The IWW - a good idea? Practical?

195 posts / 0 new
Last post
OliverTwister's picture
OliverTwister
Offline
Joined: 10-10-05
Mar 14 2006 16:57

There are currently no IFA members in the United States (except perhaps a few CNT exchange students). The Workers Solidarity Alliance is a propaganda collective in NY (with a few members elsewhere) who were once members.

petey
Offline
Joined: 13-10-05
Mar 14 2006 17:09
JDMF wrote:
No illusions though: we are very very small in numbers, all of us, and i wish all libertarian groups all the best in getting bigger and increasing our impact.

yes, certainly, i wasn't pointing any fingers at small numbers. 2000 out of 280,000,000 is a small number.

petey
Offline
Joined: 13-10-05
Mar 14 2006 17:16
MalFunction wrote:
what do people actually want from a workplace organisation that can't be gained from a reformist trade union in the present political / economic climate?

not got anything against the IWW myself -just seems a bit pointless except in situations where exisitng trade unions can't operate.

which is where they've been busiest, in the states: not migrants, exactly, but in places where the workforce are largely immigrant and unwanted by trade unions (except SEIU, which is another story).

but a good question still. i notice that where the IWW are successful they are acting like any other union: benefits, pay raises, days off, etc. and that's good, mind, but it appears that the payoff is on that day when a critical mass of shops are IWW and they can start flexing industry-wide muscle.

woundedhobo
Offline
Joined: 16-02-04
Mar 16 2006 04:10
Quote:
what do people actually want from a workplace organisation that can't be gained from a reformist trade union in the present political / economic climate?

not got anything against the IWW myself -just seems a bit pointless except in situations where exisitng trade unions can't operate.

+Existing trade unions tend to be business unions, which means they are making money off their members and the members workplace bosses (bribes). You'll probably notice that dues are several times higher for other unions. And this is why the IWW could be very threatening. There is no one for the capitalist to buy off as is the case with other vertically organized political groups. In order to end an IWW strike, you need to at least buy off all the workers, which is much more expensive and possibly contrary to the aim of crushing grassroots power and momentum.

+Many mainstream unions don't respect local autonomy. If a local union becomes very militant , it risks being put into trusteeship by the international union bureaucracy, which has built friendships with corporations and polticians...

You can read an example here: http://www.uncanny.net/~wetzel/hormel.htm

petey
Offline
Joined: 13-10-05
Mar 16 2006 14:37

hello hobo. from kansas? please stop over at the north america board (down below under "international").

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Mar 19 2006 16:56

I wrote this as a personal mail to Olivertwister, but then decided to put it up on the forums. I wanted to add something earlier, but have been a bit busy, and couldn't get round to it, so it doesn't answer all of the issues that have been raised. Martinh I think what you said in reply to me deserves an answer to, and I will try to get round to it soon.

Some Thoughts on the IWW, and Syndicalism in General

The first thing that seems to be important to me is the nature of economic organizations. I don’t want to go deeply into the theory of this as I am sure that you have read it all before. What I would like to talk about is the practical implications. Communists believe that it is impossible to have mass economic organizations such as unions outside of times of mass struggle. This is because the mass of workers are not revolutionaries outside of times of mass struggle. The example I would like to use is that of a ‘Rank and File’ group, which during the present period in the US is more realistic than the idea of there being mass revolutionary unions.

The problem with ‘Rank and File’ groups is that they group workers on an economic basis, not a political one. To quote from the article that originally started this discussion:

Higgins sets out the need for “United Front Rank and File Organisation” to bring together “revolutionary ... and reformist workers ... by far the majority” around immediate demands, workplace organisation, and a longer term strategy. These are all-industry organisations, with no divisions by political or union affiliation or lack of either. The R&F group “should be the bridge between more popular economic and democratic site issues and the more difficult” political ones.

Of course there is some political agreement within the ‘Rank and File’ group, but it is at the lowest common denominator. What kind of group can emerge from this strategy? In my opinion if a group manages to grow, and to gain influence there will come a point where the non-revolutionary workers outnumber the revolutionary ones. I see two possible outcomes of this. The first is that the group continues to advocate revolutionary politics with the revolutionary minority acting as a political leadership (if only on account of the fact that they are activists, and tend to do the actual work), which is actually separated politically from the rest of the group. The second is that the group represents its membership, and ceases to be a revolutionary group. Neither of these are what we would call desirable outcomes. Of course there is a third possibility that the reformist workers will be radicalized by their experience in struggle, and become revolutionaries, but I think that outside times of mass generalized struggle we can discount this.

As an alternative to this the AF in England has suggested the idea of ‘Workplace Resistance Groups’ while being very vague about what they actually are. Serge Forward claimed in the thread on the IWW that the difference between them and the IWW is virtually nothing. Now I am not sure how the AF’s groups actually work, but I suspect that they are basically propaganda groups whereas the IWW is actually in some cases organizing workers, and acting in the traditional role of a union. To me there seems to be a huge difference here. I doubt if the AF’s groups even aspire to be unions.

I would like to hear in detail what they are suggesting in detail.

Trade Unions by their nature are not revolutionary. Their function in society is to negotiate the price of labour. In effect this turns them into capitalist organizations as they are managers of capital albeit ‘variable’ capital. Their own interests as unions force them to defend capital, and join with it in its attacks on worker. Now this may sound theoretical, but the evidence seems to back up the communist position. The trade unions consistently side with capital against the working class. The current unions are not ‘bad’ because they are undemocratic, or because they have bad leadership, but because their very nature forces them to act as they do. If the IWW grew, it would behave in exactly the same way.

A workplace strategy, however, is of utmost importance to revolutionaries. Our group advocates (and I use this word because we are not in the position to do it yet) setting up revolutionary workplace groups. By this we mean groups of communist workers organized on a political basis in different workplaces. The group is a political group, and its membership is based on a political basis, which doesn’t mean that it is a party group, but that it is restricted to communists who share our analysis of the unions. This will enable it to advocate what we consider to be revolutionary polices in workers struggles. From this I would exclude anarcho-syndicalists. I was involved in a workplace group with some of them in the 80’s, and at the end of every article they wrote they wanted to say ‘this is why we need an anarcho-syndicalism union’. I think it is important for communists to control their own propaganda. Martinh said I think ‘in practical terms I think Left Communists would likely co-operate if we were to find ourselves in the same workplace, don't you?’. On one level that is true. It is natural to cooperate in struggles as workers, and in actions like producing and distributing propaganda about an issue in our workplace, or arguing for the same positions in mass meetings. On a separate level though. I don’t think that it is a good idea to form joint front groups with them.

We are not living at the beginning of the twentieth century anymore. The task of revolutionaries today is not to organize the working class. This is basically a social democratic conception, and not a communist one. To quote the ICC on the role of the revolutionary organization, “Its role is neither to ‘organise the working class’ nor to ‘take power’ in its name, but to participate actively in the movement towards the unification of struggles, towards workers taking control of them for themselves, and at the same time to draw out the revolutionary political goals of the proletariat’s combat.”

In solidarity

Devrim

Serge Forward's picture
Serge Forward
Offline
Joined: 14-01-04
Mar 20 2006 12:41

Devrim, this is partly what the AF/ACF has always seen as a problem with traditional anarcho-syndicalism.

You either organise your 'union' along political lines (and then it's not really a union but a political industrial grouping) or else you organise solely along economic lines and run the risk of losing the revolutionary content.

That said, I don't think there's any iron law of industrial organisation that says it has to always be this way. Neither is there anything wrong with belonging to the most militant or even 'revolutionary' union organisation (if it exists).

On rank and file groups... I disagree that the problem is the fact that they group workers economically rather than politically. The problem with rank and file groups, at least in Britain, is that they have largely been used as vehicles for changing the leadership of the union, for getting a more leftwing bureaucracy. There have been exceptions but as far as I know, the Building Worker and Communication Worker groups were always tiny. The main R&F organisations here have been either CP run, or trotskyist (e.g the old BLOC) and had the sole aim of getting a left wing slate onto various union National Executive Committees.

The AF's Industrial Strategy will be discussed at our forthcoming National Conference. However, in our industrial strategy decided on a few years back, we advocated two types of workplace organisation:

Revolutionary workplace groupings that would bring together AF-ers, libertarian-communists and other revolutionaries in a particular workplace or industry, and

Workplace Resistance Groups which would be looser groupings of militant and discontented workers in a particular workplace, whose role would be to organise... er... resistance in the workplace!

To be honest, not much came of the former, other than more contact and coordination between AF-ers who worked in the same industry (other AF-ers will correct me if I'm wrong here). With the latter, there were a few examples of activity: e.g. an AF member who worked on the railways organised a functioning WRG with his workmates - though sadly, it was a short-lived organisation.

Either way, neither of these types of grouping ever aspired to be unions.

You are right, trade unions are not revolutionary nor will they ever be. Whether or not the IWW will ever fuction as a trade union, only time will tell. If the IWW were to become a mass organisation, then maybe it would behave like a trade union. But if it did, it would have outlived its usefulness.

But like I say, I don't believe there's an iron law that says it has to be this way. There's no reason why 'permanent-ish' militant workplace organisations can't exist and do positive things, irrespective of the value of the type of revolutionary workplace organisation that sometimes 'spontaneously' develops during more revolutionary times.

There is nothing wrong with bringing together the most militant and class conscious workers - and whether that organisation calls itself a union or workplace resistance group is not really relevent. What is relevent though, is that through struggle in the workplace, it could help to not only improve workers' self-defence capacity and self-confidence but also revolutionise working people. And I don't see a problem with that.

Don't underestimate anarcho-sydicalists by the way. They have a lot to offer any militant workplace groupings. From my exprerience, they don't always end each article with 'this is why we need an anarcho-syndicalist union' although maybe in the past this has happened.

And don't overestimate 'left communists' Devrim. Some of them can be notoriously difficult to work with, often being pedantic, obsessive, and occasionally unhinged. The ICC quote:

“Its role is neither to ‘organise the working class’ nor to ‘take power’ in its name, but to participate actively in the movement towards the unification of struggles, towards workers taking control of them for themselves, and at the same time to draw out the revolutionary political goals of the proletariat’s combat.”

is actually a very sound one. However, as an organisation, they are a trully dreadful group to have any dealings with.

knightrose
Offline
Joined: 8-11-03
Mar 20 2006 19:06

Good posts Devrim and Serge - just when I thought I'd sorted things out in my head, too.

Devrim, is there any support we (the AF) can offer your group? We're keen on building international contacts and may be able to offer some practical solidarity.

gentle revolutionary
Offline
Joined: 31-10-04
Mar 20 2006 21:58
Serge Forward wrote:

You are right, trade unions are not revolutionary nor will they ever be. Whether or not the IWW will ever fuction as a trade union, only time will tell. If the IWW were to become a mass organisation, then maybe it would behave like a trade union. But if it did, it would have outlived its usefulness.

The IWW was always much more than just a labour union, and it was precisely when it was at its biggest that it was also most revolutionary. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IWW and http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/unions/iww/1920/drops.htm - these things aren't done to those who don't seriously challenge the system, which is why anarchists like Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Boxcar Betty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxcar_Betty), Carlo Tresca, Vincent Saint John, Ricardo Flores Magon and many others have been its members.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Mar 21 2006 00:22

The latest International Review has an in-depth article about the IWW

http//en.internationalism.org/node/1609

Agree with the bulk of Devrim's post. Of course, we think that permanent defensive organisations were possible in a previous period (19th century), but I think we agree that they are impossible now. Attempts to form hybrid organisations - regrouping workers in permanent organisations that are both 'revolutionary' and defensive - have failed in practice, from the KAPD's Unionen to industrial unions.

It is however possible for small groups of militant workers to play a positive role in the movement. Depending on the situation, sometimes they may be more akin to discussion circles, trying to draw lessons from past struggles or understand the wider situation; at other times they may have a more active role in calling for extension of struggles, defending the need for assemblies etc. We had some experience of such groups in the 80s and there is every possibility that they will reappear as the class struggle seems once again to be on the rise. Evidently communists can play an active role in the formation of such groups, but they have to respond to real needs and possibilities.

Experience has shown that these groups tend by their very nature to have a limited existence; in particular, they lose their specific function if they become formalised 'communist' groups, ie formed around agreement with the communist programme. Then they become a confusing duplicate of the political organisation while at the same time excluding militant workers who may be able to fight for class methods without necessarily agreeing on the communist programme. This has always been our critique of the IBRP's 'communist factory groups'. There are some articles on this question in our press and I can supply copies if needed. On this point we seem to be in disagreement with Devrim, but it's an important discussion to develop.

Nick Durie
Offline
Joined: 12-09-04
Mar 21 2006 05:38

I don't agree that it is inevitable that workplace resistance groups of any particular kind will always either lose their revolutionary content, or be ran by politicos, or remain tiny, and I don't think it's fair to dismiss the IWW as being a movement to establish a trade union. These are all bizarre points of view.

Admin - the discussion about the merits and problems of the ICC has been split to here:

http://libcom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8727

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 21 2006 10:28

Devrim - an interesting post with some very good points.

However I'll have to take issue with a couple of things:

Devrim wrote:
Trade Unions by their nature are not revolutionary. Their function in society is to negotiate the price of labour.

How do you justify this statement?

I've seen ultra-leftists say this kind of thing, then immediately use it to say that anarcho-syndicalism won't work but it's a circular argument. Anarcho-syndicalist or IWW unions are not there to "negotiate the price of labour". Their aim is for workers to progressively get more and more power in the workplace + in society, and eventually take control of all of it. On what grounds do you claim "by their nature [they] are not revolutionary"?

Quote:
Their own interests as unions force them to defend capital, and join with it in its attacks on worker. Now this may sound theoretical, but the evidence seems to back up the communist position. The trade unions consistently side with capital against the working class.

This is a more minor point but in places like the UK today this is not very relevant a point, though of course it has been at times of higher levels of struggle. I would say that was a common pattern...

Quote:
If the IWW grew, it would behave in exactly the same way.

Do you have any evidence of the IWW ever doing that when it was large? Or of the CNT doing that as a union? (NB I don't think leading members joining the govt. is a valid argument in that vein)

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Mar 21 2006 14:56

OK there are quite a few points to reply to here, and I will try to deal with them all. First I would like to say that I find the basis of the AF’s industrial strategy quite logical. It seems to me that their can be two kinds of groups as you described. I also liked Serge’s honesty with regards to their success. As for myself although I was once involved in a group in a national industry, nowadays I work for a small family run business with about twenty workers. We did actually have a strike just over a month ago, but there is really no point in us forming a group. If I want to present my arguments to anybody there, I can just sit down, and talk to them.

Secondly, in rely to Nick I tried to explain why I thought that this could happen. I talked about the problems of a workplace group expanding. I said that there was another possibility, but that in outside times of mass struggle this is unlikely. You said that this was a bizarre point of view. I tried to explain why I believed this, and outlined possible scenarios of what could happen. You said this was bizarre. Now, maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough, but this is a discussion forum, and just to dismiss somebody’s ideas as bizarre seems to me to be a bit week. Please explain why you think so.

On the IWW, and Nick and Gentle revolutionary's points, I don’t doubt that there were, and still are revolutionaries in the IWW. Gentle revolutionary said that at the time that it was biggest it was at its most revolutionary. Yes, I agree, but this was during a period of mass struggle. Nick seemed to disagree that the IWW was a movement to establish a trade union. Well in my opinion the IWW is either a union, or a movement to establish one, or I have completely misunderstood everything that I have ever read about them.

John wanted to take issue with a couple of points. One of which was about the nature of trade unions in a capitalist society. I think that my point stands by itself. That is the function of a union. If we want to understand why a union can’t be revolutionary outside of times of mass struggle, I think my argument about the ‘Rank and File’ groups illustrates this. It is the paradox of having a revolutionary organization of which the majority of members are not revolutionaries. Your point about the CNT, and the IWW relate to the same thing. This was in a period of mass struggle. I think the CNT ministers joining the government is important, but that is more related to anarchism’s attitude to the state, and is not the main point here.

Now that I have replied to all of these points I haven’t got time to develop my point about industrial strategy as I have to go back to work. I will continue when I get home tonight.

In solidarity,

Devrim

Mike Harman
Offline
Joined: 7-02-06
Mar 21 2006 16:16
newyawka wrote:

ah! pertinent information! good, thanks, that explains things. grin

a little follow-up trip to wikipedia contains the amazing statement that solfed has "less than 100 members". surely some mistake? i get the impression that there's that many on this site alone.

afaik, no uk anarchist group has a membership above that number.

OliverTwister's picture
OliverTwister
Offline
Joined: 10-10-05
Mar 21 2006 22:04

This is located at:

:> link

Do Hot Coffee and 'Wobblies' Go Together?

By KRIS MAHER and JANET ADAMY

March 21, 2006; Page B1

Unions haven't had much luck organizing Starbucks Corp.'s baristas, many of whom are part-timers or college students with little incentive to sign union cards since they're not planning on building long-term careers brewing venti skim lattes.

The latest to try to organize the company's workers is the Industrial Workers of the World, a union with a long, feisty history and a counter-cultural aura.

Starbucks recently settled a complaint issued by the National Labor Relations Board that contained more than two dozen unfair labor practice allegations brought against the company by the IWW. The settlement stemmed from disputes at just three stores in New York City and will likely have little impact on the vast majority of Starbucks workers. But it illustrates the careful approach the company is taking toward labor activists as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other union targets try to rebuild their images after union campaigns tarnished their reputations.

[Activists shout at police during a 2004 protest calling for unionization at Starbucks coffee shops in New York. Unions have had little success organizing the chain's workers.]

Activists shout at police during a 2004 protest calling for unionization at Starbucks coffee shops in New York. Unions have had little success organizing the chain's workers.

Starbucks prides itself on offering what it considers generous pay and benefits. Part-time workers in its stores are eligible for medical, dental and vision benefits and Starbucks covers eligible same-sex domestic partners. The company's medical plan helps pay for treatments like acupuncture and store workers can get stock options, known as "bean stock," and tuition reimbursement.

Much of the union's strategy is to try to chip away at Starbucks' image as a socially responsible corporation. Earlier this year, Starbucks made Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For list, ranked at No. 29.

The IWW has only about 2,500 active members, but its rank-and-file activism is attracting a small but growing number of young members. Labor experts say many Starbucks workers fit the union's profile. In New York, baristas at three stores have told management they have joined the IWW. (Union dues are $6 a month -- less than the cost of the CDs Starbucks sells at its counters.)

The union, whose members were dubbed Wobblies, was founded in 1905 by socialists and anarchists, including Mary Harris "Mother" Jones. The IWW was strongest around the World War I era, but continued even when membership was so diminished, some believed the group had faded away, when it hadn't.

The organization has always emphasized worker solidarity and direct action, such as strikes and boycotts, rather than electing leaders to hash out contracts with employers. IWW officials argue that contracts can weaken a union's effectiveness since they limit when workers can strike or take other actions on behalf of themselves and other workers. Today, the IWW has members at some employers under contract while others, like those organizing at Starbucks, prefer to resolve issues through direct action, without a contract.

At Starbucks, the IWW's demands include wage increases and providing workers with guaranteed hours and lower eligibility requirements and out-of-pocket expenses for health-care benefits. The union's tactics have included publicly confronting Starbucks managers with lists of demands and disrupting store operations by getting supporters to pay for drinks with pennies.

To make its case, the union pushes a comparison between the health-care coverage of workers at Starbucks and Wal-Mart, arguing that about 42% of Starbucks employees get coverage through the company, less than the roughly 46% of Wal-Mart workers who receive employer-sponsored coverage.

"Starbucks has anointed itself a leader in employee health care but the fact remains that a lower percentage of its employees are insured than at Wal-Mart," says Daniel Gross, a 27-year-old IWW union member and an organizer in New York. "We're going to escalate our outreach to workers, and pierce the socially responsible image that the company has so skillfully promulgated around the world."

Audrey Lincoff, a Starbucks spokeswoman, does not dispute the 42% figure but says it's unfair to compare Starbucks' benefits to those of other employers because it has a disproportionately young work force. Moreover, Starbucks contends that the IWW has little support from its workers, noting that the night before workers were scheduled to vote on whether to unionize a New York store in 2004, the IWW withdrew its petition in what Starbucks said was a sign of insufficient support from workers. The union says it withdrew because Starbucks legally challenged the size of the bargaining unit of the election, delaying the vote, and that its strategy at the company has always called for direct action over organizing through elections.

Starbucks won't disclose an average wage for its workers but says that, for example, baristas in New York City start at $8.75 an hour. According to the National Restaurant Association, the average wage for cafeteria, food concession and coffee shop counter attendants was $7.83 in November 2004, the most recent data available. By comparison, Wal-Mart says it expects to pay workers $10.78 an hour on average if, as the company hopes, it starts opening stores in New York City in the near future.

Starbucks' pay "is above the market rate for like chains," says John Glass, an analyst at CIBC World Markets who follows the restaurant industry. "They've done a lot of things that have made this an attractive place to work."

Employee relations are a key part of the Seattle coffee chain's image, but experts doubt that fallout from the recent wrangle with the IWW will taint the Starbucks brand.

"If the consumer's perception is that they're doing anything unfair or inconsistent with that image, certainly it will raise questions about the brand integrity with consumers," says Denise Lee Yohn, an independent brand marketer based in San Diego who has done work for restaurant chains.

And yet the company's efforts to appear socially responsible, from selling fair-trade coffee, helping run a coffee-bean farmer support center in Costa Rica and making cups with recycled paper, will probably trump that, Ms. Yohn says. "They have enough good stuff that kind of causes this halo effect over everything else, so they probably don't need to take it as seriously as a Wal-Mart," she says.

Few big unions have tried to organize at Starbucks, for the same reason they avoid fast-food chains and most retailers: the high turnover and the small number of workers at each store makes it hard to maintain organizing gains.

But some say the company is working hard to stay union-free. The Canadian Auto Workers, the largest private sector union in Canada, represents about 140 Starbucks workers at 10 stores in Vancouver and recently renegotiated a three-year contract. Susan Spratt, the CAW's lead negotiator for Starbucks, alleges the company has fought off further organizing in part by removing managers and promising better conditions at stores where the union has tried to sign up members. Ms. Lincoff would not comment specifically on the union's allegations but said "we always believe we've acted fairly and respected the free choice of our partners."

Under the recent settlement in New York, Starbucks agreed to reinstate two terminated employees who had been vocal union supporters, pay roughly $2,000 in back pay to three employees, as well as change companywide policies related to employees' rights to wear pins and distribute materials in the workplace. The company settled the complaint without admitting any wrongdoing.

Starbucks also promised not to "provide employees with benefits, including after-hours store cleaning services, free pizza, free gym passes, and free baseball tickets, in order to encourage employees to withdraw their support" for the union.

Ms. Lincoff, the company spokeswoman, wouldn't say specifically whether managers at the company had engaged in the behaviors detailed in the settlement but said "there's been no admission of guilt or liability on our part" and that "we believe we've acted fairly." She says Starbucks respects the free choice of its workers but believes that its work environment makes unions unnecessary at the company.

Suley Ayala, a barista at a Starbucks in New York City, didn't know what a "Wobbly" was before she joined the IWW in September. The 23-year-old is a practicing Wiccan, and the union has also filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Starbucks on her behalf. She's worked at Starbucks for four years and she says signed up with the union because she wanted steadier hours to help ensure that she earns enough at her current wage of $9.37 an hour to support her four children.

While her hours have become more consistent thanks to the union, she says "their health care is way too expensive for me, so I took Medicaid."

Since the settlement, Ms. Ayala has been wearing as many as three union pins during her shifts at a Manhattan Starbucks. Some customers have asked if the workers are forming a union, and when she answers that they are, "Most of the time, they say 'good luck,' " she says.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Mar 21 2006 23:35

First let us characterize workplace groups. I would split them into five.

1) Broad left, this is the old BLOC in Britain.

The basis of this group is an electoral alliance to bring in a ‘left’ wing leadership. I don’t think we need to discuss this anymore.

2) ‘Rank and File’ groups (e.g. Building Worker)

The basis of this group is to argue for democratization of the union. They don’t believe that a new leadership will change it. I think that I have made my points against this tendency quite clear in the previous posts, but I am quite willing to discuss it further.

3) Anarcho-Syndicalist groups.

The basis of this group is quite similar to that of the ‘Rank and File’ group. However, they argue that the existing structure is rotten, and it needs replacing with a new, more democratic union. I think that my criticism of ‘Rank and File’ groups applies to them also.

4) What the AF call ‘Revolutionary workplace groupings’, and what the ICC call ‘'Communist Factory Groups'

The basis of this group is political. It groups revolutionary workers together as a propaganda group. It’s membership is limited to revolutionaries.

5) What the AF call ‘Workplace Resistance Groups’, and the ICC call ’Struggle Groups’.

This is an open group based around grouping militant workers together in struggle. It does not have a political agenda.

I am quite prepared to argue about the categorizations if people disagree (they are only loose ideas), but until then I will use these categories.

I think that the strategy that we should be pursuing should be based around groups 4, and 5. I explained my opinion of what group 4 should be in a previous post. Serge said that nothing had really happened about this in the AF. I was in a group like this, which was a reasonable success, Serge, and it didn’t actually take many people, just a lot of hard work. I can write about this in more detail if you want. The ICC criticized this saying that it could become a duplicate of the political organization. My concept of these groups is larger than my concept of a political organization. I don’t really think that the ‘Theory of Decadence’, which is completely central to the ICC, is that important. I don’t think that they would disagree that I am a communist though. I don’t see these groups as solely party transmission belts, as I believe (but am not totally sure) that the IBRP does. I see them as a permanent revolutionary group, which can be permanent, and revolutionary, as it is based on a political basis. The ICC said that they had arguments against this in their press. Can we have links please, Alf?

I think that group 5, is also very important to our strategy. These are groups that can arise in struggles when groups of workers get together to organize around the needs of that struggle, producing leaflets, organizing flying pickets, etc… These type of groups should involve all militant workers who want to be involved. Serge said that they had one of these groups on the railways, but that unfortunately it was short lived. I think that we should expect these groups to be short lived. That is one of the reasons why I am advocating the type 4 group as a permanent group, a group that would be able to draw the lessons from the experiences of type 5 groups.

I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts.

In solidarity,

Devrim Valerian

solkomunist@yahoo.com

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Mar 22 2006 00:19

Devrim The main text I am thinking of was in the old WR magazine, so pre-electronic. But we will either put it online or photocopy it for you. I obviously agree that the communist political organisatiion should be there to provide a permanent focus for militants who have come out of the struggle. But if it's a permanent political organisation, based on a clear platform, its basis should be territorial rather than workplace based; Bordiga made a whole critique of the Communist International's 'factory cell' notion, arguing that it was important for the communist organisation to go beyond the narrow limits of the enterprise or profession.

Nick Durie
Offline
Joined: 12-09-04
Mar 22 2006 00:20
Quote:
Admin - the discussion about the merits and problems of the ICC has been split to here:

http://libcom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8727

This is a frankly bizarre admin comment on my post as it is obvious that I wasn't talking about the ICC.

Mike Harman
Offline
Joined: 7-02-06
Mar 22 2006 00:21

Nick - it wasn't me who split it, but the comment was referring to the posts after yours, not your post.

Agree it's not the clearest way to split a thread.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 22 2006 01:25
Nick Durie wrote:
Quote:
Admin - the discussion about the merits and problems of the ICC has been split to here:

http://libcom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8727

This is a frankly bizarre admin comment on my post as it is obvious that I wasn't talking about the ICC.

Yeah we have to put the admin note at the bottom of the post above the split, sorry for any confusion

WillsWilde
Offline
Joined: 16-03-06
Mar 22 2006 11:33

A little bit askance of the thread here,cause I haven't picked it all up and barely have the stomach too ...from a Wobbly. Reading that ICC article made my eyes bleed...what obfuscatory, delusional horseshit, I dunno who dignifies this crap, from the 'special tendency' of American life towards violence to the 'retarded theoretical development of the American worker', good lord.

Beware "writers" who start every sentence with the word "We."

The words of the IWW preamble are the plainest and most resonant expression of libertarian socialism that I know of. I am not an idolater, there are problems, of course. Trade unions interfere with IWW oragnizing drives relentlessly.. .I know of a couple local examples... and they use the same line I have seen here, to insure a fat wage for their toadies and beauracrats here.."They're not a real union, you know." They are a real union, despite decades of barbaric repression, slander from the left and right,and treachery, they can do anything a trade union can do if not better. The IWW has been regaining appeal slowy but steadily, if anyone thinks that their mission is not valid because it's not 'popular' or "practical' in the most pedantiic sense.... then they should fuck off and go social democrat or something.

I see so much talk about 'industrial strategy' and' organizational tactics' here that I sometimes think there are amateur theorists afoot who forget that they are talking about

human beings, and that we are engaged in an experiment here,a community endeavour, not static adherence to -isms, not shackled to the failures of the past. What the results are depends on the character and commitment of the people involved. Period. Yes, the people.

Beware crank pseudo-communist ideologues who consatntly use the expression 'the workers' as though we are something below, beside or behind them.

The IWW is a rank and file organization that cannot be corrupted. I daresay that they would NEVER make the compromises that the CNT did, would never favor the primacy of it's organizational hegemony over the needs of the workers. The members of the IWW are some of the finest people I've ever met..there are syndicalists, marxists, anarchos. all manner of radicals involved and they all manage to get along. If the operations are small scale for the moment, then for FUCKS SAKE JOIN and stop sneering.

Whew had to get that one off my chest. embarrassed red n black star

ftony
Offline
Joined: 26-05-04
Mar 22 2006 12:58

that was a very nice rant, i agree with the vast majority of it, although you don't get full marks because you use the word 'period' instead of 'full-stop' wink

9/10

i must say, that the whole 'we've got 87 members and you've only got 84' type of attitude is pretty immature. the SWP worry about membership, and it is not a very good way of measuring popularity or success. ffs the tories have thousands of members!

also, to willswilde, i agree that people discuss 'industrial strategy' in quite an inhuman way, but we've got to remember that when the wobblies say 'what time is it? time to organise!' (as opposed to chico time grin ), their way of going about things is still a strategy, however you look at it...

talking of organisation, it's been at least two weeks since i sent off to join the wobs and still haven't heard anything back! bloody lefties roll eyes

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Mar 22 2006 14:29

WillsWilde’s rant was very vague, and basically said that the IWW is good, you should join it. It rolled all of the criticisms of the IWW into a ball, and attacked them all. Some people have claimed that the IWW is not a real union. I don’t think that that was what the ICC said, and it is certainly not what I suggested. The central question that I asked was how do mass economic organizations remain revolutionary when the majority of workers in them aren’t revolutionaries. I think that this was a valid question. This is a discussion board.

I have just reread the IWW preamble, and noticed that it uses the phrase ‘the workers’ twice. It prefers ‘the working class’, which it uses four times, and also it starts one sentence with ‘we’, and remember it is a very short document. The use of these words seems to be one of your main arguments against people writing on this thread. I think that this is very weak. They are words that we all use.

He states that ‘the IWW is a Rank and File organization that can not be corrupted’ without any evidence to back this up unless it is ‘the character, and commitment of the people involved’. I hope that isn’t his reasoning as this really would be the worst kind of idealistic voluntarism. The people are good, so it can’t be corrupted.

Alf, maybe I didn’t express myself clearly enough. I didn’t propose that factory groups are a revolutionary political organization. What I suggested was that they be an organization of people working in the same industry based around common political perspectives. They don’t need to have the same position on the Russian revolution, but do need to have the similar perspectives on the unions, and workers struggles. Their function is not to produce in-depth political analysis of the ‘crisis of capitalism’, but to address workers in their struggles. This is not the same as an organization like the ICC, or the AF, and I could see that members of both of these organizations could be in the same group if they can put up with you wink .

In solidarity,

Devrim

Solkomunist@yahoo.com

ftony
Offline
Joined: 26-05-04
Mar 22 2006 15:13
Quote:
The central question that I asked was how do mass economic organizations remain revolutionary when the majority of workers in them aren’t revolutionaries

well i guess they don't but i'm more or less assuming that you won't join the IWW unless you are a revolutionary, so what has that got to do with anything?

Quote:
He states that ‘the IWW is a Rank and File organization that can not be corrupted’ without any evidence to back this up unless it is ‘the character, and commitment of the people involved’. I hope that isn’t his reasoning as this really would be the worst kind of idealistic voluntarism. The people are good, so it can’t be corrupted.

no that's not how i read it. i read it to say that if a group of people are in a group run by all the members of that group then its identity will be constructed according to the identity of the people who make it up. it isn't to do with good and bad, it's just a pretty straight forward logical form. i admit that it was phrased badly though.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 22 2006 15:16
ftony wrote:
Quote:
The central question that I asked was how do mass economic organizations remain revolutionary when the majority of workers in them aren’t revolutionaries

well i guess they don't but i'm more or less assuming that you won't join the IWW unless you are a revolutionary, so what has that got to do with anything?

Firstly, that being true the IWW will not be useful union outside a time of mass struggle. A point I've made a few times, to which IWW-ites have responded that people can still join without being revolutionaries basically if they just forget about the aims+principles.

Also related is that as Devrim pointed out, when they've been successful and revolutionary unions haev become large, like the IWW in early 1900s and the CNT in the 1920s/30s then you will get lots of people who don't agee 100% with the politics, then these kinds of contradictions arise...

ftony
Offline
Joined: 26-05-04
Mar 22 2006 15:33

i don't understand. if you don't agree with a union's principles - or at least aren't prepared to work according to them - then you shouldn't join.

Quote:
the IWW will not be useful union outside a time of mass struggle

well that depend on where a bit of struggle ends and mass struggle begins. not being pedantic, but if a union can exert meaningful political pressure or help effect victories (no matter how small) for workers/members/whatever then it is useful. the IWW in the UK is not useful, and barely is in the US either but it has potential, and that is why i joined.

Quote:
as Devrim pointed out

oops, embarrassed maybe i should read the arguments more carefully...

Quote:
then you will get lots of people who don't agee 100% with the politics

i refer you to my first point good sir! why join such a specifically revolutionary organisation if you aren't a revolutionary??? i understand that it happens, but it seems weird.

changing the subject, what alternatives are there for syndicalists if revolutionary unionism is shit?

JDMF's picture
JDMF
Offline
Joined: 21-05-04
Mar 22 2006 15:36
ftony wrote:
changing the subject, what alternatives are there for syndicalists if revolutionary unionism is shit?

revolutionary unionism is not shit, if you are a syndicalist grin Thats kinda circular.

But at the same time you need to be responsive to whats up in the world, hence sol feds industrial strategy is quite different from what it would be in another kind of situation. Things may quickly change though...

I also applaud things what IWW in US are doing, or SAC in sweden and CGT in spain how they are trying to find new ways of applying revolutionary unionism to current situations (no jokes about cop members or plumbers and health staff in prisons being members please!). We shall see how it pans out...

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 22 2006 15:50
Jack wrote:
JDMF wrote:
ftony wrote:
(no jokes about cop members or plumbers and health staff in prisons being members please!)

I heard Sol Fed has members working for the state, in the brainwashing sector.

I think you've mixed it up with train washing.

ftony
Offline
Joined: 26-05-04
Mar 22 2006 15:52

i hear jack fed has members in the fucking quotes up sector grin

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Mar 22 2006 15:52

On the actual practice of the CGT in Spain - which demonstrates that it functions like all other unions - see this account of the SEAT strike on our website

http//en.internationalism.org/node/1714

Devrim your last post makes it clearer, and certainly communists in the same workplace should work together in the struggle, but a struggle group has no need to restrict itself to comrades who are 'programmatically' opposed to the trade unions; it can include militant workers who see the need to extend struggles across union divisions or who understand the necessity for assemblies without seeing themselves as communists. I still don't see the argument for yet another form of organisation different from this.