DONATE NOW TO HELP UPGRADE LIBCOM.ORG

Workplace committees and how they interlink

39 posts / 0 new
Last post
Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 23 2012 01:46
Workplace committees and how they interlink

Split from
http://libcom.org/forums/theory/my-problem-towards-union-organizers-leaflet-18062012?page=1

Alf wrote:
Harrison: which bits do you think fit better in a different thread: just the part you quote, or the whole of it? I can see a separate thread for the question of workplace committees, but even then, I tried to raise the issue in the context of the training sessions. Can you explain a bit more?

sure, i guess it was discussing about the committees - specifically this:

Alf wrote:
On the one hand, the work they are doing with the formation of workers’ committees in the workplace looks very positive and from what I can see these committees are independent of the official unions. But at the same time this independence is weakened when the comrades of Solfed or the IWW take on shop steward roles and actively recruit people to the trade union.

and this:

Alf wrote:
Would it not therefore be a step forward if the task of “getting a large group in a room comparing notes about work conditions” was organised by the coming together of different workers’ committees themselves, and not by this or that political/syndicalist organisation, even if the latter would certainly be present inside them?
Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 23 2012 01:47
hpwombat wrote:
I'm interested in workplace committees that aren't aiming for intermediate goals, but rather for raising the potential of subversion and how that can be presented in an appealing way. Currently most workplace organizing is done in a manner that suggests raising wages or benefits in the workplace, rather than in more forceful goals. What could organizing the class look like in this context or are intermediate goals necessary to establish this?
Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 23 2012 02:48
hpwombat wrote:
I'm interested in workplace committees that aren't aiming for intermediate goals, but rather for raising the potential of subversion and how that can be presented in an appealing way. Currently most workplace organizing is done in a manner that suggests raising wages or benefits in the workplace, rather than in more forceful goals. What could organizing the class look like in this context or are intermediate goals necessary to establish this?

I think that requires a extreme crisis of capital (as in total seizing up of the flow of production) to even get near to approaching. So all we can do in the mean time is aim to both hasten that crisis (by increasing the price of our labour power through wage struggles) and prepare the class for that moment by spreading communist consciousness and prefigurative methods of organising (ie. direct democracy etc.).

Alf wrote:
Would it not therefore be a step forward if the task of “getting a large group in a room comparing notes about work conditions” was organised by the coming together of different workers’ committees themselves, and not by this or that political/syndicalist organisation, even if the latter would certainly be present inside them?

I don't know about this - i need to have more of a think.

I find i kind of approve of the idea that the committees should mediate through a political-economic organisation (ie. SF) as i'm a little sceptical over just creating what could very easily tend toward becoming a federation of groups of rank and file opposition within the existing social-democratic trade unions (or worse lead to founding more sections of those unions).

due to lack of experience and a need to study more about this, i don't think i can get too much deeper into this discussion as i think it would be arrogant for me to form too strong an opinion on this.

hpwombat
Offline
Joined: 13-11-06
Jun 23 2012 03:16
Juan Conatz wrote:
You mean can we start committees for FULL COMMUNISM right now without doing any groundwork? ;)

In a way, yes. FULL ANARCHY or FULL COMMUNISM in some ways. Certainly an intermediate point would be based on generating a situation of civil unrest through anarchist/communist subversion...negation/communization and what that entails. An examination of this through self interest would challenge the potential, possibly pointing to a need for an existence of some sort of body that would make this effort worthwhile. Not to speak conservatively, but families need to feel secure enough to take such a stance.

Some might posit that only through reinforcing capitalism, i.e. through compromising ones radical views in favor of forcing capitalism to heal the contradictions of lower pay for labor or benefits may be beneficial in some ways, but is that necessary to achieve radical goals?

When such things are accomplished, they only enforce the view that capitalism can compromise, can be changed and possibly should be changed. We should make a better capitalism by pushing the system towards material gains.

I find issue with this, though I can't say I'm 100% opposed. I too feel I could be bought off with a promise of better benefits to ensure the standing of my family for its survival. However, this is not why I'm an anarchist. I want to see the destruction of the social order, which would mean a challenge to my material interests.

How can we make the aim of a radical subversion a beneficial goal to where workplaces would want to embrace our reasons for participation in workplace struggles? There might not be an answer. But maybe there is a way to present these views to where we could gain ground? Right now, I doubt the IWW could accept such views and would continue to defer FULL COMMUNISM or FULL ANARCHY to a later date while attempting to use direct action tactics for the purposes of gaining materially for all workers involved in such struggles.

The show of wins and successes in this arena is measured in how workers have benefited within capitalism by participating in such strategies. How can we show, if not success, but then perhaps other things, to draw participation in a growing momentum? The glory of standing strong and exposing how the system is something that needs to be negated? In what ways can we express power in the workplace and beyond for the greater propaganda of gaining what we truly want?

Anarchists often suggest mutual aid networks and communization seems to suggest that an attack to negate can be combined with the growth of a commune that also intertwines itself with assistance among participants.

If it seems that intermediate struggles are the only way, then why not attempt to stay tied to bourgeois politics that can achieve these same goals? Why not attempt to force unions to continue to grow in power so they are a stronger force within capitalism and keep these gains coming? What is the benefit to calling myself an anarchist or a communist when it seems the proponents disrespect the desire for either?

hpwombat
Offline
Joined: 13-11-06
Jun 23 2012 03:48
Harrison wrote:
I think that requires a extreme crisis of capital (as in total seizing up of the flow of production) to even get near to approaching. So all we can do in the mean time is aim to both hasten that crisis (by increasing the price of our labour power through wage struggles) and prepare the class for that moment by spreading communist consciousness and prefigurative methods of organising (ie. direct democracy etc.).

Presenting a threat to capitalism by raising the price of labor seems more about attempting to force capitalism to work. Should capitalism give in, as it often does after years of struggle, we must prepare for the next round, should we be able to continue organizing. So we are always presented with a press for material gains rather than a move towards what we want.

Capitalism need only give a compromise and increase its capability of dissolving our ability to organize against it. Is our struggle about the struggle for material gains? It seems that without presenting an alternative struggle where we aim for what we want, we can't test the waters for the potential of our desires being possible.

We could stand back and let the various conflicts continue and then resolve by forces that have no desire for ending capitalism and still gain. We could just be about the empowerment of unions and their growth and not about destroying capitalism and still achieve the same goals as presented with this strategy.

It seems the radical break from this would be aiming for what we want to achieve rather than aiming for intermediate goals. We can reject this strategy and attempt to realize our goals in whatever limited manner we can. We could present the possible through a subversion of capitalism and creating organs to support this, thus creating anarchy or communism and finding ways to grow webs of support rather than focusing on intermediate material gains.

Anyways, I'm trying to stay open and thus open to being proven wrong. Maybe the only way to do what I want is to become a powerful force in capitalism until it can be challenged globally and taken down. I don't know...maybe something else?

fingers malone's picture
fingers malone
Offline
Joined: 4-05-08
Jun 23 2012 07:44
Alf wrote:
Would it not therefore be a step forward if the task of “getting a large group in a room comparing notes about work conditions” was organised by the coming together of different workers’ committees themselves, and not by this or that political/syndicalist organisation?

Alf, you guys have really clear ideas about what is wrong and what is right, so why don't you just do these things?

fingers malone's picture
fingers malone
Offline
Joined: 4-05-08
Jun 23 2012 07:48
Harrison wrote:

I find i kind of approve of the idea that the committees should mediate through a political-economic organisation (ie. SF) as i'm a little sceptical over just creating what could very easily tend toward becoming a federation of groups of rank and file opposition within the existing social-democratic trade unions (or worse lead to founding more sections of those unions).

What exactly worries you about forming a federation of groups of rank and file opposition?

cantdocartwheels's picture
cantdocartwheels
Offline
Joined: 15-03-04
Jun 23 2012 09:52

Personally i think alf and harrisons viewpoints expressed here are two sides of the same coin.
Both throw up the spectre of the supposedly apolitical homogenised working class. In Alf's view this hypothetical body is venerated and is to be kept away from the swamp of 'politics' which will interfere with the supposed natural dialectic process leading inevtiably to workers councils. Harrison on the other hand states that these homogenised apolitical workers, if left to their own devices will falter into reformism without the input/guidance of a political group. Which is a viewpoint i'm afraid i'm a little skeptical of Harrison.

The problem with both these ideas is that they don't really stand up in the cold light of day. Firsly any rank and file group in the UK is likely to be full of politicos of all stripes, either members/ex-members of political groups, or just indviduals with all sorts of crazy ultra-left ideas.
The second point to make here is that politial ideas and practice develop through struggle. A rank and file group is likely to form, gather strength and define itself in opposition to union bureaucracy, or for a direct control of the fight through various struggles.

In my opinion it doesn't matter as much who puts the call out for something, what matters is how its shaped by struggle. A non-workerist case in point being a quick comparison of occupy in the UK and occupy in the states.

Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 23 2012 19:17
fingers malone wrote:
What exactly worries you about forming a federation of groups of rank and file opposition?

ok i typed that out kind of late at night, so maybe it doesn't make sense black bloc

the groups in themselves are ace while they are organising struggles (like in the sparks dispute), for me i worry that they might eventually be led down the path of trying to radicalise the existing social democratic 'partnership' union (as in take up bureaucratic positions)... rather than retain their autonomy.

(but to be fair cantdo has already made the counter argument to the above point)

Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 23 2012 19:24
cantdocartwheels wrote:
Harrison on the other hand states that these homogenised apolitical workers, if left to their own devices will falter into reformism without the input/guidance of a political group. Which is a viewpoint i'm afraid i'm a little skeptical of Harrison.

i think (rather than be steered by a political group which i agree is dodgy) what i meant is that i'd like those groups to institutionalise their autonomy in order to protect it - by politicising the methods they already practice (direct democracy, direct action etc.)

fingers malone's picture
fingers malone
Offline
Joined: 4-05-08
Jun 23 2012 19:35

Could you explain that a bit more as I don't really understand it?

Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 23 2012 19:56
hpwombat wrote:
Presenting a threat to capitalism by raising the price of labor seems more about attempting to force capitalism to work. Should capitalism give in, as it often does after years of struggle, we must prepare for the next round, should we be able to continue organizing. So we are always presented with a press for material gains rather than a move towards what we want.

But through that process we have the ability to embed ourselves into the class and popularise the methods of organising already inherent in it... and (libertarian) communism is the logical conclusion of those methods of organising (ie. elevate them to the point where they are hegemonic over society) .... which is how we can begin increasing the strength of libertarian politics within the class and the ranks of those working toward libertarian communism.

Similarly, i agree with you that while there is evidence that incrementally raising the price of labour can sometimes assist capitalism (the "fuel economic demand" recovery from the great depression was led by reformist labour organisations), there is also a point at which it starts to negatively impact upon the rate of profit and begins to break up the processes of capital. i'd argue that this was what happened in the 70's at the end of the era of (almost global) social-democracy. workers monopoly over the control of the price of their labour power, and its subsequent effect of economic stagnation and massive inflationary pressures (due to the keynesian policies necessary to fund this high price of labour) is what forced the various states in the advanced western countries to smash the workers organisations - suggesting that they were in fact a danger to the continued existence of capitalism.

Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 23 2012 20:06
fingers malone wrote:
Could you explain that a bit more as I don't really understand it?

sure, i meant that the groups might start playing the game of trying to seize executive positions within the union, rather than realising its not the people in the union who are the problem but the structural set-up

(like how in one of Phil's blog post he talks about the new lot that managed to seize control of the local branch became worse than the old lot
http://libcom.org/blog/trade-union-factionalism-rank-file-organising-11022012 )

......or were you talking about my reply to cantdo?

RedHughs
Offline
Joined: 25-11-06
Jun 23 2012 20:08
cantdocartwheels wrote:
Personally i think alf and harrisons viewpoints expressed here are two sides of the same coin.
Both throw up the spectre of the supposedly apolitical homogenised working class. In Alf's view this hypothetical body is venerated and is to be kept away from the swamp of 'politics' which will interfere with the supposed natural dialectic process leading inevtiably to workers councils. Harrison on the other hand states that these homogenised apolitical workers, if left to their own devices will falter into reformism without the input/guidance of a political group. Which is a viewpoint i'm afraid i'm a little skeptical of Harrison.

The problem with both these ideas is that they don't really stand up in the cold light of day. Firsly any rank and file group in the UK is likely to be full of politicos of all stripes, either members/ex-members of political groups, or just indviduals with all sorts of crazy ultra-left ideas.
The second point to make here is that politial ideas and practice develop through struggle. A rank and file group is likely to form, gather strength and define itself in opposition to union bureaucracy, or for a direct control of the fight through various struggles.

In my opinion it doesn't matter as much who puts the call out for something, what matters is how its shaped by struggle. A non-workerist case in point being a quick comparison of occupy in the UK and occupy in the states.

This is an important and insightful post and deserves further comment.

How many existing politicos are in a workplace certainly varies. In some parts of the US, you would indeed still have a "mix of politicos" involved but quite possibly all the politics would right-wing, market-libertarian and conspiracy theory oriented (which under some circumstances really can become a sort of radical opposition but is still problematic).

However, I don't think the situation Cant describes adds up to it not mattering what small political faction do. It does seem like what he/she describes would add up to a need for such factions to not brand an effort at opposition as being their effort. But that is "unbranded" quality is something that a group would have to make a conscious, explicit effort to do (keep in mind in situation with lots of factions, many people assume that a given initiative comes from faction X if a member of faction X puts it forward regardless of how that initiative is phrased).

hpwombat
Offline
Joined: 13-11-06
Jun 23 2012 21:12

Thank you Harrison for your honesty.

For me, I'd rather separate myself from union organizing, though workplace committees still have some value. Through workplace committees I can't say I've ever successfully performed a strike, though it has created situations at some workplaces, with walkouts, call offs, work slowdowns, widespread insubordination, economic damage, discussion on the spreading of activities, positioning to undermine the leadership of management, positioning for control of the workplace and/or attack the workplace, etc.

Not all workplaces have experienced the same level of activity and my participation in organizing these things has also varied based on what I felt could be gotten away with, given the social dynamics, level of surveillance, present relationship of workers with management and so on.

I suppose I would support workplace fraction groups should a workplace committee turn towards unionizing. I'd criticize the union as I'd criticize the boss, should a union exist in the workplace, as I have done. If I operate in a union, which I have, it is with full knowledge that I'm participating in a capitalist institution for my self interest within capitalism. I want better pay and benefits, but if my role in the workplace is to subvert the relationships of the class to capitalism, my efforts will go in another direction.

I suppose food sharing and fund-raising efforts would be a couple tactics should a workplace committee go in my direction for a resolute strike that aims to cripple the operation of business. Should things not go in my direction, obviously they would be for capitalism and like any job, I'd allow my efforts to be absorbed to gain the benefits I can. I won't break unions nor turn against a workplace that decides in favor of unionizing, but I also wouldn't fool myself into thinking I'm involved in subversive activity.

Perhaps there is a stronger approach than mine to bring up, which is my hope. I'll continue reading and perhaps discuss more should it seem to add to discussion.

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Jun 24 2012 21:55
Alf wrote:
Would it not therefore be a step forward if the task of “getting a large group in a room comparing notes about work conditions” was organised by the coming together of different workers’ committees themselves, and not by this or that political/syndicalist organisation, even if the latter would certainly be present inside them?

Why would it be a step forward? Also, where's the line between 'the workers committees themselves' and 'the workers committees plus someone outside the committees'? Is someone outside (is it not 'the committees themselves') if someone is involved who isn't part of a committee in their own workplace (so, committee-to-committee involvement only)? Or if someone involved is a member of an organization in addition to the committee?

Let's say some workers in some workplaces built committees on their own in a bunch of workplaces without the involvement of any organized left group. That'd be cool. Is it cooler than it happening with the presence of a left group? I think so personally but I don't have an argument as to why it really matters. If someone else has one, I'd like to hear it. But either way, where these committees don't exist, which is most places, I don't see what's accomplished by "it'd be better if the committees did it instead of some left group!" Okay, I guess, but let's we all agree. Then what do we different as a result if agree?

klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
Offline
Joined: 5-07-09
Jun 25 2012 06:14

nate i think the left communist and often autonomist marxist point was that workers committees and assemblies to have autonomy must consist only of workers at particular workplaces. so perhaps some might be members of a group or party or union or syndicate but together the committee would be open to all who work there despite affiliation, but not open to others outside of it? or perhaps that is a workerism...i do know leftcoms at least eventually want to break out of such sectoralism.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2012 09:29

Been away so missed the development of this discussion. Responding to cantdo first:
"In Alf's view this hypothetical body is venerated and is to be kept away from the swamp of 'politics' which will interfere with the supposed natural dialectic process leading inevtiably to workers councils".

No, that's nowhere close to what I think. The dialectic that leads to workers councils necessarily entails a process of politicisation - and revolutionary political groups are an essential part of this process. There are no 'pure' unsullied workers' organisations. They will always be more or less influenced by bourgeois ideology and politics and this often takes the concrete form of the presence and activities of groups of the left of capital, who will try to annex them or recuperate them in one way or another. This makes it all the more necessary for revolutionaries to be inside these organisations fighting for their autonomy.

But genuinely revolutionary political organisations can also make the mistake of claiming ownership of workers' groups, of substituting their own actions or decisions for those of the workers' group, which is a barrier to the development of self-organisation. This is why in whatever such group we have been involved with (and, fingers, we do have some practical experience at this level), whether workplace struggle group, interprofessional committee, discussion circle or whatever, we have always found it necessary to draw a distinction between the function of the political organisation and the function of the former types of group. Possibly there is a deeper difference here with the Solfed/IWW model which tends towards trying to build organisations that have elements of both.

Sabotage: I certainly agree that we are in favour of opening out such committees, so once they go beyond a particular workplace they can draw in workers (and unemployed, etc) from different sectors.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2012 09:36

Nate, the first thing to clarify here is what we mean by left groups. Most 'left groups' in the sense i would use the term - ie Trotskyist, maoist etc - don't want to take part in the formation of independent workers groups, but if they do get involved, their basic role will be to undermine them from within. This doesn't of course mean that individuals belonging to these groups can't be pulled along by the dynamic and play a positive role which actually runs counter to their official political outlook.

Regarding genuine revolutionaries or members of really revolutionary groups present at a workplace, I don't have a problem with them initiating independent workers' groups, but obviously their aim will be to draw in others on the basis of class methods or demands

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Jun 27 2012 15:25

Thanks Alf. I think then that I just didn't get it, a speaking-somewhat-different-vocabulary problem, rather than a real political difference, at least for the most part.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2012 16:04

I'm very glad to hear that!

syndicalist
Offline
Joined: 15-04-06
Jun 27 2012 16:17
Quote:
Regarding genuine revolutionaries or members of really revolutionary groups present at a workplace, I don't have a problem with them initiating independent workers' groups, but obviously their aim will be to draw in others on the basis of class methods or demands

What does this mean in practice, comrade? [Very generally and broadly speaking as ech situ commands different things].

Thanks for the time.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2012 18:13

well, say you have two or three members of a revolutionary organisation at the same workplace - it would be perfectly valid for them to create a 'struggle group' or whatever you want to all it - they are workers at that workplace as well as being communists. But they would certainly want to open it out to other workers, which would not require agreement with a platform of revolutionary positions (marxist or anarchist). The same obviously applies if we are talking about workers from more than one communist organisation who create a similar group.

klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
Offline
Joined: 5-07-09
Jun 27 2012 19:14

I think Alf linked some stuff about this from the ICC in the what's your actual workplace practice thread, but I'd be interested in hearing more too! grin

edit: OOPS I see Alf has posted here now. question is the struggle group supposed to only be of communist members (it seemed like you hinted at that) or does it open it's wings to sympathizers? or does it create a more open committee as well? how has this been working out in practice?

wait those links are here:
http://libcom.org/forums/organise/current-council-communist-groups-22072011#comment-481916

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2012 19:30

We'd be for an open committee, although there's no reason for the communists not to discuss separately when they need to. In my own practice, I would say that the possibility of forming such groups depends to a large extent on the overall state of play in the class struggle. I was involved with a kind of workers group at the college I work in in the 80s, and more recently have been involved in setingt up an open discussion forum with another comrade at the same place (I was at another workplace in the 90s). I'll try to come back to you later about that.

syndicalist
Offline
Joined: 15-04-06
Jun 27 2012 21:43
Quote:
Alf]We'd be for an open committee, although there's no reason for the communists not to discuss separately when they need to.

Just asking, would the "separate" grouping be the political organization? Or would it be a "fraction" within the larger grouping?

Quote:
In my own practice...I was involved with a kind of workers group at the college I work in the 80s, and more recently have been involved in setingt up an open discussion forum with another comrade at the same place (I was at another workplace in the 90s). I'll try to come back to you later about that.

Always interested in hearing more about folks practice. I think Alf (and others) hit on some of this in this thread: http://libcom.org/forums/organise/what-s-your-actual-workplace-practice-22032012 But I care less where the discussion happens. Just mainly interested in the experiences.

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 27 2012 22:48

You could call it a fraction but I wouldn't see it as a formal grouping. It could be members of the same organisation, or it might just be members of different communist groups who would tend to see eye to eye about a number of issues that come up in the wider group. But they would have to argue for their ideas in an open way. We would apply similar principles in some of the struggle committees that came out of the French pension struggles of 2010, some of which had started out as 'popular assemblies' held in public places.

klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
Offline
Joined: 5-07-09
Jun 28 2012 05:54

so basically struggle groups are explicitly communist worker committees and the open committees are well open?

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Jun 28 2012 05:59

No, I wouldn't see it like that. The whole emphasis would be on building an open committee. When our comrades have participated in such groups, whether workplace or across sectors, there has never been an attempt to form a group within the group. Obviously we discuss what we are doing in our local section meetings or other 'internal' parts of the organisation, and members in the same workplace would naturally carry on that discussion when they are at work. Am I making sense?

syndicalist
Offline
Joined: 15-04-06
Jun 29 2012 23:20
Alf wrote:
... We would apply similar principles in some of the struggle committees that came out of the French pension struggles of 2010, some of which had started out as 'popular assemblies' held in public places.

Alf, comrades....I'm sure there must be plenty written about these committees, so I'd be interested in any links to articles.

Thanks.

Harrison
Offline
Joined: 16-11-10
Jun 30 2012 02:36

i've found this article really useful. its about the 'comitati unitari di base' (base committees) in Italy, that eventually led to the re-establishment of the USI-AIT amongst other base unions (some of them also anarcho-syndicalist)
http://libcom.org/library/exploring-alternative-forms-workers-organization-anarchist-communists-italian-base-union

whether you think its good that these committees were transformed into base unions depends, but they were starting to die. (for what its worth, i believe the federated committee model to have been superior*, but i'm not sure i agree with the left communist view of allowing committees to die if they start to falter ... for me setting up a base union was an acceptable defensive move)

*and essentially functions like the early syndicalist unions that acted completely outside the framework of law

I'm also desperate for someone to translate this
http://libcom.org/library/la-%C2%AB-garde-rouge-%C2%BB-raconte-%E2%80%9Cred-guard%E2%80%9D-tells-its-story-emilio-mentasti-pdf