Article on bus drivers union and upcoming strike

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Convert
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Oct 16 2012 01:06
Article on bus drivers union and upcoming strike

Seems now we've at a stage where its openly admitted that unions are on the bosses side, this article on the bus drivers union is pretty amazing.

http://auckland.scoop.co.nz/2012/10/auckland-bus-strike-action-unavoidab...

and

http://auckland.scoop.co.nz/2012/10/majority-vote-in-favour/

My favourite bits;

'The unions and the company returned to mediation today to discuss how to get past the problem that on two occasions now deals which have been struck at the table, and recommended and endorsed by the unions, have not been supported by enough of their members'

'Even involvement by the Council of Trade Unions who support NZ Bus’ offer has failed to convince the drivers that they should take the deal. “The union members elected 10 delegates to represent them through 6 months of negotiation. We gave them everything they asked for and they have been unable to convince their members – twice”, said Shane McMahon, NZ Bus’ Chief Operating Officer who describes the current situation as “incredibly frustrating”.

Seems the members are not as convinced as their so called delegates and have called strike action.

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 16 2012 10:57

Wow, is there a history of militancy and/or independent rank-and-file action amongst the drivers? Also, we talking indefinite strike or a day or two? Awesome in any case, do keep us updated.

Skraeling
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Oct 17 2012 02:05

Yeah an interesting wee struggle. The Akld bus drivers did the same a few years ago, rejected an offer recommended by the union and went out on strike. It's a bit of a flash in the pan these days given the very low level of class struggle in NZ. I haven't read the article closely, but it is not so surprising to me, unions have been doing this sort of thing since they first started (and on many occasions an alliance has been formed by the company bosses, unions and the state to try and force militant workers to accept deals and not take independent action etc).

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happychaos
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Oct 17 2012 11:44

Hi Convert,

I think your post needs to be more balanced.

Convert wrote:
Seems now we've at a stage where its openly admitted that unions are on the bosses side, this article on the bus drivers union is pretty amazing.

http://auckland.scoop.co.nz/2012/10/auckland-bus-strike-action-unavoidab...

and

http://auckland.scoop.co.nz/2012/10/majority-vote-in-favour/

Both of these links are NZ Bus management press releases. They are not "articles", but corporate propaganda which include common anti-worker PR lines.

Their main dividing tactic is to bolster the company's reasonableness by presenting the CTU and unions recommendation of two offers as supporting NZ Bus and to present members as being unreasonable.

It is true that the CTU and union bargaining teams have recommended two deals. Both have been rejected, the last by a very slim margin (51% rejected, 49% to accept).

The two unions combined bargaining team is composed of two elected union officials (Karl Anderson from First and Gary Froggat from Tramways) and elected delegates from the floor. They aren't "so-called delegates", they are elected delegates.

A "recommendation" of a bargaining position is a common collective bargaining "tactic". It means that the bargaining team takes a position on the offer (in favour or against) when it is presented back to members. It isn't required by law and it can be done differently depending on the union and generally the officials involved. Either way, it is members who ratify a collective agreement not the bargaining team. Members can choose to accept, ignore, or take into account a recommendation. They are not bound to accept it.

Karl Andersen said on Radio NZ that the recommendation was on the basis that the entire bargaining team (including delegates) thought it was the best offer that could be achieved at the negotiation table. In other words, it was made clear to members that anything further would have to be won through industrial action.

Before there are any suggestions I'm somehow siding with the company, I volunteered with the last strike and if I'm in Auckland during this one, I'll be there again.

Yours,
Simon O

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happychaos
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Oct 17 2012 12:13
Quote:
unions have been doing this sort of thing since they first started (and on many occasions an alliance has been formed by the company bosses, unions and the state to try and force militant workers to accept deals and not take independent action etc).

My main concern with the above posts, apart from the presentation of facts, is the reification of unions.

This simplifcation of unions would put the 1951 Watersiders union, our most celebrated syndicalist union, in the same boat as the Federation of Labour, which sold them out and sided with the bosses and imperialists.

Who do we leave unions to, when the supporters of direct democracy dismiss them as inherently hierarchical or right wing, than to those very people we oppose?

We should always support unionism and fight for rank and file control. Victory to the Auckland bus drivers!

Simon

Skraeling
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Oct 17 2012 22:36

Ah we're going over old ground Simon - I don't think it is a simplification at all, i'm just saying that on 'many occasions' unions have formed alliances with bosses and the state to repress 'militant' activity. I think this is true (ie. a historical fact on many occasions), but it is just a tendency, and yes it is more confined to the less militant unions. Have no idea what you mean by 'reificiation of unions' - that's a new one!

I think this case of the bus drivers illustrates how union officials can have contempt/frustration for the rank and file when their recommendation does not go their way - i'm guessing, but it is like, the bargaining team is saying 'how can they vote like that? we are in the know, and they aren't. we know what's possible, they don't. how can they go for a strike in today's climate and with the membership split?' A lot of union activity seems to be more about PR spin these days, and if the trammies and 'First' union are anything like the union i was in, then their recommendation would have been accompanied with lots of manipulative PR spin to try and get the outcome they wanted. Hence the vote against it and for a possible strike is a minor wee victory. Also, if you're an elected delegate to a union on a bargaining table, you can be put under all sorts of pressure to tow the union line by union officials.

And thanks for the moralistic comment at the end! 'We should always support unionism and rank and file control.' There is no need to prescribe that type of moralistic politics - and it sums up what is wrong with a lot of the anarchist scene in NZ - ie. reducing politics to simplistic moralism, and then condemning others for not supporting your moralistic line.

As you're well aware, not everyone supports your boring from within union politics (see old discussions on libcom). There are many problems with that tactic, as you are well aware. And i think you're making assumptions about why people oppose unions - for me, it is not becos unions are 'inherently hierarchical' - that is a view voiced by some anarchists that i don't share, my view is more along the lines of unions are by nature negotiators of labour power, which leads to all sorts of problems. And just because I don't support unions does not mean i can't see contradictions within them, and wouldn't join a union if one was available, and wouldn't oppose the machinations of right-wingers within unions (in fact, this is precisely what i have done in the past). I think unions are contested to a certain degree, but within limits, and that is why there is also a need to go beyond them.

bootsy
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Oct 17 2012 22:52
Quote:
Before there are any suggestions I'm somehow siding with the company, I volunteered with the last strike and if I'm in Auckland during this one, I'll be there again.

So what? Whether or not you dedicate your spare time to supporting a strike (an admirable use of your time and energy, don't get me wrong) is not really relevant to an analysis trade unionism.

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happychaos
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Oct 18 2012 00:27
bootsy wrote:
Quote:
Before there are any suggestions I'm somehow siding with the company, I volunteered with the last strike and if I'm in Auckland during this one, I'll be there again.

So what? Whether or not you dedicate your spare time to supporting a strike (an admirable use of your time and energy, don't get me wrong) is not really relevant to an analysis trade unionism.

I agree. I included that line, because I expected my post to be misunderstood. An expectation which has been proven correct.

To be clear - the point of my original post was to challenge the factsof the argument in the original post. I wasn't trying to challenge the view which Convert holds nor to present my own view.

Convert said “its openly admitted that unions are on the bosses side” based on an “article” which is in fact company propaganda. Convert then proceeded to quote the press release to justify his position.

Whatever the validity of Convert's position, it hasn't been confirmed by the facts presented here.

Simon [Edited]

Convert
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Oct 18 2012 03:13

Seeing as we're splitting hairs here i didnt say 'its openly admitted...' i said 'seems now its openly admitted...' This was meant to imply that it was my opinion based on what i had read that the union is on the bosses side not that i was presenting a peer reviewed analysis.

Yeah ok fair point - they are company press releases and to get a more accurate picture on the degree to which it is a dividing tactic by the co. and to what degree it is a true representation of the union/mgmt relationship you would need to either be one of the drivers or talk to a lot of them.

I have however also heard a radio interview (bfm) with one of the delegates who furthered my suspicions that it is the latter. I cant remember the guys name but it was clear he wanted the members to accept and was very upset that they hadnt.

simono wrote:
Members can choose to accept, ignore, or take into account a recommendation. They are not bound to accept it.

Im assuming you havent been to the drivers union meetings Simon? In my experience it is very difficult to challenge the direction of the delegate team. In the EPMU where i have worked in the past I witnessed for several years running the organiser/delegates using scare tactics and being generally very forceful in getting members to agree to deals - bad ones in my experience. Personally I was hesistant to suggest not accepting bosses deals because I was worried it would put a black mark against my name and i did not trust the organiser not to sell me out to mgmt.

simono wrote:

Who do we leave unions to, when the supporters of direct democracy dismiss them as inherently hierarchical or right wing, than to those very people we oppose?

We should always support unionism and fight for rank and file control. Victory to the Auckland bus drivers!

Simon

Im sure this has been repeated ad nauseam but the above completely misses the point, you may aswell say who do we leave the state to when the supporters.... The point is that all unions are necessarily reactionary unless under worker control. They cannot advance struggle only supress it - they have to sell class peace to buy recognition.

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happychaos
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Oct 18 2012 10:08

Hi Convert,

Thanks for the reply. Here's a quick night time rant in response! smile

Convert wrote:
I have however also heard a radio interview (bfm) with one of the delegates who furthered my suspicions that it is the latter. I cant remember the guys name but it was clear he wanted the members to accept and was very upset that they hadnt.

I can almost guarantee the negotiation teams wanted members to accept the deal, especially knowing there was a split vote. (Which btw, shouldn't have been told to the company or made public, that was really dumb.) I wasn't saying your argument was wrong, I was saying the facts you presented didn't prove your position.

I'm not sure what the hair splitting is that you refer to.

It wouldn't take much imagination to guess how militant members of the Tramways would have reacted to your post. I want libertarian ideas to be popular and relevant to members, especially the most militant. The more factual and relevant our arguments, the better.

Convert wrote:
simono wrote:
Members can choose to accept, ignore, or take into account a recommendation. They are not bound to accept it.

Im assuming you havent been to the drivers union meetings Simon? In my experience it is very difficult to challenge the direction of the delegate team. In the EPMU where i have worked in the past I witnessed for several years running the organiser/delegates using scare tactics and being generally very forceful in getting members to agree to deals - bad ones in my experience. Personally I was hesistant to suggest not accepting bosses deals because I was worried it would put a black mark against my name and i did not trust the organiser not to sell me out to mgmt.

Not this year no. But I worked for First Union (then National Distribution Union) and know what is going on. Trammies members (the majority) have no problem challenging their delegates and secretary, as they have clearly done, again. They are a staunch group of workers and no one could lead them by the nose.

In regards to recommendations, I haven't seen what you've referred to before, but have no doubt it happens. The most common misuse of a recommendation I've seen is when organisers and secretary's use recommendations to misrepresent a position and make it look better than it really is.

That being said, I don't think a bad recommendations makes unions bad. I think that makes the people pushing them bad. I also don't think bad recommendations are inherent within the bargaining process. Any organisation where there are positions of power need structures to limit any potential abuse of that power. A strong and active rank and file is one guarantee to ensure this doesn't happen, but sadly active members don't fall from the sky. Apart from all members being involved in negotiations (700 at NZ BUS), I don't know any alternative to a mandated and recallable bargaining team.

Did you mean to say you worked for the EPMU or you were a member?

Convert wrote:
simono wrote:

Who do we leave unions to, when the supporters of direct democracy dismiss them as inherently hierarchical or right wing, than to those very people we oppose?

We should always support unionism and fight for rank and file control. Victory to the Auckland bus drivers!

Simon

Im sure this has been repeated ad nauseam but the above completely misses the point, you may aswell say who do we leave the state to when the supporters.... The point is that all unions are necessarily reactionary unless under worker control. They cannot advance struggle only supress it - they have to sell class peace to buy recognition.

I've certainly get nauseous when I hear this arguement! And I'm sure you're sick of the anarchist argument against this position too.

Some questions.

Do you think unions and the state are comparable? Isn't a union under workers control still a union? Do you hold the same position of syndicalism? What alternatives do you propose in the workplace, or in the class struggle in general? Can unions force concessions without selling out workers?

I've never understood the position that unions only suppress struggle and sell workers out for recognition. To say the Waterfront Union suppressed its members when they were locked out for 151 days or that the IWW sell workers out for recognition seems to me to be nonsensical. Of course business unions do this, but they are only one tendency within unions.

I can't think of any method of struggle or tactic within capitalism that doesn't make compromises at some level. They all certainly have weaknesses. The only strategy I know of that doesn't, are those that exist in a vaccuum. There are limitations to all strategies under capitalism, we have to choose the best ones that are available to us.

The major issue in Aotearoa today is not unions holding workers back. There are few staunch workplaces to be held back! The New Zealand working class is currently weak, fragmented and knowledge of collective struggle is poor. Even where union officials are holding those few militant workplaces back, this isn't the main problem. Even if they didn't hold them back, I don't think they'd have many ideas or strategies to take the struggles forward anyway. And currently, there are more organisers with ideas than radicals, which is a serious problem.

We need as many wins as possible, even small ones, to rebuild workers strength. I think unions, despite all their limitations, have proven themselves to be the only current viable option.

Simon

Skraeling
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Oct 18 2012 22:55

An off the top of my head reply. This is an impt topic and deserves more debate. I think we'd be in a sorry state if unions were our only viable option. I don't think unions have proven themselves to be the only current viable option at all. What rank and file successes can you point to? Since the 1980s unions have presided over a massive decline in real wages, a massive increase in work intensity, chronic long term unemployment, and a much worse life for most of us. And what have they done to try and stop this? Very little, wedded as most unions are to neoliberal capital and the labour party's version of it. The CTU doesn't have a clue eg. talking about a high productivity keynesian economy (when most workers are suffering from chronic speed ups in their job), and their attempts to be innovative, eg. Together 'Union' (which I am in), are a joke.

But here is the key point: even those 'struggle' unions have done very, very little actual struggle, including Unite and NDU. And a lot of the struggle that has occurred has been more PR, image, spectacle based rather than trying to build up grassroots strength and confidence on the ground. what struggle there has been has also been manipulative and top down - the problem here being that the more leftist organisers see the NZ working class is so weak and divided and atomised and lacking in confidence and battered on a daily basis, but they generally think the strategy to get things going is by sparking from above, by trying to create things themselves, rather than the opposite. And in any case I can't see how a union organiser can consisently be supportive of rank and file action - if they did they would lose their job - if I was into rank and filism i certainly would not put myself in the position of being a union official. The problem with struggle unions is that they end up replicating the very same mistakes as the business ones; in the end, the struggle unions aren't fundamentally different from business unions.

'Even where union officials are holding those few militant workplaces back, this isn't the main problem. Even if they didn't hold them back, I don't think they'd have many ideas or strategies to take the struggles forward anyway.'

That's a bit elitist don't you think? Certainly I agree the problem isn't unions holding back struggle - tho they will do that when it gets going again - but do you really think people have many ideas or strategies to take the struggles forward? Isn't that part of the problem that leftists see ordinary people as a bit thick and lacking in ideas, while leftists themselves have the ideas and knowledge?

Yeah I realise i'm being negative and don't have much positive to offer. I realise that the attempts to organise solidarity networks went to shit pretty quickly, and aren't a viable alternative at all in today's climate. But I would never see unions as the only way. I think new forms of struggle are sorely needed given the failures of the present and past. And i wouldn't see activists or leftists or union organisers or anarchists or anyone else as offering the solutions - that has gotta come from the bottom up. Maybe we are witnessing new embryonic forms of struggle and can't see them. Class struggle is complex, and isn't confined to the workplace. Some of the more interesting struggles in NZ are community based eg. the Christchurch residents who seem to be organising fairly regular protests against their shit treatment by the govt after the quakes. And class struggle is international, so we might be affected by what is happening in Europe and elsewhere. And I think we need a decent analysis of unions and capital to begin with, not more of the same old leftist activism (support/defend the unions, support the rank and file blah blah).

bootsy
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Oct 19 2012 00:52

Hi Simon,

I suppose I have two problems with your general point of view.

First of all I think it is somewhat voluntarist; holding to a conscious critique of capitalist society doesn't necessarily mean a person is in a position to offer any useful tactical or strategic advice to a group of workplace militants. I don't personally have anything specific to say to NZ bus drivers which I would consider of any use other than that unions, as an institution, must be able to guarantee class peace in order to maintain their role as negotiators of the price of labour power i.e. representatives of the working class as a class in itself. This is a tendency which I believe will compel unions to help manage the capitalist productive relationship regardless of whether the union bureaucracy consists of good people, bad people, radicals, or whatever. Sure that is totally vague and probably not hugely useful for a bus driver who is dealing with the nitty gritty of organising and struggling in their workplace but that doesn't make it untrue either. If I were a bus driver I might have something a bit more useful to say, I'm not though, so I would prefer to leave the question of alternative forms of struggle open.

Your view, where unions behaving badly is a matter of bad people, just strikes me as idealist.

Secondly, I think the implication of your point of view is that radicals should go and take paid positions in unions, doing organising work or whatever. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what I take away. I just disagree that it would be a good idea for all the anarchists, communists, socialists etc. in NZ to suddenly go and take positions in unions, because I believe that basis of our critique of this society should be a critique of the poverty of daily life. Of course we all need to eat & support our family/friends at the end of the day so if union work really is the best option open to you then it isn't for me to judge that. But I think the things we say need to be based on more than just the flashpoints of class struggle; the strikes, occupations, lockouts etc. I think we need to experience, think about and talk about the more mundane aspects of wage labour (or life without wage labour, as is increasingly the case for a lot of us), the grinding shift work, boredom, hunger, fatigue, the smell, the shit food, your relationships with other proletarians, bosses, unions, schools, police and other disciplinarian institutions etc. The critique of our own daily lives is something where all of us can at least begin to speak with some authority and authenticity. I think its better to start there, rather than feel compelled to offer strategies to groups of workers who's conditions are far removed from our own.

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happychaos
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Oct 20 2012 05:37

[Post editted]

Hi Bootsy, (-:

I can't stop the feeling that when you talk about "[my] general point of view" that you are actually talking about what you think my general point of view is. In the posts in this forum at least, I haven't really talked about what I think because my posts weren't originally about an analysis of unions at all. I'll be happy to write up my view if it would be useful, although I still feel my original post hasn't been answered fully.

Quote:
I don't personally have anything specific to say to NZ bus drivers which I would consider of any use other than that unions, as an institution, must be able to guarantee class peace in order to maintain their role as negotiators of the price of labour power i.e. representatives of the working class as a class in itself.This is a tendency which I believe will compel unions to help manage the capitalist productive relationship regardless of whether the union bureaucracy consists of good people, bad people, radicals, or whatever. Sure that is totally vague and probably not hugely useful for a bus driver who is dealing with the nitty gritty of organising and struggling in their workplace but that doesn't make it untrue either. If I were a bus driver I might have something a bit more useful to say, I'm not though, so I would prefer to leave the question of alternative forms of struggle open.

I have no problems with alternative forms of struggle and haven't suggested otherwise. What I did say was that in the here and now, unions provide something that those as-yet-unavailable alternatives do not – concrete improvements in workers daily lives. Bus drivers aren't going to wait for those alternatives we all so desire, when today their concern is with feeding their kids and mokopuna.

Quote:
Your view, where unions behaving badly is a matter of bad people, just strikes me as idealist.

That's not what I said. What I said was:

“...I don't think a bad recommendations (sic) makes unions bad. I think that makes the people pushing them bad.”

I was talking about the process of recommendations in bargaining, which you used as example to support your view of unions as a whole.

I doubt anyone think things are as simple as you say I do. Personally, I think conflating unions with the bad tendencies within unions is a simple argument and is not particularly useful for those wanting to do practical things in the here and now to improve workers material conditions.

Even if I accepted your argument about unions mediating capitalism, I'd still say it was a better strategy to seek improvements through unions than doing nothing, waiting for the new forms of struggle or using the non-existant alternatives I'd love to exist.

I'd understand your argument if you said you didn't support unions on principle but thought that as a strategy or tactic it was the best thing to do in current conditions.

Don't get me wrong, I know exactly what is wrong with unions. I'm pretty sure I'd give you a run for your money on a competition to come up with the most practical real life examples of fucked up things union officials have done. And these examples won't be just around mundane daily tasks, but in the major disputes we all love to fetishise: SupersizeMyPay.com and the Progressive, CMP and Affco lockouts.

My involvement with unions has nothing to do with these people or these mistakes. It has to do with the honest working people who are trying to improve the lives of their whanau, workmates and local communities. People who have power in the workplace and found power in their lives, who through the process of improving their material lives have gone on to challenge other areas of their lives.

Quote:
Secondly, I think the implication of your point of view is that radicals should go and take paid positions in unions, doing organising work or whatever. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what I take away. I just disagree that it would be a good idea for all the anarchists, communists, socialists etc. in NZ to suddenly go and take positions in unions, because I believe that basis of our critique of this society should be a critique of the poverty of daily life. Of course we all need to eat & support our family/friends at the end of the day so if union work really is the best option open to you then it isn't for me to judge that.

Where did I say anything in my above posts that said or even suggested radicals should work for unions? Can you let me know which quote suggests this and I'll be happy to clarify.

But just so you know, I have no financial reasons to work for a union, I haven't got any kids etc. I also don't think there's anything wrong with judging someone for working for a union either. I think its right you do so, being a paid union official means being in a position of influence and potential power that should always be held in check.

Quote:
But I think the things we say need to be based on more than just the flashpoints of class struggle; the strikes, occupations, lockouts etc. I think we need to experience, think about and talk about the more mundane aspects of wage labour (or life without wage labour, as is increasingly the case for a lot of us), the grinding shift work, boredom, hunger, fatigue, the smell, the shit food, your relationships with other proletarians, bosses, unions, schools, police and other disciplinarian institutions etc. The critique of our own daily lives is something where all of us can at least begin to speak with some authority and authenticity.

I totally agree that organising should be around the concrete conditions and issues that face working people. What other organisations achieve concrete improvements around the mundane aspects of wage labour than unions? Unions spend 98% of their time organising around these issues. As you say yourself, strikes etc are only flashpoints. Sure unions could do this work better, I'd be the first to agree with that. The best organising unions are those where members are focused on organising around work issues between bargaining, using them to build power and confidence up to the collective agreement struggle.

Quote:
I think its better to start there, rather than feel compelled to offer strategies to groups of workers who's conditions are far removed from our own.

You seem to be talking about two things, correct me if I'm wrong. That “we” as in anyone is removed from the issues of other groups of workers and that paid officials are removed from the struggle.

To the first point: the best issues are those that are based on concrete material needs that can be collectivised/generalised. There are so many issues we face, that everyone faces that it would be impossible to be removed from others situations. The issues you listed above are good examples of these issues.

And to the second point. I believe the role of an organiser is essential. I also believe this person can be “outside” the group of people who want to be or could organise. I also think it is important that we engage in generalised struggles, the better that we are directly affected, but this isn't always a requirement. In other words I beleive in "Intervention" or "social insertion". Life is about influence and this is not necessarily a bad thing. All these points are separate from an argument about whether an organiser should be a paid role or as a paid official in an organisation. The best organisers are those directly involved in the dispute or struggle.

In regards to your point about "offering strategies". There are basic organising strategies that apply to any situation. These have been proven time and again. For example, issues must be deeply, widely felt and winnable. There must be a clear strategy that involves the participants in making the win etc. These aren't things that are always obvious to people, otherwise we'd have lots of social movements already. Organising is like a language. When you learn a language it seems familiar, it uses the same vowels, the same structures, you may already know some phrases, some words may be the same. Teaching someone a language isn't authoritarian, it doesn't take away their power (even if you have to pay the teacher to learn the language and you are temporarily out of pocket). Organising is like this. Some people will pick up the language themselves but it doesn't hurt even the most adventurous to get a teacher and learn quicker. The only real problem is when the teacher monopolises or controls the language in someway, like how the Catholics monopolosed writing in the dark ages as a form of control. Sorry its a poor off the cuff metaphor!

Simon [Editted 20/10/2012]

bootsy
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Oct 19 2012 08:27

Simon that was me (bootsy) not Convert.

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happychaos
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Oct 20 2012 05:36

Ha! Sorry Bootsy and Convert. Post edited.

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happychaos
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Oct 21 2012 00:19

Hi Skraeling,

I've written a response to your latest post, but at 5,000 words and for the fact that I don't think it will move this thread anywhere I'm not posting it. Unless anyone is interested it will stay offline. I think it would be far more useful if I wrote an article on my strategy and thoughts than continue this thread in the way I am doing.

The original point of my post was to challenge the way an argument was made based on questionable facts. The reason my response to your post is so long, apart from a lack of editing, is that I'm responding to all of your arguments which themselves don't have examples to bolster your position.

Another concern is that the way I am responding to your statements is being seen as supporting union officials as an organising strategy. Clearly I'm no good at putting my points across because I don't think this. While I couldn't find anything I wrote anything to suggest this, that's exactly what Bootsy took away from my posts.

Part of the problem is likely to do with the fact that I'm not actually stating my own views on what strategy to follow and I'm just reacting to the statements others are making.

What I was attempting to do was to challenge the way arguments were being made. I think things aren't as black and white as they are being presented here. And when my questioning is being seen to enforce a stereotypical binary opposite, I can't but think that's how things are being seen.

As such it would probably be better if I just wrote what I think rather than continue responding to the statements in these posts. I also think it would be useful to know what you think we should be doing and how you are going about it.

Otherwise I get the feeling this will just go around and around in circles. These discussions and debates have been had elsewhere and that's probably the best place to leave it.

So unless anyone thinks my posts are adding anything new to the debate, I think I'll leave this as my last post in the forum thread.

In solidarity,
Simon

Skraeling
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Oct 23 2012 09:29

I think it's fine if we leave it at an agree to disagree level. To an extent, we are going to be talking past each other because you are a good 'activist' or 'organiser' who wants to focus on concrete 'organising' strategies, when i've never been an activist or organiser and my focus has been more on big picture stuff, history and sometimes even analysis (tho not adverse to helping out 'organising' stuff now and then when energy and time permits). It's the old classical debate . where the 'activist' thinks the 'academic' is too do nothing, wait for the revolution, and not pragmatic/practical/concrete, and the academic thinks the 'activist' lacks analysis, lacks a long term strategy, and is prone to headless chickenism. Yes like going round in circles...

simono wrote:

Even if I accepted your argument about unions mediating capitalism, I'd still say it was a better strategy to seek improvements through unions than doing nothing, waiting for the new forms of struggle or using the non-existant alternatives I'd love to exist.

I'd understand your argument if you said you didn't support unions on principle but thought that as a strategy or tactic it was the best thing to do in current conditions.

As I've said many, many times before workers should use unions where they can to try and get improvements for themselves. (ie workers using unions, rather than being used by unions - an important difference). So i'm for getting small, concrete improvements, and building from there (of course, there is the danger of reformism...). SO it's not a simple contrast/dichotomy between those who reject unions rejecting all reforms gained thru unions, and those who support unions supporting concrete gains.

But i dont think unions are some neutral organisations that can be moulded and shaped by workers for some of the reasons Bootsy has ably outlined above - I don't think unions can ever be revolutionary, and consistently work in workers' interests. The problem is not union officials acting in fucked up ways, but the structure and nature of unions as capitalist institutions.

No comment on the social insertion stuff - have bit my lip!

bootsy wrote:
But I think the things we say need to be based on more than just the flashpoints of class struggle; the strikes, occupations, lockouts etc. I think we need to experience, think about and talk about the more mundane aspects of wage labour (or life without wage labour, as is increasingly the case for a lot of us), the grinding shift work, boredom, hunger, fatigue, the smell, the shit food, your relationships with other proletarians, bosses, unions, schools, police and other disciplinarian institutions etc. The critique of our own daily lives is something where all of us can at least begin to speak with some authority and authenticity.

simon wrote:
I totally agree that organising should be around the concrete conditions and issues that face working people. What other organisations achieve concrete improvements around the mundane aspects of wage labour than unions? Unions spend 98% of their time organising around these issues. As you say yourself, strikes etc are only flashpoints. Sure unions could do this work better, I'd be the first to agree with that. The best organising unions are those where members are focused on organising around work issues between bargaining, using them to build power and confidence up to the collective agreement struggle.

Hmmm, i think you miss the Bootsy's point about everyday working conditions -- the constant horror and grind of everyday work -- which is an important one. But anyway, do unions spend 98% of their time organising around these issues? I don't think unions spend much time on these issues at all. To put it in concrete examples that of i know/have experience of: PSA (public sector union for non-Australasians) spends most of its time doing personal grievances and servicing individual members and doing insurance and holiday homes - virtually no time spent on organising or addressing major issues like mass layoffs in the public sector, overwork/work intensity, bullying from an, and aggressive management culture/practice, and the organising it does do is very rare; Unite spends most of its time trying to frantically recruit new members (with its revolving door membership) and service individual members with personal grievances and constant bullying and has no or little time for organising (and by organising i don't mean recruiting- i mean organising struggle for concrete gains) and the organising it does do is fairly rare and stop start and spectacle based; Together union does not do any organising at all, it is a pure service based thing (maybe that is CTU's master plan? Ha).

I don't know intimately of the other unions but as far as I can see as the 'struggle unions' (i think they are called 'social unions' in the US) don't actually do much struggle either during 'bargaining' (i prefer the term contract negotiations) or outside it. Perhaps the current servos living wage campaign is an exception, but then that strategy has its limitations too eg. relying on the outside community.

As to my strategy, I don't have a grand master plan at all, and i don't think there is a panacea to get us out of this low wage/high work intensity/high unemployment/high precariousness economy mess we are in - after all the problem is that we are facing the major decomposition of the working class, and it is global problem, given the tremendous success of neoliberalism in screwing us. As i said above, the solutions (and i dont think there will be one solution) will come from working class people themselves, if it hasn't already - maybe the anti-austerity movement in the northern hemisphere will go somewhere to sparking a recomposition of our global class, or maybe it will come from low income world, I just dunno.

Maybe I'll have time to write about this in the future, but here is something i wrote a few years back as part of a pamphlet i have never published that gives a few tentative pointers (nothing brilliant here and my views have changed a bit since) to a strategy:

Quote:
(1) strategy is more effective in the long term if it is the product of workers’ direct experience and struggles. That is, a well-thought out strategy just builds upon the actual strategies used by workers on the shop floor, except in a more clear, systematic and coherent way. If strategies are not a product of workers’ direct experience or actual struggles, then they are likely to become either artificial and lacking any support (eg. setting up “pure” anarcho-syndicalist unions) or lead to a top-down approach where workers are manipulated by a few bureaucrats, organisers, delegates or politicos.

(2) I’m for bottom-up approaches that are genuinely for workers’ self-organisation. I’m against patronising and top-down strategies that see workers as outsiders or people who need to be “organised” by “organisers”, “radicals”, or “revolutionaries” or led by “representatives”.

(3) The level of class struggle is low at the moment. Struggle has picked up slightly in the last few years, but levels of official strike activity are still similar to the “class peace” and alleged conformity of the 1950s...Strategies ought to be grounded in this reality of a low level of workers’ self-activity. It means that building non-union based groups in today’s climate will be much harder and require much more work than in times of intense class struggle like the 1970s, when there were multiple and often spontaneous expressions of workers’ dissent, such as wildcat strikes, independent job, strike and action committees, and so on. It also means strategies suitable to an intense or revolutionary period of class struggle are irrelevant for this particular period of time eg. forming workers’ councils or revolutionary factory committees.

(4) Strategies cannot be divorced from the current composition of the working class in Aotearoa/New Zealand. By composition, I mean the constantly evolving make-up of the working class in New Zealand, and how it changes according to its own activity (ie. makes and re-makes itself), and how it reacts to changes in capitalist production, such as the flight of manufacturing to the ‘third world’ and the rise of service labour. A strategy based around factory workers in large plants doing assembly-line work...is generally not applicable in Aotearoa, as there are few large-scale factories here. A community-based, mobile approach to winning strikes and struggles seems more relevant to casualised, transient, service-based labour given their lack of workplace “bargaining power.' In other words, strategies based on the current composition of the working class (including its increasing cultural diversity) will be more effective that outdated ones.

(5) strategy needs to be based on full communism at all times! wink (OK, i added no 5 in)

Simon, maybe you should write up your 5000 word reply and strategy and put it out there as a wee pamphlet? (I suspect you're more thinking of a practical 'activist handbook' though, not a long term strategy and analysis?). If anyone replies to this long post, i wont be able to reply if at all because i am pretty busy for the next 3 weeks.