Political discussion of the Dispatch public pay bulletin

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Aug 19 2007 11:34
Political discussion of the Dispatch public pay bulletin

A thread for discussion about the politics and content of the Dispatch public sector pay bulletin we helped do. Please contribute your thoughts.

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Aug 19 2007 11:38

Here are a few links to bits of discussion:

From the ICC:

Alf wrote:
We've just published our comments on the bulletin:

http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2007/dispatch

We'd be interested in any thoughts about this.

From indymedia, with various anarchists:
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/08/377682.html

From "Lucy parsons"/gangster:
http://libcom.org/forums/news/cajo-brendel?page=1#comment-221419

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Aug 19 2007 11:53

Well Lucy's criticisms above were personally motivated, and resolved anyway.

The indymedia discussion provided a good overview of the contemporary UK anarchist movement I thought. A bunch of early comments in the thread were deleted by indymedia admins, but they contained various posts slagging us off from one or two womble and class war types calling us "libwrong" and saying they know who we are, and one mental case we banned from here, "Danny," who started calling libcom "rapecom."

Apart from that there were supportive comments from some AF and SolFed types who said they would help distro it, and a couple of others.

Then some more slagging and personal smears saying we're a "Group of middle class retards playing at anarchism before graduating to mummy and daddys trust fund." from someone I reckon is either coffeemachine or this guy who posts as Pickman's Model on urban75 and hates us. then some typical anarchoid nonsense:

Quote:
how the fuck is the post strike 'direct action'?!?! nobody's been arrested so that tells you how seriously the state takes it. they're not prepared to take on the state so fuck 'em, leave it to those of us who are. workers are part of capitalism so how can they be against it?

who is this 'working class' people are on about it's not the fucking 19th century any more. dickheads. smash capitalism, smash the 'working class'!

I asked all our critics on there what they disagreed with with what we thought was necessary to win the struggle - namely for postal workers to work the 318, for us all to try to control our own struggles as much as possible and to try to spread the struggle. Funnily enough not one of them answered. So I don't think any of the posts there are worth of discussing.

The ICC article I think is good, I think its criticisms are spot on:

Quote:
The title Dispatch and the logo of a postal worker give the impression that this is something specifically for postal workers, when the stated aims of the bulletin are wider than that (although we have been informed that the title and logo will both change when the bulletin concentrates on other sectors)

Yeah this is true, the logo was to change depending on which sector it was mainly aimed at.

Quote:
There is a small item about the need for mass meetings, but we think this is not given anything like the weight it deserves. Instead the ‘lead' article is about the work-to-rule and the need to maintain it, but as we have already seen, if workers do not pose the question of ‘who controls the struggle?', they will have little protection from the kind of union manoeuvres which resulted in the suspension of the strike by the CWU the moment it felt that the local wildcats were becoming a threat to its ‘management' of the dispute.

This is true, I think it was mainly due to shortage of time putting it together that we didn't say more on this.

Quote:
The emphasis on the work-to-rule [318] also serves to downplay the central importance of the struggle spreading beyond the postal sector if it is to have any real impact on the plans of the bourgeoisie.

Again, I sort of agree with this, but then it was aimed at postal workers, I'm not sure that there is much postal workers can do to spread the struggle. Or if there is we couldn't think what - what could we recommend?

I at least thought there is the possibility of other workers being called out on strike - under the control of the unions sadly - and the 318 would be the best way of postal workers keeping up the backlog/pressure until that happened.

Mike Harman
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Aug 19 2007 14:14
John. wrote:
Well Lucy's criticisms above were personally motivated, and resolved anyway.

The one thing he pointed out which was sensible was it'd be good to have personal accounts of how the wildcats developed. However when we started writing about the wildcats there was only Oxford/Abingdon - and it was about five rewrites during the week upto print deadline to try to keep up with developments. An interview with someone in Glasgow would've been great, but would also have meant missing the deadline of the second round of rolling strikes (unless we'd somehow predicted they'd be called off at the last minute). So practically it would've been almost impossible, but getting people onto royalmailchat where they can speak to others involved in various wildcats and official local disputes was more important I think.

Quote:
The ICC article I think is good, I think its criticisms are spot on:
Quote:
The title Dispatch and the logo of a postal worker give the impression that this is something specifically for postal workers, when the stated aims of the bulletin are wider than that (although we have been informed that the title and logo will both change when the bulletin concentrates on other sectors)

Yeah this is true, the logo was to change depending on which sector it was mainly aimed at.

Yeah there's room for expansion with that. The logo was only ever supposed to be for the first issue.

With the mass meetings - yes it could've said more, a lot of this was due to lack of time - especially for reviewing and redrafting text after it'd been laid out when it always looks different.

Quote:
Quote:
The emphasis on the work-to-rule [318] also serves to downplay the central importance of the struggle spreading beyond the postal sector if it is to have any real impact on the plans of the bourgeoisie.

Again, I sort of agree with this, but then it was aimed at postal workers, I'm not sure that there is much postal workers can do to spread the struggle. Or if there is we couldn't think what - what could we recommend?

I don't think it needed to be the main article, but do think it was important. With the strikes called off, and even local disputes put largely on hold (they can have one hour walkouts to keep ballots live, but that's it until negotiations are done) the work to rule is the main mechanism by which momentum will be kept up, backlogs maintained, and where postal workers can control their own struggle. It's also leading to (almost certainly illegal) docking of pay etc. which is probably centrally directed attempts to provoke local wildcats - so we may see those soon.

Quote:
I at least thought there is the possibility of other workers being called out on strike - under the control of the unions sadly

Yeah I think there's very little chance of postal workers mounting flying pickets to other public sector workers - one guy even got suspended for turning up to a different Royal Mail office. Much less chance than more wildcats anyway. The roundup of other disputes was supposed to give an idea of what else is happening, and obviously we try to keep track of things relatively closely in the forums threads and /news, but it could've been argued more forcefully of course.

I reckon the best chance of inter-sector discussion happening is when at least one other group of workers is out - which could hit around the same time as the next round of strikes. We could end up with nothing as well, in which case pissed off people - like germs90, whoever's running that unison health workers blog, some from royalmailchat may well be interested in a postmortem and co-ordination for the next round. I think there's a decent chance of more strikes both at RM and the rest of the public sector though as things stand.

One thing the ICC didn't mention, although others have, was the lack of coverage of the post office strikes - which are still happening incidentally because it's a different employer technically and different CWU negotiations. More could've been made of that definitely.

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Aug 19 2007 15:38
Jack wrote:
"Group of middle class retards playing at anarchism before graduating to mummy and daddys trust fund." Was TopCat / TallChris99 I'm sure.

Pickmans Model simply made another hilarious post about this site being "limpcock". So good, it can be repeated time and again! grin

I thought topcat was alright. Maybe I'm getting confused.
Pickman's has a fascination for limpcocks, maybe one of the admins should slap him in the face with his cock to show him who's boss. (has Joseph K done his initiation yet?)

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Aug 19 2007 15:53

It's a bit sad that so many people who complain that all 'we' do is slag things off on the internet seem to find plenty of time to slag us off on the internet.

Not sure if this is the place for it, but next issue should probably include:

Glasgow social care workers update (i.e. they won all their demands after 20 days all out)
Unison witch hunt of local activists and branches campaigning against the latest deal (i.e. in favour of strike)
Post office strikes - still going on at the moment as scheduled, and more background on that.

Lucy parsons
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Aug 19 2007 17:10

Catch said; "The one thing he pointed out which was sensible was it'd be good to have personal accounts of how the wildcats developed."

True. This is what I wrote;

"I would start with more descriptions of what people tried to achieve and did achieve during the course of struggles, what was the process of the wildcat? What did the walkout feel like? What mobilised attitudes at a particular office and so on. So people can identify with the struggles and perhaps attempt to replicate them. All the dry ultra left stuff leaves me cold."

John said my criticism was personally motivated, however there are real political differences between us (me Dave Douglass, Ian Bone etc) and you lot. I think the humanity and the real political choices and issues that people encounter in their relations when they are building political struggles are always going to be more important than dry ultra leftism. This is the real way to build class confidence, when politics becomes human..

Your ultra left turn (i mean, even listening to the ICC hand , that's a step back to the dark ages theoretically, dear me, they are serial non achievers) when there are far more interesting theorists out there to get into debate with. I think this reflects your limited horizons and saddens me somewhat BUT I love you all honestly, well a bit anyway. I do not think you will be able to maintain your ultra left 'robotism' as you all get older - time will tell whether this observation is right. black bloc

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Aug 19 2007 17:27
Lucy parsons wrote:
Catch said; "The one thing he pointed out which was sensible was it'd be good to have personal accounts of how the wildcats developed."

True. This is what I wrote;

"I would start with more descriptions of what people tried to achieve and did achieve during the course of struggles, what was the process of the wildcat? What did the walkout feel like? What mobilised attitudes at a particular office and so on. So people can identify with the struggles and perhaps attempt to replicate them. All the dry ultra left stuff leaves me cold."

John said my criticism was personally motivated, however there are real political differences between us

Your criticisms were personal, because you just invented things to try to score points, like say it wasn't written by participants, when it was. I'm aware of political differences between us as well of course.

I don't think personal accounts of wildcats would've been useful in there. A lot of postal workers go on wildcat strikes, and on a 2-sided sheet devoting any more space to them wouldn't have been worthwhile I don't think. I think some anarchists (I include myself here) can fetishise "wildcat" strikes, when in this dispute the prolonged 318 would probably be the best way to keep up pressure. I don't think anyone's suggesting an all out wildcat would be sensible here - especially going into August - the quietest month for post.

guydebordisdead wrote:
Wow, that indymedia thread is a real car crash. It's a pity so many 'anarchists' are hostile to what is a very important step in building class struggle in the UK.

Meh, I'm not bothered, most anarchists are a bunch of worthless cunts, their opinions are pretty much irrelevant to everything. The feedback we've got from postal workers about the bulletin and our coverage has been really positive.

jef - "topcat" who is tallchris99 is a tool (here's his most recent bit of analysis). "topcat" who posts elsewhere as "top dog" is alright.

Lucy parsons
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Aug 19 2007 18:57

No, you do not understand the basis of our disagreements wall . Your website is devoid of British New Left material and without that you don't understand the British context nor the theoretical disagreements we have. Dave Douglass is strongly out of the New left. You are trying to superimpose a sweet (and innocent) pure politics but that is part of the robotic ultra left turn I have already mentioned. Face it, we do disagree, you may grow up then twisted

BTW John - I never said it wasn't written by a participant, go check. I said it wasn't written with a 'participants perspective', that is different to one that is devoid of humanity and talks about things in an ultra left dry way (a la ICC). Characteristics of such de-humanised writing include; no discussion of what the writer personally did to forward the struggle where they worked, and the attempts made to spread the dispute with relevant others. A style of writing which talks about institutions as things, thus 'the union', 'the management', and not institutions as created by people, the real living warts and all story of how things happened involving things people did, preferably with names where managers and bosses are involved. But I am particularly interested in the dynamics of mobilisation, what persuades people to wildcat? What are the arguments put forward by those who do not join in etc.

posi
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Aug 19 2007 21:34

I would like to say that there is something fundamental missing from the political perspective contained in the bulletin. This is not a criticism as such, since I could have pointed this our earlier, but didn't, and because no one else has done better or made this point. But a conversation with a postie on Friday morning - who put forward much the same analysis himself - has convinced me that it's worth bringing up.

The mistake is the tendency not to see the posties' struggle first in industrial terms, but almost exclusively to frame it as a "public sector" issue. The posties are rare - unique for a large body of workers in a major sector - in that they are effectively state employees in largely privatised industry.

It's easy to see why the prioritising the public sector angle is tempting, given Brown's standardised below inflation challenge to the entire public sector which means that a large number of workers in already organised industries are facing a similar issue simultaneously. However, one of the great lessons of the North American strategic organising model - and like it or not, they fucking know how to win - is that "you can't be a raft of good conditions in a sea of falling wages". This is because companies which bare high labour costs will be competed out of the market. This is the root of the posties' current problem: the rest of the industry is able to "modernise" - i.e. push its workers around, pay them even worse than the posties - which helps them bring their costs down, which wins them market share. Each time they win market share from Royal Mail, there is fresh necessity for RM to attack their employees' conditions in order to survive. For example, the recent Amazon contract the company lost. So, over time, RM's conditions will fall, or the industry work force bleeds to outside RM. The company is already pricing some work artificially low to maintain a monopoly. But it is extremely vulnerable. Workers are aware of this, the guy I spoke to a couple of days ago considered it a concern that they could well damage RM too much.

Of course, when Royal Mail began to be broken up and privatised, the CWU - being a lumbering and archaic organisation with an absolutely uninspired leadership - failed to immediately and aggressively organise the competitors. And the posties rank and file failed to do it - or push the union HQ to do it - as well. In consequence, the rest of the sector - TNT, DHL, UPS, etc., etc. - is near to totally unorganised, and gets completely shafted. The T&G (Unite now) began to organise most of them, I think the GMB might have taken on one; both are employing several organisers to expedite that. But even when they do get organised, they'll be in a different union. Though that said, the CWU will probably be amalgamated into UNITE within about four to five years, because when the sorting gets mechanised (the equipment already exists and is used on the continent) it will knock out about 30-40,000 CWU members, or one sixth of the unions membership and revenue.

I appreciate it aint fashionable, but if our objective is to make clear to the workers the dynamics lying behind the current assault on their conditions, and to make clear the strategic options and limitations that they have in the long/short term - and who it is that they most drastically need to have solidarity with - then we should emphasise that it is the weakness of workers in the rest of the postal industry which is their greatest weakness too. Framing the struggle solely within the public sector is useful for immediately giving the struggle a political/ideological dimension - which is perhaps why some of the left communists find it so attractive - but it is the industrial context which is of greatest relevance to the workers ability to fight to win. Except in terms of inspiration, the potential for organic relations of struggle are relatively minor between - say - posties and NHS staff, as compared to between Royal Mail and TNT staff. The workers' movement learnt more than a hundred years ago that industrial organisation is a key proletarian strategy. Bulletins on the posties dispute should bring this lesson to the fore. We need to "take wages out of competition". The root of the problem is market competition, premised on a particular structure of privatisation. The market needs to be neutralised. That means industrial organising.

A difficult question which follows on from this - and which it might be too difficult to address in a bulletin - is as follows. How do posties now go about organising the rest of the industry - i.e. acting to shore up their massive strategic vulnerability? This would be hard enough if the other companies were also CWU organised - given the massive commitment of time and effort it would take. But given that they're organised in other unions, on a number of levels this will present a difficulty. It also means that the posties - and any workers in similar positions - have to grapple with the question of paid organisers. Are they prepared to do the graft themselves out of work hours? This is obviously ideal, if they are, but they've shown no willingness so far. On the contrary, there was, though it's fading, a popular body of rank and file opinion that those working for the other industry companies post privatisation were scabs of a kind and shouldn't be in the union - just like the common teachers' reaction to the teaching assistants. This, I would say, makes it all the more crucial that socialists emphasise the commonality of interest, and enemy, at the level of industry, that such dangeously silly analysis is so widely spread. And if the posties aren't prepared to do the graft, will they pay someone to do it for them? (The postal side of the CWU - some 140,000 people, IIRC - currently employs one organiser. One. That is insane.) Some people don't want to advocate unionising at all, or some don't want to advocate - or even tolerate - paid organisers. Their response to this particular question - if they have one - can perhaps go on another thread.

OK, I've rambled alot 'cause I'm really tired, I hope that makes sense and conveys how crucial I think this is.

My only other point for the while is that emphasising the 318 means that the bulletin has less to say to those workers who're already doing it, like in my area.

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Aug 19 2007 22:07
posi wrote:
My only other point for the while is that emphasising the 318 means that the bulletin has less to say to those workers who're already doing it, like in my area.

Yes this is true, but from what we can gather there are large numbers of workers over much of the country not doing it.

You do raise a good point though - I brought it up on royal mail chat when one of the bosses on there tried to say the workers should unite with the management to fight the competition. I'm surprised the CWU haven't tried to go and organise them.

Anyone know what the deal is in the states, where they have a nationalised, unionised postal service and private companies? UPS is quite strongly unionised I think.

With the bulletin, that that wasn't mentioned at all is a problem, but was partly due to time constraints and also a lack of grassroots workers view. What can workers do themselves to try to organise TNT staff etc.? It is a tricky problem. But I don't think there's any possibility of private companies taking over the final mile delivery any time soon, because it just won't be profitable. So the RM workers could probably fight off some of these attacks for now.

The focus on the public sector was due to the pay cuts which are universal across the sector, and we believe have the best possibility for joint action, especially on a grassroots level.

Lucy parsons wrote:
No, you do not understand the basis of our disagreements wall . Your website is devoid of British New Left material and without that you don't understand the British context nor the theoretical disagreements we have. Dave Douglass is strongly out of the New left.

You were banned for pretending to be Dave Douglass, remember? I look forward to seeing your publication containing all the important things omitted from ours.

Mike Harman
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Aug 20 2007 05:37

Posi:
The competition is certainly used as the motivation for all these cuts - especially the "strings", along with overall pay-cap from Labour. But given Royal Mail isn't publishing it's earnings this year as yet, it's very likely that it's actually doing alright at the moment. At this stage the issue with the competition is therefore more about trying to create ideological identification to Royal Mail - to the service, against the competitors, between workers and management fighting ofcomm etc.rather than an immediate threat. Also as a sign of things to come, a low point marker against which RM employees' wages can be measured, that kind of thing. I agree it's very important long term to try to organise workers in those companies industrially, but I don't think it's the most important element in this immediate dispute - although given more time/space I think something would've gone into Dispatch and I started a thread on royalmailchat which I'll try to dig up for reference. Like you said it'd take years of work to get those places organised under any union or none, but I think it's important to make it clear that the workers at those places aren't the real competition (and neither are agency casuals etc.)

Having said that I'm not convinced that whether the CWU or Unite organises them is likely to make all that much difference. Post offices are CWU, but they're still striking to a different timetable than Royal Mail and a lot of people on royalmailchat, from both the POL and RM side have been dismayed that they've been "left to fight on their/our own" for three weeks or possibly indefinitely. A merger in a couple of years would make the point moot anyway.

As to organisers etc. - what do you think we should be arguing for - that workers lobby the CWU leadership to pay for organisers to go into TNT etc.? If so I think that's on a similar level to lobbying the leadership to go on strike at the same time as other public sector workers. As with the public sector, it's most likely to happen by direct communication between sectors (and employers) - although that seems unlikely as well atm. I'm not sure what the actual possibilities are around this at the moment, and my royalmailchat thread was a bit of a flop unfortunately.

posi
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Aug 20 2007 07:11

Catch - I think it's difficult now, because the CWU leadership can't do anything about it either, the companies are in Unite/GMB territory. However, when these companies first started to move into the market, I would have argued along these lines:
1) Let's start a rank and file movement to organise the other companies, possibly using regional structures to spread this idea, talk to reps, etc;
2) But if - as, I'm sorry to say, is not unlikely - there just isn't the rank and file energy, or it can't be whipped up, then advocate for a large tranche of paid organisers to go and do it ASAP.

I do not think it is OK to agree that 1) is good, but simply throw your hands in the air if it doesn't turn out to be a practical option. The consequences of not finding a solution to the problem are too bad. I think we should take responsibility for advocating actual solutions. I'm not sure in what sense you're saying it's on the same level as lobbying the leadership to go on strike at the same time as other public sector workers? (In any case, such a project wouldn't take the form of lobbying in the classical sense, it would involve building rank and file consensus, then, if necessary, forcing it through at conference. As some CWU members have done already, in order to reach the current level of organising resource - it has actually worked.) The premise of approach 2) would be that the workers weren't up for doing it themselves.

I guess that it would still be possible for posties to freelance organise the other companies, but would need to have some sort of cooperation from Unite. They could do the normal stuff - leaflet, talk to people outside work, call meetings, house visits. The usual. I don't know how shift times compare, that might be an issue for some.

I think we disagree a bit on the significance of the industry wage market - but in any case, it certainly needs to be pointed out now.

John. wrote:
The focus on the public sector was due to the pay cuts which are universal across the sector, and we believe have the best possibility for joint action, especially on a grassroots level.

Could you give examples? I mean, posties deliver post to everyone, but what other potential linkages are there? e.g. TNT and RM rely on each other to operate - each integrally needs the other to maintain revenue. A strike in one immediately impacts on the other, without even the need for special measures.

Mike Harman
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Aug 20 2007 07:35
posi wrote:
Catch - I think it's difficult now, because the CWU leadership can't do anything about it either, the companies are in Unite/GMB territory. However, when these companies first started to move into the market, I would have argued along these lines:
1) Let's start a rank and file movement to organise the other companies, possibly using regional structures to spread this idea, talk to reps, etc;
2) But if - as, I'm sorry to say, is not unlikely - there just isn't the rank and file energy, or it can't be whipped up, then advocate for a large tranche of paid organisers to go and do it ASAP.

I do not think it is OK to agree that 1) is good, but simply throw your hands in the air if it doesn't turn out to be a practical option. The consequences of not finding a solution to the problem are too bad. I think we should take responsibility for advocating actual solutions.

What actual solutions are you advocating though? i don't think spending time arguing with the CWU leadership is a solution, 1. because I don't think their interests are the same as the workers 2. because historically rank and filism and "forcing things through at conference" has shown almost zero success. Unison is currently completely reneging on a conference decision and witch hunting those rank and filists trying to enforce it. That kind of thing means very, very little, although of course it can reflect wider feeling and activity, but it's certainly not an end in itself and can detract from useful activity very easily. Even if I agreed with the role of paid organisers, I don't see a role for people outside Royal Mail/the CWU to be arguing for them. If workers aren't up for doing things themselves then a bunch of people trying to do it for them means fuck all. All we can do in the current situation is put forward our views on things, try to publicise and circulate the real movement of what's happening, and where possible argue in our own workplaces to develop any tendencies there.

Quote:
I guess that it would still be possible for posties to freelance organise the other companies, but would need to have some sort of cooperation from Unite. They could do the normal stuff - leaflet, talk to people outside work, call meetings, house visits. The usual.

And why would this need co-operation from Unite? We leafleted outside Mount Pleasant the other day, didn't require any co-operation from the CWU. Since you say the inter-union organising element is sown up, this is actually the only option left for any kind of unity between workers in this sector, although again I don't think it should be an immediate priority compared to the rest.

Quote:
Could you give examples? I mean, posties deliver post to everyone, but what other potential linkages are there? e.g. TNT and RM rely on each other to operate - each integrally needs the other to maintain revenue. A strike in one immediately impacts on the other, without even the need for special measures.

Royal Mail service is going to be disrupted despite the very best efforts of TNT, casuals and scab managers if there's a strike on. TNT out at the same time would obviously cause more disruption if it was sustained, but it's not as if they can just divert everything to them (and if they did that might be the one thing that'd cause a walkout given a massive workload increase).

Lots of essential services out at the same time - post, nurses, council, fire, transport has a massive impact, much more than just the post. If this was caused by and/or led to co-ordination and discussions between the different groups it makes things far harder to control, and makes management a lot weaker when they attempt to isolate people/sectors

It also gives each group of workers considerably more momentum if they know others are out with them, and means that positive deals for one will be expected elsewhere, whilst a bad deal or victimisation may also provoke solidarity actions etc. For one - since Royal Mail workers are in quite a strong bargaining position and have a history of militancy, if they're already beaten before local government, education and the NHS get going then a lot of people won't think it's worth losing the pay if they're going to get a bad deal at the end.

I'm amazed you're even asking this to be honest - do you think the baggage handlers wildcatting in support of the Gate Gourmet strikers was less important than trying to get other food processors to go out on strike?

Strikes aren't only about causing disruption in particular areas, it's about morale momentum, and people controlling their own struggles. Being lined up one by one to be popped off doesn't bode well for this but it may well be the way things go.

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Steven.
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Aug 20 2007 09:17
posi wrote:
John. wrote:
The focus on the public sector was due to the pay cuts which are universal across the sector, and we believe have the best possibility for joint action, especially on a grassroots level.

Could you give examples? I mean, posties deliver post to everyone, but what other potential linkages are there? e.g. TNT and RM rely on each other to operate - each integrally needs the other to maintain revenue. A strike in one immediately impacts on the other, without even the need for special measures.

I'm not sure what you mean here, obviously RM and private delivery companies are related. But at the moment it seems more likely that groups currently in similar dispute to RM workers, with the same employer would be more likely to take action together - e.g. civil servants, nurses, local govt workers.

raw
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Aug 20 2007 09:22

Admin - split to here:
http://libcom.org/forums/libcommunity/wah-we-hate-libcom-20082007#comment-222098

Don't derail the discussion of Dispatch

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Joseph Kay
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Aug 20 2007 09:26

split

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Alf
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Aug 21 2007 12:33

I suppose the suspension of the postal strikes has made people feel a bit deflated. I was expecting more responses to the Dispatch initiative. As we argue in our article, it opens up some important possibilities for activity in the class struggle.

With regard to our criticisms, I am glad they have been taken in the right spirit. I just want to make clear that we are not against the idea of a work-to-rule as a focus for resistance at certain moments, but if it is to keep the workers mobilised and vigilant, the need for mass meetings/assemblies remains as vital as ever. Mass meetings don't always have to be strike meetings.

With regard to the posts by Lucy and Posi. I don't know where the 'ultra-left' begins for Lucy, but you sound very much like the Trots who brand any criticism of trade unionism as ultra-left. As for the ICC's style being impersonal and dry, perhaps you should read more of our posts on libcom. ICC members and sympathisers have written about their own involvement in strikes on a number of occasions recently. But your main gripe with the bulletin is that its authors are willing to listen to us and discuss with us. This isn't a regression, it's one expression of what the bulletin represents at the most profound level - a tendency for workers to develop an activity that is genuinely independent of the trade union machine, and to pose the question of spreading the struggle by going directly to other sectors of workers. In other words, a tendency (even if still very much expressed in a minority and underground way) towards the mass strike.

If there is a proposed course of regression with regard to Dispatch, it is in Posi's arguments, which take us right back into the trade unionist dead-end:
- emphasising the need to focus on the "industrial", i.e. corporatist sector as against the extension of the struggle across sectors
- emphasising the work of rank and file trade union organising as the answer to the dispersal of the proletariat

If Dispatch was to argue for that, it might as well give up immediately, because the competition from all the Trots (and to a lesser extent from all the would-be industrial/revolutionary unionists) would put it out of business right away.

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Aug 21 2007 16:25
Alf wrote:
But your main gripe with the bulletin is that its authors are willing to listen to us and discuss with us. This isn't a regression, it's one expression of what the bulletin represents at the most profound level - a tendency for workers to develop an activity that is genuinely independent of the trade union machine, and to pose the question of spreading the struggle by going directly to other sectors of workers. In other words, a tendency (even if still very much expressed in a minority and underground way) towards the mass strike.

To clarify any possible misunderstanding - I believe that the participants in 'Dispatch' came to their own positions on the role of the unions independently of the ICC and in some cases in opposition to much of the ICC's beliefs. So it is not that there is any move closer to the outlook of the ICC, whoever might want to believe that.

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Aug 21 2007 17:13
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Your website is devoid of British New Left material and without that you don't understand the British context nor the theoretical disagreements we have. Dave Douglass is strongly out of the New left.

Lucy, either this is yet more evidence of your Reich-like descent into nutsville or I’m labouring under a delusion that the UK’s New Left includes Tariq Ali et al. You’re hardly doing Mr Douglass any favours associating him with that tradition.

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Aug 21 2007 17:18

I wonder if this is the same New Left that was partly inspired by EP Thompson. wink

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Aug 21 2007 17:21
LazyR wrote:
Lucy, either this is yet more evidence of your Reich-like descent into nutsville or I’m labouring under a delusion that the UK’s New Left includes Tariq Ali et al. You’re hardly doing Mr Douglass any favours associating him with that tradition.

Giving a perhaps too charitable explanation - maybe he means 'History Workshop Journal', which DD wrote for, and the historians EP Thompson, Christopher Hill etc - rather than the Trot-dominated New Left Review scene. Though whether the ex-CP historians who left after 56 actually allied themselves with the 'New Left' is another matter.

Edit; beat me to it, Button!

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Aug 21 2007 17:22

Ha ha. Ha ha. "New Left Review". Indeed. Hungry '56. Like I was saying to this postie the other day, the enemy is the bureaucracy. He agreed, but he was drunk. I like to do my bit.
(Edit: this was to "teh" button, but it'll do for the pair).

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Aug 21 2007 18:46

Ret Marut wrote:

"To clarify any possible misunderstanding - I believe that the participants in 'Dispatch' came to their own positions on the role of the unions independently of the ICC and in some cases in opposition to much of the ICC's beliefs. So it is not that there is any move closer to the outlook of the ICC, whoever might want to believe that".

To clarify any possible misunderstanding, I was not claiming that the authors of Dispatch don't have a whole number of disagreements with the ICC. I am claiming that their willingness to listen to what left communsts are saying rather than dismissing us as loonies is an expression of the same general development of class consciousness which is leading workers to seriously face the question of how to struggle independently of the unions.

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Aug 22 2007 13:00
Alf wrote:
I am claiming that their willingness to listen to what left communsts are saying rather than dismissing us as loonies is an expression of the same general development of class consciousness which is leading workers to seriously face the question of how to struggle independently of the unions.

Is that how you measure class consciousness, by how willing workers are to listen to you? Then how how do you measure the development of your own class consciousness? And what evidence do you see that workers now want to "seriously face the question of how to struggle independently of the unions."? BTW, my original clarification comment was to lucy parsons/gangsta as much as Alf.

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Aug 22 2007 16:44

One important way of measuring class consciousness would be the growing echo of revolutionary organisations in the class. Not the only one. What's to disagree, even if you don't think the ICC is a revolutionary organisation?

A more general sign of workers seriously posing the question of struggling independently of the unions would be the development of independent unitary organisations, like general assemblies, which we have seen in a number of struggles recently (eg anti-CPE, Vigo, etc). And the appearance of workers' groups/struggle committees among a militant minority.

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Aug 25 2007 15:07

I haven'y had much time to post recently and more or less missed the boat in trying to help with distribution of the bulletin (which by the way was, I thought, a really good effort, even if a very few of the Lucy Parsons points on style and content are worth taking on board). I will try to me more on the ball next time.

On the generalisation accross the public sector versus generalisation accross the industrial sector arguments, I'm generally in agreement with the ever sensible Catch! . The points made by posi and the ICC contributors on the other hand seem too ideologically driven from opposite poles. It surely comes down to considering what practically in any given situation are the real possibilities for extending and uniting 'struggles'. Some of those possibilities will however in turn depend on the work put in by militants before the outbreak of particular strikes etc (posi's main valid point even if we disagree on how that work is carried out). In the case of the postal strike, in the current situation the 'public sector' connections are obvious and would be foolish to ignore. But equally in the longer term workers (including postal workers) need to address the need to unite industrially accross the public/private sector divide, a divide which is being deliberately manipulated using most fellow workers suseptabillity to trade union sectionalism in the more recent privatisation/outsourcing agendas. We need initially, more practical commonalties than just being 'workers' with a long term interest in overthrowing capitalism.

In similar fashion the ICC article on the bulletin whilst on the face of it showing a healthy interest in a practical initiative (did they actually help distribute it though?) was surely a little overenthusiastic in trying to fit this particular intiative by an assorted bunch of politico's into their model of 'workers groups'.

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Aug 25 2007 15:30
Spikymike wrote:
I haven'y had much time to post recently and more or less missed the boat in trying to help with distribution of the bulletin (which by the way was, I thought, a really good effort, even if a very few of the Lucy Parsons points on style and content are worth taking on board). I will try to me more on the ball next time.

good good.

Quote:
In similar fashion the ICC article on the bulletin whilst on the face of it showing a healthy interest in a practical initiative (did they actually help distribute it though?) was surely a little overenthusiastic in trying to fit this particular intiative by an assorted bunch of politico's into their model of 'workers groups'.

Yep. We're a very, very long way from a "struggle committee" or anything like that, and haven't claimed to be one.

I think royalmailchat shows signs of being an embyronic one (in that it's bringing together some of the more militant workers involved in the dispute to discuss a whole range of issues with each other). I don't know how much that's translating into co-ordination back in real life though at this stage.

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Aug 27 2007 09:57

A few comments on 'Dispatch', and discussions arising from it:

1) Personal Accounts:

Lucy Parsons wrote:
Catch said; "The one thing he pointed out which was sensible was it'd be good to have personal accounts of how the wildcats developed."

True. This is what I wrote;

"I would start with more descriptions of what people tried to achieve and did achieve during the course of struggles, what was the process of the wildcat? What did the walkout feel like? What mobilised attitudes at a particular office and so on. So people can identify with the struggles and perhaps attempt to replicate them. All the dry ultra left stuff leaves me cold."

John said my criticism was personally motivated, however there are real political differences between us (me Dave Douglass, Ian Bone etc) and you lot. I think the humanity and the real political choices and issues that people encounter in their relations when they are building political struggles are always going to be more important than dry ultra leftism. This is the real way to build class confidence, when politics becomes human..

I am not sure what to make of this stuff about personal accounts. Personally, reading the details of how each, and every wildcat strike started in the Post Office would bore me senseless. What would actually interest me would be to see some compiled data explaining how, and why these strikes are starting, and also how they are finishing. I suppose that is what would be described as 'dry ultra leftism'. In my opinion, it would be much more useful though.

The most clear expression of this idea that I ever saw personally was 'Picket' at Wapping. The 'Picket' newsletter was full of personal experience pieces. It was also very popular there. Did that make it correct though? In my opinion the people around the 'Picket' newsletter either failed to understand what was necessary to win the dispute, or abdicated their responsibility to argue for it for whatever reasons.

The newsletter became a 'celebration' of the act of struggle/picketing in itself. The mass picket became the be, and end all. There was no discussion of how workers could take control of the struggle, and the same tactic, which had failed both at Warrington with the Messenger, and in the Miners' strike was put forward as the only answer.

I could go on, but I see the main result of this 'personal experience' thing as a refusal to confront the political questions.

Of course there can always be discussions on questions of style, and maybe there should be more 'personalised' stuff. I see something more behind this though.

2) The ICC's stuff about 'Workers' Groups':

Spikymike wrote:
In similar fashion the ICC article on the bulletin whilst on the face of it showing a healthy interest in a practical initiative (did they actually help distribute it though?) was surely a little overenthusiastic in trying to fit this particular intiative by an assorted bunch of politico's into their model of 'workers groups'.

I think that the ICC often get a little carried away by very small things:

ICC wrote:
Given this background, it is not surprising that we are now seeing the formation of a group, comparable to the struggle committees of the ‘80s,

I think that sometimes the ICC see developing tendencies in very small things, which could equally could be quite random events. If there were lots of groups , and publications like this popping up I would agree with them. I think that 'Spikeymike's' comment is a bit more down to Earth here though.

3)Staggered/rolling/jumping strikes:

Dispatch wrote:
With the first two one day strikes they managed to filter the work through the following days so it seemed our action was having no impact except on our pay-packets. They have also said they will proceed unilaterally with plans to impose new start times and reduced overtime rates as if to say: “We are going to push through our changes whatever you do”. The feeling was we had to escalate the action. The next obvious move was to strike for two consecutive days. However, while this would surely have more effect, RM expected this move and had contingency plans. The union came up with a new idea - staggered strikes with different workers in the different parts (functions) of the postal system striking one day after the next. The hope was that for no extra cost to posties the impact on RM would be increased. This does seem to be working. Mail is backing up and managers are at a loss on how to deal with it. Though we are only at the stage of ‘talks about talks’, Royal Mail refusal to negotiate seems to be cracking.

But there is a problem with this tactic. With some postal workers striking while others work it creates the possibility of one postie being told to cross another’s picket line. This means we go against the very traditions of solidarity that Royal Mail wants to modernize away. The union has tried to avoid this kind of clash - where posties from different functions are in the same building they strike together - other times picket lines have been stood down to allow a shift from another function to go to work. But inevitably some posties have come up against a picket-line and refused to cross and then been disciplined by management. In the great postal tradition their colleagues have come out in support and we have then had unofficial strikes. The union response to unofficial strikes during the national dispute is to do everything possible to get those posties back to work, even if the issue bringing them out has not been satisfactorily resolved. The argument the union is making and whach seems to be winning out at the moment is that, the staggered action is working, we should keep disciplined, and - at least for now - stay within the protection of the official strike. There is also the point that August is the lightest month for mail so it may be best to just keep the strike going at a pace that we can manage for a month and then escalate. Also by that time other groups of workers will possibly be in a better position to join us.

What is the alternative? Should an area provoked by management into going on unofficial action try to bring out everyone else? Even if they don’t, management attempts to divert work from a striking area could provoke other areas out anyway. But going for an all out unofficial strike is a high stakes gamble for either side. At some point we may have to go this direction. It may not be our choice. Royal mail was hoping the action would start to falter after the first few strike days. Instead the strike, if anything, is more solid. If the staggered action really starts to hurt them, they may decide to up the stakes by provoking us into an all out unofficial action.

I really think that a discussion is necessary around this whole issue.

Devrim

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Aug 27 2007 16:44

Spontaneous Comments on “Dispatch” leaflet (I wrote notes as I read down, so sometimes I ask things that are not apparent until later, but which are answered. Hopefully this conveys some sense of how an uninformed reader sees it. Though the average British person will know much more about this than I do, no doubt.)

“Public sector pay dispute”
As someone who does not know the details, is this strike motivated by pay cuts? Are there other sore spots?

“Royal Mail workers: Fighting to win”
This seems like the general slogan. As others have made note of, the issue cannot be restricted to Royal Mail, either within the industry or outside of it, if they want to win. The question remains for us what it might mean to win. Would it mean to get the demands? Would it mean to increase the confidence of our class? Would it mean to find some ways, even if small, to get beyond the sectoralism/corporatism that denies our existence as a class and rather affirms it as this or that “kind” of worker, that Posi makes a fetish of and argues to reinforce?

“Doing the job as it’s meant to be done”. I think that if with the ebb of the strikes, people have returned to a work-to-rule tactic inside Royal Mail, it is not a bad thing if it is a way to regroup and re-open the fight later. It can certainly be an effective tactic, especially if it allows people to get a paycheck for a bit to keep from being broken financially, while still allowing a kind of resistance and sense of solidarity. But will it simply grind on? And at what point do workers get tired of management being unable to get people their mail? How do the postal workers view what they do?

When I ask this, I am not slagging off on the idea that workers often feel that management impedes them from doing a good job, that “political” and money concerns over-ride the technical common sense of the people who do the job. That is a huge issue in my experience of over 10 years in Information Technology. The question is how we address it. Do the postal workers have a sense of this? Do they have a sense of being a kind of public service and proud of it? What are the sorts of things in this that go beyond simply the issue of a pay cut? Because if it is just the pay cut, it is harder to spread it to other workers who are not immediately under financial attack, either within the industry or outside of it. Most people (not even just workers), whether they feel ok with their pay or not, often feel like they are somehow treated with disrespect, disregard, devalued, etc., especially in the current period. Again, this is just a question of the mood of the workers, but also of those here involved personally as workers. There is nothing wrong with being clear that even as politicos we have our own anger to express, our own reasons for fighting, and we should trust that those reasons can echo with people in unexpectedly strong ways. The problem is not to try and find out what every other worker feels (which is impossible anyway, because what they think, what they feel and what they are ready to do can be completely out of whack with each other), but to express our anger and willingness to fight, and to not let our demands or means be limited by the kind of trade unionist limitations and substitutionism of posi and Lucy Parsons.

Rather then emphasizing “unofficial action”, it seems that one could use the idea of “Doing what needs to be done” in relation to the unions, the division of workers into sectors, etc. as well.
On the PCS members being “consulted on further strike action”, such consultation needs to be explained. What does that mean? Is the union in the process of polling people in order to figure out how to deflate/avoid a possible fight? I think that action should not be contingent on “members being polled” because the problem is not to get a majority to agree on a strike, but to actually do it. If the members voted and 75% went against a strike, why shouldn’t the 25% still fight? Shouldn’t we express that the only sure way to lose is to not fight?

That said, I like the point re: a range of actions in other industries. But it is not followed up by the fact that regardless of industry, we all have a reason to stand together. We are not strong, in the most practical sense, if we follow sectoralism/corporatism and trade union complicity with it. Hey all you Wobblies, one big union, right? One big class. Practically speaking, and posi is right about this, the company and the unions and various other recuperators will emphasize the competition between workers, the need to not destroy the company, etc. Now, we don’t give a fuck about the company, but it also seems unlikely that the postal workers are ready undermine that. That would only be likely in a much broader struggle. But, who else is involved? Could postal workers stamp mail for no fee? Give out postage and envelopes and such? Could they actually win public support by in practice providing an even bigger public benefit?

Again, all of the examples were also about pay, but pay is the ground of the unions because then they can claim the right to negotiate the contracts, and argue that only the company workers work for can pay the workers, so there is no point in attacking other companies or reaching out to other workers (aside from the obvious point of a radical unionist, who would want to use a spreading of the strike to increase pressure on the real target boss.) Again, the fact that in health they were insulted by the offer indicates something more than just pay.

I also don’t know how labor law works in the U.K., but in the U.S. technically sympathy strikes are banned/severely limited. But workers can exchange picket lines with each other if one gets banned, which happens here (court injunctions on pickets, or limiting them to 4-5 people). Also, non-employees can be brought in to make bigger pickets and non-employees (like family of employees) can also go to other workers where it might be dangerous for a striker to do so. But these are just technical suggestions, more meant to show that workers have a broad network of people they can look to for support in action. Whether people feel capable of doing it or not is another matter. But if the comrades here try it and it works, it sets an example that can inspire others.

Ok, so as I read on, clearly the strike is about a lot of things and pay may be the least of it in some ways. The postal workers too feel insulted, as well as made to pay for a set of problems that are not theirs. First and foremost, somewhere it ought to be pointed out that the postal workers are being squeezed so the profits can go up. Whether it is a wage cut, productivity increases, etc. it is driven by making profits go up.

Is the union going to call off action once it has been re-recognized as the legitimate intermediary for the workers? So what if Royal Mail is breaking down the union-management coordination of the labor process? The union wants to keep its position as co-management, Royal Mail is clearly tired of that. Why should you, fellow communists, want to protect the union-management deal? It is clear that at one time management in many countries felt the need for such collaborative relations with the unions, but it was in order to subvert militancy and class action, to canalize it into industrial or sectoral or even single-company actions where it did develop. And the only reason the deal was ever brokered was management’s fear of the workers’ willingness to fight.

Now the deal is being broken. And not just if Royal Mail wants it broken. If the struggle goes too far, demands too much, demands what form the point of capital is unreasonable and from our point is not only reasonable, but only the beginning of the demand for the end of capital, then the union-management collaboration will be of no benefit anyway. If the fight dies and the union is unnecessary to killing it, then it is still unnecessary. So the union has an obligation to allow a big enough fight to be needed to put it down, to limit it, to divert it into the proper channels with the union as the indispensable first mate to the Captain. At the same time, the union has every reason to limit and control the workers, to undermine their actions, their militancy, their initiative. That point is not clear enough.

Which beings us to assemblies. If you think that assemblies will solve the problems, I think that is a mistake. The action of the workers, even minorities of workers, to extend the fight, that is what matters. People shouldn’t have to vote on it, wait for a vote, wait for the union to hold a straw poll or consultation, etc. Assemblies may be a good way to get workers to talk to each other, where they might otherwise feel isolated, but what should be promoted clearly is that we support the independent action of any workers ready to fight, that we support acts that go beyond sector boundaries, that go beyond employed/unemployed/homemaker, etc. I don’t believe that assemblies will make a good place for acting and workers should not wait on the decisions of assemblies to act. They might use them after the fact to discuss what they have done, how it is going, but it should not be expected that action will happen because it follows deliberation. If anything, the union knows how to manipulate that to kill action, to convince workers that the majority isn’t ready for a fight. Support independent organs of workers control of their own actions, but let them be organs of action and struggle, not talk shops. And don’t let the forms of organization become more important than the content (even if the form was the union!)

What we want is for workers to fight, to go beyond boundaries, to demand what they need not what they or the union think capital will allow or what capital claims is possible. If our needs are impossible, then it is capital that is impossible, not us. Even if we can’t put that in a flyer in those words, every flyer we do should make us feel that idea in our very bones.

None of this is to say that it is bad. Its pretty good overall, especially as it is shit loads easier to think of this stuff when you're not the one in the fight. Everyone can analyze the boxer when their not in the ring. Not so easy when you're on the receiving end of the punches and kicks and sending your own too. So these are just some thoughts on having read it.

Chris
p.s. catch, good stuff!

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Aug 27 2007 16:46
Lucy parsons wrote:
No, you do not understand the basis of our disagreements wall . Your website is devoid of British New Left material and without that you don't understand the British context nor the theoretical disagreements we have. Dave Douglass is strongly out of the New left. You are trying to superimpose a sweet (and innocent) pure politics but that is part of the robotic ultra left turn I have already mentioned. Face it, we do disagree, you may grow up then twisted

BTW John - I never said it wasn't written by a participant, go check. I said it wasn't written with a 'participants perspective', that is different to one that is devoid of humanity and talks about things in an ultra left dry way (a la ICC). Characteristics of such de-humanised writing include; no discussion of what the writer personally did to forward the struggle where they worked, and the attempts made to spread the dispute with relevant others. A style of writing which talks about institutions as things, thus 'the union', 'the management', and not institutions as created by people, the real living warts and all story of how things happened involving things people did, preferably with names where managers and bosses are involved. But I am particularly interested in the dynamics of mobilisation, what persuades people to wildcat? What are the arguments put forward by those who do not join in etc.

What I personally did? What, is this a resume? Am I trying to prove to some people I don’t know that I am “the real deal”? If I am not someone outside the fight, then my co-workers know damn well what I did, which matters a lot less than what we did unless I didn’t do something I said I would do. If I am outside supporting the strike, then I ought to be working with the workers I know or offering assistance based on what they need and want, and those workers will be able to judge fair and well what I do and do not do. It serves no purpose that I can see, except maybe as self-promotion and egotism to proclaim oneself a true leader and militant.

Attempts to spread the dispute would be a good thing to discuss, esp. if they fail where they were expected to succeed or if they succeed, and in what way. It can be a very concrete way to discuss who is blocking the strike from spreading, and how, and conversely who is really extending the strike. Who are our real friends and who are our real enemies? But that is not merely a human interest story, it is about politics. As such, it will talk about institutions as things because the ones in this society are not controlled by people, they control them, they shape them. You can only hope to show up this or that union official as good or bad in the way liberals talk about good and bad cops. Good or bad, a cop is a cop, and arm of the state. Good boss, bad boss, good manager, bad manager. Not that it isn’t useful at a given moment to make an example of this or that cop, manager, union official, etc., but that is not something to throw around because people already often have the idea that things would be better if we just replaced so-and-so, and the communist viewpoint is that replacing so-and-so doesn’t solve the problem, it fails to get at the root, it is decidedly not radical. Just because you have the dried out remnants of a monarchy does not mean that you can depose capital by cutting of its head. Capital is exactly autonomous of the people who enact its will, it is democratic in that sense too.

What persuades people to wildcat? You don’t persuade people to wildcat, generally. There is no recipe for militants looking to incite strikes. It’s both annoyingly generic and desperately concrete: people wildcat because they can’t not fight anymore and because they don’t trust or have time to wait around for “their” organizations or “their” organizations are also the target of the fight. The only people looking for a recipe for generating wildcats are the professional organizers (in mentality if not by profession) hoping to find a technique by which to ply their trade.

The arguments for not joining are only of interest insofar as one wants to confront the logic and argument of people who don’t join. That’s a useful thing to do in as propaganda and to win over people on the fence, but it is also necessary to determine the willingness of those who did walk out to enforce their walkout by stopping scabbing.

Overall, even where I do agree, there is only so much one can put in a flyer, too. Is their energy, resources, etc. to do more than a flyer?

Also, is it always necessary for the self-sodomizing unionist realists to be such smug, arrogant, condescending fucks? “…a sweet (and innocent) pure politics…”, “Face it, we do disagree, you may grow up then”. I mean really, fuck off. What makes you think your advice is worth having to drink a cup of your piss for? Striking against being insulted and degraded in order to have some self-enthralled, self-impotent activist telling you what to do and expecting you to put up with being degraded is a bit much. Its manipulative and disgusting and typical of the way the unionists try to manage anyone to their left (abuse/infantalize/feminize the left, faun/conciliate/bow to the right).

Chris