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Workplace organising --

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Eoin
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Apr 30 2005 12:42
Workplace organising --

I have a good friend whose background is in the grassroots of the labour movement, as a trade union activist and labour party member for decades. He’s always been up for the class struggle and critically aware of the internal hierarchies and their betrayal of the rank and file of the labour movement. But his view was that they were “our” institutions and that it made sense to fight for democratic control of them from within and to use them as a vehicle for resistance.

As my politics have shifted towards the libertarian end of the spectrum we have continued to have drunken, late night conversations where we try to put the world to right. I’ve put forward the view that horizontal self organised blah blah… as the way forward. I’ve come to this perspective through involvement in ecological/community/anti-war activity within circles that some on these boards would dismiss as lifestylism.

Through his work he is coming into contact with groups of workers who are at a point where they are interested in organising. He asked me about groups that he could put people in touch with as well as the inevitable trade union referral.

It was at this point that I came unstuck. He had seen some stuff that Solfed had put out and while he was enthusiastic about their ideas in theory he had some concerns about the accuracy of some of their educational material. I wasn’t really in a position to say anything positive about Solfed from my own experience. My main contact with Solfed had been at events organised by the unfederated wing of the anarchist movement. In my experience they seemed to be very small. I wasn’t aware of them being particularly active and their participation seemed to be more focused on offering theoretical critiques than offering concrete help or showing solidarity. This is not intended as a dig at Solfed. My view with hindsight was probably influenced by the prejudice of others around me, and at least they showed up to our events. I doubt even this was reciprocated.

My point is that I didn’t feel in a position to recommend an anarchist or syndicalist alternative. I didn’t even know enough about what the IWW do today, to have any stereotypes or prejudice to colour my view.

So what suggestions do we have to facilitate the self-organisation of the working class?

Contributions from libertarian communists, hippie drop outs, anarcho communists and hard core vegan anarcho primitivists also welcome.

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Steven.
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Apr 30 2005 12:51
Eoin wrote:
It was at this point that I came unstuck. He had seen some stuff that Solfed had put out and while he was enthusiastic about their ideas in theory he had some concerns about the accuracy of some of their educational material. I wasn’t really in a position to say anything positive about Solfed from my own experience. My main contact with Solfed had been at events organised by the unfederated wing of the anarchist movement. In my experience they seemed to be very small. I wasn’t aware of them being particularly active and their participation seemed to be more focused on offering theoretical critiques than offering concrete help or showing solidarity. This is not intended as a dig at Solfed. My view with hindsight was probably influenced by the prejudice of others around me, and at least they showed up to our events. I doubt even this was reciprocated.

I'd say the only problem with Solfed is the lack of numbers, like all libertarian organisations.

Advocating a practical alternative is very difficult indeed... I always have trouble advising interested people what to get involved with...

Steve
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Apr 30 2005 13:28

Eoin, as John said the problem SolFed have is the lack of numbers although we do offer practical advice. Trouble is we haven't the numbers to support workers except through advice. We would love to be in position to help stage industrial actions. We are trying to get others interested in the problems around casualisation in the workplace etc.

There is also the practical example of organising on the London Underground through 'Workmates' a non-hierarchical rank & file group of track maintenance workers

I'd be interested in hearing your friends concerns though.

Where are you from? It would be better to contact an SF Local direct and ask them questions. A lot of our members start off as disaffected trade unionists like your friend, I did.

Caiman del Barrio
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Apr 30 2005 15:07

Why don't you encourage him to organise the workers in his workplace alone and then take it from there?? Surely outside help is not strictly necessary, just advantageous?? Maybe he could use the union to organise interested people in a more libertarian direction, ignoring the hierarchy...or is that risking one's job?? I wouldn't know, I wish I was good at that kinda shit.

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cantdocartwheels
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May 1 2005 07:41

One idea could be to organise around a wider issue in the community, for example libertarians could organise local town, ward or district based Anti-privatisation forums to deal with hospital ward closures, care home closures, school sell offs and the like with concrete opposition in the area. Its a supportable and popular issue that would gain a lot of support from many trade unionists who are dissatisfied with offical policy. I mean anti-privatisation forums could provide real material gains for the class and provide open discussions on re-nationalisation of public services and beyond to collective ownership and grassroots action.

Its been done succesfully before just not in the UK. Too much anti-privatisation seems to be abstarcted to a national level of organising, which reduces the support for pulic services. I mean if privatisation was directly identified as the selling of specific pieces of public land or services in an area, it would be easier to fight.

Steve
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May 1 2005 11:22

So if someone has concerns specific to the workplace they should organise around wider issues in the community! So if the problem is say health & sfaty or changing contracts instead of challenging the bosses head on you go away and complain about the state of the local hostpitals, schools etc. and try to build a campaign hoping to get some dissafected trade union members involved. Nonsense.

Why are so many anarchist scared of organising in the workplace? Too hard? Not sexy enough?

Happy Mayday!

(the 8 hour day was a workplace issue)

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cantdocartwheels
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May 1 2005 20:54
Steve wrote:
So if someone has concerns specific to the workplace they should organise around wider issues in the community! So if the problem is say health & sfaty or changing contracts instead of challenging the bosses head on you go away and complain about the state of the local hostpitals, schools etc. and try to build a campaign hoping to get some dissafected trade union members involved. Nonsense.

clearly i wasn't making any point like that, i never said ''abandon health and safety issues'' don't be so ridiculous. I was simply suggesting an idea anyway, whats the point of snapping at people for offering a different perspective.

Seriously if you think that straight up syndicalist tactics are going to make a breakthrough in large urban areas and roll back the retreat which the union movement is set into then fair enough, but i think a wider based approach is neccessary. I'd call on history as a good example. Why for example did the IWW, pinacle of proletarian organisation at the time, never make it beyond 200,000 members at its peak? (including all affiliated unions), why did they never make a major break through into large cities abd metropolitan areas? (bar pilsen in chicago) and why did their largest union remain an agriculturallly based one? Those are the sort of questions any movement has to ask itself.

And since when did being against privatisation become solely a community issue, last time i checked if you work in a school, hospital or large chunks of the public sector privatisation is very much a workplace issue!! But it is also one that we could win if focused on a community level. Rather than having indivdual struggles that fail to mobilise sufficient support allowing left wing forces to be picked off or co-opted one by one, or you have some abstract national campaign that appears to have no affect on most peoples lives. However if you have an anti-privatisation forum that is fighting three struggles all within 10 minutes walk from your house and also takes an interest in the amount of glass on your street, then your more likely to pay attention surely?

Steve
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May 2 2005 10:03

Since anarcho-syndicalism is about linking workplace and community organising I'm not sure what your point is.

As for history I wouldn't bandy figures about because the largest organised anarchist movements have been syndicalist based, CNT, IWW. Local communtiy based anarchist groups rarely get into double figures and tend to die away.

Eoin
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May 2 2005 16:17
Steve wrote:

I'd be interested in hearing your friends concerns though.

Where are you from? It would be better to contact an SF Local direct and ask them questions. A lot of our members start off as disaffected trade unionists like your friend, I did.

Thanks for the reply Steve. I'm kind of reluctant to post where my mate is based on a public bulletin board as it starts to pin down who were talking about, and without coming across as all paranoid, I think that might be taking liberties.

I might point him in the direction of this thread, and he can take things from there, if he wants to.

Eoin
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May 2 2005 16:21
Alan_is_Fucking_Dead wrote:
Why don't you encourage him to organise the workers in his workplace alone and then take it from there?? Surely outside help is not strictly necessary, just advantageous?? Maybe he could use the union to organise interested people in a more libertarian direction, ignoring the hierarchy...or is that risking one's job?? I wouldn't know, I wish I was good at that kinda shit.

Hi Alan_is_Fucking_Dead

This person actually has a bit of experience of workplace organising.

If you have another look at my initial post, you'll see it isn't about organising in his workplace, but about supporting people who are ready to organise in their workplace.

Cheers

Eoin

Eoin
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May 2 2005 16:23
cantdocartwheels wrote:
One idea could be to organise around a wider issue in the community.

Interesting point, but it doesn't realy seem to relate to my post, unless your suggesting that their isn't any place for workplace organising.

Cheers

Eoin

Lazlo_Woodbine
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May 2 2005 16:41

"Through his work he is coming into contact with groups of workers who are at a point where they are interested in organising. He asked me about groups that he could put people in touch with as well as the inevitable trade union referral."

Good workplace organising is few and far between in these islands full stop, never mind libertarian flavours.

Are you after specific practical advice or more general supportive info that shows the libertarian options is still a goer?

Eoin
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May 2 2005 17:40
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
Are you after specific practical advice or more general supportive info that shows the libertarian options is still a goer?

Hi Lazlo

I don't think it is quite either of these things.

Talking about the 'libertarian option' sounds kind of ideologically driven and he has access to lots of practical information through his work and previous orgainising experience.

I think he is looking for contacts who would promote the importance of self organisation within a union context, providing information that showed how rank and file activism is at least as important an element of workplace organising as paying your subs and hoping the union will solve your problems.

Lazlo_Woodbine
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May 2 2005 18:16

Experience of rank and file activity? The UK left does pay lip service to that kind of thing, and so I'd say there's a few independent left accounts of what organising looks like, in the context of various workplaces. Maybe look at what sector your friend has made contacts in and then take a look at the recent 'heroic history' of its struggles.

I'm trying to get a friend to write up what it was like being a shop steward during the recent PCS dispute -- sold out by the union while being bullied by management.

In sectors with no UK tradition of unions -- if we're talking Starbucks, for example -- then we might have to look to our American cousins for examples.

As in so many things, the key lies with focusing on the specific so that people find echoes of their current situation in the material -- otehrwise you run the risk of offering totally strange examples that don't offer any insights.

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cantdocartwheels
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May 2 2005 20:23

steve, i answered your post in a seperate thread in the thought section, coz i don't think this thread is the place to be having that kind of arguement

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 3 2005 15:42

It is quite remarkable how hard anarchists find it to organise in the work place, is this because so few anarchists actually work, because the british are generally poor at communicating their thoughts and ideas or because so much work nowadays is boring to such a degree that attempting to organise anything anti-work based is just cynically laughted off? It seems much easier to attach oneself to helping certain causes or attending demos or protesting against certain companies than actually organising at the heart of the problem, sure all of these can be beneficial in their own way, but why dont we go for the juggular?

Lazlo_Woodbine
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May 3 2005 16:19

Because the recent UK anarchist movement has been based around the refusal of work and the embrace of autonomy through going on the dole, doing the odd bits of work, etc. To organise at work you have to have some consistent engagement with the same group of people otherwise you never build up the needed amount of trust.

With new deal more activists are being forced into work, but its taking a while for the organising culture to catch up with this. I suppose the 'precarity' activism is a part of it.

Oh, and it's more scary to organise around something in your own life, where failure of organisation many leavel you desitute, than to do it about something you can just walk away from.

nastyned
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May 3 2005 20:20

Most of the anarchists I know are in work so I don't think that's the problem. It seems to me it's more the lack of numbers - you're likely to be the only anarchist in your workplace - which make things a bit problematic.

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 4 2005 11:31

fair point Tommy Ascaso, where abouts do you work, or what industry do you work in?

With peoples jobs being so transitory it is hard to get anything organised, thats why this whole precarity network is potentially very important and subversive, if we could organise through the employment and recruitment agencies then we could start to put the brakes on, then hopefully go on the offensive against temporary employment, the problem is that at the moment these places take on hundreds of new potential temp labourers every day, this could of course be used to our advantage.

Has anyone got any info on the precarity network?

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Steven.
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May 4 2005 11:41
Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
fair point Tommy Ascaso, where abouts do you work, or what industry do you work in?

With peoples jobs being so transitory it is hard to get anything organised, thats why this whole precarity network is potentially very important and subversive, if we could organise through the employment and recruitment agencies...

TBH I think that's pretty much useless. That's the main problem I have with this precarity thing. I've been in temp + contract work for 5 years now, while a temp I hardly ever saw anyone from my own agency, and it would be very difficult to. The only bits of collective action have been with permanent staff at the place of work. That's the only real way I can see of getting anywhere, not trying to unite all casual workers, but casual + permanent in each workplace. Have been good examples of this at the Telegraph, and on the tube in Workmates.

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 4 2005 13:40

By organising among temp workers we automatically place permenant workers in a stronger position by taking away/reducing the threat that temps will be used as a cheap backup if their boss decides to sack them. Where i work i'd say around 10-20% are temps, around half of these are from the same agency (adecco), obviously any struggle would require participation and support from permenant staff and maybe from outside by those arent employed (how would this work?).

Caiman del Barrio
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May 4 2005 14:18
Vaneigemappreciationclub wrote:
thats why this whole precarity network is potentially very important and subversive, if we could organise through the employment and recruitment agencies then we could start to put the brakes on, then hopefully go on the offensive against temporary employment, the problem is that at the moment these places take on hundreds of new potential temp labourers every day, this could of course be used to our advantage.

Has anyone got any info on the precarity network?

Yes but what from I've seen of the Precarity Network, it seems to be more focused on representing those refusing work than actually fighting for better conditions in work. An anti-New Deal noise demo outside a job centre during G8 is hardly workers rights.

Lazlo_Woodbine
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May 4 2005 14:36
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Having a network of people organised outside the workplace could be useful in providing support to workplace struggles, if people knew that if they tried to organise then they could be given real support. I mean practical advice on organising, and people that would be prepared to take direct action to help struggles, wait a minute, this sounds like some sort of union (although if the AF was big enough I'm more than certain that it could do this kind of stuff!)

Whatever we call it -- it would be a good thing. If the Precarity network can help to form such a thing, good, if SolFed can help, good. So far none of us are getting anywhere on our own.

I think my comments about activist culture still stand -- the mainstream of the movement, like Alan said, is still focused on avoiding or refusing work. That starts from a good premise: that the working class is a class that wants to stop working -- but it doesn't really help those who are stuck in jobs. I wonder how many TESCO workers are empowered by a smaba band invading their workplace? I'd like to think that some links were made, rather than just a spectacular blast of noise and then nothing...

Vaneigemappreci...
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May 4 2005 15:02

Its that paradox of wanting to make employment redundant and having to be in work to be in a position to make this possible, we cant abolish work by dropping out simply because there arent enough 'drop-outs' and dropping out leaves you fairly impotent to change things, what we need is a movement in the workplace which works towards the abolition of work. I think the problem that the wombles and the like have is that people tend not to identify with people in pink boas kicking out a samba beat, you can have all the sit ins, flash mobs and noisey demos and nothing will change, the alternative has to be presented both within and against work, not from outside. Too many of these demos have an air of privelege and pretention to them, as if some enlightened group have come to save the enslaved worker from the tyrranny of capital, i dont doubt that most people in the wombles et al are neither priveleged nor pretentious, but tis is the way it comes across sometimes. Surely you have to be a cog in the system if you want to stop it from working?

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AndrewF
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May 4 2005 15:18

We are working around this issue (sort of) in Dublin at the moment but from a somewhat different direction (which didn't stop us ripping off the suitable EuroMay day graphics). There is a detailed report at http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=388

"This is a report of a union recruitment / anti-precarity action organised for the end of the Dublin Trade Union mayday march (which actually took place April 30). Ireland traditionally has a very high rate of union membership but this has been rapidly eroded during the economic boom."

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JoeMaguire
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May 4 2005 18:43
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I think it's the casual nature of work that also makes it difficult (well for casual workers), and the fact that many young workers have no/little experience of collective action.

I have to expand on this because I think people dont appreciate the different world younger activists live in. Im nearly 25 and the vast majority of my age group have never been in a union and would think it odd if I brought up the subject....and to add to that unions are dying on their feet and have shown a commitment to not challenging the status quo (good room for us surely!?) but if theres not some good commitment to doing outreach to people interested in changing the way work or our communities are run it will be a lost oppurtunity.

Ripper
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May 12 2005 20:22
Eoin wrote:

*text*

Hi. I know quite a few great texts on the subject of work place struggle.

Here is two of them, check it out!

Faceless resistance - Everyday resistance at a Swedish bakery

http://slash.interactivist.net/news/02/10/02/1237239.shtml

Hamburgers vs Value

http://www.riff-raff.se/en/3-4/burgers_vs_value.php

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lucy_parsons
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May 13 2005 13:16

I think the main reason no-one organises at their workplaces is the fact that you get such an apathetic reaction. Recently, a colleague was unfairly dismissed and I suggested a walk-out. There was simply not enough people willing to do this, and the small number who did were terrified of being sacked. No-one in my workplace seems aware of their rights and they're all perfectly happy just taking whatever the fucked-up management wants to dish out to them.

Steve
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May 13 2005 13:26

I agree things are at a low ebb and it can be disheartening. Workplace organisation has all but disappeared in this country as the unions have become even more remote. It can be done but it’s a long process and need s people who are willing to get involved. Unfortunately there are not many anarchists who have experience of doing this but it still need sot be done if we are to eventually succeed. It’s a case of going back to basics and re-learning ideas. One of the first things to do is to be aware of what rights you have and encourage workmates to pursue them collectively.

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Steven.
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May 13 2005 19:19
Ripper wrote:
Eoin wrote:

*text*

Hi. I know quite a few great texts on the subject of work place struggle.

Here is two of them, check it out!

Faceless resistance - Everyday resistance at a Swedish bakery

http://slash.interactivist.net/news/02/10/02/1237239.shtml

Hamburgers vs Value

http://www.riff-raff.se/en/3-4/burgers_vs_value.php

That burger one is fucking ace red n black star

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suitsmeveryfine
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Nov 19 2005 23:06

If you like that text you will probably love "Work Organization and Workers' Autonomy in a Warehouse: An Introduction to the Militant Inquiry as a Method" from the same issue of riff-raff. Hopefully it will be translated into English some day... Another text which will come in the (near) future is called "Proletarian management" or "Management (theory) for proletarians" (I don't know what the final title will be).