century of workers struggle are fairly clear to all, despite terminological differences. i'm the last person to try and paper over real political differences, but equally i don't think they should be amplified through semantics when people are basically on the same page.

In terms of what is realistically possible in the foreseeable future in Britain it maybe isn't so surprising to see a "broad strategic agreement between anarcho-syndicalists* and left communists, the AF and platformists". With trade union laws as they are, and no real tradition of breakaway unions, an orthodox anarcho-syndicalist approach would be difficult. It's possible that people might be "on the same page" as far as what can be done here but have differing views on organising in other countries where circumstances are different.

For instance there was a thread about the Italian COBAS unions - which developed out of a movement of assemblies. As I understand it the left communist argument was that it was a mistake to make the move from a temporary movement to a permanent union structure. I think there is a real difference in outlook here between left communists and anarcho-syndicalists. If there was a similar situation in Britain there might be the additional question of whether being a legally registered union is just too restrictive for it to be a useful course of action. To me this would be a practical tactical question, whereas for the ICC I think it would be an issue of principle to oppose the creation of permanent structures. At the end of the day it's possible that we might come to the same conclusions - but it would be for different reasons.

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 10 2008 11:52

yes i think that's a fair comment, i over-egged the point somewhat, there are probably those who while recognising the kind of anarcho-syndicalist union i'm describing will only come out of a high level of struggle, think that it can be made permanant somehow when that struggle declines. i think this is wrong, and that any practice based in mass assemblies in inserperable from cycles of struggle, and so not permanent in a meaningful way (although the existence of a formal organisation may well sustain struggles and spread beyond their spontaneous life).

Mike Harman
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Nov 10 2008 12:47
Joseph K. wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
Does anyone in Solfed describe Workmates as an anarcho-syndicalist union?

I'm sure you know more about it than me, but let's go by the only public information available (afaik from Solidarity #3 and #4)

i'm going on conversations with the solfed guy involved. he considered it exactly what we're working towards (if the level of struggle were sufficient, multiple workmates-esque groups could federate into an anarcho-syndicalist union confederation, and/or disaffiliate from the TUC, but it's still essentially a federation of mass assemblies/delegate councils - the structure is inseperable from the substance; the level of struggle).

So something which might lead to the formation of an anarcho-syndicalist union, but not an 'independent union' as such?

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now clearly this understanding isn't shared by everyone in solfed, as evidenced by declaring our industrial networks (we only have one) 'unions in formation' the idea of 'building the union' divorced from struggle does exist. although given as it's proving impossible to build anything more than a network of militants outside of mass struggles this experience vindicates my take on things.

Well yeah, but while it might be a semantic difference between you and me (or more likely me and what you think is the best of anarcho-syndicalism) - it affects how people view the practical activity of the organisation - which isn't semantic. If one person thinks you're building unions and one person doesn't, that's going to cause conflicts pretty quick.

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well it was one solfed member i think, but that's not the point. an anarcho-syndicalist organisation is not an organisation of ideological anarcho-syndicalists, but "a libertarian formation [of workers] on anarcho-syndicalist lines."

- "it's anarcho-syndicalist because some anarcho-syndicalists agree with how it's organised and in some cases helped to form it"?

fwiw, there's some critical comments on the CNT's activity during the '80s in the BM Blob Docker's struggles pamphlet, suggesting it was a bit more unionist than your quotes suggest - but I've not been able to track down the source for the comments, which is just a pseudonym. Here anyway: http://libcom.org/library/workers-world-tonight-international-dockers-struggles-1980s

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now if your point is simply that there's nothing exclusively anarcho-syndicalist about federations of mass assemblies, you're right. perhaps these "21st century new ideas" really represent a convergence of what is best in the anarcho-syndicalist tradition and those of other traditions in the workers movement and a jettisoning of some of the historical baggage. great.

Well yeah, if that's happening then great - but it shows a (positive) move away from anarcho-syndicalism as such if so - and my impression is that's it's very much a minority view - some of the posters from the CNT on here clearly don't think like that.

Quote:
yes, there is all sorts of historical baggage knocking about with regards to building the one big union for the glorious day of the general strike on the blueprint of '36

Just to clarify, all those quotes were direct from the Solfed consitution: http://www.solfed.org.uk/constitution/

Quote:
but practice seems to have moved ahead of that rhetoric (cf Puerto Real, Workmates) towards the conception of the anarcho-syndicalist union as the form to be given to high points of struggle, inseperable from mass assemblies. i'd imagine the industrial strategy was written to say the latter without alienating the old school,

What, so rather than risk a split over changing the constitution, write a new strategy document instead which pretty much contradicts it? Cheeky wink

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 10 2008 13:31
Mike Harman wrote:
So something which might lead to the formation of an anarcho-syndicalist union, but not an 'independent union' as such?

well Workmates got beaten when they tried to act independently of the RMT, although i think that has more to do with contingent factors (the decisiveness and speed of the bosses countermeasures) than something immanent to the form. a mass assembly with a mandated/recallable delegate council co-ordinating industrial direct action seems like an anarcho-syndicalist union to me, anarcho-syndicalism has always stressed direct democracy and rank and file control versus bureaucracy, so such forms are inseperable from the level of militancy/struggle, as the strategy makes clear. my point was it clearly wasn't a confederation of such groups, as it was just in one workplace.

Mike Harman wrote:
If one person thinks you're building unions and one person doesn't, that's going to cause conflicts pretty quick.

well yes, i think it needs clarifying and our local is planning on a document to that end.

Mike Harman wrote:
"it's anarcho-syndicalist because some anarcho-syndicalists agree with how it's organised and in some cases helped to form it"?

an anarcho-syndicalist organisation is a workers organisation organised on anarcho-syndicalist lines, not one which consists of 100% ideological anarcho-syndicalists (which is why the strategy says "As well as a structure of mass meetings and delegates there also needs to be a specifically anarcho-syndicalist presence in any workplace organisation. This will necessarily involve only a minority of workers in the present time.") Now if you want to argue there's nothing specifically anarcho-syndicalist about these forms, then go ahead, but that is literally semantics.

Mike Harman wrote:
Well yeah, if that's happening then great - but it shows a (positive) move away from anarcho-syndicalism as such if so - and my impression is that's it's very much a minority view - some of the posters from the CNT on here clearly don't think like that.

well only if you define "anarcho-syndicalism as such" as a caricature of one big unionism and ignore the other tendencies of what is a plural tradition; the Friends of Durruti, the FORA etc. As to whether it's a minority view in the IWA, i don't know. It's the right one though wink

Mike Harman wrote:
Just to clarify, all those quotes were direct from the Solfed consitution

yes i know, the point is if you understand 'anarcho-syndicalist union' or 'revolutionary union' to mean the directly democratic organisational form given to high levels of militant struggle, using mandated/recallable delegate councils, federation by region/industry etc, then do you actually disagree with the idea that revolution consists in both this level and form of struggle being generalised? I mean the fetishism of The General Strike is a bit retro-silly, but it hardly precludes expropriation/communisation. From the constitution again:

Solfed's constitution wrote:
Revolutionary unionism is the sworn enemy of all economic and social monopoly. It aims at the abolition of privilege by the establishment of economic communes and administrative bodies run by the workers in the fields, factories and offices, forming a system of free councils. (...)

Revolutionary unionism has a twofold function. It carries on the revolutionary struggle in all countries for the economic, social and intellectual improvement of the working class within the limits of present day society [i.e. the levels of militancy, struggle etc].

Mike Harman wrote:
What, so rather than risk a split over changing the constitution, write a new strategy document instead which pretty much contradicts it? Cheeky ;)

well, i'm speculating at the reasons for ambiguity, which seem to be as much the result of critics' stereotypes of anarcho-syndicalism meaning one big unionism as internal contradictions within the organisation/text. i don't think solfed's strategy contradicts the constitution at all, it depends entirely what is meant by 'anarcho-syndicalist union' in both instances, although as I say this could do with clarification and we're working on something to this end.

Mike Harman wrote:
fwiw, there's some critical comments on the CNT's activity during the '80s in the BM Blob Docker's struggles pamphlet, suggesting it was a bit more unionist than your quotes suggest - but I've not been able to track down the source for the comments, which is just a pseudonym. Here anyway: http://libcom.org/library/workers-world-tonight-international-dockers-struggles-1980s

i'll have a read, although half the point of the Puerto Real article quotes was the way solfed (who i think prouced the pamphlet) interpreted the events; "The experiences and actions of Spanish workers have provided valuable lessons in the past, but today as we approach the 21st century new ideas are needed." - Not anarcho-syndicalism as a historical blueprint but an open, evolving practice (now you could argue these ideas aren't new, and have both existed inside and outside the anarcho-syndicalist tradition for over a century, but there you go).

Mike Harman
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Nov 10 2008 14:08
Joseph K. wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
So something which might lead to the formation of an anarcho-syndicalist union, but not an 'independent union' as such?

well Workmates got beaten when they tried to act independently of the RMT, although i think that has more to do with contingent factors (the decisiveness and speed of the bosses countermeasures) than something immanent to the form. a mass assembly with a mandated/recallable delegate council co-ordinating industrial direct action seems like an anarcho-syndicalist union to me, anarcho-syndicalism has always stressed direct democracy and rank and file control versus bureaucracy, so such forms are inseperable from the level of militancy/struggle, as the strategy makes clear. my point was it clearly wasn't a confederation of such groups, as it was just in one workplace.

Fair enough.

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well yes, i think it needs clarifying and our local is planning on a document to that end.

Are you going to make this document public (if not the resulting discussion)?

Quote:
Mike Harman wrote:
"it's anarcho-syndicalist because some anarcho-syndicalists agree with how it's organised and in some cases helped to form it"?

an anarcho-syndicalist organisation is a workers organisation organised on anarcho-syndicalist lines, not one which consists of 100% ideological anarcho-syndicalists (which is why the strategy says "As well as a structure of mass meetings and delegates there also needs to be a specifically anarcho-syndicalist presence in any workplace organisation. This will necessarily involve only a minority of workers in the present time.") Now if you want to argue there's nothing specifically anarcho-syndicalist about these forms, then go ahead, but that is literally semantics.

So, post bookfair, I had a chat with Martinh and others in the pub, and said that while I think a 'network of militants' is a decent idea, that it was silly for solfed to exclude people like me who aren't anarcho-syndicalists from such groups. To which they said "well you could join solfed", and I answered "no I can't, because I'm not an anarcho-syndicalist" - this carried on for some time and was after a few beers, but still. So, if there was a hypothetical workplace at which you and I both worked, which had some other members from a solfed local, then presumably you'd keep your own 'specifically anarcho-syndicalist' presence separate from both the assemblies and people you're in 99% agreement with like me?

Quote:
Mike Harman wrote:
Well yeah, if that's happening then great - but it shows a (positive) move away from anarcho-syndicalism as such if so - and my impression is that's it's very much a minority view - some of the posters from the CNT on here clearly don't think like that.

well only if you define "anarcho-syndicalism as such" as a caricature of one big unionism and ignore the other tendencies of what is a plural tradition; the Friends of Durruti, the FORA etc. As to whether it's a minority view in the IWA, i don't know. It's the right one though wink

Maybe I should've said ideological anarcho-syndicalism.

Quote:
Mike Harman wrote:
Just to clarify, all those quotes were direct from the Solfed consitution

yes i know, the point is if you understand 'anarcho-syndicalist union' or 'revolutionary union' to mean the directly democratic organisational form given to high levels of militant struggle, using mandated/recallable delegate councils, federation by region/industry etc, then do you actually disagree with the idea that revolution consists in both this level and form of struggle being generalised? I mean the fetishism of The General Strike is a bit retro-silly, but it hardly precludes expropriation/communisation.

I don't think 'all workers' will have to be actively involved in mass assemblies on some kind of formal membership basis for a revolution to occur, no.

From the constitution again:

Solfed's constitution wrote:
Revolutionary unionism is the sworn enemy of all economic and social monopoly. It aims at the abolition of privilege by the establishment of economic communes and administrative bodies run by the workers in the fields, factories and offices, forming a system of free councils. (...)

Well I've said this ad-infinitum in the past, but I think such formulations unreasonably exclude those unable to work, and don't really deal with the issue of 'the firm' at all. I'd very much hope that post-revolution, I wouldn't be defined by which workplace I belonged to in terms of decision making structures (unless specific to somewhere I happened to be working).