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Tea Break 2 - local government strike, July 2008

Comments

MT
Aug 12 2008 09:59
Steven.
Aug 14 2008 19:33

Thank you MT!

historyman
Aug 30 2008 13:47

Tea-breaking comrades!

Tea Break is all very well, but what are you asking workers to do? To ignore their unions and organise resistance - how? to what? with the aim of what? - spontaneously? This is pie in the sky and will not happen. And this is where much of British anarchism falls down. There is an over-reliance on spontaneity and a refusal to embrace organisation, structure and ideology. God forbid that anarchists should ask workers to form or join a syndicalist organisation - or even (and this would be really radical) an anarcho-syndicalist one. God forbid even that the anarchists should join such organisations themselves. No. Just leave everything to the spontaneous action of the workers. One day they'll/we'll all wake up and sort everything out - spontaneously!

Don't hold your breath.

H.

Alf
Sep 11 2008 09:52

The current issue of World Revolution has reprinted one of the articles from Tea Break with the following introduction

We are reprinting here one of the articles from the first edition of Tea Break (July 2008). Tea Break, which was distributed at the time of the recent nation-wide strike by local government workers, describes itself as "an irregular workers' bulletin of users of libcom.org encouraging workers to take regular tea breaks, talk to their workmates and unwind from the working day". It's a revised form of the Dispatch bulletin which we commented on in WR 307 (‘Dispatch: Workers' groups and the potential for wider intervention and discussion').
The article in question offers a strong analysis of the way the large-scale public sector strikes of 2007 were dispersed by the trade unions, leaving the workers with little to show after returning to work. Although sometimes focusing on the problem of ‘union leaders' and their ties to the Labour party and the government, the bulletin rejects any idea of democratising the unions, which is the stock in trade of the leftist groups like the SWP. In a separate box, the bulletin places more emphasis on the need for the struggle to be controlled by mass meetings open to all workers regardless of union membership:

"What you can do...

• Vote for industrial action where possible and encourage others to do the same.

• Visit other workers' picket lines and discuss how you can help each other.

• Make links between workers. Invite all staff at your workplace to your pay dispute meetings whether temps, permanent, members of your union or not.

• Do not cross the picket lines of any group of workers.

• If you absolutely have to work, do not cover the work of any strikers and take on-the-job action like go-slows and work-to-rules. Don't forget to take regular breaks!

• Take control of the strike. Make decisions in open workplace meetings with as many people involved as possible rather than leaving it to union full-timers"

This is a promising initiative which should be repeated in future outbreaks of the class struggle. We think however that the initiative should move towards acting as a ‘physical' collective rather than a purely online one, which tends to reinforce the impression that the group is a rather ‘confidential' effort by people already involved in running the libcom forum. A group that advocates workers coming together in open-ended meetings to decide on the orientation of the struggle cannot shy away from functioning on the same basis.

Joseph Kay
Sep 11 2008 11:00

Re: historyman's comments above, i helped produce Tea Break and i'm also a member of Solfed. I don't see anything in Tea Break which contradicts Solfed's industrial strategy (which stresses "rank and file control", "direct action" and "solidarity"), particularly point 1, which states:

Solfed Industrial Strategy wrote:
1. In a workplace with a recognised TUC union, an SF member would join the union but promote an anarcho-syndicalist strategy. This would involve organising workplace assemblies to make collective decisions on workplace issues. However, workers will still be likely to hold union cards here to avoid splits in the workplace between union members and non-union members.

This is surely what Tea Break advocates? (open workers' assemblies to control the struggle etc). Is the Solfed industrial strategy "pie in the sky"? As it happens, as a member of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation i don't see anything specifically anarcho-syndicalist about this approach - as evidenced by the majority of the contributors being non-syndicalists, and left-communists like the ICC (who are highly critical of all unions, a-s or not) reprinting the article. The objection then would seem to be that we didn't use a term from a specific tradition to describe practices that are not exclusive to it, which i don't think is much of a criticism. No more 'spontaneity' is required than for Solfed's own industrial strategy, we'd normally refer to it as self-organisation!

historyman
Sep 18 2008 18:05

Hi comrades,

The SF strategy is aiming to create a viable alternative to the reformist TUC unions, a structure through which the above tactics can be discussed, developed, advertised and implemented; an organisation that people can join and which can promote the ideas and help co-ordinate action. Let's not leave things to individuals - let's have a vehicle which can take forward the ideas and the struggle. Individuals come and go. Organisations remain. It's unreasonable to expect spontaneous solidarity in each dispute and to have to re-learn the lessons, strategy, tactics and principles each time. That's what anarcho-syndicalist organisations are for - permanent repositories of experience and militancy - permanent educators and agitators. Tea Break is not calling for structure or permanence of any kind.

At a meeting in Manchester recently, the person distributing Tea Break was openly hostile to anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism and the SF.

Given that, how can anything but a basic opposition to the TUC unions ever be agreed upon? As soon as any more serious issue arises, which it will as soon as someone asks, 'so now what do we do?', there's going to be dissention among the ranks of the Tea Breakers, is there not? Can anything effective or lasting be created with individuals who are diametrically opposed politically and who are openly critical of the philosophy and organisations of others in an initiative?

The tactics in Tea Break are good but they need to be accompanied by organisation and structure if they are ever to be more than libertarian sparks which appear in a dispute and which have to be re-kindled each time industrial action is mooted. Ideas are fine. We've got the ideas. We need the organisation to go with them. Perhaps Tea Break No. 2 could carry an advert for the SF?

H

Joseph Kay
Sep 19 2008 09:34
historyman wrote:
an organisation that people can join and which can promote the ideas and help co-ordinate action. Let's not leave things to individuals - let's have a vehicle which can take forward the ideas and the struggle. Individuals come and go. Organisations remain... Tea Break is not calling for structure or permanence of any kind.

now i'm pro-organisation, of course, even if all the existing organisations are not ideal. the thing with Tea Break/Dispatch is the good reaction it got (i'm thinking of discussions with striking posties in brighton last year) was in large part because it offered analysis and tactics relevant to the struggle without ending with the standard leftie 'and that's why you should join our micro group' - they were very suspicious of SWP-types on a recruiting mission. of course when they asked who we were and why we were up at 5am to give out a bulletin, we were in a position to say we're a solfed local, and explain as much of what that means as they're interested in etc. of course if people hostile to solfed distro'd it in manchester, i don't doubt they put forward their own suggestions. but if people are hostile to our organisation while advocating the same analysis of events and tactics to carry the struggle forward, that isn't the worst thing in the world (sectarian as it may be).

Now i'm not saying we shouldn't recruit to our respective organisations - antipathy to trot party-building often leads anarchists to throw the baby out with the bathwater - but that i don't think something like Tea Break is a suitable medium, being aimed at workers in general rather than revolutionary minorities with the required theoretical-practical agreement - those curious are always in a position to enquire further, or contact us through the email/website.

This in turn raises questions about the nature of (pro-)revolutionary organisations. the appeal of anarcho-syndicalism is the unity of the economic and political, but i think in practice this is something that is only achieved at the height of struggle, when there is a mass of people with (pro-)revolutionary ideas. outside of that situation, attempts at permanent politicised economic organisation, supposing the unlikely required density, and if they can resist the recuperative pressure to become a mediator in the class struggle rather than one of our weapons in it, are going to be at best minority organisations within the class. Thus it seems to me the orientation of the organisation should be to act as an, ahem, catalyst to the struggles of the wider class, which are therefore primary and the specific organisational form of pro-revolutionary minorities secondary.

Another argument for the primacy of struggle is that the permanance of an organisation is also no defence against it moving from a catalyst to an inhibitor of struggle, as with the CNT joining the government in '36 for example. i've heard it said that the anarcho-syndicalist 'union' is the actual practice of workers uniting across boundries (as in the mass assemblies advocated in our industrial strategy), as opposed to the specific organisational form per se (of e.g. the classical CNT). While this formulation may be open to an anti-organisational interpretation, i think it has considerable merit in stressing the primacy of active struggle and solidarity against purely formal organisation. of course both form and content are required, but there is no reason to assume we possess the form adequate to the task ready-made from historical lessons (although of course i think the a-s tradition offers many of the best examples, hence i'm in solfed).

Thus i think as a priority recruitment does fall behind the offering of libertarian communist analysis and tactics to workers in struggle. We've had offers to help distro the next Tea Break incarnation from AF, IWW and solfed members, who of course can also distro their own materials at the same time for recruitment purposes, should they so wish. now i'm far from big tent/synthesist/'let's all merge and pretend we have no disagreements', but as i see the struggle as primary i think Tea Break's non-aligned character is essential to the project.

historyman
Sep 23 2008 18:25

As I see it, there's no alternative to building an anarchist organisation on sound principles, and I haven't heard any non-syndicalist anarchists come up with anything sensible/workable/realistic when it comes to how to organise in the here and now and how to run the economy/society in a revolutionary situation or afterwards.

I'd much rather put our politics and organisation to people as they are, whether we're mistaken for party-builders on occasion or not, than go all around the houses - it's a long route to the creation of anarcho-syndicalist unions if we don't mention the term, or even the concept that we have to build permanent structures in opposition to the sellout unions and ideology of the TUC. It's an even longer road when we have to explain that half the people invovled in the publication we're trying to interest them in actually don't agree with us and a) would much rather leave it all to chance on the day of the revolution; b) are platformists or council communists who reject the idea of an anarcho-syndicalist union, or; c) don't mind the idea of a syndicalist union but who seem to baulk at the idea of being in an anarcho-syndicalist one. A very long road indeed!

I hope Tea Break manages to change a few people's minds, but I feel that the bulk of our activity should be put into the SF and anarcho-syndicalism. I've said it before and I'll say it again - there are no short cuts to revolution!

H

Devrim
Sep 23 2008 18:47

Historyman, you seem to be arguing from the idea that this is an anarcho-syndicalist publication. I think that maybe you were wrong on your basic premise, and if that is so, then the idea that all that energy should be put into SolFed is a bit off the point really.

Devrim

Mike Harman
Sep 23 2008 19:26

Exactly, I'm one of the people who worked on Tea Break, and I'm not a solfed member (nor likely to be). I'd like it to continue, and get more people involved - and they only way that's likely to work is if it doesn't push a particular line on organisation - since in that case it'd immediately degenerate into discussions like this.

historyman
Sep 24 2008 19:47

Now we are getting to the crux of things! I haven't mistaken Tea Break for an anarcho-syndicalist publication - I want it to develop into one. I think anarcho-syndicalism is the correct and, godammit, the only workable basis on which anarchists can organise a serious revolutionary movement. It embodies anarchist principles and gives them organisational form. I read the ideas of platformists, council communists and anarchists who do not define themselves further and I don't see a credible alternative to anarcho-syndicalism. This is not sectarianism. I genuinely don't see it.

I'm a bit long in the tooth and have seen many 'non-aligned' anarchist initiatves come and go. Some of them, like Tea Break, are based on sound tactics but don't go that step further and advocate the setting up of an organisation based upon the beliefs which underpin the ideas. This is usually because the anarchists involved don't share (or have) an organisational model. The initiative usually fails because when specific action or forms of organisation are called for these diverse coalitions can't agree.

Anarchism has to be more than a collection of things we can agree we oppose. It also has to be more than a range of actions or organisational forms (usually limited to the most basic network of contacts) we can currently agree on. Where anarchism has been effective it has been through permanent organisations which give a basis for the propagation of ideas, which can draw supporters to them and which can co-ordinate the actions of many. To my mind, these, for all their faults and errors, have been anarcho-syndicalist. Where anarchism has been weak, as in the Russian revolution, it has been due in no small part to a lack of revolutionary theory and a corresponding organisation. At some point, we in Britain are going to have to bite the bullet and come up with a set of ideas and an organisation to back them up if we are to advance beyond being a disparate fringe scene. "Discussions like this" are integral to that.

H

Mike Harman
Sep 24 2008 22:09

Well much less that 50% of the people who've worked on Tea Break are anarcho-syndicalists, and at least three of them wouldn't describe themselves as anarchists even - those three have all had a 10-20+ year relationship with anarchism and closely related schools of thought, and have very strong and well known criticisms of anarcho-syndicalism, so frankly you'll have trouble converting us wink I for one have no interest in trying to set up 'alternative' or 'anarcho-syndicalist' unions (and in fact I'd say that's the case for some of the solfed members involved) - and that seems to be what you're driving at. I think you should look at why a publication which you clearly quite liked (or at least I assume why you're commenting here) was produced by people who don't share your exact frame of political reference - and then we should look at where the common ground actually is and use that as a basis to co-operate.

Devrim
Sep 25 2008 06:45

What do you mean by 'I want it to develop into one [an anarcho-syndicalist publication]' Historyman?

I think if SF feels it needs to produce a paper like this, it should just produce one.
Actually, I am constantly astounded by how the major anarchist federations in the UK fail to produce propaganda tailored towards specific strikes, events. I am not sure if it is a political, organisational, or financial problem (I would say they are all political problems).
This, however, was a publication brought out by a handful or so of people. If SF, with much greater numbers, can't manage to do the same thing there is really not much of a reason for its existence.

Devrim

Red Marriott
Sep 25 2008 09:26

Echoing JK, catch & Dev's comments; I originally suggested the idea, fwiw, that became Dispatch, Tea Break's precursor - all it took was the impulse coming from discussion, some writing, printing and distribution. It was never intended by anyone as an anarcho-syndicalist propaganda tool. Others are not as convinced as you of an-synd as the model of progress. If the purity of an-synd expression is so important to you, surely you and like minded an-synds could get a simple newsletter together yourselves rather than trying to convert existing ones?

It's not as if those involved are unaware of the an-synd idea and haven't made their minds up already about it. You are wasting time preaching to the deliberately unconverted. If you think one more ideologically pure an-synd newsletter will bring forth the great Union an-synd activity here has previously failed to, then go ahead. If you wish to take issue with the coherent, reasoned rejection of an-synd ideology/strategy, then I suggest you read some of the relevant threads where it's already been discussed at length.

historyman
Oct 1 2008 20:46

I help with 'Education Worker'. It wants people to join a network which, when strong enough, can launch as a functioning union for all in the education sector. In the meantime, it and other SF publications advocate similar principles and tactics to Tea Break - direct action, direct democracy, solidarity, mutual aid. The difference is that there is something to join and something to aim for. Something to build.

I remain unconvinced that non-syndicalists have a viable alternative. When pressed to come up with a model, guess what? It usually equates to anarcho-syndicalism. Yes it does! Same values, same tactics, often the same organisational structure, often from anarchists who are already in a syndicalist organisation, but without the use of that pesky, behaviour-changing term! Anarchists who share so much melding together in a single organisation with a single strategy? Steady on, that might actually get us somewhere!

I'm still not seeing the alternative to the anarcho-syndicalist union. How exactly is change to come about? Ideas without organisation rely on spontaneity. Revolutions without an organisation and forward planning lead to the state, the left or the right stepping in and eliminating us. One newsletter may not "bring forth the great Union an-synd activity" but if it can tell people what it's aiming for, that's a start.

H

Devrim
Oct 3 2008 08:30

Historyman,
Your argument here seems to be that you are not convinced of non-anarcho syndicalist approaches therefore others shouldn't be.
It is the equivalent of me saying that I am not convinced by anarcho-syndicalism and because of that SolFed should give up on anarcho-syndicalism, and dissolve itself into my organisation. It is a bit of a weak argument.
Having said that, I think that there are some good ideas that come out of anarcho-syndicalism. In my opinion though yours represents the worst, a backward tendency that looks only to the past, and resurrecting an idea, mass anarcho-syndicalist unions, whose time has passed in a country where the idea never had any resonance anyway.
Devrim

historyman
Oct 8 2008 18:27

Of course there are "good ideas to have come out of anarcho-syndicalism" - because it's the means to translate anarchist ideas into a viable revolutionary movement and run a society and an economy without a party or a state. Anarchists with plenty more experience than us realised that years ago and have given us the template. It's up to us to build a movement based on it today.

I'm still not hearing what the alternative form of organisation to the anarcho-syndicalist union is.

H

Joseph Kay
Oct 9 2008 08:50
Historyman wrote:
Anarchists with plenty more experience than us realised that years ago and have given us the template... I'm still not hearing what the alternative form of organisation to the anarcho-syndicalist union is.

well it depends what you mean by the union. talking about a historical template, presumably the CNT of '36 seems to suggest you think we can transplant a (semi-) successful organisational form from one time and place to another with completely different conditions. with respect, this does appear somewhat dogmatic and backward-looking; we're not a historical recreation society!

however solfed's industrial strategy is far more open than this - stressing principles of self-organisation, solidarity etc but not putting too closed a notion on what organisational forms this should take (advocating mass assemblies to control the struggle etc). i read this as 'the union' being not so much the formal organisation per se but its content; 'union' as the actual living practice of workers in struggle uniting in solidarity. this way the horse is kept before the cart.

i realise the semantic dexterity involved in using the word union this way, perhaps similar to the contortions the notion of 'party' goes through by those who feel it neccessary to place themselves in one or other marxist tradition while breaking with leninism. however if anarcho-syndicalism is to have relevance to contempory struggle it has to be able to seek forms adequate to the struggle, not seek struggles adequate to its form.

Devrim
Oct 9 2008 09:09
Quote:
I'm still not hearing what the alternative form of organisation to the anarcho-syndicalist union is.

It is not really the topic of this thread is it. If you really want to discuss it, I would start another one.

Quote:
i realise the semantic dexterity involved in using the word union this way,

Yeah, I think it strips the word of all its meaning, Joseph.

Like many anarcho-syndicalists today I would argue for mass assemblies. I do it though thinking that the period of red unions has passed, and assembelies are the way forward. I think many of the anarcho-syndicalists are doing it as a tactic while they are unable to build their unions, and come a suitable upsurge in struggle will start to try to build red unions again.

Devrim

Joseph Kay
Oct 9 2008 09:28
Devrim wrote:
Like many anarcho-syndicalists today I would argue for mass assemblies.

and i'm in an anarcho-syndicalist organisation because it advocates these tactics, which i agree are not specifically anarcho-syndicalist, but lessons drawn from the wider workers' movement of which anarcho-syndicalism has been a part, including at its high points.

Devrim wrote:
I think many of the anarcho-syndicalists are doing it as a tactic while they are unable to build their unions, and come a suitable upsurge in struggle will start to try to build red unions again.

as historyman suggests above talking about a "template," clearly this tendency exists.

Devrim wrote:
Yeah, I think it strips the word of all its meaning, Joseph.

i think there are probably better terms, but many anarcho-syndicalists use it this way. the problem is potential ambiguity on the question of trade unions - however as anarcho-syndicalists stress the difference between a-s unions and trade unions, and solfed stresses that 'the union' is not simply a workplace economic organisation but one also active in 'the community' (by which i take non-workplace class struggles etc), i don't think the ambiguity is terminal.

Devrim
Oct 9 2008 09:56

I don't think the ambiguity is terminal, but I do agree that there are better terms, and I also think that this one is particularly confusing. I know people who are in SolFed who joined believing it was a union.

The tendency of 'build syndicalist unions' does exist and will in the future as it has in the past be opposed to the views that you put forward.

Devrim

Jason Cortez
Oct 9 2008 14:44
Quote:
Like many anarcho-syndicalists today I would argue for mass assemblies. I do it though thinking that the period of red unions has passed, and assembelies are the way forward. I think many of the anarcho-syndicalists are doing it as a tactic while they are unable to build their unions, and come a suitable upsurge in struggle will start to try to build red unions again.

Examples, please. Anarcho-syndicalist are course attempting to build their unions, but we clearly see the assemblies as the decision making bodies in workers struggle.

Here is a clear example of our practice here

Devrim
Oct 9 2008 15:06

Examples of what, Jason?
I don't quite understand your position either. If you are saying that the assembly is the way forward, and 'the decision making bodies of the workers in struggle', what exactly is the function of the union?
Devrim

jataomm
Oct 20 2008 01:03

I also wonder where the various actions noted lead us. So, people went on strike and demanded better pay, or conditions: great. How does this help us on the road to escaping the clutches of capitalism or government? I don't see that it does: it's just a negotiation within the existing system, surely?

Joseph Kay
Oct 20 2008 08:04

it's a negotiation within the existing system, but so is me and my workmates taking our breaks when we're told to work through, or leaving on time when we are told to work late. these are not revolutionary acts. nonetheless, they do constitute us as workers imposing our needs against the needs of the economy/the bosses/capital. since ultimately the imperitives of capital are incompatible with our needs, a practice of asserting them has revolutionary implications - in principle and in history. 'from each according to their ability, to each according to our needs' has to start somewhere, so class struggle is both a material neccessity in the here and now and also the only conceivable way for a revolutionary break with capitalist social relations in the future.

Joseph Kay
Dec 8 2008 23:01
approvingly, the ICC wrote:
In a separate box, the bulletin places more emphasis on the need for the struggle to be controlled by mass meetings open to all workers regardless of union membership

in light of some of the discussion on this thread, i've just realised this is basically word-for-word from the solfed industrial strategy. Are the ICC closet anarcho-syndicalists? Are solfed closet left communists? It's all so confusing.