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Anarcho-syndicalist strategy & the meaning of 'union'

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 10 2008 14:46
Mike Harman wrote:
Are you going to make this document public (if not the resulting discussion)?

this needs to be discussed and decided collectively, but i would advocate we do.

Mike Harman wrote:
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?

my thoughts on this are at present that there are 3 distinct organisational roles; (1) the specific political organisation/propaganda group of libertarian communists; (2) a tactical-economic network of militants and (3) what i've been calling an anarcho-syndicalist union, mass meetings of all workers, mandating delegates, federating with others etc.

The first two roles are things we can try and implement now, the third is contingent on levels of struggle, which is why i reject 'building the union' as a meaningful strategy. i think at present, solfed suffers a confusion of the three roles. in reality, solfed itself is clearly a type (1) organisation, a libertarian communist propaganda group, although some people think it is or could become a type (3) organisation (we should take on 'union functions' etc). The networks have been hamstrung imho by the confusion of types (1) and (2), the basis of a network of militants is shared economic relations and tactical agreement, so requiring you to join solfed to join a network is an unnecessary barrier to their functioning. some people also think solfed's networks are 'unions in formation', which betrays a misunderstanding of how type (3) organisations come into being, somewhat at odds with our strategy which stresses the importance of the general level of militancy/struggle, rather than recruiting our way to the revolution.

so i think there's a lot of confusion and the strategy could be clarified, which is why we're having these discussions both within solfed nationally and locally, and our local hopes to put something in writing. i should also stress that i'm talking about organisational roles, in practice there may well be multiple instances of each, and some degree of overlap of functions between each (members of a type (1) or (2) organisation picketing or taking non-industrial direct action in defence of a comrade say, a 'union function' as some call it)

Mike Harman wrote:
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.

ok, so scrub the 'formal membership', as if mass assemblies would require a little red and black card...

Mike Harman wrote:
Well I've said this ad-infinitum in the past, but I think such formulations unreasonably exclude those unable to work...

well the workerist charge is a little unfair, since we've been discussing solfed's workplace strategy! In any case, it's an old straw man that anarcho-syndicalists only care about the workplace, there is pretty much consensus in solfed as far as i can tell that class struggle takes place elsewhere too, and not all workers have jobs (again, Puerto Real is instructive).

Introduction to Solfed wrote:
Locals are organising or getting involved in local campaigns across a wide range of issues – both in the community and in workplaces. Issues are wide-ranging: defending our natural and local environment and health; opposing racism, sexism and homophobia; in fact, anything which defends or contributes to our mutual quality of life. It is all part and parcel of building a solidarity movement.

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

Mike Harman wrote:
...and don't really deal with the issue of 'the firm' at all.

now, i happen to agree that classical anarcho-syndicalism somewhat neglects the need for communisation in favour of self-management per se, and that this weakness is all the more pertinent with the proliferation of socially useless work in the developed economies (nobody wants self-managed call centres or financial services!). the friends of durruti made this criticism at the time, and it's been elaborated by the french milieu including Dauvé et al. my view is that it's the role of type (1) organisations to argue within type (3) organisations for libertarian communist politics, ideally so that the type (3) organisations adopt libertarian communism as an explicit goal. this is basically the position of the friends of durruti, who emerged as constructive critics of anarcho-syndicalism at its highest point, but also platformists, and council/left communists too, i think.

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Nov 10 2008 17:04
JH wrote:
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.

This is a very sensible comment. I think that the real difference is around the issue of whether militants should take shop steward positions. The AF's view is that shop stewards are always in a contradictory position, and any militants considering taking the role should be fully aware of this and always re-evaluate the worth of holding it. But at the same time there are certain practical possibilities which come with the position - there are users of this site for instance who have done good work as stewards despite being aware of what unions are and what their role is. To the best of my knowledge Solfed's view is pretty similar. The ICC of course totally reject this kind of participation, wheras L&S advocate that all their members seek to become union stewards.

Jason Cortez
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Nov 10 2008 18:55

just a note, we are currently reviewing our (SolFed) constitution. It was not the most discussed document at the time of adoption for a number of reasons, and was always supposed to revisited, but unsuprisingly fell off our collective horizon. I will try and comment more on this thread at some point.

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Nov 10 2008 21:34
Devrim wrote:
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.

Hi Devrim,

DAM never declared itself to be a union. It passed a motion agreeing to set one up, which was the catalyst for the Platformists to split off, though I believe you'd already left by then. The only real attempts at the time to set up a union were among couriers in London, which had limited success, though it was still more successful than the Trotskyist attempt to launch a T&G Couriers Branch. Had we been doing this earlier I think it might have borne more fruit, in terms of attracting groups of workers pissed off by TU sell outs. But I think the times we were entering into were hard for any form of workplace organising. While there may be people around who think that simply declaring yourself to be a union without any strength or tradition is a good idea, there aren't very many in SolFed.

Regards,

martin

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Nov 10 2008 21:39

I am sympathetic to Joseph's point of view to the extent that I think there has been some shifting of ground by some A-S's, including some in the Sol Fed, under the weight of experience. I have been told by some in our local Sol Fed in Manchester that my ( Council communist influenced) views seem very close to theirs in practice but then.... I have had the same experience as others arguing about the exclusion of myself and others such as AF members from the exclusively Sol Fed network(s) and a really blazing (if beer fueled) row about the tortureous twists and turns by one of their speakers trying to deny that the Sol Fed was really a 'poliical minority'.

I have argued on earlier threads that ' workplace/industrial networks of militants' could be more effective in present circumstances if they crossed the Sol Fed/ AF/Council/Left communist boundaries but outside of some in the LibCom network behind 'Tea Break' etc there has been little support for this approach.

So now we have the AF and some platformists ploughing their furrow in the IWW (but with different perspectives it seems), the Sol Fed going it's own way and LibCom rebels (admitedly including a few from the established groups) doing their occassional Tea Break style stuff!

Let's just hope that experience and events might still drive us together when necessity calls for it.

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Nov 10 2008 22:14

Hi Martin,

Quote:
DAM never declared itself to be a union. It passed a motion agreeing to set one up, which was the catalyst for the Platformists to split off, though I believe you'd already left by then.

As you say I left before they did. I do understand why they left though. DAM's stratergy, as you must admit, had no relation to reality. Of course people recognised this. Having said that, I don't think that the people who became the 'Platformists' were the devil (I am sure that you don't either). As we have talked about other times on here, I think that the only strikes in the UK against the Poll tax came from places where they worked.
Basically they , as I, saw no future in that strategy, and left. Maybe they wouldn't have if that hadn't happened.

Quote:
But I think the times we were entering into were hard for any form of workplace organising.

Well, yes. It was the end of the 80s. It was a terrible time for the working class and for revolutionaries. We all lost a lot of people. Personally, I think it is good that you yourself and other comrades (however much we disagree on certain points) are still around. We talked about people we knew who weren't when I ran into you the other week.

Quote:
The only real attempts at the time to set up a union were among couriers in London, which had limited success, though it was still more successful than the Trotskyist attempt to launch a T&G Couriers Branch. Had we been doing this earlier I think it might have borne more fruit, in terms of attracting groups of workers pissed off by TU sell outs.

I am unsure about this. I think there is a real discussion to be had about the whole idea of unionising places without unions.

Quote:
While there may be people around who think that simply declaring yourself to be a union without any strength or tradition is a good idea, there aren't very many in SolFed.

Glad to hear it. I am not sure that it is true within the IWA though, and even in SolFed it has been a hard learned lesson which has not been without cost.

Best wishes as always,

Devrim

martinh
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Nov 10 2008 22:36

OK, a couple of other things. I'm generally sympathetic to where Joseph K is going with this, but I'd add a couple of things.

Firstly, on what is a union. There are 2 meanings of the word union; either it is a group of workers acting collectively in defence of their interests. Or it is a big corporate thing with offices, officials, legal rights and duties etc. (Obviously I'm simplifying here but you get the drift). A lot of the time Dev I think you only think in terms of the second meaning.

I think a poilitical minority of workers defending certain core principles and agitiating for things in a given workplace constitute a union in the first sense. While it may appear that in the English speaking world all unions are open to all workers, it's not actually true, and there are examples of people joining a union based on belief as much as (if not more than) bread and butter issues. To elaborate on this, before Unison came about, there was the choice of joining Nalgo or Nupe in local govt - which one you went for depended on where you worked or what Labour Party faction you were in. Similarly on the tube, drivers have a choice of the RMT or ASLEF, and station staff TASS or the RMT - these are effectively political choices as much as anything else.

To come back to the difference bet points 2 and 3 that Joseph was talking about in the SolFed strategy. 3 relates totally to an unorganised high turnover type workplace. If you can't achieve anything else, you organise for assemblies when disputes happen. Point 2 implies that you have a permanent group that can organise for assemblies and involve itself in propaganda and longer term arguments within the workplace. (This is all in a personal capacity BW, though I don't think there'd be too much difference with other SolFed members on what I've just written).

Catch - I remember discussing this over too many beers and too little food, though I do recall it being constructive smile. I'm in favour of seeing whether networks of militants can be set up outside the SolFed, but with our support. How this would work out I don't know yet, we need to have more discussions ourselves, but the fact that we only have one functioning network does mean it's something we have to address.
I'd also say that you don't have to be an anarcho-syndicalist to be in SolFed. We aim to be an anarcho-syndicalist organisation (i.e. structure and aims) rather than an organisation of anarcho-syndicalists. Not that I expect you to be swayed by that argument, but it is important to make the distinction wink

Regards,

Martin

Mike Harman
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Nov 10 2008 22:56
martinh wrote:
OK, a couple of other things. I'm generally sympathetic to where Joseph K is going with this, but I'd add a couple of things.

Firstly, on what is a union. There are 2 meanings of the word union; either it is a group of workers acting collectively in defence of their interests. Or it is a big corporate thing with offices, officials, legal rights and duties etc. (Obviously I'm simplifying here but you get the drift). A lot of the time Dev I think you only think in terms of the second meaning.

I think a lot of people use the two meanings interchangeably, and there's quite a wide spectrum between thm, and sometimes 1 becomes 2 - so IMO it helps discussion if people stick to the second meaning and use 'workers groups' or similar for the first.

Quote:
I think a poilitical minority of workers defending certain core principles and agitiating for things in a given workplace constitute a union in the first sense. While it may appear that in the English speaking world all unions are open to all workers, it's not actually true, and there are examples of people joining a union based on belief as much as (if not more than) bread and butter issues. To elaborate on this, before Unison came about, there was the choice of joining Nalgo or Nupe in local govt - which one you went for depended on where you worked or what Labour Party faction you were in. Similarly on the tube, drivers have a choice of the RMT or ASLEF, and station staff TASS or the RMT - these are effectively political choices as much as anything else.

This is only the case in a few places though - tube, teachers etc. In most workplaces, you have only one choice and the tendency is towards large monolithic unions.

Quote:
To come back to the difference bet points 2 and 3 that Joseph was talking about in the SolFed strategy. 3 relates totally to an unorganised high turnover type workplace. If you can't achieve anything else, you organise for assemblies when disputes happen. Point 2 implies that you have a permanent group that can organise for assemblies and involve itself in propaganda and longer term arguments within the workplace. (This is all in a personal capacity BW, though I don't think there'd be too much difference with other SolFed members on what I've just written).

I had job for about two years at somewhere which was completely non-unionised, with high turnover (but not like some places), and everything that happened there was either a few people getting together and chatting semi-secretly, or spontaneous meetings. Nothing very exciting happened, but certainly the 'few people chatting' weren't anything resembling a union, or a political group - and it was the largest spontaneous meeting - which happened while I was on holiday for a week and started in a different department so not actually of my doing, which led to some people working towards getting Unison properly recognised and electing stewards.

Quote:
Catch - I remember discussing this over too many beers and too little food, though I do recall it being constructive smile.

Yes it was a fun discussion.

Quote:
I'm in favour of seeing whether networks of militants can be set up outside the SolFed, but with our support. How this would work out I don't know yet, we need to have more discussions ourselves, but the fact that we only have one functioning network does mean it's something we have to address.
I'd also say that you don't have to be an anarcho-syndicalist to be in SolFed. We aim to be an anarcho-syndicalist organisation (i.e. structure and aims) rather than an organisation of anarcho-syndicalists. Not that I expect you to be swayed by that argument, but it is important to make the distinction wink

No it doesn't sway me, and I also think it contradicts JK's distinction between Workmates and Solfed in terms of purpose, but I'll leave that one for now wink

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Nov 11 2008 06:57
Spikeymike wrote:
...I have had the same experience as others arguing about the exclusion of myself and others such as AF members from the exclusively Sol Fed network(s)...

Its certainly a silly duplication of effort from my perspective to have the SolFed networks open only to SolFed members and IWW dual card networks for Wobblies trying to do the exact same thing. We can see this in education, where we have SolFed's network putting out education worker and the IWW with workingclassroom, militants who really should be working together, especially given what a mess the teachers' unions have made of the recent pay campaigns.

petey
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Nov 11 2008 14:15
martinh wrote:
There are 2 meanings of the word union; either it is a group of workers acting collectively in defence of their interests. Or it is a big corporate thing with offices, officials, legal rights and duties etc. (Obviously I'm simplifying here but you get the drift). A lot of the time Dev I think you only think in terms of the second meaning.

I think a poilitical minority of workers defending certain core principles and agitiating for things in a given workplace constitute a union in the first sense.

Mike Harman wrote:
I think a lot of people use the two meanings interchangeably, and there's quite a wide spectrum between thm, and sometimes 1 becomes 2 - so IMO it helps discussion if people stick to the second meaning and use 'workers groups' or similar for the first.

just to clarify for myself: when i think of 'union' i think of the first of martin's definitions, though defenders and agitators + those who agree/co-operate with them = a group of workers acting collectively in defence of their interests, viz. a union. so perhaps the political minority of active defenders and agitators might be called a workers group.

btw this discussion overall is very useful.

Jason Cortez
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Nov 11 2008 19:59
Django wrote:
Spikeymike wrote:
...I have had the same experience as others arguing about the exclusion of myself and others such as AF members from the exclusively Sol Fed network(s)...

Its certainly a silly duplication of effort from my perspective to have the SolFed networks open only to SolFed members and IWW dual card networks for Wobblies trying to do the exact same thing. We can see this in education, where we have SolFed's network putting out education worker and the IWW with workingclassroom, militants who really should be working together, especially given what a mess the teachers' unions have made of the recent pay campaigns.

Well this is being intensely discussed in the SolFed at the present time. I for one think (and always have) that Industrial Networks should be open to militant workers who agreed to the aims and principles of the network and shouldn't have to be members of SolFed as well (although more than welcome) IIRC the major reason that this came about was concern about the networks having in effect a two tier membership, with SolFed members being able to effectively direct the Networks. So i think we made the wrong decision for the right reasons. tongue I just don't think we fully took in to account exactly how this would pan out in practice in reality.

Jason Cortez
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Nov 12 2008 11:39

Revolution is not simply a problem of choosing particular forms of organization., Revolution is about content, about the movement and action of social forces based on concrete lived experience and how we transcend this reality.
So whilst, this content won’t come out of any particular kind of form. Some organisational forms are incompatible with this process of transformation. We are always confronted with the reality that the end is made out of means. Certain means get us nearer to the end we want, whilst others become obstacles . Libertarian communism will only be created out of self-organized action on a mass scale. I am sure on this we can (nearly) all agreed. The question then is which forms of organisation are the most suitable. Here i think many folks make the mistake of confusing the political content of specific organisations/tendencies (i.e. its constitution and propaganda etc) straightforwardly with it's form and often talk as if the content simply comes out of this form.
I think JK's insistence on the intensity of the class struggle as being the determining factor is absolutely correct, even if i don't draw exactly the same conclusions from this. More on this later.

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 12 2008 12:04
Jason Cortez wrote:
this content won’t come out of any particular kind of form. Some organisational forms are incompatible with this process of transformation. We are always confronted with the reality that the end is made out of means. Certain means get us nearer to the end we want, whilst others become obstacles . Libertarian communism will only be created out of self-organized action on a mass scale.

you been moonlighting as a french intellectual?

Gilles Dauvé wrote:
this content won’t come out of any kind of form. Some forms are incompatible with the content. We can’t reason like the end was the only thing that mattered: the end is made out of means. Certain means get us closer to the end we want, while others make it more and more remote and finally destroy its possibility. The content of communism can only be born out of the self-organized action of “the vast majority” of the proletariat.

Dauvé + anarcho-syndicalism = WIN cool

Jason Cortez
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Nov 12 2008 12:24

if only i had written this first i could have sued him for plagiarism. I am off now to get a good solicitor. grin

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Nov 30 2008 00:16

To avoid confusion, to me at least it would seem simpler to use the word "union" to mean the political organisation (SolFed), this would accord with similar historical uses, from the FORAist unions, to the platformist "General union of anarchists". Rather than to mean this amorphous temporary mass...

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Nov 30 2008 12:21

i think calling solfed a union would be silly. a union is workers uniting as workers, a process not a thing. the notion of an anarcho-syndicalist union i'm describing is not amorphous, but a specific form given to the content of struggle (mass assemblies, mandated/recallable delegate councils, federation by industry/region etc). this is necessarily non-permanent since if the struggle wanes, the form becomes impossible (you can't have mass assemblies, and all that flow from them if no-one turns up).

Mike Harman
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Dec 1 2008 16:51

But surely the thing that differentiates a union from just mass assemblies would be its permanence? Otherwise you can just say mass assemblies without the extra verbiage.

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Dec 1 2008 17:13

well i've repeatedly said i'm not talking about just mass assemblies, but also mandated/recallable delegate councils, federation by industry/region etc, i.e. a specific form of organisation, one that has developed through but is not exclusive to the anarcho-syndicalist tradition. mass assemblies could mandate a vanguard party to seize the state and implement socialism from above or elect irrevocable representatives to speak on their behalf; that wouldn't be an anarcho-syndicalist union.

an anarcho-syndicalist union is defined by self-organisation and militant participation by those in it, which by definition makes it a hostage to the level of class struggle, i.e. a non-permanent organisation. while a high level of struggle could be somewhat taken for granted in 30s Spain, leading many anarcho-syndicalists to forget the necessary content and fetishise the form, an anarcho-syndicalist union is characterised by direct democracy, federalism, self-organisation and direct action, not permanence.

i mean if you feel more comfortable calling it something else, fine, but you're literally arguing semantics not substance. as i say i'm not just talking about mass assemblies, and i don't think 'workplace resistance group' is a great term either because it would seem to preclude action outside the workplace. i mean 'union' does mean 'trade union' to many, but it means 'workers uniting' to others. communism means police states to many, and a stateless egalitarian society to us. anarchism; anomie/synonymous with our idea of communism, etc.

Mike Harman
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Dec 1 2008 17:29
Joseph K. wrote:
well i've repeatedly said i'm not talking about just mass assemblies, but also mandated/recallable delegate councils, federation by industry/region etc, i.e. a specific form of organisation, one that has developed through but is not exclusive to the anarcho-syndicalist tradition.

Well we both agree that in many (most) cases when this has happened it hasn't taken the form or nomenclature of union - the Russian factory committees' attempts at a national federation, though short lived, were distinct from the (also 'revolutionary') unions. The Makhnovschina weren't a union. Nor in Portugal '74-'76 and other places too.

Quote:
mass assemblies could mandate a vanguard party to seize the state and implement socialism from above or elect irrevocable representatives to speak on their behalf; that wouldn't be an anarcho-syndicalist union.

I don't think there's anything about the federated/recallable delegate structure which would preclude the same body electing a vanguard party or otherwise having terrible content.

Quote:
i mean if you feel more comfortable calling it something else, fine, but you're literally arguing semantics not substance.

Not really, I'm arguing for looking at these 'types of things' as part of an overall historical trajectory - one which by no means can be called anarcho-syndicalist or 'union' except in a minority of albeit notable cases. If the majority of <em>actual</em> incidences of such organisation (especially more recent ones) didn't describe themselves as unions or anarcho-syndicalist, then it makes no sense to me to use this term at all - unless you're desperately trying to avoid a break with the historical tradition your organisation associates itself with.

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Dec 1 2008 18:33
Mike Harman wrote:
I don't think there's anything about the federated/recallable delegate structure which would preclude the same body electing a vanguard party or otherwise having terrible content.

which is why i think there's a need for specific political organisation(s) to argue for libertarian communist politics within them. but my point which you've sidestepped is that mass assemblies electing irrevocable representatives aren't the same as ones using mandated recallable delegate councils; that what i'm arguing for, whatever you'd prefer to call it, is more specific than mere mass assemblies.

Mike Harman wrote:
unless you're desperately trying to avoid a break with the historical tradition your organisation associates itself with.

i've said repeatedly i don't really care what you call them, and demonstrated at length that mass assemblies, delegate councils, industrial federation etc aren't a break from anarcho-syndicalism, they have a long history and are part of solfed's current workplace strategy. while these tendencies are a product of the class struggle and not exclusive to anarcho-syndicalism, trying to paint this is a break is silly, unless you can show how solfed's strategy means the opposite of what it clearly says... (just to remind you)

Solfed's Industrial 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.

now if you want to argue there are people in solfed who disagree with this, you may be right. but this is what the strategy says and everything i've said is a logical expansion of its implications (that stressing mass assemblies as "the ideal we are aiming at" "in the most militant workplaces" necessarily means non-permanent organisations, i.e. tied to levels of struggle etc).

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Dec 1 2008 18:44

I have to agree with catch; it does seem that Joseph K is - according to all historical meaning/tradition - a councilist who finds himself in a syndicalist group. A position which has its own tradition; as Mattick and Korsch had a similar relation with the IWW for a while (though the IWW wasn't strictly anarcho-...).

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Dec 1 2008 18:51

then can someone please show how solfed's strategy doesn't mean what it explicitly says? i couldn't give a toss if you call it councilism, anarcho-syndicalism or flying spaghetti workerism, and if we all agree on substance then great, but painting an exposition of solfed's strategy as a break is silly semantic pedantics (i mean i'd say so, and/or leave if i thought it was).

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Dec 1 2008 20:46
Joseph K. wrote:
then can someone please show how solfed's strategy doesn't mean what it explicitly says?

I don't think it says what you interpret it to say. It is like a page or so back you interpreted these two points to be the same:

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.

I think that your interpretation is unorthodox.

RM wrote:
it does seem that Joseph K is - according to all historical meaning/tradition - a councilist who finds himself in a syndicalist group.

I agree with Ret, but I think that you know it is true too.

Devrim

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Dec 1 2008 21:23
Devrim wrote:
I think that your interpretation is unorthodox...I agree with Ret, but I think that you know it is true too.

yes, because you've already decided what anarcho-syndicalism is and isn't regardless of the published strategy of an actual anarcho-syndicalist group. now if you want to argue the strategy's emphasis on mass meetings is a break with anarcho-syndicalism that would be more coherent (but still innacurate imho) than insisting reading the actual words must mean something else...

Solfed's Industrial Strategy wrote:
Decisions should be made collectively. This means they are made by mass meetings... These mass meetings include all those in the workplace, regardless of union membership... Mass meetings of workers need to be able to recall all delegates... Workers should support each others' disputes despite the anti-trade union laws. We need to approach other workers directly for their support... 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... Mass meetings should be seen as an alternative structure to official union structures... 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.

then, after all that explanation of what is we want, you seize upon this...

Solfed's Industrial Strategy wrote:
independent unions

and declare we don't really want mass meetings and mandated recallable delegates at all! you're being absolutely ridiculous. even the rest of that sentence goes against your reading; "independent unions, based on the principle of collective decision-making", and what does collective decision making mean? from the same document... "decisions should be made collectively. This means they are made by mass meetings." categorical. unambiguous. seriously, to read this as not advocating mass meetings and mandated recallable delegates literally defies belief. seriously.

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Dec 1 2008 21:29

Joseph, it talks about building independent unions. I am not saying that they are not for mass meetings etc, but I would image that the vast majority of SolFed members don't interpret the word 'union' like you do.

Devrim

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Joseph Kay
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Dec 1 2008 21:49

yes, two words out of hundreds. furthermore two words defined by hundreds as "mass meetings [that] include all those in the workplace, regardless of union membership... Workers should support each others' disputes despite the anti-trade union laws. We need to approach other workers directly for their support...Mass meetings should be seen as an alternative structure to official union structures... In the most militant workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at" etc etc. how any of this relates to the word union in the way you're using it i've no idea.

like i say, you're seizing on two words and abstracting from all context based on what you suppose other members of solfed might think, not what the text actually says. this is despite the hundreds of words preceeding those two explaining categorically what is meant. i'm quoting from the strategy at length, you're claiming two words cut against the entire thrust of the document. you're doing an excellent humpty dumpty rendition while claiming i'm being unorthodox. stop being so silly. i'm hardly being an organisational chauvinist here, if left communists, anarchist-communists and council communists all agree then wonderful, we can concoct some suitably untainted term to describe these politics and get the fuck on with it, rather than having a pointless semantic pissing contest.

martinh
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Dec 1 2008 21:52

I tend to think of unions as being permanent (in as far as it is possible) organisations. I think the assemblies will happen when the struggle is at such a level as to make them possible. I also think they need to be argued for. This is one of the functons of SolFed, IMO, though it is not exclusive to us. I'm not sure that there are many other organisations which do advocate assemblies along these lines, at least here in the UK. (ICC? AF?)

I do agree there's a problem with terminology here, and it's not the first time it came up. On a thread about a year ago, Steven defined unions in such a way that would exclude the CNT and all forms of organisation advocated by member sections of the IWA. Joseph is defining his terms in such a way that it doesn't actually matter what he calls them, the stage 1 (propaganda), stage 2 (small ideological workplace groups in times of defeat) stage 3 (mass workers assemblies with revocable mandated delegates etc).

While there are people in SolFed who disagree with the way he's setting things out, I think they are in a minority and that defining stage 1 as a union is wrong. I personally think stage 2 is what I would call a union, disagreeing with joseph on semantics only, but then I'm not hung up on size wink
Stage 3 is where we want to get to and we think stages 1 and 2 are useful places to aim for in terms of trying to get there. Others disagree, and there are clearly more of them as the SolFed is so small. surprised

Regards,

Martin

Mike Harman
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Dec 1 2008 22:05
Quote:
like i say, you're seizing on two words and abstracting from all context based on what you suppose other members of solfed might think

Well not really - there's the constitution - which contradicts the industrial strategy, as noted earlier in the thread, and there's also what several SolFed members have posted on here in the past ('Steve' and 'Jacques' for example). Also, I'm not in a councilist, left-communist, anarchist-communist or anarcho-syndicalist organisation for precisely the reason I dislike both the false distinctions and false unity that groups following any one tradition tend to maintain. Not to mention that 'union' is a very loaded term in the real world, and I think it has quite serious practical consequences on how people interpret that word or use it in any kind of literature, it's definitely not a semantic pissing context when the differences on here are translated into propaganda in the real world.

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Joseph Kay
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Dec 1 2008 22:17
martinh wrote:
I personally think stage 2 is what I would call a union, disagreeing with joseph on semantics only, but then I'm not hung up on size ;)

i wasn't so much setting out sequential stages as three organisational roles (which may form in that sequence - or mass meetings could occur without being precipitated by propaganda groups or industrial networks, as is most often the case). my 'type 2 organisation' also isn't defined ideologically so much as by shared material interest and tactics.

martinh, earlier wrote:
Point 2 implies that you have a permanent group that can organise for assemblies and involve itself in propaganda and longer term arguments within the workplace.

see, this would seem to see something like the education workers network as an anarcho-syndicalist union. i don't think it is, it's got no capacity for collective direct action for starters, which would seem a common point to any definition of union (even the ICC would agree, limited expressions of this are after all how mainstream unions act as pressure release valves for working class discontent). i think what you're describing is better called a network of militants. like when Workmates was at its peak, with a delegate council of delegates from each gang, it was an anarcho-syndicalist union. now that staff turnover, defeats and an ebbing of struggle have taken their toll, it's just a residual culture of canteen mass meetings within the RMT branch and an (i think infomal) network of militants including our NELSF comrade.

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Joseph Kay
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Dec 1 2008 22:41
Mike Harman wrote:
Well not really - there's the constitution - which contradicts the industrial strategy, as noted earlier in the thread

and as has been said by SF members, the constitution is a clunky, hurriedly drafted document that is overdue for revision while the strategy is the basis for our actual practice.

Mike Harman wrote:
and there's also what several SolFed members have posted on here in the past ('Steve' and 'Jacques' for example)

so why are they 'orthodox' and i'm 'unorthodox' and not the other way around? i mean there's at least one person in solfed who talks about 'crapitalism' and 'mcdougal burgers', but i wouldn't claim our strategy is rooted in shit puns because of it.

Mike Harman wrote:
Also, I'm not in a councilist, left-communist, anarchist-communist or anarcho-syndicalist organisation for precisely the reason I dislike both the false distinctions and false unity that groups following any one tradition tend to maintain.

as far as i'm concerned you can call it whatever the fuck you like, semantics are secondary to substance. i agree about the false unity and divisions (manifestly obvious on this thread, like Dev agreeing with me but insisting it can't therefore be consistent with anarcho-syndicalism, because he's a left communist), but any organisation will be imperfect, and all the existing ones have many failings. out of interest would you join an organisation with the strategy i advocate, or would it have to also have a neutral name?

Mike Harman wrote:
Not to mention that 'union' is a very loaded term in the real world, and I think it has quite serious practical consequences on how people interpret that word or use it in any kind of literature, it's definitely not a semantic pissing context when the differences on here are translated into propaganda in the real world.

it does, but this also applies to 'communism', 'anarchism', 'democracy' etc. while for many 'union' means trade union, for many others it means workers uniting in their own interests, sometimes against and sometimes outside legal trade union parameters. i don't think this necessarily represents the grip of trade union ideology. i generally think the word is unnecessary because we can just argue for the actual things we want; mass meetings, then delegate councils etc and avoid any ambiguity. but then again it doesn't hurt to have a shorthand for 'mass meetings open to all workers except scabs and managers co-ordinating their activities via mandated recallable delegate councils and federating by industry/region when conditions are conducive to it.' 'anarcho-syndicalist unions' would seem do the trick.