What can we do in workplaces as small unions and groups?
That's the main question posed by this brochure.
The economic development in western Europe is characterized by the movement of production (factories etc) to other continents where it's possible for the capitalists to produce more efficiently. This increasing trend means that fewer well qualified workers are needed, leading to a weakening of the bargaining position of workers in the workplaces, as we are able to be exchanged increasingly easily for cheaper workers elsewhere, who are able to be quickly trained. For western Europe this means a sustained worsening of the working and living conditions of our class.
Large employers and companies as well as the public sector are increasingly being subdivided into smaller production units with formal independence but actual dependence on the largest and most influential parts of capital. Economic risk is shifted by this process onto the workforce of the individual production units as a further method of disciplining the labor force. The internationalization of production is not only through outsourcing of production but also through using cheaper workers outside western Europe, whose levels of unionization and resistance can be lower. The playing off of sectors of the international working class by international capital will only come to an end, when industrial unions are formed, organizing across borders, which can aim to achieve, in each country, the highest possible wages through international solidarity.
In previous decades, the large traditional unions who believed in social partnership, could occasionally lead offensive struggles to get the workers some of the pie from economic growth. Nowadays at best they attempt to minimize the drastic losses in working conditions and wages, or in some cases just try to create the impression that that's what they're doing.
They are losing millions of members, because their base is in the larger work places which are particularly affected by the processes of restructuring mentioned above. As part of these developments some disappointed members are leaving these unions. Simultaneously, new industries are developing where the traditional unions lack any significant foothold - for example in IT or in call centers. Broad swathes of the working population are affected by these changes and their accompanying measures of cuts in social services - unemployed people, pensioners, students and school pupils, as well as more secure contracted employees and even to some limited extent traditionally privileged groups such as the German 'Beamte' (permanent, near unsackable public servants).
These developments - internationalization, restructuring and social austerity -look set to further develop in the coming years.
Traditional unions have particular weaknesses:
1 - they aren't able to effectively organize workers internationally
2 - they aren't able to organize workers outside of large workplaces easily
3 - they aren't able to pursue struggles flexibly and militantly enough
4 - they restrict themselves to economic struggles and don't organize outside of the workplace (although this isn't part of this brochure.)
A vacuum is developing within the working class and more broadly. But there are also examples of self organized groups which are able to organize and bargain around the needs of their members.
Anarcho syndicalist unions and groups address in their programme precisely the weaknesses of the traditional big unions. And it's not just theory. The Freie ArbeiterInnen Union (Free Workers Union) FAU in Germany:
1 - is fundamentally internationalist in its approach of unifying workers against capital
2 - has a membership working mostly in small workplaces, and/or with casualized (precarious) working conditions, or are unemployed or students
3 - is organized on a grass-roots federalist basis, so that struggles can be focused on needs and fought flexibly and effectively.
Likewise the Anarchistische Groep Amsterdam (AGA):
1 - is based on principles of direct democracy, which is practiced in its decision-making assemblies
2 - emphasizes self-organization and direct action to create solutions and alternatives to the problems encountered at work or in the community.
3 - actively informs and agitates in communities via flyers, publications and by holding consultations hours at its Anarchist Library
In our experience, it's particularly in smaller workplaces that the anarcho syndicalist tactics of struggle work best. On the one hand, traditional unions have little presence here, and on the other, the small number of workers means that these employers can be easily put under pressure, strike or otherwise. In this brochure we want to show anarcho syndicalist organisation in practice in smaller workplaces. We aren't writing about the basis of anarcho syndicalist organisation, our views on culture and revolution, or our overall aims and worldview. That's because these, for class struggle, flow from the sum of our practical experience.
That's why what follows are contemporary reports and analysis of class struggle, from which we'll be able to further develop our theoretical perspective. We think that's how we'll be able to, at least here in western Europe, respond best to the current and coming changes in the society and economy, resist effectively and develop a perspective for class struggle in the 21st century.
For more information on organisation and theory, check out the websites listed at the end of this pamphlet.
Anarchistische Groep Amsterdam Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter Union Bremen