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Workplace organising: traditional vs new industries

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Mar 3 2014 17:27
Workplace organising: traditional vs new industries

So this came up on the 'state of anarchy in the UK thread but it's a question I've long been thinking about (and which I think needs to be thought about more, by me as well).. below are some other people's comments on it..

Devrim wrote:
Personally, I don't think that these sort of actions will lead to a massive change of mood in the class. Rather I think it takes big struggles in traditional sectors.

Battlescarred wrote:
But what are the "traditional" sectors these days. Most of the ones I can think of have been almost decimated in Britain

martinh wrote:
What are "traditional sectors"? The UK labour force is about 29M, of which just under 7M is in the public sector.
The industrial sectors by workers are (in millions, 2011 figures):
Retail 4.0
Health/social 3.8
Education 3.0
Manufacturing 2.8
Construction 2.1
Professional/scientific 1.9
Public admin & defence 1.8
Other services 1.5
Hotels and restaurants 1.4
Transport 1.4
Administrative 1.3
Finance & insurance 1.2
Information & Comms 1.0
Mining, energy, water 0.5
Agriculture 0.3
Real estate 0.3

On this basis, only a small minority work in "traditional sectors". It pains me to see that there are as many estate agents as agricultural workers but we are where we are.
In 1889, only skilled trades were in unions and had any expectation of pay rises and improvement of conditions. The dock, gasworkers and matchgirls strikes all changed that. I do think personnel involved in struggles matter, not that it matters per se what their politics are, but that changes happen when people have the get and go to make them. I don't think that's voluntarism, more a reflection on who has the ability to cause trouble.

RedEd wrote:
Battlescarred wrote:
But what are the "traditional" sectors these days. Most of the ones I can think of have been almost decimated in Britain

I was gonna ask the same question. I can see that sectors which have traditions of organisation are going to be more likely to kick things off. But Isn't it more complicated than that? Like, isn't there an extent to which an industry in a liberal democracy is 'traditional' because the working class there has not lost a big fight? It seems that, in the UK at least, the industries which kick off tend to get smashed or reorganised*. That's how the bosses fight back and they are good at it. Atomisation of car production globally is a great example. A lot of what are now the actual 'traditional' employment sectors in the UK seem to be those where people identify with their jobs. Health, education, etc. have lots of well meaning people who are conflicted about not liking the way their work is organised, but valuing at least some of what they do. So they don't kick off so the sector doesn't get reorganised. Which is a big part of why, I think, the biggest concentrations of the working class in any given town in the uk today will tend to be things like schools or hospitals or the council offices rather than factories or ports or something.

I guess there are still industries with a history of militancy which capital has had a hard time fragmenting and reforming. Construction and transport spring to mind. But I bet most of us can come up with examples of ways capital has structurally adjusted to defy workers' organisation in these sectors none the less.

*which is absolutely no reason not to kick off. The reorganisation is the the end of the cycle of struggle, but it is not by any means necessarily a defeat. Reorganisation of capital can certainly represent a victory. But it's also always the beginning of the next struggle.

Speaking personally, I'm still pretty conflicted.. on the one hand, I'm definitely partial to the idea that a lot of traditional industries (particularly stuff like transport or other infrastural stuff like the postal service or warehouses) are particularly important for the day-to-day functioning of capitalism and so effective organisation in them is particularly important.

That said, as Martin and Battlescarred point out, most traditional industries in Britain have been decimated (I'm thinking stuff like mining, heavy industry, docks etc).. the general working class condition is in retail or services which are almost completely unorganised and so finding the solution to the problem of workers' organisation in these newer industries is massively important.

So yeah, anyone else have any thoughts on this subject? In terms of social change, is either more important than the other? And, if the traditional industries are more important, where does this leave us who live in countries where those industries don't exist anymore (this one for Devrim really)?

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Mar 3 2014 18:23

I don't think Devrim we saying that the "traditional industries" were more important as such (I really don't want this to turn into another argument with ASN where he tells everyone to get a job on a train), I think what he was saying was that for the mood of the working class more generally to change to be more combative it is not sufficient for a tiny group of political radicals to be organising in their workplaces, it will take sizeable struggles to break out. And where sizeable struggles are likely to break out is in the more "traditional" sectors.

Now, I'm not entirely sure what he means by "traditional" sectors, and it's not terminology I would use myself but presumably it would be areas where there is the highest level of worker organisation, so things like transport, certain types of construction, distribution, manufacturing, civil service, education, local government etc.

I doubt as to whether Devrim would offer an opinion on where is more important to "organise" as he and other left communists don't seem to make such a big deal about organising as individuals. Personally I think where is more "important" is irrelevant, as individuals should organise where they are, wherever it is. Which for most of us lot is likely to be in the non-traditional sectors (like retail, services, etc).

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Mar 3 2014 18:58
Ed wrote:
And, if the traditional industries are more important, where does this leave us who live in countries where those industries don't exist anymore?

It might be worth making explicit what you mean by 'important' throughout your post (or maybe I missed that). Most pertinent to achieving a revolution as soon as possible/most effectively, or...? That's an interesting discussion. Just quickly though, I think one answer to the above question, which I appreciate might not be a revolutionary's answer and I should leave now, is that it leaves us organising as before, because work is still crap regardless of its importance to the day-to-day functioning of capital and organising can make it a bit better.

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Mar 3 2014 20:04

I agree almost 100% with what Steven said even down to the point where he says traditional wasn't the best choice of word. The only disagreement I would have would be with this point:

Quote:
doubt as to whether Devrim would offer an opinion on where is more important to "organise" as he and other left communists don't seem to make such a big deal about organising as individuals.

I don't think that this is quite true. I think that left communists do do all of the little things that people talk about in relation to this sort of thing. It's just that they don't think that it is an important thing to go on about all the time. On a personal level, I'd imagine that I have been on strike more times, and on a longer strike than over 99% of people on this board. That is not to say that there is anything special about me. I am just old enough to have lived through a period where strikes were a bit more common. In addition I have been involved in groups at my work involved in various things.

I say this not to big myself up, but because I think that there is a general conception that left communists don't do these sort of things, but rather just sit on the sidelines and criticise. I don't think it is true. Perhaps it is not something to do with left communists in general, but more to do with the ICC, and more particularly with the ICC in the UK. Bagtallia have a conception which is based on workers groups, and when I was in the (Turkish section of) the ICC, people were involved in various workers' groups.

Devrim

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Mar 3 2014 21:14

I would be interested to know if people think the bourgeoisie consciously moved 'traditional industries' out of Western democracies to stem and disrupt attempted class struggle and by moving it to places where general living conditions are much worse and more authoritarian have set back, and confused the proletariat and its struggle. Of course that's not to say struggle does not occur or that capitalist competition has not played a large part.

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Mar 3 2014 21:16

Good thread.

For me, I took "traditional" to mean the industry where workers have historically had the most power - manufacturing, railroads, the postal service, etc. If that's the case maybe there needs to re-evaluation of where workers have most power in the modern economy. Maybe the organisation of nuclear plants, cell phone tower maintenance, and internet providers is what needed to bring about a new wave of struggle in major de-industrialized countries.

Incidentally, this does lead back to the other thread. Namely, at what level does "where we're at" begin and end? Just in our team? In other branches/sites? In other workplaces in the industry and the supply chain?

Also, as for this:

Quote:
I think that left communists do do all of the little things that people talk about in relation to this sort of thing. It's just that they don't think that it is an important thing to go on about all the time.

Maybe, but I still find that a bit of an odd attitude. There are many things left communists do go on about all time and given that there does seem to be a left communist perspective on what constitutes worthwhile workplace activity, it just feels like there's a disconnect.

Left communists are more than happy to criticise/critique the activities of other revolutionary tendencies and, according to you, are engaging in workplace struggles, so why don't they put it out there? Presumably they want worthwhile methods to be out there within the class, so why don't the talk about what they find theoretically appropriate and how it's played out for left communist militants in the real world?

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Mar 3 2014 21:20
proletarian. wrote:
I would be interested to know if people think the bourgeoisie consciously moved 'traditional industries' out of Western democracies to stem and disrupt attempted class struggle and by moving it to places where general living conditions are much worse and more authoritarian have set back, and confused the proletariat and its struggle. Of course that's not to say struggle does not occur or that capitalist competition has not played a large part.

I think it was more of a happy coincidence for them that what made sense for profit also weakened organized labor. Capitalists have to obey the logic of the system, too.

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Mar 3 2014 21:22
proletarian. wrote:
I would be interested to know if people think the bourgeoisie consciously moved 'traditional industries' out of Western democracies to stem and disrupt attempted class struggle and by moving it to places where general living conditions are much worse and more authoritarian have set back, and confused the proletariat and its struggle.

For what it's worth, I remember speaking to a Chicago Wob a while ago who was given me some numbers regarding manufacturing in the US. From what I remember, he said that the US was manufacturing as much as ever, it's just the nature of the industry has just quite drastically changed: smaller, more geographically dispersed workplaces, more automation, smaller, more productive workforces, etc. Lot less jobs, obviously, but those industries are still there.

proletarian.
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Mar 3 2014 21:29

Ah, good points Chilli. I also heard that in Britain the industrial output hasn't massively changed due to higher productivity.

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Mar 3 2014 21:36

Sorry, just had a re-read of Steven's post (in particular because of Devrim's endorsement of it).

Quote:
Now, I'm not entirely sure what he means by "traditional" sectors, and it's not terminology I would use myself but presumably it would be areas where there is the highest level of worker organisation, so things like transport, certain types of construction, distribution, manufacturing, civil service, education, local government etc.

This brings up another big question of the relationship of trade union organisation to self-organised struggle. The industries listed here are where trade union organisation is traditionally the strongest, so when the term 'worker organisation' is used is that to specifically differentiate from it trade union organisation? And, if it's not, is that to say that trade union organisation is needed as a precursor to self-organisation? Given the anarcho-syndicalist - and especially the left communist - position on the trade unions, that would seem unexpected.

I guess I also find the whole way this conversation has developed a bit weird. It just feels like some of the posts on these threads are slightly shitting on people who are doing their best to actually organise at work:
"Oh, you're just 'organising people".
"Too bad you're not in a 'traditional industry.'"
"Good luck doing anything really worthwhile in terms of workplace organising outside a period of wider industrial upsurge - which is totally outside of your control and to which your small struggles are of no consequence anyway."

I just think it's a bit shitty and not particularly productive.

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Mar 3 2014 22:08

hmm epic compound-response post coming:

Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I think the problem with that is the struggles which take place in sectors with relatively high levels of unionstation are nearly all defensive struggles which can't be won (with perhaps the exception of transport).

You what? Sorry, but this doesn't make sense on numerous levels.

For starters, in periods where the bosses are going on the offensive, pretty much all struggles are defensive, period. Even during booms, many struggles are still defensive, as individual enterprises still get in trouble, management still try to bring in new techniques and technology etc.

As for saying that struggles "can't be won", what does that mean? Do you have evidence for this?

Or evidence for the claim that struggles would be easier to win in sectors with low levels of unionisation? Seriously, I'm not really sure how to engage your point because I really don't get what you are saying.

Quote:
Has a revolutionary upsurge ever followed a preceding period of working class defeat?

1917? The struggles during the depression?

Either way, I'm not sure what the relevance of this question is to my point, or your preceding point ???

proletarian. wrote:
I would be interested to know if people think the bourgeoisie consciously moved 'traditional industries' out of Western democracies to stem and disrupt attempted class struggle and by moving it to places where general living conditions are much worse and more authoritarian have set back, and confused the proletariat and its struggle. Of course that's not to say struggle does not occur or that capitalist competition has not played a large part.

yes.

Beverly Silver has written an excellent book about this, which I strongly recommend reading:
http://libcom.org/library/forces-labor-beverly-j-silver

Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
Now, I'm not entirely sure what he means by "traditional" sectors, and it's not terminology I would use myself but presumably it would be areas where there is the highest level of worker organisation, so things like transport, certain types of construction, distribution, manufacturing, civil service, education, local government etc.

This brings up another big question of the relationship of trade union organisation to self-organised struggle. The industries listed here are where trade union organisation is traditionally the strongest, so when the term 'worker organisation' is used is that to specifically differentiate from it trade union organisation?

yes, because of course worker organisation on the shop floor and levels of trade union membership are two completely different things.

Quote:
I guess I also find the whole way this conversation has developed a bit weird. It just feels like some of the posts on these threads are slightly shitting on people who are doing their best to actually organise at work:
"Oh, you're just 'organising people".
"Too bad you're not in a 'traditional industry.'"
"Good luck doing anything really worthwhile in terms of workplace organising outside a period of wider industrial upsurge - which is totally outside of your control and to which your small struggles are of no consequence anyway."

I just think it's a bit shitty and not particularly productive.

firstly, sorry but you're being a bit precious here. Secondly, your first couple of fake quotes are ridiculous strawman. Thirdly, most of my posts were triggered by Jim calling me and Devrim "utopian dreamers", when in fact our points were much more connected to reality.

No one said anything like "Too bad you're not in a traditional industry". What Devrim said (for the umpteenth time) was that the mood of the working class as a whole is not going to be changed by the actions of a tiny group of anarchists. It will be changed in times of widespread struggle - which whether you like the idea not is most likely in areas like those I mentioned where there is generally a better level of worker organisation. And if you look at dispute and industrial action statistics you will see is correct.
As to your last fake quote, well, there is some truth to that one as that is quite close to my view (because it is unfortunately accurate!), however as should be obvious from libcom, from the articles I write myself and from those I put on it (as I have probably put up more workplace organising stories than anyone else), I still think it's worthwhile. Where I disagree with Jim's posts is whether "the masses" are just out there waiting to be radicalised by us. Of course we can help but thankfully they don't depend on us!

Devrim wrote:
I agree almost 100% with what Steven said even down to the point where he says traditional wasn't the best choice of word. The only disagreement I would have would be with this point:

Quote:
doubt as to whether Devrim would offer an opinion on where is more important to "organise" as he and other left communists don't seem to make such a big deal about organising as individuals.

I don't think that this is quite true. I think that left communists do do all of the little things that people talk about in relation to this sort of thing. It's just that they don't think that it is an important thing to go on about all the time.

lol, "do do"

But seriously, that's what I meant by "make such a big deal".

And just so it doesn't look like I am just slagging off Solfed, while I'm aware that many left communists do do decent organising work in their own workplaces, I do think Solfed goes the extra mile here with the organiser training program, which I do think it is excellent, and one of the few things any political organisation does which I actually think is worthwhile.

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Mar 3 2014 23:30
Steven. wrote:
"make such a big deal"

Devrim wrote:
go on about all the time

Just so I'm clear, what exactly are we talking about? Is it specific discussions about what we're doing to organize at our jobs? Or more general "how-to" writing about workplace organizing? Or are you referring even more generally to any position that claims a minority can influence the class struggle outside of mass-scale conflicts?

Either way, it's hard not to be reminded of the 11th thesis on Feuerbach...if praxis is largely impossible, then what's the goal of communist theory at times of working class retreat?

edit - I don't mean to imply y'all two don't organize or discuss organizing, I understand your point is that Left communists still do those things (first thing I saw after this post was Steven's comment on the "how I got my job back" piece - looking forward to the article).
The question is, exactly what sort of "workplace" discourse do Left communists de-emphasize and other leftists make too much of a fuss over?

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Mar 3 2014 23:12
proletarian. wrote:
Ah, good points Chilli. I also heard that in Britain the industrial output hasn't massively changed due to higher productivity.

Oh, and I meant to say that the flip side to this is that I recently did a course that involved looking at the economies of Spanish speaking countries. In South America, I was shocked at what a large percentage of those economies were service-based.

While de-industrialization has certainly hit hardest in, well, the countries that previous had the most heavy industry, I think the move towards a service economy is an international trend just as much as outsourcing of industries like auto or textiles.

I'd also second Steven in recommending Forces of Labor in any case.

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Mar 3 2014 23:22

To be honest, Steven, I think you're being a bit precious here. For one, those really weren't directed at you. For another, they were obviously paraphrases and I think calling them "fake" is a bit silly.

Perhaps they were a bit crude, but I'm not the one who brought up my most recent blog as evidence that SolFed (and to a lesser extent, anarchist organizing) is "voluntaristic" and promotes "organizing people".

I guess the larger point I was trying to make is that having an honest discussion about the usefulness of anarchist organizing is worthwhile but (a) it shouldn't be premised on what basically amounts to strawmen of how anarchist view their organizing efforts and (b) should just be a bit friendlier when that discussion is occurring off the back of folks' actual workplace activities.

I always really like the pieces you post on libcom and, as I said on that Just Say No piece, the workplace accounts are probably my favorite bit of the site.

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Mar 3 2014 23:45
Fnordie wrote:
Steven. wrote:
"make such a big deal"

Devrim wrote:
go on about all the time

Just so I'm clear, what exactly are we talking about?

what I meant was, Solfed people often talk about the need for its members/people generally to organise in their workplaces, and have a strategy for doing so. Whereas it seems most left communists (at least on libcom like Devrim, the ICC, etc) do not.

Quote:
edit - I don't mean to imply y'all two don't organize or discuss organizing, I understand your point is that Left communists still do those things (first thing I saw after this post was Steven's comment on the "how I got my job back" piece - looking forward to the article).
The question is, exactly what sort of "workplace" discourse do Left communists de-emphasize and other leftists make too much of a fuss over?

you can have a look at my author tag archive to see the kind of stuff I write about workplace organising (I have written some other things which have to be in the library anonymously):
http://libcom.org/tags/steven-johns

now, as I said, I'm not a left communist. But they seem to make more of a priority of "intervening" in bigger struggles which already ongoing. Leafleting groups of workers in dispute, etc.

I think you seem to be misreading my posts, I wasn't saying anyone was making "too much of a fuss" at all.

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Mar 3 2014 23:49
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Seriously, I'm not really sure how to engage your point because I really don't get what you are saying.

Fine, I can't be bothered with this any more.

Made, TBH this is now a different discussion as you've made completely different points. If you're not going to explain them back them up, does that mean you are retracting them?

Chilli Sauce wrote:

I guess the larger point I was trying to make is that having an honest discussion about the usefulness of anarchist organizing is worthwhile but (a) it shouldn't be premised on what basically amounts to strawmen of how anarchist view their organizing efforts and (b) should just be a bit friendlier when that discussion is occurring off the back of folks' actual workplace activities.

you really think this discussion "is occurring off the back of" Jim's "actual workplace activities"?

And in terms of being precious, you are the one who has started accusing people of "shitting on" other people's efforts. And if your view of "shitting on" means "giving a comradely and realistic assessment of" then I think that means you are being precious!

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Mar 4 2014 00:39

This post is super-long, sorry..

Hmm, okay, so this thread has kind of strayed from what I was asking about and onto other stuff like how old Devrim is and what articles people like on libcom.. perhaps i wasn't clear (I was writing in a rush).. And Steven, I definitely wasn't thinking about where is most important for 'radicals' to organise (so no going off to get jobs on the trains or in meat-packing factories or whatever).. snipfool probably came the closest, at least asking the right question while everyone else answered the wrong one!

Anyway, part of this comes from thoughts I've been having since reading Silver's Forces of Labour book, others since reading Devrim's Street protests and class power and, most recently, Devrim's comments on the other thread.. all of these together have raised questions for me in terms of asking questions about which industries are important for changing the wider conditions that affect class consciousness. Now, when I say 'important', I don't mean in the sense of 'drop what you're doing and get a job on the railways' but more or less in the same way as Steven and Devrim (I think): the industries where sizeable enough class struggle could break out from which could influence wider class consciousness.

From the rest of your post, it seemed that 'traditional industries' means 'highly unionised industries'. Now, for me, I'm not sure that all highly unionised industries necessarily could perform this function. For example, most civil service or local government strikes largely go unnoticed even when they're well-respected coz they don't disrupt things the same way as, say, a tube or postal strike does. I guess if civil servants and local government workers started blockading roads or whatever it would have this effect, but then I also feel like that would be equally true of any workers in any industry (let's be honest, local government workers are no closer to doing this than, say, fast food workers)..

So on the one hand, there's the structural power thing which gives workers in certain industries more disruptive capability and therefore makes them more likely to undertake action that spurs on wider militancy (in that they're both more likely to take action and the action is more likely to have that effect). But on the other, there's also a part of me that feels that the predominance of retail/customer service jobs (as well as the decline of 'traditional' industries and their levels of unionisation) makes them super-important.. and like Silver explains in her book, Fordism and the assembly line were supposed to have killed off worker militancy but actually only brought it about in a new form.. perhaps the task of workers in the post-industrial service economy is to find this new organisational/tactical form (kind of like 'the new sound').. coz it seems to me like the era we live in now is that most first world workers work in industries where they don't have that much structural power, where even their marketplace power is declining (in that jobs are increasingly deskilled and workers more easily replaceable), and so worker organisation can't stay the same or rely on the 'traditional industries' coz even most of those can't defend themselves..

For me, the important thing is disruptive power. So transport, postal service, warehouses, refuse collection etc are all potentially important in this respect. But others like local government, civil service, even the health service, car industry or most construction (due to how much they've been split up and casualised) I'm not so sure about anymore. I might also be wrong but then that's why I started this thread; what gives these workers a likelihood of affecting wider conditions that fast food and retail workers don't have? And in places where the number of workers in traditional industries is small (and getting smaller), what hope is there for this wider change is class consciousness?

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Mar 4 2014 14:48

That was a good post Ed and I'd actually wanted to make that same point, basically that what we think of as "traditional" industries now - mass production, Fordist, heavy industry - were, at least in the US, considered precarious and unorganizable prior to the Great depression. Probably worth noting, as well, that those organizing efforts came after a decade of class retreat in the 1920s.

Quote:
perhaps the task of workers in the post-industrial service economy is to find this new organisational/tactical form

This is quite an interesting suggestion, that it will actually take a change in the form of struggle to bring about a new wave of class conciousness. If that's the case, I think it actually leaves a lot more scope for anarchists to play a larger part in that process.

In any case, I don't the answer, but I imagine it'll take some sneaky crack fox antics to find it.

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Mar 5 2014 05:22

Going by snipfools definition of having industry in your state which is the most pertinent to achieving a revolution as soon as possible/most effectively , than I would say that many bullshit post-fordist industries such as restaurant workers, call centers etc. where strikes don't effect the wider populace are borderline irrelevant to achieving our ultimate goals.

eg. a mass insurrection of call center workers nationwide, occupying their workplaces and pursuing self management of industry wouldn't be that great.

Whereas education is probably the greatest gift to post-fordist organizing. Because;
a. it seems as though the vast majority of anarchists are teachers
b. students are really revolutionary, often playing huge roles in revolutions eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_of_1968
c. education workers have a huge advantage in that their industry can't be spatial fixed. And they can't really be technologically fixed as teaching is necessarily personal. So they can get cheekier and cheekier.
d. their strikes effect the entire population as families can't go to work, they have to stay with their kids. Reminiscent of the 1946 Oakland Commune in which the transportation workers unloaded all workers into the city center, causing an automatic revolution. Maybe the Oaxaca Commune is a precursor to future Revolutionary situations created by teacher strikes.

Maybe if the education workers and (human) transport workers were organised, that would be sufficient?

edit; sorry sort of what ed already said

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Mar 5 2014 10:26
Quote:
And they can't really be technologically fixed as teaching is necessarily personal. So they can get cheekier and cheekier.

Oh, but they're trying. In some places they're trying basically to have courses taught by computers, sometimes with a teacher present to oversee a large classroom and, with older students, without a teacher there at all.

As for me, in my previous private sector language school job, I wan't a teacher, I was a "tutor". This was because the students 'learned' new material via a computer program and my job was only to 'check learning acquisition'.

So while I'm think you're right that ultimately education necessary does have a personal element, that doesn't mean they're not trying to use technology to cut down on the size of the workforce, deskill, and reducing bargaining power.

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Mar 5 2014 11:00
Ed wrote:
This post is super-long, sorry..

Hmm, okay, so this thread has kind of strayed from what I was asking about and onto other stuff like how old Devrim is and what articles people like on libcom.. perhaps i wasn't clear (I was writing in a rush).. And Steven, I definitely wasn't thinking about where is most important for 'radicals' to organise (so no going off to get jobs on the trains or in meat-packing factories or whatever)..

FYI, I didn't think this is what you would have wanted, that was more for other people.

Quote:
From the rest of your post, it seemed that 'traditional industries' means 'highly unionised industries'. Now, for me, I'm not sure that all highly unionised industries necessarily could perform this function. For example, most civil service or local government strikes largely go unnoticed even when they're well-respected coz they don't disrupt things the same way as, say, a tube or postal strike does. I guess if civil servants and local government workers started blockading roads or whatever it would have this effect, but then I also feel like that would be equally true of any workers in any industry (let's be honest, local government workers are no closer to doing this than, say, fast food workers)..

well, I don't know if I would say that exactly…

With civil servant strikes, I think really it depends on the area. The strike of the border agency had a big impact, causing huge numbers of flights to be cancelled. And local government is a vast area, including refuse collection, some public transport networks (like Newcastle I believe) some toll bridges, even at least one airport etc, most school support staff (who can shut schools), traffic wardens and vital social care services like home care for the elderly and disabled.

Now, various local councils have for many years been trying to break up worker organisation in local government. Mostly by outsourcing, especially in areas like refuse collection, catering, cleaning, schools (by academies, free schools), social care (the personalisation agenda etc). Which has been pretty successful in many areas, unfortunately. But hasn't in others -like outsourced refuse workers in Brighton, for example, or ones in Edinburgh who successfully resisted privatisation.

On a related note, at my work we blockaded a busy against cuts once!

So basically, it depends on the job.

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So on the one hand, there's the structural power thing which gives workers in certain industries more disruptive capability and therefore makes them more likely to undertake action that spurs on wider militancy (in that they're both more likely to take action and the action is more likely to have that effect). But on the other, there's also a part of me that feels that the predominance of retail/customer service jobs (as well as the decline of 'traditional' industries and their levels of unionisation) makes them super-important.. and like Silver explains in her book, Fordism and the assembly line were supposed to have killed off worker militancy but actually only brought it about in a new form.. perhaps the task of workers in the post-industrial service economy is to find this new organisational/tactical form (kind of like 'the new sound').. coz it seems to me like the era we live in now is that most first world workers work in industries where they don't have that much structural power, where even their marketplace power is declining (in that jobs are increasingly deskilled and workers more easily replaceable), and so worker organisation can't stay the same or rely on the 'traditional industries' coz even most of those can't defend themselves..

agree with all of this. Although with retail type jobs, these have always existed. I don't know if numbers now are higher than they used to be (although they could well be in proportionate terms due to the reduction in other areas).

On retail, retail workers unfortunately have very low industrial or marketplace power (see the example of the LA supermarket workers strike around 2004, where they were well-organised, however they were still crushed by the bosses). But some new trends seem quite positive from the perspective of building workers organisation, like the growth of internet shopping and online supermarket shopping. This is basically replacing workers with very little structural power (shop workers) with ones potentially with a lot more power (warehouse workers and delivery drivers).

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For me, the important thing is disruptive power. So transport, postal service, warehouses, refuse collection etc are all potentially important in this respect. But others like local government, civil service, even the health service, car industry or most construction (due to how much they've been split up and casualised) I'm not so sure about anymore. I might also be wrong but then that's why I started this thread; what gives these workers a likelihood of affecting wider conditions that fast food and retail workers don't have? And in places where the number of workers in traditional industries is small (and getting smaller), what hope is there for this wider change is class consciousness?

For me, I think it's basically tautological. In that the "traditional" industries Devrim referred to the ones with better levels of worker organisation generally, so there are more struggles there and so more mass struggle is likely (and this includes more big, national employers).

If some other industry or sector got better organised and struggle was more like should break out there then that would be a new "traditional" industry.

Because for example, not very long ago (mid last century) I believe there was pretty poor worker organisation in the civil service and across much of local government, but this changed through the 60s and 70s.

Interesting discussion anyway. I like the comparison with "the new sound", although unfortunately I don't think it is something we can just discover with a eureka moment…

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Steven.
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Mar 5 2014 11:12
vicent wrote:
Going by snipfools definition of having industry in your state which is the most pertinent to achieving a revolution as soon as possible/most effectively , than I would say that many bullshit post-fordist industries such as restaurant workers, call centers etc. where strikes don't effect the wider populace are borderline irrelevant to achieving our ultimate goals.

firstly I would disagree with restaurant workers being "post-Fordist": they have been around for hundreds of years.

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eg. a mass insurrection of call center workers nationwide, occupying their workplaces and pursuing self management of industry wouldn't be that great.

Whereas education is probably the greatest gift to post-fordist organizing.

Again, not sure what is "post-Fordist" about education. As that has been around in much the same form since long before Ford!

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Because;
a. it seems as though the vast majority of anarchists are teachers

sorry, but this is completely wrong! I know one anarchist teacher (choccy), out of probably over at least 100 anarchists I know personally.

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b. students are really revolutionary, often playing huge roles in revolutions eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_of_1968

they often also play roles in counterrevolutions: see the student scabs on the 1926 UK general strike.

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c. education workers have a huge advantage in that their industry can't be spatial fixed. And they can't really be technologically fixed as teaching is necessarily personal. So they can get cheekier and cheekier.

again, unfortunately this is incorrect, as chilli sauce points out.

In the UK, successive governments have made efforts to de-skill teachers. Firstly by bringing unqualified teaching assistants, which didn't really work. So the new government has expanded the free schools and academies programme, and is allowing them to hire unqualified people to teach.

And other technological ways can be used to undermine education workers: look at all the online education courses now. I could easily imagine a dystopian scenario where children/students sit in a classroom (or even at home!) watching pre-recorded lessons/lectures, while low-skilled disciplinary workers oversee them.

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d. their strikes effect the entire population as families can't go to work, they have to stay with their kids. Reminiscent of the 1946 Oakland Commune in which the transportation workers unloaded all workers into the city center, causing an automatic revolution.

the point about stopping families getting to work is valid, and is the main source of teacher power. However I think you are getting a bit overexcited about Oakland, which wasn't a revolution, nor do I see the connection with teacher strikes.

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Maybe the Oaxaca Commune is a precursor to future Revolutionary situations created by teacher strikes.

again, you seem to be getting a bit over-excited. Mexico is very different to most other countries. Things there can't just be transplanted into different historical and social economic contexts.

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Maybe if the education workers and (human) transport workers were organised, that would be sufficient?

definitely not! So what, not even a "dictatorship of the proletariat" but I "dictatorship of teachers and bus drivers"?! The bus drivers probably wouldn't be too bad, but I never want to be under the authority of a teacher ever again (while politically I support their struggles, personally I know a good few of them are petty bullies)

Quote:
edit; sorry sort of what ed already said

hmm don't think anything there is even vaguely close to what Ed said…

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Mar 5 2014 13:39
Quote:
the growth of internet shopping and online supermarket shopping. This is basically replacing workers with very little structural power (shop workers) with ones potentially with a lot more power (warehouse workers and delivery drivers).

Now that is an interesting point. I had never thought of it that way.

Just on civil service workers. I know in the States there was a huge upsurge in public-service (I'm not saying public sector here as US has a much longer history of, for example, cities contracting bus services out to private companies) unionisation off the back of the civil rights movements. Similarly, I believe US postal service workers only won unionisation off the back of a massive - and illiegal - national wildcat in 1972.

That said,

Quote:
If some other industry or sector got better organised and struggle was more like should break out there then that would be a new "traditional" industry.

I'm not really sure about this. It basically seems like you're saying an industry becomes "traditional" once a history of struggles develop in that industry. Then why not just say "an industry with a tradition of struggle"? Just using the word traditional in that context seems to muddy the waters.

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Mar 5 2014 14:19

I didn't use the word "traditional"! Devrim did, I merely explained what I thought he meant by and said that personally I thought that the word "traditional" wasn't a good one to use, which Devrim then also agreed with.

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Mar 5 2014 19:42
Ed wrote:
perhaps the task of workers in the post-industrial service economy is to find this new organisational/tactical form (kind of like 'the new sound')..

Hahaha, i actually clicked that

vicent
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Mar 6 2014 00:07
Quote:
firstly I would disagree with restaurant workers being "post-Fordist": they have been around for hundreds of years.

Yes but they are a much larger part of the workforce than before Ford

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Again, not sure what is "post-Fordist" about education. As that has been around in much the same form since long before Ford!

Yes but they are a much larger part of the workforce than before Ford

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sorry, but this is completely wrong! I know one anarchist teacher (choccy), out of probably over at least 100 anarchists I know personally.

this suggests otherwise,

http://libcom.org/profile/profile_sector/education%20and%20learning

http://libcom.org/profile/profile_sector/materials%20and%20manufacturing

Also nearly everyone in my Agroup is in Education and Learning

Quote:
they often also play roles in counterrevolutions: see the student scabs on the 1926 UK general strike.

That was back when students were the elite

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"dictatorship of the proletariat" but I "dictatorship of teachers and bus drivers"?!

lol

bastarx
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Mar 6 2014 08:47

Steven, as a bus driver sadly I have to say that lots of bus drivers are petty bullies too.

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Mar 6 2014 21:59

I've been sort of studying the history of working class insurgencies in the USA, and the thing is, a characteristic feature of these insurgencies almost always is the emergence of new social segments into motion, and creation of various kinds of new organizations, a return to more grassroots forms of organization. "Scientific management" (AKA Taylorism/Fordism) was first implemented in USA in period between roughly 1908 and early '20s. By the later '20s it had become standard practice. The big IWW strikes of 1909 to 1913 were invariably reactions to introductions of Taylorist speedup. The whole "worker control" thrust of worker militancy in World War 1 era in USA was a reaction to emergence of these management control & productivity tactics. The "new unionism" of that era emerged largely outside the craft unions of AFL & brought into motion less skilled industrial workers. Due to major defeats in that period "industrial workers" were considered unorganizable, at least by AFL leaders.

The "traditional sectors" in that era were the urban craft & transport industries that had been organized previously by the AFL, especially in the big labor insurgency of 1898 to 1904.

So it seems that by "traditional sectors" is meant those already unionized, I guess. In the history of periods of working class insurgency in USA this has not been where the new motion has generally taken place. The railway, printing & construction industries were not exactly leading elements of the insurgency of the 1930s. Back then those were the "traditional sectors". Major strikes did take place in that era not only in basic production industry, but also in motor freight, retail, even restaurants (uprisings in both San Francisco & New York).

During the insurgency of 1965 to 1974 this was based on rank & file rebellion to the "deal" of the bureaucracy post-World War 2 which traded off abandonment of struggle with management over control in workplace for wages & benefits, combined with an extension of insurgency to the public sector for the first time...that is essentially when the public sector was unionized in USA. The public sector had not been a "traditional" sector...often there were laws against striking. In many cases these laws were repealed after waves of teacher strikes & school occupations. Teachers had not previously been seen as a source of militancy. There was also a national wildcat strike of postal workers...first such strike ever.

Nonetheless, what did happen is that the unions rooted in the "traditional sectors" also grew in membership as a byproduct of a general atmosphere of working class rebellion during periods of insurgency. The bureaucracy sort of surfed the wave. In some cases insurgencies came after periods of defeat...such as '20s being a period of defeat. Or the 1890s, a period of a "red scare" & vast repression after the insurgency of 1880s & a depression with high unemployment, then came the insurgencies of 1898-1904 and 1915-1920.

In the '30s I think what was the key power in that insurgency was NOT merely the position in a particular chokepoint or industry whose closure would be disruptive. Rather, what made for power in that period was the growth in the level of real solidarity...seven city wide general strikes, a very widespread sense of anger & growing militancy throughout the class. Employers in USA had a long history of extreme intransigence...and nowadays they've moved back in that direction. But in the '30s this intransigence was defeated thru large scale city wide solidarity that went beyond the ability of local political apparatus to crush.

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Mar 8 2014 00:41
syndicalistcat wrote:
In the '30s I think what was the key power in that insurgency was NOT merely the position in a particular chokepoint or industry whose closure would be disruptive. Rather, what made for power in that period was the growth in the level of real solidarity...seven city wide general strikes, a very widespread sense of anger & growing militancy throughout the class. Employers in USA had a long history of extreme intransigence...and nowadays they've moved back in that direction.

Couldn't agree more, cat. Along similar lines, this is why I'm hopeful about struggles that aren't necessarily in "decisive sectors." The FF15 fast food strikes might be astro-turfing by SEIU, but the activation of that part of the class is important in terms of building power, even if low-wage workers aren't strategically located in the supply chain.

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Mar 8 2014 05:50

Another thing that made for power in the '30s insurgency in USA was the very widespread use of the workplace seizure or sitdown strike. About 600 of them took place in about a six month period. This happened not just in factories but in retail stores. There were two sitdowns at Woolworth's, which was sort of the Walmart of that era. Predominantly female workforce. But it was the real ability of workers to call in support from other workers, and the willingness of people to strike in solidarity...something almost unheard of in recent decades in USA...that was key because it made it impossible to rely on the usual method of use of local politicians & police, who were overwhelmed. Mobilization of working class support was too widespread & powerful. It was class unionism in practice: class against class. Advantage to the workplace seizure is that it holds the capitalist's assets & makes it impossible to simply bring in replacement workers....not without physically assaulting the workplace, which employers would be leery of asking for.

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Mar 9 2014 13:11

Good book here that covers that Woolworth's strike, well worth a read:

http://www.amazon.com/Three-Strikes-Musicians-Salesgirls-Fighting/dp/080...