Criticism of the North Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists' workplace position paper which they adopted in 2005.
"As anarchist-communists, we want a radical reorganization of the workplace. We want workplaces that are run by directly democratic federated workers' and community-based councils. We want the highest decision-making body to be general assemblies of workers held on the shop floor and in the communities where they live. We want to abolish the wage system, end the alienation and division of labor, and usher in a new society of libertarian communism."
Do we want a radical re-organization of the workplace? What does that mean? Well, it clearly does not mean abolition of the workplace, otherwise that would be stated. But isn't wanting to abolish the workplace utopian nonsense? Not to communists, it isn't. In fact, "radical re-organization" and "abolition" of the workplace are completely opposed views, utterly incompatible.
First, the workplace, i.e. a separate space for production, itself conceived as an activity separated from other human activity, cut off from the space of reproduction, from family, from distribution, from exchange, is a very recent phenomenon. This separation of the space of work from all other spaces was part of the separation of peasants and craftsmen from their means of producing. The creation of the 'workplace' meant forcing productive activity out of the home ("cottage" and farm) into spaces where workers were on the property and under the direct watch of the capitalist. The formation of the workplace was one part of the transformation of craftsmen and peasants into property-less wage-laborers.
Secondly, this separation of production from reproduction, of wage-labor from unwaged labor, of workplace from home from community is the foundation of the specific form of oppression of women, as 'unproductive' laborers in the non-economic entity of the household. So the abolition of the household is essential to the abolition of the oppression of women in its capitalist form.
Thirdly, the experience of the revolutions from 1917 forward have indicated that the first activity of workers in a revolution is the rejection of work and the workplace. Gilles Dauve shows this most clearly in his "To Work or Not to Work" and the prior piece "When Insurrections Die", but it is also present in histories of the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Revolutions, the two most developed and furthest reaching revolutions of the 20th century. In Russia and in Spain, a "radical re-organization of the workplace" meant getting workers back to work, whether via Taylorism and "one man management" and threats of the militarization of labor by the Bolsheviks or through the call for the return to work and workplace discipline by the CNT and others in Spain. This was always done in the name of production now being done under "worker's self-management", the building of the workers' paradise.
So we have within the first sentence the foundation of every weakness of the article that will follow. But let us continue.
NEFAC wants to have workers in the workplaces and communities have control over 'their' means of production so that we can have a fragmentation like none we have ever seen before. This enshrines each little group controlling its piece of the pie, putting forward its own narrow self-interests. After all, the highest decision-making assemblies are local. And via 'direct democracy', no less.
What NEFAC fails to investigate is the social foundation of "workers' self-management" and 'direct democracy'. The foundation of self-management was the skilled industrial worker who could identify a production process and a product associated with their labor that they could manage, and this provided the foundation for conceptualizing communism as "workers' self-management", even as workers in practice rejected exactly this self-management. But what is the meaning of this demand when workers are not in a far more fragmented production process? When they do not bring a high level of skill to their tasks, when they are not even producing a whole product but a piece, a part, to be shipped all around the planet in a global production process? The workers in the old organization of production were merely assembled for the task by the capitalists and could imagine running the process themselves, could see a community of labor in which they were involved. As Dauve makes clear,
This was no longer the case of the industrial or service sector unskilled worker. One cannot envisage managing a labour process that has been fragmented inside the plant as between geographically separate production units. When a car or a toothbrush comprises components from two or three continents, no collective worker is able to regard it as his own. Totality is split. Work loses its unity. Workers are no longer unified by the content of tasks, nor by the globality of production. One can only wish to (self)manage what one masters.
In this context, 'direct democracy' is the control of the existing means and relations of production, of the labor end of the pole versus the capital end of the pole. Here is the key point, taken from Martin Glaberman: Consider these two units of time: 36 seconds, the rest of your life. The job that takes 36 seconds to do that you're going to do for the rest of your life. I don't know a better definition of alienation than that...
Self-management and direct democracy mean managing this, just by ourselves. The problem is that the revolution is nothing if it is not the immediate destruction of this, whether managed by us or not. Self-management and direct democracy tell me nothing about putting an end to this, they fail to even address it. They in fact reproduce it. Back to the factory, comrades, for the factories are yours now! You now do that same job every 36 seconds for the rest of your life but it is for you! You own and self-manage the nails and the cross upon which you will be crucified!
As is fitting in the end of this self-management and direct democracy vision, councils, as the means by which workers would engage in "self-management" have not reappeared in struggles in the most developed capitalist countries since the 1920's. Where they have appeared are places like Hungary and Albania, where the working class was structured much more closed to the skilled, industrial worker of Russia and Spain than the contemporary worker who knows her work as neither community nor as an activity to which they are particularly attached. This model of self-management is not only therefore out of place, it cannot even begin to speak to the current transformation of the organization of labor.
"To achieve this society, we engage in a struggle against the bosses; a struggle between the working and the employing classes; a revolutionary class struggle that will only end when the class system itself is destroyed and everyone controls and shares in the wealth that we as working people produce."
NEFAC just can't bring themselves to say capitalists even, much less capital, which is what the real struggle is against. Get rid of all the capitalists and leave capital as a social relation intact and eventually the capitalists will be back to. Communism is not a struggle against "the bosses." As I have just tried to make clear, a struggle against "the bosses" is a struggle over who controls the workplace, but communism is not the control of the workplace, has not historically in the actual activity of the workers, been the demand to control the workplace. Posing the problems of "working versus employing classes" does not question the workplace itself, does not question labor as a separation, as the alienated activity of the workplace. Instead, it practically proposes putting a sign out front: Under New Management! It does not attack capital at its heart, as an exchange relation , as dead labor controlling the activity of living labor, etc. That is why capital, while it needs minions large and small, is really the control of human activity by things: by the market, by money, by the machines we use or rather which use us, by the whip of debt, and not by a "boss." The Boss is no more than capital's stand-in, a cipher, an avatar, if you will. More than ever today, the real compulsion to work does not come from the boss, but from the need for money and commodities. The boss communicates the threat, gives capital its voice, exacts the punishment, but the boss is really just an errand boy for capital.
The goal is not the replacement of bosses' control by workers' control, but the abolition of the entire relationship, of workers and bosses, of labor and capital.
"We believe that the struggle toward libertarian communism must be brought about by the whole of the working class, and see the workplace and labor unions as an essential point of agitation and struggle. Labor unions represent the largest organized grouping of the working class. For this reason we feel that anarchist participation within the unions is essential. Anarchists must be involved in workplace struggles, both because we are both workers and because we are revolutionaries. As we fight the bosses with our fellow workers, we also fight the mediation of our struggle."
The first line is nonsense. What does it mean for communism to be brought about by the whole of the working class? Does NEFAC mean every wage-laborer? Are we waiting for Kluxers and nationalists and rapists and gay bashers to all get it, before we make the revolution? Well, I don't think NEFAC or anyone else is that stupid, even if this is the literal meaning of the sentence. Does NEFAC mean the wing of wage-laborers formed into the proletariat, the totality of workers actively seeking the abolition of capital and class society, organized as a force, leading the passive layers of the class and the general population against capital and its allies? Unlikely, as I am sure that has 'vanguardist' overtones that make anarchists nervous. Or does NEFAC mean waiting for a majority, greater or smaller, of the working class as the 'democratic' precedent for revolution? This latter seems most likely. So how do we determine when we have a majority and when is th time right? Rosa Luxemburg took that stand, as did her foloowers who formed the KPD, helping to direct the German working class to defeat in 1919, 1921 and 1923. This is of course, the "democratic" road of waiting for the majority or the whole working class to move against capital and it is not merely a fantasy, but a dangerous fantasy. It does, however, flow from the democratism of NEFAC's position.
To continue... NEFAC needs to organize in the unions, whatever that means, because that is where the most organized workers are. Organized to do what? Organized by whom? For whom? And then this is confused with being involved in workplace struggles, as if one needed to be involved in the union to be in workplace struggles. Lots of those involve being against the union and class struggle has even been known to happen outside of unionized workplaces. More importantly, in the most unionized workplace on the planet, there is still a difference between the workers and the union. The phrasing "we feel that anarchist participation within the unions is essential. Anarchists must be involved in workplace struggles" is not accidental, as it blurs the difference. Also, it is completely insufficient to say that merely because the unions are the organization with the most workers because instead of asking what makes them "workers' organizations", of what type, with what purpose, is completely and entirely buried. This seemingly merely empirical, quantitative posing of why we should have a political activity towards the unions, as union activists, hides fact that the unions organize workers solely within the confines of the capital-labor relation. If that is not part of our starting point, then we start from a false premise.
When NEFAC says we must fight against the mediation of our struggle, do they mean against the union? If not, what does this mean? Against the union bureaucracy? But if the union is separable from the union bureaucracy, why is it that the unions have always been bureaucratized?
"We anarchist-communists must organize within the ranks of labor unions, retaining our specific praxis. We become active in this struggle as both advocates of social revolution and as fellow workers in a collective battle against exploitation. We choose participation over authority and solidarity over isolation. It is through the process of collective struggle that people become radicalized and more open to anarchist ideas. To win the battle of ideas, we fight for direct action, mutual aid, and direct democracy in our unions and more importantly in the workers' movement as a whole--in short, revolutionary anarchist praxis."
How does 'direct democracy' improve on direct action? And what workers' movement?
In the absence of any such movement, this means treating the unions as the embodiment of "the workers' movement."
If by "direct democracy", NEFAC means direct control over our struggles, this is not an accurate formulation. Direct control over our struggles need not be democratic. For example, in preparing a certain kind of action against en employer in the workplace, it may be necessary for the majority of the workers to do one thing, while a minority in fact prepares another line of action without their knowledge. This was the case in the Flint sit-down strike, in the 1930's, where the actual plan for taking over the plant required a fake 'public plan'. The majority of the workers did not get a vote on this or agree to it, but were told to do one thing, while a carefully picked minority used the bit of misdirection to take over the main plant. Without this bit of undemocratic planning, the plant could not have been seized and the sit-down would have failed.
But democracy means more than that. It means the will of the majority against the minority, it also means protecting the rights of minorities, But in no case do we defend the rights of the minority of bourgeois, the minority of their direct lackeys, nor a minority nor a majority of racists or reformists in our own class. The issue with democracy is not merely, as it is presented, a question of formally making decisions by a majority vote. Democracy is not merely a 'way of making decisions', but a way of relating to each other, a form of social relation, grounded in a specific history and giving expression to other social relations. Democracy is directly connected to commodity relations, relations in which other organic ties between people are sundered and they confront each other merely as a mass of individuals, each with a vote, each with an opinion. There are no inherent social relations between such individuals except those that they choose, and so all social activity must represent the agreement of each individual in the form of a majority, which the minority is then obliged to respect. This is not accidentally parallel to how exchange relations function in the market, where individuals come to each other with no other social bond than their equal need to exchange goods, mediated in the market by money and in a democracy by the vote. The reference to direct democracy overlooks all of these aspects of the real, historical development of democracy in favor of an ideal of democracy as purely a form. But no form is absent a content, and democratic functioning reinscribes exactly those relations people wish to put an end to; democracy, direct or otherwise, cannot exist but it begins to talk about decisions by votes as preceding action, the necessity of a majority, the rights of majorities and minorities (without ever asking of rights always already involve unequal relations of power, presented through the formal equality of each citizen in the democracy.
One example of the poison of "workers' democracy" or "direct democracy" is actually the Spanish Revolution. The call for an anti-fascist front was exactly a call for all 'democratic' forces against 'fascist' forces. This call ended up putting the working class at the behest of the democratic bourgeoisie, of the democratic state, against the bad, fascist bourgeoisie. This went hand-in-hand with self-management and the democratic running of the workplace, rather than its abolition.
As such, there is no "good" democracy (direct or workers' or whatever) to pose against "bad" or really incomplete, bourgeois democracy. We do not want to realize the positive poles of bourgeois society (democracy, science, progress, civilization) and dispense with the negative poles (war, famine, exploitation) because they are two ends of the same relation. You cannot destroy one without destroying the other.
Practically, this means that at times we will certainly rely on majority decisions. At others we will rely on consensus. Still again the leadership of a struggle will impose itself as the most active, the most militant workers because otherwise, if we waited for "all the workers" in a workplace or in the class as a whole, we would wait forever, we would in fact perpetually submit to capital. Democracy, direct or otherwise, is not a communist or anarchist principle or demand.
Aside from direct democracy, what does it mean to organize "within the ranks of labor unions", retaining our specific practice? In the course of workplace struggles, you have a range of options. Is this working within the union to make sure that struggles are manage democratically? But direct control over the strike by the workers means going outside the union, as the union will always impose its interests. A strike committee may include union officers, but only if they accept to put the strike ahead of their allegiance to the union. The union itself is not as an apparatus designed for workers' control because they have to "defend" the workers' interests as wage-laborers day in and day out, regardless of the level of class struggle and workers' self-activity. They have to work with capital, day in and day out, to make agreements, to keep workers working and receiving a pay check. This is why the unions are always bureaucracies. But more on this below.
As for the rest fo the paragraph, NEFAC wants to win people to anarchist ideas. This is pure idealism. Communism is not an ideal we need to win workers to. Either it is the real self-activity of the class against that same task every 36 seconds for the rest of our lives Glaberman talks about or it is a utopian scheme. But if NEFAC thinks that to make the revolution we have to win workers to some anarcho-communist idea, then we are screwed and the revolution will never happen. It is however in line with the democratic line of NEFAC, that we must win the majority over. Never mind that a few thousand or even a few million anarchists and communists will never convince billions of people of anarchism or communism (even leaving out the fact that we cannot beat the sheer volume of bourgeois propaganda), this is idealism of the purest water. Anarchism/communism becomes an ideal to be realized, rather than the material practice of labor against capital, the ends of which only become conscious in the struggle itself. We do not win people to the correct ideas and then have a revolution. Rather, revolution changes the ideas in people's heads. We need a revolution to become communists. As such, we have no ideas to push on people, or to recruit them to.
The last question which this begs is then do anarchists participate in all workers' unions? Catholic unions? Fascist unions? Communist unions? Socialist unions? Labourist unions? Company or state unions? And how many unions today are not state unions? Certainly, the largest unions are in fact tied tightly to the state. This document, in talking of unions in general does not even see to pose this question, that the question is one of activity in the working class extending from our self-activity. Where does one draw the line on what kind of union one does or does not accept to participate in?
"At every stage in the historical development of society -- from ancient times through feudalism, to present-day capitalism -- there has been a division between those who produce goods and services, and the small minority that expropriate. This division has led to the development and irreconcilable interests of the two primary social and economic classes, resulting in an ongoing class struggle between them."
Wow, now there is a teleology! And a bad historical one too, as history did not develop in this fashion. This could not have been worse had it been written by the most committed orthodox Marxist.
"Class struggle is by no means confined to workplace. Class conflict occurs everyday in neighborhood-based battles for decent housing, the fight for welfare, the battles for access to quality education, the struggle against prisons and police brutality, in the arena of popular culture, and especially against racism, sexism, and other oppressions that stratify and divide the working class. It is not simply the fight for better wages and working conditions, but a daily struggle for the direction of society."
"However, as anarchist-communists, we have a particular strategic interest in workplace struggles due to the ability to directly challenge the material interests of the capitalist class. Capitalism is, above all, a social relation; but it is also an economic system with real material weaknesses at the various points of production, communication, and distribution. Our greatest strength as workers is in the collective refusal of our labor. An organized working class is a force that has the potential to shut this system down and re-create society in our own interests."
The problem here is subtle. Following from the first paragraph of the Statement, this assumes some positively existing working class (the good pole of the capital-labor relation) that can create a "workers' society." The problem is that workers' are not rebelling to be allowed to be workers free from the bosses. Workers rebel to stop being workers, period. The working class can put an end to capital by putting an end to itself. Only out of this can something else be built. That is why revolution is communisation, the actual uprooting of all production for the market, of value, of labor separated from the workplace, of workplaces separated from other social spaces, etc. There is no direct challenge to the material interests of the working class in production anymore than anywhere else. Our goal is to abolish capital at every level of society. Can we seize the means of production as our own? No. Our greatest strength is not in our refusal of being workers, not individually in personal rebellion, but as a whole. There is a dynamic between self-organization and overcoming the limits of self-organisation that NEFAC is not yet approaching. Even so, this is one of the better paragraphs in this document.
"The workers who produce the wealth under capitalism differ from all previously oppressed classes. Firstly, we now have the productive capacity to create enough wealth to provide the basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing, education, health care) for everyone and still have plenty to spare for science, culture, luxuries, etc.
Secondly, and more importantly, our everyday life as workers prepares us to eventually self-manage our society."
Actually, the most important aspect of our class is that we are the first class to be truly without property, to have no stake in this society. The first part merely recapitulates Engels' worst technological/productivist determinism, and also lauds the positive pole of caital "science, culture, luxuries". This latter is realy disturbing as it has no sense that culture is itself a product of class society, "Culture is the general sphere of knowledge, and of representations of lived experience, within a historical society divided into classes; what this amounts to is that culture is the power to generalize, existing apart, as an intellectual division of labor and as the intellectual labor of division." We do not want to keep vulture, enjoyment, science, etc out there separate from th rest of our lives, we want to reintegrate it into our lives. Knowledge of the world, of how it works, of its intricacies should not be reserved for specialists of knowledge or specialists of cultural production. But the productivist fantasy is that the working class is radical because capitalism has prepared the way by increasing material production. This is only partially true and ignores that communism is a radical break, a rupture from capitalism and that the working class is radical because it is a class that has been stripped of all properties. There is no progressivism in our class. Its progressive and its reactionary features are one and the same.
The second is simply wrong. Capital in no way prepares us to self-manage. This is again the fantasy hangover from a time when workers in their workplaces could still retain an overview of the whole labor process, of production chains, of products produced. This is no longer true and to treat it as such is nonsense, an archaic leftist romanticism. Even if we were in the 1920's however, it would still be wrong. Capital does not prepare us to self-manage. It stupefies us. It crushes our spirits, and deadens our minds. The overthrow of capital, the revolution itself, the process of communisation, will prepare us to run our own lives. Our training to un our own lives will happen in the drawn out process of revolution.
UNION BUREAUCRACY AND REFORMISM
"Although we realize there are some exceptions, the reality of the labor movement today in North America is one of compromise, and often collaboration, with capitalist exploitation. Unions serve as a mediator between the working class and the bosses, often playing the role of business organizations that negotiate the sale of their members labor power to employers (and, in exchange, they offer workers material benefits: job security, health care, better wages). They seek a fairer form of exploitation under capitalism, rather than an end to exploitation itself."
"Often" this, "often" that. Either the unions play that role or they are not unions. This last part is the core of their relation ot capital, to mediate between capital and labor. This is more democratic fetishism, as if the unions could not compromise and collaborate with capitalist exploitation. They can be better or worse, but if they wish to bargain, they must recognize the legitimacy of capital. Otherwise, what is there to bargain for? In all this hemming and hawing is just the desire to create a space for "exceptional" unions, which is to say, room to make apologies for the next John L. Lewis.
Add to this that "labor movement" is a euphemism. Here before we had the unions put forward obliquely as the "workers' movement", we now have the complete obliteration of any real difference in the nebulous phrase "labor movement." This obscures the difference between the unions and the workers, the unions as the organization of workers struggling to get a better life within capital, and as such as a limit.
The practical side of this limit, outside of revolutionary situations where unions have played a consistently reactionary role, whether in Russia or Britain in 1926 or France in 1936 or Spain or in Prais in 1968 or Italy in 1969 or Poland in 1980, is that the unions even in the absence of working class struggles, played a key role in restructuring the working class in the 1970's, 80's and 90's. the unions worked directly with the companies to plan restructuring, as in the case of the UAW with General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. There is no "often" about this. The unions also try to stifle militancy by organizing democratic votes on a contract or a strike, starting with the weakest, most isolated plants first to build up a head of anti-strike steam. Or the unions will cal a strike without adequate preparation and following every legal guideline and injunction, thereby exhausting the workers in a long, drawn out battle to deplete their energy. Or unions will call one day "general strikes" or walk outs, little bargaining maneuvers. All of this is evident from the last 30 years.
This paragraph, more than any other, indicates uncertainty of analysis in the document or compromise, especially as the last sentence seems almost our of place from the rest of the paragraph.
"As the labor movement has failed over the years to mount a fundamental challenge to the power of the bosses, the unions became increasingly top-down in their structure and integrated into the system. The officials who run these organizations work to contain workers' struggles within the framework of their longstanding relationship with employers and politicians."
Failed? Refused is more like it. Helped capital restructure, as it did at Ford, Chrysler, US Steel, GM, etc, etc. is more like it. This is soft pedaling the absolutely criminal role of the unions, a fleeing from their integration into the state and capital (including owning huge chunks of stock in corporations, like the UAW at GM.) You cannot have it both ways. Either the unions "seek a fairer form of exploitation under capitalism, rather than an end to exploitation itself" or they have "failed over the years to mount a fundamental challenge to the power of the bosses." It cannot be both.
This is not to say that the unions cannot resist their own demise, but in fact no unions have ever initiated an offensive movement of the working class. Rather, the unions have always either developed out of or taken the leadership of such offensive movements. This was true of the CIO in the 1930's, which was formed by AFL union bureaucrats who saw that the old ways of craft unionism were dying and that it was better to be at the head of the movement than staring at its ass. It was true of the AF of L back when it was the Federation of Trade and Labor Unions in 1886, unknown but coming to prominence by opposing the Knights of Labor's opposition to strikes and at the expense of the Workingmen's Association of Lucy and Albert Parsons and the Haymarket martyrs.
The unions became integrated into the system in the 1930s and 40s, in their relationship to Roosevelt and the United States government. This was merely codified by the Taft-Hartley and McCarran Acts. From its inception, the unions were anti-immigrant and the labor arm of U.S. foreign policy, whether it was Gompers and the AF of L promoting anti-Chinese legislation and supporting the U.S. in Mexico in th Mexican Revolution or the arrangements that earned the AFL-CIO the title of AFL-CIA in the rest of the world.
The only exception to these tendencies in the U.S. was the IWW, and the IWW never figured a normal union, if a union at all. Given that the Western Federation of Miners left the IWW in 1907 and that the IWW never had that large of a permanent membership again, the IWW seems to have lived in the space between union and radical group, maybe something more akin to the revolutionary syndicalism that "Big Bill" Haywood finally discovered in France in 1911-12, which he felt close to. The IWW after 1920 is of no concern to us here, as its membership and influence sunk to almost nothing thereafter, though it has had a slight revival in the last decade. In no case however could one confuse the IWW with any other U.S. union before or since, in its refusal to sign contracts, lack of a real permanent apparatus outside of a handful of organizers and editors, its lack of really enforced membership dues, etc.
Some people may wish to point to France, Italy, Spain as examples of a different development of unionism, but it seems that the revolutionary syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist tendencies do not carry anything like the weight they carried in the 1920's and 30's. the role of the CNT in the Spanish revolution is of course treated with the same hagiography by anarchists as the Bolsheviks are by the Leninists of all stripes and sorting out the actual history is well beyond my knowledge and the scope of this document. That is of course a major caveat, but the problem here is the present and NEFAC's formulations of certain problems and their analysis. Either it stands in relation to U.S. history and the present global developments or it does not.
"While there are variations amongst the unions (some of which are more democratic and militant than others), most are dominated by a hierarchy of paid officials and staff, who control bargaining with employers, the handling of grievances, and tend to have a social service relationship to the rank-and-file (with whom they remain unaccountable to). This bureaucratic stranglehold, along with years of regulatory labor legislation, has led to unions often becoming roadblocks to serious working class power in North America, rather than fulfilling their historic role as effective vehicles for class struggle."
Here is that democratic fetish again. Yes, they allow the workers to vote for a shitty policy or a shitty contract, with a greater or lesser degree of manipulation, but it is a matter of degrees. Violating union democracy to break the law and win a strike would be preferable to democracy. As before, the role of the unions as reactionary is merely contingent. However, before these laws, the AFL was a shit hole: segregationist, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, utterly narrow and provincial. The CIO, great break from the AF of L, under John L. Lewis managed to restrict and reign in the workers struggles of the 1930's, to be a drag on their radicalization.
The problem is not a bureaucratic stranglehold, as if this were problem outside of the unions or a lack of democracy. The problem is in what unions are. If the workers are not fighting, if they are not engaged in an actual struggle, but the organization wishes to continue to exist, then it will have to function independently of the workers' own militancy and resistance, when workers are passive or atomized as well as when they are collectively acting. As such, the unions need an apparatus and must make concessions to capital. Being more or less democratic will resolve nothing. It is a phony solution to a phony problem, decidedly oriented towards reforming the unions into "good" workers' organizations.
NEFAC also holds that members can become stewards and committeemen, but not executives in the union. This is like wanting to get a little bit pregnant, a fantasy. More importantly, it overlooks the role of the steward and committeeman (vaguely like a shop steward in Britain). To quote Martin Glaberman again
"If you permit me a little leeway, I would like to give you an experience out of my own past. Years ago I got a job at a General Motors plant in Detroit. The day before I was to get seniority and be protected by all the elements of the union contract, the foreman called me over and told me I was fired. Which was a mistake, because all he had to do, since I had no rights at all as a probationary employee, was to tell me I was no longer needed and lay me off. But he said I was fired, so I asked him to call the committeeman. The committeeman came over - it was a hot Saturday, and I remember I had the pleasure of sitting in the foreman's air-conditioned office while he and the committeeman wandered around the plant discussing my fate. They returned about an hour or two later and the committeeman told me that Joe here will not fire you if you agree not to do all these terrible things you were supposed to have done. Well, since I didn't admit that I had done them in the first place, although some were done and some were not, I agreed. I agreed to stop beating my wife, so to speak. I kept my job and I came in to work on Monday and I had seniority and a totally different relation to the company. I could not be fired easily; I could only be disciplined in a long process.
This is the union at its best. But what never left me is the argument that the committeeman used to win me my job back. He said, look, management and labour had a meeting several months ago and we agreed that we could not run the plant without each other. Why do you come to me after this guy is fired? What you should have done was come to me before he was fired and tells me the problem. Then I go over to him and put my arm around him, and I say, hey, buddy, we don't work like that here. So I straighten him out, you don't have a problem, I don't have a problem, and we don't have to write a grievance.
In other words, he won his case, he won my case, because the foreman did not permit him to participate in the management of the employees. I have been a committeeman and I have been a steward, and that is part of the reality. You see a guy fast asleep in the toilet. You can let him sleep, or you can wake him up and say, hey, buddy, if you get caught there is no way I can save your job. What is the difference? What I am doing is enforcing the contract, enforcing the company rules. That, it seems to me, while not exactly what Michels said years ago, is fundamentally the objective basis for the bureaucratisation of the union movement. It is based on contracts in which the company and the union work out ways of living together."
"It is important to understand how this bureaucratic leadership emerged. Successive waves of union organizing, often involving militant tactics such as wildcat strikes and occupations pressed a tactical retreat on the bosses and the capitalist state, leading to the extension of new rights to workers' organizations. In place of open class warfare, a process of limited and uneven concession granting was established. This truce regulated and compartmentalized workplace struggles to keep them below the level of serious disruption. A new layer of union functionary emerged to broker and executes this deal. These union executives needed to placate membership with regulated contract gains while simultaneously ensuring labor force stability and an environment suited to accumulation for the bosses. While limited outbursts were permitted, union leaders were obliged to police the deal and maintain order in the ranks. The bureaucracy developed centralized structures and methods of control and direction that fit its role and function."
The bureaucracy existed within every union from day 1. Any other statement is a lie about the history of the working class and the unions. AFL, CIO, Knights of Labor, Teamsters, UMW - all bureaucratized from Day 1. The bureaucrats can be radical when it is required to reign in the workers, they are not all incompetent dinosaurs. Hell, Lewis started a national strike in 1943 in the middle of WWII. Does anyone believe he wanted to endanger capital or the US chances in WWII? The real mistake is this idea, repeated here an in a few other places, of "open class warfare". If the working class is on the offensive, but only for material gains within capital, this is well within the normal functioning of capital. Capital is driven by class conflict, which is its motor of development. Only in breaking with the union struggle and going after the abolition of capital, not merely control of the workplace, but power over the society as a whole, is there really "open class warfare", when the working class does not merely strike, but threatens to smash the state and to re-organize all of social life on a new basis.
The wildcat strikes were, by definition, strikes against the union, without union approval, breaking the contract. What else is a wildcat strike? This is simply confusion to try and put forward the complete distortion that the unions were ever not bureaucracies and that bureaucracy and democracy are opposed to each other. In fact, they go hand in hand because once the voting is don, someone has to do the work and "manage" the work, work which is activity alien to and outside our daily lives. Otherwise, we wouldn't need to manage it, we would just do it.
This whole paragraph is just an apology for a unionism that never was in the U.S. If it existed elsewhere, that would have to be proved.
"Beyond bureaucracy and internal hierarchies, most unions that are officially recognized by the state are unable to act outside of existing labor laws, and often limited in their ability to take effective action against employers. This means that they can support only the most moderate action, and they are typically unwilling to risk even this. Local unions that pursue a more independent, militant stance against employers are likely to run up against roadblocks of officials to effective action. In the worst cases when AFL-CIO or CLC affiliated locals are deemed too militant, national or international unions use their power to impose a dictatorship called a trusteeship, tossing out their elected officers and seizing control of the local with appointees of the bureaucrats."
Unions that are not officially recognized run this same risk because thy have to negotiate with capital day in and day out regardless of the level of workers' militancy. The organization becomes independent of the workers' self-activity! This is its key weakness. This other tuff is window dressing to the problem, true but not essential.
"Anarchist workplace militants must become revolutionary opponents of the union bureaucracy, refuse the terms of compromise with the bosses, and directly challenge those who seek to enforce it. It is necessary to build a rank-and-file movement which understands how this bureaucratic hold has entrenched itself, and which can actually work to break both the union bureaucrats and the bosses' hold over workers' struggles."
What is an anarchist workplace militant? Aside from the stupidity of being a militant, of generating some activity that does not extend from one's own daily existence, from one's own need to fight back, what kind of revolutionary claims to be an opponent of the unions bureaucracy who cannot tell the truth about the unions themselves? Teaching that the unions can be non-bureaucratic organs of workers' power is nonsense. At least have the decency to openly say that the unions are limited, but we recognize that we and our fellow workers aren't just super-militants living on revolutionary purist morals, but people who must live, who have to get by, raise kids, eat food, and that the unions provide some scant but real protection and that we have no objection to increasing that protection as long as it does not force us to stop there.
And what is this "rank-and-file" movement? A movement for union democracy? This is utterly abstract. It means nothing and left this way can be filled with any content. However, its phrasing and language suggest a union opposition movement to democratize the union. It is the same language used by Leninists, Social Democrats, and pure trade union reformists.
In practice, if this is to have a revolutionary meaning, we have to state clearly that this usually means breaking with the union and always organizing a struggle leadership outside union control, directly responsible to the struggle and the workers, even where the local union is on our side or where the international or regional union feels compelled to compromise with us (only to better get rid of us tomorrow.)
"As the existing unions are not suited to overthrow the capitalist class (or, often times, even capable of taking effective action against employers) a workers' movement that can transform society needs to be built independently of the existing union hierarchies, both inside and outside of the union bodies. As workers move towards more militant action and more widespread solidarity, self-organization becomes a more realistic possibility."
This is the best paragraph so far, even if it does not logically flow from what was sid until now. But self-organization does not grow from success in the unions, it will grow from breaks with the unions. Self-organization is the opposite of the unions and the goal of the uniosn is to corral that self-organization and turn it into specific demands, relevant only to that section of the class. The problem is that our class power comes from having no specific demands as a class, of being wronged in general, of needing to overthrow not this or that capitalist but capital. As such, as struggles grow, the unions move from little or no obstacle to an absolute obstacle.
"Independent rank-and-file tendencies within existing unions, coupled with workplace resistance groups, solidarity networks (flying squads, workers' centers, student-labor action groups, etc.), and, eventually, workplace assemblies and coordinating councils, provide a glimpse at the kind of self-managed workers movement needed to not only effectively challenge the employers, but also develop the unity and revolutionary class consciousness needed to overthrow the capitalist social order. These are the areas where NEFAC seeks to be actively involved in the workplace."
Rank-and-file tendencies in the unions are working within and oriented towards the apparatus, however, while the rest of the groups mentioned are oriented towards and organized around particular struggles, and it seems very hard to equate the two in this way. Also, NEFAC presents itself here, as elsewhere, as seeking to lead. It may be a "leadership of ideas" but any actual leadership will also mean a practical role of leading. Does NEFAC see itself as this leadership? Does it see itself as building this leadership? Does it see such a leadership forming organically out of struggles? Depending on the answers to these questions, we have very different answers and types of organizations. At the very least , NEFAC needs to clarify for itself what it means and state it clearly for everyone else.
DIVISIONS WITHIN LABOR
"We recognize the exclusion that many workers face within capitalism due to certain forms of discrimination (such as racism and gender discrimination). These forms of divisions prop up capitalist isolation tactics between sectors of the workforce, as well as reinforce reactionary attitudes between various sectors of the working class.
We must recognize the vast divisions in the world of labor between people of different language, "race" or ethnic origin, which fuel racist, xenophobic and reactionary attitudes amongst workers. We must struggle against these divisions, by acting autonomously and building internationalist and anti-racist alliances. Through class organizing in the workplace, workers can develop strategies that break down racist and xenophobic divisions inside as well as outside of the workplace, demonstrating that racism is a social construction that serves to maintain ruling class power (divide to rule). By making an internationalist and anti-racist class struggle possible, we live a social alternative enabling worker's from different back ground to meet and learn from each others."
Anti-racism, the step-child of anti-fascism, which slaughtered the working class in Spain. Anti-fascism is a bourgeois politics, democratic nonsense. Posing "democracy" against fascism, instead of labor against capital. Anti-racism is just more of the same. We attack racism by attacking capital, by attacking every manifestation of racism as a concession to capital, as class treachery, by recognizing that capital exploits and oppresses differentially. But we cannot hope to win "equality" of exploitation. Nor do we want to win equality of exploitation. What else does anti-racism mean as a politics, as a principled position? Are we posing that there is a way to struggle against racism that is different form the struggle against capital? Is there a struggle for racial equality under capital? Is that a communist struggle? Should we be defending gays and lesbians being able to join the military? Gay marriage? I am against bourgeois marriage and I am anti-militarist. I want the abolition of the military and the bourgeois family and state sanctioning and control over inter-personal relations. What else is anti-racism than the demand for bourgeois equality, equal rights and protections under the law? Capital is a) incapable of granting such 'equality' any more than it formally has, as the division of the working class is both necessary and not merely generated by the desires of the capitalists, by their "propaganda", but by the production of social relations under capital. The attempt to escape exploitation within the confines of the system, as well as the attempt to reinforce it and protect it, mutually produce and reproduce racial, national and gender antagonism. The weaker the working class, the deeper racial and national sentiment.
In this, the unions are not progressive. The CIO after WWII actively joined with the KKK to smash Communist Party-led unions (all interracial) in the South. The CIO actively practiced policies of segregation, against which black workers rebelled in the 50's and 60's and 70's. No small part of the wildcats involved black workers' fight against the racist reinforcement of segregated workplaces, pay scales, job access and promotions supported by the unions, and imposed 'democratically' by a majority white membership that both passively and actively supported the union leadership. The AFL supported segregated unions and anti-immigrant, esp anti-Chinese, legislation. Historically, that struggle against the racism of the unions contained both struggles within the unions, but also the formation of separate unions and struggles outside and against the unions. The National Colored Labor Union alongside the NLU, for example. Or the Revolutionary Union Movements (Dodge RUM, Ford RUM, etc.)
However, posed within the confines of capital, the problem of equal access to jobs, seniority, promotion, etc. did not and cannot get the support of the majority of so-called white workers because it increases competition for jobs. It can only be forced on the state and employers, and thereby on the majority of so-called white workers, by the mass, but minority, movement of black workers. Acceptance may come after the fact, as clearly today most white workers do not hold the views of their parents and grandparents. However, the actual limit of that acceptance presents itself in the increasing suburbanization of the white working class, its flight from the cities and the increasing presence of non-white workers, following industrial jobs out of the cities and into the suburban and rural areas.
In so far as the workplace document is silent on the historical racism, sexism and national chauvinism of the unions, it is at best incomplete, as the unions, with only a few exceptions have rejected class solidarity in favor of corporatism and sectionalism, racism and sexism and national chauvinism unless under the immediate duress of the class struggle, and even then only as a fait accompli. This of course has often reflected the will of the majority in these unions in times of limited struggle and has been reinforced by the union apparatuses in times of social upheaval.
"We must defend undocumented immigrant workers from attacks by capitalist exploitation of their "legal status". We must defeat racist and xenophobic attitudes amongst sectors of our class, by building solidarity between rank-and-file workers of "legal" and "illegal" status. Our most powerful argument against these racist attitudes is by organizing for common goals, so that capitalists can't take advantage of immigrant worker status to push the standard of wages and conditions down for all workers. By organizing defense of immigrant workers within the workplace we expose the relationship between capitalist organization of national boundaries as a relationship that serves the interests of the capitalist class, and not for selected sections of the "legal" workforce within artificial geographic boundaries. This activity also weakens the statist control of national and ethnic distinctions."
Why this constant use of 'rank-and-file'? What about non-rank-and-file workers? Or with them are we not in solidarity? This rank-and-file is wholly the language of unionism and is meaningless in a non-unionized workplace. Using it outside of this context only serves to reinforce the confusion of unions and workers. Not to mention that with workers, we start from the attitude that workers have no nation, that all solidarity is class solidarity, that the class struggle is always a struggle against the state and every anti-immigrant attack in the workplace is immediately a battle over of internationalism versus citizenship and the nation state. This is a solid paragraph overall, aside from the rank-and-file unionist language. If anything, union membership is often its own kind of citizenship, but we do not differentiate between union and non-union worker either.
"We must recognize the specific oppression of women under both capitalism and patriarchy. A long time before industrialization - and long after that - the place assigned to women was one of the "queen of the home", a place pointed out as their first and natural vocation. When the massive participation of women in the workforce occurred, opposition came out from all sides, from religious groups to the unions, saying that female work was against the natural order of things. But since society could not afford to develop itself without the work of women, essential to the development of capitalism and above all to the survival of working class families, we saw a great range of laws orienting the work of women towards jobs fitting better with their "nature". This has caused the creation of large female job ghettos in which the professional qualification of women was not recognized since it was "natural". If the work of women was not recognized as the fruit of diverse learning and special aptitudes, but rather as being part of their innate qualities, it was not worth a particular remuneration. In this way women's' jobs were, and still are today, paid much less and not valorized. The capitalist reality of the "double day" of work - social reproduction labor (such as housekeeping and childcare) in addition to this undervalued wage labor - forces women to stay home in a private sphere and contributes to their isolation. We must therefore fight against the economic and social inequalities that women live in society and in their workplace by struggling against the wage discrimination towards women and the low union rate of jobs worked by women, as well as their precarity and bad working conditions. The solidarity of the workers' movement must be extended to all workers, no matter if their labor is recognized, waged, and legal or not. We also must support and defend autonomous women's organizing around their material conditions and militantly defend all the gains made by our class, including those that provide advancement for women."
No, "queen of the home" is not an old oppression. The separation of household from workplace is the foundation of the oppression of women under capital, the reconfiguration of millennia of oppression of women. As I said in the beginning, the very formulation of our struggle as one to change rather than abolish the workplace is connected to this historically inaccurate account of woman as always "queen of the home." Rather, the relationship between the formation fo the workplace and the home as separate spaces with different activities, rounded out with the public or community space, indicates that the abolition of the oppression of women is closely connected to the abolition of these distinctions.
"We don't believe that by simply abolishing capitalism, that racist and patriarchal attitudes in the working class will be destroyed. Class struggle is a struggle against all forms of oppression; therefore the class system must be brought down by a cross-gender and inter-racial mass workers' revolution. By organizing against these forms of discrimination inside the workplace we connect the dots between capitalist exploitation and social oppression, how they are linked and how we can draw these struggles together into one united class struggle for the liberation of all workers. Through rank-and-file action we must organize against these divisions by building campaigns and workers' organizations that are anti-racist, pro-immigrant, and anti-sexist. By agitating and acting in defense of these excluded sectors of our class in the workplace, by supporting and encouraging the autonomous organizing of all oppressed groups in all areas of society, and supporting leadership and activity within these struggles, we participate in creating class-based, internationalist, feminist and anti-racist organizing strategies that are capable or developing into a more advanced class struggle movement."
The system will be brought down at the same time as it genuinely destroys the privileges and intra-class hierarchies upon which racism, sexism, anti-gay and anti-immigrant oppression are destroyed. Our fight is not simply with ideological deformations or a lack of working together, but materially different degrees of exploitation and oppression that can only be overcome through the communisation of social life. Building anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-immigrant campaigns are by definition democratic formulations instead of communist formulations. Our goal is not equality of exploitation, equality of oppression, equality before the law, but the abolition of capital out of which those privileges organically grow. As with equal rights before the law which is a mask for class inequality, so too struggles for racial equality can only mask our need to abolish class relations as a whole. It is not a question of opposing struggles which target racial oppression or sexual oppression, etc., but that we emphasize their negative element, their hostility to the current organization of social life, of their tendency to push beyond mere racial equality and towards the abolition of race, the abolition of nationality, the abolition of sex-gender, of sexuality. Unlike anti-racists, our target is not racism or racial inequality, but racialization and the formation of objective "identities". We are indeed against identity politics, but also against "worker" as identity, as much as any other. We are not posing "We are all workers" against formations of black, white, male, female, gay, straight, immigrant, native. We are not pro-Black or anti-racist. Our politics are not defined as one end of a binary, anymore than we defend labor against capital, democracy against fascism. We are for abolishing the whole thing and any activity which breaks up those relations is an activity, a politics we support.
"If society is a vast interlocking network of cooperative labor then those networks of cooperation provide a good starting point, if only a starting point, towards throwing off the bonds of coercion, authoritarianism, and exploitation. It is in these relations of cooperative labor, which encompasses millions of daily acts, that one can find the real basis for social life. Without these networks, often unrecognized and unpaid, society would collapse. We believe that for workers' struggles to move towards anarchist-communism, that they must provide within them the social basis for the re-organization of production into a libertarian communist economy. This social basis necessitates that workers' struggles be cooperatively run on the shop floor, while expanding and generalizing not only to other workplaces, but also outside the workplace to the community that the workplace is located in."
Society is not "a vast interlocking network of cooperative labor." This view again harkens back to a time past, when there was a workers' identity that was part of a workers' community, which could look towards "workers' self-management" and "direct democracy." This conception merely indicates the continuation of capital, of communism as capitalism without bosses and the state. There is also no such thing as cooperative labor. There is for us only the abolition of labor (most people, Marxist, anarchist, whatever, confuse labor with "labor power", which is the actually generic component, just as most people confuse use-values with objects we use, but that is a much longer discussion), not cooperative labor. Capital is already cooperative labor.
Also, the formulation is as elsewhere extremely localist in content. This is a problem that haunts all councilist and federalist tendencies. Communism will not, cannot, be councilist or federalist. It will be radically centralizing, but it must be so on an organic basis, as the natural outcome of our need to tackle capital at a global level. Any attempt to impose centralism, to create a democratic centralism, is inevitably reactionary, as Leninism shows us constantly in practice.
Even though this is a poor formulation, the intent is good. We do indeed engage in relations which are not simply those of capital and labor and they form part of the foundation of abolishing capital. Again, divested of its democratism and unionism, the essential point aimed at is important.
"Sometimes this struggle formalizes itself into groups of workers that act outside and in opposition to not only the exploiting class, but also the union bureaucracy. Some names that these formations have taken in the past are workers' committees, flying squads, resistance groups, action committees, etc. Other times, this is expressed through unofficial spontaneous collective action, such sit-down-strikes, occupations, slows downs, sabotage, and wildcat strikes utilizing informal networks that exist between workers. What matters is not the name or even the specific organizational form they take, but rather the way that the unmediated class struggle of these workers' formations starts the transformation of the organization of production."
Again with the hedging. The struggle does not just organize itself outside of the bureaucracy, but outside of the unions. It is novel that, as union membership plummets, this document speaks as if the majority of workers were in the unions. The massive explosion of workers' struggles in the 60's and 70's, from the wildcats in the U.S. to Paris and Prague n 68 to Italy in 69 to Poland in 70-71 to east Germany in 73 were almost entirely not merely outside the bureaucracy, but outside the unions and only collapsed when they came back within the orbit of the unions. There is far more unity between the unions and the bureaucracy than between the workers and the unions! This should not be so hard to grasp if one really understands and agrees that the unions are not organs of revolutionary struggle.
However, in so far as the choice seems to be between unions and "informal networks", it seems that only unions qualify as "formal networks" or "formal organizations", a point that itself seems dubious unless one is hell bent on denying that workers' political parties also constitute formal organizations of the class. At which point, one is forced into the historically untenable argument that unions are genuine workers' organizations while the parties are not. This is hard to argue on the basis that the Statement here provides, which are two: mass membership of workers and representation and leadership in workplace struggles. In fact, since most European unions were connected to political parties (Socialist, Communist, Fascist, Labourist, Anarchist, Catholic, etc.) unions were often the grass-roots workplace expression of the parties and not vice-versa.
"This brings us to the importance of building active links between the grassroots popular struggles in the neighborhoods and the labor struggles taking place inside them. We call this the community-labor alliance. Community-labor alliances are best built by a mutual reinforcement of ongoing struggles in the communities and workplaces. It is for this reason that NEFAC advocates workers' and people's organizations actively support each other, build solidarity, and end the artificial division between the workplace and community struggles."
In so far as the division between workplace and community is real, it is back to the problem of breaking down capital's inherent division between workplace and non-workplace, but in this case not between workplace and home, but between workplace and social or community space, which has two separate elements: the state and the market. Our struggle to bring community and workplace together has to involve the breaking down of commodity relations, of communisation in the sense of making goods available to the community outside of and against monetary relations. Such things are happening partially in Argentina, over the last few years, but also in Chiapas, India, in Brazil n the land, etc. Not all of these are clearly "workplace" struggles in the sense used by this document.
"The labor movement once put a great deal of energy into building more permanent forms of alternative institutions. An expanding variety of mutual aid functions were provided through workers' organizations in the early days of labor. Long before the government monopolized social services, many workers' organizations created a network of cooperative institutions of all kinds: schools, daycare, summer camps for children and adults, homes for the aged, health and cultural center, insurance plans, technical education, housing, credit associations, etc. While we recognize that, in the past, working people have won significant victories that have forced the government to provide these services; we actively fight for self-managed social services that are controlled directly by the workers themselves."
"While on their own such institutions can and are absorbed into the capitalist system (and do not constitute a strategy for revolutionary change), we take a position in favor of creating workers' owned and run services that operate, as best they can under capitalism, on the basis of the need for the entire working class with the participation of the communities that benefit from the services. We believe that such institutions and programs open up space for experimentation of a limited form of self-management under capitalism."
This is a little better. Move towards communisation.
"Today one expression of this need for alternative workers' institutions, as well as the previously mentioned community-labor alliance, is seen in the development of workers' centers. Workers' centers provide a location and organizational support for campaigns in defense of precarious workers such as immigrant workers, workers in small shops, and non-unionized industries. NEFAC takes a position in support of workers centers and encourages participation and utilization of them as part of our extra-union strategy."
Big risk of becoming social workers, like the autonomists in itly (the white overalls are lousy politically, but they strted with the social centers.) What are self-managed social services? This is very abstract disconnected from actual examples. The social centers in italy are very problematic and have become th basis of a new electoral politics, whereas the attempts by groups like Kammunist Kranti (if one can use the phrase "groups like", as if there were many or any others), who seem to be more successful and less recuperated. In this presentation, it remains to abstract and has the character of something not entirely thought out and just added in.
GRASSROOTS SYNDICALISM AND INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZING
"We support industrial organizing over organizing by trade or craft. Industrial organizing brings together all workers in a workplace into a common union organization. Trade unionism - which allows each location, profession, or sector to be represented by different unions, weakens class identification and solidarity. With the aim of creating a workers' movement on a class basis, NEFAC supports the goal of eventually building grassroots syndicalism, which would incorporate all workers regardless of skill, trade, industry, or even current employment."
Industrial unionism is the same problem, but the problem is that unions require someone to negotiate with and you can't negotiate wages, working conditions, etc on this basis. This is indeed syndicalism, but one big union won't address the problem of the state, which sits here like the ignored 800 pound gorilla.
THE GENERAL STRIKE
"A central part of our program is the call for the general strike. It serves as a bridge between demands for reforms and the ultimate goal of revolution. The old method of each union fighting for its own gains, striking one at a time against a particular boss, is of limited use. The capitalists help each other against the unions. Companies have grown in size, through mergers and expansion, on a national and international scale. A multinational company uses the profits of one part of its business empire to make up for losses due to strikes in another part. The bosses have their own "union", namely the national state. Through the state, they have outlawed the most effective methods of striking, such as mass picketing, sit-down strikes (occupation of work sites), and cross-union strikes (sympathy strikes). They have given the courts the rights to limit strikes, and some workers are legally forbidden from striking at all."
The general strike is not a demand, unless one wants to sound the like the Leninist sects who constantly call for the general strike regardless of whether or not it is meaningful. It is more like a general tonic recommended by the doctor to cure many ills all at once, and like such a cure, it is the sign of a lack of a cure an is a placebo. This is utterly abstract an it poses the general strike in the same way as Trotskyists pose the Transitional Program, as bridge between reformism and revolution. There is no bridge from one to the other. Revolution does not organically grow out of reformist struggles or approaching reformist demands with radical action. Revolution is the split, the break, the rupture with reformist action and demands. There is no way to precipitate this by the correct program. We know that politics all too well. What is more, this indicates general confusion between the mass strike and the general strike. The difference between the mass strike and the general strike is the difference between Russia in 1905 and February of 1917 and Britain in 1926, or the one day strikes called by unions in a city and the taking over of Seattle by workers in 1919 or San Francisco in 1934 or in Paris in 68. None of these are called, they cannot be demanded. The mass strike is spontneous and it tends to be the prelude to revolution. Not merely work stoppage, but expropriation and communisation must begin. This whole section is clearly some kind of abstraction, clearly indicated by this demand as a bridge, in fact not a bridge between reform and revolution, but a bridge between the masses and the lonely revolutionaries to whom no one listens.
"We think the answer is to increase solidarity among unions, as well as among unions and the community. As many workers as possible should be prepared to strike together. Most useful would be for a large number of workers in an area to strike at once, effectively shutting down production in the whole area. The area might be a city, a country, multiple countries or global. Such general strikes would be very difficult to break."
You can't increase solidarity among unions, only among workers at the expense of the sectoralism of the unions. Confusion of workers and unions over and over again.
"Rather than just walking out of the factories, offices, and other work sites, the workers should occupy them. This would make it harder for the capitalists to bring in scabs or to assault the strikers (since such assaults could destroy their property). Locking out the bosses, the workers could decide to restart the workplaces, to produce goods and services on the basis of the needs of the community."
"There have been general strikes in many countries at various times"”in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Most of these strikes were for limited gains. But a general strike poses the possibility of revolution, especially if it is over several cities or even nationwide. To have the workers running a city or region, even for a while, to have workers councils instead of the state, to have the workers patrolling the street instead of police, to have work sites producing for the needs of the workers--these suggest a different form of society. They ask the question, ""Why not get rid of the capitalists and the state?"
"Right now the workers have suffered many defeats and only a few victories. They do not trust in their power. More than all the radical rhetoric, a successful general strike would show in practice that we have the power to change the world."
"Any popular movement for working class power must be prepared to defend itself. The working class already has one source of power; it has the ability to shut down the economy and to start it back up on another basis. This is not enough to resist a persistent reign of physical terror by the state. Working people must be able to resist with weapons in hand. Workers' defense squads must grow from defense of pickets from scabs and goons to popular militias. Armed defense must be combined with a political appeal to the ranks of the armed forces sent against the workers. The ranks of the armed forces consist of the working class and can be reached. They are more likely to do so if they feel that the workers are prepared to fight to the end, until they win (it is no light matter to defy military orders and soldiers will not do so unless they feel they will get away with it). The more prepared the working class is for serious self defense, the less violence there is likely to be."
"Violent revolutions in the past have resulted in new rulers. We, however, are building a movement for the self-rule of the working class, where the armed people are democratically organized and the economy is a communist one based on the maxim: "From each according to ability to each according to need". We wish to smash the state, to dismantle capitalism and all authoritarian institutions, and create a lasting freedom of libertarian communism."
"We want a social revolution, literally a "turning-over", so that those on the bottom of society overturn their masters and manage themselves. If society is to survive, the workers must replace capitalism with a federation of self-managed industries and communities with production based on needs, not profits."
"Under capitalism, workers are a component of producing an ever-accumulating surplus of value that is stolen from our labor. In an anarchist-communist society, production will be organized on the basis of need where there is no surplus of value. This anarchist-communist production can only be realized by the cooperation in production that takes place in the community as a whole. There can be no isolated anarchist-communist workplace; the reorganization of production by its nature requires the elimination of division between the workplace and the communities in which we live."
This whole last section on revolution is a hangover from the 1917-39 period. What is correct is stated abstractly. Again, this is not to claim that there is an obvious solution, but the direction pointed to by Dauve and Theorie Communiste and others in th direction of communisation is much richer and more based on the actual organization of labor today. Overal, a lot of this document feels like it was written by old union activists for old union activists, by people who only have that as a frame of reference for radical workplace struggle. And maybe that is true. There is not a lot today to compare to. However, it is necessary to grasp with today. That is why this piece fails so badly because it doe not grasp reality, but meets reality with careworn slogans, demands and formulations that not only seem dated, but which have been exposed for their limitations long ago.
There is inevitably the demand that I propose some concrete alternative. To that I have two responses.
Firstly, there is no way to say in advance of an actual struggle, beyond generalizations, what communists should do. It is necessary to understand and engage the political problems, the content of the problem, to look at the current situation instead of trying to apply old solutions to transformed situations. As such, I can't claim to tell people elsewhere what to do. I can point out what not to do and what not to say, but to sday and do something fresh, something genuine, that is harder. However, we cannot even pose the need to do that without first getting rid of the old shit, and so that is what I am trying to do, to clear out the old shit.
Secondly, I have made comments, very limited, based solely on my experience and conversations with people, and relevant only in so far as the conditions under which I wrote my notes obtain today. Those I include below. I will say this. They both say more and less than the NEFAC piece. In so far as it did not say enough, it was insufficient. In so far as it said too much, it took the wrong positions. That is why this commentary is longer than the statement itself, but also why I felt more comfortable with my very short statement which said only a little about how we should act in relation to unions as communist workers who might find ourselves in a union, and not as "communist militants".
1. "To Work or Not to Work", Gilles Dauve (http://libcom.org/library/to-work-or-not-to-work-dauve.)
"In practice, the democratic management of the company usually meant its union management by CNT and UGT (the socialist union) activists or officials. It's they who described self-governance of production as the road to socialism, but it does not seem that the rank and file identified itself with such a prospect.
"Loathing work had long been a permanent feature of Spanish working class life. It continued under the Popular Front. This resistance was in contradiction with the program (particularly upheld by the anarcho-syndicalists) calling the proles to get fully involved in the running of the workplace. The workers showed little interest in factory meetings which discussed the organising of production. Some collectivised companies had to change the meeting day from Sunday (when nobody cared to turn up) to Thursday. Workers also rejected piece rates, neglected working schedules, or deserted the place. When piecework was legally abolished, productivity fell. In February 1937, the CNT metalworkers' union regretted that too many workers took advantage of industrial injuries. In November, some railwaymen refused to come on Saturday afternoon.
"Union officials, trying to bridge the gap between government and shop-floor, retaliated by reintroducing piece rates and keeping a careful eye on working hours, in order to fight absenteeism and theft. Some went as far as forbidding singing at work. Unauthorised leaving of one's work station could lead to a 3-day dismissal, with a 3 to 5 day wage cut. To get rid of the "immorality" adverse to maximum efficiency, the CNT suggested closing bars, concert and dance halls at 10 p.m. There was talk of putting prostitutes back on the straight and narrow path thanks to the therapy of work. Laziness was stigmatised as individualistic, bourgeois and (needless to say) fascist. In January 1938, the CNT daily, Solidaridad Obrera, published an article that was to be reproduced several times in the CNT and UGT press: "We Impose Strict Discipline in the Workplace," pressing the workers not to behave as they used to, i.e. not to sabotage production, and not to work as little as possible. "Now everything (was) completely different "because industry was laying" the foundations of a communist society.""
2. "To Work or Not to Work"
3. "Unions and Workers" http://libcom.org/library/unions-workers-limitations-possibilities-glaberman
4. Richard Sennett's discussion of this in his fantastic book The Corrosion of Character, and also present in the Kolinko book Hotlines about workers in call centers.
5. As with all self-managementists, whether anarchist or Marxist, there is an implicit treatment of capital from a productionist viewpoint, but it is no accident that Marx begins capital with an analysis of the exchange relation and only enters into production in chapter 7 of Capital.
6. For example, I am a parent in a long-term relationship. It is impossible for me to spend as much time at meetings as someone who is single with no children. Certainly, all of the single members of a group and I have the same rights, the same vote, the same right to attend meetings to make decisions, but it is simply impossible for me or any other parent to attend as many meetings as single, childless members. As such, they can democratically decide everything at as many meetings as they want, and I am unable to attend all of these meetings, so that I cannot make policy at the same level, participate in meetings to the same degree (and I hope we all understand that meetings do not equal meaningful political activity). The whole process is completely democratic, and utterly bureaucratic, privileging those most able to replicate the rootless individualism of bourgeois society or who are willing to take advantage of their relationship partner and leave all of the responsibilities of childcare in their hands so that they may go and attend every meeting and play super-activist. This applies whether in a union or any other organization, and no amount of "direct democracy" can make up for this because it is not a question of formality. In fact, the tendency is for democratic functioning to reinforce these actually existing inequalities under the mask of formal equality. What this also masks is that such groups have no organic community, but represent the creation of a pseudo-community out of isolated individuals who meet simply on the basis of some shared interest, which is a completely bourgeois basis of formation.
7. Society of the Spectacle, paragraph 180, Guy Debord. This is one of the best parts of the whole book.
8. "Unions and Workers". Glaberman was not anti-union, either. He believed in the importance of the unions, but he had no illusions as to what it meant to become an official or officer of the union at any level because he and others he worked with had been in those positions in the union, and not in the dog days of the last 20 years, but at the peak of the unions, in the 1940's and 50's.
9. From a post on www.libcom.org on a thread "Are the unions against the working class?" posted under "redtwister":
"I just wanted to note one thing, noted by the old Sojourner Truth Organization in the US in the 1970's. They went into the factories thinking that the unions held the workers back. What they found was that the workers were more active in union shops, and that it was not the unions that held workers back in many cases.
Certainly in the US today, the passivity of the working class in workplaces is not a product, in any simple sense, of the unions' stopping such action. In fact, the unions have initiated most of what action there has been. Certainly, in a long view sense, the unions' role in imposing neo-liberalism on the workers int he 1970's and 80's played a big part in demobilizing and restructuring the working class, but today it isn't the unions that are the primary impediment.
Rather, with the formation of a large (and largely white) Republican (aka neo-con) proletariat in the US, the internationalization of capital, the elimination of more and more manufacturing and the fragmentation and isolation of workplaces and neighborhoods (suburban sprawl, neighborhood decimation), the impact of the drug trade, the post-9/11 militarism and the transformation of the structure of the workplace play a far larger role than the unions do. By comparison, the unions are more irrelevant than anything, and a source of some activity where they do anything at all. (Wildcat in Germany recently translated and published a piece of mine on this for their journal and in the US, a radical politics which does not address these changes is a meaningless politics.)
I suspect that the degree of activity and holding back shifts with the situation. In many cases, not having a union is worse than having one, as long as it is not a gangster union (seemingly a particularly US problem.)
There ar at least several levels to the question.
For the workers confronted with organizing a struggle in their workplace, the struggle to unionize can itself be far more important than the union per se. There are a range of political issues in this:
* who controls the organizing, the workers involved int he workplace, or the union officials? The officials will always fight to have control over the organizing and, if there is to be one, the contract.
*will there be a contract? If so, with what provisions? IMO, the less a contract says the better. Being able to avoid a contract is feasible, but prolly only in those situations where there is more general level of struggle.
In a strike situation where there is a union, there are some of these issues, but additionally:
*Is the strike starting with union support? If its a wildcat, there are a whole major range of issues. But if it is, there may be all kinds of tensions between the local and the international and intervening levels. Sometimes the International will be forced to submit, sometimes they will crush a strike themselves in order to regain control. More likely, especially in the abscence of an active strike committee, they will slowly bleed the workers dry.
*what structure runs the strike? There is almost always a way to introduce the idea that there should be a strike committee, independent of the union, that runs the strike. That may cause all kinds of problems with the union officials, who may very well turn on the strikers.
*Is the strike in part a strike AGAINST the union? This was very common in the US in the 1960's and early 70's, and found some more formal organizational form in the Revolutionary Union Movements (DRUM, FRUM, ERUM) connected to the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and allied groups like Sojourner Truth Organization.
*Legalism today is one of the ideologies of the unions, but it was not always so. The heads of the CIO were not radicals, but they had no problems breaking the law when necessary. It is important to not underestimate the willingness of union officials to go beyond what we think are their boundaries if that is the difference between losing control of a movement and keeping or gaining control.
For radicals in a unionized workplace or in one that is being organized:
*To refuse on principle to be involved in a union organizing drive at the grass roots is, IMO, a way to isolate onesself.
*But that is not the same as hiring in to be a grunt organizer for a union, with no relationship to the workers one organizes other than as an outside organizer totaly dependent on the union. That is pretty much always the worst possible position to be in, unless the union has left you alone for so long that you develop strong, independent relations with the workers organizning. But ultimately, if you are on the outside, they and their families and friends have to live with the choices made, not the outside organizer.
*Abstract participation in a union, as a union opposition, without any base of support in the workplace or business from a collective of workers is the hallmark of stupid Leftism, esp Trotskyism. That and trying to get resolutions supporting Cuba or the ANC or a general strike or some other shit, passed by the local and then suckholing with the local officers. This is the perfect way to get fired with union approval or to get pimped by the officials or under the right conditions, to become the new union boss, same as the old union boss.
*If you don't have a practical proposal on how workers can do something better for themselves, then its better to not make a proposal at all. Lots of workers still see the union as providing services and protection that are valuable. If co-workers aren't ready to push their own fight, they don't necessarily see the limits in the union we do.
As far as general comments politically on unions go, IMO any body which exists to mediate the relation between wage-labor and capital already is invested in the continuation of that relationship. Unions may have their uses, but ultimately they will be an impediment to action which calls capital into question because they act as a de facto lawyer negotiating the terms of exploitation, as opposed to seeking the abolition of exploitation. Whether one calls it a syndicalist or revolutionary union or not, I see it as a limited form. It is no accident that in each and every instance, the union officials form the right-wing of working class political movements and organizations (the relationship of unionized workers to non-unionized workers is considerably more complicated and not subject to a general rule of thumb, IMO.) Note, the IWW and maybe some other syndicalist organizations, did not make contractual relations with the bosses, did not act on behalf of the workers, did not attempt to create locals that could survive the loss of workers' self-activity. These were, contrary to the normal criticism given by the Leninists, the strengths of the IWW.
There are other problems unions suffer from, common to most working class organizations:
*In so far as they are mass organizations of action, in the abscence of mass working class activity they will tend to act on behalf of the workers, see them ultimately as objects, as passive, etc. As such, they will develop, if they did not already have, a paternal and disdainful attitude towards the workers.
*In so far as they exist after the struggles, and in so far as capital re-establishes its own power, survival means compromise with capital as a social relation and the state as the political form of that relation. in other words, it is not so much treachery or a sell-out, but the logic of an organization with a life-span beyond the struggles that gave life to it.
*In so far as unions have an apparatus for their maintenance separate and distinct from the workers themselves, there is a tendency for the apparatus to take on a life of its own, with its own interests, espcially if that apparatus gets paid by the dues from the membership. This was especially a problem in the US since the 1948 Taft-Hartley Act, but that only formalizes the problem, instead of creating it."