Exeter wildcat postal strike

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ernie
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Sep 5 2006 18:04
Exeter wildcat postal strike

Thewildcat at the Exeter Sorting office has some important lessons on how to develop the struggle.
From discussion with some of the workers involved it is clear that the foundation of this struggle was solidarity. The whole work force, apart from 11 workers, nearly 400 walked out. This walk out was spontaneous, spreading through the sorting office and between shifts. The union did not organise it.
This solidarity expresses a marked characteristic of the developing struggles. The ruling class may want the proletariat to appear as divided, CHAVs etc but the reality as shown in Exeter, Belfast, France, Vigo Spain etc is that workers are seeing that they have common cause and are not willing to let management walk all over them.
From the discussions it is clear that the workers involved felt that this was a question of solidarity.
It is also clear that this was a deliberate attempt by the management to provoke the workers. It start by them deducting £200 from a worker's pay, with the excuse that they did not believe that he had been ill. A very provokative act at any time, but when the worker involved is one of the most popular workers (and stewards) in the sorting office, it is clear that this was no accident. The workers I spoke to said that this was the feeling of workers. One said that he felt that the management had wanted to isolate the section where this worker worked, but it had spread.
The management followed up the initial attack, by at the end of the week saying they would pay back the money but it wanted workers to accept new conditions. Again a deliberate act of provocation. Clearly the workers were not going to stand for that. The managemnt had clearly assessed the situaiton, i.e, that the strike had spread within the plant but not beyond and felt that they now had the workers isolated and could use the occasion to drive home the attack.
The union played their full role in this. What started as an unoffical strike, spreading without their control, soon became trapped in the union framework. The union did the negociating. They acted radical but in the end they proposed a resolution calling for the end of the strike and for negociations over the new conditions i.e., they would enable the bosses to impose the attacks they want. This was dressed up as a victory,
One of the workers I spoke to before the decision of the meeting was known felt that there had been a provocation and hoped that they could return after 4 days on strik. I spoke to another after who felt that there had been a victory.
The overalwhat can be drawn from the strike is that solidarity is an essential part of the developing struggles, that managementknow this and can seek to use it to attack the workers. But such an attack can only work with the full cooperation of the union. The initial spontaneous response of the workers may have taken everyone by surpris, but with the leaving of the negociations in the unions hands, it could only end up with a worsening of conditions. Yes the worker did get his pay back, and this was certainly a victory, but the longer term implications of the 'negociations' between the unions and management for the workers still have to be seen.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 5 2006 18:43
ernie wrote:
The overalwhat can be drawn from the strike is that solidarity is an essential part of the developing struggles

i definitely agree with that, the reduction in what action is lawful, i.e. nothing useful, leaves us nothing but solidarity. thats both an obstacle and an opportunity, in that if solidarity fails people can get sacked with ease (gate gourmet) but that should a new wave of unofficial struggles emerge they will neccessarily be based directly on solidarity without mediation, and thus with less scope to be co-opted.

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Sep 5 2006 19:00

Hi

That’s a fun suggestion ernie. Management provoked a strike over one issue in order to open negotiations with the union over another, namely terms and conditions.

Anyway, fair play for chatting to them and that. I would like to express my solidarity with the majorettes whose new uniforms weren’t delivered on time for their big show. Chins up comrades! The proletariat salutes you, your patient solidarity, and your undersized garments.

Love

LR

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Sep 5 2006 21:31

CHAVs, ermmmmmmmmmmmmm, the chavs in my area, have the most solidarity with the locals than i have ever seen, they chat to everyone on the street including me, and are nice and friendly, there are a few bad apples around but in general, they know more people in the area than anyone else....

yeh unions nowadays are shit, if there's going to be any settlement, it shouldn't be behind closed doors with a crappy union but in a hall with microphones and speaker, with all the workers there...

this strike sounds amazing, should be widely reported and sets a damn good example except for the ending where they've left the unions to fuck things up

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Sep 5 2006 22:07
tea leaves wrote:
this strike sounds amazing, should be widely reported

I don't know if you've seen libcom's ongoing coverage?

Exeter: posties wildcat strike
Exeter postal strike update
Exeter postal wildcat ends

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Sep 6 2006 06:54
Joseph K. wrote:
I don't know if you've seen libcom's ongoing coverage?

Exeter: posties wildcat strike
Exeter postal strike update
Exeter postal wildcat ends

whore tongue

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Sep 6 2006 06:59
jef costello wrote:
whore tongue

you saw what happened to revol when he flamed me bitch cool

lol yeah but had to be said, we're doing all we can to make sure these wildcats are 'widely reported' - in fact another one broke out in Bedford hours after the Exeter one ended (see newswire wink ).

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Sep 6 2006 07:07
Joseph K. wrote:
lol yeah but had to be said, we're doing all we can to make sure these wildcats are 'widely reported' - in fact another one broke out in Bedford hours after the Exeter one ended (see newswire wink ).

I'm only teasing, nice work with the reports by the way. There are a few former CWG people on here, they might have some contacts for when you're doing your next piece.

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Sep 6 2006 07:33
jef costello wrote:
I'm only teasing, nice work with the reports by the way. There are a few former CWG people on here, they might have some contacts for when you're doing your next piece.

Mwah ha ha ha they quake in fear cool wink

that would be really handy, i'm culling it all from corporate media and union statements at the moment which leaves the actual workers fairly voiceless - if any CWG/former-CWG people are reading this please post here or pm me if you have any information or contacts!

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Sep 6 2006 08:14

the SWP have hailed the Exeter wildcat as a victory for the union (link)

Beltov
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Sep 6 2006 20:46

There was also a report on the BBC website of another wildcat strike in the post breaking out in Torquay the day after the Exeter dispute ended. Can't find the link right now angry

What with the dispute in Oxford as well there seems to be a national strategy of provocation from Royal Mail.

B.

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Sep 7 2006 01:42

and what % of the UK population comes to this website and reads that?

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Sep 7 2006 09:00

It was a victory for the union. They managed to keep it contained.

Read this article in the local paper about it. It made me physically sick, all the more so since I've met the bloke and despite being a union guy he never struck me as a total hack.

link

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Sep 7 2006 09:13

Not wanting to be a union hack, I'm not CWU expert but I've been told by normally reliable sources (boulcolonialboy who spoke to belfast post wildcat strikers, and others) that these wildcats are often linked to the union, but officially disavowed by them to keep on the right side of the law.

Provocation of the workforce in royal mail has been going on for years, I know one postie was telling me there was a lot of it in the run-up to the massive wildcat in... 2003 was it? I went to a picket line in 2001 where the workers just hadn't been paid about £800 of money they were owed.

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Sep 7 2006 09:25
John. wrote:
Not wanting to be a union hack, I'm not CWU expert but I've been told by normally reliable sources (boulcolonialboy who spoke to belfast post wildcat strikers, and others) that these wildcats are often linked to the union, but officially disavowed by them to keep on the right side of the law.

Provocation of the workforce in royal mail has been going on for years, I know one postie was telling me there was a lot of it in the run-up to the massive wildcat in... 2003 was it? I went to a picket line in 2001 where the workers just hadn't been paid about £800 of money they were owed.

i have no direct knowledge, but i think this is quite likely. bosses provoke a reaction, unions reassert their indispensibility at managing the workforce (see their 'landmark agreement' with the royal mail that "cements the position of the union".

but that doesn't mean the workers are neccessarily the pawns in their various managers' games - there's always the potential for the experience or news of a wildcat to inspire further unofficial action, perhaps without union shenanigans.

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Sep 7 2006 09:44

Oh, this was undoubtedly a provocation. The Royal Mail has been one of main fronts of the class war in Britain, expressing in microcosm the underlying social situation: bankrupt capitalism forcing through more and more attacks and a working class beginning to get off its knees.

Obviously many of these strikes are "linked" to the union. Unions and management aren't completely stupid - they know if they always oppose these strikes workers will lose faith in the unions completely. Unions don't always oppose strikes in any case - another trick is to push workers into striking where defeat is inevitable or to win a false victory. The former demoralises workers, the second reinforces faith in the union which is essential in order to contain truly threatening struggles. Often, a well-managed (by the union) strike can be of benefit to management:

"In America, unions and management have shown that they, like their British counterparts, have learnt from experience that a well-timed strike is often the best way to ensure industrial peace in the future. The most notable example of this was the General Motors strike in 1970, when co-operation between union and management reached a new level: the company went so far as to lend the UAW $30 million to help finance the strike. One bourgeois commentator explained why the strike had been called: “A strike, by putting the workers on the streets, rolls the steam out of them - it reduces their demands and thus brings agreement and ratification; it also solidifies the authority of the union hierarchy” (Quoted by Zerzan in ‘Organised Labour vs. The Revolt Against Work’, London Solidarity, Black & Red, etc.). - http://en.internationalism.org/pamphlets/unions_intro1976.htm

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Sep 7 2006 09:46

I think Joseph K hits the nail on the head here. The current situation in the mail is not one where the bosses have it all their own way. The unions are being forced to pose as more militant because of the sheer anger of the workers.

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Sep 7 2006 10:38
Joseph K. wrote:
but that doesn't mean the workers are neccessarily the pawns in their various managers' games - there's always the potential for the experience or news of a wildcat to inspire further unofficial action, perhaps without union shenanigans.

I think this is what happened in 2003 - all the small wildcats following provocations mushroomed into the mass walkout, which seemed to take the bosses by surprise. During that I know managers then accused CWU stewards and reps of helping orchestrate the strikes, putting secret cameras in workers meetings - which pissed off workers even more.

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Sep 11 2006 13:30

I think that there are a lot of interesting points on this thread. I will try to address some of them. I do have a little experience of strikes in the P.O. even though it is from twenty years ago, but I would expect some of the dynamics there to be similar today.

ernie wrote:
The union did the negociating. They acted radical but in the end they proposed a resolution calling for the end of the strike and for negociations over the new conditions i.e., they would enable the bosses to impose the attacks they want. This was dressed up as a victory,
One of the workers I spoke to before the decision of the meeting was known felt that there had been a provocation and hoped that they could return after 4 days on strik. I spoke to another after who felt that there had been a victory.

Lazy Riser wrote:
That’s a fun suggestion ernie. Management provoked a strike over one issue in order to open negotiations with the union over another, namely terms and conditions.

I am not sure exactly what these negotiations are about, but generally a the end of a local postal strike there must be negotiations between the union and the management on how to clear the back log that has built up from the strike. The P.O. isn’t like a car factory where all work stops. While they have been on strike a back long of their mail will have been building up in other offices. Letters to that area are still coming. This means that ever local strike must be ended by negotiations over how to clear the backlog. I remember a work-to-rule/overtime ban that we had in the late 80’s over how much overtime we would get for Christmas. The dispute wasn’t solved, we didn’t do any Christmas overtime, and finished delivering the Christmas cards at the end of February.

That said I don’t think that Ernie’s suggestion is that wild. Management do behave like this.

John. wrote:
I think this is what happened in 2003 - all the small wildcats following provocations mushroomed into the mass walkout, which seemed to take the bosses by surprise. During that I know managers then accused CWU stewards and reps of helping orchestrate the strikes, putting secret cameras in workers meetings - which pissed off workers even more.

There was always a lot of talk when I was in the P.O. about ‘macho management’. We had one manager who was a real bastard, but in general they were people who just fulfilled their function. I can remember a conversation I had with one manager when I was on the branch committee, which went something like this:

Quote:
PEB: I have to ask you to do that work (stuff from another office which we had blacked).
Devrim: We won’t do it.
PEB: OK, you know I have to suspend the first person to refuse.
Devrim: And you know we will walk.
PEB: Yes, I know.

I think that a lot of the provocations do come from quite high up, and not from the low level management on the ground. I also think that every time they try something on they are hoping that they can get away with attacking the workers’ conditions without a response from the workers.

To a certain extent both management, and workers have the possibility to widen the struggle. The workers from appealing to other workers for solidarity, and the management by asking other workers to do the work of strikers.

Of course the management do it when they see that they have a chance of taking on the mass of workers and winning, and yes in the aftermath of this ernie is right. They do want to open negotiations on the conditions. The national strike in the late 80’s was a classic example of this. The union had called a one day strike, everyone went back to work afterwards, and management attacked. Whether they did it with the intention of provoking a national strike, or whether they did it hoping to pick off a few groups on their own, I don’t know. The fact remains though that they must have been prepared to force a national strike, and that some terms and conditions were renegotiated in the aftermath of this.

Demogorgan303 wrote:
Obviously many of these strikes are "linked" to the union.

Well, yes, of course these strikes are linked to the unions. A wildcat strike is an unofficial strike, and as very few strikes are actually official these days in England, of course a lot of them will be described as ‘wildcats’. The lower level of the unions are most probably running these strikes.

When I was a postman, there were two ways which strikes started. Either the branch officials called a kitchen (mass) meeting which voted to strike, or the management did something that caused the workers to walk off automatically (generally by suspending people).

For communists though, it is not important, in one sense, whether the strike is controlled by the union. We support all workers’ struggles in defence of class interests, and argue for workers to control these struggles.

I think that Demogorgan makes a bit of an error when he writes:

Demogorgan303 wrote:
:Unions and management aren't completely stupid - they know if they always oppose these strikes workers will lose faith in the unions completely. Unions don't always oppose strikes in any case - another trick is to push workers into striking where defeat is inevitable or to win a false victory. The former demoralises workers, the second reinforces faith in the union which is essential in order to contain truly threatening struggles. Often, a well-managed (by the union) strike can be of benefit to management:

I don’t deny that at a higher level this may happen. However, in this strike the local union official had every interest in it winning because it directly related to his three days wages. This is not a trick in any way. Low level union officials are not subjectively against workers struggle. They quite often consider themselves to be socialists, and on the side of the working class. Our point is that because of their position they are foced to objectively act against the working class. This is due to the unions role. A small example should suffice:

this is Exeter wrote:
Mr Choules [the branch official], 52, the brother of prominent Labour councillor Marcel, said: "I would never condone unofficial action but I can understand reasons for it.
"I did all that was required of me. When people originally staged a sit-down protest I advised them to return to work.
"I did all I could to advise them not to take this action. It was a spontaneous thing that did not come from me."
Mr Choules from Hamlin Gardens said he was 'astonished' by the number of people who took part in the strike action, but felt that it wasn't just down to what had happened him.

I would imagine that this guy was in complete support of this strike, and probably helped to organise it. In his role as a union official he has to condemn the strike (I did all that was required of me. When people originally staged a sit-down protest I advised them to return to work. This is where the heart of the problem lies. Lower union officials have to act like this otherwise they won’t be officials for much longer. It does not mean that they are planning how to attack the struggle. It means that their role as a union official forces them to do things which act against the struggle. Advising people to return to work is a good example of this.

The unions are bourgeois organisations that are directly opposed to workers in struggle. This does not mean that every low ranking official sees himself as acting on the side of the bourgeois. In fact I would say that the vast majority of them see themselves as acting in the workers interest. Our point is that the nature of unionism forces them to act against it.

I think that some people confuse the two, and maybe this is due to only talking in closed circles that accept this analysis, and talk of the unions this way as a shorthand. I do think that it makes our argument seem quite bizarre and does allow people to ignore our main point, which is that the role of the unions is anti-working class.

Devrim

ernie
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Sep 11 2006 14:09

Hi

Devrim, I think you sum the whole situation up very well. The point about the way the steward end-up turning on the workers he genuinely believes he is representing is very important. It is stewards like Fran who are the main rampart of the unions on the shop floor. They really believe in the class struggle, but see the unions as the means for carrying this out. Thus, they end up in a contradiction and working against the working class.
This is an concrete lesson for all those who believe they can use the unions to further the class struggle.
The attack on the postal workers in Exeter has not finished yet. We are into round two now. The management are saying they are going to discipline 25 workers now for their conduct during the strike. The union has responded by saying it will call a ballot. This is an interesting development, because the postal worker I spoke to said that the management had wanted to discipline 8 workers (all of them union officials) but this had been put to oneside. Thus, the management and unions must think that they can use the situation after the strike to deliever another blow.
The manager doing all this, is a specialist trouble shooter who has been going around the country setting up such provocations (according to another postal worker I spoke to).
The whole discussion of the strike on this forum has been extremely enlightening and poses important questions about just how the unions and bosses cooperate in the attacks on the class. The one thing that always needs to be remembered is that the ruling class is much more devious and manipulative than we usually give them credit for, something they rely.

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Sep 11 2006 14:49
Quote:
Devrim, I think you sum the whole situation up very well. The point about the way the steward end-up turning on the workers he genuinely believes he is representing is very important. It is stewards like Fran who are the main rampart of the unions on the shop floor. They really believe in the class struggle, but see the unions as the means for carrying this out. Thus, they end up in a contradiction and working against the working class.

And I think that we have to be very clear about this. Otherwise our analysis just ends up sounding ridiculous.

You write:

Quote:
The one thing that always needs to be remembered is that the ruling class is much more devious and manipulative than we usually give them credit for

Yes, they are, but the branch reps on the ground in Post Offices aren't the ruling class even though they will be times when they act objectively in its interests. I am very certain that these people do not want to sabotage the struggle. After all it does concern the jobs of eight union officials.

The fact is that the union officials through their ties to the ideology of unionism do act objectively against the workers. I think that the ICC is far from clear on this sometimes, and that it does the left communist position a disservice.

Yes, the ruling class conspires, and yes sometimes the unions actually conspire with the management directly. However, generally these things have their own dynamic, which does not involve the shop stewards and the management planning together, or even the union planning on its own, to attack the class struggle.

I think that the fault in the ICC's presentation of the events can be seen very clearly in this line:

Quote:
Thus, the management and unions must think that they can use the situation after the strike to deliever another blow.

Straight after agreeing with me on the fact that

Quote:
The point about the way the steward end-up turning on the workers he genuinely believes he is representing is very important. It is stewards like Fran who are the main rampart of the unions on the shop floor. They really believe in the class struggle, but see the unions as the means for carrying this out. Thus, they end up in a contradiction and working against the working class.

You immediately come back to this line that the 'unions must think that they can use the situation after the strike to deliever another blow'.
I thought that my main point was that this isn't how the unions 'think'.

In my opinion the left communist position is not strengthend by comments like these. I am not denying that the unions are anti-working class. I hold firmly to this position. I am denying that all functionaries of the union believe that they are anti-working class. The dynamic in the situation, and what forces these people to act against the struggle is something that I think we need to explain. I think that this is sometimes simplified much too much by the ICC.

Last week I was listening to speakers at a civil servants meeting. A lot of them talked very left. If I had told people that they were lying and just doing it to attack the workers' struggle they would have rightly laughed at me. Lots of these people are very sincere, and being a 'left' union official in this country does carry more risks than it does in the UK. The thing that we need to explain is how the unions will attack the struggle, and why they will do this.

In solidarity,

Devrim

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Sep 11 2006 15:28

Dev, good post (and the previous one). Ernie you just look like a nutter saying these low-down officials are conspiring with royal mail bosses against the proletariat.

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Sep 11 2006 15:37
John. wrote:
Dev, good post (and the previous one). Ernie you just look like a nutter saying these low-down officials are conspiring with royal mail bosses against the proletariat.

Yet I agree with ernie on these issues. We have fundamentally the same position. I just think it is a problem of expressing it, which I think is important in our propoganda.
Dev

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Sep 11 2006 15:41
Devrim wrote:
Yet I agree with ernie on these issues. We have fundamentally the same position.

well you seem to agree, as you pointed out though, shortly after agreeing he trotted out the party line that even the low-level officials are conspiring with the bosses :?

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Sep 11 2006 18:49

Devrim, I'm not sure it's just a problem of expression.

Between Baboon's "main enemy of the working class", and Ernie's "union thinks", the role of the unions gets turned into some kind of conspiracy in a lot of these posts. I realise that you have to deal with a lot of bollocks when you you discuss being outside and against the unions, but there does seem to be a clear split between your (very sensible IMO) position, and some of the more florid language put out by the ICC and supporters.

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Sep 11 2006 20:39

WHere I'm from the local postal workers are by far the most militant workers, and have been on various wildcats. Interestingly, at the last one (last summer) I went up to see if they needed help picketing or anything and found that there were actually negotiations and mass meetings going on. The union had come in and were pretty shamelessly voicing support for the strike, negotiating on behalf of the workers etc. It was definitely a local provocation - I can't remember the exact details now but working practices had been changed in some way that really pissed off one section of the workforce, then all the rest had come out in support, then management had backed down on the original attack but insisted that those who showed solidarity should be punished etc etc.

The branch secretary (more on him later) came out and announced to the workforce that the national negotiators had just turned up and there would be another mass meeting at 4pm the next day, at which the proposed settlement would be put to the workers and they could decide whether to accept it or not, so we all went home. All well and good except that my post was delivered the next morning - evidently a deal had been made without asking the workforce as was promised. I don't know what it was or what the end result was.

The branch secretary is considered a militant unionist, and slags off local post office bosses and freely criticises the government for post office privatisation, but is also head of the labour group on the local borough council, in which role he is a total blairite, for example they have not lifted a finger to help the popular local defend council housing campaign and indeed when labour were in power (we now have a tory council) they sold off two big blocks of council flats to private landlords for £1 each - they are now largely yuppy flats. (Alan Moore has done a poster of them being engulfed by a fat cat as a fundraiser for us cool). No word either against the privatisation or cuts in any other area such as the NHS - evidently attacks on the working class are to be encouraged as long as they don't involve postal workers. I have no idea how he rationalises this strange double life, but 'mystification' seems an appropriate word to use here..... confused

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Sep 11 2006 20:48

No, I disagree. I just think it is a difference of emphasis. At no point do I say that the entire trade union apparatus is not anti-working class. Everybody who posts regularly on here knows that that is my position. I think that the ICC sometimes express it very badly, but essentially we are saying the same thing. The unions are the enemies of the working class.
As for Baboon's quote about them being the 'main enemy', I would argue that nationalism is. We had an internal discussion a few weeks ago about nationalism and religion with me arguing that nationalism was the most important danger, and them arguing that religion was (more relevant to Turkey than Britain). We quickly agreed that it was a very stupid discussion. Both of them are dangerous. Whether Baboon says it is the unions, and I say that it is nationalism is not that important. They are both anti-working class.
I think that ernie's 'the union thinks' is just the result of bad habits, which can result from political isolation into small groups. I am sure that if he thought about it he would agree with me. It is just expressed badly.
An increase in the level of class struggle would do us all the world of good. The point here isn't though to attack the ICC. Yes, we should criticise them when we think they are wrong, but we should attempt to create a dialogue between revolutionaries.
Explaining to people where you think they are wrong can lead to this. Dismissing people as 'nutter's' doesn't.
Devrim

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Sep 12 2006 08:00

Hi Devrim

Devrim wrote:
I don’t deny that at a higher level this may happen. However, in this strike the local union official had every interest in it winning because it directly related to his three days wages. This is not a trick in any way. Low level union officials are not subjectively against workers struggle. They quite often consider themselves to be socialists, and on the side of the working class. Our point is that because of their position they are foced to objectively act against the working class. This is due to the unions role.

I think you point out the contradictions between the objective and subjective role of low-level union officials very well. They really do believe in what their doing - in fact, it's their genuine belief that enables the whole structure to keep going.

Nonetheless, I think you underestimate the contradictions and cynicism inherent in bourgeois ideology and the way it functions in their institutions: unions, the police, army, media, etc. For example, there doesn't necessarily need to be secret police in every newspaper (although there undoubtedly are) to ensure things are reported to the overall advantage of the bourgeoisie - the institution itself inculcates certain values and "double-think" that simply becomes natural.

Secondly, I think that where you accept this "split consciousness" you mistakenly think it undermines the capacity of the ruling class (and its functionaries at all levels) to carry out "conspiracies". The Unions and the SPD in the German Revolution actively conspired with the Army and the Junkers to contain the class struggle. There were likewise discussions between unions, the Social Democracy and governments of the day before launching WW1. Undoubtedly, the conscious motivations of these different components may have been different. Perhaps Noske really did think unleashing the Freikorp was for the good of the workers! Who knows?

The bourgeoisie genuinely believes in its own civilisation. It does not oppose communism because it understands it and it certainly doesn't believe communism is achievable (in fact, the moment it does it will be finished as a ruling class). It simply understands that the revolt of the proletariat threatens its own society. In defence of its own civilisation, it's willing to do anything even if this means destroying humanity because it genuinely believes the destruction of its own rule means the destruction of humanity in the first place.

For example, Bush might genuinely believe the drivel about democracy that he regularly pours forth. This doesn't prevent him from attacking civil liberties, reinforcing the bourgeois dictatorship, possibly even allowing 9/11 to happen etc i.e. destroying "democracy" even in bourgeois terms because ultimately the end will justify the means.

Unions work in the same way. Their activists believe in the union. The "radical" ones believe that the union is the only defence of the workers, the only way to achieve communism, etc. Therefore defence of the union is the first task, even when that defence is against its own workers. When the union structure is threatened, they will and do actively conspire (amongst themselves but also with management)to contain "dangerous" struggles where "misguided" workers are "shooting themselves in the foot". This is the ultimate logic of unionism. Union consciousness, like all bourgeois consciousness is thus contradictory with both conscious and unconsious aspects to it. Hence, you'll often find contradictions in the way left-communists attempt to describe it.

I think though that essentially we do agree on the fundamentals of this question and this discussion can only work to increase our clarity.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 12 2006 08:33
Demogorgon303 wrote:
The Unions and the SPD in the German Revolution actively conspired with the Army and the Junkers to contain the class struggle

the point is though, like with all class analysis, is that it describes broad patterns very well but breaks down on the individual scale. talk of 'the unions' as a homogenous block misses the fact that not all low level types will 'defend the union at all costs, even from the workers', and that certainly not all (or even most) low-level types are involved in anti-worker conspiracies.

By presenting 'the unions' as such a coherent, devilishly schemed bourgeois conspiracy the potential for workers who are members and low-level union types (who as you point out neccessarily believe the union is the best way to further struggle) to reject the union and organise autonomously - an even bigger possibility when the unions walk the tightrope of using unofficial action (and are forced to publically condemn the strike etc) - is somewhat overlooked.

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Demogorgon303
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Sep 12 2006 09:19

Hi Joseph

I don't think it overlooks the potential for workers to break outside the union framework at all. All it does is clarify why a complete and total break from the unions is necessary before either individuals or the class as a whole can take up a fully conscious defence of the proletariat.

The actual process through which workers begin to break from the union is long and complicated - just as it is from any form of bourgeois ideology. The struggle in Exeter is an excellent example. Although the workers themselves undoubtedly lack a clear consciousness of exactly what the union is up to, a wildcat struggle, by its very nature, challenges the whole union structure. This is why the Exeter unionist has been compelled to condemn a struggle began for his defence (and one he himself took part in!). Whatever his genuine intentions might be, he has acted as an agent of the ruling class in that regard.

Now this doesn't mean he can't begin to question the union and possibly even, at some future point, reject unionism altogether. But until he does so, he will be compelled more and more to act as a ruling class agent, in spite of his own intentions. And the further he is sucked into the union machine, the more he will be indoctrinated, until his militancy is totally irretrievable and he ends up for all intents and purposes acting like a Noske.

Your other objection appears to be the way I use the term the unions in a collective way. But I notice you don't object to the other collective terms in that sentence such as the Army. Now the Army contained thousands of workers in uniform and it's obvious that not every soldier was involved in the meetings and discussions: it was the top generals. Soldiers, like union members, are faced with choices at times of class struggle. They either accept the logic of army structures and thus act against their class - or they revolt, which immediately poses the question of the institution's complete destruction.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 12 2006 09:54
Demogorgon303 wrote:
Whatever his genuine intentions might be, he has acted as an agent of the ruling class in that regard.

yes, to a point - but if he was actively involved in the wildcat and offered non-public support, do his public statements make him an agent of the ruling class or merely someone who doesn't want to be the fan the legal shit hits (what's the consequences for supporting unlawful action - sequestration or worse?)?

Everyone i know in a union thinks its shit but doesn't see any other alternatives except not being a member and doing nothing, so when unions make recourse to unofficial actions to further the bureaucrats aims, they demonstrate the very possibility of their own negation cool [/hegel mode]

I think conflating all union people with 'the union' flattens this out - your army analogy is a good one, we're not at 'the crunch', so the fence still supports a lot of people sitting on it, and if we scream about how they're all conspiring with the ruling class i don't think thats likely to help the situation, since their sincere beliefs are otherwise, and will probably be diplaced only by experience - including their experiences of the limits of union-unofficial action.