Issue 19 of Subversion with articles about fighting the introduction of Job Seekers Allowance and the "three strikes" tactic, the Merseyside dockers dispute, strikes in Detroit newspapers and Royal mail and more.
Three strikes and you're out! Building claimants' counter power
What's the best way for claimants to fight back?
Spain 1936: the end of anarchism? Reader responses
Merseyside dockers dispute… The struggle continues
Detroit newspaper strike
Democracy and rights discussion
Open letter to Class War
Trouble at Royal Mail
Three strikes and you're out - building claimants' counter power
News and analysis from comrades in Edinburgh, detailing the 3 Strikes and You're Out policy, since adopted by many Anti-JSA Groups.
(Subversion article from 1996 on resistance to bullying benefit office officials.)
THE FREE RIDE IS OVER FOR BENEFIT OFFICE BULLIES
Edinburgh Claimants and The Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh have launched a new direct action policy to resist bullying benefit office officials. It's called 3 STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT. This is how it works.
- If an official harasses you or cuts your benefit report them to Edinburgh Claimants - ring 332 7547.
- Officials found guilty of harassing claimants will be given a written warning. STRIKE ONE!
- A second complaint against the same individual will result in a final written warning. STRIKE TWO!
- Any further complaints against that official and details of their offences, along with a massive photo of them, will be transformed into a poster to be distributed throughout Edinburgh. Offending officials can also expect an angry demo against them in their own offices. STRIKE THREE - and OUT!
If you want to resist dole harassment:
- ring us if you are harassed - join us in the fight back - get together with your mates, accompany each other to interviews, go together and complain to the manager if you are harassed
This is an excerpt from Edinburgh Claimants' latest leaflet, published spring 1996. At the latest conference in Sheffield on 25 May the Groundswell network of independent claimants' groups decided to implement 3 Strikes activity Britain-wide.
Edinburgh Claimants activists delivered a 3 Strikes first warning letter on 16th May. The target was one Alistair Mathieson, restart interviewer at Torphichen St Unemployment Benefit Office. At our anti Job Seekers Allowance demo on 9 April a claimant had told us that he had just been forced onto a Jobplan workshop by Mathieson, who threatened his benefit. This despite the claimant's protests that he had no wish to waste his time on this useless activity. Mathieson's name was familiar, and a check on our previous Dole Harassment Exposed leaflets revealed that he had already committed at least 2 previous anti claimant offences. In the circumstances a first warning letter was the least we could do.
Our first task was to track Mathieson down - we didn't know what he looked like. The receptionist tried to mislead us, but after a few minutes we'd fingered him. Six of us strode purposefully through the staff section of the open plan office towards Mathieson's desk, where he was grilling another claimant. The Great Harrasser went ballistic. Jumping up, he dramatically pointed and shouted "Don't move! Stop right there.". We explained our mission. Mathieson waved his hands wildly, yelling "Call the police! Call the police!"
At this point manager Mr. Thomson turned up. This was fortunate, because we had a warning letter for him too. (Our policy is that managers must be held responsible for harassment by their staff) Thomson fumed and raged, threatening that if we returned to deliver another letter he would punish claimants by stopping signing on. We resumed our leafleting outside, well satisfied with the impact we had made.
Hopefully this gives some idea what the 3 Strikes policy practically involves. In my opinion it should be seen as much more than an imaginative stunt or a publicity device. It should be seen as part of the process of building a Claimants' counterpower. An ambitious project, but a necessary one - not just around the benefits system, but in all areas of social life where capitalism and patriarchy reproduce relationships of oppression and exploitation.
The medium term aim is that any significant acts of harassment or benefit cuts at any benefit offices should be known about and practically resisted. The benefit office management and restart interviewers etc. should know that if they force someone onto a cheap labour scheme, cut their benefit or whatever, then there is a good chance that there will be direct action against them in their own offices. They will then be more reluctant to clamp down on claimants. The balance of power will start to change. They will be more scared of us than we are of them.
The initiative is particularly important at this time with the Job Seekers Allowance starting in October 1996. The state can pass repressive new laws attacking the working class - but whether the new law can function or not depends on what happens everyday in real life, it depends on the extent of resistance. Remember the poll tax!
To enable the 3 Strikes policy to have a real effect the claimants' groups will need to establish a tangible presence at particular benefit offices, through regular stalls, leafleting, flyposting, stickering, demos etc.. There needs to be an address - better still a phone number - where claimants can get in touch with info about how they've been harassed. The claimants groups will need to seek out info on harassment, asking fellow claimants who are friends and/or fellow activists in different struggles if they've been hassled. We need to spread the consciousness - we don't need to worry alone, to be humiliated, to accept being treated like shit. There is something we can do about it.
The 3 Strikes policy is just an early step in building claimants counter power. When we deliver a warning letter to an official guilty of harassment we should also be trying to get the decision changed in the claimant's favour. This does require some knowledge of benefit rules etc.. But we shouldn't fall into the trap of becoming welfare rights professionals. The aim should always be to collectivise the struggle.
The public delivery of warning letters, reporting acts of harassment in news-sheets like Edinburgh's Dole Harassment Exposed, going in numbers to the benefit office to back up a wronged claimant, and of course the 3rd Strike and you're out flyposting and demos - these are all tactics which can help develop the consciousness and practice of claimants resistance.
Simultaneously with our groups operating the 3 Strikes policy we need to encourage a general climate of resistance among claimants. This already exists to a degree, as those who have been forced onto Jobplans and Restart courses know. Our groups can't begin to deal with all cases of benefit cuts and harassment, we need to spread the idea that you always go to tricky interviews with a mate, that if you are harassed or your benefit cut you go to the office with a few friends, demand to see the supervisor/manager and get it sorted out.
We definitely want claimants to report cases of harassment to the claimants groups - but we want to go further and see more and more claimants getting active in resistance, whether in the formal groups or with their friends in a more informal way. We certainly don't want to be seen as the super-activists who will zap the benefit office baddies on behalf of a mass of passive claimants.
But despite this limitation the 3 strikes practice has a lot to recommend it. For a start - it's fun! Virtually all claimants we've talked to think it's a great idea. It's the sort of action which can enthuse people to participate. This is important if lots of people are to get involved. (Too much political activity is like a chore or a duty which only fanatics like me will get involved in.)
3 Strikes focuses on an important real point at which the state attacks claimants - the imposition of discipline and benefit cuts ( e.g. compulsory schemes/crap jobs/ Child Support Act harassment/ fraud investigations) in Benefits Agency and Unemployment Benefit offices / Job Centres. 3 Strikes is a way in which collective direct action can be mounted to win some small - but real - victories for claimants. If the Groundswell decision to practise 3 Strikes Britain-wide becomes a widespread reality then 3 Strikes could play a part in making the Job seekers Allowance unworkable. Finally, it's not enough to struggle just to stop things getting worse, we need to be developing a strategy to challenge the ruling class's monopoly of power and wealth. 3 Strikes can be an important element in an ongoing process of struggle to build up claimants counter power. Claim what's yours - the world.
Spain 1936: the end of anarchism? Reader responses and Subversion reply
Letters from JC and NH (member of Anarchist Communist Federation) on an article in a previous issue of Subversion entitled "The end of anarchism". Plus Subversion reply.
I read your article 'The End of Anarchism' when it was first published ten years ago. I thought then that it was a good article and I thought so again when I re-read it in issue no. 18 of Subversion. The article effectively warned against seeing self-managed capitalism as a solution to our problems and showed that much of what passed for the 'Spanish Revolution' had no communist content whatsoever.
However, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that there were those in Spain at the time who were committed to the same sort of communism that Subversion stands for. Indeed, it would have been strange if that were not the case, because communist initiatives have generally been present in all the major upheavals of capitalism, all the way back to the Diggers in the English Civil War in the seventeenth century, let alone in the more advanced circumstances of the Spanish Civil War three hundred years later.
When I visited Spain in 1995, I attended a public meeting in Barcelona which was addressed by an old militant of the Civil War era, Abel Paz. Some of his reminscences were sufficiently exciting to persuade me to read his "Durruti: the People Armed" (Montreal: Black Rose, 1976) when I got back to England. In this book there are various examples given of communist initiatives, such as the armed uprising by miners around Barcelona in January 1932 which 'led to the proclamationof libertarian communism, the abolition of private property and money' (p.117). To this Paz adds the footnote: 'The destruction of the State and the abolition of classes are born from the same act: the abolition of money and property' (p.124).
Perhaps the most eye-catching of these examples is a first-hand account of one incident in which Paz participated in 1936. It is worth letting him tell the story in his own words:
'The author took part in various actions of this kind on the morning of July 20th. The one which impressed him most was the attack on a branch bank in Calle Mallorca in Barcelona. Nobody in the bank resisted the people. However a group of women, assisted by only a few men and children had seized the building and made a bonfire in the street with the furniture. Throwing this furniture into the fire the people were full of rage but also of pleasure, as if they were the judges in a cause which had been waiting to be judged for a millenium. Among other things boxes full of bank notes were thrown into the fire and absolutely no one had the idea of putting the money in their pockets. They seemed to be saying that the world of trade, the world of salaries and exploitation were really disappearing forever.' (p.217).
Sadly, they were wrong, because such initiatives were overwhelmed by the kind of developments which your article skilfully explained. Yet, in our eagerness to debunk the myths that cling to Republican Spain, let us not forget that some working men and women of the time were inspired by communism. It is important to remember the countless occasions when such initiatives have occurred (in Spain and many other parts of the world). Were we not to do so, communism would become nothing more than a disembodied ideal, a nice idea perhaps, but remote from the real struggles of this world. I know for a fact that Subversion does not see communism like that.
Reprinting an article from Wildcat that is at least ten years old crassly called the End of Anarchism, on the Spanish revolution, goes against everything I expected from people I regarded as intelligent, critical revolutionaries. So Anarchism ended with the Spanish Revolution, did it? You might as well say that Marxism ended with the First World War, with the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, with the German Revolution. Sure, Anarcho-Syndicalism was proved wanting but that doesn't mean that Anarchism, in its revolutionary and Anarchist Communist form died.
Indeed, despite Subversion seeming to be experts on Anarchism, there seems to be a general ignorance of key Anarchist theorists and thinkers. At last year's Subversion-Anarchist Communist Federation joint day school, one long-serving Subversion comrade expressed no knowledge of the Italian Camillo Berneri, one of the key critics of CNT-FAI involvement in the Republican government.
Despite your criticisms of the rural collectives, they do remain the most advanced attempts at trying to put libertarian communism into practice, and it would be churlish to say otherwise. Of course the rural collectives were limited by the fact that war was substituted for social revolution, and for that the Spanish Anarchist movement has a lot to answer for. To cite an "anarchist puritanism" as if it were general is ill-informed, certainly in the towns amongst the Anarchist working class there were no such attitudes. And anyway, if it was collectively decided not to use tobacco or even coffee - and these are isolated instances - so what?
Of course you are right to cite the condition of women which failed to change in any qualitative way. But to fail to mention the libertarian organisation of women Mujeres Libres (especially after a major article on them in Organise! 32 which you must have read) which grouped 27,000 women together is misleading. But perhaps this goes along with your expressed view that working class women should not, on any occasion, organise specifically against their particular oppressions?
The criticisms you make of how the rural collectives functioned are correct as far as they go. But you place their functioning in a void. You fail to relate it to the general situation where the bourgeois Republican government was allowed to exist, where Anarchists joined both the local Catalan government and the national government, where workers councils failed to take the place of union committees, where capitalism continued to function, and where the myth of anti-fascism was substituted for social revolution.
To mention the Anarchist participation in the Republican government without mentioning the revolutionary opposition from the likes of the Friends of Durruti, sections in the Libertarian Youth, the Iron Column and Berneri is remiss. And why is it the Spanish "Revolution" throughout? Despite everything, what happened in Spain was a Revolution, and in many ways went further than other Revolutions in the 20th Century. Because if you applied the same criteria, you would be talking about a Russian "Revolution" an Hungarian "Revolution" a German "Revolution" etc.
Subversion comrades, it's time to come clean. You talk about the end of Anarchism yet you take an active part in Northern Anarchist coordinations, both in the present and the past. And what are you, exactly? At various stages, depending on your fancy, you have described yourselves as libertarian communists, anti-left communists (confusing one that - many might think you were against left communism rather than against the left) or anti-State communists. Your criticisms of Marx remain restrained, whilst you have in the past published an article on Bakunin, critical in the extreme, which contained many distortions of his ideas.
Hoping to hear from you,
Yours for libertarian communism,
NH (member of Anarchist Communist Federation)
Our Reply .....
We have no major disagreements with JC's letter which acts as a necessary reminder that, contrary to the impression we may have conveyed in the original article, the working class movement in Spain in the 1930s was not entirely lacking in positive features!
The letter from NH raises some important points about the events in Spain and about Subversion's attitude towards anarchism.
In the article in Subversion 18 we acknowledged that "some anarchists are prepared to criticise the 'Government Anarchists'". We are well aware that in 1936 there were anarchist opponents of CNT-FAI participation in the Republican Government. Doubtless we would have mentioned them if that's what the article had been about. But it wasn't.
Blame it on our general ignorance of key anarchist theorists and thinkers, but what we are not aware of is any critical appraisal of the rural collectives by revolutionary anarchists, either at the time or since. What we are more accustomed to seeing is uncritical adulation of "one of the most, if not the most, extensive and profound revolutions ever seen" (see the pamphlet by Abraham Guillen, Anarchist economics: an alternative for a world in crisis, reviewed in Subversion 12). Frankly it really gets on our nerves that in the face of the evidence (our article was based mainly on books written by Sam Dolgoff, Gaston Leval and Augustin Souchy - all anarchists) most (?all) anarchists still think the collectives were marvellous. That's why we referred throughout to the Spanish 'Revolution' - as a signal of our questioning of the conventional anarchist point of view.
We admit that the title of the article was poorly chosen. It would have been more accurate to have called it, 'The End of Collectivist Anarchism', or 'The End of Syndicalist Anarchism'. For NH is quite correct to distinguish these variants of anarchism from Communist Anarchism (or libertarian communism). However there is a contradiction in what he writes.
On the one hand he says our criticisms of the rural collectives are "correct as far as they go". We remind readers that this criticism was that, in most places, the rural collectives exhibited all the hallmarks of capitalism, e.g. the existence of a wages system, money, operation of the law of value, production for the market, etc.
On the other hand, he says that "despite" these criticisms, the rural collectives "do remain the most advanced attempts at trying to put libertarian communism into practice".
We don't think you can have it both ways. Either the bulk of the rural collectives were advancing towards a form of self-managed capitalism, or they were advancing towards libertarian communism. They cannot have been doing both (unless you equate libertarian communism with self-managed capitalism).
We see no reason why revolutionary Communist Anarchists should wish to defend the Collectivist Anarchism which predominated among the rural collectives in Spain - unless out of a sentimental attachment to anything draped in a black-and-red flag. But that sort of knee-jerk reaction goes against everything we expect from people we regard as intelligent, critical revolutionaries.
On the issue of working class women "organising specifically against their particular oppressions": we want working class women (and men) to join revolutionary organisations. The article in Organise! 32 describes how Mujeres Libres was formed because of the sexism of men in the CNT-FAI. If the attitudes and behaviour of some members of an organisation prevent other members from playing as full a part as possible in the organisation, then in our opinion that organisation is not a revolutionary one.
At vital moments in the past, the line dividing revolutionaries from the rest has always cut straight through both Anarchism and Marxism, leaving some Anarchists and Marxists on the side of capitalism, and some on the side of the revolution. Just as Spain marked 'The End' of a particular form of anarchism, you could argue that the First World War and the 'revolutions' which followed it did indeed mark 'The End' of a particular form of Marxism, in the sense that the anti-working class nature of vast parts of the old labour movement was exposed for all to see.
Genuine revolutionaries have only ever been minority currents within most of what passes for Marxism and Anarchism. Genuine revolutionaries have usually found inspiration in bits of both. But we need to reject more than we accept of both traditions. We have said all this on several previous occasions, e.g. in Subversion 8, 14 and 15 and at various meetings including those of the Northern Anarchist Network.
In Subversion we have always resisted labelling ourselves (and having labels attached to us!) and have found terms like Marxism and Anarchism more of a hindrance than a help in defining our politics. If we find it difficult to pick a term to describe ourselves, it's simply because the history and present-day content of revolutionary politics is so unfamiliar to most people! Perhaps in the future, as revolutionary ideas spread, a name will emerge to call ourselves which everyone will recognise. In the meantime we prefer to discuss the actual content of what we believe, and will do so in any forum where there is common ground between ourselves and other participants and the opportunity for a real 'exchange' of views. That is why we have been active in the Northern Anarchist Network. Most other groups in the Network do not seem to find our participation a problem. We have no need to "come clean" because our position always has been and always will be open and honest.
Merseyside Dockers Report #6
The first of two articles in Subversion #19 about the Merseyside Dockers - includes details efforts to establish international contacts and solidarity.
On Saturday 27th April, approximately 200 delegates and individuals from various organisations attended a meeting at the T & G's Transport House in Liverpool at the invitation of the Mersey Docks Shops Stewards Committee to, amongst other things, set up a National Co-ordinating Committee of Dockers Support Groups. Part of the meeting was given over to a 'report back' on the dispute and an analysis by the stewards of where they thought the dispute was 'up to'. One of the reasons why I have delayed my report was to be able to include their latest thinking in this bulletin. It also serves as a convenient point from which to review the dispute so far. . . .
Internationally, the boycott which I had previously reported as only being partially applied - pending negotiations with the MDHC which the union side had adjourned after one session in Warrington - has been fully applied. A mass meeting on Wednesday 3rd April unanimously agreed to the stewards recommendation that all further negotiations with MDHC be abandoned and that henceforth their strategy should be one of an all out international boycott of the Port of Liverpool.
Many people will say that we could have reached this point some months ago and that may be true, but, as ever there are good reasons for the dockers moving cautiously and exploring every avenue open to them. That said the concrete reasons for the decision, based on the report of the face to face negotiations with MDHC are revealing and confirm some of our earlier conclusions. At these negotiations the stewards, mindful of the fact that many of the older dockers would perhaps prefer the old severance terms they had enjoyed prior to the dispute, had suggested a compromise whereby the MDHC would re-engage all the dismissed workers and after a temporary period, those who wished to leave the industry could do so under the scheme. This was to be accompanied by the MDHC dismissing those scabs engaged on temporary contracts through agencies such as PDP.
Bernard Cliff and the other management team insultingly dismissed this chance of a compromise; stated they were perfectly happy with their existing workforce and proceeded to abuse their former workforce [remember - they were called 'the best in Europe' ?] - accusing them of being workshy, unwilling to re-train, prone to unofficial strike action etc. etc. That is - they behaved as proletarians - something which modern management are determined to stamp out. We shall see if they can succeed in this labour of Sysiphus.
All this quite understandably really 'got up the noses' of the mass of dockers, since it simply confirmed in their mind and in the mind of this correspondent that the whole dispute had been engineered, principally to prevent the 'contagion' of class consciousness being passed on to the younger generation of dockers at Torside and Nelson.
After the cheering at the news of a full boycott, we had the Easter holiday and then . . . nothing. The dockers mood slumped as it seemed that all the promises they had received of international action to back their boycott, principally in the United States and from an ILA official called Bowers, seemed to be worth nothing. The MDHC moved to slap writs on Bowers in the US - and this seemed to explain their arrogance and sneering confidence at the last session of talks. On the picket line on the Dock Road, the attitude of the police turned ugly as perhaps they sensed the dockers more despondent mood. There was talk of ACL simply moving from the East Coast American ports to French Canadian ones. The stewards could only ask the dockers to stand firm and have confidence in themselves and their strategy so far. Then slowly . . . oh so slowly, the news began to come in. Action in Portugal to 'black' Liverpool boats, similar action in Bilbao in Spain, Swedish dockers [who are syndicalists in opposition to their Social Democratic government] simply refusing to move empty ACL containers. ABC shipping line in Australia in financial difficulties - boats impounded to pay fees.
But the big question was what would ACL do ? At the time of writing [end of April] we are assured that ACL WILL pull out of the port - this was the agreement Bowers had negotiated on the Liverpool dockers behalf. The fact that they are literally hanging around waiting on the ILA in the US is not doing the docker's morale any good. No doubt the stewards are going back over their strategy, trying to rethink their situation - perhaps this is as far as they can go. I am not privy to their discussions, but it is impossible not to miss an air of despondency beginning to creep in to their manner.
But, determined not simply to sit back, more delegations have been despatched abroad. Many of the stewards and the hard core of activists are now becoming exhausted, tired and drained with the strain, the travel, the constant picketing. But every bit of news on the international front cheers them up no end [and pisses the police off as well - which is a bonus.] And at last the Women of the Waterfront are beginning to find their voice. Many of them have taken up the work of travelling and speaking. Up to now 3500 meetings have been addressed in this country, over 1 million pounds has been raised and spent on this campaign. A new delegation went out to the West Coast of America and thanks to the Internet [on [see e-mail address at the end] we knew what Bobby Moreton and Tony Nelson were up to in Los Angeles. [Thanks to whoever posted it] We now also know about attempts to break up the existing dockers organisation on the West Coast. Every trip the dockers take abroad is an education in the class struggle - and the state of struggles going on wherever delegates go, always forms a part of the 'report back' which delegates give the mass meetings on a Friday and is reported in the Dockers Charter. [issue #6 contains a report of a visit to Turkey. In London Turkish workers form a vocal part of the support group. The Charter is supposed to be available on Dockers web site: http://www.gn.apc.org/labournet/docks/]
What you will not know is something of the 'composition' of the working class on the American West Coast. Bobby and Tony brought this story back with them. As they mounted their picket they were approached by groups of mostly Mexican truckers whom they had stopped. Fearing a possible confrontation they prepared themselves. Instead some of these non union [non organised ?] truckers simply asked what was the name of the union that 'had the balls' to send pickets 6000 miles ? And could they join ?
Next day some of them returned to mount their own 24 hour picket. If the Support Committees are looking for inspiration they might try to emulate this example
I simply report the story since on the same day as we met in Transport House in Liverpool, 'organised ' members of the dockers OWN union who work as gatemen and on the tugs and who are scabbing on this dispute, had their normal branch meeting - and even attempted to strike up a friendly conversation with their former work-mates, who have attempted in the past to 'picket them out'. There are some simple lessons in this dispute and one of them is - YOU DON'T CROSS PICKET LINES, and just because you are in a union it doesn't mean that you're class conscious, similarly some of the most class conscious workers are not necessarily in unions.
Before I turn to the actual business of Saturday 27th April, I should like to correct an impression I have erroneously given in my previous reports. I may have implied that all the dockers had to do was sit back and the international boycott would do the work for them. As you will realise from what has already been written such boycotts cannot be turned on and off like a tap. Each action has to be fought and argued for, hence the importance the dockers attach to sending delegates for face to face contact. Most of the delegates who attended the international dockers conference in Liverpool in February are rank and file activists and are not in a position to simply order workers around as if they were in an army. In any case such a policy is impossible and is a throwback to the kind of movement created by the Second and Third Internationals - if we are to take our understanding of new class 'composition' seriously, we should be looking for the emergence of new ways and forms of organising. I will return to this later in the report.
Now we must turn to the Saturday session and the work to create a solidarity movement in this country.
Firstly some of the more active and well established groups gave some account of their activities to date, and there was a series of contributions which came mostly from members of the various Left groups which participated. From the chair Jimmy Nolan speaking for the dockers indicated that they had no wish to dictate the policy of such groups nor to restrict in any way their terms of reference. Rather than report these initiatives, I should prefer to stand back and take a good hard look at what is being done. This is not to complain at what has been done or at those who are active, but we need to bring thought and action into play here.
It has to be asked - what does support or solidarity mean in such circumstances ? In the very first report I ever made on this dispute in November 1995 I posed this self same question. Already the major issue behind the dispute had become clear and that was casualisation. So far as can be judged all the support groups seem to see their role principally as that of raising funds, holding meetings at which dockers or Women of the Waterfront speak. Whilst these activities are important, the issue itself has hardly even begun to be confronted. Attempts have been made to picket or occupy premises used by Drake International who recruited and trained the scabs, but most of the speakers and the dockers themselves seemed to be fixated by the idea that somehow these support groups could organise strike action. Yet even Jimmy Nolan who is the most cautious of the stewards had to admit that the dockers were in no position to ask people to put themselves 'on the line' by taking a day off work to support them. He is of course absolutely right, and in previous reports I have commented on the inability of the base of the trade union movement locally to mount any real campaign in favour of the dockers. Being the hard headed realists that they are, most trade union officials know this too. As ever there are exceptions to every statement and locally workers at AC Delco in Kirkby deserve particular mention - and I am sure there are other individual plants, factories and worksites throughout the country doing likewise - but they are conspicuous by their exceptional nature.
The belief by the Left that somehow a huge movement of solidarity is being held back by 'traitors' and 'sell-outs' amongst the trade union leadership/bureaucracy is shown to be completely superstitious and plain wrong. There were enough lay, full time and ex full time officials of various trade unions attending the conference who spoke eloquently of their efforts in the past to, for instance, argue for solidarity action at the time of the miners strike in 1984 to expose that particular piece of Leftist nonsense. Even worse however is the blatant attempt by some Leftists to force 'the leaders' [Morris, or even worse Monks of the TUC] to ORDER blacking, solidarity or whatever. I have no wish to take part in building a movement capable of that sort of crap.
Now it may be true as some speakers said that there is now a changed mood amongst workers. That the generalised insecurity brought about by increasing unemployment, short term contracts, the changed balance of power at work and so on, may indeed be bringing about an increased willingness to struggle, cannot be gainsaid. But we do ourselves no favours by relying on what perhaps may be the kind of wishful thinking that was so much in evidence on Saturday. By contrast we might do far better to try and understand what has brought about the situation we are in today, so that it can give us a clue to the growth of movements in the future. It might then be possible to do some lateral thinking and find other ways for today's working class to give expression to their struggle and themselves than the usual knee jerk strike action. And also we might do better to LISTEN to workers in struggle who are grappling in practice with TODAY'S SOCIAL REALITY.
Firstly, let's see if we can deal with the question of the relationship of the dockers to 'their' trade union, the Transport & General Workers Union. In common with some others I have in the past adopted an attitude of hostility to the existing trade union movement - considering it as totally integrated into the system. I have seen nothing in this dispute to make me change my mind, but having such an understanding in the abstract has been of no concrete use - far more important has been the actual realisation of what its practical consequences are. In moving the resolution that the dockers had submitted to the conference, Bobby Moreton fresh back from Los Angeles, in a well argued and powerful speech, set out their thinking. He said that perhaps the fact that the dispute was unofficial and illegal, had been a source of its strength. Had Bill Morris [General Secretary of the T&G] not been afraid of 'sequestration' of union funds and property, he and the Executive might more easily have been persuaded to make the dispute official. That being the case, argued Bobby, almost certainly there would have been some rich ex- dockers on Merseyside and - NO DISPUTE AT ALL.
This is such a profound comment and a real indication of how the dockers are thinking. So, he went on, please don't amend our resolution, especially to mount a campaign to make the dispute 'official' or put 'pressure' on union leaders. Hardly had he sat down when the first speaker called, moved an amendment to do precisely that. Obviously, since he appeared to have swallowed the 'Transitional Programme' whole, we got treated to the whole argument - 'make them fight', 'expose the leadership' 'calling for this or that policy' etc. etc. Are these people deaf as well as 60 odd years out of date ? How many times do we have to have our heads bashed against the trade union door before they reckon we learn a lesson ?
The dockers have their relationship with the trade unions 'sorted'. For the moment they have the use of substantial trade union owned assets, and a substantial sum being regularly 'donated' to their 'hardship fund'. In return the union has no involvement in the dispute and that's the way the dockers want to keep it. Does it really need to be spelled out any more clearly ? Undoubtedly some officials support the dockers and may even be helping behind the scenes, but just as likely there are as many opposed to the dockers. Either way YOU CAN'T BUILD A STRATEGY ON THE UNIONS. Is that so difficult to understand or am I on a different planet to the rest of the Left ? It is simply a question of practicality for the dockers. Would that the Left could show such flexibility of thought. I hope for the moment that this disposes of this question.
Secondly, we need to look at generalising the dispute and in particular the role of the various support groups throughout the country [and internationally]. The dockers have not sought to tie a support movement to any particular policy or 'line'. This is the first difference from the miner's strike - where the support groups were very much subordinated to the NUM. Instead the resolution passed at the conference was deliberately designed to leave the initiative in the hands of the local groups themselves. It remains to be seen however if such groups can break out of the conceptions that they seem to have imposed on themselves.
It is time to consider the question of 'class compo-sition' which I have referred to in these reports. If a movement is to grow, it must reflect the needs of a social movement, the 'soil' if you like, in which it grows. What is the make up of this 'soil' - that is what is the 'composition' of the working class in this country in the 1990s? Only if we can recognise this can we begin to work out a way forward, and avoid becoming bogged down in an 'ideological' view which has been handed down to us from a previous movement. Many dockers have for the first time come to realise the reality of 'work' for the majority of the population, which their previous sectional organisation had helped to shield them from. Unfortunately they have still not understood fully the effect this is having on their own struggle.
So far as road transport is concerned for instance, the recent changes in the transport industry itself have all pointed in one direction - and that is to individualise and atomise drivers, so as to bring them under the control of Capital. All the new technology, from radio telephones, computerised route planning to Just in Time delivery systems, have had the effect of breaking up their former collective organisation, so as to allow the 'normal' functioning of the market to do its work. This is an international phenomenon which we have called a process of 'recomposition'. This means that the dockers have had great difficulty in getting road transport to respect their [mostly token] picket lines. On the picket line itself, this failure of the old form of struggle is having a very deleterious effect. So far however we have seen no sign of a change in tactics to take account of this reality. The stewards have chosen so far not to name the firms which are actively scabbing on the dispute. Nor have any attempts been made to take the campaign to the drivers themselves.
Yet we have concrete examples that breaking out of the old struggle can be done. Transport is now the 'weak link' in a very elongated production process - French lorry drivers have shown us how devastating they can be. German workers threatened with redundancy have disrupted traffic on nearby Autobahns with instant results. Sooner or later we have to confront this question, perhaps a minority within the support groups will attempt to hit those drivers and firms who are breaking the dispute ? After all if dockers can travel 6000 miles and do it why not in this country ? And this is merely one area of social life to be considered.
Many readers will be aware that for a younger generation, the struggle of the dockers is as remote as ancient history. For anyone under the age of 30 the dockers form of collective organisation is completely unknown, the 'trade union' question completely meaningless - have such people no role to play ? Are they incapable of collective struggle ? We know of course that this is not the case. Currently there is a campaign getting itself underway around the question of the Job Seekers Allowance as the state attempts to direct and control the Reserve Army of Labour. Can the two struggles somehow become one ? Will the participants recognise one another ? Will the support groups remain open for this to take place ?
Till next time. May 7th 1996
Merseyside Dockers Report #7
The second dockers' article from Subversion #19 - includes a discussion of the role of the trade unions in the dispute.
In my last report dated 7 May 1996, I told of the meeting to set up a National Committee to co-ordinate and extend the work of the various supporters groups around the country. The actual result of the meeting allegedly to set up such a body was inconclusive. So far as I can tell no such body exists at the moment, although it remains the dockers stated intention to set one up.
The hesitation and indecision around this issue illustrates a debate or argument going on within the committee and the dockers leadership. I cannot say, since I am not privy to their discussions as to what their thinking is, but perhaps it is a sign of the limits of their struggle and its form of organisation that they seem unable to confront, never mind resolve their dilemma. Whilst my purpose in writing my reports is obviously to support the dockers and their struggle, I also wish to act as a catalyst for discussion of the wider issues which their struggle raises. I am also trying to develop my own ideas and understanding of their struggle.
Much comment on the dispute, and some of it directed at my reports, is on the question of the trade unions and what is the relationship of workers in struggle to them. I have had cause to deal with this question before, but it seems that my views are being [deliberately ?] mis-represented or misunderstood. I am not going to name the organisations involved, they certainly know who they are, but it is the question itself that needs dealing with. Communists [for that is how I would describe myself] can have their own views and disagreements. For most of the time these are quite esoteric and confined to small groupings whose existence and importance is marginal at best.
However there comes a time when the question assumes a practical importance as it has done in this dispute. At this time it of no use communists going around denouncing this or that policy or strategy - this only serves to INCREASE the gulf of understanding that already unfortunately exists. Whilst I for one have made no secret of my views on this question, I have been more concerned with the PROCESS through which a section of workers comes to grips with the reality around them.
So essentially after 7 months of struggle I see the dockers position as follows:
The dockers by going directly international to dock and transport workers all over the world have managed to bring sufficient pressure onto the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, so that they cannot be ignored. They are for the moment the only section of workers who have dared to challenge the prevailing offensive of the employers and their their constant demand for increased 'flexibility'. This is why the issue at the centre of the dispute - casualisation - is the one that they constantly emphasise. And just as constantly the MDHC denies that is employing 'casual labour'.
However the reality is that the dockers remain 'locked out'; and MDHC has a replacement workforce whom they have recruited and trained, and which is working alongside approximately half the original workforce. As time goes on MDHC will be able to drive up productivity levels without any or with very little collective resistance from the workforce. This after all was what the dispute was always all about - as the recent 'negotiations' have revealed.
Liverpool docks were unique in the respect that it was the only port in Britain where, after the national strike of 1989, a recognised [by the employers] collective workers organisation still existed. The view has been advanced that this dispute is the 'last stand' of a dinosaur workers movement, dominated by sectional trade union organisation . . . . and at the same time this is the beginning of a 'fight back', but that same trade union movement will 'betray' the workers. As ever, elements of a real situation have been used to bolster an ideological outlook, instead of the actual situation being looked at in all its complexity. Neither of the above views, however much they may contain elements of reality, can offer us a way forward.
I am of the opinion that the existing trade union movement in all its forms represents a barrier to any new movement and that ultimately it will have to be confronted and destroyed. But as I also have pointed out, such an abstract understanding is of no practical use in the concrete situation the dockers find themselves in.
Nobody who knows anything of the history of the dockers attempts at self organisation in Britain since the Second World War, can deny that dockers are rightly suspicious of the union that 'represents' them - the Transport and General Workers Union.
When in the 1850s unions were first able to maintain their more or less permanent existence instead of disappearing with the business cycle as had, up to then, been the case and in accordance with bourgeois economic theory, this created a problem for the authorities. How should they deal with this new organisation ? We are all aware of the history and the argument that initially at least, only skilled workers were able to keep their organisations in being, so they formed an 'aristocracy' of labour. But in the 1890s and just before the First World War, millions of workers in this country were unionised for the first time. What was the response of the State ? - It was to attempt to draw all these new organisations into the management of the system, initially to keep the war going. But later, in the form of the Turner-Mond talks of 1928, this was formalised and by the late 30s the unions were already assured of a place in the economy. Keynes and his 'New Economics' simply formalised and rationalised a process that was ALREADY UNDERWAY.
Thus the T&G was a more than willing participant in the National Dock Labour Scheme which was the result of the dockers long fight to get rid of casual working in their industry. This was an organisation set up by the State, following Keynesian attempts to 'plan' the class struggle and use it as a motor of development for capitalism. When, in common with similar schemes in Europe and North America this mechanism began to falter in the late 60s, the T&G was its biggest defender, hankering after its role in the MANAGEMENT of the labour process. This it secured with the Jones Aldington agreement on the docks. But this was never going to be a permanent solution to a problem that has its roots in the FUNDAMENTAL antagonism between Capital and Labour, which more than anything else the Keynesian system and its Labour Party backers at the time, wished to hide. So in 1989 there was a last ditch attempt to preserve collective organisation on the docks in this country - which was defeated. Nationally the unions had no answer to the combination new technology [containerisation] and the demand for 'flexibility' that dock work has always meant.
In Liverpool, some dockers organisation managed to exist in a quasi independent manner from the union. The MDHC realising that the union was no longer serving any useful role in the management of the workforce, decided that a more confrontational style was needed and could be afforded. Hence the mass sacking of almost 500 who refused to accept the new 'realities' of the labour market.
In getting this far, and maintaining their collective organisation, the dockers have successfully challenged the new form of work organisation with which we are all becoming familiar - casual working, short term contracts, flexibility in the form of call outs, minimum hours contracts and so on. But they have done it on the basis of their old organisation and with many of their existing views and conceptions unaltered. Thus we can say THAT THE DOCKERS THINKING IS WAY BEHIND THEIR PRACTICAL MOVEMENT.
So far, for instance they have not been willing to challenge the right of the T&G to 'represent' them - being content to speak the language of procedure and collective agreements - even when their employer, the MDHC, has unilaterally torn them up. Even when in the last set of negotiations the MDHC roundly abused them - calling them workshy, prone to unofficial strikes, unwilling to retrain and so on - they indignantly denied this, when in fact it is the truth. The truth is that by their actions they rejected wage labour, but they remain unwilling to recognise it - except perhaps in private and amongst people they know to be sympathetic.
Now it is no good standing on the sidelines and berating the dockers, as some have done, for not confronting the union [or even worse condemning them and their struggle out of hand as doomed from the start - à la RCP]. If you are going to be taken seriously in making this argument you must be able to show what can and should be done instead. When it comes to this practical test many of the critics are found wanting. What for instance should be the attitude when the union [as it has done] gives a substantial and regular 'donation' to the strikers hardship fund ? Or, concretely, should the dockers abandon their almost full time use of the T & G building in Islington ? Most importantly, when an official called Bowers, of the ILA on the East Coast of America, negotiates a deal with ACL who account for 40 per cent of the turnover in the Port of Liverpool, that says ACL will pull out of the Port unless the dockers demands are met - do you gratefully accept it or call him a liar and a bureaucrat on the make ? Even now, when it looks as if he will not or perhaps cannot deliver on what he said - do you denounce him, call him a traitor and a sell out ? Or do you quietly learn your lesson, send delegates out to the West Coast and attempt to do your own work ? And who knows it might even bear fruit - the West Coast and East Coast dockers organisations are talking to one another for the first time since 1934, - is this all nothing more than bureaucratic manoeuvring ?
When it is looked at in this way - you soon realise, as the dockers have, that it makes no sense to antagonise the union - IF YOU ARE NOT IN A POSITION TO OFFER A CONCRETE ALTERNATIVE THAT REALISTICALLY CHALLENGES THE UNION.
In any case, all the ritual condemnation from the ICP and others has done, is to get the dockers backs up and force the dockers back onto the ground they know- which we have already argued is changing all around them. The realisation of what the unions are and why they must be confronted and destroyed HAS TO COME FROM THE DOCKERS THEMSELVES.
Nevertheless I am bound to ask the question of a movement that can organise an international rank and file conference, send pickets 6000 miles round the world and provoke possibly a new form of struggle among previously 'unorganised' and casualised lorry drivers on the Californian Coast and act as a catalyst for struggles in Europe - How is it that it cannot find its way out of the impasse currently facing it ? How is it that it cannot generalise its struggle on an issue that affects millions of workers in this country and is directly preventing their own dispute from achieving success ?
The old form of struggle that the dockers were used to - where because of their sectional power and collective organisation, they actually had NO NEED TO PICKET - has gone. In addition the things that went with the old struggle - 'rank and file' meetings, caucuses of shop stewards, 'co-ordinating committees' on which political deals could be stitched up, etc. is paralysed by its reliance on the trade union machine. Those within the support groups in this country, who orientate themselves to this trade union base, can only pass resolutions, appeal for money, and worst of all urge national leaderships to make the dispute official.
Now I am not going to denounce anyone in this dispute who thinks that they are proceeding along the correct lines. Obviously you proceed on the basis of what you understand [and in the case of the Left in this country that does not appear to be overmuch], but so much of what I have observed and heard in this dispute is simply a reaction to what is going on rather than the result of considered thought. This is one of the reasons why so much of the Left is quite unable to have anything meaningful to say - to the extent that the SWP is still trying to promote 'mass pickets' - and this months after the stewards have explained in some detail why this is neither possible nor desirable.
But certain realities must be faced. One of them is the daily and almost routine crossing of the dockers picket lines by lorry drivers, some of whom are known personally to the dockers.
Transport is now one of the major cycles of capital. The capitalists, in the form of management gurus and 'human relations experts' openly boast of their 'Just in Time' production schedules, and we marvel at how easily goods are shipped round the world, overcoming barriers of language and culture. But this success also shows a weakness. Docks without inland communications, and principally road communications, are simply useless pieces of real estate. As the action of the truck drivers in the greater Los Angeles area has shown, disrupting this flow is one of the main weapons workers have. Many of those engaged in the anti-roads struggle have demonstrated how easily road transport communications are disrupted, and this point has not been lost on some dockers.
If the docks dispute is to move forward at all, this is the major question that has to be addressed. A way has to be found of overcoming the present atomised and fractured nature of road transport. We have to realise that the industry is organised in the way it is as a RESPONSE to the class struggle that took place within it. It does not take a genius to realise that one of the driving forces behind the 'privatisation' of the railways lies in the attempt to get round a very strong, sectionally organised group of workers, who have demonstrated their power and willingness to use their sectional strength.
To do all this a movement will have to break out of its sectional limitations, will have to overcome many of its ingrained habits and attitudes. I have tried to be as objective as I can in assessing how far and how much the dockers have done. Perhaps now after 7 months, we must realise that there is only so far such a movement can go. Perhaps given the point from where we started, much has already been ,but also given the point from where we started, perhaps this is as far as this movement can go?
DG May 1996
Correspondence: Democracy and Class Struggle
Subversion's discussion with a member of the SPGB on democracy and class struggle.
Thanks for the literature you sent me recently and for mailing me Subversion 19. It was all extremely interesting stuff and a source of a lot of good information. Keep up the good work! (And find enclosed a contribution to help you to do so).
If it's OK I'd like to raise a couple of questions concerning the "education" and class struggle issue and the issue of democracy.
Of course experiences in the day to day struggles lead some people to become revolutionaries. Also, I agree with you that upsurges in class struggle and periods of crisis in capitalism provide a POTENTIAL revolutionary springboard. The contradictions, class relationships and miseries inherent to capitalism inevitably lead the workers to confront capital and when this happens there is, of course the POTENTIAL for revolutionary consciousness to grow through the realisation of class position and the nature of capitalism. As the current trends within capitalism continue, squeezing and stamping on the working class ever more relentlessly, alongside the growing realisation of the failure of all forms of running the system; then there is definitely a growing POTENTIAL for the escalation of struggle towards the overthrow of the system. However, how many times has the potential been there in past moments of escalated struggle and capitalist crisis only to disappear or to be channelled into reformist, pro-capitalist directions? And why?
Your correspondent DG, in his last report on the Merseyside dockers' dispute revealingly comments about the dockers that, "...by their actions they rejected wage labour, but they remain unwilling to recognise it...". It would appear that their dispute has reached the brink of revolutionary consciousness, but this is held back by the general climate of political ideas. That DG goes on to say that dockers only recognise their rejection of wage labour "in private" goes to show that communist/socialist ideas are still incredibly marginalised, to the point of being unthinkable.
Wouldn't things be different if communist/socialist ideas were generalised throughout the working class? The more widely known, discussed, accepted the communist/socialist case is, then surely the more likely it is that "day to day" class conflict will escalate into a decisive mass struggle against the money system itself. This is where "education" (or promoting the socialist case) rears its head. I feel that the biggest job is getting the socialist case across as widely and loudly as possible. Capitalism will continue to throw up situations where an escalation of class struggle towards communism is possible, but the more workers there are who are conscious communists or are aware of the alternative to capitalism, then I would think the greater the likelihood there is of getting rid of the system.
Also, would you agree that upsurges of class struggle which don't have a widespread libertarian socialist political consciousness will always run the risk of being hijacked by the Left and the rest of the leadership brigade?
Following on from this, I'd be interested in hearing a clarification of Subversion's views on democracy. I think we all agree that REPRESENTATIVE "democracy" is a farce and that voting for any group that seeks to administer capitalism or lead us is like loading the gun for your own executioner. Likewise there would be no difference if all state and commercial posts were directly elected as they will always act on behalf of the ruling class and against us. Elected police chiefs (as the SWP plan to have in their "Workers State"!!) would still be thugs-in-chief as much as elected politicians act in the same anti-working class way as unelected ones do. But Subversion seems to damn democracy full stop and I still can't understand why.
Is there anything wrong with democracy in the sense of organisation and discussion as equals, the making of decisions by voting, the election of mandated, recallable delegates to relevant bodies etc.? This is, after all the way a free society would surely work. Democracy is a sham under capitalism because people are anything but equals and the capitalist notion of democracy is used to cover this up.
Going on (!) to the issue of parliament, I don't see why it can't be used as PART of the revolution as it wouldn't be used as an instrument of government, but as a means of demonstrating and carrying out the working class majority's wish to abolish the state for good. Also, bearing in mind that, "...the proletarian movement is the movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority" couldn't the vote be used as a way of ensuring that the socialist revolution IS carried out by the immense majority of our class, and not by a minority that would leave the majority passive and open to manipulation by pro-capitalist or leadership elements? By voting, at least we could know exactly where we were. And it would be on OUR terms, as capitalism would already be in final retreat (hopefully) by this stage.
Yours for socialism,
Member of Socialist Party of Great Britain
Thanks for your letter...
As you say "we have heard it all before" from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, especially in the north west where we have debated this issue to the point of mutual exhaustion!
However when you say in your letter "...then there is definitely a growing potential for the escalation of struggle towards the overthrow of the system" you have perhaps (inadvertently?) taken one step beyond the usual SPGB approach.
In general the SPGB has only conceived of the 'educative' process of the class struggle from a purely negative point of view. It ignores the possibilities of collective action as a positive experience - the development of class solidarity and confidence in our ability to change material circumstances, if only in small ways. The process is similarly viewed more in terms of individuals' passive reflection in failure, then in the COLLECTIVE advancement of struggle and consciousness.
Whilst some underlying long term trends in the development of capitalism (through the interaction of competition and class struggle) appear to benefit the revolutionary movement, in general we see no evidence of any linear, accumulative advancement towards capitalism's overthrow. What we do perceive are periodic advances in the escalation of class struggle and subsequent retreats. It is these escalations which practically confront large sections of our class with the need, as well as the possibility, of going beyond merely defensive actions towards an attack on both the capitalist economy and state. In the long history of capitalism the period 1917-21 was for instance a high point as on a lesser scale was 1968-70, 1980-81 in more recent times. It is precisely in such periods that revolutionary minorities can have a disproportionate influence by encouraging, both theoretically and practically, the combining and deepening of struggle.
That doesn't mean we just go away and contemplate our navels the rest of the time, but rather that the balance of our work between theoretical development, general propaganda and agitational activity is consciously altered in relation to the development of the class struggle at any particular time.
All of this leads on to our critique of "democracy" which goes well beyond a simple rejection of Parliament.
In basing our hopes on the escalation and deepening of class struggle as the starting point of revolution, we have to accept that this process is something advanced by MINORITIES, often against the passivity of the majority. As the struggle develops these minorities will inevitably grow and on the eve of revolution will doubtless number many millions. The point however, is that we cannot predict exactly what proportion of our class needs to be actively involved in consciously attacking capitalism (as opposed to passively going along with events or waiting to see what happens) to start the revoluion. It's not a matter of the number of bodies as such, but rather the balance of class power. Furthermore whilst the defeat of all the major capitalist states marks a definitive moment in the revolution, the momentum carries on involving more people, in a more conscious way until communism is firmly established as a new way of life.
In so far as the class struggle is advanced by 'minorities' an over concern for 'democracy' in the abstract becomes a barrier to revolutionary activity. Parliamentary democracy in particular and also 'Party' and 'trade union' democracy have been continually used against the activity of militants seeking to advance the interests of our class.
To oppose 'democracy' is not to support 'dictatorship' or 'elitism' but to practice equality and self-activity amongst those committed to struggle, and to seek the continual expansion of the struggle on this basis.
We do not view revolution in terms of the extension of political democracy into the workplace, the economy or society as a whole. Rather it should involve the supercedingof both dictatorship and democracy, the abolition of politics and economics as such.
Whether or not the organisation of communist society involves elections and voting (and we might expect much of everyday life to take on a 'natural' process within certain well defined principles) this is not its essence, which lies in the conscious creation and re-creation of the human world unmediated by 'exchange' and all its ramifications.
We hope this goes some way to further explaining our approach.
Related: An exchange between Mark Shipway and the SPGB: http://socialiststandardmyspace.blogspot.com/2019/04/letter-wildcat-debate-1988.html
(Unfortunately, so far as I can determine, the Socialist Standard seems not to have published the letter from 'MB'.)
Open Letter To Class War
The letter below was given to Class War after issue 69 appeared, in the expectation that they would print it in their paper. They later told us verbally that it was "not the type of thing they put in their paper" or somesuch phrase. This was disappointing, not to say rather pathetic, but we are printing it ourselves instead in the hope that it still might provoke useful debate.
SUBVERSION has always had good relations with Class War, particularly Manchester Class War with whom we have had joint public meetings on occasion. We see the CW members we know as fellow working-class revolutionaries. However, when we read your paper we notice that from time to time the most appalling reactionary shite appears in it.
We think it's about time we took you up on some of these things, and hopefully we can get a useful debate going.
The item that prompted us to write this letter was the review of "The Battle of Algiers" in CW 69, in which you indicate support (to some degree at least) for the FLN (National Liberation Front).
This organisation, after it came to power in Algeria, created a brutal capitalist regime in no way better than the French colonial one it replaced. Three decades later the experience of living under it has driven huge numbers of people into the arms of Islamic Fascism in their desperation for an alternative (which in turn will be just as bad, of course).
Some might object that the review said the FLN were "cool" rather than using the words "we support them". But many people think Nazi uniforms were "cool". You wouldn't print that, would you? Saying something is "cool" is just a somewhat mealy-mouthed way of saying you support them.
You also say that the FLN "didn't have all the answers". On the contrary, we think they DID have all the answers - the answers to how to crush the working class in the interest of capitalism! That was their aim all along.
The FLN are in their class nature the same as every other "national liberation movement", that is, bourgeois. All such movements oppose the existing rulers merely in order to step into their shoes. Class War has a body of opinion within it that is sympathetic to such "oppositional capitalist" movements, in particular the Irish Republicans. It goes without saying (given what we've just said above) that we think the IRA are a nasty bunch of "alternative rulers" just like all other "national liberationists" round the world and that once in power they would create a brutal capitalist state the same as every other one. That is the nature of capitalism.
Some people say that they are "fighting the British State" or that "the Government opposes/fears them" as a reason to support them.
But exactly that argument was used during the Cold War by the supporters of the U.S.S.R. and other State Capitalist regimes as a reason for us to support them (or "defend" them, as the Trots would say).
But genuine revolutionaries don't support something just because this or that government or faction is in conflict with them. It's what they offer the working-class that's important. All capitalist factions (no matter how much they fight each other) have one thing in common: They offer only slavery, misery and war to our class.
These issues are vital for revolutionaries - they can't be ignored for the sake of "unity" or whatever. Supporting independent action by the working-class for its own, independent class interest is a universe away from going around supporting counter-revolutionary bastards. Or even calling them "cool"
Yours in comradeship,
The letter below was given to Class War after issue 69 appeared, in the expectation that they would print it in their paper. They later told us verbally that it was "not the type of thing they put in their paper" or somesuch phrase. This was disappointing, not to say rather pathetic
Class War were always ready to answer attacks from the Left and the media, but valid criticisms from a radical perspective ... were met with a deafening silence. To have dealt with these critiques demanded some theoretical self-reflection and discussion that would have threatened the fragile unity of the group, based as it was on an uneasy compromise, and challenged the arrogance of the group with facing its own repressed self doubt. http://libcom.org/library/paper-tiger-class-war-aufheben-6
In any future proletarian social movement channels of direct collective communication will need to reappear as practice; in exactly what forms remains to be seen
This was written in the late 80's, early 90's before the emergence of Internet based social media. What does it mean for today's workers?
It perhaps means a particular technological form doesn't guarantee a particular content.
Trouble At Royal Mail
Subversion on the postal workers dispute, mid 1990s.
As this is written the one day of stike action called by the Communication Workers Union at Royal Mail is six days off. The strike is mainly over Royal Mail's burning desire to introduce teamworking and a system of one hundred per cent continous improvement. The also want us, in return for an hour and a half reduction in hours over a week, to be available to work an extra fifteen minutes at the end of each duty for nothing, i.e. one and a half hours a week! They also want to give us job security until the year 2000, which is a massive three and a half years! And since only a small percentage of Royal Mail employees are on short-term contracts this can only mean that around the turn of this miserable century they want to put us all on contracts. In return for this "new way of working" they say they will increase basic pay but these words come from the rabid dogs who have been busy for ages trying to reduce the total wage bill - even on their own figures 30% will be worse off!
Teamworking means that delivery personnel will have to work in small teams, arranging our own holidays and covering each others duties when anyone is on holiday or sick. It is not certain that we will be paid overtime for covering each others duties. Allied to this is the concept of one hundred per cent continous improvement which means that we have to clear the office completely of mail everyday and continously improve our performance (productivity has risen 60% over the last few years, but with no increase in staff). If we fail at any point then we will lose the bonus that Royal Mail has decided will be the carrot that ensures we are obedient and fast working donkeys. Teamworking will turn us against each other because we will learn to rely on their bonus (a paltry maximum of £130 per month) and if anyone fails then they will be to blame for the whole office losing its bonus. It is also possible that overtime money (if there is any!) for covering sick or holiday absences will come out of the bonus!
The introduction of these plans by Royal Mail will probably mean that Postman Pat, who had the cushiest round in the entire country, will resort to taking an overdose of paracetamols.
Before the result of the strike ballot Royal Mail managers had been secretly instructed to introduce teamworking immediately if the result had been no to industrial action. And they are the ones who go on and on and on about negotiations and more importantly, that they want our views and our participation. Do you think maybe they are just a bunch of slimy, untrustworthy cheats?
Finally, a little bit about the tight red tape of union law these days (but don't feel sorry for the union bosses!!). All industrial action, in order to be legal, has to be the result of a ballot. Once the ballot results are in then industrial action has to be taken within 28 days or another ballot has to be taken. Also there has to be 7 days notice of the commencement of industrial action. So, in order for further industrial action to be legal at least one day has to be called within the 28 day period.
It is likely that Royal Mail will try to introduce teamworking anyway, which will result in unnoficial walkouts. Ever mindful of their huge salaries and the massive funds of the union our union bosses will try to make sure their arses are covered as best as possible in the event of any undisciplined action taken by us lowly pawns.
of course, SUBVERSION says:
ALL OUT UNTIL WE DESTROY THE ENTIRE MONEY SYSTEM!!
[see SUBVERSION #18 for further background to the current troubles]