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(en) "Anarcho-Syndicalist Strategy for Australia, Today"

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Sun, 19 Aug 2001 12:59:56 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

"Anarcho-Syndicalist Strategy for Australia, Today"
>From "Rebel Worker" paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network
Vol.20 No.3 (172) Aug.-Sept. 2001
Subs. $12 pa in Australia or Airmail overseas $25(Aust.)
PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia 
In this  article I want to firstly sketch out some what abstractly and
briefly aspects of anarcho-syndicalism, and its application to the current
situation in Australia. Then outline the character  of the current employer
offensive and its implications and the obstacles it creates for workplace
organisation with particular reference to transport industries. I will then
proceed with a discussion of some practical experiences and ideas informed
by anarcho-syndicalism to counter the seeming paralysis in many areas of
mobilisation against forces of global capitalism.
@HEAD - 2 =   What is Anarcho-   Syndicalism?
Anarcho-syndicalism involves the application of anarchist ideas of
organisation to the labour movement. Federalism, meaning voluntary
associations of workers, involving decision making on the workplace
assemblies. The associated strict mandating of delegates and the
coordinating of decision making of workplace assemblies via mandated
delegate conferences. Essentially a range of ultra democratic processes.
Other ideas associated with the anarcho-syndicalist tradition include
industrial unionism. Union organisation on the basis of where workers are
employed. Rather than union membership  on the basis of union boss empire
building or trade. Anarcho-syndicalism also favours direct action. However,
not the spectacles associated with the anti-globalist protests, but actions
controlled and decided upon by the grass roots on the job.
Also associated with the anarcho-syndicalist concept of unionism is the
enrolment of all workers employed and unemployed. In sharp contrast to the
existing trade unions which generally only enrol employed workers due to
the need to finance the union bureaucracy.
Also very important to anarcho-syndicalism is workers' self education and
the growth of an alternative revolutionary media to combat the corporate
media and the bourgeois education system. Particularly important to this
self education process is the union hall - which would provide lectures and
discussions oriented toward the workers' control project. In turn various
revolutionary groups and anarchist bookshops like Jura Books could feed
into this process in providing speakers for talks, lectures and literature.
In stark contrast to today's trade unions whose HQ's are union boss lairs,
with educational efforts focusing mainly on negotiations in the context of
the Workplace Relations Act.
With the emergence of mass anarcho-syndicalist unions would be the basis
for funding, staff and readership's for mass circulation
anarcho-syndicalist labour media. It would also link up with radical
education movements like occurred with the rationalist school movement and
the anarcho-syndicalist labour movement in Spain prior to the end of the
Civil War (1936-39).
This education and propaganda on behalf of the workers control project
would link up with direct action on the job for workers' control -
occupations, work-ins,coordinated workins between different workplaces in
the same and different industries, etc.
This experience of workers control is vital to avoiding chaos in a
revolutionary situation like in Russia in 1917. Workers were obliged to
spontaneously takeover the running of work places without the necessary
prior experience or education which led to much chaos. It in turn assisted
the Bolshevik Government re-imposition of management structures and a
centralised State controlled economy.
The emergence of this syndicalist labour movement would have reverberations
in other spheres. It would raise morale and inspire resistance against the
forces of capitalism within the working class. It would lead to the
emergence of communal movements influenced by anarchist practice -
campaigns on such issues as rents, prices, etc.
Another important aspect of anarcho-syndicalism is internationalism.
Practically it would entail anarcho-syndicalist unions here in various
industries taking coordinated action with similar movements overseas
against multinational companies and their international strategies. In
extreme contrast to existing unions which collaborate with company
managements and Govts.. They do little in the way to encourage gatherings
of delegates of the grass roots to initiate and coordinate international
action. Most international union meetings  being often junkets for
bosses/union hierarchy stooges who are union reps. 
The objective of this activity being the overthrow of the capitalist mode
of production which must involve an international struggle/process and its
replacement by federations of workers councils which decide how things are
produced and community councils which decide amongst other things what is
to be produced.
@HEAD - 2 = Employer Offensive
I will now proceed to sketch aspects of the employer offensive with
particular reference to Australia. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the
collapse of the State Socialist Bloc has seen a much more rapid pace of the
employer offensive. Characterised by a rapid privatisation surge, work
process restructuring and moves to establish trade blocs with the
associated lowering of tariffs and the transfer of factories from Australia
offshore to Asia.
@HEAD - 2 = Enterprise Bargaining
Integral to these processes has been a generalised efficiency drive. The
cutback of workers' jobs and conditions. Work force flexibilization
involving casualisation and the deployment of new management techniques ie
top quality management and "self managed" teams involving the devolution of
the supervisory function to these teams and the transmission of capitalist
ideology to the grass roots on the job. Team pressure and competition
replacing the formal supervisory hierarchy. 
Playing an important role in this efficiency drive has been enterprise
bargaining. Effectively informal contracts which were introduced to
eventually replace awards and industrywide bargaining by the Keating
Federal ALP Govt. There is normally no independent auditing of the voting
upon these deals in unions are obviously open to rorting by the union
hierarchy. Under the Howard Govt's Workplace Relations Act, the punitive
legal provisions affecting these deals have been strengthened. Whilst doors
have been opened for a rebirth of company unions and individual contracts.
Enterprise deals have played a critical role in imposing employer demands -
longer hours, the elimination of rest breaks, the employment of casuals and
most notoriously 12 hour shifts, in exchange for paltry wage increases.
Integral to the success of the enterprise deal process has been a layer of
management and union hierarchy collaborators often union reps, connected to
groups of workers who receive petty privileges from management/union
hierarchy/ALP bosses. These lap dogs often form the grass roots cogs of the
Rightwing ALP machine. Under enterprise bargaining they have greatly
assisted the rail roading of these deals through workplace and mass union
A new devious variation on this process is management/union boss diversion
of workers attention to half hearted industrial action campaigns over
enterprise agreements. Whilst the actual cutbacks in wages and conditions
occur at separate work place union meetings dominated by bosses co-thinkers
and stooge union reps. Where management's demands for various changes are
approved. As occurred at the time of the enterprise agreement negotiations
and industrial action in Sydney Buses several years ago.
With increased grass roots resistance and organised opposition to these
deals, the union hierarchy has on occasion approved these deals at the
executive level, dispensing with union meetings altogether such as at BHP
Pt.Kembla and Holden Fisherman's Bend Engine factory, which in the late
1990's had 12 hour shifts imposed by this process (in regard to Holden on
future plant extensions). 
Whilst employers on occasion have taken the initiative with the support of
the State to impose such deals via lock outs. Most notoriously  the outcome
of the Patrick's Stevedore's dispute which involved the reduction in the
Patrick's full time workforce, casualisation and 12 hour shifts. During the
lockout and others, the union hierarchy hosed down any attempt to provide
industrial solidarity by other workers eg in transport and other industries. 
Another union/management tactic has been to hold enterprise bargain ballots
at times when most workers can't attend meetings to vote on them "due to
operational requirements" and grass roots militants are too busy/fatigued
due to long shifts, as occurred during the approval of EBA 2000 amongst
City Rail wages station staff. Other dirty tricks were used such as
ensuring few workers knew of the EBA contents in the case of the "approval"
of EBA 2000 for train crews in City Rail.
The impact of these processes on the workplace experience of workers has
been increased atomisation and disorganisation. It's difficult for many
workers to attend meetings away from the workplace due to differing shifts,
fatigue from long and rotating shifts, family commitments and low morale.
Within the workplace, the groups of bosses stooges, often hold union rep
positions, together with OH&S and staff/management committee positions due
to manipulated/rigged elections or the purchase of the support of the more
conservative workers with cushy shifts, overtime, etc. 
At Central station, all workplace union meetings have been abolished by the
union rep and are now held at the union HQ, where few can attend. In other
cases, these reps never call union meetings, or if so, at time when most of
their fellow stooges dominate them. Also OH&S committees fail to
investigate OH&S breaches. Most notoriously in NSW railways in the lead up
to the Olympics, OH&S committees at various City Rail stations dominated by
union/management lap dogs through flagrant ballot rigging with the
connivance of  top Work Cover bosses and the Carr Govt. failed to taken any
action on gross OH&S breaches associated with station renovations
especially at Central Station.
 Fear of management informants/stooges which has proliferated with
management "brain washing techniques" most notoriously "SERVICE NOW" in the
Victorian Tramways. It was introduced in the early 1990's (which made
informing on work mates to the boss respectable) creates obstacles to
"unofficial" meetings of workers in the workplace.
In the case of Sydney Buses, the informal gatherings of drivers from
different depots vital for info exchange have become difficult due to tight
running times associated with the speed up in their jobs. Public Transport
in NSW in recent years has been the proliferation of CCTV's. In the
railways they are being used to target workers by management for
disciplinary action and generally increase the climate of fear amongst
Also we must look at the psychological angle. With each successful cut back
in conditions of workers via lock outs, union hierarchy sellouts, strike
defeats, etc, the bosses morale and self confidence is raised whilst
workers morale is undermined. 
Historical factors have also to be taken into account in contributing to
the difficulty of workers mobilisation. In NSW, the defeat of the early
syndicalist movement in the shape of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the
World) via state repression during WWI and the defeat of the Great Strike
of 1917 which focused on public transport. Major wage cuts which
characterised the commencement of the depression also initially focused on
the NSW railways. Other factors in NSW include the dominance of the
Rightwing ALP machine over the union hierarchy for many decades,
particularly in key areas like transport and its successful cooptation of
opponents who have won important positions in union elections since the
early 1970's. These  are crucial factors in explaining the fatalism amongst
many workers and the lack of militant mobilisation particularly in regard
to workers in Public Transport in NSW. 
In contrast in other states such as Victoria in such sectors as public
transport, there has been much more militant traditions associated with the
domination by leftwing groups of the union hierarchy with a much greater
tendency to mobilise the grass roots. Whilst the focus of the 1969
Anti-Penal Provisions of the Arbitration Court  strike wave was in public
transport in Melbourne.
In tackling the problem of workers mobilisation and militant self
organisation, countering the various prongs of the employer offensive and
facilitating the phased process which later will lead to mass
anarcho-syndicalist unionism. Anarcho-syndicalists must base their
workplace strategy on an analysis of the situation. Focusing on those
sectors which are of particular importance to the functioning of the
economy - an obvious focus is therefore transport industries. Given their
critical role in production and distribution - the transport of components,
commodities, consumers, students and its central role in strategies of
Global Capital - containerisation, the various World Car projects, "just in
time" management techniques which involve low stocks on hand, the
decentralisation of workplaces in industries, etc.
Historically transport workers have played a significant role in raising
the morale of workers in other sectors facilitating grass roots militant
organisation/class consciousness as occurred in the case of the strike
waves amongst French public sector workers in 1986-87, Dec. 1995 and
amongst French  lorry drivers in 1996. In Italy in the 1980's, strike waves
initiated by militant bus and rail workers were important in the emergence
of the COBAS - grass roots committees movement which later crystallised
into a network of independent unions of varying sizes and importance with
allegiances to various political currents and groups.
In regard to launching a new militant independent union movement which
later on could develop explicit "anarcho-syndicalist" forms, a base in
transport industries would be critical. Big actions and victories won
there, breaking through and defying provisions of the Workplace Relations
Act and defying enterprise agreements would greatly raise the morale of
workers in more peripheral sectors - inspiring insurgencies influenced by
anarcho-syndicalism. Whilst syndicalist transport workers could assist the
actions of workers in these strategically peripheral and decentralised
workplaces eg hospitality and retail via strikes and blockades at busy
periods such as Xmas. Such coordinated actions are not being pursued today.
An expanding movement with a base in these critical transport industries
would be vital to fighting off likely management/ Govt/union hierarchy
counter attacks. Such a dynamic syndicalist movement would see the
obliteration of much of the existing centralised bureaucratic unionism.
@HEAD - 2 = The Importance of "Outside The Job Organisation" 
Vital to the development of such a syndicalist style industrial movement
would be outside the job organisation. Increasingly with the progression of
the employer offensive and the extremely hostile on the job conditions, its
likely that militants outside the relevant industry such as transport would
be critical to the launching and continuity of workplace militant papers.
They also would be important in assisting the development of formal on the
job grass roots organisation. Another factor to be taken into consideration
is that public transport is quite an easy sector for distributing
Its unlikely for militants who get jobs in such areas for political reasons
to last long. This was the case with those associated with the
anarcho-syndicalist Victorian based Sparks which existed from 1986 to the
early 1990's. It was very influential and was assisted by the militant
traditions of public transport workers in Victoria. The handful of young
militants who got jobs in public transport were unable to cope long with
shift work and lacking a well grounded understanding of anarcho-syndicalism
and an associated industrial strategy, and as they were moving away from
anarcho-syndicalism, they were unwilling to restructure the paper. From
public transport workers editing and contributing to it, to non public
transport workers and some public transport workers interviewing workers
and assisting them to prepare reports/articles about issues and their
workplace, and coordinating the paper's production.
The NSW based Sparks which commenced publication in early 1990 and has been
going regularly since, has reached its 101<M>st. edition and is widely
distributed in various public transport sectors, particularly Govt. buses,
railways, taxis. It has taken mainly the second form for most of its
history. It has been influenced by the Link metal industry paper of the
late 1970's and early 1980;s based mainly in the Western Suburbs of Sydney
and had the support  of the Local Branch of the AMWU (Australian
Manufacturing Workers Union) then known as the AMWSU (Amalgamated Metal
Workers and Shipwrights Union). This union was then in a militant phase. It
was based largely on interviews with factory shop stewards and received
funding from the local AMWSU/AMWU branch.
In terms of assisting the grass roots to combat the employer offensive and
assist grass roots mobilisation, it has played a significant behind the
scenes role in this process. However, those associated with it certainly
can't talk about any mass syndicalist upsurge or the existence of a large
scale syndicalist workplace based grass roots movement.
The most important campaign in which the Sparks milieu and the grass roots
militant movement associated with it has been engaged focused over the
implementation of CSM (Customer Service Management) in 1999. It involved
the restructuring of City Rail on the basis of income making groups of
stations and the replacement of low level management - Duty Managers and
Station Masters with teams and team leaders. In this way City Rail would be
carved up into franchises to be sold off. NSW public transport is
particularly being targeted for privatisation as witnessed by the recent
sell off of Freight Corp. to Corrigan owner of Patricks Stevedores
(according to a recent edition of the AMWU journal) with the blessings of
the Carr ALP Govt. and the union hierarchy. The long term objective is for
all 4 transport modes to be owned by 4 large companies.
@HEAD - 2 = Railways Rank & File Movement
The first skirmish in this battle focused over the frameup by management of
a key grass roots militant on bogus charges - and being set up for the
sack. He was transferred from his normal work to a section to be soon
closed down. The grass roots movement he was a part had become stimulated
into much activity and a much higher profile via its connections with
Sparks.  This movement is based on  major inner Sydney stations,
particularly Central also commenced regular publishing and internet
activity. Sparks has played an important role in spreading info and acting
as a forum for grass roots discussion, but avoiding militants facing
disciplinary action and worse for its publication/distribution. It does
amongst other activity wage election campaigns. Should its members win
important positions, they could act to assist self activity on the job via
calling regular union meetings and help militant networking/agitation.
Currently the Rightwing ALP officials of the RTBU (Rail Tram  & Bus Union)
have stamped out most union meetings in the railways.Only in a few sectors
do regular workplace union meetings still occur. One sector is amongst
train drivers. However their union meetings are normally strangled by ALP
caucuses. Consequently these elections successes could improve the terrain
for Sparks activity. There are also dangers of cooptation. Whilst given the
highly suspicious activity of an electoral commission official in railway
RTBU elections last year, militants would be most scandalised if the union
electoral procedures were open to rorting by certain rightwing forces of
Management had hoped that militants amongst the informal  grass roots
movement based in inner Sydney stations would conduct wild cat strikes in
defence of the targeted militant. The bosses could then move in, crush the
strikes with scabs as station assistants lack much industrial muscle and
wipe out opponents to CSM.
 Instead of falling into this trap militants organised a petition  to
demand the militant's reinstatement, threatening industrial action. The
militant also commenced appeal procedures. Sparks assisted agitation on
behalf of the militant and countered management/union hierarchy smears. 300
workers signed the petition, many from strategic sectors like train crews.
Following its presentation to management - management backed down and the
militant    returned to his  former duties.
Subsequently notices began to appear inside railway station offices
threatening disciplinary action against workers who distribute unauthorised
(by management) publications aimed at preventing militants from
distributing leaflets exposing the nefarious effects of CSM. However,
Sparks was able to circumvent this obstacle as it is largely distributed
via outside personnel and provided a detailed critique of CSM proposals by
The upshot was that at a mass meeting held on the issue at the Trades Hall
militants were able to win the meeting to oppose CSM. Sparks assisted this
feat by its prior exposure over the years of management lap dog union reps
and organisers. This situation alarmed the officials who immediately
autocratically took over the dispute and called a 24 hour NSW wide
lightning strike next day to out manoeuvre the militants. This strike also
ensured that the officials were able to win the mass meeting they called
the next day at Parramatta in far western Sydney by a bare margin to hold
off further industrial action and put control of the dispute in their
hands. In contrast to the militants, the officials base of support was in
those stations on the outskirts of Sydney. Whilst the rail strike prevented
many of the militants supporters attending the mass meeting. 
@HEAD - 2 = Rightwing ALP Machine Skulduggery
This strike had many bizarre features. Most workers were paid during it.
Only station assistants were unpaid. Whilst managers at rail depots were
discouraging strike breakers from working.
Another hidden agenda of this bureaucratic lightning strike was to alienate
the public from supporting the rail workers. As the officials had no
intention of educating them about the reasons for the action and so
discourage militant action during the Olympics due to the public out cry
over the chaos caused by the snap strike. This massive lightning strike
with management, union and ALP connivance formed the crest of a strike wave
involving other public sector workers in NSW - nurses, garbage workers,
etc. This strike wave involved both elements of bureaucratic manoeuvre and
calculation and grass roots action at the base of the unions. The union
hierarchy used this to some extent orchestrated strike wave to exert
pressure on the NSW ALP conference (held shortly after the rail strike) and
the ALP hierarchy.
In the case of the RTBU bosses, theywanted representation in a new
consultative structure involving both senior Carr Govt. ministers and union
bosses. This consultative body was to replace the dispute settling
procedure and associated industrial allowance introduced by the Wran ALP
Govt. in the 1970's which had effectively allowed the NSW Labor Council to
squash any grass roots industrial action. This procedure had been under
severe challenge by the lightning strike and previous wild cat strikes in
Dec. 1997 at Central Station involving a peak hours rail stoppage by signal
workers ordered by union officials due to the large scale of wild cat
strikes by station staff over frame ups of workers by management for
disciplinary action and the sack. This important action was blacked out by
the media. However Sparks circumvented this black out and spread the news.
Subsequently in Mar. 1998 a wild cat strike by STA bus drivers on the Nth
Shore and Waverley depot occurred over a variety of issues.
The most positive effect of the CSM campaign was that its implementation
was halted (there are now moves to reintroduce it) and militants have
gained time to organise and develop a formal rank and file organisation.
However despite great efforts by these militants and Sparks assistance with
publicity, and militant networking,  militants' organising efforts are in
need of much  improvement due to the impact of the speed up/long shifts and
low morale. However, they have begun to develop a log of claims and a
statement of principles. Still they have a long way to go.  Whilst the
Sparks project needs to develop divisions covering maritime, air and road
transport to assist grass roots self organisation in these strategic sectors. 
In conclusion, the turning of the tide against the employer offensive is
particularly determined by success in building a grass roots direct action
movement in strategic industries. Outside the job organisation is
absolutely critical to this task due to severe on the job obstacles. As I
have shown, by this activity, it is possible to assist militant movements
to win important struggles. To be more effective, the syndicalist work I
have sketched in public transport in NSW, needs to be conducted in all
transport modes and in other states, and other strategic sectors.

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