Background on the Workers Solidarity Alliance and the International Workers Association
I'm going to give a brief summary here, for the record, of the relationship between the Workers Solidarity Alliance/Alianza Solidaridad Obrera and the IWA.
The Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA) was founded in November, 1984. The WSA mainly derived from a syndicalist tendency that had existed in the Anarchist Communist Federation in 1978-80 (members of the New York, Milwaukee and West Virginia affiliates of the ACF), plus some ex-wobblies who had been active in the IWW Industrial Organizing Committee. From 1981 to 1984 this political tendency had exsisted as a network around the magazine ideas & action, which was set up at a conference in New York City in July, 1981.
The WSA has always understood that it is a political group, not a union, and with no pretentions to becoming a union. WSA has always assumed what some anarchists call the "dual organization" theory: distinct roles for a left-libertarian political activist organization and for mass organizations such as unions. Moreover, WSA also supports community organizing and struggles outside the workplace as well as workplace organizing. WSA also recognizes there are struggles around various non-class forms of oppression -- racism, structural gender inequality, the oppression of gay people, and accepts the autonomy of people in these areas. In the late '80s and early '90s, one of WSA's areas of focus was on the defense of reproductive rights and we had people in three parts of the USA working on defense of abortion clinics against the right-wing anti-abortion movement. Although the WSA was an affiliate of the IWA, the WSA's politics were not defined solely by the IWA Principles, but by its own political perspective, based on our understanding of the situation in the USA.
WSA's strategy towards labor organization is two-pronged and based on tactical flexibility:
(1) In workplaces where the bureaucratic business unions (AFL-CIO or CtW) exist, we propose the organizing of a rank-and-file organization independent of the union bureaucracy (such as the Needle Trades Action Committee organized by some WSA members in the New York area in the '80s), which can draw in workers who want to fight, encouraging active participation in struggle by workers, and able to pursue a range of possible tactics, from worker actions independent of the union (the JeffBoat wildcat would be a good example) to a campaign for changes in the structure and functioning of the union, to decertification in favor of a new self-managed union, if there is a real movement behind it; in other words, efforts to enhance rank and file control, and to encourage a higher level of class consciousness, recognizing the contradiction between the interests of workers and the dominating classes.
(2) In certain situations where conditions are favorable to building a new union organization, we also support organizing projects to build a new independent union that has a self-managing character, as a way to enhance control by workers over their struggles and avoid the limitations posed by the entrenched union bureaucracies.
When WSA was formed in 1984, a group that merged into WSA was the Libertarian Workers Group in New York City. LWG had been an affiliate of the IWA and the IWA in the '80s accepted WSA as the section in the USA. The fact that WSA was a political group, not a union, did not seem to bother the IWA at that time. People sometimes ask, "Why didn't WSA affiliate to the International Association of Anarchist Organizations (IFA). WSA is not a loose umbrella for all sorts of anarchism -- we're not a so-called "synthesist" organization. WSA has a more definite political perspective, articulated in the 1980s in our "Where We Stand" statement (http://www.workersolidarity.org/wherewestand.html), and a libertarian syndicalist strategy is central to our politics.
Since 1984 the membership of WSA has fluctuated between 20 and 50 members. The WSA constitution provides for local geographic organizations called "groups". A group requires a minimum of three members who live within some regular commuting distance of each other. When WSA was at its height in the late '80s and early '90s, WSA had groups in a number of cities, including Knoxville, San Francisco, New York, and Sacramento.
Even with 40 to 50 members, WSA had a difficult time maintaining its magazine and loss of the magazine in the '90s, plus a general downturn in the radical left in that period, led to a drop in WSA membership. If the membership of an organization drops low enough, it becomes a struggle to even function as an organization. By 1998 WSA had reached a particular low point in its history. It was at this time that a group in Duluth, Minnesota, joined the WSA, but not by negotiating a merger, but by joining as individuals.
This group in Duluth now calls itself the "Syndicalist Action Network." SAN has a few scattered individual followers outside Duluth, but is a small group overall -- less than 10 members. The leading personalities in this group are Seamas Cain and Jeff Hilgert. SAN has operated over the years under various names including "Syndicalist League of Minnestota" and "IWA Action."
WSA has a seven-member national committee, made up of the national secretary, treasurer, international secretary and four regional delegates. SAN members offered to take on the administrative tasks on the WSA national committee. SAN's subsequent behavior shows that their joining WSA was a classic entryist takeover attempt. In retrospect I think WSA's mistake was not requiring merger negotiations since the Duluth people were a pre-existing group.
By joining WSA, SAN members were pledging to uphold the politics and constitution of the WSA. However, after election to the WSA national committee, SAN members used the national committee to try to bureaucratically expel long-time members of the WSA.
The WSA constitution does not empower the national committee to expel members. SAN members used various pretexts for these expulsions such as the fact that some expellees were self-employed. However, the WSA constitution does not require that one work for a boss as a condition of membership. Moreover, the WSA constitution only permits expulsion by a vote of a national conference, after the individuals are given 90-day notice and an opportunity to defend themselves. These conditions were never met in the expulsions attempted by the SAN entryists. Hence, they were null and void.
In its attempt to dump the political legacy of WSA, SAN tried to change the name of WSA to "U.S. Section of the IWA." However, the WSA constitution requires that this action be approved by a valid mail vote of all the members. Because the people invalidly expelled were not sent ballots, this vote was invalid.
The WSA constitution requires mail ballot votes for proposed changes to
the constitution, after a proposal is discussed in the internal discussion bulletin, because the membership is scattered across the gigantic territory of the USA, so it's impossible to get all the membership together in a single meeting.
In public statements issued by the SAN folks while they were in control of the WSA national committee (for example: http://www.ainfos.ca/01/jul/ainfos00045.html),
they claimed to have "collectives" in places like Oakland, California, and Bath, Maine. Subsequent fact-checking by WSA has failed to find any evidence of any such groups. SAN has a tendency to create a fictional image of themselves as larger than they are.
While these entryist maneuverings were going on, WSA had another problem with its San Francisco group. Two IWW members had joined the group. These two individuals were actively involved in the planning for the I-99 international syndicalist conference, which was held in San Francisco in 1999. To understand the problem this posed for WSA, it's necessary to understand the "no contact" rule in the IWA. As part of the fallout of the split in the Spanish CNT in the 1980s, the IWA adopted a rule of "no contact" with the CNTU (which became the CGT in 1989), and with organizations outside the IWA supporting them, especially the SAC in Sweden. At the time the WSA stated its opposition to this rule (for example, I was a delegate at the 1988 IWA congress and I stated WSA's opposition to this rule at that time). Nonetheless, WSA does believe in organizational discipline and was therefore not willing to blatantly disgregard the feelings of some European sections of the IWA in regard to I-99, and therefore did not endorse it. However, the two IWW members in the San Francisco WSA group who were promoting I-99 got that group to publically endorse I-99, which violated the WSA's organizational discipline. After I-99, however, these two individuals didn't stick around, and are now no longer members of WSA.
When the New York Group of WSA and other WSA members rallied to take back control of their organization, the SAN folks in Duluth decided to withdraw in 2002. SAN, as the Duluth group of the WSA, then sent a message to the IWA Secretariat saying that they "disaffiliate from the IWA". A vote of five or six people in the Duluth group could not validly disaffiliate the entire WSA from the IWA. The WSA constitution requires that such a decision be approved by mail ballot of the entire membership. No such mail vote ever took place. Therefore, the so-called "disafilliation" from the IWA by the SAN folks in Duluth was not valid. To suppose that a vote of one local WSA group could disaffiliate the WSA from the IWA is like saying that a local branch of the CNT in Seville could disaffiliate the whole CNT from the IWA.
This is why the IWA Secretariat is mistaken when it claims that the WSA -- the
U.S. Section of the IWA -- disaffiliated from the IWA. No valid disaffiliation
vote of WSA members ever took place.
The question of whether to recognize the continued affiliation of the WSA to the IWA came up for a vote at the IWA congress in 2004. At that time, FAU and USI voted to recognize the WSA as still an affiliate, but the CNT-AIT, Solidarity Federation (UK), and NSF (Norway) voted against recognition of the WSA as an affiliate. This amounted to a vote of expulsion of the WSA from the IWA.
Caveat: I post this here because WSA's relationship to the IWA comes up from time to time. My own personal assessment is that the WSA needs to let the period of its IWA affiliation fade into the past.