What is anarcho-syndicalism?

Spain: Members of the anarcho-syndcialist CNT demonstrate

A basic introductory leaflet produced by the Solidarity Federation, also available as a pdf.

Anarchism is a revolutionary political tradition that declares "freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice and socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality."

Syndicalism is the workers’ movement. Deriving from the French word for trade unionism (syndicalisme), it seeks to unite workers to fight for their interests at work.

Anarcho-syndicalism is anarchism applied to the workers’ movement. From small educational groups to mass revolutionary unions, libertarian organisation grows and is controlled from the bottom up.

Anarcho-syndicalists seek to organise with other militant workers who agree with their revolutionary aims and principles. Initially, this takes the form of local groups and industrial networks, but as these grow in size and influence they can begin to take on union functions such as advising fellow workers and initiating direct action like work-to-rules, strikes and occupations.

The role of anarcho-syndicalist networks and unions is not to try and recruit every worker, but to advocate and organise mass meetings of all workers involved in each struggle so that the workers involved retain control. Within these mass meetings anarcho-syndicalists argue for the principles of solidarity, direct action and self-organisation.

In this way anarcho-syndicalism is completely different to trade unionism, which seeks to represent our economic interests, and the so-called ‘workers parties’ which seek to represent our political interests. Instead, anarcho-syndicalism unites the political and the economic and opposes representation in favour of self-organisation.

By organising this way, we learn to act for ourselves, exercising our power without being led by union officials or political vanguards. This calls into question the way society is organised and prefiguring the world we want to create, without bosses or rulers: libertarian communism.

Anarcho-syndicalist aims and principles
Anarcho-syndicalists aim to promote solidarity in our workplaces and outside them, encouraging workers to organise independently of government, bosses and bureaucrats to fight for our own interests as a class. Our ultimate goal is a stateless, classless society based on the principle of 'from each according to ability, to each according to need' – a system of free councils made up of recallable delegates from workplaces and communities. This is libertarian communism.

We see such a society based on our needs being created out of working class struggles to assert our needs in the here and now. Our activity is therefore aimed at promoting, assisting and developing such class struggles locally and internationally, which both benefits us now and brings us closer to the society we want to create. We do this according to the following three principles:

  • Solidarity. As individuals we are relatively powerless in the face of bosses, bureaucrats and the state, but when we act collectively the tables are turned.
  • Direct action. We do not make appeals to politicians or representatives to act on our behalf, but organise to get the things we want for ourselves.
  • Self-organisation. We should control their own struggles through mass meetings, learning how to act without bosses or leaders and making sure we can't be sold out or demobilised from above.

What do anarcho-syndicalists do?
Anarcho-syndicalists are engaged in a wide range of workplace and community struggles, some very immediate and others more long term. These include:

  • Workplace organising – on issues from pay to working hours to working practices and conditions.
  • Community organising – from public services to housing to the environment.
  • Strike and occupation solidarity – staffing picket lines, raising funds and bringing in supplies.
  • Worker support – organising demonstrations, pickets and direct action in support of individual victimised workers.
  • Networking with other militant workers – for example through the National Shop Stewards Network and the Education Workers’ Network.
  • Organising public meetings – on the economy, war, climate change and other issues that affect the working class.
  • Producing and distributing propaganda – from regular free-sheets and magazines to one-off leaflets, spreading the ideas of solidarity, direct action and self-organisation.

This leaflet was produced by the Solidarity Federation, the British section of the International Workers' Association (IWA).

Posted By

Joseph Kay
Aug 18 2009 14:39

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AES
Nov 3 2012 14:11

.

Joseph Kay
Aug 19 2009 11:07

cheers AES! (although the front page thumbnail links to a broken link for the economics of freedom)

georgestapleton
Aug 19 2009 16:21

Is SolFed involved in the National Shop Stewards Network?

Joseph Kay
Aug 19 2009 16:27

yes, we committed to it organisationally a few conferences back, and have a member on the steering committee

georgestapleton
Aug 19 2009 16:31

Oh that's cool. I didn't think you'd be into that. I thought you might view it as a leftist front or object to it because it doesn't unite the economic and the political. Guess I was wrong. SolFed confuses me sometimes. I think the NSSN is a promising development. L&S is also commited to it organisationally.

Joseph Kay
Aug 19 2009 17:02

it's not ideal, but it does create opportunities for cross-union networking and solidarity. incidentally, while people can't participate in NSSN as political party members, our guy was allowed to speak as a SolFed member since we're not a political party. so while it's not anarcho-syndicalist, it's not non-political in the IWW sense either.

Felix Frost
Aug 19 2009 17:37

Actually, that would be non-political in the IWW sense.

Joseph Kay
Aug 19 2009 17:54

can people make explicitly anarchist (libertarian communist, anti-state) arguments from an IWW platform? (honest question). The 'no politics in this union' section of the 'One Big Union' pamphlet I have would seem to preclude that.

georgestapleton
Aug 20 2009 01:45
Quote:
while people can't participate in NSSN as political party members, our guy was allowed to speak as a SolFed member since we're not a political party. so while it's not anarcho-syndicalist, it's not non-political in the IWW sense either.

I don't really understand your distinction.

As for the IWW politics thing. I'm no expert on the IWW but as far as I know the anti-politics thing is on the one hand saying that the IWW will be independent of any 'political or anti-political' group, i.e. it will not align it self to a political party or to an anarchist group but thats in the constitution here:

Quote:
Political Alliances Prohibited
To the end of promoting industrial unity and of securing necessary discipline within the organisation, the IWW refuses all alliances, direct or indirect, with any political parties or anti-political sects, and disclaims responsibility for any individual opinion or act which may be at variance with the purposes herein expressed.

The thing in the OBU pamphlet is even less objectionable if you ask me. It says the IWW won't tell its members what electoral candidates to endorse:

Quote:
No Politics in This Union

It is sound unionism not to express a preference for one religion or one political party or candidate over another. These are not union questions, and must be settled by each union member according to personal conscience. The union is formed to reach and enforce decisions about industrial questions. Its power to do this can be destroyed by the diversion of its resources to political campaigns.

So that all the workers regardless of their religious or political preference may be united to get every possible benefit out of their job, the I.W.W. must be non-political and non religious. It lets its members attend to these matters as they personally see fit--and with the additional social consciousness, regard for their fellows, and general enlightenment that they derive from union activity.

This does not mean that the I.W.W. is indifferent to the great social and economic questions of the day. Quite the contrary. We believe the I.W.W. provides the practical solutions to these questions. When the industry of the world is run by the workers for their own good, we see no chance for the problems of unemployment, war, social conflict, or large scale crime, or any of our serious social problems to continue.

With the sort of organization the I.W.W. is building, labor can exert any pressure required to restrain the antics of politicians and even more constructively accomplish through direct action what we have often failed to do through political lobbying.

I've highlighted the bit in bold to show that is not anti-political insofar as we are concerned i.e. it is not "indifferent to the great social and economic questions of the day".

As for whether or not people can make explicitly libertarian arguments from an IWW platfom. i'm not sure what you mean by platform. The IWW isn't an anarchist union so if you held a position in the IWW could you use that to ignore the wishes of you fellow workers and use it to talk about anarchism? No, I don't think you could.

However, the IWW is an explicitly communist union as its commited to the abolitoin of wage labour, which for me is what defines communism. The preamble says: "Instead of the conservative motto, ''A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, ''Abolition of the wage system.""

So there's that. And the IWW is organised on libertarian lines. And the IWW is commited to the task of working class self organisation and is uninterested in trying to take control of the state, parliamentary politics or anything like that.

--------------------

All that said. I'm no IWW cheerleader. I think its far from perfect but in the UK where it has 600 members and some pretty active local branches in a number of places I think it has a lot of potential. Maybe it'll come to something maybe it won't.

I don't really understand how it has less potential or less scope for SF involvement than NSSN does. So considering SF's objections to the IWW, I am a bit confused by its decision to be involved in the NSSN.

(Just to be clear here. i'm not trying to score points. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised to read that SolFed is involved in the NSSN. I've loads of time for SolFed. I don't understand why you aren't involved in the IWW if you are involved in the NSSN but whatever. There's no reason that you need explain it to me.)

OliverTwister
Aug 20 2009 02:21

Fuck if SolFed members were involved in the IWW that would be great; maybe more for the IWW than for SolFed.

Joseph Kay
Aug 20 2009 10:06
georgestapleton wrote:
I don't really understand your distinction. As for whether or not people can make explicitly libertarian arguments from an IWW platfom. i'm not sure what you mean by platform. The IWW isn't an anarchist union so if you held a position in the IWW could you use that to ignore the wishes of you fellow workers and use it to talk about anarchism? No, I don't think you could.

no-one said anything about ignoring your fellow workers. as far as i'm aware, if socialist party members/sympathisers made up a majority of an IWW branch, they couldn't use it to democratically make SP arguments due to the constitution. this would also apply to 'anti-political sects' i.e. anarchists. now my understanding, via a conversation in the pub with the guy concerned (not official minutes or anything) is the NSSN decided that he could speak at an NSSN event (i.e. an NSSN platform) as an anarcho-syndicalist and SolFed member. not the most important difference in the world perhaps, but that's the distinction. i may be subconsciously conflating the IWW's industrial unionism with the revolutionary syndicalism of the Charter of Amiens, which made no political requirements on members and in turn required them not to profess political opinions inside the union which they were free to profess outside, so i'm happy to be corrected.

georgestapleton wrote:
I've highlighted the bit in bold to show that is not anti-political insofar as we are concerned i.e. it is not "indifferent to the great social and economic questions of the day".

yes, but the same passage says these will be addressed by the taking over of industry, i.e. by purely economic action at the point of production, which would seem to preclude a range of tactics like rent and tax strikes etc, the latter of which is directly anti-state rather than simply pro-industrial democracy.

georgestapleton wrote:
However, the IWW is an explicitly communist union as its commited to the abolitoin of wage labour, which for me is what defines communism. The preamble says: "Instead of the conservative motto, ''A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, ''Abolition of the wage system.""

So there's that. And the IWW is organised on libertarian lines. And the IWW is commited to the task of working class self organisation and is uninterested in trying to take control of the state, parliamentary politics or anything like that.

well this is one thing that confuses me about the IWW. on the one hand it's a union for all workers seeking to be a legally recognised representative of labour and function like an ordinary trade union, only organised industrially and with internal democracy. on the other hand, it has a revolutionary aim, which will prevent it being a union for all workers or anything close since only a small minority of workers hold revolutionary views.

georgestapleton wrote:
All that said. I'm no IWW cheerleader. I think its far from perfect but in the UK where it has 600 members and some pretty active local branches in a number of places I think it has a lot of potential. Maybe it'll come to something maybe it won't.

I don't really understand how it has less potential or less scope for SF involvement than NSSN does. So considering SF's objections to the IWW, I am a bit confused by its decision to be involved in the NSSN.

(Just to be clear here. i'm not trying to score points. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised to read that SolFed is involved in the NSSN. I've loads of time for SolFed. I don't understand why you aren't involved in the IWW if you are involved in the NSSN but whatever. There's no reason that you need explain it to me.)

just to be clear, i'm an individual SF member talking in a personal capacity here. i don't think SF has collectively agreed objections to the IWW, although i think this was discussed at a conference before i joined so we may do.

my understanding is as follows. the NSSN is a network of non-full timer union activists aiming to build practical solidarity sufficient to flout the laws on secondary action and the like. as the isolation of struggles is the primary cause of defeat, this seems like something worth doing, since many SolFed members are eligible to participate. the danger of this becoming a rank-and-filist initiative under trot influence is attenuated by the fact the NSSN is explicitly not to interfere in internal union business (i assume this was originally bob crow covering his ass, but it frustrates the trots all the same).

as i understand it the IWW is an (industrially organised), registered trade union. solfed members generally join unions if they are recognised in their workplaces, and argue for an anarcho-syndicalist stratgey of opening up mass meetings to all workers to control their struggles, whilst arguing for militant direct action. as far as i'm aware, the IWW is not recognised in any SolFed member's workplace, so we haven't joined.

now i know the AF members who have joined are actually in disagreement with the IWW constitution (rejecting as they do the idea that legally recognised unions representing workers can be revolutionary), but recognise that in practice the IWW is less a union and more a network of lefty workers, so they use it for industrial networking. i don't know how that's working out for them, but if SolFed members were to join on this basis we'd quickly run into problems through our different understandings of a union and its mode of struggle.

afaik the IWW seeks to organise a shop into an IWW job branch, then its members take action (with a degree of legal protection from being a registered trade union). SolFed sees a union as being made up of workers committed to the aims and principles of anarcho-syndicalism, who struggle by calling mass meetings and arguing for miltiant direct action, encouraging self-organisation rather than taking on a legally recognised role of 'representing' the workers, with all the limits that imposes (restrictions on secondary action, notice of industrial action, disowning of wildcats etc). radical trade unionism and anarcho-syndicalism aren't the same thing.

OliverTwister wrote:
Fuck if SolFed members were involved in the IWW that would be great; maybe more for the IWW than for SolFed.

as i say, i'm not sure how doing so would further an anarcho-syndicalist strategy.

Joseph Kay
Aug 17 2010 16:06

BUMP.

Updated the text & pdf with the recently adopted national version.

Alpinista
Nov 18 2012 20:32

That was a very insightful introduction, thank you. I'll be sure to check out the Solidarity Federation and the International Workers' Association (IWA).