Give up classtivism: Why class struggle is long, boring and hard work

The recent decision by Starbucks to attack its workers’ conditions (cutting paid lunch breaks, sick pay and other work benefits) in response to public pressure to pay its tax bill – public pressure partly generated by direct action organisations like UK Uncut – has highlighted ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of “Tax justice” campaigns and their relationship to class struggle organisation.

The recent decision by Starbucks to attack its workers’ conditions (cutting paid lunch breaks, sick pay and other work benefits) in response to public pressure to pay its tax bill – public pressure partly generated by direct action organisations like UK Uncut – has highlighted ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of “Tax justice” campaigns and their relationship to class struggle organisation. Undoubtedly UK Uncut will continue to incorporate workers’ rights issues into its public actions against the Starbucks chain. What the move highlights, however, is the complete incapacity of these tactics to manifest as useful tools of social struggle (even of basic self-defence) for the workers affected, or indeed the absence of any foresight that differentiates between the actions of the “brand” and the largely powerless and unorganised workers who are employed by it. There is a good analysis concerning this by a member of the Solidarity Federation – “Tax justice, austerity and class struggle” – what is, however, slightly less satisfactory is the way this analysis reflects on another, well respected campaign currently being organised and supported within the UK anarchist movement – the Boycott Workfare Network.

The objectives of the Boycott Workfare Network are simple. The website gives them as the following:

Quote:
“Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare ... We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.”

This is a network that has been most strongly supported by the IWA affiliated Solidarity Federation, but also has had local anarchist groups and Anarchist Federation groups participate. As well as organising ongoing public boycotts of workfare employers (usually in the form of a public protest or “picket” discouraging costumers to frequent the store), the campaign provides information for those on workfare schemes via the website and usually provides information to the workforce during its actions. These two sides of the campaign are not entirely harmonious and throw up certain contradictions that Phil (Libcom blogger “Phil”), at least partly, acknowledges in his article:

Quote:
“pickets against workfare have often explicitly approached staff and promoted the need to organise. The aim is still to disrupt business and threaten profits, but with the rights of workers an explicit part of the agenda it becomes a lot harder to take this out on them.”

Likewise the Boycott Workfare Network secured its own Pyrrhic victory earlier this year when one of the early targets, the health food chain Holland and Barrett, announced it would be pulling out of the workfare scheme only to replace these posts with a salaried apprenticeship scheme. Undoubtedly a victory for the workfare campaign against unpaid work but one which did not secure a standard minimum wage for all employees (National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour) nor was it a move that the existing campaign was in any real position to fight further on.

It is not our intention here to try and downplay the clear positive affects that the UK Uncut actions and Boycott Workfare campaign have had in terms of both changing employer policy and showing the power of public pressure via direct action over institutional channels (lobbying MPs, collecting petitions etc). Instead, our intention with this article is to clearly point out why, in both cases, these tactics have reached the limits that they have, why it is necessary to consider an alternative framework for judging the success of organisational work and why an organising culture premised principally on the initiation of “actions” and “campaigns” (what we would identify as “activism”) is ill-suited for the patient, complex and hard work of class organising.

What is classtivism?

The economic crisis has, in the last decade, created an entirely new context for social justice struggles. The attacks on the living standards of the working class, the environment and the continued military intervention of imperialist states across the globe are set at a brutal pace. This is while the official trade union movement has sought only greater accommodation and acquiescence within the new austerity regime. The Left has shown itself to be similarly lacking in imagination, adopting the tired and ever failing tactics of electoralism and work within the same shrinking trade unions as the scope of their limited ambition. This is within the larger context of a much deeper collapse of working class culture and identity, which leaves no obvious space for the growth for an alternative, anti-austerity project. In the service sector in particular (the UK’s largest sector of employment), in shops such as Starbucks, Holland and Barrett, Poundland, Tesco, Pizza Hut etc., the idea of an employee culture – let alone an organised working class culture – is laughable.

Within this context the tactics and strategies of activism and activists present a viable alternative to the automatic position of defence and isolation that many of us would be forced to adopt within our workplaces, neighbourhoods and our communities. The notion of going “on the attack” against extremely exploitative schemes like workfare seem an appropriate level of response to the severity of the attacks we are currently coming under. We would likewise hazard that this is the social and political context of other similar “movements” such as Occupy.

What, then, do we mean by “activism”? In simple terms, the idea of bringing together individuals on the basis of their shared ideological goals and beliefs who adopt specific disruptive strategies to pile public pressure (or otherwise “consciousness raise” – we will analyse this particular aspect in greater detail below) around a certain issue. The intention is that this activism will bring about some form of social or political change. Undoubtedly certain aspects of “activism” will be part of and naturally arise within the alternative perspective we later identify – that of movement-building – and it is not our purpose to write off these as tactics completely. Rather we identify activism as problematic, in itself, because it is principally the basis in which social change is seen to be effected. It is the activist and their practice of activism – whether it is a public protest outside a store, chaining oneself to the gates or a sit-down in the manager’s office – that are seen as having the transformative role. There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

In the current context – one in which economic issues are very much on the popular agenda –, and especially given the clear ineffectiveness of the labour movement, we have seen a closer merging of the existing strategies, tactics and organisational cultures of activists and disputes around the workplace and social welfare. “Class”, in other words, has been represented as an “issue” in a similar way that fair trade, development, environmental justice or gender and sexuality have been represented within the social justice movements in previous years. Our contention is, of course, that class is not an issue that can be “won”, no less than the environment or gender or sexuality can be – it is the structural basis of capitalist society. It is not the responsibility of ethical and socially responsible individuals to “take up class” should it concern them. A class position is thrust upon us as a result of our role within a capitalist society. The question then is not, initially at least, of the applicability of certain tactics or strategies, but of the role of class, class consciousness and how this informs the forms of action we pursue.

Class consciousness and Organisation

It is not necessary to re-visit here classic communist arguments concerning the socially transformative role of the working class within capitalism or the ultimate need for the re-appropriation of the means of production. It is suffice to say that it is the confidence and capacity of workers to act on their own interests – in our workplaces, our neighbourhoods and communities – against those of the capitalists – our bosses, landlords and the state – that concern us in terms of our need to promote social solidarity and class organisation. Consciousness raising – making workers aware of those interests and their ability to act on them – is, as a result, a central part of this process.

The public pickets, protest and actions conducted as part of the Boycott Workfare and UK Uncut actions, as well as playing a more direct disruptive role, are likewise aimed at a broader project of “raising consciousness”. In the case of UK Uncut this has largely been in the form of the “Tax Justice” narrative, something which has unfortunately often been reduced to useless chants of “pay your taxes!” but at a more sophisticated level aims to highlight bourgeois double-standards between a government that seeks to ostracise claimants and benefit cheats for their drain on the public purse, while simultaneously allowing multi-nationals to dodge millions in corporation tax. There is likewise a much more radical under-current that runs through the actions which seeks to challenge the barriers between public and private space, with banks being turned into “direct action libraries” or shop floors into social spaces for music and games. Similarly in the case of Boycott Workfare it was found that many on the placement schemes were completely unaware of their rights or their colleagues failed to understand the implications of the unpaid work. Leaflets, such as this one produced by the Solidarity Federation, intend to inform employees about the nature of the action as a well as encouraging them to get organised.

In all the above cases these are indeed consciousness-raising practices. However for us the issue of consciousness-raising is not just about providing information to workers or even making them aware of their ability to act (e.g. their freedom to join a union or use their legal rights). It is about creating a context of confidence in class action. This is a complex process layered with social, cultural and psychological barriers. There is a qualitative difference between the type of power that the bourgeois class utilises and the forms of attitudes and perspectives that emerge in the course of movement-building. Workers’ power is direct, social and inter-personal. It is based on establishing relationships of trust, solidarity and friendship. Most importantly proletarian consciousness needs to be perpetually re-affirming. As our Fellow Workers at the Recomposition blog have pointed out, people have a tendency to “hot up” and “cool down” when it comes to organising, even long-term and dedicated organisers. Within this context networks of support and solidarity are absolutely essential in ensuring that those who have been worn down or burnt out during the ebbs are able to take back up the mantle during the flows. On a practical level all of the above is incredibly difficult in the context of one-off or sensational actions conducted against employers. Even employees, or workfare claimants, who are sympathetic to the cause, are likely to be scared off of engaging by the fear of repercussions from management or their job centres. From the outside, agitators simply don’t know what conversations will be had between workers for the rest of the day, or during a cigarette break in the afternoon or even the special briefing the manager gives at the end of the day. From the inside, why should workers trust the advice of someone that they had a five minute conversation with and gave them a piece of paper?

The ultimate objective of our organising efforts should be to cultivate organisations that promote workers’ self-organisation. This is a standard by which we ourselves should not be exempt. It is also a responsibility that we should not expect to place on others without carrying through the same risks ourselves. And there are indeed risks.

Tactics – “Organising is about creating a series of friendships”

The actions taken against workfare have 3 key failings: Firstly, they depict the left and activists as outsiders with only power as consumers. Secondly, it enforces a reliance on outside forces for workers. Lastly, it risks driving company and staff closer together.

Activists are part of the working class just as much as factory workers and miners. We all form active parts of capitalism, as consumers and workers, but as workers we create surplus value. Just because we don’t wear overalls doesn’t mean we are excluded from this process. However, protest actions play into the idea that activists are an exterior force. If activists want to get involved in class struggle, they need to develop their own class consciousness as well. It is easy to talk about this as if it is a theoretical concept that the working class needs to develop on a general basis. What developing class consciousness actually means is each of us realising our own position in capitalism – your own, real position as an actor within the process of production, not of the mythical, abstract concept of “the workers.” Until individual activists start to grasp this fundamental role they’re not in much of a position to ask others to.

The working class for far too long has been reliant on exterior forces, political parties, do-gooders, union bureaucrats: We need to do things for ourselves. It is our historic mission to overthrow capitalism and this cannot be achieved by relying on the intervention of charitable types. We have been serviced by unions for decades, succededing only in seeing hard fought reforms vanish and safety nets disappear. At the heart of these errors is the failure to build and sustain a culture of class confidence that has a willingness to defend workers’ interests (and fight for more). Taking steps towards this means abandoning our reliance on outside forces (in whatever form this may come) and looking to the immediate relationships around us as our source of solidarity and support.

Finally, there is the danger that activism will strengthen the reverse relationships – the capitalistic ones between workers and managers and workers and the company. The sentiment that “we are all mates with our manager, why shouldn’t we just talk to them he takes us out for a drink all the time”, for example, forms a continuous barrier to workplace organising. Starbucks Workers’ Union organiser Liberté Locke has described it well as being akin to an abusive relationship – “My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organisers”. At Pizza Hut, mangers receive bonuses based on the amount of money the store spends. If the manager doesn’t repair broken mopeds, they receive a higher bonus, if they don’t replace safety equipment, such as oven gloves, they receive a higher bonus. These things help the manager as an individual, but make the rest of our working lives more difficult. At the same time, this is hidden by the manager who then acts as a social leader, as everyone’s mate, offering people lifts home, organising the Xmas do etc. As Liberté Locke argues, these abuses are hidden by a friendly exterior and layers of manipulative behaviour. Breaking through that is one of the most difficult things to achieve as an organiser. “Shop pickets” may well do real favours to managers, giving workers in store a false sense of the limitations of their own capacities, reinforcing existing worker-brand identity and the idea of the company as “one big family”.

Friendship must be at the core of solidarity. For our Fellow Workers to take the organising we push seriously they have to trust that we are saying it as a friend and not as a political campaigner. As organisers we must be there when the important conversations happen, and those aren’t the conversations that happen with the activist outside, they are the ones that happen on smoking breaks, while taking a pizza out to the moped, as you mop the floor at the end of the shift or in the pub after work. That is where people express their true feelings, whether that is about the protest outside, or the dick-head manager. Working under capitalism is stressful, isolating and hard, and we need the support of our Fellow Workers as much as everyone else. Class organising is about creating our own spaces of resistance. It is a process of creating a series of friendships.

In short, what we need is a far richer (perhaps a micro-level) understanding of class consciousness to accompany our organising perspectives. We take inspiration from the idea of the “Wobbly Shop” or to “Wobbly the Job”. To “Wobbly the Job” is not just to get people signed up to the union or provoke actions, it’s to foster specific attitudes in that workplace. This can range from anything to the jokes that are made behind the bosses back at break time, to the walk-out you hold during peak operating hours. The point is that this is something that emerges within the culture that organisers create as a result of the real bonds of solidarity and support they have built with their Fellow Workers.

The Alternative: building class confidence through a movement of organisers

There are natural limits to our political demands in the form of our capacity as consumers, citizens, activists. We only have a finite amount of political capital, special interest, money in our pocket, disruptive capacity, can only be arrested so many times etc. As workers, as proletarians, our demands are limitless. They are only conditioned by the balance of class forces - the power applied on the one hand, by the depth of our class organisation as workers, and on the other, by the power and organisation of the capitalists. It may be possible to transfer cultures of class confidence via activist activity – for example, the international support given to Pizza Hut workers by IWW members and others, or the victory at Office Angels co-ordinated by the Solidarity Federation – but our source of power is still ultimately proletarian subjectivity applied at the point of production and reproduction of capitalism. Support and solidarity actions may be useful, they may even be successful (in terms of winning gains) but they cannot function in isolation and still contain the same limits.

Class struggle is long, boring and hard work. Organising your own community, workplace or neighbourhood is difficult, emotionally taxing work and potentially fraught with all manner of economic and social repercussions. It also means pushing out of your comfort zone, conversing and socialising with people you perhaps wouldn’t normally do on the basis of shared interests, countering all manner of challenging and conservative ideas and behaviour. As we have said above, it also often puts you in a position of isolation and defence – but this is also the reality of the current social and political context. They wouldn’t call it class struggle if it didn’t involve struggling.

Understanding these risks and formulating strategies to overcome them enriches our collective praxis. It forms the basis of a contemporary approach to movement-building. It also means taking your time and building on small victories that are not necessarily glamorous ones. This could be as (seemingly) minor as creating a culture where you are able to discuss problems at work openly. This can easily evolve into supporting one another to take breaks, challenging the decisions of the boss. An organising committee building union density develops through all of these experiences. The important thing is that all these steps map onto a coherent and long-term strategy employed by workplace organisers. It’s not about every penny of pay you win but about the confidence workers feel to fight and keep fighting until we win it all.

Returning specifically to the Boycott Workfare campaign, we do acknowledge certain characteristics that make this issue appear distinct from other forms of class struggle. The government workfare schemes are principally an issue that affects claimants. Although the extent to which it weakens the position of workers in those companies, and also the standards of the labour force generally, does make it an issue of collective interest. In this respect the degree to which targeted and sustained organisation in workfare employers, of all workers, is an alternative route of opposition to the schemes needs to be explored more – whether in the form of salting or finding means of establishing sustainable contact between workers and organisers.

It is true that the unemployed are at a structural disadvantage to the employed workforce - this is the nature of the “industrial reserve army”, keeping a section of the workforce powerless and at a disadvantage so they are ready for the needs of capital as well as acting as a disciplining mechanism on the employed. The unemployed acting as a threat in the case of troublesome workers as well as depressing wages and conditions in the case of high levels of unemployment. Workers are increasingly out of work in the context of the current crisis (particularly young workers and across Europe) so this is a serious issue for class organisations. But we should look to examples such as the South African Shack Dwellers’ Movement, the Unemployed Workers’ Movement in Argentina, and historic (and ongoing) claimants unions and centres. We feel these have been successful at building dual power organisations from the most powerless sections of the class, because they’ve not taken an approach of disempowerment but also because they have employed the basic methods of movement-building discussed above. They represent genuine communities of class confidence developed through weeks, months and even years of patient agitation and organising.

Public pickets are argued to be a way of bringing people on the workfare scheme together (who are otherwise stratified) and politicising the schemes. This is while acknowledging that the conversations in this context were limited and relied heavily on generating a certain degree of public and press interest. But conversations alone are not enough. They raise awareness not consciousness. For this we need to be training and developing a movement of organisers, militants and movement-builders. You still need to walk before you can run, and activism is simply not a means for initiating movements (and can actually be a means of cutting yourself off from those around you). The basics of movement-building – whether these are your work mates, fellow claimants, care-givers, service-users etc. – provide the basis for meaningful opposition to austerity, in immediate terms, and a movement against capitalism for the future.

DP is Northern regional organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (ERA) and a member of the General Executive Board. He works at Pizza Hut.

CW is a militant in Collective Action and a member of Sheffield (UK) Industrial Workers of the World General Membership Branch. He works in social care.

Posted By

RedAndBlack
Dec 18 2012 23:26

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  • They wouldn’t call it class struggle if it didn’t involve struggling.

    DP and CW

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Comments

RedAndBlack
Dec 21 2012 21:44
Tom de Cleyre wrote:
Quote:
If that isn't clear the issue is about how our transformative capacity is understood within our conception of activism > as a group of activists (irrespective of who they are), practising activism. This is distinct from workers utilising their power of transformation as a result of their productive/reproductive role within capitalism.

wtf?

This is one of the most fundamental concepts in communist theory, no? The transformative power of the proletarian class as a result of their role in the reproduction of capitalism, i.e. its the the workers who produce all wealth for the capitalists, reproduce other workers, maintain systems of domination and exploitation etc. etc.

Tom de Cleyre
Dec 21 2012 22:22

Well, actually, many currents have given up on the proleteriat as revolutionary subject, but that was not the reason of my incomprehension and totally beside the point.

It was more to do with the 'this is distinct' part, and the whole first sentence which I can't make sense of. I guess, although I don't have much experience of the anti-workfare campaign, I don't see it as 'activism' (or associate it with lock-ons or people 'picking up class'? For what I've seen they are solidarity groups of unemployed workers supporting people who are faced with the prospect of workfare by acting as counsel and representation during meetings with jobcentre staff, linking with other workers' fights like the jobcentre pension strikes and closing down shops who sign up to the workfare scheme...) and your analysis is, well, er, lacking? I apologised if I missed that bit or you made it clear in another text or something. Also I am a bit confused about the role you ascribe (or don't) to unemployed workers?

I mean all the "unemployed people 'picketing' is ludicrous/ but we should learn from the piqueteros", "we don't want martyrs but we need clearly identified organizers (who will therefore be arrested and charged after any strike has been dealt with)" sound to me like contradictions in the types of politics I've been exposed to.

It might be a failure on my part, but I'm starting to think this whole argument is as needlessly long and opaque as the original text itself... Thoughts that are right should be possible to be explained concisely. Also, but that is a tiny detail, classtivism is a godawful ugly word that does not deserve to exist.

jolasmo
Dec 21 2012 23:07
Tom de Cleyre wrote:
For what I've seen they are solidarity groups of unemployed workers supporting people who are faced with the prospect of workfare by acting as counsel and representation during meetings with jobcentre staff,

Is this true? I thought the Jobcentre basically kicked you out if you didn't have a specific appointment to go to (and even then I've been asked to leave for turning up "too early") or to use the machines. This in itself is a massive issue in terms of organising the unemployed.

~J.

Tom de Cleyre
Dec 21 2012 23:15

Well, if I remember the article, getting the right to have someone from the support group present (at the appointments made by the jobcentre, of course) was a hard-won victory in itself. But it did help people get their rights respected (yay, rights...) and even apologies for the way they were treated (from my experience of the jobcentre, that is the hardest part to imagine). You should really go to the source directly, my 'expert knowledge' is a half remembered article from a newsletter picked up at the jobcentre (which is available here, apparently, http://www.scottishunemployedworkers.net/media/SUWN_Newsletter_6.pdf )

slev09
Dec 22 2012 22:23

I definitely think there's a lot of great stuff in the "building friendships" part in terms of tactics. I've been talking with fellow workers about that subject as well. In my branch, we've tried to do some food service organizing, but the people haven't lasted and the campaigns have failed. However, we are getting close to having a shop set up in the workplace of one of the first members, who has been working at that place for years and been making friends with people.

It's hard to organize people without trust, basically. We were talking with Staughton Lynd and I kind of noticed similarities between this kind of workplace organizing and the SNCC strategy of training organizers who would go there for a summer and leave. That didn't do much to help the poor blacks of the south.

I agree in a movement of organizers, rather than "organizing ringers". We need to get back to the community and workplace level and organize. It's hard, but that's the only way we can organize within the current system in a truly sustainable, grassroots method.

Now the big question is: how to build that movement of organizers?

ocelot
Dec 28 2012 15:31

Seeing as everybody seems to be off digesting their turkey/nutroast and I'm stuck in work with practically sod all to do, I thought I might throw in a pennyworth.

First, the disclaimer - I'm not in the UK and have no knowledge of any of the campaigns mentioned or the practical activity of any of the different anarchist or libertarian left groups around the specific issue of workfare there. So I have nothing to say on the matter of whether the criticisms expressed in the article are deserved, unfair, besides the point entirely, or whatever.

But the more general attempt to articulate, compare and contrast distinct political models is of interest to me. Broadly I'd say I have some sympathy with the "diagnosis" but think that the proposed "cure" is a step in the wrong (backwards) direction.

First the criticism of "activism" per se. Despite the nod in the title (ignoring for a moment the horrendous crime against linguistic aesthetics of that neologism) to the "Give up Activism" article in the Reflections on J18 collection, the text does not follow the logic of the latter. That earlier text, together with the "Devastate to Liberate or Devastatingly Liberal?" critique of the ALF that preceeded it (and may or may not have influenced it), was based on a reworking of the Situationist critique of the alienation of the militant. The text here breaks from that line by proposing a less psychological analysis of "activism":

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What, then, do we mean by “activism”? In simple terms, the idea of bringing together individuals on the basis of their shared ideological goals and beliefs who adopt specific disruptive strategies to pile public pressure (or otherwise “consciousness raise” – we will analyse this particular aspect in greater detail below) around a certain issue. The intention is that this activism will bring about some form of social or political change... There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

I know JK spluttered a bit around the "shared ideological goals" bit, but I think if we contrast it to "common material needs", we can tease out the distinction a little bit. Actually, I suspect its not that controversial here, but anyway... The distinction is between fighting for your own direct material needs versus fighting for a cause that is in some way mediated by an affiliation with a particular ideology of injustice or morality or what have you. The idea of the former is captured, to some degree, in the autonomist conception of "auto-valorisation". Or as Hillel put it "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?". And here, actually, we have a connection back to that Situationist critique of the alienation of the militant whose ethic is foremost that of self-sacrifice, rather than self-assertion.

The problem with "activism" then, regardless of the militancy of tactics, is that it is "citizen action" rather than "worker action" or "prole action" (to include the broader working class, not just the wage-workers, more of which in a bit). That is, it remains within the bourgeois horizon where voluntarist action in the political sphere leads to changes of policy by state or corporate actors in response to "public pressure". The problem of such action is that by not transgressing the boundary that separates the political from the economic in bourgeois society, it ends up by implicitly recognising it, which is ultimately to reinforce it. Or at least that's how I see it, which is why I read into the quote above, positions I recognise.

So much for the areas of (qualified) agreement. What I disagree with is the proposed solution to the supposed danger of the recuperation of class objects and processes by activist relations of political production*. Which appears to me to be dangerously close to a retreat to a new factoryism or new shopfloorism (given the regional paucity of factories in the contemporary work landscape) which seems to evoke the orthodox Marxism of over a century ago. We have the reappearance of the base/superstructure take on the centrality of the immediate point of production versus the sterile impotence of the sphere of circulation. Worse, it seems the class relation itself is reduced back down to the confrontation between employer and employees on the shopfloor itself (hence, also, shopfloorism). At least that's how I read comments like:

Quote:
these actions are aimed at the sphere of consumption and our analysis is relevant in that sense in that these are the practices that we are proposing class struggle organisers "give up

Quote:
the specific set of workers that need to lead and define a struggle, i.e. the workers in a workplace.

I appreciate that, for example, the move of the operaisti out of the factory and into the "social factory" was, despite many fertile innovations, accompanied with problems of theory that eventually led to the dissolution of the class struggle into seeing any form of social conflict as "constitutive" and signs of the new emerging social subject of the "multitude". But to throw out the baby with the bathwater and return to the late 18th and early 20th century "new unionism" or revolutionary syndicalism when only wage-earners were "properly" working class, and women, youth, the unemployed, etc were at best spectators, at worst "lumpen" elements, seems a step in entirely the wrong direction.

* by analogy to objects of production, (technical) processes of production and relations of production.

Refused
Dec 28 2012 19:08
slev09 wrote:
Now the big question is: how to build that movement of organizers?

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

redsdisease
Dec 29 2012 01:23
Refused wrote:
slev09 wrote:
Now the big question is: how to build that movement of organizers?

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

Out of curiosity, did you actually read their post? I don't see how telling people to join your organization helps answer the question that they posed. Not to mention the fact that they are clearly already in the the IWW.

Awesome Dude
Dec 29 2012 04:56

Interesting discussion-minus the egos and organisational patriots. I think this should have been written as two different articles. One article, with more detail about the workfare programme and "activist" responses, advancing the writers analysis. Another article setting out the authors opinion(s) regarding what they view as the correct approach for working class militants, i.e. tactics at the point of production (movement of worker organisers?) and outside the workplace (claimant unions and centres?).

I would also like to know if the authors intend to develop their theory and provide examples that “organising is about creating a series of friendships”. In particular, what is meant by "friendships”? There also needs to be some clarification about who organisers are and what their role is. For example are all workers in a workplace organisers or does that task fall to a few militants or social leaders, confident in their ability to organise after attending IWW or SolFed organiser courses?

I'm also curious to know if the author(s) distinguish between militants who hold revolutionary beliefs and other workers potentially moving in that direction? If so, should revolutionary militants organise separately outside the "movement of organisers"?

Harrison
Dec 29 2012 11:05

i'd be interested in a discussion around AD's questions as well

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 29 2012 12:43

Hi, this is an interesting discussion in some ways, but it has very little to do with the OP, which is littered with factual inaccuracies and errors which can only be the result of poor research:

#1 I'm not entirely sure on this, but I don't think Phil's in SF. Even if he was, then the implied purpose of quoting the arguments set out in his personal Libcom blog are to demonstrate the 'SF line' towards a certain issue. As has been stated on this forum multiple times, an individual's blog - inside or outside of the organisation - should not be taken as representative of an organisation as a whole. If you want to take on SF's 'line' on Workfare, then you should probably consult its website and articles/statements signed 'Solidarity Federation'.

#2 As someone else has said, the H&B campaign was actually led and organised by SF not BW. This isn't to blow our own trumpet, cos after all BW pressure has led to a number of charities withdrawing (British Heart Foundation, Scope, etc); rather, it's in the interest of factual accuracy.

#3 SF & BW cooperate where it's practical and where our objectives run parallel, but there is quite a difference in terms of activity and tactics. I actually personally see this as positive, especially if we are to build a larger movement, but once again, I feel required to explicitly spell this out in light of the shoddy research.

#1 could have been easily ascertained by checking the poster's Libcom profile (and also by Googling 'federalism', lol), whereas #2 & #3 are self-evident if you check the respective organisations' websites, plus maybe Johnny Void's blog. It seems reasonable enough to me that if you're gonna 'critique' the Workfare campaign, then a bare minimum would be to gain a basic understanding of the nature of the campaign itself, like browsing the groups' websites and their supporters' blogs. To not do so - and then repost these factual errors publicly in places where you know SF members post - would almost seem like bad faith to me. When you add on the bizarre introduction to the article - complete with stupid picture of stupid liberal - about a totally separate campaign against Starbucks, which has no real obvious link with the Workfare campaign, then it looks even worse, and no amount of conciliatory backpedalling in the comments thread can really reverse the shite in the OP.

I mean, you've said you're gonna repost this all over, complete with factual errors, misinformation and manipulative conflations, but then claim you're not attacking SF?

Like I say, this is a reasonably interesting discussion in the comments, but that has very little to do with the extremely poor OP, and much more to do with the thoughts of SF members and their supporters. There's a far more informed and interesting discussion going on within the org.

RedAndBlack
Dec 29 2012 16:47

The insistence of Solfed members that this is an article written entirely about their organisation is getting a little irksome.

If you feel that strongly that inaccuracies have been presented in this article I would encourage your organisation to contact either me or DP with a summary of them. If they actually correspond to things outlined in the article we will correct them.

More constructively I think Ocelot has made perhaps the strongest contribution to the discussion so far. I would hope that with more space, time and theoretical rigor we would have produced the more comprehensive definition of activism extended above.

In terms of the criticisms, while I think it's fair to say that both DP and I would to some degree accept the charge of "workerism", I don't think (or at least I hope) this doesn't follow into the crude factoryism Ocelot describes. The statements quoted from me (and the occasional poor choice of language, e.g. "workers") may be misrepresentative to some degree in that my emphasis I think largely stems from an over-compensation for the lack of sustained workplace activity within the libertarian milieu in the UK. It's fair to say that we don't lay out the grounds for how "movement-building" extends into other spheres of capitalist reproduction (although, our admittedly rather cursory, reference to unemployed movements hints as possible alternatives). I would hope that the absence of this from our analysis doesn't rule it out as an area for an extension of our basic ideas of building class confidence at a micro-level and criticism of activism.

Even so I think it's useful to be mindful in the case of operaismo that the best practices and ideas emerging from this period (social factory, auto-reduction etc) were in the context of organisation both inside AND outside the factory. Presently we lack both. And this was also within the context of a heightened state of combativity for the working class. I guess what I'm saying is that the key to a more unified strategy of resistance to capital is probably most likely discovered in the actual unity of class struggles. In the mean time it makes more sense to try and fight where we stand. I hope that's fair to what you are saying.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 30 2012 01:26
RedAndBlack wrote:
If you feel that strongly that inaccuracies have been presented in this article I would encourage your organisation to contact either me or DP with a summary of them. If they actually correspond to things outlined in the article we will correct them.

Oh OK yeah, I'll crank the wheels of our federalist democracy to call out two random, misinformed anonymi from the net on some spurious bullshit they're posting about my org online. That's right up there on our list of priorities, right behind considering your half-baked critique.

Fucking correct the misinformed shit you're spreading or accept that you're acting in bad faith, presumably as a self-promotion device, and then receive the appropriate amount of discredit.

RedAndBlack
Dec 30 2012 09:11

I really have nothing more to say. Either these alleged misrepresentations are important to you or they aren't.

Either way if you look through the thread there are inconsistencies as to what Solfed members are saying in terms of their relationship to Boycott Workfare, which organisation is responsible for what etc. Etc. That or factors such as whether Phil is or isn't a member of Solfed are completely irrelevant to the case concerning tactics and organising strategy made in the article.

As for the critique, I suggest if you take issue with it you actually state why. So far you have just rubbished it on the basis of minor (alleged) inaccuracies and not answered the criticism at all.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 30 2012 23:32

OK can I suggest that a Libcom admin then either adds an intro to this explaining that it's full of factual inaccuracies and lazy errors, or it's added to Best of the Worst?

Harrison
Dec 31 2012 00:05

I imagine most people will read the comments if they've already taken time to read the article, various SolFed members responses (including mine) are all contained here.

RedAndBlack
Dec 31 2012 10:43
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
OK can I suggest that a Libcom admin then either adds an intro to this explaining that it's full of factual inaccuracies and lazy errors, or it's added to Best of the Worst?

I'll leave that up to the Libcom admins, but that would ultimately be against the author's wishes (and, I should add, a pretty poor reflection on your organisation).

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 31 2012 11:16

Well perhaps the author could show some good faith by editing out the errors then?

Once again, you show a poor comprehension of federalism. I - and the rest of the SF members on here - am speaking as an individual with no mandate from the organisation or my Local. I'm not sure how this 'reflects' on SF anymore than your laziness and borderline ignorance reflects on Collective Action and/or the IWW.

To be honest, if someone pointed out errors in something I was spreading around the net, I'd take steps to rectify it.

RedAndBlack
Dec 31 2012 12:30

Like I said, the issue is that people have made varying and contradictory statements throughout the thread. I have no means to arbitrate between these since I'm not a member of Solfed.

Even so, as I've already said, they don't actually change the nature of the criticism being made concerning tactics and organising strategy (the purpose of the article). Whether or not Phil is a member of Solfed or if his views are representative or not or if it was Boycott Workfare or Solfed that won the victory against H and B are all, quite frankly, irrelevant.

Your response is to appeal for editorial control to be taken from us. This reflects badly on you.