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Solidarity Federation Weekend School Report

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JoeMaguire's picture
JoeMaguire
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Mar 7 2011 21:29
Solidarity Federation Weekend School Report

This is the extremely edited stripped down version of a report I did which should be out in one of the forth coming Freedom's. Probably the issue after next due to the big TUC demo.


‘Solidarity, it’s not a word, it’s a weapon…’

The 19/20 February weekend saw the Solidarity Federations second weekend school in Northampton. The weekend school was conceived as an opportunity for members to gel, and feel part of a national organisation but also exchange ideas and good practice away from the more business orientated national conference.

We had about twenty five people present through the course of the weekend, and this was despite two locals being involved in anti-cuts demos on the day (Hackney and Lewisham) and one local being unable to attend due to adverse weather! All in all the turnout was a good reflection of a core of the organisation.

As a fairly long-time standing member it was nice to see a good number of new faces including the comrades from the Thames Valley local. There is a notable shift in the composition of the organisation from the last gathering I attended and we need to make provisions based on this.

First up Brighton produced a discussion on the cuts movement and working in leftist coalitions (i.e. Right To Work). They argued, rightly in my opinion, that larger campaigns dominated by the left simply reduce our role to mere foot soldiers and activity inevitably flows their dominance. Ergo we should look to be based mainly on the outside and looking organisational for the initiative where the left is slow on the uptake. It was interesting when this was thrown out for discussion this was compared to the Poll Tax, and there was a need for the anarchists to learn from that experience.

The second focus of the Brighton discussion was on trying to underpin the ideological basis for the cuts and our response. One comrade argued that if “capitalism needs to make these cuts, it’s a revolutionary situation” (i.e. if it was necessitated to maintain surplus value). But he countered that this wasn’t the case and was not the final market crash Marxists wet themselves over, but another neo-liberal offensive albeit one given recent stimulus.

What stood out for me was a call for distinction from leftist sloganeering about general strikes and actually trying to see if we could push practical things like seeing if existing campaigns could move into economic blockades and occupations. Brighton comrades argued we should make the country ‘ungovernable’.

When this was opened up for discussion all manner of questions regarding the limitations of current campaigns were raised; how we can stop privatisation of services and the possibility of alienating workers through massive disruptive actions. Locals present were able to give a detailed account of their involvement in recent cuts initiatives and campaigns and this gave a good scope to work from.

Industrial strategy discussion was taken up by a comrade from Manchester. He argued we still as an organisation had to make a break from being a political organisation and wanted to see a political-economic practice flourish. He emphasised we should revel in workplace culture and look to up the ante in the class war stakes. Taking on the fights and building confidence would attract other militants and garner further collective action down the line, but activism should not be alienated, it should emanate from places we are oppressed and managed. The comrade argued convincingly that a space had opened up for us to move into with the bankruptcy of trade unionism, the uncertain financial climate and we had to meet that challenge.

A lot the discussion that followed was peppered with example of how activists had taken on management with mainly positive results but there was mixed feelings on how useful working in the existing trade unions was. The outcome of the discussion produced a twofold consensus; there needed to be a clear account of how we become a fighting organisation with the full functions that entailed and that we had a wealth of workplace experience that needed to be utilised further.

The following day after a much needed rest, a discussion was put together by a comrade from Liverpool SF arguing we should assert a community strategy making it clear anarcho-syndicalism is not all about the workplace. Class struggle was not confined to one arena, but explicitly as an organisation we should look to win all sections of the working class not just those engaged in direct labour. The speaker described the possibility of community struggles being the ‘second front’ and evoked all manner of grass roots organisations; residency/tenant groups, environmental campaigns, community patrols, anti-fascism and even groups like LCAP.

Particular attention was paid to Seattle Solidarity (Seasol), the early community work of the IWCA, a recent rent strike being organised by our IWA Polish section and Liverpool’s recent struggles against fascism. It was all laudable and the proposal was a well rounded approach to dealing with community struggles, even contentious things like confronting anti-social behaviour in our communities was thrashed out.

The dialogue that followed raised points on scrutinising the role of LCAP and not simply wanting us to replicate CAB’s, but points were also raised about trying to separate genuine local campaigns from knee-jerk NIMBYism. Important points about identifying and warding off recuperation were evoked (echoing earlier comments) and the need for building a physical presence in the areas where we live. It was a well conceived discussion with little contention.

The last afternoon was given over to a report from the website commission who had been mandated for improving the website. The website had come on leaps and bounds and without boring people with the details; it has come to function in a way that reflects our federalist and democratic politics. People were keen to point out they were very pleased at the websites aesthetics and its ability to aid the way we operated. While embracing of new technology and methods to aid us is all well and good, it was correctly pointed out technology use and access is not a level playing field for everyone and we need to help facilitate that it does not contribute to uneven development inside the organisation.

Along with the website, the practical issue of our organisational strategy was brought into focus. Though the weekend school had no ability to implement decisions there was a few things to say about conference arrangements and Catalyst/Direct Action. The mixed views on the subject made me feel the organisation had undergone some good considerable change in a short time and some things as a result were in flux. So I got view that we’re in the throngs of improving our lot and I was distinctly impressed we are making some headway.

syndicalist
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Mar 8 2011 01:09

Thanks comrade for the report-back.

posi
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Mar 8 2011 11:05

Sounds good.

Spikymike
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Mar 8 2011 12:20

It would be good sometime to discuss a bit more the issue of 'are the cuts necessary to capitalism' as this report suggests the Solfed or some SolFed members think it is primarily just an 'ideologically driven attack'. That seems odd to me since it is pretty common accross the world and accross governmental politics. Of course there is an ideological dimension to the attacks but they are surely grounded in a genuine crisis of the capitalist economy of some serious proportions even it isn't of course 'the final market crash' supposedly claimed by some 'marxists'.
It is perhaps the case that some of the cuts agenda is 'peripheral' rather than a core requirement and therefor more likely to be retracted under pressure (eg the retracted Tories Forests privatisation) and there are more ways than one to skin the working class cat, so we shouldn't become too fixated on particular proposals, but denying the underlying nature of the capitalist crisis can only lead to the view that there really are long term solutions within capitalism to the problems which workers face.

By the way the new Web site really is a big improvement, though the communication I sent to Manchester SolFed via it does seem to have disapeared into the void.

Jason Cortez
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Mar 8 2011 12:52

The crisis may have been real and we are certainly living with the after effects. But the 'cuts' are not caused by the crisis and are more an opportunity to reconfigure the class compromise to ensure long term profitability through using austerity as a form of discipline. We are entering a period of class decomposition, which offers opportunities as well as perils.Ii would not call this 'ideological' myself but can understand why folks do. Crisis management has long been the standard operating practise. The economic arguments for the cuts are weak to non existent. But you clearly think otherwise, so please pray tell why?

But perhaps we should start another thread?

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Joseph Kay
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Mar 8 2011 13:11

Fwiw here's the relevant section of the discussion document circulated by Brighton:

Discussion document wrote:

Talking about the cuts: are they inevitable? Tory cuts? ideological?

Different views have been put forward as to the nature of the cuts. These are  grounded in the agenda of those saying it, and we need to take this into account because we can end up supporting that agenda. The nature of the cuts also has a bearing on the potential of what the anti-cuts movement can achieve.

Cuts are inevitable. The government and the media have described the cuts as a necessary consequence to the recession: there's no money left, so it cannot be spent, almost as if there's physically no money left in the till. The aim is to close down any discussion. Though initially extremely successful, the student protests and esp. UKuncut are undermining the consensus in wider society on the inevitablity of cuts.

Tory cuts.(Often as the alternative to the 'inevtable' cuts.) Since they lost the election, the Labour party and most of the Left have started describing the cuts as "ideological", by which is meant that the government are so blinded by neoliberal ideology and an irrational hatred of the social-democratic state that they are pushing through cuts of such magnitude that they will harm society and the economy. There has also been talk in the media about ministers comparing the cuts to China's cultural revolution.
The ultimate agenda here is to replace the "ideological" Con-Dem government with a more "rational" and responsible Labour government.

Our view: cuts are opportunist. As Peter Mandelson said a month before the elections: "we should not waste the crisis". The ruling class narrative is re-casting their long-term agenda as a necessary response to the crisis. Continuity but acceleration: the attacks on the working class happening under the guise of cuts are therefore very similar to the attacks that happened before the crisis - what has changed is the speed with which they are being levelled against us. The current austerity programme is pretty extreme, with government ministers comparing it to Mao's Cultural Revolution and observers talking of "shock therapy".

A question remains as to the actual necessity of cuts for capitalism to function. If cuts are purely opportunist, then a strong anti-cuts movement can force the ruling class to compromise. However capitalism is in crisis. If cuts are indeed needed to restore its smooth running, then this has far reaching consequences for the anti-cuts movement: no compromise can be achieved and instead the niceties of liberal democracy will quickly give way to harsh repression, which we are not really prepared for. However, if cuts turn out to be inevitable within capitalism, then that leads to capitalism itself being questioned: even if a strong anti-cuts movement fails to make any dent, we may be looking at a large section of workers lose their allegiance not just to the political system but capitalist society as a whole.

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JoeMaguire
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Mar 8 2011 20:21

Spikymike, I have given a nod towards Manchester peeps, so hope they will respond soon.

Quote:
It would be good sometime to discuss a bit more the issue of 'are the cuts necessary to capitalism' as this report suggests the Solfed or some SolFed members think it is primarily just an 'ideologically driven attack'.

Were not a political organisation, its not a position of the organisation and the report was from a non-decision making conference. So its a view put forward by Brighton SF, though I don't recall anyone unpicking it.

gypsy
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Mar 9 2011 09:29

Is anyone here from Northampton Solfed? If so give us a pm.

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Ed
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Mar 9 2011 09:38

Interesting read. I'm absolutely gutted that now SF is starting to develop into a dynamic group, I'm out of the country.. maybe I was holding you guys back.. wink

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thegonzokid
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Mar 9 2011 11:33

Is the report going to go on the website as well?

Spikymike
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Mar 9 2011 15:17

Joseph,

Thanks for the additional info which fills in some of the nuances.

Jason,

I suppose I can agree that the current round of austerity measures (in both their narrow economic and their ideological forms) by various governments around the world are a means of enforcing labour discipline and that government are using the economic crisis as an opportunity to significantly shift the current balance of class forces for the long term and not just to resolve their immediate fiscal problems, but since you say that you also agree that the economic crisis is (or is it only maybe) real, from whence does that crisis arise? Is it just some bad economic policies or bad banks or something more basic?

This goes back to a more fundamental understanding of the motor factors of capitalist development and crisis. I have always held the view that these can be summarised as the competition between different 'conglomerations' of capital in the market and the struggle between capital and labour. Now each of these act on and react to each other, but in the absense of major and widespread class struggle on an international level competition between capitals has a certain autonomy and will result in the fundamental contradiction between the production of use value and exchange value (in marxist terminlogy) and the inherant tendency towards the falling rate of profit on a world scale to create pressures on capital, as represented by both companies and states, to seek means to increase the exploitation of their particular workers in order to survive, which in turn brings us back to the class struggle. That may seem a bit circular but the point is that capitalism cannot find within itself any mechanism to resolve it's inherant economic contradictions and the long term shift from 'social-democratic' to 'neo-liberal' strategies as they have been called by some is therefor an economically driven necessity for capital which could not be reversed (even temporarily) outside a much wider, higher and deeper level of class struggle on an international scale than anything we have so far witnessed.

Not sure if that (rather abreviated) explanation chimes at all with the Brighton approach but I have probably extended this discussion a bit too far from it's origins.

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Rob Ray
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Mar 9 2011 15:51

Personally Ed I'm hoping you get back to North London in time to pick up the slack for when our resident power couple (the Yank and North London's sole female member respectively) go travelling tongue.