Solidarity networks as anarcho-syndicalist unions ?

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blarg
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Oct 6 2011 19:50
sabotage wrote:
but i still want an answer to what is a small IWW branch of say a dozen people to do, if you can't get any organizing campaigns going? and doing solnet work? one of those meetings are going to seem rather useless. how did seattle IWW deal with this when they started SeaSol? did the IWW slow down its' operations until it could build up some militants?

Well, in Seattle there weren't many operations to slow down really. Actually our branch meetings are still pretty pointless to this day, since workplace organizing efforts actually need separate meetings too. The monthly branch meetings aren't suitable for planning them due to not being frequent enough and being open to all Wobblies. As for general branch activities like social/educational events, demonstrations, pickets in support of other Wobblies etc, we tend to find that these work better when done via SeaSol. So that pretty much just leaves administrative stuff and occasional formal IWW decision-making to be handled within the branch meetings, which doesn't make for a very interesting time. We have some ideas about how to solve this problem, but haven't solved it yet.

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Joseph Kay
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Oct 6 2011 20:01

For what it's worth, in my SolFed Local we're just switching from fortnightly meetings to a staggered monthly all-members meeting and a monthly drop-in session/informal meeting, coupled with working groups (on conflicts, workplaces, other things). We'll see how this goes, but the thinking is some people can only make workplace meetings, others are more interested in the conflicts. As long as working groups send at least one delegate to the all-members meeting, and we all use the email list that should allow people to participate as suits them whilst pursuing a range of activities. But this is very much a trial and error thing, so we'll see how it works out. We're also trying to talk to other IWA sections who are a bit further down the union functions road to find out how they do it and what problems they face.

Caiman del Barrio
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Oct 7 2011 09:43
Joseph Kay wrote:
For what it's worth, in my SolFed Local we're just switching from fortnightly meetings to a staggered monthly all-members meeting and a monthly drop-in session/informal meeting, coupled with working groups (on conflicts, workplaces, other things). We'll see how this goes, but the thinking is some people can only make workplace meetings, others are more interested in the conflicts. As long as working groups send at least one delegate to the all-members meeting, and we all use the email list that should allow people to participate as suits them whilst pursuing a range of activities. But this is very much a trial and error thing, so we'll see how it works out. We're also trying to talk to other IWA sections who are a bit further down the union functions road to find out how they do it and what problems they face.

That's very interesting and I would be fascinated to see how that plays out.

I'm currently quite preoccupied with the suffocating amount of bureaucracy and administration in Local meetings. I think we're gonna start haemorrhaging members unless we find a way to relate meetings to their material needs.

Harrison
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Oct 7 2011 13:49

by the way i've been following this thread, but don't actually have any more contributions to make

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klas batalo
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Oct 19 2011 23:34
blarg wrote:
sabotage wrote:
but i still want an answer to what is a small IWW branch of say a dozen people to do, if you can't get any organizing campaigns going? and doing solnet work? one of those meetings are going to seem rather useless. how did seattle IWW deal with this when they started SeaSol? did the IWW slow down its' operations until it could build up some militants?

Well, in Seattle there weren't many operations to slow down really. Actually our branch meetings are still pretty pointless to this day, since workplace organizing efforts actually need separate meetings too. The monthly branch meetings aren't suitable for planning them due to not being frequent enough and being open to all Wobblies. As for general branch activities like social/educational events, demonstrations, pickets in support of other Wobblies etc, we tend to find that these work better when done via SeaSol. So that pretty much just leaves administrative stuff and occasional formal IWW decision-making to be handled within the branch meetings, which doesn't make for a very interesting time. We have some ideas about how to solve this problem, but haven't solved it yet.

thanks so much for this!

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Nov 8 2011 17:43

I quite like Blarg's earlier comment about multiple approaches and how combining into one organization doesn't solve these problems. I think there's probably not a single best answer here. I think every large active IWW branch has done sol-net type actions as part of what it does (I know of examples in Minneapolis, Chicago, Edmonton, and Portland, off the top of my head). In places where those branches exist then it makes sense to do those kinds of activities via the branch. FWIW should add that I think the SeaSol cats have sort of gotten this down to a science and IWW branches like mine could learn a lot about how to better run these programs.I also think that there's a lot of skill-building that newer IWW members would get out of being part of this sort of activity for a while. Personally though I'd like to see any larger IWW branch that did take this up have clear goals and plans in mind about how doing so would build the IWW.

In other places where there's a smaller less organized IWW branch, though, or a political group looking for a project, I think it's a toss up whether or not to set up a SolNet and whether or not to set it up in connection with the parent organization. I think it'd be helpful if somebody who was good at this sort of thing would set up a sort of list of range of options and a kind of flowchart over time about how different routes lead to different places, and the upside and downside of different decisions about organizational direction over time. Like, a document to help small groups in different locations make decisions about what direction in the short term and medium term, and about the sorts of likely obstacles and changes that will later need to be made. For instance, like my IWW branch, we've put a lot into organizing and a lot of our members have been to trainings etc. A lot of good has come of that. One result is that when something goes wrong at someone's job most members are able to respond with informal stuff (at my work we just overturned a proposed 4% paycut this way). But the unfortunate reality is that the number of members who are actively/pro-actively organizing to build something long term is a minority (at this point I'm not in that minority) and we've had to figure out what to do with the rest of us within the life of the organization and that's largely an unresolved issue currently.

blarg
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Nov 9 2011 04:36

For the moment I'm going to decline taking on Nate's flowchart project ;->

But to update from my previous post about IWW branch meetings: it's nothing earth-shattering, but we are now taking a modest step which will hopefully make our monthly branch meetings more worthwhile and more oriented towards organizing, in spite of the fact that the actual planning of all our organizing efforts (including SeaSol) happens outside the regular branch meetings.

Basically for the past several months we've been running a separate monthly "Organizing Support Meeting", to which all IWW and SeaSol members have been invited, which consists of organizing training sessions (often a 40-minute segment from the IWW curriculum, or some new ones we've developed), "hot seat" sessions where the group helps one person figure out how to navigate their current organizing obstacles, and/or "strategy sessions" where we help someone brainstorm tactics for an ongoing conflict. These have been pretty popular, and have led to several new people (mostly already SeaSol members) signing up as IWW members.

We have now decided, instead of continuing to hold separate Organizing Support Meetings, to simply integrate these organizing support elements within the regular monthly IWW meetings. That means we won't have time for quite as much of this stuff each month, but we felt this was ok since the amount of organizing support activity we've been doing has started to seem out of proportion to the amount of actual organizing we have going on...

Anyway the hope is, by combining the organizing-support stuff with the formal branch decision-making stuff, we'll have branch meetings that are worthwhile and of interest to more than just the hardened few who handle branch administration. And those who come mainly for the organizing-support stuff will feel more like they're really taking part in the organization.. SeaSol members who aren't (yet) IWW members will still be invited too; they just won't get a vote on branch business. We'll see how it goes...

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Nov 9 2011 17:00

Blarg, that sounds great. I'd like to hear how integrating this into regular meetings works out. When I was in Chicago I was part of a regular informal meeting of organizers who did that kind of support and hot seat stuff, for most of a year. It was hugely helpful to me at the time and looking back it was like really foundational for me on a lot of stuff. And some of the relationships I developed through that have stayed really important even as several of us have moved a few times.

I like the idea of doing stuff in branch meetings that's actually directly useful in organizing. I also think that your earlier point bears repeating - in a decent-sized group there gets to be more than can be done in a single meeting. At one point my branch had two active organizing campaigns at mid-sized employers plus a strike (we knew about it for maybe a month before it happened then it lasted 2-3 weeks) at a huge employer where some members work, and usually there's something big and pressing that comes up in any given year that we have to have conversations about being involved or not and how (like Occupy now).

Plus we have a newsletter for members and friends, there are various union-wide gatherings to prepare for and fundraise to send members to, for a while we were working on getting a new office and now that has to be maintained, there's repeatedly conversation about how to do more and better member education, stuff pops off randomly at people's workplaces, new members sign up and need an orientation or just someone to meet and greet them, and we have an annual large social event for members and friends and family. And of course sometimes people need to sit down informally with a comrade and brainstorm or get a pep talk etc. And we're still a small marginal organization in the grand scheme of things. So multiple meetings a month is totally the reality, and at this point no one person can go to all of those meetings which means some growing pains (since many of us came out of smaller stuff where we could sort of metaphorically stand on a hill and see all of or even be part of every activity). I think eventually this becomes the reality regardless of formal status like is the solnet part of the IWW or the political group or not.

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Juan Conatz
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Nov 18 2011 22:42

In the Twin Cities last week, we pulled off a solidarity network type action. A Wob who was working in a local restaurant basically couldn't work there anymore after some sketchy shit went down with the manager. And there was a bounced check, too. So about 15 IWWers went there and delivered a demand letter which was met in less than 24 hours.

It was organized pretty informally within the branch. They mostly modeled it after a march on the boss and Imerely suggested they write a demand letter.

One of the folks who participated was like "Yo, this shit is easy!"

blarg
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Nov 24 2011 22:45

Yeah, it's easy when they give in right away! The hard part is when they don't, to be able to keep up sustained pressure for as long as it takes until they do.

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klas batalo
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Nov 26 2011 01:07

What do folks think of groups like Brisbane Community Action and Tynside Solidarity? They seem to be more explicitly anarchist/solnet versions of Haringey Solidarity Group. I mentioned this earlier in the thread but this does occur to me personally as quite attractive hyrbid organizing form...

http://www.blackflag.co.nr/
http://www.tynesidesolidarity.org.uk/
http://www.haringey.org.uk/content/

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Chilli Sauce
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Nov 26 2011 15:09
Quote:
We won a case

I know SeaSol intentionally doesn't use the term "case" and opts for "fights" instead. I like that a lot.

Also, we SL needs to do a write up!!!

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Nov 26 2011 15:16

Sab,

I really like TSol so far. This, for example:

Quote:
We cannot stress enough the strategy of setting our sights on stuff that is tangible and relevant to people lives.

Is fucking great and just so important. SF tries to organise in the same way--our politics are reflected primarily in our actions as outward-looking group. I think this is going to be key if we want to make anarchism relevant. TSol is right that there is now an interest in our politics there hasn't been for decades. That, combined with the widespread discrediting of the Trade Unions, the Labour Party, and Left means we have a massive opportunity to make ourselves relevant.

The only thing I'd be critical of TSol for:

Quote:
Our Aims and Strategy in Brief

To promote libertarian ideas, methods and organisations
To provide solidarity to struggles we agree with, as and when we are able
To maintain and promote our website
To provide regular discussion and debate in meetings and on our website
To provide regular social events centered around libertarian themes
To engage in struggles where our activities would actually help
To regularly assess, monitor and improve our activities
To involve the people we are supporting

The bit I've bolded should not only be first on the list, but it should be more explicit: the people they are supporting should be in control of the struggle and always have the final decision on what happens and what doesn't whenever TSol is involved in organising direct action.

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Juan Conatz
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Nov 26 2011 16:33
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I know SeaSol intentionally doesn't use the term "case" and opts for "fights" instead. I like that a lot.

That's true, but they aren't necessarily different things, despite a desire to use different language.

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Dec 4 2011 03:42

I'd be very interested to hear from the SeaSol comrades and others who've done a lot of this kind of work about if they've seen any trends behaviors by targets. What I mean is, it seems to me that employment law is violated all over the place, it's like a speed limit sign with no cop around basically ever so there's little reason not violate it. So it seems to me that in some cases where bosses are flagrantly breaking the law and know it then they're like to roll over in the face of a demand (I'm pretty sure that was the case in the Twin Cities), whereas a boss whose in their legal rights may have more inclination to fight, for instance. I ask not least because I think taking on relatively winnable items, like illegal wage thefts etc, is useful for organization building early on. I'd be keen to know what sorts of targets seem to be relatively winnable more often.

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John E Jacobsen
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Dec 4 2011 11:09
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"To involve the people we are supporting"

The bit I've bolded should not only be first on the list, but it should be more explicit: the people they are supporting should be in control of the struggle and always have the final decision on what happens and what doesn't whenever TSol is involved in organising direct action.
.

You're right that the people whose fight is taken on should have to take the lead in their own fight, but I think its a really bad idea to say that they should "have the final say." When we are involved in the fight, we should all have an equal say about what happens, not only because the fights will be planned out more effectively, but because thats just not democratic.

blarg
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Dec 4 2011 22:28
Chilli Sauce wrote:
the people they are supporting should be in control of the struggle and always have the final decision on what happens and what doesn't whenever TSol is involved in organising direct action.

Like John, I would partially disagree or at least qualify this. The solnet group as a whole needs to be ok with whatever it's going to do, so for example if we're all supporting one woman right now who's being cheated by her boss, that shouldn't mean we're handing total control of the group's activities to this one woman. She might want us to do something that's against our group's principles or interests. Also she might be completely new to organizing and collective action and have no clue how to go about it, so we don't just say "what do you want us to do for you?" and go along with whatever she says. Usually she wants us to help her figure this out. But of course she should at least get a veto, so we aren't doing anything she's not ok with, and as much as possible she should be part of the planning and execution.

blarg
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Dec 4 2011 22:44
Nate wrote:
I'd be very interested to hear from the SeaSol comrades and others who've done a lot of this kind of work about if they've seen any trends behaviors by targets. What I mean is, it seems to me that employment law is violated all over the place, it's like a speed limit sign with no cop around basically ever so there's little reason not violate it. So it seems to me that in some cases where bosses are flagrantly breaking the law and know it then they're like to roll over in the face of a demand (I'm pretty sure that was the case in the Twin Cities), whereas a boss whose in their legal rights may have more inclination to fight, for instance. I ask not least because I think taking on relatively winnable items, like illegal wage thefts etc, is useful for organization building early on. I'd be keen to know what sorts of targets seem to be relatively winnable more often.

Yep, bosses who aren't paying wages are some of the best targets from an organization-building point of view. Mainly that's because nonpayment of wages arouses so much anger against the boss and so much widespread support for those fighting said boss. It makes for great picketing opportunities. Also yes, if your enemy is obviously breaking the law and knows it, that usually makes them somewhat more likely to give in. We've had a couple unpaid-wages fights where they gave in quite easily, and I'd guess that's partly due to knowing the law was against them. We've also had some fights where the enemy was not necessarily breaking the law, and this has tended to make them more resistant to giving in, since they feel strongly that what they've been doing to people is within their rights, and that we are in a sense trying to take those rights away from them (which we are). But I don't want to overstate this effect, because in the end the law-abiding ones have usually given in anyway, provided we could hurt them enough. Also some of the law-breaking ones are extremely stubborn about giving in. They believe in a higher law, the Divine Right of Bosses.

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Dec 6 2011 23:45
John E Jacobsen wrote:
The people whose fight is taken on should have to take the lead in their own fight, but I think its a really bad idea to say that they should "have the final say." When we are involved in the fight, we should all have an equal say about what happens, not only because the fights will be planned out more effectively, but because thats just not democratic.

No disrespect intended but I'm personally not real concerned about whether or not this stuff is democratic. It seems to me there's always at least two goals, maybe three. One is get the person what they need/want. Another is build the organization. A third is spread radical outlook and/or build relationships/have the solidarity network fit into some larger thing within the working class and against capitalism. It's likely that someone who is having their issue taken up and is participating for the first time is going to care most about the first. It's likely that long term solidarity network volunteers are going care about the second and, if they see the solidarity network as part of something larger (which everyone I've had contact with from one of htese seems to have that outlook) then they'll probly care about the third in some way too. Personally I think that getting the goods in the individual case matters in a secondary way. I mean, better lives for people, great, yes, of course, but the main reason it matters from a lefty perspective is because resolving this person's issue helps build up something. So the democracy thing... I think being democratic here also matters to the degree that it helps build up something larger. If democracy narrows the activity in some way, then it's not a good thing (like, say a solidarity network somewhere was helping a building full of tenants fight for lead paint abatement, and there's more tenants than there are solidarity network members, the tenants might democratically make a worse decision, it's still a worse decision regardless of how it was made).

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888
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Dec 8 2011 01:18

Don't you think people reclaiming their own power involves them deciding things for themselves? I'd rather a bad decision was made than have an elite making the correct decision, how will people learn to use their own power otherwise? You will just build a core of experts. Also you're not really ever going to know for sure which is the right decision.

(I think we've been over this before... anyway if I was a tenant in this hypothetical example and a group like SeaSol overruled our decision I would probably not want to continue to participate)

syndicalist
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Dec 8 2011 01:23

deleted by syndicalist

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Ernestine
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Dec 8 2011 01:48

Having moved from an area where there is quite a healthy anarcho-syndicalist presence to the London borough of Greenwich, where there isn't, I'd quite like to make contact with people who are interested in getting some education workers network activity going on round here. Maybe we could even have a go at making some decisions, however bad. Anyone?

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Dec 8 2011 01:58
888 wrote:
Don't you think people reclaiming their own power involves them deciding things for themselves?

Do you think people deciding things for themselves always results, in every case, in them having more power over their lives?

888 wrote:
I'd rather a bad decision was made than have an elite making the correct decision

So, you'd prefer a democratic decision to cut the undocumented migrant tenants out of a deal rather than a more egalitarian and principled decision made by SeaSol's core group overruling the majority of tenants? And you'd prefer that the majority of tenants pursue a bad tactic and lose their fight than they win their fight?

Less abstractly, it's my understanding that SeaSol pursues issues by fighting, not by going to state services. If tenants voted to pursue an issue simultaneously via filing a charge with some state agency would you want SeaSol to honor that or stick with its practice of saying "we're the ones who are here for fighting, we're not the people who help you find services and navigate state agencies"? (I apologize if I've misunderstood SeaSol's orientation toward state services.)

888 wrote:
you're not really ever going to know for sure which is the right decision.

Clearly. Because SeaSol is gaining no expertise in how to conduct its fights, so that seasoned SeaSol organizers have no more idea how to proceed than do tenants involved for the first time.

I'm not saying democracy is bad. I'm saying it's often over-rated and that achieving real substantive democracy is a process. Immediately formally democratic processes are not always the best ones in all cases all of the time. Democratic process is not an end in itself and some of the time short term less formally democratic processes are ultimately in service of more substantive democracy and equality.

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Ernestine
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Dec 8 2011 02:44

An actual rather than hypothetical dilemma is how to participate in the public sector pensions/services struggle. I decided to go to the local rally, though it was mostly TUC dominated, after picketing with GMB, UNISON and other union members at my local hospital. I didn't plan to get into an argument about the irrelevance of pensions in an ideal world, I did have a chance to talk about the TUC single issue polite tactics being bad. I could have gone to New Cross and joined in a more effective road-block outside Goldsmiths College, but I don't live or work there any more, so I didn't. Was I wrong?

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Dec 8 2011 05:45
Quote:
So, you'd prefer a democratic decision to cut the undocumented migrant tenants out of a deal rather than a more egalitarian and principled decision made by SeaSol's core group overruling the majority of tenants? And you'd prefer that the majority of tenants pursue a bad tactic and lose their fight than they win their fight?

There is no organizing model, democratic or not, which would guarantee that bad decisions won't be made. Thats just a fact.

Who says that Nate's "core group" is going to make "more egalitarian and principled decisions" than joe shmoe from the auto shop down the street?

Obviously SeaSol doesn't have a policy of just letting anyone into the group and saying or doing whatever they want. Its absurd to equate democracy with such a ridiculous caricature. But we do, nonetheless, allow everyone a vote and a say on the decisions we make.

This doesn't mean we simply help set up, say a tenants group, and say "alright, good luck!" SeaSol organizers have votes and voices too, and we're generally very careful about who we work with.

Quote:
Clearly. Because SeaSol is gaining no expertise in how to conduct its fights, so that seasoned SeaSol organizers have no more idea how to proceed than do tenants involved for the first time.

What was the reasoning behind this statement?

Caiman del Barrio
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Dec 8 2011 15:45
Ernestine wrote:
Having moved from an area where there is quite a healthy anarcho-syndicalist presence to the London borough of Greenwich, where there isn't, I'd quite like to make contact with people who are interested in getting some education workers network activity going on round here. Maybe we could even have a go at making some decisions, however bad. Anyone?

PM'd

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Dec 8 2011 19:24
Ernestine wrote:
Having moved from an area where there is quite a healthy anarcho-syndicalist presence to the London borough of Greenwich, where there isn't, I'd quite like to make contact with people who are interested in getting some education workers network activity going on round here. Maybe we could even have a go at making some decisions, however bad. Anyone?

I think Caiman has beaten me to it, but SolFed has recently launched the London Education Workers Network. It's still getting of the ground, but all of us are very active both within our workplaces and in SolFed.

You can reach us here:

http://solfed.org.uk/?q=contact

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Chilli Sauce
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Dec 8 2011 19:24
Ernestine wrote:
Having moved from an area where there is quite a healthy anarcho-syndicalist presence to the London borough of Greenwich, where there isn't, I'd quite like to make contact with people who are interested in getting some education workers network activity going on round here. Maybe we could even have a go at making some decisions, however bad. Anyone?

I think Caiman has beaten me to it, but SolFed has recently launched the London Education Workers Network. It's still getting of the ground, but all of us are very active both within our workplaces and in SolFed.

You can reach us here:

http://solfed.org.uk/?q=contact

nastyned
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Dec 8 2011 22:38
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I think Caiman has beaten me to it, but SolFed has recently launched the London Education Workers Network. It's still getting of the ground, but all of us are very active both within our workplaces and in SolFed.

You can reach us here:

http://solfed.org.uk/?q=contact

Would I be right in thinking that this is a Solfed members only thing?

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Dec 9 2011 02:09
John E Jacobsen wrote:
Quote:
Clearly. Because SeaSol is gaining no expertise in how to conduct its fights, so that seasoned SeaSol organizers have no more idea how to proceed than do tenants involved for the first time.

What was the reasoning behind this statement?

I was being sarcastic. SeaSol has an impressive level of expertise built up over time. It simply is the case that seasoned SeaSolers know better how to conduct fights than most other people. That's part of why people come to SeaSol for help. If people knew how to do this stuff already they already would have.

John E Jacobsen wrote:
Who says that Nate's "core group" is going to make "more egalitarian and principled decisions" than joe shmoe from the auto shop down the street?

I am, obviously. And I'm not being facetious. People in a group who think they have the right value system and others don;t, those people will generally want decisions made in accord with their values. People are wrong sometimes. As you said, no guarantees. But in the little bit of contact I've had with maybe a half dozen SeaSolers, y'all are a high quality bunch of people. I have a hard time believing that you think your fellow SeaSoler are just of average commitment to principles like egalitarianism etc.

John E Jacobsen wrote:
SeaSol organizers have votes and voices too, and we're generally very careful about who we work with.

In any given fight, what's the ratio of SeaSol organizers and people whose fight it is directly? If SeaSolers outnumber folk then this is no issue - SeaSol will usually get vote results it can live with because it outnumbers folk. That's a sort of condition where formal democracy or not doesn't really matter in the same way. With larger numbers of folk in a fight it's another story. I'm curious what the numbers are like usually when SeaSol is putting stuff up for a vote. Can you say a bit about that please?

Several years ago in Chicago I touched off a rent strike in an apartment building undergoing illegal condo conversion by going door to door. There were I think two dozen tenants and me and another organizer. We would certainly have been outvoted on anything that was a controversial voting issue where we had minority opinions. We were relatively open and democratic, but in proceeding we knew the relevant law, the experience in running meetings and in doing one on ones with tenants, experience in running actions, and the willingness to put in the time to make and distribute flyers and do doorknocking. The tenants didn't have any of that. We didn't *control* the process but we had goals from the outset (from the initial doorknocks) and we mostly accomplished those goals. It wasn't a particularly democratic process until fairly late, as the tenants became more accustomed to running things and comfortable with doing so. (They deferred to us a lot as we started to hand over running it, by pushing folk to step up, and deferred to us less and less as it went on, largely because we made an effort to have them not defer to us.) Formally democratic procedure came much, much later and it never got all that democratic formally. Personally I think it worked better than things I've been part of that started with more formal democracy right away.

In my opinion in many cases there is real inequality in people's abilities to effectively run their own affairs/individuals' ability to effectively participate in a collective process. Formal equality doesn't fix that. I think participation in an effective activity can start to equalize this. That's part of why I think it's not always better in all cases to be more democratic. Democracy is as democracy does. And better democracy often comes after some preparation IMHO.