Give up classtivism: Why class struggle is long, boring and hard work

The recent decision by Starbucks to attack its workers’ conditions (cutting paid lunch breaks, sick pay and other work benefits) in response to public pressure to pay its tax bill – public pressure partly generated by direct action organisations like UK Uncut – has highlighted ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of “Tax justice” campaigns and their relationship to class struggle organisation.

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 18, 2012

The recent decision by Starbucks to attack its workers’ conditions (cutting paid lunch breaks, sick pay and other work benefits) in response to public pressure to pay its tax bill – public pressure partly generated by direct action organisations like UK Uncut – has highlighted ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of “Tax justice” campaigns and their relationship to class struggle organisation. Undoubtedly UK Uncut will continue to incorporate workers’ rights issues into its public actions against the Starbucks chain. What the move highlights, however, is the complete incapacity of these tactics to manifest as useful tools of social struggle (even of basic self-defence) for the workers affected, or indeed the absence of any foresight that differentiates between the actions of the “brand” and the largely powerless and unorganised workers who are employed by it. There is a good analysis concerning this by a member of the Solidarity Federation – “Tax justice, austerity and class struggle” – what is, however, slightly less satisfactory is the way this analysis reflects on another, well respected campaign currently being organised and supported within the UK anarchist movement – the Boycott Workfare Network.

The objectives of the Boycott Workfare Network are simple. The website gives them as the following:

“Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare ... We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.”

This is a network that has been most strongly supported by the IWA affiliated Solidarity Federation, but also has had local anarchist groups and Anarchist Federation groups participate. As well as organising ongoing public boycotts of workfare employers (usually in the form of a public protest or “picket” discouraging costumers to frequent the store), the campaign provides information for those on workfare schemes via the website and usually provides information to the workforce during its actions. These two sides of the campaign are not entirely harmonious and throw up certain contradictions that Phil (Libcom blogger “Phil”), at least partly, acknowledges in his article:

“pickets against workfare have often explicitly approached staff and promoted the need to organise. The aim is still to disrupt business and threaten profits, but with the rights of workers an explicit part of the agenda it becomes a lot harder to take this out on them.”

Likewise the Boycott Workfare Network secured its own Pyrrhic victory earlier this year when one of the early targets, the health food chain Holland and Barrett, announced it would be pulling out of the workfare scheme only to replace these posts with a salaried apprenticeship scheme. Undoubtedly a victory for the workfare campaign against unpaid work but one which did not secure a standard minimum wage for all employees (National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour) nor was it a move that the existing campaign was in any real position to fight further on.

It is not our intention here to try and downplay the clear positive affects that the UK Uncut actions and Boycott Workfare campaign have had in terms of both changing employer policy and showing the power of public pressure via direct action over institutional channels (lobbying MPs, collecting petitions etc). Instead, our intention with this article is to clearly point out why, in both cases, these tactics have reached the limits that they have, why it is necessary to consider an alternative framework for judging the success of organisational work and why an organising culture premised principally on the initiation of “actions” and “campaigns” (what we would identify as “activism”) is ill-suited for the patient, complex and hard work of class organising.

What is classtivism?

The economic crisis has, in the last decade, created an entirely new context for social justice struggles. The attacks on the living standards of the working class, the environment and the continued military intervention of imperialist states across the globe are set at a brutal pace. This is while the official trade union movement has sought only greater accommodation and acquiescence within the new austerity regime. The Left has shown itself to be similarly lacking in imagination, adopting the tired and ever failing tactics of electoralism and work within the same shrinking trade unions as the scope of their limited ambition. This is within the larger context of a much deeper collapse of working class culture and identity, which leaves no obvious space for the growth for an alternative, anti-austerity project. In the service sector in particular (the UK’s largest sector of employment), in shops such as Starbucks, Holland and Barrett, Poundland, Tesco, Pizza Hut etc., the idea of an employee culture – let alone an organised working class culture – is laughable.

Within this context the tactics and strategies of activism and activists present a viable alternative to the automatic position of defence and isolation that many of us would be forced to adopt within our workplaces, neighbourhoods and our communities. The notion of going “on the attack” against extremely exploitative schemes like workfare seem an appropriate level of response to the severity of the attacks we are currently coming under. We would likewise hazard that this is the social and political context of other similar “movements” such as Occupy.

What, then, do we mean by “activism”? In simple terms, the idea of bringing together individuals on the basis of their shared ideological goals and beliefs who adopt specific disruptive strategies to pile public pressure (or otherwise “consciousness raise” – we will analyse this particular aspect in greater detail below) around a certain issue. The intention is that this activism will bring about some form of social or political change. Undoubtedly certain aspects of “activism” will be part of and naturally arise within the alternative perspective we later identify – that of movement-building – and it is not our purpose to write off these as tactics completely. Rather we identify activism as problematic, in itself, because it is principally the basis in which social change is seen to be effected. It is the activist and their practice of activism – whether it is a public protest outside a store, chaining oneself to the gates or a sit-down in the manager’s office – that are seen as having the transformative role. There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

In the current context – one in which economic issues are very much on the popular agenda –, and especially given the clear ineffectiveness of the labour movement, we have seen a closer merging of the existing strategies, tactics and organisational cultures of activists and disputes around the workplace and social welfare. “Class”, in other words, has been represented as an “issue” in a similar way that fair trade, development, environmental justice or gender and sexuality have been represented within the social justice movements in previous years. Our contention is, of course, that class is not an issue that can be “won”, no less than the environment or gender or sexuality can be – it is the structural basis of capitalist society. It is not the responsibility of ethical and socially responsible individuals to “take up class” should it concern them. A class position is thrust upon us as a result of our role within a capitalist society. The question then is not, initially at least, of the applicability of certain tactics or strategies, but of the role of class, class consciousness and how this informs the forms of action we pursue.

Class consciousness and Organisation

It is not necessary to re-visit here classic communist arguments concerning the socially transformative role of the working class within capitalism or the ultimate need for the re-appropriation of the means of production. It is suffice to say that it is the confidence and capacity of workers to act on their own interests – in our workplaces, our neighbourhoods and communities – against those of the capitalists – our bosses, landlords and the state – that concern us in terms of our need to promote social solidarity and class organisation. Consciousness raising – making workers aware of those interests and their ability to act on them – is, as a result, a central part of this process.

The public pickets, protest and actions conducted as part of the Boycott Workfare and UK Uncut actions, as well as playing a more direct disruptive role, are likewise aimed at a broader project of “raising consciousness”. In the case of UK Uncut this has largely been in the form of the “Tax Justice” narrative, something which has unfortunately often been reduced to useless chants of “pay your taxes!” but at a more sophisticated level aims to highlight bourgeois double-standards between a government that seeks to ostracise claimants and benefit cheats for their drain on the public purse, while simultaneously allowing multi-nationals to dodge millions in corporation tax. There is likewise a much more radical under-current that runs through the actions which seeks to challenge the barriers between public and private space, with banks being turned into “direct action libraries” or shop floors into social spaces for music and games. Similarly in the case of Boycott Workfare it was found that many on the placement schemes were completely unaware of their rights or their colleagues failed to understand the implications of the unpaid work. Leaflets, such as this one produced by the Solidarity Federation, intend to inform employees about the nature of the action as a well as encouraging them to get organised.

In all the above cases these are indeed consciousness-raising practices. However for us the issue of consciousness-raising is not just about providing information to workers or even making them aware of their ability to act (e.g. their freedom to join a union or use their legal rights). It is about creating a context of confidence in class action. This is a complex process layered with social, cultural and psychological barriers. There is a qualitative difference between the type of power that the bourgeois class utilises and the forms of attitudes and perspectives that emerge in the course of movement-building. Workers’ power is direct, social and inter-personal. It is based on establishing relationships of trust, solidarity and friendship. Most importantly proletarian consciousness needs to be perpetually re-affirming. As our Fellow Workers at the Recomposition blog have pointed out, people have a tendency to “hot up” and “cool down” when it comes to organising, even long-term and dedicated organisers. Within this context networks of support and solidarity are absolutely essential in ensuring that those who have been worn down or burnt out during the ebbs are able to take back up the mantle during the flows. On a practical level all of the above is incredibly difficult in the context of one-off or sensational actions conducted against employers. Even employees, or workfare claimants, who are sympathetic to the cause, are likely to be scared off of engaging by the fear of repercussions from management or their job centres. From the outside, agitators simply don’t know what conversations will be had between workers for the rest of the day, or during a cigarette break in the afternoon or even the special briefing the manager gives at the end of the day. From the inside, why should workers trust the advice of someone that they had a five minute conversation with and gave them a piece of paper?

The ultimate objective of our organising efforts should be to cultivate organisations that promote workers’ self-organisation. This is a standard by which we ourselves should not be exempt. It is also a responsibility that we should not expect to place on others without carrying through the same risks ourselves. And there are indeed risks.

Tactics – “Organising is about creating a series of friendships”

The actions taken against workfare have 3 key failings: Firstly, they depict the left and activists as outsiders with only power as consumers. Secondly, it enforces a reliance on outside forces for workers. Lastly, it risks driving company and staff closer together.

Activists are part of the working class just as much as factory workers and miners. We all form active parts of capitalism, as consumers and workers, but as workers we create surplus value. Just because we don’t wear overalls doesn’t mean we are excluded from this process. However, protest actions play into the idea that activists are an exterior force. If activists want to get involved in class struggle, they need to develop their own class consciousness as well. It is easy to talk about this as if it is a theoretical concept that the working class needs to develop on a general basis. What developing class consciousness actually means is each of us realising our own position in capitalism – your own, real position as an actor within the process of production, not of the mythical, abstract concept of “the workers.” Until individual activists start to grasp this fundamental role they’re not in much of a position to ask others to.

The working class for far too long has been reliant on exterior forces, political parties, do-gooders, union bureaucrats: We need to do things for ourselves. It is our historic mission to overthrow capitalism and this cannot be achieved by relying on the intervention of charitable types. We have been serviced by unions for decades, succededing only in seeing hard fought reforms vanish and safety nets disappear. At the heart of these errors is the failure to build and sustain a culture of class confidence that has a willingness to defend workers’ interests (and fight for more). Taking steps towards this means abandoning our reliance on outside forces (in whatever form this may come) and looking to the immediate relationships around us as our source of solidarity and support.

Finally, there is the danger that activism will strengthen the reverse relationships – the capitalistic ones between workers and managers and workers and the company. The sentiment that “we are all mates with our manager, why shouldn’t we just talk to them he takes us out for a drink all the time”, for example, forms a continuous barrier to workplace organising. Starbucks Workers’ Union organiser Liberté Locke has described it well as being akin to an abusive relationship – “My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organisers”. At Pizza Hut, mangers receive bonuses based on the amount of money the store spends. If the manager doesn’t repair broken mopeds, they receive a higher bonus, if they don’t replace safety equipment, such as oven gloves, they receive a higher bonus. These things help the manager as an individual, but make the rest of our working lives more difficult. At the same time, this is hidden by the manager who then acts as a social leader, as everyone’s mate, offering people lifts home, organising the Xmas do etc. As Liberté Locke argues, these abuses are hidden by a friendly exterior and layers of manipulative behaviour. Breaking through that is one of the most difficult things to achieve as an organiser. “Shop pickets” may well do real favours to managers, giving workers in store a false sense of the limitations of their own capacities, reinforcing existing worker-brand identity and the idea of the company as “one big family”.

Friendship must be at the core of solidarity. For our Fellow Workers to take the organising we push seriously they have to trust that we are saying it as a friend and not as a political campaigner. As organisers we must be there when the important conversations happen, and those aren’t the conversations that happen with the activist outside, they are the ones that happen on smoking breaks, while taking a pizza out to the moped, as you mop the floor at the end of the shift or in the pub after work. That is where people express their true feelings, whether that is about the protest outside, or the dick-head manager. Working under capitalism is stressful, isolating and hard, and we need the support of our Fellow Workers as much as everyone else. Class organising is about creating our own spaces of resistance. It is a process of creating a series of friendships.

In short, what we need is a far richer (perhaps a micro-level) understanding of class consciousness to accompany our organising perspectives. We take inspiration from the idea of the “Wobbly Shop” or to “Wobbly the Job”. To “Wobbly the Job” is not just to get people signed up to the union or provoke actions, it’s to foster specific attitudes in that workplace. This can range from anything to the jokes that are made behind the bosses back at break time, to the walk-out you hold during peak operating hours. The point is that this is something that emerges within the culture that organisers create as a result of the real bonds of solidarity and support they have built with their Fellow Workers.

The Alternative: building class confidence through a movement of organisers

There are natural limits to our political demands in the form of our capacity as consumers, citizens, activists. We only have a finite amount of political capital, special interest, money in our pocket, disruptive capacity, can only be arrested so many times etc. As workers, as proletarians, our demands are limitless. They are only conditioned by the balance of class forces - the power applied on the one hand, by the depth of our class organisation as workers, and on the other, by the power and organisation of the capitalists. It may be possible to transfer cultures of class confidence via activist activity – for example, the international support given to Pizza Hut workers by IWW members and others, or the victory at Office Angels co-ordinated by the Solidarity Federation – but our source of power is still ultimately proletarian subjectivity applied at the point of production and reproduction of capitalism. Support and solidarity actions may be useful, they may even be successful (in terms of winning gains) but they cannot function in isolation and still contain the same limits.

Class struggle is long, boring and hard work. Organising your own community, workplace or neighbourhood is difficult, emotionally taxing work and potentially fraught with all manner of economic and social repercussions. It also means pushing out of your comfort zone, conversing and socialising with people you perhaps wouldn’t normally do on the basis of shared interests, countering all manner of challenging and conservative ideas and behaviour. As we have said above, it also often puts you in a position of isolation and defence – but this is also the reality of the current social and political context. They wouldn’t call it class struggle if it didn’t involve struggling.

Understanding these risks and formulating strategies to overcome them enriches our collective praxis. It forms the basis of a contemporary approach to movement-building. It also means taking your time and building on small victories that are not necessarily glamorous ones. This could be as (seemingly) minor as creating a culture where you are able to discuss problems at work openly. This can easily evolve into supporting one another to take breaks, challenging the decisions of the boss. An organising committee building union density develops through all of these experiences. The important thing is that all these steps map onto a coherent and long-term strategy employed by workplace organisers. It’s not about every penny of pay you win but about the confidence workers feel to fight and keep fighting until we win it all.

Returning specifically to the Boycott Workfare campaign, we do acknowledge certain characteristics that make this issue appear distinct from other forms of class struggle. The government workfare schemes are principally an issue that affects claimants. Although the extent to which it weakens the position of workers in those companies, and also the standards of the labour force generally, does make it an issue of collective interest. In this respect the degree to which targeted and sustained organisation in workfare employers, of all workers, is an alternative route of opposition to the schemes needs to be explored more – whether in the form of salting or finding means of establishing sustainable contact between workers and organisers.

It is true that the unemployed are at a structural disadvantage to the employed workforce - this is the nature of the “industrial reserve army”, keeping a section of the workforce powerless and at a disadvantage so they are ready for the needs of capital as well as acting as a disciplining mechanism on the employed. The unemployed acting as a threat in the case of troublesome workers as well as depressing wages and conditions in the case of high levels of unemployment. Workers are increasingly out of work in the context of the current crisis (particularly young workers and across Europe) so this is a serious issue for class organisations. But we should look to examples such as the South African Shack Dwellers’ Movement, the Unemployed Workers’ Movement in Argentina, and historic (and ongoing) claimants unions and centres. We feel these have been successful at building dual power organisations from the most powerless sections of the class, because they’ve not taken an approach of disempowerment but also because they have employed the basic methods of movement-building discussed above. They represent genuine communities of class confidence developed through weeks, months and even years of patient agitation and organising.

Public pickets are argued to be a way of bringing people on the workfare scheme together (who are otherwise stratified) and politicising the schemes. This is while acknowledging that the conversations in this context were limited and relied heavily on generating a certain degree of public and press interest. But conversations alone are not enough. They raise awareness not consciousness. For this we need to be training and developing a movement of organisers, militants and movement-builders. You still need to walk before you can run, and activism is simply not a means for initiating movements (and can actually be a means of cutting yourself off from those around you). The basics of movement-building – whether these are your work mates, fellow claimants, care-givers, service-users etc. – provide the basis for meaningful opposition to austerity, in immediate terms, and a movement against capitalism for the future.

DP is Northern regional organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (ERA) and a member of the General Executive Board. He works at Pizza Hut.

CW is a militant in Collective Action and a member of Sheffield (UK) Industrial Workers of the World General Membership Branch. He works in social care.

Comments

klas batalo

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on December 19, 2012

this is interesting because it seems really informed by the distinctions made in north america, between activism, advocacy, and organizing (movement/base building.)

it seems to apply to a lot of what often is a critique i've occasionally seen of IWA groups, left communists, and stuff like solidarity networks, that sorta goes along the lines of this...

"standing outside of shops: for global communism"

i.e. critical thoughts around the difference between outside organizers/militants and internal organizers/militants.

honestly i sort of believe we need both, and obviously we all would prefer internal organizers, but certainly they will not win without outside support.

i mean it is sorta typical right, the far left students leafleting the workers at the factory gates stereotype, etc. i don't know if this analysis get's much further than that though.

wojtek

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on December 19, 2012

Yes, except that picketers are getting shafted too (directly and indirectly) and therefore (hopefully) without the condescension.

I don't think we can afford to see the issue as an either/or situation given the real dearth in activity among workfare workers and their colleagues, has there been any strikes or what have you to date?

Fall Back

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fall Back on December 19, 2012

I commented a few days ago that reading anything by Collective Action was like someone who read libcom 5 years ago, but just didn't get it. While part of me is gratified to see this demonstrated again so quickly, I think sadly articles of this 'quality' are going to be really unhelpful.

There of course needs to be ongoing discussion within SF about the workfare campaign, but I worry that having such empty criticism thrown at us is just going to stifle it. Not so much that it'll produce a defensive reaction (lets be honest, it's neither good nor informed enough for that) but more it's like being denounced by Chris Grayling, or told you are wrong by Sunny Hundal - it's not just that you ignore it but that you think 'if this is the criticism, then we must be right!'

While I'm sure we'll have fun laughing at the Laurie Penny of anarchism trying to sound so very clever and oh so critical, lets not let this kind of dross effect our own ability to continue to critically examine our activity.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 19, 2012

Edit: crossed with Fall Back. Accidental good cop/bad cop.

I never got round to writing the 'workfare activism/worker-activism' blog, but one of the things I wanted to do was look at how workfare activity compares to the give up activism critique, which I think can be distilled into 5 points:

1. Activist identity (identifying primarily as belonging to an 'activist community', " to think of yourself as being somehow privileged or more advanced than others").
2. The subsequent substitution of an activist group for wider struggle, "a division of labour implies that one person takes on a role on behalf of many others who relinquish this responsibility"
3. An opposition to abstract nouns, "the bizarre spectacle of 'doing an action' against capitalism - an utterly inadequate practice".
4. Ritualistic activity which serves only to reinforce the activist martyr identity, "dull and sterile routine - a constant repetition of a few actions with no potential for change".
5 A focus on saving others, struggling on behalf of some oppressed group (animals, Palestinians, or indeed, 'the workers'...) as opposed to for ourselves: "revolutionary martyrdom goes together with the identification of some cause separate from one's own life."

I think in terms of (1), it definitely exists in some quarters, e.g. i've seen one person berate shoppers for having 'blood on their hands' (!?), and another have a go at people for being 'cheap' for shopping in Primark. On the other hand, I don't think it's widespread, or inherent to anti-workfare activity. The main poles of 'identity' have seem to be 'unemployed nationalism' vs 'workfare is an attack on us all', both of which are, in principle at least, expansive categories including lots of people, rather than self-identifying as superior/in advance etc.

(2) Again, there's been elements of this, but I don't think it's widespread. For example, unlike the trajectory of some UK Uncut groups, afaik there's been no glue-ons, lock-ons, or martyrdom arrests (and that trajectory has been cut off by those stressing economic damage, imho). It's been pretty standard practice (as the piece notes) to leaflet staff in advance, and try and agitate more widely (e.g. people leafleting job centres).

(3) Doesn't really apply imho. Workfare's a concrete policy etc.

(4) I don't think this applies much (though it could). The gambit is that workfare is vulnerable while the recession/depression lasts, since it's paid by results and there's no 'real' jobs, and retailers/charities are vulnerable to direct pressure. The fact several high profile firms have pulled out tends to support this assessment (MWA may even collapse without charities, who provide most of the placements).

(5) Again, I'm not sure this applies. I mean, some people (and this article) argue workfare's "principally an issue that affects claimants." But I think this is far too narrow an understanding (as the article acknowledges too), that it's about restructuring the labour market, that if the economy picks up workfare will become a permanent sector. In addition, claimants aren't a stable category (at least, not all of them). As well as long term claimants, lots of people cycle between temp/casual work/notional self-employment and the dole. Particularly in retail, those jobs are disappearing due to workfare.

So I don't think the 'critique of activism' works as an off-the-shelf arguement here, especially as it's not clear how 'movement building' as advocated (in very general terms) would escape this charge. That's not to place anti-workfare activity beyond critique, but I think analogy to summit-hopping is misplaced.

So I guess my question is, what, precisely distinguishes the movement building that's advocated from the 'activism' which is criticised? I say this, cos when I discussed this with one of the authors, I made the point that SF saw workfare as a long boring campaign, winning a few small victories as a proof of concept, but doing boring agitation over several years among fellow claimants and workers and hoping thereby to catalyse a wider movement, with ongoing pickets/demos acting as a public focal point analagous to anti-war demos in the early anti-Iraq war era (which of course, assumes a swelling anti-workfare sentiment analagous to anti-war sentiment in 2002-3, which may be a faulty assumption). So it reads a bit like a strategy i've previously expounded being repeated back as a 'critique' :P

So I find myself kinda agreeing and kinda patronised at the same time, though I guess it's aimed more at UK Uncut/Boycott Workfare and the more activisty, media-friendly end of things. The funny thing with the Boycott Workfare Network is that if anarchists could be bothered, they could easily form a majority in the network and take a lead in strategy. It's so small at the moment it would be the easiest bit of 'social insertion' to rock up at the Skype meetings with some proposals (fwiw, SF hasn't done this either, we're mainly doing our own thing and supporting the local BWN stuff which is organised mainly by Brighton Benefits Campaign). Critique is important, but it can also a comfort zone of not taking the lead (my personal bugbear is anarchists sitting at the back of a mass meeting grumbling about the Trots running everything,but I digress).

I mean, I think you'd struggle to demonstrate the workfare campaign cuts people off from their workmates and fellow claimants (though in principle it could, screaming 'blood on your hands!' or gluing on to Primark or whatever). Which more or less leaves platitudes - we should organise, train people, do boring longer term stuff (all stuff which is already happening) - without dealing with any of the immediate, practical barriers to this. For example, unlike at work, there is no shared sphere where claimants/casual workers come together and develop a shared identity/can have one-on-ones. So how do you go about agitating, except by talking to people in the street, outside job centres, at colleges etc (which then attracts the charge of activism)?

Unemployed people also lack structural power (they can't withdraw their labour), which can only be compensated for by associational power (whether temporary like a mass demo or picket, or more stable/formal like a claimant's union or claimant-worker action committee or whatever). I think unemployed activity will always look a bit like 'activism' for this reason (I think a more important thing is whether it draws in an expanding pool of people, which is imho what characterisises a movement, again thinking of the anti-war stuff where many were taking action for the first time). For example, if there were 200 people going on local anti-workfare events rather than 20, then tactics could evolve from pickets to roadblocks (though the cops' well-rehearsed public order tactics would make this more like an activist run-around than los piqueteros imho) or occupations/mass pickets shutting things down.

Organising inside the workplaces using workfare by workers would also be welcome, but I don't know if much can be done beyond outreach and support. You could maybe support a living wage campaign by retail workers (a la PAMSU?), which in turn opposes workfare from the shop floor. You could 'salt' to do that, if you were so inclined. But I also think this is comfort-zone stuff. We have pretty good ideas of how to organise as waged workers, and not very good ideas about how to organise as unemployed. I think it's important not to accept unemployed people's lack of agency, but find ways it can take a collective expression. I think a wider converstion about what a movement would look like, and how to build one is very important (it's been happening inside SF, not so much more widely). I don't know if this piece says much beyond 'we should have that conversation', if that makes sense?

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 19, 2012

One more thing...

RedAndBlack

It also means taking your time and building on small victories that are not necessarily glamorous ones. This could be as (seemingly) minor as creating a culture where you are able to discuss problems at work openly.

Now, I agree with this. It's something SF has been banging on about for a while, and a major theme of the new book. But it seems inconsistent with the argument that conversations in the street are 'activism' and that forcing one of the most high-profile political supporters of workfare (H&B) to withdraw is a "phyrric victory".

That is to say, there seems to be a double standard where talking to your workmates is a victory, but talking to other claimaints isn't, where forcing a concession from the boss is a win, but forcing a firm out of workfare isn't. Now you can argue the workplace is different (and I'd agree, to an extent), but that seems to fall back on a crude workerism, that only waged workers at the point of production can engage in meaningful struggle.

ocelot

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ocelot on December 19, 2012

Joseph Kay

Critique is important, but it can also a comfort zone of not taking the lead (my personal bugbear is anarchists sitting at the back of a mass meeting grumbling about the Trots running everything,but I digress).

^^This. A lot.

Steven.

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on December 19, 2012

Yeah, Joseph makes a lot of good points here.

I mean, I read the article and agree with much of it but then mostly just thought "and what?"

This point in particular is important:

Unemployed people also lack structural power (they can't withdraw their labour), which can only be compensated for by associational power (whether temporary like a mass demo or picket, or more stable/formal like a claimant's union or claimant-worker action committee or whatever). I think unemployed activity will always look a bit like 'activism' for this reason

I mean I haven't attended any boycott workfare stuff or done anything related to it, because I expend my activity on the shopfloor. However, for people who are students, pensioners, unemployed etc I don't think it's helpful to tell them not to do something like this. As you don't present any evidence of what you suggest in terms of pickets pushing management and workers together. My workplace has been picketed by members of the public various times, and I can't say it has had that effect. TBH it hasn't really affected management-worker relations at all - which are often built up over years or decades in some cases, and cannot be significantly changed in an hour or two.

I think it would be a fair enough point to make if some people made no efforts to do anything at their own work, but then just went on boycott workfare, but if they are doing the former then I don't think the latter does any harm. There is an element of hobbyism in political activism, or even a socialising aspect, as for quite a few activists their friendship circle consists mostly of other activists, and therefore these sort of actions can be the social events of the friendship groups (similar to friends who watch football say). I don't think this dynamic is particularly helpful, but also I don't think it's avoidable. And I don't think that people spending their hobby/leisure time doing stuff like that is counter-productive as such.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

JK, I think it makes more sense if you use the definition of activism actually outlined in the article. Given that we don't use the analysis from the "give up activism" article it makes little sense to build your response from it. The most salient point in our understanding of activism is that:

There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

This is about content and composition, not particular tactics, e.g. "talking to people on the street" or even the particular cultural dynamics of activist culture/ideology/communities critiqued in that article (as relevant as they also may be).

Joseph Kay

I say this, cos when I discussed this with one of the authors, I made the point that SF saw workfare as a long boring campaign, winning a few small victories as a proof of concept, but doing boring agitation over several years among fellow claimants and workers and hoping thereby to catalyse a wider movement, with ongoing pickets/demos acting as a public focal point analagous to anti-war demos in the early anti-Iraq war era (which of course, assumes a swelling anti-workfare sentiment analagous to anti-war sentiment in 2002-3, which may be a faulty assumption). So it reads a bit like a strategy i've previously expounded being repeated back as a 'critique'

SF may see it this way but that doesn't change the fundamental tactical critiques in the article. That a perception of a long-term strategy has to be complimented by long-term tactics that produce enduring effects. It could be the case that SF is building amazing claimants unions under the surface of this campaign (perhaps you could enlighten me?). Even if this is the case the representation of this campaign is problematic building on a false sense of agency and catalysing claimants (as limited as this in the context of one-off demonstrations) on the basis of a model which assures empty victories. Our case is that surely it is better to jettison the activist commitments altogether and actually take a hard-headed approach to what is really needed to mould a workers' movement against capitalism.

Joseph Kay

Now, I agree with this. It's something SF has been banging on about for a while, and a major theme of the new book. But it seems inconsistent with the argument that conversations in the street are 'activism' and that forcing one of the most high-profile political supporters of workfare (H&B) to withdraw is a "phyrric victory".

That's because you are using a definition of activism that is inconsistent with the one outlined in the article.

Joseph Kay

I think unemployed activity will always look a bit like 'activism' for this reason (I think a more important thing is whether it draws in an expanding pool of people, which is imho what characterisises a movement, again thinking of the anti-war stuff where many were taking action for the first time).

Again, not the definition of activism we use. But I think this is a fair point in terms of the limited scope of tactics for claimants. To me this just demonstrates that a great deal more effort needs to go into building a community of claimants before actions are possible. This is most likely why things like claimants centres - which provide basic, day-to-day necessities - have proved more useful to these movements. You can see the more slower processes of movement-building - forming shared spaces, common identities etc. - in operation here over the more immediate confrontational issues associated with the condition of being a claimant.

Joseph Kay

Critique is important, but it can also a comfort zone of not taking the lead (my personal bugbear is anarchists sitting at the back of a mass meeting grumbling about the Trots running everything,but I digress).

I don't think that's fair at all. We put forward our own alternatives and we are both clearly active organisers (if our ideas really require to be qualified in this way).

Steven.

My workplace has been picketed by members of the public various times, and I can't say it has had that effect. TBH it hasn't really affected management-worker relations at all - which are often built up over years or decades in some cases, and cannot be significantly changed in an hour or two.

Isn't this exactly the point!!

Tommy Ascaso

I don't agree that worker's power is based on establishing friendships, that's wanky hippy bollocks.

I know this is a throwaway comment but this isn't actually what we say. The basis of that section is to establish a micro-level understanding of class consciousness that appreciates the immediate contexts of taking workplace action. "Workers' power", in a more general sense, is obviously a much broader concept.

Fall Back

I commented a few days ago that reading anything by Collective Action was like someone who read libcom 5 years ago, but just didn't get it.

Wow! I really have no idea what this means. Just to clarify that this is not a Collective Action piece but an article written by two individuals both of which are Wobs, one of which is a member of Collective Action (draw whatever conclusions you like from that).

I have to say that for someone whose fundamental objection is that we are a bunch of wannabe smart-asses and know-it-alls you make a lot of cliquish and inaccessible references in your criticisms of us.

no1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by no1 on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack

There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

I don't understand what "internal composition of the action" means, if anything.

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

Hey remember a few years back when the "debate" on politics was being driven by ego-monsters slagging off groups they weren't part of from the lofty heights of their own super-successful tendencies? Good times.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Fall Back

I commented a few days ago that reading anything by Collective Action was like someone who read libcom 5 years ago, but just didn't get it.

Yet here we are 5 years later with the anarchist movement doing the same old shit.

Fall Back? More like Throw Back.

lets not let this kind of dross effect our own ability to continue to critically examine our activity.

"Your own ability" meaning what exactly? It certainly doesn't appear to include any external criticisms.

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

"Your own ability" meaning what exactly?

Meaning that we have internal debates, which funnily enough prioritise actual members' views.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

Hey remember a few years back when the "debate" on politics was being driven by ego-monsters slagging off groups they weren't part of from the lofty heights of their own super-successful tendencies? Good times.

This comment epitomises what is wrong with the anarchist movement in this country. Any attempt to critically engage with things that are happening are dismissed as egoism and attempts at slagging off.

How precisely is it possible to foster debate on tactics and theory if you get shot down and attacked as an egoist and a belligerent for even daring to open your mouth?

Grow up.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

"Your own ability" meaning what exactly?

Meaning that we have internal debates, which funnily enough prioritise actual members' views.

Okay, so does that mean no one else is allowed to make any criticisms? Or are they allowed to make criticisms only when they have a pre-approved amount of members and a paper, or what?

Would you rather people just not criticise you?

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

This comment epitomises what is wrong with the anarchist movement in this country.

For someone who obsesses over "tactics," and "building friendships" you clearly haven't got the foggiest idea of how to approach people in such a way as to promote engagement with your ideas. No-one's stopping you from having an opinion, but your criticisms have been hamstrung because

a) you don't know what the state of the debate is within SF, because you aren't a member but make all sorts of assumptions
b) your position throughout is pretty clearly antagonistic rather than comradely, presumably because you think of yourself as coming from a competing/superior tendency rather than a parallel one, hence the tone of response you're getting.

Now I want to be clear here. The reason I've posted a sarcastic comment about you above is NOT because I've got no interest in outside debate. It's because you've rocked up with a "here we come to save the day" attitude and a sneeringly superior schtick that's not nearly as informed or novel as you think it is, something many long-term libcommers have been rightly criticised for in the past and probably will be again.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

no1

RedAndBlack

There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

I don't understand what "internal composition of the action" means, if anything.

Ok, it's fair to ask for clarification so I'll provide an example. In the case of a workfare picket at HandB. What is the picket composed of? i.e. who are doing it? Is it activists? Is it local activists? Is it people connected to the store, i.e. they shop there? Is it people who work at the store? Is it claimants on workfare? Is it claimants on workfare in that HandB? All of these questions have big implications for the meaning and significance of the action. Having a picket outside of workers and claimants placed/employed at that store is of much greater significance than the other categories above. Why? Because it actually points to something else other than the picket - the existence of a militant workplace culture. This is why we don't dismiss using particular tactics or "activism" wholesale, because the question is actually a lot more substantive than this. The issue is are we helping to build the right, representative communities to then fight and use the tactics that we advocate. In most cases, for the anarchist movement in the UK I believe the answer overwhelmingly is "no".

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

This comment epitomises what is wrong with the anarchist movement in this country.

For someone who obsesses over "tactics," and "building friendships" you clearly haven't got the foggiest idea of how to approach people in such a way as to promote engagement with your ideas. No-one's stopping you from having an opinion, but your criticisms have been hamstrung because

a) you don't know what the state of the debate is within SF, because you aren't a member
b) your position throughout is pretty clearly antagonistic rather than comradely, presumably because you think of yourself as coming from a competing/superior tendency rather than a parallel one, hence the tone of response you're getting.

Now I want to be clear here. The reason I've posted a sarcastic comment about you above is NOT because I've got no interest in outside debate. It's because you've rocked up with a "here we come to save the day" attitude and a sneeringly superior schtick that's not nearly as informed or novel as you think it is, something many long-term libcommers have been rightly criticised for in the past and probably will be again.

So essentially you are saying that there is no point having a debate or engaging with critical tendencies. Your criticisms lead nowhere except back to your own organisation where you can have your own exclusive discussions. The above is a long-winded way of saying "I have no interest in talking to you". Fair enough, then don't participate at all.

FWIW I think we are making a much broader argument here than simply criticising Solfed. It's a shame that you choose not to see that.

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

See, this is why I wrote:

Now I want to be clear here. The reason I've posted a sarcastic comment about you above is NOT because I've got no interest in outside debate.

Indeed I've participated in debates on libcom about all kinds of things, including Workfare, for the best part of a decade now. But you didn't come on with some thoughts and debate points, you came on with a full-on aggressive "critique" which appears to have involved fuck-all prior consultation, debate or other engagement with the groups you're talking about.

I mean you're only now even asking what the composition is of the groups/individuals which actually form the Workfare campaign - that's how shallow your engagement with it is, yet you feel qualified to be judge and jury.

And then you wonder (again) why people get irritable.

wojtek

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on December 19, 2012

In my area there's a more than an A4 page of 'apprenticeship' vacancies every couple of months or so (I've no idea about other workfare schemes). It is much more feasable for me to organise a picket against a store that employs workfare* than try and start a claimants union - something I've neither the backing, the resources or time to do.

I don't believe we can learn anything from Piqueteros in Argentina and the South African Unemployed Peoples Movement (SAUPM) at this stage besides setting tyres aflame and robbing stores on mass, which would be obs. stupid and hilariously cocked up.

*And since I believe them to be mostly small businesses, the economic impact would be far greater, the effort to success ratio far higher.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

This comment epitomises what is wrong with the anarchist movement in this country.

For someone who obsesses over "tactics," and "building friendships" you clearly haven't got the foggiest idea of how to approach people in such a way as to promote engagement with your ideas. No-one's stopping you from having an opinion, but your criticisms have been hamstrung because

a) you don't know what the state of the debate is within SF, because you aren't a member but make all sorts of assumptions
b) your position throughout is pretty clearly antagonistic rather than comradely, presumably because you think of yourself as coming from a competing/superior tendency rather than a parallel one, hence the tone of response you're getting.

There really is no response to this. All I can really say is a) this article doesn't criticise internal discussions within SF, it criticises tactics you use, so I don't really see what relevance your internal discussions have within this context, making your defensive attitude a bit strange and b) if your interpretation of this article is that it is antagonistic and uncomradely, then that says more about your ability to interact with other militants. This "oh you think you're superior" is just a really childish way to engage with people. Trying to frame this discussion as a competition is just pathetic.

Now I want to be clear here. The reason I've posted a sarcastic comment about you above is NOT because I've got no interest in outside debate. It's because you've rocked up with a "here we come to save the day" attitude and a sneeringly superior schtick that's

Your interpretation of what is happening here is utterly bizarre. You've constructed this strange situation where you believe strangers on the internet are calling you stupid and making fun of you. No one is sneering at you or SolFed. No one thinks they're superior to you or SolFed. You need to calm down.

not nearly as informed or novel as you think it is, something many long-term libcommers have been rightly criticised for in the past and probably will be again.

You're right, the criticism isn't novel. It is, however, necessary.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

wojtek

It is much more feasable for me to organise a picket against a store that employs workfare* than try and start a claimants union - something I've neither the backing, the resources or time to do.

Don't you think it would try to make sense as to why this is the case? Especially since the claimants union is going to provide the best means of actually addressing the issues you describe. Why aren't the existing class organisations in the UK making it easier for you to pursue this (via resources, training, support etc.)?

wojtek

I don't believe we can learn anything from Piqueteros in Argentina and the South African Unemployed Peoples Movement (SAUPM) at this stage besides setting tyres aflame and robbing stores on mass.

But this is focusing on the more spectacular side of the movements without acknowledging the kind of patient organising work that builds into these actions. In Sheffield we recently hosted a meeting from an organiser from Abahlali baseMjondolo (the video is on the Sheffield IWW Facebook page if anybody is interested looking into it) and it was clear that huge amounts of outreach by volunteers internal to the shack dwellers community formed the basis of their movement. Admittedly there are certain historical and social traditions that give better opportunities here (worse ones also in many ways), but the reason we highlight them is to point to specific dynamics within successful, long-term struggles.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

And then you wonder (again) why people get irritable.

You clearly get irritable because you're rude and hostile and can't control your anger over the internet. Even if what you're saying is true, your responses are completely out of proportion. If the article is wrong, why not just explain that...

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

No, I get irritable because you're more interested in instructing other people than learning from them, as has been amply demonstrated here. I'm just wondering how long it'll take before you cotton on to why it is your various missives fail to get traction - even the ICC eventually improved their presentation and engagement skills after a few rounds on here, so the bar's not high.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

I mean you're only now even asking what the composition is of the groups/individuals which actually form the Workfare campaign

I'm pretty certain that those questions were rhetorical, being used as an example...

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

No, I get irritable because you're more interested in instructing other people than learning from them, as has been amply demonstrated here.

Learn from what? We don't agree with what you are doing. Therefore there is nothing that we can learn other than to re-affirm our criticisms of the kinds of tactics you are using.

I'm just wondering how long it'll take before you cotton on to why it is your various missives fail to get traction.

Right! But what does "getting traction" mean though? Therein lies the fundamental question we are trying to pose.

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

We don't agree with what you are doing. Therefore there is nothing that we can learn

:wall:

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

We don't agree with what you are doing. Therefore there is nothing that we can learn

:wall:

Well what is it you think we should be learning from?

wojtek

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack wrote:

wojtek wrote:

It is much more feasable for me to organise a picket against a store that employs workfare* than try and start a claimants union - something I've neither the backing, the resources or time to do.

Don't you think it would try to make sense as to why this is the case? Especially since the claimants union is going to provide the best means of actually addressing the issues you describe.

Of course I know why this is the case. I've no backing in my area, because the level of class struggle is zilch (I could approach my city anarchist branch for help, but apparently I can't do because its not the right 'composition' or whatever) and as I'm sure you know the nature of unemployment means that you are incredibly isolated to the extent that you can barely socialise let alone think about organising with other claimants. The resources - I shouldn't have to explain why this is the case (I'm not begging to the TUC) and time - I plan to move and as JK said:

claimants aren't a stable category (at least, not all of them). As well as long term claimants, lots of people cycle between temp/casual work/notional self-employment and the dole.

so anything I do in the way of a union will disingegrate once I get a job.

I don't think we can afford to see the issue as an either/or situation given the real dearth in activity among workfare workers and their colleagues, has there been any strikes or what have you to date?

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

Well what is it you think we should be learning from?

The experiences of the people involved. Christ there's enough people around who're happy to talk about how things are or aren't going - you might be surprised at the answers if you start asking what people think rather than telling them what's wrong.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

Well what is it you think we should be learning from?

The experiences of the people involved. Christ there's enough people around who're happy to talk about how things are or aren't going - you might be surprised at the answers if you start asking what people think rather than telling them what's wrong.

This article lays out clear criticisms of the tactics that you and others use. It is about criticising a general approach to activism and is not attacking SolFed specifically. Whether you have had successes in the classtivism you have employed, it doesn't alter the fundamental nature of the criticisms against classtivism.

But if you think that these criticisms are not based upon reality and that in fact you have had successes and developed situations that directly refute the criticisms made in this article, then why not explain that? Why not tell us about them?

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

Because I'm snatching short breaks at work to explain why your methods of engagement aren't working very well and don't have time or inclination to do a proper reply to a piece which doesn't come across as having much new to say, basically. As I say, you can take or leave the suggestion, but don't be surprised if your suggestions don't go anywhere.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

Because I'm snatching short breaks at work to explain why your methods of engagement aren't working very well and don't have time or inclination to do a proper reply to a piece which doesn't come across as having much new to say, basically. As I say, you can take or leave the suggestion, but don't be surprised if your suggestions don't go anywhere.

This is just disappointing. You'd rather have a go at people for writing the article, rather than actually engage with the criticisms. You keep saying it doesn't have anything new to say, yet it is still necessary after all this time to make these criticisms. What does that say about the current state of the anarchism movement?

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

This is just weak

You'll be saying that 20 years from now I suspect whilst still having no more influence than you do today.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

This is just weak

You'll be saying that 20 years from now I suspect whilst still having no more influence than you do today.

That doesn't even make any sense.

When I say "that is weak" what I am referring to is your post. You have made no substantive contribution to this discussion. All you have done is get unnecessarily angry and accusatory, told us that we don't know what we're talking about and then when pressed to clarify you refuse to engage.

Coming into a debate and telling us we are wrong and then refusing to explain why just demonstrates a total lack of honesty on your part. It is evident that you have nothing to contribute except spite and vitriol. Thanks for that.

Rob Ray

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 19, 2012

Spite and vitriol would imply I'm not trying to help you - actually I am, though perhaps not in a way you're used to. Sadly you don't seem to be prepared to pay attention to what I'm actually saying, which really has very little to do with your position and everything to do with your attitude. I guess I'll leave it here anyway, best of luck like.

Spikymike

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on December 19, 2012

Irrespective of the style of some CA 'interventions' in the discussion I thought the main text was a sensible reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of a number of 'campaigns', based essentially around information and disruption pickets of various retail outlets (including some organised by the SolFed, AF and UK-Uncut), and is something I have alluded to in some of my own short critical comments on some such campaigns that I have supported. Of course the recomended alternative approach is easier said than done and for many of us outside of the workplace, either permanently or intermitently, (as steven and wojtek have suggested) opportunities to join in 'pavement' style 'public' protests are not to be lightly dismissed.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

Spite and vitriol would imply I'm not trying to help you - actually I am, though perhaps not in a way you're used to. Sadly you don't seem to be prepared to pay attention to what I'm actually saying, which really has very little to do with your position and everything to do with your attitude. I guess I'll leave it here anyway, best of luck like.

What you have said is the following:

1. We are being snide and superior
2. We don't know what we're talking about
3. The criticisms of your tactics aren't novel
4. You are not prepared to explain why you keep using the same tactics
5. We should listen to what SolFed members think about the tactics you use
6. You are not prepared to explain what SolFed members think about the tactics they use

I want a discussion on these issues. I am happy to listen to what you have to say. You just have to say it.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 19, 2012

Edit: self-deleted. Fucking state of this thread.

the button

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by the button on December 19, 2012

Merry Christmas.

Battlescarred

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on December 19, 2012

Owww!!!!!! I've shot myself in the foot with a twelve bore.

Phil

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Phil on December 19, 2012

Okay, so depending on how much time I have on my hands I might write a full blog response to this, cause there are a lot of issues to address. However, a couple of things quickly...

RedAndBlack

Undoubtedly a victory for the workfare campaign against unpaid work but one which did not secure a standard minimum wage for all employees (National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour) nor was it a move that the existing campaign was in any real position to fight further on.

Well, no, but that was never the point.

You're right about the need to push further in terms of workers' rights and wages, but this campaign is specifically around organising against workfare. It links into workplace organising and to broader claimant organising in a number of ways, but it isn't them.

For one, it's the task of the workers themselves to organise and push for these improvements. We've given out leaflets and spoken to workers at pickets precisely to encourage this, and SF has workplace organiser training for this express people. But, considering that you're arguing against activism, coming along and fighting someone else's wage battle for them is activism and substituting yourself for the class in a quite serious way.

I addressed this in my critique of the Pay Up campaign a while back.

RedAndBlack

However for us the issue of consciousness-raising is not just about providing information to workers or even making them aware of their ability to act (e.g. their freedom to join a union or use their legal rights). It is about creating a context of confidence in class action.

Again, I'd agree - but it's not a critique of SF's methods. Again, I'd point to workplace organiser training and the role of many SF comrades organising in their own workplaces, many formerly unorganised or with only lacklustre service unionism in it. But I'd also point to the original strategy agreed by Liverpool SF and the issue of properly organising claimants.

There may be criticisms to be made in how effectively this is being carried out or in whether it's being given adequate focus. But using the emergence of the Liverpool Claimant Network and the prospect of a mass meeting in the new year over bedroom tax as an example, I'd say that those engaged in the struggle are making strides.

A lot of this is new territory for many involved. Therefore there will be criticisms, lessons to be learned, trial and error. But to simply point from the outside and cry "activism" is disingenuous IMHO.

As I say, these are just a couple of quick points. I largely agree with the points JK has made here as well.

Oh. Also:

RedAndBlack

Libcom blogger “Phil”

My name actually is Phil, so no need for the inverted commas! :p

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

Phil

My name actually is Phil, so no need for the inverted commas! :p

Sorry that might have come across a bit weird. This article isn't just going to be published here so it was for the benefit of other readers who might not know who "Phil" is.

Phil

Again, I'd agree - but it's not a critique of SF's methods.

It's largely Solidarity Federation members who have interpreted the purpose of the article as this. We never made such a claim. Our interest is in putting forward a much broader analysis of the limits of tactics and strategy that aspects of the Boycott Workfare and UK Uncut campaigns expose.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

Phil

But, considering that you're arguing against activism, coming along and fighting someone else's wage battle for them is activism and substituting yourself for the class in a quite serious way.

Where in the article do we say that we advocate this?

Yes workers need to fight their own battles but they also need to given the resources, education and support to do this (we seem to be largely agreed on this). So then it's a question of how to do this? i.e. of tactics. In which case I'd point back to the tactical points made about public actions and organising (and the potentially conflicting qualities of them) made in the article.
Some of which it seems we are in agreement on, i.e. of the need for training, but then again it's an issue of how, where and in what context this is pursued. That is, of course, the beginning of a slightly different (and certainly more useful in respect to most of the comments on this thread) discussion which needs further expansion and development. In any case our starting point is that organising strategies should be given priority.

wojtek

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on December 19, 2012

Can we delete the shitstorm between Rob Ray and Joe Roe?

Phil

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Phil on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack

Yes workers need to fight their own battles but they also need to given the resources, education and support to do this (we seem to be largely agreed on this). So then it's a question of how to do this? i.e. of tactics. In which case I'd point back to the tactical points made about public actions and organising (and the potentially conflicting qualities of them) made in the article.
Some of which it seems we are in agreement on, i.e. of the need for training, but then again it's an issue of how, where and in what context this is pursued. That is, of course, the beginning of a slightly different (and certainly more useful in respect to most of the comments on this thread) discussion which needs further expansion and development. In any case our starting point is that organising strategies should be given priority.

I don't think the two need to be opposed, competing for priority, in the specific case of workfare actions. Yes, I agree with the general point that action for action's sake is a waste of time and energy. But this isn't what workfare pickets are - they're targeted direct actions which are having a very real impact on a government policy whose tangible effects are being felt by a large cross section of unemployed workers. I'd see them as a useful aid to organising rather than a barrier or a rival concern.

Steven.

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on December 19, 2012

Yeah, I don't think the exchange between Joe and Rob was particularly helpful. How about we end that line of the discussion and get back to the main topic?

I must say, these "claimants' unions" and "centres" Red and Black is talking about all sound very good: where are they and what do they do?

Phil

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Phil on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack

Phil

Again, I'd agree - but it's not a critique of SF's methods.

It's largely Solidarity Federation members who have interpreted the purpose of the article as this. We never made such a claim. Our interest is in putting forward a much broader analysis of the limits of tactics and strategy that aspects of the Boycott Workfare and UK Uncut campaigns expose.

You're using SF as the main example of the methods you're critiquing, which is why much of the discussion is focused on SF and it's being viewed that way. Not that critique of SolFed is a bad thing if it can be backed up and learned from, but you're largely discussing the follies of groups like UK Uncut and Boycott Workfare which we have expressly tried to avoid or address in various ways.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

Phil

I don't think the two need to be opposed, competing for priority, in the specific case of workfare actions. Yes, I agree with the general point that action for action's sake is a waste of time and energy. But this isn't what workfare pickets are - they're targeted direct actions which are having a very real impact on a government policy whose tangible effects are being felt by a large cross section of unemployed workers. I'd see them as a useful aid to organising rather than a barrier or a rival concern.

On this point I just think we'll have to respectfully disagree. Mostly for the reasons already outlined above.

Phil

You're using SF as the main example of the methods you're critiquing, which is why much of the discussion is focused on SF and it's being viewed that way.

That's simply not true. The Solidarity Federation is referenced only three times in the article, and twice quite positively.

That Solfed members have chosen to get particularly defensive about their support of the Boycott Workfare Network is their own prerogative really.

wojtek

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack wrote:

Why aren't the existing class organisations in the UK making it easier for you to pursue this (via resources, training, support etc.)?

I hadn't approached and discussed my situation with Solfed at that point so this question is quite presumptuous tbh and I have outlined why forming a claimants union however desirable isn't possible, for the time being at least.

How does your question above square with the "internal composition of the action" you described in response to no. 1, because they seem to be contradictory? If we're physically isolated then sometimes our only option is reach out to those who aren't in our immediate town, etc. in order to kick things off.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 19, 2012

Steven.

Yeah, I don't think the exchange between Joe and Rob was particularly helpful. How about we end that line of the discussion and get back to the main topic?

Yeah, I'm sorry about that :(

Konsequent

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Konsequent on December 19, 2012

It may be possible to transfer cultures of class confidence via activist activity – for example, the international support given to Pizza Hut workers by IWW members and others, or the victory at Office Angels co-ordinated by the Solidarity Federation – but our source of power is still ultimately proletarian subjectivity applied at the point of production and reproduction of capitalism. Support and solidarity actions may be useful, they may even be successful (in terms of winning gains) but they cannot function in isolation and still contain the same limits.

These actions increase class confidence to the extent that they don't really fit into the definition of activism in your article. When workers are involved in a dispute they have various tactics available to them and calling for solidarity actions is one if them. As its those workers deploying the tactic I don't think your critique of activism applies here. Not that you were criticising those actions, but I thought it was important to elaborate on how they differ from activists acting off their own bat on behalf of workers in spite  of the fact that they have a similar appearance. The composition of the solidarity actions isn't as relevant here as the fact that it's the workers involved utilising them to achieve their aims. 

raw

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by raw on December 19, 2012

Rob Ray

a) you don't know what the state of the debate is within SF, because you aren't a member but make all sorts of assumptions
b) your position throughout is pretty clearly antagonistic rather than comradely, presumably because you think of yourself as coming from a competing/superior tendency rather than a parallel one, hence the tone of response you're getting.

haha :-0) Glad you come over to my view after so long comrade. Role reversal. ;-)

Anyway, this is very interesting debate which I will contribute to later.

Refused

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Refused on December 19, 2012

As I understand it much of the conclusion to this article is an imperative to join SolFed and do the Organiser Training.

noodlehead

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by noodlehead on December 19, 2012

I'm an SF member and I share some of these critiques of the campaign. I think you'd find some of the debates that were going on internally interesting.

I had an idea to build up anti workfare solidarity networks where we initiate contact with radical claimants by holding infomational stalls at work programme providers, then moving towards taking direct action to ensure that the people that are getting involved in the network don't have to do any unpaid work experience by targetting the specific branches of national businesses or local businesses that are taking them on. I think that getting people involved in this might be easier that with a big national target because the actions will be immedietely in defence of their own interests rather than a more political struggle against workfare in general. And it avoids the activism elements by basing the campaign directly around the members immediate situations rather than a more long term abstract opposition to labour market reform.

The idea would be that if there were multiple claimants going to different companies then they would even be able to participate and avoid discplinary actions by joining the actions against the other employers not the their own.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

Refused

As I understand it much of the conclusion to this article is an imperative to join SolFed and do the Organiser Training.

Or the IWW. It is our training after all...

Refused

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Refused on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack

Refused

As I understand it much of the conclusion to this article is an imperative to join SolFed and do the Organiser Training.

Or the IWW.

Oh, that's disappointing.

If I can suggest an amendment: Boycott Workfare and other groups supported SolFed's campaign against Holland And Barrett, not the other way around.

plasmatelly

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by plasmatelly on December 19, 2012

Nobody told me Collective Action hadn't folded! I must have missed the announcement.

Spikymike

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on December 19, 2012

Reasonably question from Steven earlier - the only possible existing 'centre', 'claimants union' and associated base for opposition to the current austerity measures I can think might fit the bill is around the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh but others might know better? The text is I think proposing a strategy for the future rather than an existing established network ? - how viable that might be is up for discussion presumably?

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

plasmatelly

Nobody told me Collective Action hadn't folded! I must have missed the announcement.

The continual references to CA are a little unfair to both CA, who haven't endorsed the text, and DP, who is equally responsible for the views expressed in the article and not a CA member.

Spikymike

Reasonably question from Steven earlier - the only possible existing 'centre', 'claimants union' and associated base for opposition to the current austerity measures I can think might fit the bill is around the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh but others might know better? The text is I think proposing a strategy for the future rather than an existing established network ? - how viable that might be is up for discussion presumably?

Spot on.

Arbeiten

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on December 19, 2012

Yeah some of this is interesting.

I think part of the reason this has had such negative feedback from some SF members is that, for the article to make it's wider points, it appears to fold the differences between UKuncut, Boycott Workfare and SF. Especially the 'classtivism' (my aversion to neologisms is going on overdrive here) critique. It is not at all fair to say that SF deal with class as an 'issue' the same as fair trade (I think this may be a fair criticism of Polly Toynbee sponsored UKuncut however).

I was quite disappointed when I got to the bottom. Ok, yeah. I see some of this criticism. So, what is to be done? well... build a movement of militant organizers in your workplace and with those around you. As Refused points out, sounds a lot like SF....

As JK pointed out a while back, 'claimant' is not a clear category (the kids call it precarious :-D). I don't think this article really addresses that at all. 'claimants union' right now feel a little bit like 'GENERAL STRIKE NOW!'. I would like to see this clarion call put into action and wish you the best in your endeavour.

Arbeiten

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack

The continual references to CA are a little unfair to both CA, who haven't endorsed the text, and DP, who is equally responsible for the views expressed in the article and not a CA member.

You might want to ask them to take down the snide comment they wrote on Twitter about SF then because that looks quite like an endorsement from here ;-). Honestly, twitter beef is a bit pathetic...

radicalgraffiti

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on December 19, 2012

i think the claim they we should organise claimants unions rather than attempting to shut down work fair is fucking riduculars. I have to assume the authors have no fucking clue how the work program functions.

Arbeiten

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on December 19, 2012

radicalgraffiti

I have to assume the authors have no fucking clue how the work program functions.

Well, quite. I see there is no mention of sanctions in the piece. Or any mention of how a claimants union might come about. But if people want to organize one, that's fine by me!

wojtek

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on December 19, 2012

radicalgraffiti, could you expand please?

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

Arbeiten

RedAndBlack

The continual references to CA are a little unfair to both CA, who haven't endorsed the text, and DP, who is equally responsible for the views expressed in the article and not a CA member.

You might want to ask them to take down the snide comment they wrote on Twitter about SF then because that looks quite like an endorsement from here ;-). Honestly, twitter beef is a bit pathetic...

Kinda rich considering the pretty nasty accusations that have been thrown around by Solfed members today (both here and far worse on Twitter). Even so I'm not interested in tit-for-tat, I just thought there might be some genuine confusion as to who had actually written this piece. All of which, of course, is a distraction from its actual content.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 19, 2012

radicalgraffiti

i think the claim they we should organise claimants unions rather than attempting to shut down work fair is fucking riduculars. I have to assume the authors have no fucking clue how the work program functions.

If people are going to attempt to engage with the article can they actually engage with the ideas in the article. At the very least you could actually explain the basis of your objection.

It really isn't fair to just take simplified abstractions from parts of the article and then throw it back as if it represents the entire substance of what we are saying. Yes, we do talk about claimants unions and centres as one example of different things that can be pursued. We also talk about salting and more focused workplace action amongst workfare employers. Even so the point is that this is jumping straight back into tactical debates without acknowledging the concern for deeper processes we strenuously outline throughout the course of the article.

To simplify the position as "we don't think you should do X, do Y instead" is not to do justice to our position and this perspective (that there are easy quick remedies in the form of this or that alternative tactic) is, in my view, one of the fundamental issues that impedes the libertarian movement in the UK.

Leaving aside our disagreements on the utility of activism/classtivism for a moment, some commentators have pointed, correctly, to the idea (and perhaps a point of unity in terms of other organisations) of the need to build a movement of organisers and movement-builders. Well let's take a serious and substantive look at that process as a form of praxis. Yes some organisations provide organiser training, the IWW do, so do Solfed, but this represents the bare minimum of work could that be put into this area. This idea needs to be built on substantially more than that. This is the trajectory that the article takes in terms of further debate and discussion, not presenting this or that quick fix to this or that movement or struggle.

radicalgraffiti

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on December 19, 2012

wojtek

radicalgraffiti, could you expand please?

people on the work program are extremely isolated from each other, they can't withdraw there labour without loosing there benefits, Before they get sent on the work part there ability to interact with other claimants is virtually nil, as appointments are widely spaced and you will rarely see the same person twice except for your advisor. When you are on a placement you may meet other people on work fair but this is extremely temporary making it vary difficult to build relationships, and you are in small isolated groups, so it is really difficult it make contact with other people one work fair.

there is also the fact that the government wants people to quit, and can remove your benefits with no consequence at all.

compared to this, you can go on pickets and disrupt a business income, forcing them to withdraw from the work program, thus making it harder for the work fair providers to find placements, so making the period you have to work for free less (or the period of none work greater) while increasing the likelihood of you getting paid work, for vary like risk, and this also helps build working class solidarity, thus making claments organisation more practical.

Phil

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Phil on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack

Yes some organisations provide organiser training, the IWW do, so do Solfed, but this represents the bare minimum of work could that be put into this area. This idea needs to be built on substantially more than that.

SolFed has training. But that's not "it," as far as this area goes. Workfare pickets have encouraged workers to organise and spoken about it in depth. SF have supported agency workers' and other workers' struggles. Practical support on picket lines is standard. And most of us are organising in our own workplaces - both where there's an established union and where the workers are casual/precarious.

Hardly a bare minimum, especially given the numbers and resources of anarcho-syndicalists in the UK.

radicalgraffiti

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on December 19, 2012

RedAndBlack

radicalgraffiti

i think the claim they we should organise claimants unions rather than attempting to shut down work fair is fucking riduculars. I have to assume the authors have no fucking clue how the work program functions.

If people are going to attempt to engage with the article can they actually engage with the ideas in the article. At the very least you could actually explain the basis of your objection.

the basis of my objection is what you said makes no sense, you propose things in a completely abstract way, so what if a union of claments would be useful if it existed, to suggest this instead of picketing shops makes no sense, you cant just make a claments union in the current situation, to make one will require years of organisation amongst workers and making friends with people is not going to do.

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 20, 2012

radicalgraffiti

wojtek

radicalgraffiti, could you expand please?

compared to this, you can go on pickets and disrupt a business income, forcing them to withdraw from the work program, thus making it harder for the work fair providers to find placements, so making the period you have to work for free less (or the period of none work greater) while increasing the likelihood of you getting paid work, for vary like risk, and this also helps build working class solidarity, thus making claments organisation more practical.

May I ask what that working class solidarity looks like? How does this build lasting workplace and/or community militancy or at least facilitate a process towards that. And how does it tie into your long term strategy for creating a counter-power? What is your long term strategy?

The issue here is that achieving these things in the short term are admirable achievements that may create some kind of solidarity (I'm not sure exactly what your definition of that is) and some confidence, but then what? While you've achieved a short term victory, how does that victory then relate to our relationship with the process of production. Because you can't defeat capitalism unless your activity relates directly to the process of production. Unless you are building militancy that seeks to break down capitalist logic and begin a process of communising the products of our labour, then we are not going to move towards a full seizure of the means of production and therefore we cannot create anarchist communism.

All of the class struggle and militancy that we engage with or build has to be critiqued and judged on whether it is building towards that process. If it isn't, then why are we doing it? Your activity might create some short term solution, but does it have a long term benefit towards our objective of building a militant relationship towards the process of production i.e. a recognition of our power within the process of production, communising the products of our labour and ultimately recognising our interest in seizing the means in which those products are produced. Are we community/social activists or are we anarchist communists?

Dumfries

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dumfries on December 20, 2012

Tommy Ascaso

why use classtivisim when you could have just said 'class struggle anarchism'

Oh Jim. I'm not sure if you're joking or not :p

Harrison

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Harrison on December 20, 2012

I'm not going to engage with the substance of the piece as i'm a bit tired at the moment, but i have to clarify a few things.

1) Of the authors, I don't know who CW is, but DP is completely sound, Hull SF have had good relations with him, and he has previously expressed a high degree of respect for SF. So i'd request that SF comrades share a respect for his moral integrity and therefore a respect for the intentions behind this article as a criticism of political tactics and to please not assume that the intention was to polemicise a rival organisation.

2) as far as i have been able to gauge, the prevalent attitude in SF has been critical continuation of the workfare pickets (ie. to maintain the momentum, but to seriously discuss how we have gone about it). i believe the H&B victory to have been good for the organisation and a small class victory, but not so much for raising the level of general class militancy / injecting our methods.

3) Hull SF has an unemployed member and contacts, and are in the initial stages of convening an unemployed workers group. (there is no way the authors could have known this as it has not been public).

4) There is little chance that DP or CW could have known about SF's internal criticisms of the workfare campaign. we have no members in Sheffield. also there is less pub enabled discussion for them to connect with the larger milieu, hence the need to publish a political interaction. i know this as i am in Hull SF during semester time, but North London SF outside that. the northern cities are like islands of anarchy, whilst london and brighton is like anarchy soup.

5) We generally have political and tactical differences with BW, and are not formally involved in the network, but cooperate a great deal alongside.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 20, 2012

Tommy Ascaso

Lumping UK Uncut, Boycott Workfare and SF's 'End unpaid work' campaign into one broad category isn't really helpful either. You ignore the very real differences between all three to just make the point that they've all used action at the point of consumption rather than at action at the point of production, by workers themselves.

This is a fair criticism I think (someone else said it earlier but I can't find the post) and perhaps we should have been clearer in the differences between the organisations. Even so you are right that there is a commonality in that these actions are aimed at the sphere of consumption and our analysis is relevant in that sense in that these are the practices that we are proposing class struggle organisers "give up", irrespective of whether they are doing organising work elsewhere (in fact, often because of given the conflictual nature of the two tactics and the contradictory messages they send - do we have power as workers or consumers? is our power inside the shop or outside it? etc.)

radicalgraffitti

people on the work program are extremely isolated from each other, they can't withdraw there labour without loosing there benefits, Before they get sent on the work part there ability to interact with other claimants is virtually nil, as appointments are widely spaced and you will rarely see the same person twice except for your advisor. When you are on a placement you may meet other people on work fair but this is extremely temporary making it vary difficult to build relationships, and you are in small isolated groups, so it is really difficult it make contact with other people one work fair.

there is also the fact that the government wants people to quit, and can remove your benefits with no consequence at all.

compared to this, you can go on pickets and disrupt a business income, forcing them to withdraw from the work program, thus making it harder for the work fair providers to find placements, so making the period you have to work for free less (or the period of none work greater) while increasing the likelihood of you getting paid work, for vary like risk, and this also helps build working class solidarity, thus making claments organisation more practical.

This reads like you haven't read the article at all.

There are certainly practical problems to organising claimants but they are by no means impassable if you are taking a long-term and committed approach to organising. If you ask me you are more likely to gain more traction forming a dialogue with people who could be put on workfare programmes through sustained and regular agitation at job centres than one-off pickets outside shops. If this fails then, ok, let's try and understand why this failed because ultimately that lesson is more important because it is a serious obstacle to forming a movement.

And yes, there are consequences. The state could take your money away. A boss could also fire you for organising. "they wouldn't call it class struggle if it didn't involve struggling". The point is we find ways of engaging with these risks while trying to minimise their impact through collective solidarity and support.

The above also assumes that your above strategy will be successful. I don't think it will be. Companies like HandB and charities may be shamed into withdrawing from the workfare programme but I doubt that TESCO or Poundland have similar concerns on impact on income or their public image. It'll begin to hit the various limits that we outline in the article.

radicalgraffitii

helps build working class solidarity, thus making claments organisation more practical.

and this doesn't follow for exactly the reasons that we outlined in the article. You haven't proved that worker solidarity can win concessions, you have proved that the concerted effort of a national network of activists can win concessions with a sustained campaign of activism. It doesn't create a new context for class consciousness (as you seem to be suggesting) between claimants or workers. You haven't created a new context for confidence in class action (more activist actions perhaps) on a "macro" or "micro" level, i.e. in the immediate context of those workplaces. And as you correctly acknowledge you then have to build the actual class orientated organisation after anyway (essentially what you should have been concentrating on in the first place).

no1

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by no1 on December 20, 2012

RedAndBlack

these actions are aimed at the sphere of consumption and our analysis is relevant in that sense in that these are the practices that we are proposing class struggle organisers "give up", irrespective of whether they are doing organising work elsewhere (in fact, often because of given the conflictual nature of the two tactics and the contradictory messages they send - do we have power as workers or consumers? is our power inside the shop or outside it? etc.)

The thing is that SolFed never thought of the 'end unpaid work' campaign in terms of consumer power or something like that but of economic disruption. Although boycotts are an age-old anarcho-syndicalist tactic, the lost sales from us turning away customers from Holland & Barrett will have been pretty minor. Instead, pickets massively pissed off store managers by undermining their control of 'their' shop, and we always start pickets by talking to staff, usually giving them a letter (which at least in theory could lead to workplace organising). More importantly it threatened a £6 million PR campaign H&B had just launched. That PR campaign tried to convince customers that their staff were really well trained to give advice (important for them as they compete with cheaper supermarkets) - a message that's completely destroyed once people realise they have a massive proportion of 'staff' on workfare (and a reason they switched to the apprentice scheme). This was supplemented by several communications blockades to heigthen disruption.
Talking to customers and passersby is obviously important too - but not so much because of lost sales, but because it's a way of talking about things like solidarity (and acting accordingly). It's also an opportunity to talk to unemployed people and a lot of retail workers - potentially a way to start those unemployed unions and workplace organising in retail which of course we'd like to do.

RedAndBlack

There are certainly practical problems to organising claimants but they are by no means impassable if you are taking a long-term and committed approach to organising. If you ask me you are more likely to gain more traction forming a dialogue with people who could be put on workfare programmes through sustained and regular agitation at job centres than one-off pickets outside shops. If this fails then, ok, let's try and understand why this failed because ultimately that lesson is more important because it is a serious obstacle to forming a movement.

I'm not sure why you think we haven't done that - we have, and it didn't really work. I've spent hours and hours leafleting at the local job centre with a result of nothing at all usually. Which is why we've started doing things like the workfare campaign (a great strategic advantage of organising against workfare, and reason why we started this, is that it can unite workers in and out of jobs - decreasing the isolation of the unemployed that makes them so reluctant to get organised).

Spikymike

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on December 20, 2012

Good to see some more sensible dialogue emmerging out of this on all sides.

A few points:

SolFed deserve some credit for taking a self-critical look at their own anti-workfair strategy even if that hasn't always been publicly available on this site. It's my impression that some SolFed practice on this strategy has not always been up to it's own theoretical underpinning but not necessarily for want of trying.

Anarchist inspired and supported consumer boycotts are however wider than this and perhaps more open to criticism. R&B's caution against reading some small victories against the likes of Holland and Barret accross to a wider assault on the capitalist big guns is worth some more thought in anarchist circles. This was a point I made on another thread appealing for such a campaign against the Co-op over it's employment of ATOS (which gathered very little discussion) and was brought up in the thread about problems with a boycott of Amazon.

On the problems of organising the unemployed and fighting benefit cuts there are some useful lessons and some cautions to be taken from the more recent history of our own milieu in the anti-JSA campaigns recorded in a number of debates in the old Subversion magazine and in Aufheben. Certainly my involvement in that brought home to me the difficulties of moving beyond a politically motivated activist approach towards something based on sustained claimant self-organisation.

Contrary to what some other posters have said I think from my own experience that what the text says about 'friendships' or perhaps what we might better describe as 'informal networks' built up over time based on trusted support and solidarity in workplaces are as important as more formal organisation. But.....these are surely only possible in more stable employment sectors which in the UK and Europe are less common these days?

Joe Roe raises some genuine questions for the SolFed and the rest of us about what we think the relationship (if any) really is between the sort of short term, small scale class struggle victories under discussion and the potential for the growth of a genuine anti-capitalist movement. But the SolFed has had a proper go at answering this in their new pamphlet 'Fighting for Ourselves'. I have voiced some limited criticisms of my own in the earlier 'New pamphlet from the SolFed...' thread but I await some proper critical reviews of this pamplet from the organised political groups in our milieu, including CA.

Spikymike

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on December 20, 2012

Sorry double post - still having serious problems with accessing and navigating this site.

radicalgraffiti

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on December 20, 2012

@RedAndBlack

You completely fail to recognise how isolated claimants are for each other, you only think about organising in terms workers with long term stable jobs. It is virtually impossible for claimants to build the kind of relationships with each other that you talk about in the article.

Although you say that activists are workers to you everywhere treat anyone taking part in anyt work fair action as a separate group from claimants.

You say people should agitate outside jobcenters, but people on the work program don't even go to job centres, they are sent to private companies usually for months, before being sent to work placement.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 20, 2012

Spikymike

but I await some proper critical reviews of this pamplet from the organised political groups in our milieu, including CA.

In progress... It's a long (but very worthy) read :)

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 20, 2012

no1

I'm not sure why you think we haven't done that - we have, and it didn't really work. I've spent hours and hours leafleting at the local job centre with a result of nothing at all usually. Which is why we've started doing things like the workfare campaign (a great strategic advantage of organising against workfare, and reason why we started this, is that it can unite workers in and out of jobs - decreasing the isolation of the unemployed that makes them so reluctant to get organised).

If our single aim was to criticise Solfed that would be fair enough. But as I say again, we're talking in broad terms about specific tactics here. Even so I think this raises some important issues that require greater reflection. Most importantly is the kind of strategic escalation into initiating public actions really what is required in the instance that face-to-face outreach and agitation has failed? These aren't just questions for workfare but any campaign that has hit a wall in terms of its ability to mobilise. Something that I have also experienced many times.

I thought this was interesting as well:

noodlehead

I had an idea to build up anti workfare solidarity networks where we initiate contact with radical claimants by holding infomational stalls at work programme providers, then moving towards taking direct action to ensure that the people that are getting involved in the network don't have to do any unpaid work experience by targetting the specific branches of national businesses or local businesses that are taking them on. I think that getting people involved in this might be easier that with a big national target because the actions will be immedietely in defence of their own interests rather than a more political struggle against workfare in general. And it avoids the activism elements by basing the campaign directly around the members immediate situations rather than a more long term abstract opposition to labour market reform.

The idea would be that if there were multiple claimants going to different companies then they would even be able to participate and avoid discplinary actions by joining the actions against the other employers not the their own.

radicalgraffiti

@RedAndBlack

You completely fail to recognise how isolated claimants are for each other, you only think about organising in terms workers with long term stable jobs. It is virtually impossible for claimants to build the kind of relationships with each other that you talk about in the article.

More difficult yes, impossible no. I mean the CAPs (Coalition Against Poverty), for example, seemed to have varying degrees of success in this area. They have hit problems but it wasn't impossible to bring together claimants just because they were claimants. You are making a lot of sweeping claims without using a great deal of evidence to back it up.

radicalgraffiti

Although you say that activists are workers to you everywhere treat anyone taking part in anyt work fair action as a separate group from claimants.

No we are just making the basic distinction between workers as something that a lot of us are and the specific set of workers that need to lead and define a struggle, i.e. the workers in a workplace.

radicalgraffiti

You say people should agitate outside jobcenters, but people on the work program don't even go to job centres, they are sent to private companies usually for months, before being sent to work placement.

Yes I understand this but this is exactly why a broader perspective needs to be employed. People who are claimants periodically are put on workfare placements so your most stable organising base should be claimants (in general) supplemented by the workers in industries where workfare is being extended.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 20, 2012

I've written a long post which I'll post below, but I think it's all quite incidental on account of...

RedAndBlack

these actions are aimed at the sphere of consumption and our analysis is relevant in that sense in that these are the practices that we are proposing class struggle organisers "give up"

and

RedAndBlack

the specific set of workers that need to lead and define a struggle, i.e. the workers in a workplace.

This sounds a lot like the main objection here is not to the specific tactics, but the very fact these aren't point-of-production struggles by working class workers who work. Now if that's the argument, I just disagree. Circulation can be a point of struggle, the only one available to those excluded from production, as your own example of the piqueteros shows.

Can you clarify whether the problem is (1) circulation-based struggles per se, or (2) the 'composition' of them? Because you seem to be saying both, but they seem contradictory.

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 20, 2012

RedAndBlack

JK, I think it makes more sense if you use the definition of activism actually outlined in the article.

ok, lets take the definition of 'activism' set out in the article:

RedAndBlack

"an organising culture premised principally on the initiation of “actions” and “campaigns” (what we would identify as “activism”)"

Ok, straight away there's a problem here: in focusing on organising culture, you're focussing on the internal dynamics of groups. Do you have any knowledge of any of these groups' culture?

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 20, 2012

I also want to comment a bit more on the 'alternatives':

Organising retail workers
Ok, well this is ambitious. Nothing wrong with ambition, but let's think this through. Now, as it happens, there have been some sustained, boring attempts to establish contacts with retail workers and encourage organisation. But putting that aside, this is a really tall order. You're talking about organising a sector that's mostly been unorganised (well, USDAW...), from scratch, with no people on the inside. There's an added difficulty with salting, as (a) it's really hard to find any job at the moment, let alone one for a specific firm, and (b) the whole point is retailers which use workfare are reducing hiring, sometimes to zero. You could sign on and volunteer for work experience, but then you're fucked if they sanction you (unless you get an organisational stipend, which takes us into paid organiser territory).

I'm not sure what I think about salting in this kind of context, but I'm not sure anyone has the resources to launch a drive like that. And even if they do, didn't the Starbucks campaign in the states take like 5 years or so to get established? Now maybe I'm wrong, and you've been salting a retail industrial union for 9 months and it's not public, in which case fair play and I'm sure all anti-workfare types, even the liberals, would support this. But organising cold shops from a standing start with nobody on the inside just doesn't seem viable to me in the kind of timescale that workfare is vulnerable, i.e. while jobs are scarce (though with austerity pushed back to 2017, maybe there's time).

Also, I know it's not just retail, but have limited it to that for the sake of simplicity. There were 350 factory workers in Leicester, who were organised, sacked for going on strike and replaced with workfare. Like I say, I'm obviously not 'against' workers getting organised to fight workfare from the shop floor. I think it would be brilliant. I'm just not convinced it's really that viable (or "hard-headed"), and even if it is, there's no reason to stop doing stuff which has had a tangible impact.

Claimants unions
Again ignoring the fact that some of the groups you're criticising for not trying this, actually are (e.g. Liverpool SF), this seems to miss the point. A claimants union is quite likely to be just a group of unemployed/low wage lefties calling themselves a union. In other words, claimants unions only address the 'compositional' issue if they're able to draw in more people beyond the usual suspects, i.e. they face the exact same problem as pickets, or demonstrations, or worker-claimant activist groups or whatever. Again, I'm not 'against' the idea, it just doesn't seem like much of a breakthrough. Some groups are trying it, and if they have success then those lessons will be taken up and generalised.

There's also an issue here that claimant organising is very different to workplace organising. At work, you can build a committee strategically, there's a finite pool of people with whom you have some relationship (or at least, some pretext to talk to), you can pick who to bring on board at what stage and so on. With claimant organising, it's more or less a self-selecting group of people who turn up, if anyone turns up. And this is pretty important: signing on is really really atomised and depressing, by design. I would love to see this situation overcome by claimant organising, but claimants unions aren't really an answer imho, and put the cart before the horse (i.e. if we knew how to build combative claimants unions with lots of new people involved we'd also know how to organise pickets with lots of new people involved).

Claimants' centres
Once again, putting aside the fact that some of the groups you're criticising do have close links to unemployed centres (afaik ECAP and BBC both do, and both participate in Boycott Workfare Network stuff, and some SF locals have involvement too), I'm not sure this really helps. To my knowledge, said centres aren't hubs of claimant self-activity, but cater through casework and/or cheap/free meals for people who are in a pretty desparate situation. Now, public meetings in places like this might not be a bad idea, but it's not obvious that will attract big swathes of people, or that even if it did, that they'd be able to do much different to disruption in the sphere of circulation (whether blocking roads or shops or whatever - i.e. the only tactics available to those excluded from production.)

Standing outside Job Centres
One more time for a full house, this is something that people have done a lot of, with varying results. It was largely fruitless in Brighton, though I've heard more positive things from elsewhere and it might be worth trying again (if only to wind up job centre management).

~

So to summarise: you're basing your argument on conjecture about the organsing culture of groups you know little about, and offering 'alternatives' that said groups are either already engaged in, or have tried and abandoned as dead-ends. I hope that explains why this 'guys, stop everything you're doing! don't you know class struggle is hard and boring?' schtick comes over as really condescending (even if that's not the intention, which I'm sure it isn't).

I think the only sensible approach is trial and error, then when we find things that work, looking to generalise them. I think it would be really foolish to abandon tactics that are actually having a tangible impact on workfare in favour of any of the above (at least, until any of the above could take the lead). But by all means, if you've had any success doing any of the above, please share it, I'm sure you'll be pushing at an open door.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 20, 2012

Joseph Kay

RedAndBlack

"an organising culture premised principally on the initiation of “actions” and “campaigns” (what we would identify as “activism”)"

Ok, straight away there's a problem here: in focusing on organising culture, you're focussing on the internal dynamics of groups. Do you have any knowledge of any of these groups' culture?

That's not the definition in the article. If you return to my replies to your posts (or the article itself) you will see the correct definition:

What, then, do we mean by “activism”? In simple terms, the idea of bringing together individuals on the basis of their shared ideological goals and beliefs who adopt specific disruptive strategies to pile public pressure (or otherwise “consciousness raise” – we will analyse this particular aspect in greater detail below) around a certain issue. The intention is that this activism will bring about some form of social or political change... There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

Once again it's not very helpful to produce lengthy responses to ideas that aren't actually put forward in the article.

Even so, what you have said is premised on the notion that the whole point was to criticise Solfed (or make some form of intervention within Solfed), it simply wasn't.

Joseph Kay

Can you clarify whether the problem is (1) circulation-based struggles per se, or (2) the 'composition' of them? Because you seem to be saying both, but they seem contradictory.

I think there are weaknesses in (1) that are often unacknowledged by community organisers because of the less perceptive way that capitalist power is exercised in the sphere of circulation than in the workplace. There is also a clear difference between a movement built around, for example, service-users and one built on "consumer power". I think in terms of composition the point was less that they have to be workers, more that they should represent a genuine community mobilised around an issue (part of the problem you have pointed to in terms of claimants unions).

But I don't think either one of these form the core of what we are saying. Our case is more simply that it's better to judge things in terms of the immediate effects that they are able to produce in the areas in which actions is taken. Do they produce sustainable models of organisation and/or steps towards bigger movements for the "targets" of those actions?

On a more general basis I'm not really sure I quite understand the recurring objections that the organisations we want will take a long time to build. What is behind this? Because I think fundamentally workfare isn't going to brought down by a few withdrawals from the programme by some participants in the scheme. It's going to require a change in government policy and that means building mass support against both it, and austerity more generally. Yes workfare is moving quickly but so is every other austerity driven policy the government has brought in. All the cuts are coming in at brake-neck speed. Given that the libertarian movement in this country is tiny and hasn't had a perceivable impact on labour struggles in recent history isn't it about time we started to get in it for the long-term?

Joseph Kay

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 20, 2012

RedAndBlack

What, then, do we mean by “activism”? In simple terms, the idea of bringing together individuals on the basis of their shared ideological goals and beliefs who adopt specific disruptive strategies...

Show me a non-ideological goal and I'll show you pure ideology. By this definition, any people coming together to oppose workfare are therefore activists. And indeed, and worker striking for the living wage are activists. Now this is presumably where 'composition' comes in, but it seems like an arbitrary demarcation of legit 'non-ideological' participants and 'activist' 'ideological' ones.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 20, 2012

Joseph Kay

RedAndBlack

What, then, do we mean by “activism”? In simple terms, the idea of bringing together individuals on the basis of their shared ideological goals and beliefs who adopt specific disruptive strategies...

Show me a non-ideological goal and I'll show you pure ideology. By this definition, any people coming together to oppose workfare are therefore activists. And indeed, and worker striking for the living wage are activists. Now this is presumably where 'composition' comes in, but it seems like an arbitrary demarcation of legit 'non-ideological' participants and 'activist' 'ideological' ones.

I'm not really sure how many times it is possible to point to the same passage. What you have said above is not in line with the definition as given in the article:

The intention is that this activism will bring about some form of social or political change. Undoubtedly certain aspects of “activism” will be part of and naturally arise within the alternative perspective we later identify – that of movement-building – and it is not our purpose to write off these as tactics completely. Rather we identify activism as problematic, in itself, because it is principally the basis in which social change is seen to be effected. It is the activist and their practice of activism – whether it is a public protest outside a store, chaining oneself to the gates or a sit-down in the manager’s office – that are seen as having the transformative role. There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

If that isn't clear the issue is about how our transformative capacity is understood within our conception of activism > as a group of activists (irrespective of who they are), practising activism. This is distinct from workers utilising their power of transformation as a result of their productive/reproductive role within capitalism.

Cooked

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Cooked on December 20, 2012

class struggle is long, boring and hard work

Unfortunately this doesn't sound all that great...

As has been mentioned a few times in this thread already the tiny numbers of militants makes lots of ambitious and 'correct' action impossible or difficult. Peoples lives are already full of "long, boring and hard work" and you have to be able to show some serious wins for people beyond the tiny (to small and mostly insane?) core to spend their energy on it. This makes for a difficult equation.

boring hard work => not enough people => no wins

Might it not then make strategic sense to go for some tiny 'victories' on the side? Perhaps just working away on that loooong term is bad strategy? Even better if class struggle could have elements of fun and passion and not that wierd put on lefty type fun.

A close relative of mine said about SAC (one of the most northern locals) that they have sound ideas but he can't stand the people as they are depressing to be around and they haven't got much fun going on. If this wasn't the case he would have been active. Peoples idea of fun does however vary greatly.

If you keep sharpening that stick to poke a hole in capitalism you'll end up sitting there with a stump.

Gotta run so I cant finish this but will post anyway..

Tom de Cleyre

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Tom de Cleyre on December 20, 2012

If that isn't clear the issue is about how our transformative capacity is understood within our conception of activism > as a group of activists (irrespective of who they are), practising activism. This is distinct from workers utilising their power of transformation as a result of their productive/reproductive role within capitalism.

wtf?

gypsy

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by gypsy on December 21, 2012

Joseph Kay

I also want to comment a bit more on the 'alternatives':

Claimants unions
Again ignoring the fact that some of the groups you're criticising for not trying this, actually are (e.g. Liverpool SF), this seems to miss the point. A claimants union is quite likely to be just a group of unemployed/low wage lefties calling themselves a union. In other words, claimants unions only address the 'compositional' issue if they're able to draw in more people beyond the usual suspects, i.e. they face the exact same problem as pickets, or demonstrations, or worker-claimant activist groups or whatever. Again, I'm not 'against' the idea, it just doesn't seem like much of a breakthrough. Some groups are trying it, and if they have success then those lessons will be taken up and generalised.

There's also an issue here that claimant organising is very different to workplace organising. At work, you can build a committee strategically, there's a finite pool of people with whom you have some relationship (or at least, some pretext to talk to), you can pick who to bring on board at what stage and so on. With claimant organising, it's more or less a self-selecting group of people who turn up, if anyone turns up. And this is pretty important: signing on is really really atomised and depressing, by design. I would love to see this situation overcome by claimant organising, but claimants unions aren't really an answer imho, and put the cart before the horse (i.e. if we knew how to build combative claimants unions with lots of new people involved we'd also know how to organise pickets with lots of new people involved).
.

So you are not against it but they are not the answer? What is then? When organising claimants?

I go along the simple idea of trying to organise where you are. Since I am unemployed I will try to organise with the reserve army of labour who I am signing on alongside. And as you say since signing on is such an atomised and depressive it is imperative we try to make it a more collective issue-even if a claimants union is not successful it is always worth fighting the draconian practices and at times advisors at the jobcentre. Are you saying we should not do anything?

If I get a job I will try to organise with my co-workers. Btw with this thread I think both SF,IWW and CA have made some valid points and criticisms, ego's get in the way as usual. Remember to put your class above your organisation everytime. Merry winterval everyone.

Refused

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Refused on December 21, 2012

RedAndBlack

On a more general basis I'm not really sure I quite understand the recurring objections that the organisations we want will take a long time to build. What is behind this?

LOL

This an absolutely bizarre interpretation of the comments you've received.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 21, 2012

Tom de Cleyre

If that isn't clear the issue is about how our transformative capacity is understood within our conception of activism > as a group of activists (irrespective of who they are), practising activism. This is distinct from workers utilising their power of transformation as a result of their productive/reproductive role within capitalism.

wtf?

This is one of the most fundamental concepts in communist theory, no? The transformative power of the proletarian class as a result of their role in the reproduction of capitalism, i.e. its the the workers who produce all wealth for the capitalists, reproduce other workers, maintain systems of domination and exploitation etc. etc.

Tom de Cleyre

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Tom de Cleyre on December 21, 2012

Well, actually, many currents have given up on the proleteriat as revolutionary subject, but that was not the reason of my incomprehension and totally beside the point.

It was more to do with the 'this is distinct' part, and the whole first sentence which I can't make sense of. I guess, although I don't have much experience of the anti-workfare campaign, I don't see it as 'activism' (or associate it with lock-ons or people 'picking up class'? For what I've seen they are solidarity groups of unemployed workers supporting people who are faced with the prospect of workfare by acting as counsel and representation during meetings with jobcentre staff, linking with other workers' fights like the jobcentre pension strikes and closing down shops who sign up to the workfare scheme...) and your analysis is, well, er, lacking? I apologised if I missed that bit or you made it clear in another text or something. Also I am a bit confused about the role you ascribe (or don't) to unemployed workers?

I mean all the "unemployed people 'picketing' is ludicrous/ but we should learn from the piqueteros", "we don't want martyrs but we need clearly identified organizers (who will therefore be arrested and charged after any strike has been dealt with)" sound to me like contradictions in the types of politics I've been exposed to.

It might be a failure on my part, but I'm starting to think this whole argument is as needlessly long and opaque as the original text itself... Thoughts that are right should be possible to be explained concisely. Also, but that is a tiny detail, classtivism is a godawful ugly word that does not deserve to exist.

jolasmo

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by jolasmo on December 21, 2012

Tom de Cleyre

For what I've seen they are solidarity groups of unemployed workers supporting people who are faced with the prospect of workfare by acting as counsel and representation during meetings with jobcentre staff,

Is this true? I thought the Jobcentre basically kicked you out if you didn't have a specific appointment to go to (and even then I've been asked to leave for turning up "too early") or to use the machines. This in itself is a massive issue in terms of organising the unemployed.

~J.

Tom de Cleyre

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Tom de Cleyre on December 21, 2012

Well, if I remember the article, getting the right to have someone from the support group present (at the appointments made by the jobcentre, of course) was a hard-won victory in itself. But it did help people get their rights respected (yay, rights...) and even apologies for the way they were treated (from my experience of the jobcentre, that is the hardest part to imagine). You should really go to the source directly, my 'expert knowledge' is a half remembered article from a newsletter picked up at the jobcentre (which is available here, apparently, http://www.scottishunemployedworkers.net/media/SUWN_Newsletter_6.pdf )

slev09

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by slev09 on December 22, 2012

I definitely think there's a lot of great stuff in the "building friendships" part in terms of tactics. I've been talking with fellow workers about that subject as well. In my branch, we've tried to do some food service organizing, but the people haven't lasted and the campaigns have failed. However, we are getting close to having a shop set up in the workplace of one of the first members, who has been working at that place for years and been making friends with people.

It's hard to organize people without trust, basically. We were talking with Staughton Lynd and I kind of noticed similarities between this kind of workplace organizing and the SNCC strategy of training organizers who would go there for a summer and leave. That didn't do much to help the poor blacks of the south.

I agree in a movement of organizers, rather than "organizing ringers". We need to get back to the community and workplace level and organize. It's hard, but that's the only way we can organize within the current system in a truly sustainable, grassroots method.

Now the big question is: how to build that movement of organizers?

ocelot

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ocelot on December 28, 2012

Seeing as everybody seems to be off digesting their turkey/nutroast and I'm stuck in work with practically sod all to do, I thought I might throw in a pennyworth.

First, the disclaimer - I'm not in the UK and have no knowledge of any of the campaigns mentioned or the practical activity of any of the different anarchist or libertarian left groups around the specific issue of workfare there. So I have nothing to say on the matter of whether the criticisms expressed in the article are deserved, unfair, besides the point entirely, or whatever.

But the more general attempt to articulate, compare and contrast distinct political models is of interest to me. Broadly I'd say I have some sympathy with the "diagnosis" but think that the proposed "cure" is a step in the wrong (backwards) direction.

First the criticism of "activism" per se. Despite the nod in the title (ignoring for a moment the horrendous crime against linguistic aesthetics of that neologism) to the "Give up Activism" article in the Reflections on J18 collection, the text does not follow the logic of the latter. That earlier text, together with the "Devastate to Liberate or Devastatingly Liberal?" critique of the ALF that preceeded it (and may or may not have influenced it), was based on a reworking of the Situationist critique of the alienation of the militant. The text here breaks from that line by proposing a less psychological analysis of "activism":

What, then, do we mean by “activism”? In simple terms, the idea of bringing together individuals on the basis of their shared ideological goals and beliefs who adopt specific disruptive strategies to pile public pressure (or otherwise “consciousness raise” – we will analyse this particular aspect in greater detail below) around a certain issue. The intention is that this activism will bring about some form of social or political change... There is a theoretical line of cause and effect, in short, between the action (a public picket) and the intended result (the employer’s withdrawal from workfare) irrespective of the internal composition of the action itself.

I know JK spluttered a bit around the "shared ideological goals" bit, but I think if we contrast it to "common material needs", we can tease out the distinction a little bit. Actually, I suspect its not that controversial here, but anyway... The distinction is between fighting for your own direct material needs versus fighting for a cause that is in some way mediated by an affiliation with a particular ideology of injustice or morality or what have you. The idea of the former is captured, to some degree, in the autonomist conception of "auto-valorisation". Or as Hillel put it "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?". And here, actually, we have a connection back to that Situationist critique of the alienation of the militant whose ethic is foremost that of self-sacrifice, rather than self-assertion.

The problem with "activism" then, regardless of the militancy of tactics, is that it is "citizen action" rather than "worker action" or "prole action" (to include the broader working class, not just the wage-workers, more of which in a bit). That is, it remains within the bourgeois horizon where voluntarist action in the political sphere leads to changes of policy by state or corporate actors in response to "public pressure". The problem of such action is that by not transgressing the boundary that separates the political from the economic in bourgeois society, it ends up by implicitly recognising it, which is ultimately to reinforce it. Or at least that's how I see it, which is why I read into the quote above, positions I recognise.

So much for the areas of (qualified) agreement. What I disagree with is the proposed solution to the supposed danger of the recuperation of class objects and processes by activist relations of political production*. Which appears to me to be dangerously close to a retreat to a new factoryism or new shopfloorism (given the regional paucity of factories in the contemporary work landscape) which seems to evoke the orthodox Marxism of over a century ago. We have the reappearance of the base/superstructure take on the centrality of the immediate point of production versus the sterile impotence of the sphere of circulation. Worse, it seems the class relation itself is reduced back down to the confrontation between employer and employees on the shopfloor itself (hence, also, shopfloorism). At least that's how I read comments like:

these actions are aimed at the sphere of consumption and our analysis is relevant in that sense in that these are the practices that we are proposing class struggle organisers "give up

the specific set of workers that need to lead and define a struggle, i.e. the workers in a workplace.

I appreciate that, for example, the move of the operaisti out of the factory and into the "social factory" was, despite many fertile innovations, accompanied with problems of theory that eventually led to the dissolution of the class struggle into seeing any form of social conflict as "constitutive" and signs of the new emerging social subject of the "multitude". But to throw out the baby with the bathwater and return to the late 18th and early 20th century "new unionism" or revolutionary syndicalism when only wage-earners were "properly" working class, and women, youth, the unemployed, etc were at best spectators, at worst "lumpen" elements, seems a step in entirely the wrong direction.

* by analogy to objects of production, (technical) processes of production and relations of production.

Refused

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Refused on December 28, 2012

slev09

Now the big question is: how to build that movement of organizers?

http://solfed.org.uk/?q=local

redsdisease

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by redsdisease on December 29, 2012

Refused

slev09

Now the big question is: how to build that movement of organizers?

http://solfed.org.uk/?q=local

Out of curiosity, did you actually read their post? I don't see how telling people to join your organization helps answer the question that they posed. Not to mention the fact that they are clearly already in the the IWW.

Awesome Dude

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Awesome Dude on December 29, 2012

Interesting discussion-minus the egos and organisational patriots. I think this should have been written as two different articles. One article, with more detail about the workfare programme and "activist" responses, advancing the writers analysis. Another article setting out the authors opinion(s) regarding what they view as the correct approach for working class militants, i.e. tactics at the point of production (movement of worker organisers?) and outside the workplace (claimant unions and centres?).

I would also like to know if the authors intend to develop their theory and provide examples that “organising is about creating a series of friendships”. In particular, what is meant by "friendships”? There also needs to be some clarification about who organisers are and what their role is. For example are all workers in a workplace organisers or does that task fall to a few militants or social leaders, confident in their ability to organise after attending IWW or SolFed organiser courses?

I'm also curious to know if the author(s) distinguish between militants who hold revolutionary beliefs and other workers potentially moving in that direction? If so, should revolutionary militants organise separately outside the "movement of organisers"?

Harrison

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Harrison on December 29, 2012

i'd be interested in a discussion around AD's questions as well

Caiman del Barrio

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on December 29, 2012

Hi, this is an interesting discussion in some ways, but it has very little to do with the OP, which is littered with factual inaccuracies and errors which can only be the result of poor research:

#1 I'm not entirely sure on this, but I don't think Phil's in SF. Even if he was, then the implied purpose of quoting the arguments set out in his personal Libcom blog are to demonstrate the 'SF line' towards a certain issue. As has been stated on this forum multiple times, an individual's blog - inside or outside of the organisation - should not be taken as representative of an organisation as a whole. If you want to take on SF's 'line' on Workfare, then you should probably consult its website and articles/statements signed 'Solidarity Federation'.

#2 As someone else has said, the H&B campaign was actually led and organised by SF not BW. This isn't to blow our own trumpet, cos after all BW pressure has led to a number of charities withdrawing (British Heart Foundation, Scope, etc); rather, it's in the interest of factual accuracy.

#3 SF & BW cooperate where it's practical and where our objectives run parallel, but there is quite a difference in terms of activity and tactics. I actually personally see this as positive, especially if we are to build a larger movement, but once again, I feel required to explicitly spell this out in light of the shoddy research.

#1 could have been easily ascertained by checking the poster's Libcom profile (and also by Googling 'federalism', lol), whereas #2 & #3 are self-evident if you check the respective organisations' websites, plus maybe Johnny Void's blog. It seems reasonable enough to me that if you're gonna 'critique' the Workfare campaign, then a bare minimum would be to gain a basic understanding of the nature of the campaign itself, like browsing the groups' websites and their supporters' blogs. To not do so - and then repost these factual errors publicly in places where you know SF members post - would almost seem like bad faith to me. When you add on the bizarre introduction to the article - complete with stupid picture of stupid liberal - about a totally separate campaign against Starbucks, which has no real obvious link with the Workfare campaign, then it looks even worse, and no amount of conciliatory backpedalling in the comments thread can really reverse the shite in the OP.

I mean, you've said you're gonna repost this all over, complete with factual errors, misinformation and manipulative conflations, but then claim you're not attacking SF?

Like I say, this is a reasonably interesting discussion in the comments, but that has very little to do with the extremely poor OP, and much more to do with the thoughts of SF members and their supporters. There's a far more informed and interesting discussion going on within the org.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 29, 2012

The insistence of Solfed members that this is an article written entirely about their organisation is getting a little irksome.

If you feel that strongly that inaccuracies have been presented in this article I would encourage your organisation to contact either me or DP with a summary of them. If they actually correspond to things outlined in the article we will correct them.

More constructively I think Ocelot has made perhaps the strongest contribution to the discussion so far. I would hope that with more space, time and theoretical rigor we would have produced the more comprehensive definition of activism extended above.

In terms of the criticisms, while I think it's fair to say that both DP and I would to some degree accept the charge of "workerism", I don't think (or at least I hope) this doesn't follow into the crude factoryism Ocelot describes. The statements quoted from me (and the occasional poor choice of language, e.g. "workers") may be misrepresentative to some degree in that my emphasis I think largely stems from an over-compensation for the lack of sustained workplace activity within the libertarian milieu in the UK. It's fair to say that we don't lay out the grounds for how "movement-building" extends into other spheres of capitalist reproduction (although, our admittedly rather cursory, reference to unemployed movements hints as possible alternatives). I would hope that the absence of this from our analysis doesn't rule it out as an area for an extension of our basic ideas of building class confidence at a micro-level and criticism of activism.

Even so I think it's useful to be mindful in the case of operaismo that the best practices and ideas emerging from this period (social factory, auto-reduction etc) were in the context of organisation both inside AND outside the factory. Presently we lack both. And this was also within the context of a heightened state of combativity for the working class. I guess what I'm saying is that the key to a more unified strategy of resistance to capital is probably most likely discovered in the actual unity of class struggles. In the mean time it makes more sense to try and fight where we stand. I hope that's fair to what you are saying.

Caiman del Barrio

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on December 30, 2012

RedAndBlack

If you feel that strongly that inaccuracies have been presented in this article I would encourage your organisation to contact either me or DP with a summary of them. If they actually correspond to things outlined in the article we will correct them.

Oh OK yeah, I'll crank the wheels of our federalist democracy to call out two random, misinformed anonymi from the net on some spurious bullshit they're posting about my org online. That's right up there on our list of priorities, right behind considering your half-baked critique.

Fucking correct the misinformed shit you're spreading or accept that you're acting in bad faith, presumably as a self-promotion device, and then receive the appropriate amount of discredit.

RedAndBlack

11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 30, 2012

I really have nothing more to say. Either these alleged misrepresentations are important to you or they aren't.

Either way if you look through the thread there are inconsistencies as to what Solfed members are saying in terms of their relationship to Boycott Workfare, which organisation is responsible for what etc. Etc. That or factors such as whether Phil is or isn't a member of Solfed are completely irrelevant to the case concerning tactics and organising strategy made in the article.

As for the critique, I suggest if you take issue with it you actually state why. So far you have just rubbished it on the basis of minor (alleged) inaccuracies and not answered the criticism at all.

Caiman del Barrio

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on December 30, 2012

OK can I suggest that a Libcom admin then either adds an intro to this explaining that it's full of factual inaccuracies and lazy errors, or it's added to Best of the Worst?

Harrison

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Harrison on December 31, 2012

I imagine most people will read the comments if they've already taken time to read the article, various SolFed members responses (including mine) are all contained here.

RedAndBlack

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 31, 2012

Caiman del Barrio

OK can I suggest that a Libcom admin then either adds an intro to this explaining that it's full of factual inaccuracies and lazy errors, or it's added to Best of the Worst?

I'll leave that up to the Libcom admins, but that would ultimately be against the author's wishes (and, I should add, a pretty poor reflection on your organisation).

Caiman del Barrio

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on December 31, 2012

Well perhaps the author could show some good faith by editing out the errors then?

Once again, you show a poor comprehension of federalism. I - and the rest of the SF members on here - am speaking as an individual with no mandate from the organisation or my Local. I'm not sure how this 'reflects' on SF anymore than your laziness and borderline ignorance reflects on Collective Action and/or the IWW.

To be honest, if someone pointed out errors in something I was spreading around the net, I'd take steps to rectify it.

RedAndBlack

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by RedAndBlack on December 31, 2012

Like I said, the issue is that people have made varying and contradictory statements throughout the thread. I have no means to arbitrate between these since I'm not a member of Solfed.

Even so, as I've already said, they don't actually change the nature of the criticism being made concerning tactics and organising strategy (the purpose of the article). Whether or not Phil is a member of Solfed or if his views are representative or not or if it was Boycott Workfare or Solfed that won the victory against H and B are all, quite frankly, irrelevant.

Your response is to appeal for editorial control to be taken from us. This reflects badly on you.