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Red Marriott
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Oct 9 2007 23:53

I have been able to find out nothing about the relations between NGWF and its members - that kind of detailed info would add alot to our understanding of what's going on there. In the jute industry recently union leaders were attacked, so union bosses are not considered sacred in Bangladesh.But the NGWF claims 21,000 members out of 2+ million RMG workers, so is very much a minor player. What also seems clear is that no unions or parties have much control over the continuing high level of class struggle going on. I'm sure the various small unions have some influence, maybe even proportionately more than their membership size suggests, but my understanding is that the struggles would happen whether the unions and parties existed or not. I could be wrong about the extent of their influence, but the evidence strongly suggests to me that for the most part no official organisations lead these struggles, rather they are being led by them, tail-ending them. That doesn't mean the NGWF doesn't still have a presence among RMG workers (as described by the visitor in the 90s) but what is happening is much bigger than them. But then the workers who could really inform us on these questions don't have computer access.

syndicalist
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Oct 10 2007 02:12

WSA contacted the NGWF in 1990s.We were, it appears, the first organization on the libertarian left to make contact---and develop it. It was through our initial efforts throughout the 1990s and early 2000's that the plight of the garment workers were publicized and others within our movement began their solidarity efforts.

I only write the above as, often times, history has a way of getting lost or distorted.

That said ...

The NGWF has gone thru many changes since the 1990s. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the NGWF probably is the most stable of all the independent garment worker unions. It is probably more democratic than most. It is probably a very clean union.

Thru its evolution the NGWF has probably become more hierarical. The NGWF has developed many friends outside of the libertarian movement, yet guards its independence. My current impression is that it seeks support from all clean corners,progressive organizations and trade unions.

I think Ret Marut is probably right about the NGWF's size. This is about what they've claimed for some time. I would, however, comradely disagree that the NGWF is a "minor player" in the 2 million worker RMG sector. Yes, numerically, but it appears that they can muster up support and so forth beyond their numbers. I would say, in a "political" sense, they'r emuch more influential than 21k. members.

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Red Marriott
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Oct 10 2007 06:53

Hi syndicalist; NGWF may well be one of the larger, more stable and influential RMG unions - what I meant is it ( and other unions) do not appear to be leading worker resistance in the garment sector. The scale and nature of events there suggest that to me; so in that sense they seem to be 'minor players', like all unions there. If their influence behind the scenes is much greater than appears, I'd be interested in the evidence for that.

syndicalist
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Oct 10 2007 12:05

Hi Ret Marut: Your point is well taken in the context of the overall revolts. I would suspect that part of the revolts have simply been workers tired of their conditions. So,yes, the more masive scale events we've seen since last year tend to be more spontanious.

On the other hand, the fact that the NGWF has existed as a "stable" voice of garment workers, trying to establish shop organizations; building various campaigns; distributing literature; attempting to penetrate the EPZs; establishing worker centers and so forth has allowed for a certain space for organization and agitation. Oft times these things have a way of helping to fermet other things. Oft times revolts and fledgling organizations go hand in hand.

I guess all I'm saying is that there are surely different levels to the garment workers situation. And the NGWF is probably in the best position to help build shop organizations anf local,regional and a national federation of garment workers.

Perhaps events will prove otherwise.

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Oct 11 2007 17:28

I think you may well be right about the influence of the NGWF - but what inspires me about the struggles in Bangladesh is that they seem to display a potential to go further than the terrain of merely institutionalising worker-boss relations/negotiations via union recognition. The fragmentation of the ruling class there and their so far negative attitude to unions actually encourages this potential. The two biggest struggles - the 2006 RMG revolt and the Phulbari revolt - have shown this by spreading far beyond the workplace and becoming quite generalised among the poor. Unions will inevitably appear in such societies where industrial development emerges, and will bring some concessions and resources to workers. But they will tend to channel dissent into institutional forms that stifle the kind of working class self-organisation that is occurring at present. If the struggles continue to develop in Bangladesh and become more threatening to capital accumulation then I think the unions will be offered a greater mediating role as a safety valve for the ruling class and as a means of stabilisation. On a day to day level the NGWF may well help workers legally, with certain resources, will be involved in organising some strikes etc - but their reformism will be an obstacle to be overcome by workers - both if the union grows and if the class struggle continues to develop in a radical direction. The two developments would seem to be antagonistic to each other if one is looking for a revolutionary outcome.

But it's more of a complex question than is often admitted. For example, while wildcats are often seen as an example of 'workers autonomy' breaking from the restriction of union control, the present UK postal wildcat strikes are organised by union shop stewards (albeit possibly with approval from above) - and the practical union influence on strikes in Bangladesh may be more at that level than having much to do with the union leadership (though the gap between top and bottom of the union hierarchy will probably be less in a smaller union like NGWF). NGWF union activists may even be some of the most combative and militant RMG workers - but that's not incompatible with the reformist goals of NGWF. A high level of union militancy isn't always a sign of developing radicalism. Most union movements had a hard time initially establishing themselves; for example, J Havelock Wilson, the President of the National Sailors and Firemen's Union of Great Britain and Ireland (NSFU) for several years led fierce strikes for union recognition against stubborn employers. Once Wilson gained recognition he got totally into bed with the employers and repressed seamens' strikes. (More on Wilson & NSFU here;
http://libcom.org/library/strike-across-empire-baruch-hirson-lorraine-vivian)

Mark.
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Oct 11 2007 19:02
Ret Marut wrote:
Unions will inevitably appear in such societies where industrial development emerges, and will bring some concessions and resources to workers. But they will tend to channel dissent into institutional forms that stifle the kind of working class self-organisation that is occurring at present.

I don't think anyone here would disagree that unions can have this effect. The question I was posing before I derailed the thread onto Bangladesh was whether unions in newly industrialising societies inevitably have this role. For example would you say that this applied to the IWW before the first world war or the CNT in the '30s? Does it apply to all unions in countries like Bangladesh now?

Ret Marut wrote:
On a day to day level the NGWF may well help workers legally, with certain resources, will be involved in organising some strikes etc - but their reformism will be an obstacle to be overcome by workers - both if the union grows and if the class struggle continues to develop in a radical direction. The two developments would seem to be antagonistic to each other if one is looking for a revolutionary outcome.

There doesn't seem to be enough information about to say whether the NGWF are reformist or not or whether they are likely to be an obstacle to struggle. You may be right but I think it needs some more evidence.

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Red Marriott
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Oct 11 2007 20:26
Quote:
The question I was posing before I derailed the thread onto Bangladesh was whether unions in newly industrialising societies inevitably have this role. For example would you say that this applied to the IWW before the first world war or the CNT in the '30s? Does it apply to all unions in countries like Bangladesh now?

I doubt that the industrialising process is occurring in the same way, so a judgement of the IWW or CNT then wouldn't be very applicable to Bangladesh now. But I wouldn't make any blanket judgements - what is important is the content of what workers do, and the content of what is called unionism can vary from the excellent radical struggles of the early IWW to the class collaborationsm of the NSFU I mentioned earlier (which both occurred in the same period).

Quote:
There doesn't seem to be enough information about to say whether the NGWF are reformist or not or whether they are likely to be an obstacle to struggle

I disagree - I posted earlier their programme that appears on their site; nothing radical about it. Their affiliation to BGW-info network which has a similarly reformist outlook reinforces the impression - and their 'partnership' with the 'War on Want' charity even more so. I have never seen any evidence that they are at all radical. The fact that they once considered affiliation to IWA seems to have led to unfounded assumptions. At best I'd think there might be some contradiction between a rank'n'file radicalism and the official reformism. But this is all speculating.

Blackhawk
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Apr 14 2009 20:20

One note here. Paul Mattick senior WAS active in the Chicago IWW. The IWW at this point were practicing "dual card" unionism, so he may have been in both of them at the same time. The Chicago IWW in the forties was certainly not a mass organization or even a real union. Nevertheless, councilists had some impact through the person of Paul Mattick on the Chicago IWW local at that time, or so I am told.

You can look up sources on this, I'm drawing this mostly from local lefty folklore. I think the Marxist Internet Archive mentions that Paul Mattick did join the IWW.

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klas batalo
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Nov 2 2012 05:11

Chiming in here years later...

Accepting the ICC's general position of the KAPD being Left Communist, AAUD-E and other anti-party groups making up Council Communism, and later groups descendent from them being Councilist...

...I'd just like to point out that earlier in the thread this source was linked to:

http://libcom.org/history/reimers-otto-1902-1984

Which states that the council communist AAUD-E were okay with participating in broad libertarian coalitions:

Quote:
In Hamburg Otto, along with Karl Matzen, Karl Roche and Ernst Fiering argued in 1926 for the building of an anti-authoritarian bloc, an idea first advocated by Ruhle. Anarcho-syndicalists, anarchist communists and individualist anarchists, as well as unionists of the AAU-E met in the Planeth Restaurant. On Fridays they all came together at the restaurant under the mantle of the Block Antiautoritaerer Revolutionaere and organised meetings addressed by Rudolf Rocker, Karl Roche, Pierre Ramus, Ernst Friedrich, Bertold Cahn, Franz Pfemfert and Winkler. Sometimes as many as 300-400 attended. Rocker spoke for a series of six meetings on Nationalism and Culture. These became so popular that they had to move from the upper room to the larger room downstairs.

Based on this alone I think is good evidence if slightly different terminology that council communists could be said to be an anti-authoritarian or libertarian strain of free communism.

Now I could see someone splitting hairs of saying libertarian is a more classical liberal like word, and a defense of abstract liberty, where as anti-authoritarian is more fitting, especially considering Ruhle's feelings about the Bolsheviks, but really that seems like just sectarian point scoring.