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IWW UK

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autogestión
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Jul 6 2013 11:00
IWW UK

Hi

I was thinking of joining IWW UK, but couldn't tell from the website how active it is as an organisation (websites often stay up once organisations have become defunct, at least until the next server bill goes unpaid).

Is this still going? Does it have many members? Any opinions on whether its worth joining?

Reddebrek's picture
Reddebrek
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Jul 6 2013 11:35

Hello, yes the UK IWW is still going, the website is currently awaiting a big overhaul like the main IWW website went under recently. As to members that depends where in the UK you actually are, London, Glasgow and Sheffield have quite active branches and other areas have smaller branches or loose groups of members.

As to if its worth joining that depends on your circumstances, its cheaper then the alternatives and is slowly growing and getting more organised.

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plasmatelly
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Jul 7 2013 10:53

Personally I have no issue with the IWW - but I know a lot of people have joined with obvious misconceptions about what they are about. If you're asking those sort of questions, you may want to a bit more background reading before you move to join?

autogestión
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Jul 14 2013 11:42

My impression was that they were basically an anarcho-syndicalist union, in structure and broad aims if not in explicit ideology. Would this be a misconception?

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Chilli Sauce
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Jul 14 2013 13:10

Well, I don't want to turn this into a bash the IWW thread (there are some incredibly solid comrades in the organisation - including a lot anarcho-syndicalists), but it's not an anarcho-syndicalist organisation and members will often be the first to state that.

The UK IWW is registered with the state and while I think there's been a move away from individual casework, there is still a lot of trade union trappings in the strategic course the IWW has chosen in the UK.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 14 2013 13:22

I think the registration with the state thing is quite subtle though. The CNT is registered, for example. The issue is the extent to which British laws prevent unions from doing things they'd want to do (e.g. advocate or materially support unofficial action). Tbf, there have been unofficial actions by UK wobs, though the law, by requiring audited accounts be published and other means, does try and create a pressure towards conservatism through fear of losing assets. Anyway, bit of a side-track, but just to say the headline issue of registration isn't main thing imho, but whether that status inhibits a union from acting in an anarcho-syndicalist way.

autogestión
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Jul 14 2013 13:30

I'd have thought that the law places obstacles in the way of any large organisation behaving in an anarcho-syndicalist way. Once an organisation becomes large and active enough to "cause trouble", the state won't leave it alone just because it isn't registered, will it? It isn't up to us whether the government tries to use union legislation against an organisation, its up to the government.

The IWW doesn't employ staff, does it? In which case, the penalty of losing funds might not be quite so strong, since there is no one in a position of power whose livelihood depends on those funds. Or am I wrong?

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Reddebrek
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Jul 14 2013 15:43
autogestión wrote:
I'd have thought that the law places obstacles in the way of any large organisation behaving in an anarcho-syndicalist way. Once an organisation becomes large and active enough to "cause trouble", the state won't leave it alone just because it isn't registered,

True but I think your underestimating how hard it is to get large and active especially when your organisations existence is in violation of the law in an area the government is very interested in.

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will it? It isn't up to us whether the government tries to use union legislation against an organisation, its up to the government.

Yes this is true. but unfortunately the government is very willing to use legislation and the threat of more legislation to undermine unions and workers organisations, even the very tame ones when they start causing trouble.

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The IWW doesn't employ staff, does it?

No. You can apply for expenses in certain situations though, for example a Ugandan member received a stipend to extend a trip to South Africa and Kenya to build contacts with other groups.

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In which case, the penalty of losing funds might not be quite so strong, since there is no one in a position of power whose livelihood depends on those funds. Or am I wrong?

Yeah, you kind of are, funds are important to every organisation regardless of politics or structure. The IWW still needs to pay for membership cards, office space, servers, literature, strike funds (guess whats the first account to be confiscated in a dispute?) equipment and printers and a bunch of other stuff I'm probably forgetting. Some high up rep in say Unite losing his salary isn't really the point of confiscating funding. Its designed to breakdown a Unions physical infrastructure until they fall back into line.

Now having a group of people in control of the Union whom depend on that money directly makes the threat more effective certainly but it can still very easily grind a group to a standstill.

I get why registering causes some worries but I honestly think alot of the criticism of the IWW for this (I have my own criticisms) on its own to me seems to be ideological purism. As has already been stated the CNT also registered hell they even joined the government at one point, yet the CNT is praised so often you'd think it was the only show in town.

Politically speaking the IWW is "apolitical" a misleading term which means so long as you accept a Union for all workers (regardless of creed, colour, sex, sexuality etc.) your welcome. Organisationally its much closer to a Syndicalist (Revolutionary Syndicalist to the older among us) union.

To be honest Auto if your looking for a "pure" Anarcho-Syndicalist group you might be better off joining SolFed, its also possible you live in an area with an active SolFed branch but no IWW either so that might also be a plus. Of course it could be the other way, around that's the problem with most small organisations they're like islands in a sea.

There's also a facebook group about the IWW that's open to everyone if you have specific questions https://www.facebook.com/groups/iwwlist/?ref=ts&fref=ts that might help you make up your mind, and find out a bit more about Wobs in your area.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 14 2013 17:37

Slightly off-topic, but on the legal side of things, it's worth keeping an eye on RMT v UK. Going by recent European case law, there's a decent chance the RMT will win. If they do, and the UK doesn't withdraw from the convention on human rights, that would broaden the possibilities for sympathy action (though it seems only as far as closely connected firms, e.g. sub-contractors), and remove some of the onerous notification requirements for official action. There's also recent precedents affirming a positive right to strike, something which has never previously existed in English law.

(standard anarcho-caveat: whatever rights the courts give us can be taken away just as easily, so even if the law shifts in our favour we shouldn't become too dependent on it).

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Jul 14 2013 19:10
autogestión wrote:
I'd have thought that the law places obstacles in the way of any large organisation behaving in an anarcho-syndicalist way. Once an organisation becomes large and active enough to "cause trouble", the state won't leave it alone just because it isn't registered, will it? It isn't up to us whether the government tries to use union legislation against an organisation, its up to the government.

Just on this: I think it's a case of the path to hell being paved with good intentions.

So in the US IWW, for example, the path of state registration/recognition/contracts led to the IWW having contracts with no-strike clauses. Now there's been a lot of self-criticism about that and the constitution now officially forbids such language, but many of those contracts were pursued on the grounds that we establish ourselves now using legal methods so that when we become big enough we can pull off widespread illegal action. The problem with that logic, however, is that in the mean time there's a shit-ton of pressure to take/limit actions that put you the organisation into the cross-hairs of the state.

Without getting into specifics, I know of at least one case where the UK IWW expressed doubts about formally getting involved in a struggle on the grounds they could get sued. I mean, everything thinks that, of course, principals before the treasury, but if you've put your heart and soul into building an organisation, the threat of losing all your funding exerts some pretty serious pressure. Now, of course, that will happen to any remotely successful revolutionary organisation, but by registering you're giving the state access to those levers much earlier in the game.

This doesn't even begin to get into the debate about pursuing a strategy of recognition within the workplace and the sort of pressure representation puts on a workplace organisation.

All that said, no doubt the IWW pulls off some worthwhile organising, including wildcat strike action. But I tend to be of the opinion that if you can do that, you don't need to be registered/recognised in the first place. And that if you need registration/recognition to achieve that level of confidence, it's probably going to lead to problems down the road.

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Jul 14 2013 20:14
Chilli Sauce wrote:

Without getting into specifics, I know of at least one case where the UK IWW expressed doubts about formally getting involved in a struggle on the grounds they could get sued. I mean, everything thinks that, of course, principals before the treasury, but if you've put your heart and soul into building an organisation, the threat of losing all your funding exerts some pretty serious pressure.

Sorry but could you elaborate a bit more? I don't really see how this has much to with registration per se. I don't know which example your talking about here but it reads like they were worried about retaliation right? I assume as well that this legal suit (from the state, company?) would be due to violation of the legislation concerning work place organising right? Well if that's the case why exactly would an unregistered IWW be immune?

I'm fairly sure the UK has enough laws on the books to seize information and assets from any group that exists in Britain regardless of what it is or if its officially registered as a Union, party or charity etc. And that's assuming the state will stay within the law in regards to a group it believes to be a threat, I think we're all in agreement that won't be the case should a large Revolutionary Organisation arise.

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Now, of course, that will happen to any remotely successful revolutionary organisation, but by registering you're giving the state access to those levers much earlier in the game.

Really? How, I'm sorry but I don't see it. Are you seriously suggesting that the state is powerless to act against a group that isn't registered? Because I don't see how you can say that otherwise. I'm fairly certain any organisation that grew big enough to annoy the status quo would have to have some sort of infrastructure and paper trail which is just as important and vulnerable so wouldn't the determining factor for if and when the State starts to intervene be how much noise that group makes, not whether it has the correct paperwork?

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Jul 14 2013 20:30
Reddebrek wrote:
I'm fairly sure the UK has enough laws on the books to seize information and assets from any group that exists in Britain regardless of what it is or if its officially registered as a Union, party or charity etc.

A court can order pretty much anything it likes to remedy a tort (like inducing workers to break their contracts). The problem if you're registered (technically, 'listed' or 'certified') is you have to (a) give the state the names of officers (who can thus be summoned before a court) and (b) file annual audited accounts (which tell them where all your money and assets are).

While in theory a court could seize the assets of any organisation, it's harder to do if they don't start with named individuals to sue and a nice audited list of assets. Fwiw i think there might be ways to minimise this risk without falling foul of the law, but it is a minefield, and intentionally so.

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Jul 14 2013 20:54
Reddebrek wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:

Without getting into specifics, I know of at least one case where the UK IWW expressed doubts about formally getting involved in a struggle on the grounds they could get sued.

Sorry but could you elaborate a bit more? I don't really see how this has much to with registration per se.

Well, I don't actually want to give away too many details publicly, but suffice to say that the UK IWW was approached at one point in the recent past by a group of workers with a plan of action. While the IWW were supportive of the struggle, I heard more than one IWW member say specifically that as a registered trade union, the plan of action suggested by the workers could get them sued.

And, to be honest, I don't know the ins and out of the law and that's not really the point. The point is that by pursuing a legalistic path, as the UK IWW has done, it experiences a range of pressures--or at least it experiences those pressures sooner--than it would if it hadn't.

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Now, of course, that will happen to any remotely successful revolutionary organisation, but by registering you're giving the state access to those levers much earlier in the game.

Really? How, I'm sorry but I don't see it. Are you seriously suggesting that the state is powerless to act against a group that isn't registered?

No, in fact I said the exact opposite. Nor did I at any point suggest that "an unregistered IWW be immune".

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I'm fairly certain any organisation that grew big enough to annoy the status quo would have to have some sort of infrastructure and paper trail which is just as important and vulnerable so wouldn't the determining factor for if and when the State starts to intervene be how much noise that group makes, not whether it has the correct paperwork?

But it's more than just the correct paperwork, it's the entirely framework of state labour relations being geared towards containing any labour unrest within certain manageable channels. And that by registering, a union opens itself up to all those levers of control the state has put into place for that exact purpose. And those levers are already in motion long before that organisation begins to present any real threat to the status quo.

And, again, this doesn't begin to touch on other aspects of legal recognition--not the least of which includes the fact that a representative workplace organisation fulfils an entirely different role within the workplace than, to use the language or Fighting for Ourselves, an associational one.

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Jul 14 2013 23:32
Joseph Kay wrote:
A court can order pretty much anything it likes to remedy a tort (like inducing workers to break their contracts). The problem if you're registered (technically, 'listed' or 'certified') is you have to (a) give the state the names of officers (who can thus be summoned before a court) and (b) file annual audited accounts (which tell them where all your money and assets are).

Yeah that's what I've come to understand about UK law. Which is why I don't really see why so many IWW critics bring the registering thing up with such vehemence. Since all its done in effect has been to make it easier to do something the government does anyway. Its something to be aware of and critical sure but not to the extremes it has.

Chilli Sauce wrote:

Well, I don't actually want to give away too many details publicly, but suffice to say that the UK IWW was approached at one point in the recent past by a group of workers with a plan of action. While the IWW were supportive of the struggle, I heard more than one IWW member say specifically that as a registered trade union, the plan of action suggested by the workers could get them sued.

Wait I'm confused did the IWW support this thing or not?

So what you're saying is because I couple of members got cold feet this is evidence that the IWW is becoming a mainstream Union? And I'll ask again would a non registered IWW be immune from a lawsuit in this particular example? Because if it wasn't wouldn't those members say the same thing just referring to a different law?

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And, to be honest, I don't know the ins and out of the law and that's not really the point.

Actually yes it really really is the point. Any discussion about laws beyond the purely ideological kind of makes the law an important part of the discussion. You simply can't say something like "by registering you're giving the state access to those levers much earlier in the game." without explaining why. If you think legalisation is such a big handicap fine but at least explain, so far all I've got is the IWW has made it slightly easier for the state and some members bringing up a potential repercussion of some campaign somewhere.

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The point is that by pursuing a legalistic path,as the UK IWW has done, it experiences a range of pressures--

??? So laws aren't really the point except for when they are hey?

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or at least it experiences those pressures sooner--than it would if it hadn't.

So wait a second if your admitting non registered organisations do experience the same pressures if and when they attract attention your objection is based on what a case of timing?

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No, in fact I said the exact opposite. Nor did I at any point suggest that "an unregistered IWW be immune".

Ok so then what exactly is your point? I've read a lot of critical language but not much in the way of substance. You say "IWW registration is bad because of XYZ" But then you admit that with a non registered IWW XYZ still apply. I must be missing something here because I really don't see the point of contention.

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But it's more than just the correct paperwork, it's the entirely framework of state labour relations being geared towards containing any labour unrest within certain manageable channels.

Ok but the Labour framework applies to every organisation involved in Labour organising regardless of registration. Just because you reject the legitimacy of the law doesn't make you immune to it. AFAIK the laws in the UK that bar registered Unions from doing something also apply to non registered Unions. I'm not a legal expert either but I seriously doubt SolFed for example can do whatever it likes without the state interfering when it crosses some lines.

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And that by registering, a union opens itself up to all those levers of control the state has put into place for that exact purpose. And those levers are already in motion long before that organisation begins to present any real threat to the status quo.

Ok, so a non registered Union would still be vulnerable to the same levers, you know I'm starting to feel like I'm going in circles. Personally I think you're making a contradictory point, you keep say over and over "registering makes the bad stuff happen earlier" but if the main factor determining a response from the state is the organisations ability and willingness to threaten the status quo, then what does it matter if they register or not? Why would the state bother to interfere in an organisation that's not yet a threat and risk causing the very disruptions they which to avoid?

The TUC Unions ignoring right wing smears are left alone so long as they confine themselves to one day strikes and bank holiday marches. Its only when a Leader does something to boost his credibility or a Wild Cat drags the Union along that they receive the warnings about fines and tougher legislation. If an unregistered Union either grew capable of causing a similar level of disruption then they would also be on the receiving end of the law, so what exactly is the difference?

I mean I've not even touched on how your argument completely ignores the role the Mainstream Union structure plays in ensuring they play ball when push comes to shove. Things like paid Officers (whom are directly dependent on Union funds) a centralised and powerful leadership (made up of aforementioned officers) that control most initiatives within them and can isolate or undermined the rank and file to get their way. From what I can see these are the main reasons for mainstream Labour framework working against revolutionary movements, not because the Unions signed on. And none of this applies to the IWW.

I'm going to be honest here your objections seem really pedantic and it seems like you already came to your conclusion and then tried to build up a case to support it afterwards.

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And, again, this doesn't begin to touch on other aspects of legal recognition--not the least of which includes the fact that a representative workplace organisation fulfils an entirely different role within the workplace than, to use the language or Fighting for Ourselves, an associational one.

You know I was wondering when you were going to name check that. So this really is an argument over ideological purity then? You could of saved us both some time by being honest and saying that straight away.

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Chilli Sauce
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Jul 15 2013 07:58

First off, Redd, I think your tone is sniveling. My posts have been nothing but comradely. I spent a better part a decade in the IWW on both sides of the Atlantic and helped write Direct Unionism, so I'm not making these criticisms from some sort of void. Also, referencing where a particular piece language comes is far from from trying to exert some sort of ideological dominance, so I don't think I'm the one being pedantic here.

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Wait I'm confused did the IWW support this thing or not?

Well, in any attempt to be comradely, I don't want to go about bashing the IWW publicly. But, having been in the IWW for years and still being close to a lot of people still in the organization, I was basically the go-between for these workers and the IWW.

We approached the most anarcho-syndicalist elements within the organisation--people in definite positions of leadership--and were told that they didn't feel comfortable supporting this struggle under the name of the IWW due to fear of getting sued because of their trade union status. They were supportive of the struggle in an abstract, but offered none of the material or legal support that the workers had requested.

And this is also why I say the particular ins and outs of the law aren't important. Just by having pursued that legalistic course, it exerts a conservative influence on the actions of the union. Sure, it can be limited by not having paid officials or hierarchies, but being being registered you've give ground to the state and it means that regardless of how rank-and-file you may be, you're going to experience added pressure to stay within the law.

And, again, I could talk about the no-strike clauses in the US IWW or the UK IWW holding rallies with MPs (a not unrelated point in terms of trying to establish legitimacy). I mean, clearly these actions stem from somewhere and you don't think it's because of a following a legalistic path, what's your explanation?

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You simply can't say something like "by registering you're giving the state access to those levers much earlier in the game." without explaining why.

I feel like it should be pretty obvious why. You've given the state a list of your assets and named leaders. You've agreed to follow a whole laundry list of labour regulations. You now have obligations to members, employers, and the state that you wouldn't have if you were unregistered--I could start listing them here, but really, I think you know them already.

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So wait a second if your admitting non registered organisations do experience the same pressures if and when they attract attention your objection is based on what a case of timing?

And here's why I think being unregistered creates a different dynamic: you've prepared yourself as an organisation, you've been extra-legal and the methods and tactics you've developed are going to have come from that experience.

Like I said, I think registration is a case of the 'path to hell being paved with good intentions'. But by even passively pursuing a legalistic strategy, it's going to help shape the actions and attitudes of the union. And I think you can see that already in the actions of the UK IWW which, in my experience, seems to have become quite concerned with falling foul of the law for a revolutionary organisation.

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Ok but the Labour framework applies to every organisation involved in Labour organising regardless of registration. Just because you reject the legitimacy of the law doesn't make you immune to it. AFAIK the laws in the UK that bar registered Unions from doing something also apply to non registered Unions. I'm not a legal expert either but I seriously doubt SolFed for example can do whatever it likes without the state interfering when it crosses some lines.

Well, but registering you're making a pact with the state to enforce those laws on your membership in exchange for certain protections and rights. And as part of that bargain you're giving up information to the state, you're adding repressive requirements to your own existence and making it more likely you'll invite state repression sooner.

In other words, it's a choice between consciously choosing to engage with the state labour system and understanding it as an evil you'll have to confront when the time comes. One of these seems a more particularly revolutionary position to me.

In any case, I feel like I could flip your argument back on you, if an unregistered union faced all the same pressures as a registered one, what's the purpose of registering?

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the main factor determining a response from the state is the organisations ability and willingness to threaten the status quo, then what does it matter if they register or not? Why would the state bother to interfere in an organisation that's not yet a threat and risk causing the very disruptions they which to avoid?

Well, it's more complex than (a) an organisation being left alone or (b) facing the full brunt of state power. Is it going to be easier to enforce an injunction against a registered union or an unregistered one? A registered union is expected to ballot it's membership (after informing the employer in advance) and jump through all the legal hoops that requires. You don't think employers are going to scrutinize the fuck out of those ballots and look for any little loopholes they can invalidate it? Why engage with the legal process in the that manner, why open yourself up that sort of vulnerability?

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I mean I've not even touched on how your argument completely ignores the role the Mainstream Union structure plays in ensuring they play ball when push comes to shove. Things like paid Officers (whom are directly dependent on Union funds) a centralised and powerful leadership (made up of aforementioned officers) that control most initiatives within them and can isolate or undermined the rank and file to get their way. From what I can see these are the main reasons for mainstream Labour framework working against revolutionary movements, not because the Unions signed on.

And you don't think the two are related? You don't think labour legislation consciously reinforces a centralised leadership and decision making in trade unions? I mean, there's been proposals within the UK IWW to have paid organisers and breakaways from groups that want to create more centralized leadership structures. You don't think there's a connection between those developments and the IWW's legalistic path? And if you don't, how would you explain it?

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fingers malone
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Jul 15 2013 09:48

Thing is, I think the heart of the problem is that people are very frightened of dismissal and reprisals, and people want to take strike action but doing it legally means getting tied up in the deliberately difficult procedures, ballots etc. Any organisational body legally able to ballot for strike action is also vulnerable to legal attacks by management such as injunctions and getting sued. But as confidence is low and employer malevolence is high, most of the time workers are not confident to take action without some kind of protection. The industries where there are most wildcats are usually the ones with lots of legal strikes as well, reflecting historical militancy and some kind of industrial muscle, which isn't easily reproduced in other workplaces.
Basically we are all in a very difficult position when it comes to taking effective action and none of us have an answer to that. The problem is in our current situation of massive ruling class attack on us from all sides more than specific organisational forms.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 15 2013 09:52

In practice the advantage of listing is an ability to conduct lawful, official industrial action (in theory - i'm not sure if a non-certified union has successfully done this, but it appears to be lawful - for example the legal threats against the Pop-Up Union were based on notification technicalities not the status of the union). The advantage of certification (stage 2, following listing - what the IWW has) is additionally to get access to statutory recognition procedures.

Those are two real, material advantages to a union operating in a context of low wildcat militancy where workers want some legal protection (even if the bosses will sack you anyway, and access to employment tribunals is being cut off with a 2-year qualifying period and £1,500 fees). Ultimately, what stops you getting fired isn't the law, but solidarity on the shop-floor. But nonetheless, listing and/or certification offers some legal advantages.

The question is how much is traded off to gain those advantages. I think, if a union ran a policy of keeping as close to zero assets as possible (i.e. setting subs as low as possible while covering outgoings for office/meeting space, printing etc), then listing might make sense. Of course, you'd need a union well enough organised to produce accounts of auditable quality, something I expect only the biggest and most active SF locals or IWW branches could do (which i assume is why the IWW handles that centrally, producing one set of audited accounts for the whole organisation, rather than say, each branch being a union in its own right).

But then, there's obvious downsides to running a zero-assets policy. The obvious one being the point of a union is to have some kind of infrastructure for struggle. You could lease/rent everything I suppose, so it couldn't be repossessed, but still, this raises accounting and practical challenges. You'd also have no strike fund*, though if dues were low enough, you could encourage members to make completely separate donations into a completely independent bank account for that purpose.

With certification, I'm not convinced the advantages outweigh the cost (~£4,000). Now £4k isn't that much money for an organisation with several hundred members. But the process also requires a lot of investment in terms of time. What you get for that is access to the statutory recognition procedure, i.e. an ability to force employers to recognise your union as the representative of a given group of workers. I believe the IWW has this status in some places, though I'm not sure if they used the statutory procedure, or if the threat of it sufficed to get employers to negotiate a recognition agreement.

I think this is much murkier territory from an anarcho-syndicalist point of view. This kind of recognition requires maintenance of a membership (iirc) in excess of 10% of the workers in a bargaining unit and support of in excess of 50%, lest the union face derecognition. Historically, unions have struggled to maintain memberships outside of struggles except by becoming service providers, taking on a high burden of individual casework etc. Of course, the union could aim for permanent conflicts to maintain the membership, picking one fight after another. But I think in the medium term these structural pressures will tend to push any union in the direction of 'normal' trade unionism (e.g. a high burden of casework creates a pressure for a full-time official to handle it...).

Recognition also puts the union in the position of official representative, able to make deals on behalf of the workforce. This could be problematic, in terms of becoming a mediating force (this is the explicit goal of the state here, and has been since they accepted trade unions a century ago). This danger could be mitigated by a strong and constitutionally binding assemblyist approach, e.g. the union can't make any deals not approved by a general assembly of the workers affected. But even then, it's not hard to call a 'mass meeting' where nobody's got the information needed to disagree, so end up rubber-stamping. Again, I think the CNT manages to operate in this kind of way, so depending on differences in the law, it might be possible, but there's a lot of structural pressures towards operating like the existing unions.

Finally, employers can also block statutory recognition by recognising their own scab/company union first. This is how News International has kept the NUJ out iirc. So imho savvy employers can just negate hard-won certification by setting up a company union as soon as they get a sniff of an independent union organising. That nails it for me.

All that said, I'm glad the UK IWW exists and I think a healthy working class movement will necessitate a plurality of organisations with differing approaches and specialisms (even if the structural pressures on the IWW take their toll over time, it doesn't mean it can't achieve plenty in the meantime). I think it's better these approaches go their own way from the start, and operate with a spirit of mutual aid where possible (as is happening in the UK), rather than being the result of a messy split down the road which casts a shadow over the following decades (see: Spain). There's gonna be times when workers want a legal trade union to represent them, and better the IWW than Unison (even if the IWW was completely conservative, it doesn't have the apparatus of full-timers to send to suppress rank-and-file organising).

Basically, I think there are real issues at stake here, some of which pertain to anarcho-syndicalist principles (the recognition stuff) and structural pressures we need to at least be trying to mitigate if we can't avoid. But I think it's a more subtle matter than the headline issue of 'register or not?'. Employers will attempt to use the law against even non-registered unions, the question is can they set themselves up in a more resilient way - no named officials, no published accounts, distributed funds, federal structures... These are practical questions which require getting to grips with trade union law, accounting, and organisational dynamics.

* Historically, syndicalist unions tended not to have a strike fund (e.g. the CGT). But I think there was more of a non-market sphere to turn to for social reproduction in the early 20th century. But this is a whole other question.

jolasmo
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Jul 15 2013 18:40

Slight tangent, but does anyone know anything much about the potential legal liabilities of unregistered, unofficial associations like SolFed, or AFed for that matter? I was told recently that officers (secretaries, treasurers etc.) for such organisations have unlimited liability in the event of them getting into legal trouble, which sounds pretty scary, though I'm not sure if it's true or concretely what it means.

~J.

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Jul 15 2013 18:59

I imagine liability would only really kick in if said individuals acted in contempt of court. Given the constitution of say, AFed, officers can't make policy, only the members in a meeting can. So theyd probably have to identify individuals to injunct/sue. I'm looking into this stuff atm, anyone else up on the law in this area?

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Jul 16 2013 21:55

JK, I think there's a blog in that post somewhere.

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Jul 17 2013 14:05
Joseph Kay wrote:
In practice the advantage of listing is an ability to conduct lawful, official industrial action (in theory - i'm not sure if a non-certified union has successfully done this, but it appears to be lawful - for example the legal threats against the Pop-Up Union were based on notification technicalities not the status of the union). The advantage of certification (stage 2, following listing - what the IWW has) is additionally to get access to statutory recognition procedures.

I'm not sure if Joseph Kay means registered and certified unions. There was the example of the IWGB with the Societe Generale workers last year when they took action before registration (?) or certification.The employers threw the book at them and as I understand most of the workers were suspended. The IWGB used creative direct action against the employers. These are methods are advocated by the IWW and anarcho-syndicalist groups to differing degrees. We cannot, however much we wish, ignore the tendency during times of "low" class struggle that employers and the rest of the ruling class will utilise the state's legal apparatus to the full to kill workers struggles (and will suspend the legal apparatus when their rule is threatened).

I think of the CNT and IWW's state registration as an uncomfortable, but unavoidable, truce with the ruling class. Any directly militant organisation, with no compromise, we take during times of low struggle will be instantly liquidated by capitals superior organisational and ideological hegemony. However at some point in the future ,hopefully during a heightened state of class struggle, class struggle orientated unions will be forced to break with capitalisms legal apparatus, in order to further workers interests, or be recouperated. I guess the actions an organisation takes will depend on it's internal dynamics and content during times of low struggle and times leading up to peaks in struggles (as the CNT experiences during the revolution of 1936 informs us).

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Jul 23 2013 06:14

This is a good discussion. Two quick comment to Autogestion. Just to repeat Auto, the IWW's not officially anarchosyndicalist so if you want to be in an officially @syndicalist organization, the IWW's not going to do. (That said, I'm not sure there would have to differences in practice if the IWW became officially @syndicalist, which is to say, I'm not convinced the IWW does anything which is obviously, uncontroversially a violation of @syndicalist principles.) Also, Auto, you asked if the IWW is worth joining. I think the ideological issues raised in this thread are interesting and important but they may be neither here nor there with regard to whether the IWW's worth joining. Whether it's worth joining will depend on what you're looking for, both want you want to get and what you want to put in.

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Jul 23 2013 11:48

So as an ex-UNISON, non IWW or SolFed member...

I think Chilli and Joseph make the most reasoned arguments here against any specifically pro-revolutionary group of workers wishing to be practically active as pro-revolutionaries in their workplace or employment sector not going down the road of trying to combine traditional 'trade union' type representational functions with their agitational organising, something which it appears the IWW seeks or at least claims to do but which is further compromised by taking up state registration. That may (but not always) still leave a situation where workers generally, including those self-identifying as pro-revolutionary, need to belong to a traditional trade or industrial union - in that situation most workers choose to join whichever union around offers the 'best deal' in terms of a basic insurance policy. For pro-revolutionaries (and some other anti-capitalists) other factors may be a more important in determining a choice, such as the unions democratic structures, traditions of militancy and political or non-political affiliations. It would seem that the IWW is unlikely to be most workers first choice simply because of it's small size and limited resources but for pro-revolutionaries it might still offer some benefits, in some locations, either on it's own or as a dual-union approach. Or in other words combining 'revolutionary' with 'union' as the later is generally understood in common (non A-S) parlance is not the best course. Where that leaves the SolFed, approach as most recently elaborated, in relation to the Spanish CNT I'm not sure?

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Jul 23 2013 15:36

It'd be really great if we could turn this into a conversation about the merits or otherwise of revolutionary unionism as such, that's a topic I've never seen discussed on libcom before.

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Jul 23 2013 18:11
Quote:
I think, if a union ran a policy of keeping as close to zero assets as possible (i.e. setting subs as low as possible while covering outgoings for office/meeting space, printing etc), then listing might make sense. Of course, you'd need a union well enough organised to produce accounts of auditable quality,

There's started to be some discussion of this avenue in U.S. E.g., Joe Burns mentions this possibility in "Reviving the Strike." I think having separate nonprofits to do certain of these things, such as maybe leasing the hall from a nonprofit (such as a land trust or other housing nonprofit) and members setting up a resistance/strike fund via a separate nonprofit fund. E.g. a large Asian-American civil rights law firm (mainly deals with tenant issues) in San Francisco leases entire lower floor of an apartment building from a housing nonprofit I used to be president of. Advantage here may be to lower cost by taking profit out of the landlord's costs, also having a sympathetic landlord.

This is not entirely foolproof. Altho it is rare, courts have even gone after the individual members in some cases in the U.S. In the wake the of national Teamsters wildcat in 1970 courts in St. Louis gutted the contract, reduced wages & benefits to pay huge fines. In that case however there was a no-strike clause in the contract so the courts were brought in for breach of contract, under Taft-Hartley provision which allows unions to be sued for breach of contract. That basis would have been absent without a no strike clause. IWW recently changed its constitution to disallow no strike clauses...a good move in my opinion. Clauses such as no strike, binding arbitration, management rights are where unions are then required to act as employer's enforcer, turning union into disciplinary agent.

On the other hand, courts often treat unions as acting thru officers, so officers may be arrested for contempt of court for example. Samuel Gompers spent time in jail over the Buck Stove boycott case. Back then even conservative unions in U.S. defied court injunctions. The tendency to rely on court injunctions increased from 1890s to 1920s, then declined after the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act was passed, which limits basis for labor injunctions. As Joe Burns points out, decisions by Supreme Court have effectively over-ridden Norris-LaGuardia act in more recent years. Taft-Hartley Act also permitted court injunctions against mass picketing & to ban secondary action. The problem with court injunctions is that this is where capital's dictatorship is very overt. You have no right to trial by jury for "contempt of court". So 14th Amendment guarantees of "due process" (fair trial) are over-ridden. This is where fines & arrests of officers come into play.

I suppose the equivalent of registration in U.S. is the Landrum-Griffin provision requiring unions to file annual reports with Dept of Labor. The only cost here is the bureaucratic responsibility. I believe the HQ of IWW does this for the whole org.

syndicalist
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Jul 23 2013 21:41
Nate wrote:
It'd be really great if we could turn this into a conversation about the merits or otherwise of revolutionary unionism as such, that's a topic I've never seen discussed on libcom before.

What do you mean, Nate? I mean something specific? And if so, how would you frame the question(s)?

I mean, I've been on Libcom for more the 7 years, seems like we always have been discussing this.......but i personally never tire of this discussion, as this is what i politically "live" for....

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Jul 24 2013 01:36
syndicalist wrote:
Nate wrote:
It'd be really great if we could turn this into a conversation about the merits or otherwise of revolutionary unionism as such, that's a topic I've never seen discussed on libcom before.

What do you mean, Nate? I mean something specific? And if so, how would you frame the question(s)?

I mean, I've been on Libcom for more the 7 years, seems like we always have been discussing this.......but i personally never tire of this discussion, as this is what i politically "live" for....

He was being sarcastic.

syndicalist
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Jul 24 2013 02:10
Juan Conatz wrote:
He was being sarcastic.

Oh well. Silly me. roll eyes

Spikymike
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Jul 24 2013 11:22

Ah... of course - sarcasm! Should have realised this was largely a discussion amongst 'The Family' but then I think we are all entitled to give an honest answer to autogestion even if we are not related. My comments do in fact connect with Reddebrek's ''depending on your circumstances'' initial response as well as those of others here.

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Jul 25 2013 07:01

Nate wrote

Quote:
- Just to repeat Auto, the IWW's not officially anarchosyndicalist so if you want to be in an officially @syndicalist organization, the IWW's not going to do. (That said, I'm not sure there would have to differences in practice if the IWW became officially @syndicalist, which is to say, I'm not convinced the IWW does anything which is obviously, uncontroversially a violation of @syndicalist principles.)

You're dead right to be open enough to say this but I strongly disagree with the last part. TBH this gets realed out with a regularity that suggests that the IWW still benefits from a degree of ambiguity. The IWW isn't an @syndicalist org, yet people join mistakenly thinking it is. The OP has referenced @syndicalism, this looks like another example. If you became "officially" an @syndicalist org it would be in name only, no mistake. And this might go a long way to piss off the leninists and supporters of the state that the British IWW still has amongst its membership. Many of the anarchists I speak to who are members joined under the misunderstanding that they joined an @syndicalist union. As I already said, I have no beef with the IWW per se, and would take my hat off to the expansion of the IWW, but I'd prefer it to state as an organisation what it isn't and doesn't ever intend to become - an @syndicalist union fighting for a libertarian communist society.

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Jul 25 2013 08:02

Nate, FWIW, I think there might be a stronger anti-anarchist line that comes out UK IWW than I experienced in the States (although I'm sure that varies branch to branch). The recent past been seen a variety of influential individuals (and organisations, for that matter) active within the UK IWW that are openly antagonistic to anarchism, the anarchist label, and anarchists in general.

The flip side of this is that sometimes it feels like the UK IWW wants to have its cake and eat it too. It actively recruits from the anarcho-mileu, bigging up the more anarchist elements of the preamble when it suits. (Again, I know an example of this in the past when one of the most anti-anarchist elements within the organisation attempted to set up a new branch in a new city and did so by gathering all the anarchists in the town as he knew they'd be a good base.) And I think some people--like Plasma above--find this a bit hypocritical.

In any case, I'd like to echo him, seeing the IWW grow is great thing, but I don't think we should have any illusions about the way the UK IWW has acted in the past and, currently, where its strategy can come into pretty direct conflict with anarcho-syndicalism.