AF and Revolutionary Unions

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pale_mouthed_prophet
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Nov 2 2008 01:18
AF and Revolutionary Unions

Considering that your A&P (assuming website is up-to-date) state categorically that unions can never be effective organs of revolutionary change, a surprising number of you seem to be in the IWW.

What's that about?

~J.

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Nov 2 2008 09:46

Hi,

We're currently writing a document to clear this issue up, which is nearly finished but will have to be approved nationally, likely next year.

I understand the confusion. Basically, we do not believe that unions can be a weapon for revolution. They are fully integrated into the structure of state capitalism, require legal recognition and must negotiate the various anti-union laws which require them to discipline their own membership or be litigated out of existence. We are very critical of this, and there'll be an article in the November issue of Resistance, out immanently, criticising the role of unions in recent workers struggles and calling on workers to broaden and take control of their struggles themselves.

We think that syndicalist unions are by no means immune to these pressures. Based on my own converstations and the discussion around this issue, theres no belief that it'll be possible to recreate the prewar mass syndicalist unions and their militancy. Its a fantasy to believe that is possible in this day and age.

We do however think that a total rejection of unions, to the extent that militants shouldn't be members even at a rank and file level is a dead end. The union is a common point of departure for many workers. In key industries, struggles will be centred around them. So we think militants can participate in the class struggle through the unions, but are fully aware that workers must struggle against the unions too, and that a widening of struggle outside and across unions is the only possible way to advance towards revolutionary struggle. The question is one of critical practicality.

Some see the IWW as having practical potential in this. Its not surprising that people in non unionised workplaces might want the legal protection of a union for action, and its also not surprising that they might want a union with an emphasis on direct democracy. To take an example, theres a private sector workplace where we have membership, and where working conditions have been under attack. In response the workers there begun a unionisation drive, and it was decided to use the IWW. This led to organisers being sacked, but now management have taken a different approach, bringing in a speaker from a rival TUC union to talk to the workforce and undermine their attempts to organise themselves. But it looks like they'll have a functioning IWW job branch soon.

Now in this instance I can understand why the workers involved wanted the protection of a union, and why they went for the IWW, despite being critical of both unions and syndicalism. Another reason for IWW membership is the use of dual-carding to build links between politicised workers in different mainstream unions.

For me, the verdict is out until the IWW is involved in an actual dispute in this country, and we can see how it deals with the various anti-union laws in place.

Hope that was helpful. Look out for a proper AF statement next year though, don't take this as the official line.

Mark.
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Nov 2 2008 10:26
Django wrote:
Basically, we do not believe that unions can be a weapon for revolution. They are fully integrated into the structure of state capitalism, require legal recognition and must negotiate the various anti-union laws which require them to discipline their own membership or be litigated out of existence. We are very critical of this, and there'll be an article in the November issue of Resistance, out immanently, criticising the role of unions in recent workers struggles and calling on workers to broaden and take control of their struggles themselves.

We think that syndicalist unions are by no means immune to these pressures. Based on my own converstations and the discussion around this issue, theres no belief that it'll be possible to recreate the prewar mass syndicalist unions and their militancy. Its a fantasy to believe that is possible in this day and age.

Is this a view specifically of the situation in Britain or is it something that you'd say applies everywhere?

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Nov 2 2008 10:53

Its definately the case in Britain. In my current workplace all staff are actively encouraged by management to join the union (which they are also members of), though not temps like us.

I can't comment on the specifics of every country in the world, but I think this is common to advanced industrial countries and comes from the practices of containing class struggle which developed from the postwar settlement and which have been intensified here by the defeats suffered by the working class in more recent years. Betrayal by union "leaders", revolutionary or otherwise, were common before this period, but the overall structural picture was different. The situation will be slightly different in developing counties, I suspect, but the pressures are always there.

Mark.
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Nov 2 2008 12:40
Django wrote:
I can't comment on the specifics of every country in the world, but I think this is common to advanced industrial countries

As far as the possibility of recreating mass syndicalist unions goes I think it's also interesting that in countries like Spain, Italy and Sweden where there is some real choice of which union to join most people choose to join a mainstream union rather than a syndicalist or base union - if they join a union at all. In a way this is like choosing to pay for a service without having to be actively involved.

Django wrote:
The situation will be slightly different in developing counties, I suspect, but the pressures are always there.

I'd agree with this - though it still leaves the question of whether something like the pre-war syndicalist unions could be recreated in some developing countries - or whether there is something fundamentally different about the modern world that would rule this out. I'd be interested in anyone's opinions on this, not just the AF's.

ticking_fool
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Nov 2 2008 13:40
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I'd agree with this - though it still leaves the question of whether something like the pre-war syndicalist unions could be recreated in some developing countries - or whether there is something fundamentally different about the modern world that would rule this out.

I think this is something we're likely to find out in the next few years. Under full fledged neoliberalism I'd argue that the greater opportunities for capital flight compared to the early 20th century make mass industrial unions a much less likely proposition. In order to really work they'd need to be genuinely international and capture the whole supply chain, which is obviously much more difficult to do and much more easily broken by attacking lines of communication and creating competition between workers in different countries.

If capital gets more firmly attached to nation states when the dust from the current crisis settles (which is one possible outcome), then I think they become a more likely proposition again. Not in the west, where workplaces are far too fragmented, but possibly in China and India for example where large concentrations of workers are pretty common. How that would play out god only knows, but it could be interesting to say the least.

asn
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Nov 3 2008 10:01

We think that syndicalist unions are by no means immune to these pressures. Based on my own converstations and the discussion around this issue, theres no belief that it'll be possible to recreate the prewar mass syndicalist unions and their militancy. Its a fantasy to believe that is possible in this day and age.

- if various groups who wave red & black flags could move away from the micro party building - aping the various groups informed by the stalinist/trotsyist tradition obsessed with recruitment and pandering to the exotic fads and identity politics of the left subculture and focused solely on assisting workers self organisation in sectors of strategic importance - eg the critical transport industries and were successful in getting some syndicalist style grass roots movement going - taking big actions raising workers morale generally and in less important areas and supporting at critical periods new syndicalist union organising drives in various sectors- you could see the emergence of an expanding syndicalist movement leading to the appearance of mass syndicalist unionism -it was precisely such big actions and the militant climate in the early 20th Century in the UK which contributed to the emergence of syndicalist unions in marginal sectors eg in London catering see "Dare to be Daniel" by Wilf McCartney and "British Syndicalism" by Bob Holton and relevant articles in the archive section on our web site www.rebelworker.org

- if there is a fantasy it will be the iww becoming a genuine syndicalist union in the uk and elsewhere in the anglo world- after all lacking massive industrial muscle it would not be in a position to defy industrial laws which outlaw direct action and encourage bureaucratic ways and acting not all that different from the mainstream unions - but the strategy I have outlined above certainly would tackle these obstacles.

- in regard to mass syndicalist unions in the "old days" eg the CNT in Spain in the 30's - they certainly were able to avoid being in corporated into the Republic's highly restrictive industrial relations system - due to its base in strategic sectors and mass base - see "The Agony of Modernisation" by Benjamin Martin- as a result it never developed a bureaucracy - however it had other serious problems - which contributed to bureaucratic tendecies and participation in the Popular Front Govt. structures during the Civil War.

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Nov 3 2008 18:26

Thats a lot of ifs. You're basicaly saying that if the union was big enough it could flout industrial laws, which I very much doubt, but if it was it would have a long growth period in which it couldn't and would have to act like a legal union - sending wildcat strikers back to work, etc, unless it recruited millions overnight. It doesn't fill me with enthusiasm.

I don't see whats so controvercial in noting that industrial laws and the role of unions are completely different from 1920. We live in a very different histotical moment. You just have to look at the endless splits and bickering in the global anarcho-syndicalist milieu to see the difficulties of acting as a revolutionary union in the 21st century. The CNT existed in a particular climate, coming from the foundation of the labour movement and the fact that you had to be in a union to get a job. I don't understand how you can have it both ways in participating in the counter-revolution either. The didnt have a bureaucracy, but had bureaucratic "leaders" who entered government and were allowed to stay there by the rank and file. It just demonstrates the fact that we need to struggle against unions in order to win, even revolutionary ones that might have value in raising class consciousness generally.

I'm not sure what these groups are which are "obsessed with recruitment" and "identity politics", and its interesting that you follow that by talking about mass recruitment strategies. The anarcho-syndicalist groups in the UK are smaller than many leftist groups, and have no option but to act as political groups, something I see no problem with.

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Nov 3 2008 18:28

Incidentally I don't disagree in getting stuck in in industries where there'll be struggle, in order to increase combativity etc. I just don't see any value in telling people that the way to advance the struggle is to leave the RMT and join the IWW.

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Nov 3 2008 22:17
Django wrote:
Incidentally I don't disagree in getting stuck in in industries where there'll be struggle, in order to increase combativity etc. I just don't see any value in telling people that the way to advance the struggle is to leave the RMT and join the IWW.

To my knowledge, the IWW has never encouraged workers to do so, advocating a duel-card strategy when a mainstream union has a meaningful presence in a workplace.

Thanks for the views anyhow.

~J.

asn
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Nov 4 2008 11:54

Thats a lot of ifs. You're basicaly saying that if the union was big enough it could flout industrial laws, which I very much doubt, but if it was it would have a long growth period in which it couldn't and would have to act like a legal union - sending wildcat strikers back to work, etc, unless it recruited millions overnight. It doesn't fill me with enthusiasm.

- not necessarily a union in the current context but a grass roots direct action movement - it could develop quite rapidly - a work to rule style campaign in a strategic transport sector - something like this occurred in early 2004 in NSW Australia amongst train drivers throwing out the window so to speak compliance with industrial agreements/regulations and causing enormous disruption to rail services - they acted independently of the union officials- an ASN militant played a important role in the affair - it lasted for a week or so before the union officials hosed it down - the workers achieved large bonuses but unharmed by any IR laws or state repression and the ASN only issued a leaflet the day after the campaign ended - other groups in the railways such as train guards - were inspired by the action and militants were also agitating for similar action - but again the officials moved rapidly and stopped that -
- this is just a small hill compared to the hymilayas of the rail workers strikes in france in late 86/early 87 and december 1995 which led to the emergence of grass committees and coordinating committees - and spread in the shape of a strike wave into large parts of the public sector -
in such a contexts mass syndicalist unions and their confederation could crystalise - of course to get workers to adopt such measures you would need an industrial paper put out over a long period and associated making of contacts - networking of militants , raised morale etc- which in the UK case would involve a very focused, coordinated and long range effort by anarcho-syndicalist groups
it stands to reason -the forces of the state/employers will think again re getting heavy with groups with the capacity to cause major distruption - but with those who don't have such capacity they will target them - in Western Australia - a year or so ago a group of a few hundred workers members of the CFMEU who took some minor direct action all faced massive fines - an industrially marginal group like the IWW in the UK and elsewhere is unlikely to deter the state from getting heavy to counter direct action

I'm not sure what these groups are which are "obsessed with recruitment" and "identity politics", and its interesting that you follow that by talking about mass recruitment strategies. The anarcho-syndicalist groups in the UK are smaller than many leftist groups, and have no option but to act as political groups, something I see no problem with.

- there is a serious problem - the "recruits" they are likely to attract are not militant workers with experience of the class struggle but students/workers with high levels of autonomy in their jobs/academics/ etc - their focus would be very much based on outrage against various "oppressions" and associated single issue campaigns and lack a focus on the class struggle - and unlikely to become involved in the strategic organising I have outlined which has the potential to realise the emergence of the transitional steps leading to the emergence of mass syndicalist unionism. With such elements in the group you would likely have much focus on political correctness displays, support for identity politics and associated irrationalities and a general "unscientific climate" - etc, which would also alienate militant workers ( for a discussion of such elements see "Report on the Workers Control Conference " in the archive section of our webpage www.rebelworker.org)

- these anarcho-syndicalist groups have an option which would attract militant workers into their orbit- what I have outlined - the consistent organisational assistance to workers in such strategic sections would impress militants - they would see these anarcho-syndicalists are serious and useful people to collaborate with - they would come forward to get involved and seek assistance -militants in other industries of less strategic importance are also likely to get involved too - helping with the campaigns and the industrial paper production and distribution - in the process these militants would acquire the experience and access to facilities in putting out workplace papers - so spin offs could occur leading to them launching their own papers in their industries.

I don't see whats so controvercial in noting that industrial laws and the role of unions are completely different from 1920. We live in a very different histotical moment. You just have to look at the endless splits and bickering in the global anarcho-syndicalist milieu to see the difficulties of acting as a revolutionary union in the 21st century. The CNT existed in a particular climate, coming from the foundation of the labour movement and the fact that you had to be in a union to get a job. I don't understand how you can have it both ways in participating in the counter-revolution either. The didnt have a bureaucracy, but had bureaucratic "leaders" who entered government and were allowed to stay there by the rank and file. It just demonstrates the fact that we need to struggle against unions in order to win, even revolutionary ones that might have value in raising class consciousness generally.

- we do live in a different situation to the 1920's - transport industries play an ever much more critical role in the economy - very much interconnectred with the latest strategies of global capitalism - containerisation, just in timeproduction , world car projects, chain stores etc - but capitalists are capitalists ever worrying about profits and threats of major disruption to this profit making -

- in regard to the CNT entry into the govt during the Spanish Civil War - a more adequate explanation lies in the lack of a scientific climate in the CNT in the years before the Civil War where a more adequate revolutionary strategy could be discussed and adopted - eg a workers councils system rather than notion that the CNT was self sufficient to carry out the revolution - lacking a more adequate political strategy, and seeing it couldn't carring out the revolution all by itself the CNT became drawn into the popular front govt structures -
- precluding this "scientific climate" and scope for calm discussion was the influence of the Barcelona based FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) which via various positions it held in the CNT and associated agitation drew it into the insurrectionary cycle of the early 30's and subsequent massive state repression and the driving out of the CNT of rival anarcho-syndicalist tendencies - the Trientistas and BOC (Worker Peasant Bloc) (see "Red Barcelona" Edited by Angel Smith and review in the archive section of our web site) and also "The Agony of Modernisation" by Benjamin Martin

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Nov 4 2008 17:39

ASN, thanks for the comments. I didn't mean to suggest that anarcho-syndicalist militants weren't doing good work, far from it. I agree with parts of what you've said there about present day prospects, I think some sort of widespread "grass roots direct action movement" would be fantastic to see. In fact, something along these lines, rather than a mass syndicalist "one big union" is what the AF wobblies see their activities pointing towards, in the possibility of creating a caucus of radical workers through dual-carding. I have sympathies with this, but there are other ways to do this too, the Tea Break endevour that came out of this site seems to have garnered a lot of enthusiasm. But I think that these forms - mass, militant direct action - appear at times of high struggle generally, if we look at recent examples, so in my view the focus should be on the struggle and combativity of the class (and opposing recuperation), not radical unionism.

Sowhether the priority should be for this to crystallise into a permanent syndicalist union is another matter. Obviously, my view is that the current pressures of actually existing capitalism mean that unions have to act in certain ways in order to work, and that a powerful working class will exert its needs against the unions at the same time as it does against capital and the state. And as you've said, growing revolutionary unions could easily be fined out of existence by a spooked government.

I think that priority should be to widen the combativity and consciousness of the class generally, if syndicalist initiatives have practical application in that, I'd support them, if union rank-and-filism does, I'd support that. But the position of many in the AF is that if we are discussing the possibility of revolutionary struggle, we need to looking at widening struggle at all times.

As for the predominance of students in radical politics, this is a fact often but I don't think we should write of the possibility of links between militant student and workers struggles developing - May 68 is an obvious example. I don't deny at all that it can cause problems too. But generally I think that the main problem is a self-referential political subculture developing. Also, there are plenty of workers who worry about the environment too, and some "identity" politics, such as overcoming sexism, homophobia etc is vital. That this has to be done on a class basis is pretty obvious too, as the Mujeres Libres would have argued.

-Ta for the info on the CNT, I'll chase it up.

Pale-Mouthed-Prophet wrote:
To my knowledge, the IWW has never encouraged workers to do so, advocating a duel-card strategy when a mainstream union has a meaningful presence in a workplace.

I wasn't suggesting they were, I was responding to some of asn's comments which i interpreted to mean that transport was a sector where mass syndicalist unions could develop.

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Nov 4 2008 19:10

I think it would be good for the AF to clarify precisely what mechanisms, and what events at what times, tied unions to the state in the UK. This would make the argument much more compelling. I still don't think syndicalist unions were affected in the same way in the countries where they were strong - instead attempts were made to wipe them out (mostly successfully - persecution of the IWW, and the Spanish Civil War), because they couldn't be integrated. I think a detailed examination with examples, rather than generalisations, is necessary.

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Nov 4 2008 20:29

888, we don't have a collective history of the world, unlike say the ICC, because it both overshoots the purposes of the organisation in our view and because of the need for theoretical perspectives, outside of our unifying principles, to be debated.

But in terms of the unions in the UK, and in the west generally, there's absolutely loads of material available about their role during and after the postwar settlement, and prior to that thanks to their commitment to social democracy and integration into bourgeois politics.

In Britain, a legal union must be registered with the state and therefore legally liable, as the IWW is. The fact that unions have to be accountable for the actions of their members in taking wildcat action and responsible for getting them back to work and into the legal negotiation process, results in the unions policing their members. Similarly balloting for action is a long and complex process in the UK and will be scrutinised by employers, who can take the union to court for an injunction, which they and not the IWW currently will have the funds to fight. The IWW could similarly face court fights over secondary/flying pickets

As for your historical examples, the IWW was broken before the war, after which there was a fundamental shift in bourgeois approaches to the unions globally, and the fact is that the CNT/FAI in the wartime situation did become integrated into the popular front, the government war effort, the counter-revolution and eventually the government. That CNT militants did much of the work of the proletarian uprising doesnt change this - the militants of the Friends of Durutti group who were clearest in their politics in the period came from the anarchist rank and file.

These are my personal views, not necessarily those of the AF.

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Nov 4 2008 21:00

There's also the syndicalists in Mexico - who fought against Zapata: http://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-syndicalism-mexico-john-m-hart

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Nov 4 2008 22:29
Django wrote:
888, we don't have a collective history of the world, unlike say the ICC, because it both overshoots the purposes of the organisation in our view and because of the need for theoretical perspectives, outside of our unifying principles, to be debated.

But in terms of the unions in the UK, and in the west generally, there's absolutely loads of material available about their role during and after the postwar settlement, and prior to that thanks to their commitment to social democracy and integration into bourgeois politics.

Yes, well if you would give few examples of these, and I know they exist, it would strengthen your argument massively for those who are not familiar with these events.

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Nov 4 2008 22:38
Mike Harman wrote:
There's also the syndicalists in Mexico - who fought against Zapata: http://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-syndicalism-mexico-john-m-hart

I'm not sure that that fits into the general picture but is more of an unfortunate oddity due to the particular circumstances in mexico.

Django, the CNT's integration into the popular front rather misses the previous attempt (eventually successful) to utterly destroy them - Franco's uprising. Only extraordinary circumstances allowed the integration of the CNT into the government. A popular front government, had it not faced a nationalist uprising, would have had to repress the CNT - integration would not have been possible, and a revolution may have occurred in the 40s.

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Nov 4 2008 23:13
888 wrote:
I'm not sure that that fits into the general picture but is more of an unfortunate oddity due to the particular circumstances in mexico.
888 wrote:
Only extraordinary circumstances allowed the integration of the CNT into the government.

With all due respect, there aren't many examples of syndicalist unions operating in a revolutionary situation, those are by definition unique and extraordinary circumstances. In the example of the IWW, they were smashed. Do you have any other examples which buck either trend?

The Bolsheviks had extraordinary circumstances too, I don't think that lets them off the hook for their agglomeration with the state either. fwiw many of the unions in Russia were syndicalist/industrial too -and they were incorporated into the Bolshevik party there as well.

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Nov 4 2008 23:29

In Russia - against great resistance (to the extent of imprisonment and criminalisation) from the anarchosyndicalists. Do you think the CNT could have been integrated in a peaceful situation? I doubt it - the situation in the 70s suggests not, as the new democratic government chose to boost the CCOO and marginalise the CNT.

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Nov 4 2008 23:45
888 wrote:
Do you think the CNT could have been integrated in a peaceful situation?

do you think revolution is a peaceful situation? this is not to say syndicalist unions, or more realistically groups of workers organising according to syndicalist principles of sovereign mass assemblies, federated using mandated/recallable delegates cannot play a role in bringing about revolutionary events, but ultimately unions function to represent the interests of the working vis capital, and historically they've hit a brick wall when the question of abolishing the working class and capital is on the table (as noted by the friends of durruti, amongst others, although they articulated it as a lack of independence of union from state owing to the lack of a communist program).

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Nov 5 2008 00:06
888 wrote:
In Russia - against great resistance (to the extent of imprisonment and criminalisation) from the anarchosyndicalists.

And other groups who weren't anarchists too. Except the anarchosyndicalists in Russia weren't a mass syndicalist union.

Quote:
Do you think the CNT could have been integrated in a peaceful situation?

There's plenty of examples of syndicalist or otherwise 'revolutionary' unions becoming integrated with the state to greater or lesser extents during 'peaceful situations' - clearly the CNT itself thinks that, otherwise they wouldn't have split with the CGT. So i don't think we need hypothetical ones.

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Nov 5 2008 00:22

Joseph K. - no I don't think a revolution is a peaceful situation, that's why I asked the question. Do you?

"Ultimately unions function to represent the interests of the working vis capital" - Ultimately? The entire anarchosyndicalist argument is that that isn't their ultimate function, just one function along the way to revolution. You must necessarily see the integration of the CNT into the Republican state as inevitable, if you believe the general argument put forward on this thread. I don't - I think it could have gone either way. The CNT did not hit a brick wall, it made the wrong decision.

Catch - the CNT was considerably more revolutionary than those other unions, most of which were only marginally syndicalist. There is a deterministic argument being put forward - that "by their very nature" even anarchosyndicalist unions cannot be revolutionary - that is too convenient to be true.

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Nov 5 2008 12:22

The Anarchists here are so quick to become apologists for the shameful end of the 'old' CNT-FAI in Spain, but are unwilling to concede extraordinary circumstances to the Bolsheviks in Russia. The argument for both sides amounts to little more than the amusing saying on the Anarchist FAQ, 'I have a perfect umbrella but it doesn't work when it rains.' I would like to add one more example of a syndicalist union having a terrible position in a revolutionary situation. The FAUD during the Kapp Putsch in 1920 Germany was urging nonviolence along with a general strike, from the history that I have read of the time period. Thus to anyone versed in history, the behavior of the CNT-FAI, and anarchosyndicalism in general, was to be expected and was in no way extraordinary- the CNT itself having already backed down from revolution in 1919 and 1934.

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Nov 5 2008 12:35
Iron Column wrote:
The Anarchists here are so quick to become apologists for the shameful end of the 'old' CNT-FAI in Spain

that doesn't seem like a very accurate summation of the thread confused

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Nov 6 2008 06:19
Iron Column wrote:
I would like to add one more example of a syndicalist union having a terrible position in a revolutionary situation. The FAUD during the Kapp Putsch in 1920 Germany was urging nonviolence along with a general strike, from the history that I have read of the time period.

True, although all the groups around at the time were such a farce that this doesn' t even stand out as a particularly bad blunder.

asn
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Nov 6 2008 11:31

ASN, thanks for the comments. I didn't mean to suggest that anarcho-syndicalist militants weren't doing good work, far from it. I agree with parts of what you've said there about present day prospects, I think some sort of widespread "grass roots direct action movement" would be fantastic to see. In fact, something along these lines, rather than a mass syndicalist "one big union" is what the AF wobblies see their activities pointing towards, in the possibility of creating a caucus of radical workers through dual-carding. I have sympathies with this, but there are other ways to do this too, the Tea Break endevour that came out of this site seems to have garnered a lot of enthusiasm.

- but you present no strategy - the AF and other such groups are tiny - they can't just be focusing on every sector and campaign - given meagre numbers and resources - priorities which make overall strategic sense have to be taken - informed by extensive industrial experience and analysis of historical precedents - the transport sector focus in the UK and elsewhere - would involve a massive task - vast layers on militants on and off the job would be required - with a specific industrial paper over time you could drawn in a large periphery in various tasks at various levels of commitment- at the grass roots level of the leftist groups and outside. - Tea Break illustrates precisely this lack of strategy and focus -

But I think that these forms - mass, militant direct action - appear at times of high struggle generally, if we look at recent examples, so in my view the focus should be on the struggle and combativity of the class (and opposing recuperation), not radical unionism.

- the example I gave of the NSW train drivers' campaign in 2004 occurred in a period of very low level of workers industrial action/combativity - however there had been consistent ASN agitation in the sector over many years - there were important factors which we had no control over such as a scarcity of train drivers at the time - but there was also serious long range work - it was possible to an extent to help along the upsurge

Sowhether the priority should be for this to crystallise into a permanent syndicalist union is another matter. Obviously, my view is that the current pressures of actually existing capitalism mean that unions have to act in certain ways in order to work, and that a powerful working class will exert its needs against the unions at the same time as it does against capital and the state. And as you've said, growing revolutionary unions could easily be fined out of existence by a spooked government.

- because a grouping uses red & black colour schemes, likes syndicalist regalia and heritage doesn't make it a "revolutionary union" - such a body cannot function in the context of adhering to severe IR legislation restrictions on its activity - genuine mass syndicalist union would be controlled by workers via regular membership assesmblies, manadated delegates, limited tenure of office - radically different to what goes on in the existing bureaucratic unions

I think that priority should be to widen the combativity and consciousness of the class generally, if syndicalist initiatives have practical application in that, I'd support them, if union rank-and-filism does, I'd support that. But the position of many in the AF is that if we are discussing the possibility of revolutionary struggle, we need to looking at widening struggle at all times.

- but a strategy is required and associated focused program of work - otherwise you just have a fantasy and wishful thinking

As for the predominance of students in radical politics, this is a fact often but I don't think we should write of the possibility of links between militant student and workers struggles developing - May 68 is an obvious example.

- what I was looking at was the existing small leftist groups - and the predominance of such elements in many

I don't deny at all that it can cause problems too. But generally I think that the main problem is a self-referential political subculture developing. Also, there are plenty of workers who worry about the environment too, and some "identity" politics, such as overcoming sexism, homophobia etc is vital.

- there is a certain small fringe of leftist workers and those in occupations with a highlevel of autonomy in their work etc - who would go along with this stuff and associated navel gazing antics of leftist groups - I was refering to the overwhelming majority which would be alienated and must be drawn into syndicalist activity

Jason Cortez
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Nov 6 2008 16:43

asn, when you quote someone it would be much easier to read your posts if you used the quote function.

Just cut and paste, as you have been doing, then highlight the text and press quote button above the comment box. Thanks.

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Django
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Nov 7 2008 17:31
Quote:
but you present no strategy - the AF and other such groups are tiny...

I don't see what you are arguing here. The traditionally anarcho-syndicalist group in the UK is even smaller. As for lacking a strategy, we are writing one now, which we are putting together - this has already been stated . The point is to describe methods by which members should involve themselves in the class struggle, and how the group can respond to struggles. Given that what we are saying is that syndicalist unions could have the practical potential to advance class struggle in certain situations, but that it is wishful thinking to assume that they can place themselves outside of the legal realities of unions and so cannot be the ultimate force for revolution, I don't see what you are upset about, unless you think that anarcho-syndicalist unions are essential for revolution. Our point is that if we are to entertain the possibility of revolution we have to be realistic and not engage in fantasies about building mass syndicalist unions from little, in a country with a very limited experience of it, which will make revolution.

If you are arguing about the day-to-day nature of the class struggle, what we are saying is that the focus should be on working practically in the real situation we find ourselves in, without succumbing either to unionism as an ideology or a dogmatic rejection of going near them. So for lots of us that means rank-and-filism in the unions where we work, for others it means finding ways to struggle outside of unions.

asn wrote:
but a strategy is required and associated focused program of work - otherwise you just have a fantasy and wishful thinking

I never said anything to the contrary. We're writing an industrial strategy which will be pamphlet length. This has been said. I am arguing here the core of its understanding of what class struggle is: that we don't see the unions as being anything without the struggle to push them in the right directions, very often against the views of the unions' leaders. Anarcho-syndicalist unions might be preferable on a day-to-day level for certain reasons, but they are not the class, and outiside of high struggle they will remain small political organisations which will grow and shrink in relation to small disputes. The problem is seeing the union as the revolutionary force, rather than the working class. I don't have the time to retype the argument which has already been put very well on another thread:

Joseph K wrote:
...these periodic variations in intensity - cycles of struggle - are what give rise to workers organisations. if i were to declare a permanent defensive organisation in my workplace today it would just be an empry shell - there is anger but no collective struggle. if we can get our act together - organise - and struggle collectively, raising the intensity, then by definition a defensive organisation is born. but for exactly the same reason it would be nothing but an empty shell - or at best a residue of militants - if we attempted to maintain it after the intensity of the struggle subsides.

Now obviously we hope the struggle doesn't subside, and that formal organisation further develops it. but workers' organisation cannot outlive the cycle of struggle of which it is an expression without becoming an empty shell. even if the intensity of struggle is maintained, it will either remain unlawful and so exist in an unstable, necessarily temporary situation of dual power (Workmates was a recent example), or become a legally recognised union with all the attendent limits on struggle, and therefore move from being a weapon of a certain level of struggle to a barrier to that same struggle's development.

this isn't just theory, an ex-wobbly comrade got fucked at work when they tried to form a 'union' without a sufficient level of solidarity and struggle to sustain it; they put structure before substance, form before content. similarly another comrade persuaded residents in his area not to form a soft-cop neighbourhood watch scheme, but a residents association (with an impeccable anarcho-syndicalist constitution) to fight against the loss of public space. when the immediate struggle was won, the association has become a vehicle for reactionaries. the form is perfect, but it guarantees nothing without the content of class struggle.

i think the problem here is you're reifying a process - workers organisation - which we should be doing all the time into a thing - a permanent workers organisation - which suffers all the pitfalls detailed above. Class struggle is a process of organisation, which at certain level of intensity can give rise to certain formalised forms. But you can't short-cut the ongoing process by making a form permanent: a boss might not immediately attack a unionised workplace in the way he would a non-unionised one, because he assumes unionisation to signify a certain capacity for collective resistance (he assumes the form has content). If he discovers this is not the case, that there is no confidence or appetite for struggle, then he will move to break it or co-opt it into the management structure, precisely because the class struggle is permanent; he will counter-attack.

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Steven.
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Nov 16 2008 23:26

That post of Joseph's is really excellent...

Just one quick semantic point to make Django:

Django wrote:
So for lots of us that means rank-and-filism in the unions where we work, for others it means finding ways to struggle outside of unions.

"rank and file-ism" is often taken to meant the ideology of mobilising rank-and-file union members to elect "rank and file" candidates to leadership positions within unions, so I think the time is best avoided.

As for the forthcoming document on workplace organisation, I look forward to it, as I do the Brighton SolFed document. I also look forward to having some productive discussion about it - perhaps some kind of public thing in black flag, and supplemented on here perhaps?

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Django
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Nov 17 2008 08:40
Steven wrote:
"rank and file-ism" is often taken to meant the ideology of mobilising rank-and-file union members to elect "rank and file" candidates to leadership positions within unions, so I think the time is best avoided.

I didnt mean it in that sense obviously, and was thinking of the motives of some of those in the National Shop Stewards Network who oppose this kind of thinking, but fair enough.