Meet my mates, the bastards

Fancy a challenge? Try keeping your politics intact whilst working with ordinary, apolitical workmates to build an unofficial union. Apolitical workplace organisers have it easy! If, like me, you hold dear a set of political beliefs that can only be fully realised once state and capital are no more, organising with your workmates may prove the most frustrating way of spending your precious time.

Submitted by plasmatelly on November 5, 2013

I've been here often before; working outside and around established unions, without unions and in the face of unions. I'm an anarcho-syndicalist, though this can all go out the window sometimes when faced with occasional bouts of nearly overwhelming mean spiritedness from my workmates. Not to try and sound cocky but providing workmates are up for a battle, organising a recognisable syndicalist structure albeit without any constitutions, can prove easy. Easy because people prefer to participate in grass roots unions; official representative unions turn members into passive consumers herded along, often grumbling only out of earshot. Perhaps it is the path of least resistance that sees these unions form along syndicalist lines when members want to play equal and active parts. For those who haven't tried organising for themselves, people open up in grass roots unions and there is greater commitment to the struggle; and along with the new found vehicle for expression, sadly, can come the shit patter that is usually shut away for nights on the town.

Its de ja vu, all over again

So, here we go again; I'm involved in another proto unofficial union effort, and to be honest it's coming along quite nicely. It's a small affair and modest in most ways, and perhaps not even a vehicle to launch a discussion. And in true anarcho-syndicalist tradition, I can't comment too much about the specifics about what we're up to - and herein lies another area in which often lets anarcho-syndicalists down: missing out all too often on the opportunity to make the most of even the victories. But from the conversations I've had around our network, I know people have already invested hope for a more militant future.
So, stories about anarcho-syndicalists organising in the shadows is ground well covered, but what I want to look at is that problem between us as politically - and often economically - motivated beasts mixing it up with the people that would be shown the door at most anarchist group meetings.

My friends, the bastards

Like every one else, I temper who I am to suit the occasion. Everyone does. That doesnt mean you arent true to your own self, it just means you dont spend your every waking moment flying in the face of reality. Probably like you I abhor all the ism's that divide working class people, and do my bit - and sometimes more (sometimes not enough) - to challenge the derogatory and abusive, passively hate filled language and attitudes I hear on a daily basis at work. But I'm no saint; at some point you have to choose your battles and when to make a stand in order to win. I work in construction and taking a theatrical stand on an issue is often counter productive - and shit, I've got to stay sane! People who know me probably temper their language in line with what they think is acceptable to me, and I really appreciate that. But, it's not about seeing to it that people keep it zipped for fear of offending others; it's about challenging that language and, even though I hate saying this, it's about educating people.
Having only ever done this type of work, I have possibly a very inaccurate understanding of the attitudes and language of fellow workers in other jobs. I may be hopelessly off the mark, but I guess for poorly qualified manual workers, what I come across is common, though I might say a hell of a lot less worse than it was back in the eighties.
So, despite the fact that every last one of my workmates would expose themselves unknowingly as the devil incarnate before even opening their mouths should they even enter an anarchist meeting, they aren't bad people on the whole. In fact, they're my friends.

Organising the bastards

So where does that leave me? Wait until everyone has a profound understanding of privilege, value, class, language as well as all the other stuff before convincing them of anarcho-syndicalism? Well, it's an option.. though with an eye on the time and my less than able powers of persuasion, it may prove more productive to work with my bastard mates. And besides, I don't have a profound understanding of any of those areas of study.
For any chance of being able to convince my workmates to come over to the politics of anarcho-syndicalism, leaps of faith are very much out the window for most workers; what they want is convincing protection and victories. However, every time reformist unions turn their backs or betray workers, a window of opportunity opens for small unofficial unions like this one. Put a few victories under the belt and you have something the less brave might feel inclined to join.

In the face of union repression

This isn't Spain. We can't just declare ourselves a union and expect the bosses to recognise us as a bargaining force. Though this doesn't stop us getting what we want or providing protection in the way of determined solidarity, providing we hold the upper hand - trust me on this one, it really is like that. Most firms are as about as streamline as they can be before they can't function; take a look at just how a sickie from one of your workmates can throw things into chaos - firms cannot afford to have trouble from determined workers unions, official, unofficial, temporary or permanent. Usually the biggest obstacle is nothing like laws, it's a divided shop floor. And obviously we suffer some of that too. Of course they aren't all complete bastards. Some are wonderful people; hilarious, warm spirited and daft.

And the politics..?

Apart from challenging dodgy language and attitudes, talking up and instilling a sense of class identity and solidarity and loyalty, that is where the politics end. Its never easy sitting round a table having to keep listening to the odd bastard chipping away and staying composed enough to shut them up with reason.
Turning something like this proto-union into a politically motivated body is not going to happen; if there was a SolFed branch or presence (beyond the SF promotional stuff scattered around work - and, yes it does get read!) then maybe SolFed would grow in our workplace as a result of supporting our efforts, and in turn be able to have that political presence that anarchists are trying desperately to create. And yes, maybe it would be a process of slowly building a branch presence as one by one people warm to the politics of anarcho-syndicalism, because growth means nothing if it dilutes the ideas to accommodate workers who only want improvement without actual political agreement.
But as the anarcho-syndicalist union USI in Italy has shown in the San Raphael hospital, a union with 500 members isn't impossible, it starts the same, with one determined group who can successfully challenge attitudes and put a few wins in to convince fellow workers of the potency and relevance of political unions, to join up and to be less of a bunch of bastards.



10 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Max_Anarchies on November 7, 2013

No problem mate.

I just think that how we, as anarchists, relate to the rest of the world seems to have been seriously damaged by this vast gap between what is considered ok socially, eg rape jokes, and what is actually ok, eg definitely not rape jokes, and I think it produces this feeling that you have to be a full communist intersectionalist before you even consider reading about anarchism. Though I think this is probably an external perception rather than something any of us really do/think.

When I first became interested in anarchism, I was a bit of a cock to be honest and would have at times been misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, racist and probably some other shitty things. Luckily, I had a lot of patient friends and comrades who didn't just tell me to get fucked but discussed things with me, challenged me and most importantly introduced me to an environment that wasn't populated by just straight white cis-men (the majority of my childhood friends) and didn't actively silence and undermine women or openly ridicule lgbtq and non-white people (the majority of my childhood friends)* and in which I could see for my self how much shit I had been talking.

I'm not saying for a second that we should turn a blind eye to bigotry, but the way that we challenge it is hugely important, and it has to be transformative rather than exclusionary and punitive, unless you're a dread locked catholic with a penchant for yelling your bigotry from atop benches, then you can go fuck yourself.

This is why I think safer spaces policies are so good and need to be so much more common, it removes the issue from being

you are a bad person because you said x

to being

you saying x in this space where you don't know everyone is potentially hurtful.

It allows for people's moral integrity to stay in tact but also places them in a situation where they have to reflect on their thoughts, words and actions. A lot of people use shit language in front of their mates but wouldn't dare say it in front of someone who that language is detrimental to but very very rarely come into significant contact with those people so never have to face the reality of the damage their words cause.

Obviously, this doesn't necessarily apply to the situations you describe above, as you often need a majority to ensure a safer spaces policy is in place, let alone adhered to, but perhaps by inviting "bastardly" friends and workmates to events in which safer spaces policies are in place (which imo should be all SF events) then we could make some progress.

* I'd like to stress that this is in the socially acceptable "family guy/south park" kind of way, rather than in the totally bigoted NF/BNP kind of way. Really really shit, but born of ignorance rather than of maliciousness. See above.

They aren't bad people on the whole. In fact, they're my friends.


10 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by plasmatelly on November 7, 2013

Really good points Max, I especially appreciate your openness about where you have come from in respect to your attitudes. In truth this is all too common; but people change, and recognising the old you is only a credit to your honesty - we need more of this.
You're right bang on the money about a safer spaces policy not being a one size fits all - that's not to say that it isn't something to aspire to - at this stage, tackling problematic language and attitudes is done on a fire fighting basis.
This has been something of an ongoing discussion amongst solfed members of late, informed by real experience, problems and successes. It may be that when a group of workers contact sf then a safer spaces policy can be implemented before any work is carried out; however, as an insider trying to organise within, it's difficult enough to corral workmates without provisos. As a political presence is developed, I can see the positive and progressive attitude of sf holding more than its own. For now, its early days! Once again, cheers!