Solidarity network or solidarity service?: on the challenges of building a solidarity network

Solidarity network or solidarity service?: on the challenges of building a solidarity network

The following originally appears in September 2013 issue of the IWW newspaper, the Industrial Worker, with the title “Building a solidarity network is harder than it seems.” Written by WRC member R. Spourgitis, it is a review of the pamphlet Build Your Own Solidarity Network, by two Seattle Solidarity Network members, and is based on our experiences with this project in Iowa City.

The Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) is a “workers’ and tenants’ mutual support organization that fights for specific demands using collective direct action.” SeaSol has a dedication to direct action and emphasis on empowering workers and tenants, and they have a very high success rate. Given this, the “SeaSol Model” seems to embody an inspiring new mode of class struggle for the increasingly precarious—it is no wonder it has been exported all over the world and become a popular project for many, anarchists and other anti-capitalists in particular.

The 2011 pamphlet “Build Your Own Solidarity Network,” written by SeaSol members Cold B and T Barnicle details SeaSol’s strategy for taking on fights well (the pamphlet is online at http://libcom.org/library/you-say-you-want-build-solidarity-network).

In November 2010 a group of us in Iowa City, Iowa, began forming a solidarity network. Thinking strategically about what you can or cannot accomplish in a project, and the steps taken to get there, were not things I was used to when we started our own solidarity network. Building a solidarity network was part of an important shift in my politics. It meant going from issue-based activism and one-off campaigns or protests to direct action work on immediate economic demands at the point of exploitation. This work aligns with IWW practice. The descriptions of demand-delivery and section titled “Agitate – Educate – Organize” will be familiar to those who have been through the Organizer Training 101.

The guide has nuts-and-bolts information about group-based tasking and organization, which many of us spend years learning the hard way. Granted, only reading about it falls short of doing it, but the importance of these lessons should not be understated. Seemingly small items like encouraging group members to take on key tasks, following up with them, and running efficient, well-moderated meetings are necessary to a functioning organization of any sort, and it is refreshing to see this plainly laid out.

My experience building a solidarity network substantially differed from what was described by the SeaSol organizers in this pamphlet. There were difficulties we did not anticipate, and while we did not expect to adapt the model whole cloth to our area and be immediately successful, there were recurrent issues that hampered our ability to build fights from the network that the pamphlet does not address. I suspect that our experiences with this solidarity network model are not wholly unique and I hope that others will write more about their experiences with these types of projects so that we may refine our strategies and tactics. In Iowa City, we experienced tensions within the solidarity network model and these experiences are probably similar to others who have not had the successes with this model that Seattle has.

“People wanting to know how SeaSol got started often ask whether we had funding, whether we had an office, or whether we had extensive legal knowledge. We had none of these things, and we didn’t need them.”

It is a strength of the model that a solidarity network can begin with few existing resources. One thing the pamphlet stresses is that a key strategy to success is identifying what you can win, which is perhaps harder than it sounds and often requires a kind of resource. Specifically, it requires at least some legal knowledge of tenants’ and workers’ rights. In Iowa City, not having much familiarity with the specifics of our state and local law, particularly housing, quickly became a problem. We realized early that we needed to know if what people were contacting the solidarity network about could be built into a fight, and the law was a factor in this. Through online research we found relevant housing code and labor law to our area. We then produced a booklet that went into an on-call book of sorts, with a notepad for people’s information, and a list of area aid agencies.

The vast majority of our calls were housing related—around 90-95 percent of them. It became apparent that the tenants contacting us were usually not experiencing illegal actions on the part of their landlords, such as refusal to renew leases, hiking rents with lease renewals, giving bad referrals or threatening to call the police for minor infractions. In our area these are legal actions, even as they are terribly exploitative and oppressive for these tenants. As the SeaSol model is based on being winnable, this meant not taking on these cases. The emphasis on taking on “winnable fights” in effect translated to fighting against illegal actions and it was rare that this was blatantly the case.

“…the activists who started the project did not have to see ourselves as something separate from the group we wanted to organize. We were part of that group.”

The solidarity network model seeks to embody the principle of “solidarity not charity.” The fact that we work together as fellow tenants and workers to put pressure on those bosses and landlords screwing us over, instead of mediating through official channels, is a powerful thing. In practice, I found this is somewhat misleading about the realities of this work. Contrary to the principle underlying the model, we often fell into a distinctively service-led approach. None of the organizers’ workplaces or housing situations were built into fights, and so instead of fighting where we live and work, we ended up trying to assist others to fight where they live and work. We encouraged those who contacted us to become involved in the network, but this was never sustained beyond a meeting or two. One lesson here may be that when an individual meets with a network devoted to resolving their grievance—even if this network has a combative class-struggle approach—he or she is not unfairly expecting specialists of some kind. If the network explains that it does not specialize in this particular grievance, that does not change what the individual is expecting from that network.

This service role was exactly what most people who contacted us expected from us. It was notable that when we told contacts we want to follow their lead and described the demand delivery and escalating tactics approach, there was a sudden drop-off in interest. Although the authors of the SeaSol pamphlet say “people who have taken the initiative to contact us are more likely to be people who are prepared to play an active role in a campaign,” our experience was almost anything but this.

There were a handful of people we met with who had very clear, winnable-sounding fights. In these instances, the individual either handled it themselves or went through another channel to resolve their grievance. There were also those who contacted us and we waited too long to respond. Sometimes, we followed up with them immediately and never heard back. Given the immediacy of their need and seriousness of the living situation, it was understandable that we were not always equipped to help, even in a charitable, service-led capacity.

It should be pointed out that we were aware of these problems at the time. We worked on improving our response time. We did some of the things suggested in the guide, such as changing the wording on our flyers and flyering more consistently. Since we seemed to get many people in tough situations but which we couldn’t help, we changed them from saying “Problems with your landlord?” to “Stolen deposits or unmade repairs?” This did not have an appreciable difference in the type or volume of calls we would receive.

Being that so many of the contacts were renting units in apartment complexes, something we discussed was the need to build collective action with committees of tenants from the apartments—much like described in the “Inside Organizing” section at the end of the guide. Unfortunately, we never connected with a single tenant willing or able to build such a committee, let alone a group of them. This is not to say those tenants are not out there, but they did not contact us.

Our area is like many places in the United States, there are no tenants’ unions or associations. There is a Housing Authority directly complicit with the police and the major property management companies, and a handful of neighborhood associations devoted to immediate need programming and state social workers. As a result, there is little to no recourse for the injustices dealt to tenants. I have to wonder if such a lack of social services and mediation, as disempowering and meager as they are, differs from other places and led us to be expected as another service.

Additionally, our immediate region is undergoing big changes in its racial composition. As gentrifying efforts have stepped up in major metro areas, recent years have seen an increase in Black and Latino residents in Iowa City (67 percent and 97 percent increases respectively between 2000-2010). There is a more complicated picture behind these demographic shifts and their causes and effects than I can do justice to in this brief review. Still, it is clear that for many new residents to the area that the structural racism of local power is felt from the police, schools, city services, and, of course, in housing.

I illustrate this local context because nearly all of the few contacts we met with were Black women. Conversely, our solidarity network was made up of a majority male, entirely white grouping. This is not intended to lament our group’s dynamics or to advocate retreating into inaction based on white guilt, but it would be dishonest to omit such marked differences of race and gender between solidarity network members and our contacts. This fact comes to mind when the authors suggest door-knocking and more heavily flyering apartment complexes with known problem landlords. At times we did flyer specific areas, but taking that recommendation to its fullest extent in my opinion would have amounted to some of the worst kind of white radical paternalism. While efforts were made to include the women we met with in our organizing, these could have been stronger. However, an individual or two does not represent a community, and the divide of white radical activists and a majority people of color service community remain as a fact of this organizing experience.

The Iowa City Solidarity Network operated for a little more than a year. In that time, we learned about our area and the reality of engaging local struggles to a depth unappreciated before. Occupy Iowa City emerged in late 2011 and our efforts shifted to that project. Given the frustrating and lackluster experience of the solidarity network, it was something we decided to close in December of that year.

Reflecting on this model, I think there are aspects indicating more individualized service work than is appreciated, as the single individual with a legally legitimate grievance calls in for support and the solidarity network organizers act as specialists in struggle. There is more at work here than the SeaSol model, though. There are bigger issues with the project which span the anti-capitalist left: organizers lacking real connections to working-class communities—not forced or imaginary ones—the lack of a recent shared history of collectively fighting back, and the lack of a material support system for those willing to take risks in their jobs or living situations, to name a few.

The SeaSol model may be useful in other places. IWW people considering a solidarity network may want to find out what services already exist for tenants and workers in their area to determine if they are prepared to handle people in crisis mode looking to them for service and if they are equipped to mobilize a number of people for a public showing of solidarity. Additional questions or criteria are probably needed for an IWW branch to consider it, such as if fights will come from their own membership or outside and if the latter how to handle people new to the IWW coming in for their workplace or housing grievance.

At this stage of class struggle, different approaches in different places are worth trying and a solidarity network might be a useful one indeed.

Comments

Class War U
Sep 7 2013 03:20

Thanks for this very insightful, honest reflection. From discussions I've had about starting up a solidarity network (in a large city north of yours), the challenges you faced resonate with many of the concerns we anticipated. I think that part of why we never got it off the ground was that we got caught up in arguments over the best way for designing our approach while imagining hypothetical problematic situations. You're totally right that the SeaSol model cannot be merely applied to another city, and it's thanks to reflections like yours here that folks in the future will have a little more material for thinking concretely about possible challenges they'll face in their own place-and-body specific contexts.

I've recently moved to a new city (in the South), and I'm hoping to start up an IWW branch and maybe also a solidarity network. If that happens, I'll get back to you with some more questions. One quick question now: why did y'all limit your definition of 'winnable campaigns' to those with clear violations of the law? I wonder if taking on actions over legal demands (e.g., unfairly high rent) might have been a means to build a bigger community of solidarity with tenants in a particular place, because it would require forming pressure groups rather than going through more individualized 'service' types of channels. What am I missing here... i.e., what factors shaped your view of 'winnable campaigns'?

Juan Conatz
Sep 9 2013 02:54

So, I was asked for feedback before this was published, but I completely forgot to type up what I had written (I write by hand and then type it up.

On the part of choosing fights that were more blatantly illegal, I think this is more of a choice of the Iowa City Solidarity Network rather than anything inherent in the model. In a solnet, you're not filing charges through some agency, you're trying to inflict some amount of economic disruption, damage or the threat of those. I say it seems more like a choice because you could have easily framed something as morally wrong or sketchy without saying it was illegal. You can also pick and choose what to highlight out of the situation.

From our discussions outside of this article, it was never clear to me that there wasn't any cases that weren't blatantly illegal, but still winnable, nor the criteria that the group was using to determine what was 'winnable'.

It seems to me, that winnability is necessarily tied to experience. Like for instance, I doubt SeaSol look at what's winnable the same in September 2013 as they did when they first started. So this definition is going to change based on what you've won or lost as time has gone on. If the score is still 0-0, then to me, it says that the criteria was wrong and needed to be changed. You could have looked at it as whether a landlord would look at the situation like Protesters/Controversy/Harassment VS Caving In On Something They Are Within Their Rights To Do.

Also, I remember this being a sentiment when the project first started, but I left town early on, so I don't know, but was there perhaps a mistaken division between "real" working class neighborhoods and the student/university ghetto? I mean, I noticed that there is a class action lawsuit right now by something called the Iowa City Tenents Project against some of the bigger landlords that deal with housing that revolves around the university students and culture. So it does seem there were actually quite a few illegal things being committed by landlords. but either by conscious decision or never gaining in-roads to these people, they never got on your radar.

Regardless of all this, though, I agree with the danger of the service model that I think is actually inherent to the SolNet, and we've talked about that part for years. I don't think there's any way to fully avoid it, honestly. Just navigate it the best you know how.

klas batalo
Sep 11 2013 04:41

it's not inherent if you don't say solnets have to do solnet things. if they start doing "union" things than what's the diff? that they are somehow "unions" now, and not solnets? idk we're just talking about working class associations... shrugs... maybe i just don't care about the distinctions.

Juan Conatz
Sep 11 2013 05:03

SolNets as they exist, do certain things. We can talk about those things as they exist. If they do other things, we'd have to talk about them differently. But as of now, they do 'casework' in which a service model problem is always going to be present.

klas batalo
Sep 11 2013 05:26

fair enough, well my critique then would be they should go beyond that...just like in shop organizing has to go beyond informal workplace resistance groups at some point...

R. Spourgitis
Sep 11 2013 05:47
Quote:
On the part of choosing fights that were more blatantly illegal, I think this is more of a choice of the Iowa City Solidarity Network rather than anything inherent in the model. In a solnet, you're not filing charges through some agency, you're trying to inflict some amount of economic disruption, damage or the threat of those. I say it seems more like a choice because you could have easily framed something as morally wrong or sketchy without saying it was illegal. You can also pick and choose what to highlight out of the situation

Well, if we're defining the model by what largely Seasol people have written about it, but not just them, then I have to disagree. Sure, it doesn't have to be that, but the repeated descriptions of "clear, winnable cases... like stolen wages or deposits..." as the starting point to me says that the issue of illegal actions on the part of landlords and bosses is pretty strongly implicit in the model. And still, the vast majority of wins I see about are exactly these cases, so the statements that have been made by Juan here and others elsewhere that I've seen taking to task my description of the model and "winnability" as such are a little befuddling to me, since it's a pretty strong theme in both the writings about building them and describing them, and the wins and fights report-backs.

Perhaps what I didn't stress enough is that people weren't really looking to build a class power fight back, they were most often looking for emergency assistance or not getting kicked out. And we didn't remain static or rigid in our approach. Something that space and scope did not allow for is the anecdote when we actually sat down with and acted as a defacto mediator for a landlord and a tenant to assist the tenant in negotiating a rent renewal. It was very strange and I'm not even sure how well it worked out for the tenant in the end. I think the real point here is that there are serious limits to a solnet approach, and when you're relying on legal, or even moral, suasion it places limits to what you can do. It wasn't that we didn't work with the contacts to find ways to take action on sketchy actions by landlords, it was that the contacts were never in a place that they felt able or willing to take those actions.

Quote:
was there perhaps a mistaken division between "real" working class neighborhoods and the student/university ghetto

No, we flyered all over town. But our experiences in who contacted us came from predominately Black neighborhoods. This actually lines up pretty consistently with stuff I've heard and seen from elsewhere, like this piece from some Unity & Struggle members in Houston area.

On the example of the tenants class action lawsuit (we became aware of this group after the closing of the solnet, this is their website), to me is the typical example of the lawyer-driven, small claims service model. If it had been around at the time, to my knowledge it wasn't, then it certainly would have went in the book of referrals. But as it's about legalistic, individualized service mentality, it's not exactly a project one plugs into.

I didn't say there aren't landlords doing illegal, shady, and other shit worth challenging in our area. Clearly there are, as there are everywhere. As to whether or not the solnet is the best way to handle it, that's hard to say. It could be given another go, I'm certainly not saying it's worthless and no one should do it. I am saying that it carries sets of complications that have been rarely written about in a public forum, so that was the goal of the piece.

R. Spourgitis
Sep 11 2013 14:14

Sorry it was late when I typed the above, to clarify some...

And Class War U's question:

Quote:
One quick question now: why did y'all limit your definition of 'winnable campaigns' to those with clear violations of the law? I wonder if taking on actions over legal demands (e.g., unfairly high rent) might have been a means to build a bigger community of solidarity with tenants in a particular place, because it would require forming pressure groups rather than going through more individualized 'service' types of channels. What am I missing here... i.e., what factors shaped your view of 'winnable campaigns'?

This actually really gets at the heart of the issue around illegal landlord/boss actions and the solnet model. I think that a legal demand, such as unfairly high rent, needs to come from a group of tenants. Since the solnet solicits individuals to contact them about their grievance/issue, there's a big gulf of capability between building and taking collective action within an apartment complex and an individual tenant acting on their grievance. So we see the cases of clear violations of the law as quick and easy wins for the solnet, and it makes sense too that then the solnet has its most frequent cases come mainly from workers or tenants recently separated from their job/housing, therefore having little to lose from taking confrontational stances. The potential for solnet fight changes pretty drastically when the worker or tenant are still in their situation.

Another way I've heard it been put is that the solnet is like panning for gold, gold being the militant worker/tenant recently separated willing and able to take direct action around their legitimate grievance (defining that w/regards to the law or not). While panning you're bound to get a ton more calls and contacts from people in just shitty situations, or in dire need, but you can't help. That reality was something that was surprising as the months wore on and these were almost the sole types of calls we would get. It also throws into contrast the need for a bigger fight against housing-related exploitation and the actual capabilities of the solnet.

Juan Conatz:

Quote:
From our discussions outside of this article, it was never clear to me that there wasn't any cases that weren't blatantly illegal, but still winnable, nor the criteria that the group was using to determine what was 'winnable'.

Not quite sure what cases you have in mind here, but the law was quite often a factor in our (and the tenants') considerations, and I'd stand by the assertion that it's bound up with the solnet model.

All the theoretical possibilities of what one could do with a solnet aside, as you say Juan, as they exist they do certain things, that is individual casework, and that work is centered on a wrong that needs righted, primarily stolen wages or deposits, less often unpaid overtime or unmade repairs. If we're talking about solnets being capable of doing more/different cases, then I'm not saying it couldn't but let's acknowledge that in all honesty this is in fact a departure from what it has been built and billed as.

As far as the sentiment about focusing on one area of town that you perceived, to be honest I think that you're overstating this -- we never set up intentional criteria that only focused on certain demographics. I'm not sure we received a single call from the university student area, and thinking about this more I guess that over time we did flyer more frequently parts of town that we received calls from (much like the guide I'm reviewing recommends). That some of the students went through area law firms on small claims which resulted in a class action isn't all that surprising (which is what the so-called tenants project is actually about). That also doesn't mean they aren't "real" working class or whatever, it does mean that they tend to have access to different sets of resources and view their housing situations differently. If we had even a few contacts from the student area, I actually don't think that would change anything I said about our experiences and the model itself.

hschultze
Sep 11 2013 14:34

I agree with both Juan and R. in noticing that "winnable" is in part defined by experience and power of the org (obviously a new org has less power), but also that the model has strong implicit guides that push toward winnable defined in legalistic terms. It's a hell of a lot easier to win back stolen wages if bossman has no legal protection because he has broken the law than if we abstract a single case into a broader issue of class struggle. It goes without saying that the law is in favor of bosses/landlord, so using that can only be tactical in a slow growing org that does case work. R. is right in that SeaSol has written and spoken explicitly about this with the logic being that win a few fights and then you can maybe start to think about fights in moral or whatever terms and start redefining winnable outside capitalist legal frameworks, be they wage labor or rent contracts.

It hadn't occurred to me until you guys' convo, but I think it might be also useful to think about the relationship between "winnable" and who is commonly contacting solnets. R. is right, in IC we overwhelmingly were contacted by african-american women who needed help immediately, often days prior to. This kind of "emergency help" would be especially difficult if you don't have a large group that can mobilize very quickly, leaving you back on the grounds where working back within that legal framework becomes about your only option. Additionally, I think it is important to remember that if landlords or bosses haven't done anything illegal, then solnet starts gambling with them getting kicked out of their apt or losing their job much more than they already do, which, again, pushes back toward organizing more carefully around "winnable fights" defined by the law, for better or worse.. They are hard questions, for sure, and I think part of what R. was getting at was in IC our capacity was pretty low, which perhaps crystallizes some of the model's problems, or perhaps we just did it all wrong. My guess would be a little of both.

Juan Conatz
Sep 12 2013 03:33

On 'winnability' and how SeaSol describe it, I can't speak on that because I haven't read the pamphlet, nor paid as close attention to them or other solidarity networks as I used to. If they do tie it to blatant illegality, either directly or implicitly, that's probably a mistake, and they're limiting the spread of their model if that's what they are saying.

R. Spourgitis wrote:
On the example of the tenants class action lawsuit (we became aware of this group after the closing of the solnet, this is their website), to me is the typical example of the lawyer-driven, small claims service model. If it had been around at the time, to my knowledge it wasn't, then it certainly would have went in the book of referrals. But as it's about legalistic, individualized service mentality, it's not exactly a project one plugs into.

I mentioned that, not because it was something to potentially be involved with, but that it indicated a certain level of landlords acting illegally. So, the idea behind creating a solidarity network and committing to it for the time you guys did was a sound one, and this development confirms that. I guess I wasn't sure if maybe the sentiment was that the things solnets are supposed to be good for weren't happening in IC.

Quote:
This actually really gets at the heart of the issue around illegal landlord/boss actions and the solnet model. I think that a legal demand, such as unfairly high rent, needs to come from a group of tenants. Since the solnet solicits individuals to contact them about their grievance/issue, there's a big gulf of capability between building and taking collective action within an apartment complex and an individual tenant acting on their grievance. So we see the cases of clear violations of the law as quick and easy wins for the solnet, and it makes sense too that then the solnet has its most frequent cases come mainly from workers or tenants recently separated from their job/housing, therefore having little to lose from taking confrontational stances. The potential for solnet fight changes pretty drastically when the worker or tenant are still in their situation.

I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think actually SeaSol, or any solnet that gets big, will stall over these questions of individual grievance VS collective inside action.

Quote:
Not quite sure what cases you have in mind here, but the law was quite often a factor in our (and the tenants') considerations, and I'd stand by the assertion that it's bound up with the solnet model.

This was a long time ago, but I thought somewhat early on there were some cases where someone was going to be kicked out because their sister (who had been banned from the property) visited the tenant. While not a legal issue, a moral fight could have been waged on this, based on the framing of it. Maybe I'm wrong that there were sort of gray-area calls like this.

Quote:
As far as the sentiment about focusing on one area of town that you perceived, to be honest I think that you're overstating this -- we never set up intentional criteria that only focused on certain demographics.

I specifically remember concentrating on flyering areas outside of the student/university bubble, such as mass apartment complexes and section 9 housing areas. Now, whether this changed after I left town, I don't know. But it for sure was a thing that was a sentiment at the beginning and I was for it at the time.

Quote:
That some of the students went through area law firms on small claims which resulted in a class action isn't all that surprising (which is what the so-called tenants project is actually about). That also doesn't mean they aren't "real" working class or whatever, it does mean that they tend to have access to different sets of resources and view their housing situations differently. If we had even a few contacts from the student area, I actually don't think that would change anything I said about our experiences and the model itself.

Yeah, you might be right about that.

blarg
Sep 13 2013 22:13

On the legality issue, a quick look through SeaSol's 'History' page shows about 10 fights (actually between 9 and 12, depending on one's interpretation of the law and the situation) in which the employer or landlord was not obviously breaking any laws.

On the service issue, it seems clear that the solnet in Iowa did indeed take on a service role. I don't think that's an inevitable result of the model, but rather a result of some people doing it wrong. In fact the service trap is an inherent danger in just about all forms of mass organizing, including of course union organizing, but it can be avoided, as proved by the fact that it has been avoided in some unions and some solnets. It isn't easy, but you won't find a perfect model that enables you to avoid the difficulties of organizing...aside from the giving-up model. The Industrial Worker's headline for the Iowa solnet article was very apt: "Building a Solidarity Network is Harder than it Seems". Those expecting it to be easy are in for a rude awakening. However, in my experience organizing a lasting workplace or tenants union is quite a bit harder, hence the idea of solnets as a starting point to build a base for further anarchosyndicalist organizing in areas where we're weak. If Iowa folks have since found a starting project that works better for this purpose and avoids the difficulties of a solnet, that's awesome and I'd love to learn more about it.

888
Sep 14 2013 04:30
Class War U wrote:
One quick question now: why did y'all limit your definition of 'winnable campaigns' to those with clear violations of the law? I wonder if taking on actions over legal demands (e.g., unfairly high rent) might have been a means to build a bigger community of solidarity with tenants in a particular place, because it would require forming pressure groups rather than going through more individualized 'service' types of channels. What am I missing here... i.e., what factors shaped your view of 'winnable campaigns'?

Who are you asking? SeaSol does not limit its campaigns to legal violations. One of our current campaigns involves a large portion of the tenants at an apartment complex fighting against mold, which isn't cover (at least not sufficiently) by a law.

R. Spourgitis
Sep 14 2013 06:57
blarg wrote:
On the legality issue, a quick look through SeaSol's 'History' page shows about 10 fights (actually between 9 and 12, depending on one's interpretation of the law and the situation) in which the employer or landlord was not obviously breaking any laws.

That's about 10 of how many fights, and over how many years? And speaking of looking at what Seasol thinks of as winnable in 2013, a glance at the site shows that all of the last year's worth of fights are about clear violations of the law, so this assertion that there's little to no connection between legality and the basis for solnet fight is coming off as pretty disingenuous actually.

At this point the criticism over what I thought as a fairly obvious point about the solidarity network model is coming off as quite bizarre.

It's like if someone says "hey! I have this great tool, it can open all types of cans. Let me tell you about how it can open these cans and how you can too... it's going to be used for other purposes, but man it opens cans great!"

Then someone says, "yeah, this probably is a great tool, I found that I didn't need a can opener as it turned out. didn't work out all that great for me..."

And then the response was "what? why were you just trying to open cans with it? this is a mothafuckin' swiss army knife -- it does all kinds of stuff ...check out how we've opened all kinds of cans!"

For the reasons why I think this is in fact an integral component to the solidarity network I'll direct blarg and 888 to the comments above.

blarg wrote:
On the service issue, it seems clear that the solnet in Iowa did indeed take on a service role. I don't think that's an inevitable result of the model, but rather a result of some people doing it wrong. In fact the service trap is an inherent danger in just about all forms of mass organizing, including of course union organizing, but it can be avoided, as proved by the fact that it has been avoided in some unions and some solnets. It isn't easy, but you won't find a perfect model that enables you to avoid the difficulties of organizing...aside from the giving-up model. The Industrial Worker's headline for the Iowa solnet article was very apt: "Building a Solidarity Network is Harder than it Seems". Those expecting it to be easy are in for a rude awakening. However, in my experience organizing a lasting workplace or tenants union is quite a bit harder, hence the idea of solnets as a starting point to build a base for further anarchosyndicalist organizing in areas where we're weak. If Iowa folks have since found a starting project that works better for this purpose and avoids the difficulties of a solnet, that's awesome and I'd love to learn more about it.

Well, I see that you don't find much value in my article, and that's fine. I am however more interested in hearing from folks who would like to speak to their respective difficulties and successes with the solnet approach and how it relates to the actual experiences I wrote about. I know that we're not the only ones to have these issues, unfortunately it's rarely been discussed in a public forum, and this article was written with the hopes to initiate more of that with a critical reflection of real experiences with it.

If we're content to simply say, "everything is hard! why are you critiquing this for being hard?" I think that's a pretty sad way to view reflection on political work. I would be interested in hearing more about the real challenges of Seasol, internal disagreements and the like -- somehow these have never seemed to be discussed publicly. While you reject the notion of the service model as an issue for the solnet, you don't actually engage at all with the reasons behind why I'm stating it has those elements.

If we're just going to say, "yeah, this can be true of anything.." and "yeah, you've got a better solution?" and simply shrug off any attempt to come to grips with the hows and whys of an organizing model, that's just insufficient. If the organizing model in question has real merit and value, it can be honestly examined and looked at for what it is and isn't.

klas batalo
Sep 14 2013 18:40

i just want to state that my indifference to this conversation so far has been over the legality/illegality thing, when i read this i found other things more interesting to touch on, and when i finally get some break from working too much i will chime in here R.

fingers malone
Sep 18 2013 12:36

I thought this was an interesting and useful piece, and brought up many problems that are big issues in all sorts of class struggle organising.

some points based on my own experience:

Often people are facing some major crisis (eviction, dismissal, terrible conditions) but there isn't any existing collective, like a tenants group or similar, and there isn't much communal life, people don't know their neighbours and so on, so setting one up would involve loads of groundwork, possibly without much success. If someone has an eviction order in two weeks this is a serious problem.

We are losing legal protections and benefits faster than we can count them (for example, in this country they just passed a law that you have to pay more than 1000 pounds to take your employer to an industrial tribunal) so collective action of some kind often really is your best option but we don't have either very well organised activist circles nor community strength on the ground to be able to carry it out.

People in the middle of a crisis are often not able to put the energy in to organise a collective response but there is also an underlying problem of lack of belief in direct action and lack of connection between people which makes the whole thing very difficult.

Some actions have been very successful which didn't rely on organising tenants in a building but on mobilising support from outside, but that relies on having a big activist crowd otherwise it's very difficult to sustain, and also tends to only work for certain limited types of problems (wage theft, deposit theft etc) and not others where you really need organisation "on the inside".

Many types of organising depend very heavily, in my experience, on having some militants who are a long term part of that workplace or community, but this means a huge pressure on those militants as they are often few and with heavy demands made on them. And this kind of organising can mean putting in massive amounts of energy for disappointing returns, for years.

I think talking about how things don't work out is actually a very useful thing to do, and we should do it more often.

888
Sep 21 2013 21:09

Sorry, I haven't been on libcom or reading much political discussion in the last couple of months...

Juan Conatz wrote:
I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think actually SeaSol, or any solnet that gets big, will stall over these questions of individual grievance VS collective inside action.

This is true mainly in situations where an individual fight has already started, but then more tenants/workers want to get involved. Increasing the amount of demands while only partially increasing the amount of leverage we have leads to a contradiction where the short term winnability of a limited demand is reduced, but there might be longer term and more valuable organizing potential there... or there might not be. However SeaSol has done fairly well recently in attempting to talk to as many tenants as possible in apartment complexes before starting a fight over an individual grievance.