Submitted by klas batalo on June 21, 2013

It is clear from the ground that SeaSol is quite effective. The organization is winning the fights it chooses to take on, growing in numbers, and successfully transforming how people think about American society. It is impossible to say at this point in time whether SeaSol is actually going to be able to rebuild a mass revolutionary labor movement. The group has a novel approach and has experienced notable success so far, but the fact remains that the organization has only ever affected a few hundred people in the Seattle area. Additionally, SeaSol has primarily only helped individuals who are dealing with problems with their former employers and landlords. A mass revolutionary labor movement obviously depends on being able to organize workers when they are still on the job and a strong auxiliary working class tenants’ movement requires organizing tenants while they are still living in a given building. Ultimately, to grow into an actual mass movement it is clear that SeaSol is going to have to evolve.

After conducting research there are some good reasons to think that this is in fact possible. First and foremost, multiple organizers I interviewed seemed acutely aware of this fact. Bruce especially, who was one of the founders of SeaSol, told me that the organization is essentially a means to an end. In Bruce’s words, SeaSol is trying to create an organization that can serve as a “foundation for a broader working class movement.” In the contemporary United States, where class-consciousness and direct action are all but extinct, this means bringing people together to fight back where and how they caneven if it’s just to help one person at a time recover a few hundred dollars. No one I interviewed said they just wanted SeaSol to only continue doing what it is already doing. On the contrary, everyone said they wanted to see SeaSol take on bigger fights involving more people. The organization is successfully serving as a magnet that is slowly collecting people who share a common desire to protect each other from injustice using collective direct action.

There are many things that make SeaSol, but the single most encouraging thing for the organization’s future is its seeming ability to engage and excite regular people. That is to say, to reach people like George, Ana, or Ramona who were not necessarily active in any sort of activist or leftist groups before joining SeaSol. SeaSol’s ability to bring people into the organization based around practical activity rather than ideological motivations is extremely promising. The organization is not built around political posturing or launching public campaigns to stop government policies that it knows it does not have the strength to truly alter. Almost every socialist organization in the United States launches campaigns like these all the time, knowing full well that they are going to fail, but hoping to recruit people through the campaign. SeaSol on the other hand believes that real victories, even if they are small, are a much more honest and effective means of permanently recruiting people into the organization.

SeaSol is designed to find where people’s everyday lives and radical politics intersect. SeaSol’s organizers feel that it would be impossible to build a large movement that is not based around material improvements in individuals’ day-to-day existence. The organization’s approach to solving problems in people’s lives, such as unpaid wages or stolen deposits, is not just intellectually exciting but also simply more effective than the legal system. SeaSol demonstrates the validity of the political philosophy that motivates many of its members daily through action rather than through rhetoric. My interviews with George and Ramona demonstrated that SeaSol is actually quite successful at doing this, but is that enough?

We know that the organization’s direct approach is effective and could potentially be popular with large numbers of people. However, the number one question for SeaSol moving forward is can the organization transition to actually helping groups of tenants and workers organize before they have already quit or moved? Without successfully making this transition at some point in time the group will never be able to rebuild a mass revolutionary labor movement. Still, at a time when an anarchist approach to labor organizing has gone all but extinct, SeaSol gives some reason to believe that a resurgence of a popular revolutionary labor movement is possible. The organization’s practical approach and tangible results have also inspired people to start other Solidarity Networks across the United States and even across oceans. At a time when so many people feel helpless in the face of the massive institutions that control our lives, SeaSol offers an alternative approach for fighting back. If this idea continues to spread there is no telling what Solidarity Networks may yet be able to accomplish.