How do you build a movement? - SolFed

How do you build a movement? - SolFed

An article from the Occupied Times' 'how do you build a movement?' series, outlining an anarcho-syndicalist strategy.

Bankers’ bonuses, MPs’ expenses and police-media corruption grab headlines, but these are only the most visible of the injustices that the existing political and economic system is built upon. Every day is filled with smaller injustices. These can be economic: pay cuts, unpaid overtime, benefits cuts or rent hikes; or they can be about power: bullying bosses, stress, sexual harassment or police racism.

These injustices aren’t a defect in the system; they are a sign that it’s functioning normally. They’ve certainly been intensified by the economic crisis. For example, last year in the UK a record 5.26 million people worked unpaid overtime averaging almost a whole extra day each week. But, they also predate the crisis.

It has always been in the interests of bosses to get as much work for as little pay as possible. So they freeze or cut wages, increase the pace and intensity of work or the amount of unpaid overtime, or both. Workers’ interests are the exact opposite: to earn more for less, to become less stressed and have more free time. It is in the interests of landlords to spend the minimum on maintenance and to withhold deposits, while still charging the highest possible rents. Tenants’ interests are the exact opposite: paying as little as possible for the best housing. It is always in the interests of the state to cut back benefits payments while channelling handouts to their party donors at firms like A4E. Workfare, making people work for their benefits, is just the latest way of making our lives dependent on work, while forcing wages down. Yet again, claimants’ interests are the exact opposite: receiving enough to live on whilst jumping through the fewest hoops, rejecting the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor.

Despite the frequency of these everyday injustices, they rarely lead to spontaneous resistance. Often the injustices are experienced alone, and alone, bosses hold more power than workers, landlords have more power than tenants, the job centre has more power than claimants and so on. Too often, these grievances lead to demoralisation rather than to resistance. To turn isolated injustices into collective action requires organisation.

As these injustices are part of a capitalist system, to be effective this organisation needs to be opposed to capitalism’s ‘proper channels’. So, instead of employment tribunals, closed-door union negotiations, legal action, lobbying or running for parliament, it is direct action – controlled and taken by those affected – which is the means to fight systemic injustice.

When Laura was owed over £700 in unpaid wages by a London pub, she organised. Her family and friends bombarded the phone and email of the business, demanding payment. The landlord paid up on the eve of a threatened peak-time picket. When Ruth, Jess and Charlotte had their £1,200 deposit stolen, similar direct action tactics won it back. When workers on the London Underground wanted to resist changes to working conditions, they organised a ‘piss strike’ – one after another, workers went off to the toilet, leading to very little work being done. Management caved in within two days. When cleaners at Brunel University wanted written contracts, they held a mass meeting and refused to work until a manager promised them contracts on camera. A phone blockade of the same manager prevented an attempt to backtrack, and the cleaners got their contracts.

Direct action doesn’t rely on anyone else. It doesn’t require official representatives from unions, or political parties, or legal experts and the goodwill of the judiciary. It helps build the power and confidence of those who use it. It can enable workers to defend themselves or improve their conditions. Tenants who have stood up to their landlords are no longer isolated and powerless.

On a practical level, building this kind of movement means banding together with our workmates, housemates, classmates and fellow welfare claimants, and focusing on real everyday issues. We want a revolutionary movement, but we won’t achieve it by trying to convince everyone to be a revolutionary. Instead, we can engage other members of the working class on the small everyday grievances that we all share. From these defensive struggles, we can begin to take the initiative. And from a position of strength, discussion about a different system – one without bosses, landlords and politicians – is no longer idle talk. Rather, direct action is the means to win as much as possible right now, while building collective power and opening space to think about more fundamental social change.

The Solidarity Federation certainly doesn’t think it has all the answers. But we do think nothing helps build a movement like concrete victories. A solid movement begins with getting organised and standing up to the injustices we experience in our everyday lives. To be successful, the organisation has to be revolutionary. It must aim to put an end to the current unjust system and will reject methods which imitate or collaborate with the system. It will avoid full-time officials, political representatives and backroom deals. We don’t think this is rocket science. It is a practical anarchism relevant to anyone with a boss, a landlord or power held over them by leaders.

It might seem like these small, everyday victories are a long way from the overthrow of the system and its replacement with something better, and in isolation they are. But you need only look to the student movement in Québec to see how radical union organisation can explode from everyday grievances to mass struggle. A powerful working class movement will be much more than just a revolutionary union, but such a union can be a catalyst for everyday struggles, and can link them to the need for wider change. Through direct action we can build the power of ordinary people to improve our lives in the here and now, while preparing the ground for social transformation to put an end to systemic injustice altogether.

The Solidarity Federation is a revolutionary union initiative: a working class organisation which seeks the abolition of capitalism and the state. In their place members of SolFed want a society based on workers’ self-management, solidarity, mutual aid and libertarian communism. This article originally appeared in the Occupied Times of London.

Posted By

Joseph Kay
Dec 7 2012 10:21

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  • A solid movement begins with getting organised and standing up to the injustices we experience in our everyday lives. We don’t think this is rocket science. It is a practical anarchism relevant to anyone with a boss, a landlord or power held over them by leaders.

    Solidarity Federation

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Comments

Chilli Sauce
Dec 7 2012 11:13

Beat me to it, posting this up in the library was literally on my to-do list for today.

I'll try and stick up on solfed.org.uk at some point (that is, unless you beat me that as well).

Battlescarred
Dec 7 2012 11:52

Whilst agreeing with quite a lot of what the document says, I still feel that the concept of the "revolutionary union" limits and hinders what I see we need to do to address social injustices. I still feel that the down grading of the concept of the Commune and a drift towards anarcho-syndicalism signified a retreat from revolutionary ideas on one hand, whilst on the other hand, breaking with the isolation that anarchism had found itself in the previous decades. But then that's how movements advance, in a dialectical way.
What I felt that was lost is summed up in the statement by Bakunin on the concept of the Commune:

"First: all organizations must proceed by way of federation from the base to the summit, from the commune to the coordinating association of the country or nation. Second: there must be at least one autonomous intermediate body between the commune and the country, the department, the region, or the province. . . . The basic unit of all political organization in each country must be the completely autonomous commune, constituted by the majority vote of all adults of both sexes. . . . The province must be nothing but a free federation of autonomous communes." This was the idea developed further by Kropotkin, Reclus and others and is a concept that must be re-affirmed, in particular when the working class is stalled in the face of the austerity attacks inflicted upon it by the boss class.
What the Solidarity Federation is advocating, is it really the "revolutionary union"? Is How can the Quebec students movement be related to the idea of the "revolutionary union"? I find the above article somewhat stretches its meaning in relation to the movement in Quebec.
For me moving towards revolutionary forms of counter power cannot be confined just to the workplace, it must take on capitalism at every level, agitating in the neighbourhood, involving itself in ALL the struggles of the working class, including at a cultural level. So for me, as an anarchist communist, the concept of the revolutionary union is for me a limiting concept. That's leaving aside the need for a specific anarchist organisation, wswhich I will go into later.

Joseph Kay
Dec 7 2012 12:48
Battlescarred wrote:
How can the Quebec students movement be related to the idea of the "revolutionary union"? I find the above article somewhat stretches its meaning in relation to the movement in Quebec.

How do you mean? As far as I'm aware ASSÉ, a union with anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and feminist politics, did loads of boring groundwork over a period of years, organising around department-level or course-level grievances, which eventually put them in a position to catalyse a much wider strike movement organised through departmental assemblies/mass meetings (the 'Coalition Large'). That's pretty much the mass meeting-based strategy SF advocates afaics (though somewhat more spectacular than anything we've managed, obviously).

I'm basing this largely on the Recomp account, so maybe there's stuff I'm missing. But it seems like a great contemporary example of the way a radical/alternative/minority union can both do important groundwork and catalyse a much wider direct action movement which bypasses institutional obstacles (e.g. by getting other student union branches to affiliate to CLASSÉ on condition of the assembly structure, they seemed to largely bypass the other unions bureaucracies and to carry on the strike even when 'leaders' wanted to call it off for talks etc).

Chilli Sauce
Dec 7 2012 16:02
Quote:
moving towards revolutionary forms of counter power cannot be confined just to the workplace, it must take on capitalism at every level, agitating in the neighbourhood, involving itself in ALL the struggles of the working class, including at a cultural level. So for me, as an anarchist communist, the concept of the revolutionary union is for me a limiting concept.

I don't think any anarcho-syndicalists would argue that struggle should be "confined" to the workplace.

I don't think any anarchist organisation could or should take on all aspects of the class struggle. So while SF has taken on community struggles and tenant issues, I know the NL local consciously decided not to take on certain elements of the class struggle (prisoner support, for example). Although we would like to have comradely relations with organisations who do and, indeed, some of our members do that sort of work outside SF.

So, personally, I think there needs to be a specific organisation which develops strategy for workplace struggle. But that doesn't need to be an organisation which puts out heavy theoretical pieces, general anarchist propaganda, or which produces anarchist themed drama. That should be reserved for organisations which have that sort of focus.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 7 2012 16:18
syndicalist
Dec 7 2012 17:53

just to play devils advocate with Chilli:

Quote:
But that doesn't need to be an organisation which puts out heavy theoretical pieces,

A 140 page booklet ain't no agitational leaflet either. roll eyes groucho

frisby_dike
Dec 8 2012 01:19
Chilli Sauce
Dec 8 2012 02:10

That's awesome, FD. I think it should eventually be released as a pamplet/short book.

cantdocartwheels
Dec 8 2012 03:54
Battlescarred wrote:
Whilst agreeing with quite a lot of what the document says, I still feel that the concept of the "revolutionary union" limits and hinders what I see we need to do to address social injustices. I still feel that the down grading of the concept of the Commune and a drift towards anarcho-syndicalism signified a retreat.

I would say a ''revolutionary union', or indeed any anarchist organisation (afed/solfed/hsg/etc etc etc) is an interim step towards the ''commune''. In the same sense that struggles over wages, housing are a fair few steps off organising society in a communal fashion.

In the event of genuiine mass uptake of radical ideas/action radical organisations would swiftly be overtaken by the class. In that sense the commune/workers council/workplace commitees etc would ideally slowly subsume the activities of small radical groups/unions.

Anyways I don;t thik the article was in fairness trying to address such points, it was just trying to state the starting point of ''how do you want to improve your life in thehere and now'' something that sometimes wasn't much in evidence in occupy imho.

cantdocartwheels
Dec 8 2012 04:13
syndicalist wrote:
just to play devils advocate with Chilli:

Quote:
But that doesn't need to be an organisation which puts out heavy theoretical pieces,

A 140 page booklet ain't no agitational leaflet either. roll eyes groucho

That particular pamphlet isn't ''heavy theory''.
it was written afaik to be reasonably short and snappy. Personally i think that tendency towards generalised polemic actually weakened it a bit in parts and left me disagreeing with bits of it but its definitely short and to the point.

I'm pretty sure by heavy theory chilli means the sort of academic waffle that takes weeks to read and requires a phd to understand. The sort of stuff i'm generaly too lazy to even try to read.

Battlescarred
Dec 8 2012 09:51

No time now until Monday to respond.

thegonzokid
Dec 8 2012 09:56
Battlescarred wrote:
For me moving towards revolutionary forms of counter power cannot be confined just to the workplace, it must take on capitalism at every level, agitating in the neighbourhood, involving itself in ALL the struggles of the working class, including at a cultural level.

We agree, it's one of the reasons we adopted a Community Strategy at our national conference in 2011.

gothamdude
Dec 8 2012 12:23

well i don't know much about movements since I tend to get kicked out of every clique and get accused of being a top notch sociopath

but to me the first thing you need is a charismatic individual who can seduce...
the rest i have no clue

Battlescarred
Dec 9 2012 10:42

Hmmm, I see why you got kicked out.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 15 2012 21:43
Battlescarred wrote:
Whilst agreeing with quite a lot of what the document says, I still feel that the concept of the "revolutionary union" limits and hinders what I see we need to do to address social injustices. I still feel that the down grading of the concept of the Commune and a drift towards anarcho-syndicalism signified a retreat from revolutionary ideas on one hand....

For me moving towards revolutionary forms of counter power cannot be confined just to the workplace, it must take on capitalism at every level, agitating in the neighbourhood, involving itself in ALL the struggles of the working class, including at a cultural level. So for me, as an anarchist communist, the concept of the revolutionary union is for me a limiting concept.

From Fighting for Ourselves:

SF wrote:
But neither should the anarcho-syndicalist union be seen as a monolithic organisation that seeks to organise every aspect of human activity. Our aim is to build a revolutionary culture within the working class that will form the basis of the future libertarian communist society. And this revolutionary culture will be as rich and diverse as humanity itself. It will comprise of countless groups and interests, formal and informal, that will operate both in and outside of the union.

[...]

Just as the anarcho-syndicalist union cannot and does not wish to organise all aspects of human activity, nor does it seek to organise the revolution on behalf of the working class.

jolasmo
Dec 16 2012 18:26

To my mind the paragraph Chilli Sauce quotes above echoes a similar passage from our Introduction to Anarchist Communism:

FFO wrote:
But neither should the anarcho-syndicalist union be seen as a monolithic organisation that seeks to organise every aspect of human activity. Our aim is to build a revolutionary culture within the working class that will form the basis of the future libertarian communist society. And this revolutionary culture will be as rich and diverse as humanity itself. It will comprise of countless groups and interests, formal and informal, that will operate both in and outside of the union.

ItAC wrote:
[A] culture of resistance [is] a set of bonds of solidarity and understanding between many different people in many different places. These new relationships give people the confidence and the resources that they need to fight back wherever they are. This culture becomes a mass of tinder which is able to turn the spark from one struggle or another into a flame which can spread. From this culture revolutionary situations will seem to come from nowhere, surprising governments and professional revolutionaries alike. This culture is not a particular organisation or set of principles or anything like that. It is composed of many different organisations and more than this of ideas, practices and attitudes that reveal to us our power as exploited but necessary parts of the capitalist system. This culture is as much about the self image and self belief or ordinary people as it is about any particular set of ideas or organisations.

I don't know whether SolFed were consciously drawing on our pamphlet here, or whether its just a case of great minds thinking alike, but either way I think the parallels are striking.

~J.

NannerNannerNan...
Apr 9 2013 05:48
frisby_dike wrote:
http://theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/?tag=hdybam
The whole series.

By the by, everything in here is a bunch of infuriating leftist bullshit. The only thing approaching rational is the one Solfed made, I swear to god. We need to be loads more critical to leftists and really let them know we think they're idiots. If you want to get angry/depressed, read ALARM's (activoid subcultist "anarcho" groupsucle) prescription for "builiding a mass movement". You know, just read any of them, shit