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dave c
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Oct 3 2007 23:51

Alf:

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But if the council communist tradition is to be remembered in history as something distinct and recogniseable, it will hardly be for the idea that 'it's better to have unions than nothing'.

Well, I think everyone agrees on this, which is why the discussion moved to more interesting questions. I tried to make a distinction between the council communist critique of trade unionism and their attitude towards the IWW or anarcho-syndicalism. The only response was from Ernie, who repeated back to me something I had just said. Otto Ruhle recognized the IWW to be a model for the radical German workers in 1924. Paul Mattick worked with the IWW in the 30s. Anton Pannekoek, in 1912, said that the IWW’s principles were “perfectly correct.” In 1936 he wrote of the IWW:

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Contrary to the trust in the big funds of the old unions, the Industrial Workers put their confidence in the living solidarity and the force of endurance, upheld by a burning enthusiasm. Instead of the heavy stone-masoned buildings of the old unions, they represented the principle of flexible construction, with a fluctuating membership, contracting in time of peace, swelling and growing in the fight itself. Contrary to the conservative capitalist spirit of trade unionism, the Industrial Workers were anti-capitalist and stood for Revolution.

Aberrations? No, these are the most significant council communist theorists. The Communist Party of Holland was influenced by the IWW. The German left-radicals of Bremen and Hamburg were influenced by the IWW, as IWW sailors had come to these ports. The idea of the "unitary organization" was propagated by Wolffheim (who had edited an IWW paper in the US) and Knief, starting in 1917, being influenced by the IWW. The first significant "Unions" (in the AAU sense) arose in 1919, and these organs would play a significant part in the theory of the KAPD, the factory organizations being seen as the basic guarantee of the dictatorship of the class as a whole. My point is that the council communist critique of "the unions" was not the same as a critique of radical unionism (even though the council communists pointed to limitations of the IWW), and many modern left communists seem to think that it was. (The possible exception is the Schroder fraction of the KAPD, who believed that in the epoch of the death crisis of capitalism, wage struggles were opportunist, but they were a minority).

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Alf
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Oct 4 2007 10:10

Ok, if we are talking specifically about the IWW, the question is more complicated. It's also not the same as the question of anarcho-syndicalism in general, as groups like the GIK were extremely critical of the CNT's role in Spain, which they saw as a reflection of its role as a trade union.

I would argue that the main thrust of the 'council communist' analysis of the unions was towards the idea that permanent mass organisations were no longer possible for the workers, even though this position was often more intuitive than based on a profound theoretical analysis.

mikus
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Oct 4 2007 20:04
Alf wrote:
I don't think this really began as a discussion about labels, but about the unions and the communist attitude towards them.

Perhaps you missed the first sentence of Devrim's post:

Devrim wrote:
Could you please change the entry on council communism from 'libertarian communism' as none of the council communists would have referred to themselves as such
Spikymike
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Oct 6 2007 14:20

Alf may be right that some 'Council Communists' were more 'lucid' than others on the Union question but some 'left communist' groups since may have been simply less practical and more dogmatic on the same question.

Alf may be more to the point in distinguishing attitudeds towards the possibilities or otherwise of (genuine)mass organisations of the working class in the modern world, but here again the attitudeds of some left and council communists and some anarcho-syndicalist or industrial unionists today, as opposed to the 1920's, may not be so distinct. Certainly in arguing my own Council Communist perspective with comrades in this last category, I have been faced with the proposition that ''prior to a situation of mass class struggle and a pre-revolutionary struggle, anarcho-syndicalist unions would inevitably be only minority organisations of the class providing leadership by example and propaganda and otherwise reflecting in their size and activity the ebb and flow of the class struggle''

But I suppose this is a debate for another thread really.

As to Guy Aldred and the groups associated with him, whilst some of these contained both marxists and anarchists their anti-parliamentarianism and anti-trade unionism was of the pre WW1 variety and not based on the kind of analysis which Pannekoek and the European Left./Council Communists made at the time, though such groups, and more particulary Sylvia Pankursts group did start a useful dialogue with that movement.

syndicalist
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Oct 6 2007 14:30

I can never get this clear in my mind. If the council communists are against permanent workplace organization, are they only for a permanent political organization? That is, spontaneaty in the class struggle organization, but permance in the political?

Spikymike
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Oct 6 2007 15:05

syndicalist,

You may need to track back on this thread a bit to the differentiation some have made between the Council/left communists who favoured permanent minority political parties and Workers Councils (eg Gorter), and those Council communists (eg Rhule) who favoured 'unitary' political/industrial organisations, and the similarity, or otherwise, with various strands of anarchism eg anarcho-syndicalists and platformists for instance?

But it is worth noting that many Left/Council Communist political groups have favoured the setting up of minority, agitational workers groups in the workplace (as the AF has from time to time) to operate either independently of, or in some cases both inside and outside the existing unions.

Your expression of being 'against' permanent (mass) workplace organisation is not really the point though. It is more a case of what is possible in the modern world. I think most Left/Council communist type groups think that it is impossible to maintain independent mass workplace organisation in the present period and certainly to be able to combine that with genuine revolutionary objectives.

That view runs parrallel with the view that permanent and independent mass class based political parties are also impossible in the current period.

If that just confuses you further perhaps a more dedicated left communist will post a better explanation?, but this is straying well beyond the orginal question which started this thread.

Mark.
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Oct 6 2007 18:11
Spikymike wrote:
But it is worth noting that many Left/Council Communist political groups have favoured the setting up of minority, agitational workers groups in the workplace (as the AF has from time to time) to operate either independently of, or in some cases both inside and outside the existing unions.

What are the views of the ICC and the EKS on this kind of workplace organisation?

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Devrim
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Oct 6 2007 19:27
JH wrote:
Spikymike wrote:
But it is worth noting that many Left/Council Communist political groups have favoured the setting up of minority, agitational workers groups in the workplace (as the AF has from time to time) to operate either independently of, or in some cases both inside and outside the existing unions.

What are the views of the ICC and the EKS on this kind of workplace organisation?

The ICC would not advocate this. They can explain themselves. We would. There are two points that I would like to clarify.
1) We see these sort of groups as political groups, not the mass organisations of the class.
2) I don't think any of the Left Communists advocate work inside the unions. That does not mean we say that you have to tear up your card tomorrow, or even that the unions can not help workers on an individual basis. We say there can be no political work through the unions.

Devrim

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Red Marriott
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Oct 6 2007 19:27
spikymike wrote:
As to Guy Aldred and the groups associated with him, whilst some of these contained both marxists and anarchists their anti-parliamentarianism and anti-trade unionism was of the pre WW1 variety and not based on the kind of analysis which Pannekoek and the European Left./Council Communists made at the time, though such groups, and more particulary Sylvia Pankursts group did start a useful dialogue with that movement.

Well, as I said, Aldred was anti-parliamentarist from 1906, before most councilists; but I don't think Aldred and co's analysis stopped pre-WWI. Aside from emerging from different historical locations/circumstances, what do you think were the main differences?

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Alf
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Oct 7 2007 07:40

"The ICC would not advocate this. They can explain themselves".

We do advocate 'struggle comittees', workers' groups etc, made up of those who see the need for an independent struggle, and serving both as a focus for discussion and a basis for agitation (eg for assemblies, unifying demands). We don't see them as permanent, formal political groups, and they should also not confuse themselves with strike committees and other organs created to organise the struggle itself.

http://en.internationalism.org/wr/307/dispatch

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/021_workers_groups.html

Mike Harman
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Oct 7 2007 09:30
Spikymike wrote:
Your expression of being 'against' permanent (mass) workplace organisation is not really the point though. It is more a case of what is possible in the modern world. I think most Left/Council communist type groups think that it is impossible to maintain independent mass workplace organisation in the present period and certainly to be able to combine that with genuine revolutionary objectives.

That view runs parrallel with the view that permanent and independent mass class based political parties are also impossible in the current period.

Just to say this coincides with my view on these questions. I think the 'against' comes from when people take this as a personal sleight against their attempts to set such things up.

Mark.
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Oct 7 2007 11:22
Spikymike wrote:
Your expression of being 'against' permanent (mass) workplace organisation is not really the point though. It is more a case of what is possible in the modern world. I think most Left/Council communist type groups think that it is impossible to maintain independent mass workplace organisation in the present period and certainly to be able to combine that with genuine revolutionary objectives.

I take it this is more or less the general view of the left communists and council communists etc. Seeing that libcom is read around the world how far would people take this argument? - does it just apply to conditions in the 'developed' world or does the same hold true for countries like Egypt, Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria or Bolivia?

Spikymike
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Oct 7 2007 12:22

Re: Ret's question on Aldred and Co'

You cannot really put the different historical/locational issue 'aside' surely as this would negate our(?) shared materialist approach to how ideas change. The experience of the Russian, but more particularly German and Western European Working class, of Social Democracy and the Unions in practice, and the potential which arose in the German 'revolution' post the First World War, gave rise to a a theorisation of that movement which was in advance of that emmerging from the experience of the small pro- revolutionary groups which were outside the orbit of the smaller social democratic tradition in Britain.

Opposition to Parliament in Britain came much more from an ahistorical and 'principled' position shared by a variety of anarchist and rebel 'marxist' influenced people. Although in practice such opposition was nuenced, with a spectrum from outright anarchist and syndicalist opposition to Parliament through the SLP type 'foot in both camps' political and industrial organisation to the other oddly pro parliamentary impossiblist wing represented by the likes of the SPGB. Aldred famously waivered between various of these camps over time.

The influence of Pannekoek and others on the tiny anti-parliamentary groups was undoubtedly healthy but few of its members outside a small band around Pankurst fully absorbed the analysis behind the Council Communists aproach to either parliament or the trade unions, which represented a different understanding of the development of class struggle and the relationship of pro-revolutionary groups to this struggle. Their criticism of these (whilst often valid in themselves) remained primarily at an institutional level rather than being related either historically or strategically to the actual development of the class struggle.

There have been examples since of groups taking up the 'Workers Council' model from a similar perspective I think, perhaps Joe Thomas's Worker Voice group and certainly the outfit promoting such at last years and this years Anarchist Bookfair. Of course the material conditions of the time did excuse Aldred and Company (who for all their faults were some of the best pro-revolutionaries around) - it doesn't excuse anyone today.

Mike Harman
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Oct 7 2007 12:25
JH wrote:
Spikymike wrote:
Your expression of being 'against' permanent (mass) workplace organisation is not really the point though. It is more a case of what is possible in the modern world. I think most Left/Council communist type groups think that it is impossible to maintain independent mass workplace organisation in the present period and certainly to be able to combine that with genuine revolutionary objectives.

I take it this is more or less the general view of the left communists and council communists etc. Seeing that libcom is read around the world how far would people take this argument? - does it just apply to conditions in the 'developed' world or does the same hold true for countries like Egypt, Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria or Bolivia?

Well both Bangladesh and Egypt appear to have pretty high levels of class struggle at the moment, but in both those cases nearly all the activity is occurring outside and/or against the mainstream unions, and alternative unions don't seem to have much or any influence.

Most of what I've read about Egypt has been via Khawaga - there the principle group other than mass assemblies of workers themselves appears to be 'Workers for Change' - which from what I can see does want to set up 'alternative unions'. I've not seen any details as to what they mean by that, will try to have a read around, see if I can find more detail.

When you have tens of thousands of workers on strike against their employers, the state, the unions, then I think it's pretty likely that groups will emerge who want to co-ordinate and centralise that tendency, to go past the sectionalism that's often there etc.. Now I agree 100% with trying to co-ordinate but all to often those attempts have backfired when they've taken the form of alternative unions - Solidarity in Poland is as good a recent(ish) example as any. But again, my view isn't so much 'against' this process, as recognising that when the cycle of struggles begins to wind down, any such "permanent mass pro-revolutionary workplace organisation" will be unable to retain either the permanent (collapse/repression), mass (contraction), or revolutionary (accommodation) part of that formulation. I also think it's pretty safe to say that such mass organisations have usually come about as a result of such high moments of struggle, not created them - and as such I don't think there's value in trying to create them during such periods, our time is better spent elsewhere.

Spikymike
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Oct 7 2007 12:47

JH's question is an interesting one.

It is important to understand the different situations in which workers have to struggle and I would not rule out different tactical approaches to the unions in different parts of the world, but I think the underlying role of established mass workers organisations whether political or workplace/industrial is basically the same throughout the world because all countries are dominated by modern capitalist relations and the growth of these organisations has not, and does not, follow the same lengthy historical timeline as the growth of the workers movement in Western Europe but starts from the international situation as it is. Globalisation ensures that is the case for the majority of the worlds workers.

From the above responses EKS's seems most sensible on the face of it. THE ICC supporting 'struggle' groups but saying these are not 'political' seems arbitrary, though it might be sensible to distinguish such workers groups which 'emmerge' during particular struggles, with or without the help of ideologically based political groups, from such ideological groups.

On a question of language, we need to be careful when using the word 'permanent' as well. In this discussion the word is generally used in the wider historical sweep of capitalism from its first emmerging in western Europe to todays globalised economy. When discussing current strategies and tactics in relation to 'political' and 'workplace' groups over a shorter time span 'permanent' could be seen as a period of several years which might apply to both or neither types of groups.

The ICC may have lasted longer than some other political groups in the small pro-revolutionary world but I would not rely on it being 'permanent'. The desire to be 'permanent' is after all counter revolutionary!

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Devrim
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Oct 7 2007 13:22

I think that this shows quite clearly that there is discontent among the workers in the Mahala strike against the unions:

Al-Ahram wrote:
"Workers have reached a boiling point, something I have never seen before," says Mohamed Attar, who is among the leaders of the campaign by Mahala textile workers to impeach their representatives at the National Federation of Trade Unions (NFTU) following their failure to support the workers' strike in December. He cited transportation and housing costs as among the workers' concerns, issues that have been raised with NFTU officials but to no avail. "We have clearly spelled out the things we want dealt with on many occasions, but the unions' and the ministries' response is to make promises that they then break."

The problem, insists his colleague, Hassan Fahmi, begins with the trade unions which have repeatedly failed to represent the interests of their members.

"Three quarters of union officials are not elected by workers. They are appointed because the state security wants them or else they are connected to management and work to protect management interests," says Fahmi.

In the most recent trade union elections many candidates were barred from standing, leading to further deterioration in relations between union officials and those they purport to represent.

In Mahala, workers are hoping to force the hand of union officials by invoking Law 35/1976 in an attempt to impeach their trade union representatives by sending individual letters of resignation from their union with the aim of creating an independent parallel organisation.

This site has good coverage of Egypt, and the region for non-Arabic readers (putting 'Mahala' into the search engine gave three pages of results):
http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/index.htm

Devrim

Mike Harman
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Oct 7 2007 13:43
Devrim wrote:
I think that this shows quite clearly that there is discontent among the workers in the Mahala strike against the unions:

I think that's pretty obvious, what's less obvious is whether this extends to trade unions on principle, and to what extent it might be channeled into alternative unions (base, syndicalist etc.) - as can be clearly noted by the signatories to this statement:
http://libcom.org/forums/africa/solidarity-committee-mahalla-workers-28092007

And this:

Quote:
In the rolling reform demands, just weeks ago state officials and public sector workers set up another group, workers for change, which wants to establish independent trades unions.

"We are preparing a workers' conference to put in place alternative trades unions parallel to those which currently exist and which are part of the General Union of Egyptian Workers, dominated by the state and which do not look after our interests," said one of the founders, Kamal Abu Eita.

"We are part of the global movement for democracy in the country," he said.

http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=13687

And in your own quote:

Quote:
sending individual letters of resignation from their union with the aim of creating an independent parallel organisation.

Like I said in my previous post, when you have this level of discontent and a high period of class struggle, the questions of both rank and filism and alternative unions are going to come up. I will start a new thread (or bump and old one) to split this to and hopefully get Khawaga's attention.

Mike Harman
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Oct 7 2007 20:26

OK so I continued the discussion about Workers for Change over at: http://libcom.org/forums/news/mahalla-update-day-4-5-28092007?page=0#new

JH:

Quote:
does the same hold true for countries like Egypt, Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria or Bolivia?

Forgot to ask first time around, are there specific groups you think would fall foul (or not) of that criticism in those countries?

Egypt it seems doesn't have anything like that, although there appear to be small groups agitating for some kind of alternative union - at this point I don't think any of us know enough about it to come to any conclusions - it may or may not fall under what even the ICC's ernie was talking about. Also the issue is less about how these things start up, more about what they end up like.

Bangladesh -this from Ret last year:

Quote:
Most of the trade unions appear to be tools of one or other of the political parties, strikes being used more as vehicles for pursuing political goals against rival parties than improving workers' conditions. The Nation Garment Workers Federation[3] apparently is an exception to this, being a more grass-roots organisation, closer to an expression of workers' self-organisation emerging from their own struggles. It would be too easy and simplistic to apply critiques of modern western business unions to such an organisation. 11 years ago the NGWF was an organisation with 3 workers paid a basic garment workers wage operating out of a shed in a workers slum. Working in conditions more similar for workers in Europe a century or two ago, basic organization for defence and improvement of working conditions is a matter, sometimes, of whether one starves or not. With rapid large-scale proletarianisation of rural workers in many parts of Asia (China, India etc) struggles for unionisation are likely to follow. How institutionalised and bureaucratised organs like the NGWF might have become is unclear at present, and will be partly determined by their success as negotiators. One can predict that official recognition, with a greater budget and status to manage and protect, would accelerate that process. NGWF was at one time (though apparently no longer) in an alliance with the BGWUC , which has recently shown an eagerness to promise an obedient workforce to the bosses.

I don't know enough about the situation in the other three countries to comment although if you have specific examples in mind that'd be interesting.

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Alf
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Oct 7 2007 22:50

I agree with Catch's arguments about why there can't be 'permanent' (or rather, durable) mass organisations. It's not a question of will but of the real situation workers confront.
I think it's very likely that the idea of an 'alternative' or 'independent' trade union has a strong influence among the workers in Egypt. This is where the historical dimension of consciousness plays a key role. Such ideologies are always strongest in countries which don't have a long experience of 'democracy' and 'free' trade unions. Poland is the classic example.

Spikey: you can call struggle groups political, in the sense that everythingto do with the class strugle is political, but they have a different form and function from organisations formed on a general 'programmatic' basis. People will participate in them without necessarily agreeing on marxism, the decadence of capitalism, the party, the Russian revolution, the dictatorship of the prolelariat. parliament, national liberation, etc etc. They participate on the basis of the immediate needs of the struggle. This would include the possibility that they were not that clear about the trade unions either. But if they are prepared tp argue for assemblies to make decisions and not union cabals, to raise demands that unify workers, to call for active extension of strikes to other sectors, then there is a basis for common work.

Mark.
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Oct 7 2007 23:00
Mike Harman wrote:
Quote:
does the same hold true for countries like Egypt, Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria or Bolivia?

Forgot to ask first time around, are there specific groups you think would fall foul (or not) of that criticism in those countries?

Actually these were countries that came to mind as places where there is plenty of unrest and that have social and political conditions quite different to anything people might face in Europe or North America. It seems reasonable to ask whether the prospects for unions and other mass organisations are different too. I wasn't really thinking about specific organisations - but the NGWF in Bangladesh is probably a good example. Years ago I went to a talk by someone from Solfed who had just come back from meeting with the NGWF and discussing the possibility of them joining the IWA. From what he said they had no problems with the IWA's aims and principles committing them to revolution - in fact most political movements in Bangladesh were at least nominally in favour of a revolution. This is simply a different situation to anything we might expect here. COB in Bolivia might be another example, although it has been weakened by the decline of mining and the shift in the economy away from La Paz.

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Red Marriott
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Oct 8 2007 00:10
JH wrote:
Years ago I went to a talk by someone from Solfed who had just come back from meeting with the NGWF and discussing the possibility of them joining the IWA. From what he said they had no problems with the IWA's aims and principles committing them to revolution - in fact most political movements in Bangladesh were at least nominally in favour of a revolution.

Depends what you mean by 'political movements' - but none of them seem to have much presence in the working class and all the ones that advocate 'revolution' would be stalinist, trot skyist or possibly islamic. Even the unions only have a small minority of workers as members (BGWF = 21,000 of a garment workforce of 2million+ - membership fluctuates widely anyway as workers change jobs etc) and some (most?) unions are mainly a vehicle for the goals of political parties. I would think, due to its origins, BGWF has more presence among workers than most (and seems politically un-affiliated), and also probably a wider influence than its membership numbers suggest (it claims to have 1000 factory committees). Even so, the major revolts in Bangladesh do not look to me like they are instigated by unions or parties, though they try to step in and colonise them after the fact. But info from the ground is hard to find.

I have heard the claim about BGWF being radical stated several times by syndicalists but have never seen any evidence that it's true. Either the union was more radical in its youth or, I suspect, it was a few years ago searching around for internation affiliation, found the IWA and approached it but then got cold feet. This approach led the syndicalists to think the BGWF had radical leanings. Someone please correct me if my speculation is wrong. Anyway, these quotes from the BGWF website show that its official aim is to be a union negotiating the price of labour power in a healthy garment sector with a disciplined workforce. No revolutionary sentiments are expressed at all (so syndicalists & co please stop repeating this myth).

Quote:
We envisage an industry with workers rights and protection providing a human livelihood to the workers in valued and working in the industry. We view the struggle of the workers for their rights as a universal struggle of the world for its homogeneous kind. At the same time we perceive that every single struggle of every industry is unique of its kind. There is a common floor for the global working people. Everywhere they are fighting; they are fighting for their rights.
http://www.bgw-info.net/subdomain/NGWF_f/home.php?page=au

a site admin states;

Quote:
A strong and powerful union means a union that satisfies both the owners and the labourers and which in turn keeps the industry running well. [..]
Workers should understand they have to respect the rules and regulations. If they fail to carry out duties properly and get involved in undisciplined behaviour, they may be dismissed from service. [...]
What the industry needs is a conscientious and functional trade union that is dedicated to the protection of the workers' interests. This will be good for all parties.
http://www.bgw-info.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3
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OliverTwister
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Oct 8 2007 09:09

Thanks Ret.

Mark.
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Oct 8 2007 09:51
Ret Marut wrote:
JH wrote:
Years ago I went to a talk by someone from Solfed who had just come back from meeting with the NGWF and discussing the possibility of them joining the IWA. From what he said they had no problems with the IWA's aims and principles committing them to revolution - in fact most political movements in Bangladesh were at least nominally in favour of a revolution.

Depends what you mean by 'political movements' - but none of them seem to have much presence in the working class and all the ones that advocate 'revolution' would be stalinist, trot skyist or possibly islamic. Even the unions only have a small minority of workers as members (BGWF = 21,000 of a garment workforce of 2million+ - membership fluctuates widely anyway as workers change jobs etc) and some (most?) unions are mainly a vehicle for the goals of political parties. I would think, due to its origins, BGWF has more presence among workers than most (and seems politically un-affiliated), and also probably a wider influence than its membership numbers suggest (it claims to have 1000 factory committees). Even so, the major revolts in Bangladesh do not look to me like they are instigated by unions or parties, though they try to step in and colonise them after the fact. But info from the ground is hard to find.

I have heard the claim about BGWF being radical stated several times by syndicalists but have never seen any evidence that it's true. Either the union was more radical in its youth or, I suspect, it was a few years ago searching around for internation affiliation, found the IWA and approached it but then got cold feet. This approach led the syndicalists to think the BGWF had radical leanings. Someone please correct me if my speculation is wrong. Anyway, these quotes from the BGWF website show that its official aim is to be a union negotiating the price of labour power in a healthy garment sector with a disciplined workforce. No revolutionary sentiments are expressed at all (so syndicalists & co please stop repeating this myth).

I'm only going off what I remember someone who was involved saying about the discussions between the NGWF and the IWA - I don't really know whether what he said was accurate or whether he had come back with a misleading impression. I'm sure you're right about groups advocating 'revolution' being stalinist, trots or islamic.

Mark.
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Oct 8 2007 18:57
Ret Marut wrote:
I have heard the claim about BGWF being radical stated several times by syndicalists but have never seen any evidence that it's true. Either the union was more radical in its youth or, I suspect, it was a few years ago searching around for internation affiliation, found the IWA and approached it but then got cold feet. This approach led the syndicalists to think the BGWF had radical leanings. Someone please correct me if my speculation is wrong. Anyway, these quotes from the BGWF website show that its official aim is to be a union negotiating the price of labour power in a healthy garment sector with a disciplined workforce. No revolutionary sentiments are expressed at all (so syndicalists & co please stop repeating this myth).
Quote:
We envisage an industry with workers rights and protection providing a human livelihood to the workers in valued and working in the industry. We view the struggle of the workers for their rights as a universal struggle of the world for its homogeneous kind. At the same time we perceive that every single struggle of every industry is unique of its kind. There is a common floor for the global working people. Everywhere they are fighting; they are fighting for their rights.
http://www.bgw-info.net/subdomain/NGWF_f/home.php?page=au

a site admin states;

Quote:
A strong and powerful union means a union that satisfies both the owners and the labourers and which in turn keeps the industry running well. [..]
Workers should understand they have to respect the rules and regulations. If they fail to carry out duties properly and get involved in undisciplined behaviour, they may be dismissed from service. [...]
What the industry needs is a conscientious and functional trade union that is dedicated to the protection of the workers' interests. This will be good for all parties.
http://www.bgw-info.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3

The Bangladesh Garment Workers information network is an umbrella site for various unions - listed here - it isn't the site of the NGWF. There are two unions with the initials BGWF - they aren't the same organisations as the NGWF. The first link you have given is the home page for the NGWF but I can't find your quote on it. The second quote is from one of the admins of the information network forum - there's no reason to think his views have anything to do with the NGWF.

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Red Marriott
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Oct 8 2007 21:43

Sorry, tiredness and too many tabs open confused me; the first quote is from the BGWF-info network site here; http://www.bgw-info.net/about_us/. Yes, there are 2 BGWF unions (possibly the result of a split in the 90s) and I presume one of them runs the info-network site. But the NGWF is also a federation of unions, (though perhaps in practice more a federation of branches/factory committees).
The NGWF site seems not to have been updated since 2004 and they don't answer e-mails - but this is what they say about themselves;

Quote:
Aims and Objectives

1. Ensure fair wages.
2. Establish the Workers Rights and Human Rights.
3. Ensure the equal wages and equal rights for the women workers.
4. Improve the working condition and environment in working places.
5. Struggle for a democratic, developped and progressive society.

Main Activities

1. Unite the garment workers.
2. Formation of plant level unions.
3. Initiate and Conduct the countrywide movements for the betterment of garment workers.
4. Support, cooperate and conduct the factory base movements.
5. Awareness building among the garment workers.
6. Training and education for the garment workers.
7. Special training and education for the woman workers.
8. Legal aid for the members and garment workers.
9. Publicize the workers and other materials for the garment workers in local and easy language.
10. Cooperate to get new jobs for the unemployed and dismissed workers.
11. Awareness building for health and environment and to provide health facilities.
12. Organize meetings, processions, demonstrations, seminars and symposiums for the garment workers.
13. Support and participate in the movements of other sectors, democratic movements and women freedom movements.
14. Express and show solidarity with international trade union movements, democratic movements and women movements.
http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/s26/banglad/index.htm#union

The above ties in well with the views expressed on the BGWF site, which the NGWF is affiliated to organisationally and listed on as a member - so, JH, one can hardly claim that "there's no reason to think" the views of a BGWF admin "have anything to do with the NGWF". Despite my errors, I don't think I've given an unfair impression of the politics of the NGWF. What evidence I have seen in news reports bear out this impression.

Maybe your earlier info, JH, came from this visitor, back in the 90s; http://libcom.org/library/a-visit-to-bangladesh
Since then NGWF have chosen to ally with the charity 'War On Want' rather than the IWA, so are hardly taking a revolutionary direction.

Whatever one thinks of the IBRP's politics, what they say about the unions in Bangladesh is probably not too far off the truth;

Quote:
The fact that the Bangladesh ruling class immediately mobilised the armed forces of the state against the strikes of the garment workers [in May-June 2006] shows their inexperience. In the older capitalist countries such as the EU or the US these workers would have been confronted first by the trade unions who would have tried to defuse and head off the struggle. [6] Much of the Bangladesh capitalist class sees no reason to use the unions to control the struggle at the present stage. The reasons for this are that the unions are both inexperienced and weak. The National Federation of Garment Workers (NGWF) which is the main union federation in the industry has 28 separate unions affiliated to it. Despite this, it only claims to have 20 000 members in an industry of two million. Some of the employers do, however, see the need to use the unions as they are used in the central capitalist countries, namely to control the sale of labour power and to control disputes. It was for this reason that the June 2006 agreement did recognise the right to unionise. [...]

Already, the Bangladesh unions, such as the NGWF, are showing that they view things from the same perspective as the employers. They repeat, for example, the bosses’ demands for “free access of Bangladeshi garments to US and EU markets and an end to quota systems”. They demand that, “international companies conduct fair trade with Bangladesh garment factories” which, of course, means that the Bangladeshi capitalists get a larger slice of the profits as demanded by the Garment Manufacturers Association. [7] They support successful national capitalism which inevitably involves the exploitation of their members. The interests of workers are not in the success of the national capital. They are in international resistance to capitalism and the establishment of classless society worldwide.
IBRP site

BTW, in my earlier post when referring to the BGWF I meant the NGWF.

Mark.
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Oct 9 2007 20:39
Ret Marut wrote:
Maybe your earlier info, JH, came from this visitor, back in the 90s; http://libcom.org/library/a-visit-to-bangladesh

Yes, that's the one - thanks.
Here's a quote from a news article from July last year giving some more background on the unions.

libcom wrote:
Though there are 16 unions representing garment workers, according to the Democratic Workers Party "...the level of unionisation among workers is very low. Where unions are involved, they act more like extortionists, taking money from management to keep the employees in line while at the same time collecting dues from their members, with whom they have virtually no contact. Most of the unions have direct or indirect links with local and foreign NGOs, and receiving lucrative grants seems to be their main goal."

Most of the trade unions appear to be tools of one or other of the political parties, strikes being used more as vehicles for pursuing political goals against rival parties than improving workers' conditions. The National Garment Workers Federation apparently is an exception to this, being a more grass-roots organisation, closer to an expression of workers' self-organisation emerging from their own struggles. It would be too easy and simplistic to apply critiques of modern western business unions to such an organisation. 11 years ago the NGWF was an organisation with 3 workers paid a basic garment workers wage operating out of a shed in a workers slum. Working in conditions more similar for workers in Europe a century or two ago, basic organization for defence and improvement of working conditions is a matter, sometimes, of whether one starves or not.

The article adds that:

Quote:
NGWF was at one time (though apparently no longer) in an alliance with the BGWUC [the Bangladesh Garment Workers Unity Council], which has recently shown an eagerness to promise an obedient workforce to the bosses.

According to a footnote to the article:

Quote:
[4] The Bangladeshi Trotskyist Democratic Workers Party describes the BGWUC as a collection of "sham unions" (though whether this description is motivated as much by political rivalry as political clarity is uncertain).

"On 3 May, garment workers and supporters staged a peaceful protest against a sudden wage cut in the Savar EPZ, 50 km north of the capital Dhaka. The management of Ring Shine called in the police, who attacked the 1500 strong gathering. One knitting operator, Rafiqul Islam, and one supporter, Mosharaf, were shot dead and 200 injured. Outraged demonstrators ransacked the factory in revenge. Six people were arrested, and a further 80 face charges of property damage.

In mid-May the Bangladesh Garments Workers Unity Council (BGWUC), comprising 8 such sham unions, secured an agreement under which Ring Shine agreed to pay the medical expenses of all injured workers, drop the charges filed against the demonstrators, pay back wages and follow the BEPZA rules regarding minimum wages and benefits, as well as compensation of about $US4,000 to the families of the two men killed by police.

Under the agreement the BGWUC promised to undertake "the responsibility for peaceful operation of the factory and will ensure that the workers will not create any further problem in future in the factory". A rival union, the Garments Unity Forum, staged a demonstration condemning the deal as a sell-out but a few days later put its seal to the same agreement. Such 'compromises' are not in the interest of the workers, benefiting only the self-serving union bureaucrats and playing into the hands of the bosses.

The Ring Shine incident is the most recent example of the volatile situation within the fortress-like compound at Savar, comprising 33,700 workers. In 1997, 15,000 of them went on strike in defiance of the ban, demanding trade union rights and job security." [Our emphasis.]

Is the Bangladesh Garment Workers information network connected to the BGWUC or is it something separate?

Mark.
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Joined: 11-02-07
Oct 9 2007 21:10
Ret Marut wrote:
Whatever one thinks of the IBRP's politics, what they say about the unions in Bangladesh is probably not too far off the truth;
Quote:
Already, the Bangladesh unions, such as the NGWF, are showing that they view things from the same perspective as the employers. They repeat, for example, the bosses’ demands for “free access of Bangladeshi garments to US and EU markets and an end to quota systems”. They demand that, “international companies conduct fair trade with Bangladesh garment factories” which, of course, means that the Bangladeshi capitalists get a larger slice of the profits as demanded by the Garment Manufacturers Association. [7] They support successful national capitalism which inevitably involves the exploitation of their members. The interests of workers are not in the success of the national capital. They are in international resistance to capitalism and the establishment of classless society worldwide.
IBRP site
The NGWF wrote:
25.10.01

Greetings from Bangladesh and National Garments Workers Federation. You know-more than 1000 garment factories are closed and near 300000 workers are now Jobless. We think-It is due to the US Economic discrimination policy for Bangladesh. Concerning this issue, we had organized a press conference day before yesterday 23.10.01. I am writing the short report from one of our English Daily.

In Solidarity
Amirul Haque Amin
General Secretary
National Garments Workers Federation
The Report

"300,000 garment workers become unemployed"

"A labour federation yesterday urged the US authorities to allow duty and quota-free market access of apparel items from Bangladesh to save some 16(1600000) lakh garment workers, reports UNB.

Around 300,000 garment workers have already lost their jobs and more stand under the threat, National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) general secretary Amirul Haque Amin told a press conference at its office at Topkhana Road.

He said the jobless workers are now passing inhuman life and staging demonstrations in different garment industry areas almost every day.

"Misery of many of the jobless workers accentuated as they were retrenched without compensation and many of the entrepreneurs did not pay wage arrears," the union leader told journalists.

Amin said the setback of the RMG industry was due to US TDA 2000 that awarded duty and quota-free market access to 72 Sub-Saharan and African countries leaving Bangladesh uncompetitive.

The federation announced its plan for submitting a memorandum to US Embassy in Dhaka on Thursday urging duty and quota free market access.

To protect the industry, main export earner for the country, of the government to take immediate measures to get the market access and remove the barriers in European markets."

The Independent
Wednesday 24Th October, 2001
Page 3

link
Hardly revolutionary - but what other position could they realistically take on the quotas restricting access to US and EU markets?

Red Marriott's picture
Red Marriott
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Oct 9 2007 21:16

Well I wrote that article, and the DWP Trots description of BGWUC as 'a collection of "sham unions"' may be inaccurate; the NGWF is certainly a real union and apparently set up the BGWUC, with itself as one of the member unions. The DWP may mean that the BGWUC is a front organisation for NGWF and the other affiliated unions are sham to make BGWUC look stronger than it really is. As with so much about workers in Bangladesh, detailed info is scarce and sometimes confusing. This is what a google threw up;

Quote:
Trade Union movement in garments sector is very weak. Even it is weaker than other sectors. There are 8 country wide registered trade union federations. There are 9 federations registered as division based. Another 5 registered federations are combined with Jute, Textile and leather Sector. Apart from these, there are 6 unregistered federations in this sector. There are 3 alliances in the garment sector. These are: 1. Bangladesh Garments Workers Unity Council. 2. Bangladesh Garments Workers and Employees Unity Council. 3. B.N.C.C. (Bangladesh Coordinating Comittee, affiliated with (ITGLWF).
http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/s26/banglad/index.htm

Bangladesh Garments Workers Unity Council(umbrella organization of 10 garments workers federation including NGWF) http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/s26/banglad/ngwf4-9-2000.htm

BGWUC is an umbrella organisation of 6 garment workers federations including the National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF ). NGWF is the initiator of the BGWUC. http://www.ainfos.ca/02/aug/ainfos00229.html

I don't know if the the Bangladesh Garment Workers information network is connected to the BGWUC.
I'd think it likely.

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Red Marriott
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Oct 9 2007 22:29

JH - what in fact happened was that the quota restriction didn't affect the garment industry as some expected (or pretended to believe) and the industry has continued to see strong growth. http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2005/10/12/bangladesh-doing-well-post-quota/
I think they were crying wolf as part of the negotiations - afaik, there seems to have been v. little unemployment in the sector since 2001. In the last year there has been a slight downturn, some loss of sales to regional competitors (China, Vietnam, Cambodia etc) - due to western buyers being unsettled by labour unrest and possible damage to corporate image by association with sweat shop suppliers, slow turnaround of orders due to weak transport infrastructure, greater technological investment by rival Asian producers etc. But exports grew by iirc, 20% or so last year in a $9 billion industry employing 2 million+ workers, 90% female.

Quote:
The disconcerting aspect of the industry is that despite an increase in its export volume, Bangladesh factory owners fail to earn as much as their counterparts in other exporting countries, and even those in the subcontinent. Besides their inability to bargain with their buyers, the factory owners have not tried to diversify their production lines. Even within the garment sector, Bangladesh’s main exports remain restricted to a few low-end lines that are typically ‘high volume, low value’. According to some estimates, an import ban on .01 per cent of US tariff lines can adversely affect the sector by up to 40 per cent in terms of money earned.
While general incentives such as tax holidays and exemptions, cash incentives and back-to-back letters of credit remain in force, there has been little government effort to encourage high-end production, increased value addition or attainment of labour standards through precisely directed and effective incentives. The exporters have thus remained contented with their handful of production lines and have not felt the need move to more value added production or develop backward linkage to ensure higher value addition, since the government has given no signs of discontinuing its incentives.
The low pay of the workers is likely to have a negative effect on the industry when all the safeguard measures on China, restricting it from full-fledged exports to the US and the EU, are lifted in 2008. The state of the garment workers has not been able to attract better human resources and their skills are still not at a par with their Chinese or Thai counterparts, which will be necessary for high-end production with increased value addition. Unless that is done, Bangladesh will remain at the bottom of the pile while other countries move on to the high-end markets offering them larger profits. That it has not happened is clear from Bangladesh’s trend of increasing export volume and comparatively decreasing prices. http://www.newagebd.com/store/anni06/economy.html

The big problem for workers seems to be, not unemployment, but getting wages out of the boss. There are constant disputes - walkouts, violent attacks etc - over unpaid wages. But if workers can't get the bosses to pay wages unless they riot and wildcat I don't think it's much use the union fostering illusions by appealing to international capital to 'play fair'. The African countries now being favoured could claim the WTO's earlier 'Multi Fibre Agreement' had favoured Bangladesh for the past 30 years . In 2008 China is having its import restrictions lifted which will affect Bangladesh. Fairness, a level playing field etc doesn't come into it - that's the rhetoric of competing national capitals - it's not the terrain that the working class can win on. By the same logic the workers shouldn't strike/revolt cos it's bad for the image of the national industry in the eyes of western buyers.

Mark.
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Oct 9 2007 22:59
Ret Marut wrote:
The big problem for workers seems to be, not unemployment, but getting wages out of the boss. There are constant disputes - walkouts, violent attacks etc - over unpaid wages. But if workers can't get the bosses to pay wages unless they riot and wildcat I don't think it's much use the union fostering illusions by appealing to international capital to 'play fair'.

Do you think there are divisions here between the NGWF's leadership and its members?